Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Stick to toe loops Elvis.

Former Canadian figure skater Elvis Stojko and current Canadian Olympic paddler Adam Van Koeverden are having a disagreement. Elvis says Canadian Olympic athletes should make a political stand and boycott the Beijing games because of China’s human rights record. Van Koeverden says Stojko should keep his nose out of it. The Olympics are not supposed to be a political event. In fact the point is that in the past, countries which have been at war with each other still sent athletes who competed with honor and resolve on a world stage. Oh ya, those Berlin games had a lot of political meaning, but the athletes still went.

I don’t have a problem at all with Elvis having a point of view and a conviction. But telling other people what to do about his point of view and conviction is a little much. I would much rather hear about what Elvis himself plans to do to make a point about China. Elvis said if he were competing today he would “consider” boycotting. WOW Elvis you are really making a stand here! You can’t even be definitive about a hypothetic? Maybe Elvis will make a strong move to show how much he cares by banning himself from ever using the music from Dragon (the Bruce Lee story) in his routines again? That will teach them!

Funny thing though. Maybe I just missed it, but since it started in 2003 the Cup of China has been on the Grand Prix Figure skating tour and I cant remember Elvis telling Jeffrey Buttle, Joannie Rochette or Emanuel Sandhu to stay home as Canadians of good conscience. See that’s the problem. Once you start telling someone else what their moral code should be, people start looking at yours and nobody can stand up to that scrutiny.

In 1991 Elvis was 6th in the games in Albertville, France and he was 8th in 2002 in Salt Lake. Let’s skip those Olympics and look at the ones where he won something.

Elvis won a silver medal in the Lillehammer Olympics in Norway in 1994. Let’s just think back to some of the things he could have boycotted the games over to make a political statement. War in Sarajevo, massacres in Rwanda, the U.S. sent troops into the Persian Gulf, The Russians attacked the Republic of Chechnya, fellow figure skater Nancy Kerrigan was attacked, Bill Clinton was accused of sexual harassment, Kurt Cobain killed himself, OJ was arrested for allegedly killing his wife and a friend, a MLB players strike and no World Series, Dallas beat Buffalo in the Superbowl, the Rangers beat Vancouver in the Stanley cup and Canadian icon John Candy died. Clearly many, many important things to make a stand over. Elvis went to the games. Guess he didn’t know or care about the other stuff.

In 1998 Elvis went to Nagano, Japan and won a silver medal and I guess he didn’t feel there was anything happening in the world worth making a political statement over. Let’s see what was happening in 1998. There was that Serb/Albanian blood fest in Kosovo, India had 3 atomic bomb tests, Pakistan had 5, Bill Clinton ordered air strikes on Iraq, embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed, the Russian economy collapsed, Bill Clinton was accused of doing naughty things in his office, Monica Lewinsky bought a new dress, the Unabomber was sentenced to 4 life sentences, impeachment proceedings began against Clinton and he was charged with perjury and obstruction of justice, a gay student in Wyoming was beaten to death in a hate crime, Dow Corning Corporation agreed to a $3.2 billion settlement for tens of thousands of women claiming injury from silicone breast implants. Gene Autry, Sonny Bono and Frank Sinatra all died that year. Plenty to protest there for sure.

It’s like going to a nice restaurant for dinner and complaining to the piano player about your meal. He didn’t cook it or serve it. His job is to play the piano. Adam Van Koeverden’s job is to paddle. If Elvis feels this strongly about it call the IOC. I am sure they’d take the call after all he’s a former Olympian. Maybe stage a hunger protest outside the IOC’s offices or…oops…there I go telling someone what to do. Isn’t that rude of me.

How about this for a deal. Politics and making political or moral stands are very personal things. What is right and true for you may be meaningless to someone else. It doesn’t make them a bad person; it just makes them a person who doesn’t care as deeply about that cause as you do. I have a huge problem personally with China’s human rights record, but I am not going to tell someone else what they should do about it.

So why don’t former Olympians refrain from telling current Olympians how to live their lives and what they are supposed to care about. Elvis is currently still skating, acting, singing, and involved in martial arts and dirt biking according to his website. We will all assume none of those activities will occur in China and I am sure Chinese culture will be the poorer for it.

See you at the rink.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Wings owe the Stars

The Detroit Red Wings are now headed to the Stanley Cup final after beating the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference final 4 games to 2. When the final game ended and the players lined up to shake hands, the Wings were likely more grateful than they let on. Not because the series went longer than the apparent 4 game sweep it looked to be early on, but rather because Dallas had done the Wings a great service before this series even started.

Despite winning the Presidents Trophy and having the best record in the NHL almost wire-to-wire, the Wings were not chosen by many to win the cup. Nagging concerns about Detroit’s ability to play a physical series and win it. Uncertainty about the legitimacy of the Wings regular season point totals based on the fact they play in the worst or second worst division in hockey depending on your assessment of the Central and Southeast divisions and which one was weaker. Add to that the historical fact that few teams which win the Presidents Trophy actually win the Stanley Cup and Detroit was missing from the top of many experts’ prognostication lists.

But in comes Dallas and takes care of Anaheim and San Jose for the Wings and in the process drains themselves of the kind of gas you need to win this marathon. We will never know if this Detroit team would have survived a grinding, physical series with the larger and meaner Sharks and/or Ducks. My thought is no. But that is how the playoffs work. You don’t get to pick your opponent and the only thing you can do is play the team in front of you. It’s not the Wings fault, but it certainly was to their advantage and it’s the Dallas Stars who provided that advantage.

In Detroit they will not be wondering or worrying about these questions as they head to the final nor should they. Debates about how easy or tough a run to the final are, happen in the cities where their team didn’t get to make that run. In Dallas it will be a debate. How would the Stars have fared had they been afforded the opportunity to play Nashville and Colorado instead of Anaheim and San Jose?

Everyone who has won the cup says (amongst many things) that you have to have some luck and you have to have at least one easy series. Detroit must thank the hockey gods for the luck, and Dallas for taking care of the Ducks and Sharks for them.

See you at the rink.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Too much too soon?

The Penguins are on their way to the Stanley Cup final. The 3 to 5 year building plan has suddenly become a 2 year plan. The Kid Crew was bounced in the first round last year by Ottawa and obviously learned some valuable lessons. The next year they skip the normal 3 or 4 years of almost getting there, with now, a legitimate shot at the cup.

Based on their age, experience and Detroit’s age and experience the Wings have to be considered the favorites, when they finally get around to finishing off the Stars and officially advance to meet the Penguins. Pittsburgh may be the underdog but you just don’t know until you play the games.

Both these teams will want to play a puck possession game, but Detroit is the better team in that regard. Detroit has the edge in both performance and experience in goal. We can run down all the columns and compare them all. That will happen over and over again until the series begins, but the one factor I am looking at the most is the “free pass” factor.

One of the things I was told about and realized last year in the final is the fact that there are certain players because of their age or reputation or star status who are allowed to do things which other players are not, they often get a “free pass”. Last year in the final Scott Neidermayer and Chris Pronger were allowed to do things which no Ottawa player could get away with on a regular basis. If you go through the Stanley Cup winning teams of years past the winning team usually has 1 or 2 of those kinds of players. Tampa had Vince Lecavalier and Dave Andreychuck and try to remember back to some of the things Messier, Stevens, Brind’Amour and others were allowed to do. It’s one of the reasons those players are so valuable. They are not only great players, but in the biggest games, they get a wider berth than most others.

In this all important area the Wings are the heavy favorites. Pittsburgh has Crosby and after that nobody who fits into the “free pass” category. Detroit has a list of guys who will get more leeway. Nick Lidstrom, Chris Chelios, Chris Draper, Thomas Holmstrom, along with Zetterberg and Datsyuk.

There are always complaints about officiating in the final. My prediction is the heaviest complaints will come from Pittsburgh and they may well have a case. They won’t be the first or last to discover reputation, vintage and star status do play a big part in the final like it or not.

See you at the rink.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Negative Canada.

The San Jose Sharks were bounced from the NHL playoffs last night, falling in quadruple overtime in Dallas. A very impressive comeback after being down 3-0 in the series, they did not give up and nearly became only the third team in NHL history to come back from 3-0 to win a series.

Now that it is over, what if anything will become of Sharks head coach Ron Wilson. There was speculation prior to the playoffs starting that his job was on the line if the Sharks didn’t go deep into the post season. Is the 2nd round deep enough? That will be an interesting situation to watch as most hockey observers put San Jose and Ottawa in the same boat. Both have so much talent on paper, but for some reason can’t get over the hump.

What happens if Wilson is fired? There is no question he will get another coaching job, but he may have reduced the marketplace for himself by six teams.

As I am sure you have seen or heard his little snit fit while doing an in-game interview with TSN reporter Jermain Franklin, who asked Wilson last Sunday whether he needed more out of his captain Patrick Marleau. Wilson’s face was blank and then he said, no, and then walked away, muttering: "It's always freaking negative. That's TSN, that's Canada."

Poor Jermain has been skewered by almost everyone for his question which Don Cherry called “stupid”. I would not go that far, but rarely will a coach respond when you are essentially asking him to criticize his player during a playoff series. So Jermain learned a lesson and Wilson confirmed what many people in the business believe about him. That he is arrogant and has nothing but disdain for the media and especially the Canadian media.

I do not know Ron Wilson other than the few times I have been on hand for media scrums and interviews. I have never had a one-on-one conversation with him nor have I covered the team on a daily basis the way the San Jose reporters do, as few of them as there are. But when you have listened to others who talk about Wilson and then see a display like this, it does make you wonder if the rumors are true. I have had coaches tell me that Wilson is the type of guy who believes he invented hockey or at least re-invented it.

So why does Wilson believe TSN and in fact all of the Canadian media are negative? Could it be that as a control freak he hates the fact he can not manipulate them the way he does some others? Is it because he lives in a world where very little media, especially national media, covers his team thus he believes anything that is not complimentary is automatically negative reporting? Maybe Ron just thinks everyone is dumb compared to him.

I watch TSN everyday as I am sure you do also. They do some of the best sports programming in the world and the talent and resources they put into hockey are second to none. I do not find TSN to be constantly negative but rather constantly opinionated and some of those opinions are not positive. I believe viewers want to hear those opinions thus TSN is servicing its client base even if Ron Wilson isn’t one of them. But clearly he is. You have to watch something more than once or twice to believe that as a broadcaster they are negative across the board.

If Coach Wilson is fired and is looking for another job, it will have to be in his own country. If he cant handle TSN’s, and in fact our national negativity, while in the hockey cocoon in San Jose, just imagine what he would say each day being questioned by dozens of reporters in a Canadian city.

This also means the rumors about Wilson can not be true. He could not have invented hockey or even re-invented it. If he had, the game would have no media, no TSN and no Canada. Oh, hold on a minute there, if none of those things existed there wouldn’t be an NHL and there would be no Sharks, and they wouldn’t need a coach and Ron would be….well….I don’t know where he would be, but where ever it is, he would be the smartest guy there.

See you at the rink.