Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Dany vs The Sens

The Dany Heatley vs. Ottawa Senators date in San Jose last night turned into, well, just a hockey game.
The first game (and only game this season) where Heatley faced his former team became a very big media event. The amount of coverage normally seen in San Jose was doubled due to the Canadian interest. Sportsnet did a special half hour pre-game show and TSN dispatched a crew to cover the game and the story.

It turned out there really wasn’t much of a story to cover. Despite being riddled with questions neither Heatley nor anyone else said anything new or different about the circumstances of his departure from Ottawa. He spent a good deal of time telling everyone how happy he is here in San Jose. The bulk of the emotion left in this divorce will bubble to the surface next season when (with the cross over schedule) the Sharks visit Ottawa. The fans will get their first chance to vent directly at Dany and they will. With Alexei Yashin out of the NHL there will be a new “most hated” man at SBP.

Ultimately the fans will get to spray venom at the man who spurned their team and their city, but frankly I don’t get the sense that Heatley cares at all. He will expect the boo’s and they wont hurt his feelings. Dany appears to me to be a person who wants what he wants and doesn’t particularly care how it might affect anyone else thus he wont care about the boo’s.

Sharks fans might want to take notes on how all this works. Dany’s history indicates there is a good chance the same thing will happen eventually in San Jose. When that day comes the person I will feel sorry for is Sharks GM Doug Wilson. Every sports TV network will pull out his statements when the deal was done. Wilson said he had no concerns about Dany’s character or commitment when he arrived from Ottawa. When Dany pulls the chute in Northern California he will again have very little if any concern for those affected by it, but Wilson will be harshly judged for mis-judging the character of a high priced star player.

See you at the rink.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

6 ways to fix baseball

The World Series wrapped up last night and the Yankees are the champs. I watched parts of the final game mostly because I thought I should. Like always though, I could not bring myself to watch every moment of it because it is simply too boring and too long.

I am not a baseball hater. I played junior baseball and loved the game growing up. I have, over the years, become disenchanted with baseball simply because it takes too long. The last numbers I saw show that the average NHL game goes 2 hours and 22 minutes. The average baseball game goes 3 hours and 7 minutes.

I have friends who are hard core and tell me I simply don’t appreciate the tactics and subtleties of the game or its traditions. I have great appreciation for both, but what baseball fans don’t realize is those traditions have changed and those changes have made the game too snail like to be an enjoyable watch. Back in the old days players picked one of the 4 bats the team had and warmed up then walked directly to the plate to hit. Now players scan through their bin of 25 specially made personal bats before heading to the on deck circle and somehow still manage to appear rushed when its actually their turn at bat.

Here are my 6 changes to baseball that will speed it up and make it fun to watch again.

1-When a player steps into the batters box. He must stay there for the duration of his at bat unless he is knocked down by a pitch or has to leave the box because of a running play at the plate. No backing out to tap the cleats, adjust the batting gloves, spit, play mind games with the pitcher, tighten the hitting elbow, shin, or wrist protectors.

2-Pitchers may not leave the mound until an at bat is over unless they leave for injury reasons or to play a ball. No more standing on the grass bouncing the rosin bag off the back of their hand. No more rubbing the ball and spitting. No more walking off the mound to reset ones hat. Its one of the reasons I love Roy Halliday. None of that crap happens when he pitches.

3-If you can’t run in the equipment you wear to bat then don’t wear it. Why does the entire game have to stop because a guy gets to first base and calls time out so he can remove his batting gloves? Put on his sliding gloves. Change from his hitting helmet to his running helmet. Remove all of his protective elbow, shin, wrist and ankle gear and then stand there and spit 3 times before telling the ump he is ready to go.

4-You are not allowed to stop a game because you are dusty. If you slide into 2nd base and you get dirty, that’s life. Why does the entire game stop so that one man can wipe the dust off his uniform?

5-Each team is granted 10 time outs per game totaling 30 seconds each. A pitching change gets 60 seconds because the guy has to run in from the bull pen and yes he is required to run not walk. If you are a pro athlete and can’t run 400 feet then I am not sure this is still a sport. Calling all the players to the mound to talk to each other with their gloves over their mouths is a joke. If you need more than 30 seconds to have something explained to you during a game, then you are not smart enough to be a major leaguer.

6-And finally relief pitchers. No practice pitches while all of us sit there and wait for you. The relief pitchers have been in the bull pen for hours and know when they are likely to be called. They have been warming up for 20 or 30 minutes and in fact we often see them stop warming up because they are getting tired. If you are not ready to pitch when you get to the mound, they shouldn’t have called you in.

This tradition started when often outfielders came in and yes they needed to get their bearings from a raised mound after playing the earlier part of the game in the outfield. Also in the olden days the bull pen (when they even had one) often didn’t have the same height and distance as the game field. That is no longer the case. Run to the mound and throw the damn ball.

I apologize to baseball purists, but if you want me back stop wasting my time.

See you at the rink.

One year for almost ending one life.

OHL Commissioner David Branch has ordered the suspension of Erie Otters forward Michael Liambas for the entire season and playoffs after his hit on Kitchener’s Ben Fanelli last Friday. This suspension effectively ends the junior hockey career of Liambas since he is a 20 year old player.

While the collision was brutal and the resulting fractured skull and orbital bone of Fanelli are worse than brutal, some argue the suspension is too tough since it was not a dirty hit and these types of hits are a part of hockey.

I am not one of those people. The hit clearly met the exact description of charging and the resulting discipline by Branch is completely in keeping with the severity of the injury. That is the key here. The injury and the placement of the injury is a documented part of punishment.

I do not have an OHL rule book in my office, but the NHL rule book I am staring at must be very close or exactly the same.

Rule 43.1
“A minor or major penalty shall be imposed on a player who skates or jumps into, or charges an opponent in any player. Charging shall mean the actions of the player who, as a result of distance traveled, shall violently check an opponent in any manner. A “charge” may be the result of a check into the boards, into the goal frame or in open ice”

That is the general description. Here is where the rubber hits the road.

Rule 43.3
“The referee, at his discretion, may assess a minor penalty, based on the degree of violence of the check, to a player guilty of charging an opponent.

This is the part that brings the injury into the equation.

Rule 43.5
“When a major penalty is imposed under this rule for a foul resulting in an injury to the face or head of an opponent, a game misconduct shall be imposed.”

So injury and the severity of it is a part of the penalty. As you can see next, it is also a clear part of the supplementary discipline.

Rule 43.6
“When a major penalty and a game misconduct is assessed for a foul resulting in an injury to the face or head of an opponent, an automatic fine of one hundred dollars shall be imposed. If deemed appropriate, supplementary discipline can be applied by the Commissioner at his discretion.”

Again, I am not sure the OHL rule book reads exactly the same, but I would be surprised if it did not.

Charging occurred here. The violence level was off the chart. There was extreme injury to the face and head of the victim and I would contend that a one year suspension is entirely appropriate based on the degree of injury.

You can debate whether this is just a tough hockey hit gone bad or whether this type of thing happens all the time and thus the suspension is too tough. You can blame the victim because a 16 year old kid turned the wrong way at the last moment.

The fact is this meets every and all the criteria for a penalty and a suspension and the only debate is, should a 20 year old energy player lose the rest of his junior hockey career for almost ending the life of a 16 year old rookie.

I do not accept the argument that he didn’t mean to hurt the kid. That has never held any weight with me in this case or the Bertuzzi case or any of the others. It’s almost a Clintonism. Of coarse he didn’t mean to fracture his skull but he did intend to hurt him. He just wasn’t concerned how serious the injury he inflicted would be. That lack of concern or what some people term a lack of respect is something that is rampant at all levels of hockey now because that’s the way we teach players to play. Coaches no longer admonish their own players for dirty or dangerous behavior. They simply rely on the on-ice officials to do it. If they ref didn’t think it was dirty or dangerous how could it be dirty or dangerous?

The only way to have respect is to be taught respect and that is something coaches no longer do.

See you at the rink.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Good Bye Dany

It’s off to San Jose for the Heater. Let life begin again in Ottawa.
The deal was about as good as Bryan Murray was going to get with the pressures he was under and the circumstance created by this becoming public so long ago.

Dany Heatley will go to the Sharks and will score 50 again playing with Joe Thornton. The Sharks will again win the Presidents trophy and may still have the playoff troubles which have plagued them. In the end despite what you might think of Heatley’s personal integrity, he did get what he wanted. The players almost always do. Thankfully the vast majority do care, but some players could care less that the average working man ends up having a less than average opinion about the character of the player after all is said and done.

Dany made it vividly clear in his departure media conference when he said “I don’t think I did anything wrong asking for a trade. I had my reasons for it and if people think differently of me, that’s fine. I believe I did nothing wrong and it’s time to move on. It’s a sad day for me to leave this place, I had a great four years here, but I felt it was best for me to move on.”

Dany is correct. He didn’t break any rules or laws except those of good taste, loyalty and team sacrifice. Heatley has proven over his career that Dany is about Dany. He wants very much to be a captain and a leader but appearantly has no clue what qualities are required for those roles.

A very telling perspective came from Jason Spezza. A good friend of Heatley’s who tried to get him to change his mind for the good of the team but could not. He wished his friend well and said they remain friends. Spezza’s one comment told the story. “"He wanted out and I wanted what's best for our club”. That is so true. Spezza’s stock has gone up dramatically in many peoples books with that team first attitude. It goes back to something I said in an earlier post. There is a difference between being a good “team mate” and being a good “team guy”. I believe Dany thinks they are the same.

A good team mate lends you 10 bucks when you need it, laughs at your jokes, keeps your secrets, attends all the parties and is a friend to all on the team. By all accounts Dany was all of that. A “team guy” puts the team ahead of himself and will sacrifice his personal stats for team wins. Dany is foreign to that thought.

The other sub-story in all this is the information leak which started it all. Both sides have claimed the leak did not come from them. The veracity of the claims by the Heatley camp are seriously in doubt since TSN had the story of the trade less than 2 minutes after it happened. Bryan Murray had not yet even walked down the hall to the awaiting media to announce it when he received an email from a member of the media who claimed to know the deal was done. Certain members of the media were in electronic contact with Heatley’s representation while the negotiation was actually going on. Hard to find much integrity there.

In conclusion, the Senators will have a tough time scoring as many goals because the truth is it is impossible to replace a 50 goal scorer in today’s NHL. But it may be a better, more balanced team now.

At the very least, players on this team and others around the league may have learned a valuable lesson in public relations and how not to behave unless completely destroying your connection with the average working fan is your ultimate goal.

See you at the rink.

Monday, August 31, 2009

The NHLPA, rudderless again.

For those of us who hate NHL work stoppages, how scary is this?
The NHLPA fired its executive director Paul Kelly less than 2 years into the job, on the eve of new CBA talks in 2011.

NHLPA ombudsman Buzz Hargrove told the Team 1040 in Vancouver that he spoke with all 30 team reps and the players didn’t feel Kelly was the right man to “unify and pull the group together and get them all working together. 'Trust and confidence' were the words they used and I think that's used appropriately.”


They admit to having no candidates for the job. A search will begin immediately.
This is either a very bold move or an incredibly stupid one. Clearly the players believe it’s a move that had to be made. If there were any dissenters, they have not gone public with the exception of former player and union worker Pat Flatley who has resigned.

The NHL players have proven historically to have no clue as to who should lead them.
Alan Eagleson went to jail, Bob Goodenow was run out of office, Ted Saskin was canned after allegations of spying on player e-mails and now the chosen one, Kelly, has been unanimously fired. Will anyone ever retire after a successful career running the NHLPA or will all of them eventually have a grenade shoved into their pants?

My greatest fear is that somehow Buzz Hargrove will move from NHLPA Ombudsman to executive director. I don’t know Mr.Hargove and I have never met him. All I know is that as the leader of the UAW in Canada he played a major role in making the auto industry in this country unprofitable and as we have all witnessed, virtually bankrupt.

As someone who makes his living working in the NHL, this is a scary day.

See you at the rink.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Is this really a story?

Maybe we are all getting a little too sensitive.
Alex Kovalev was at a charity golf tournament in Montréal and told reporters he loved Montreal, never wanted to leave Montreal and would likely return to Montreal if he has the chance once his 2 year deal in Ottawa is over.

That seems pretty straight forward to me. Is that a slight on Ottawa? I can’t see how.
The entire time he was playing in Montreal he talked about how much he liked it there. No flip flop so far. When his contract was up he talked publicly about wanting to stay. No flip flop there. When the Habs wouldn’t give him a multi-year deal he signed in Ottawa because at the time Ottawa was the only team offering him more than 1 year. No flip flop there.

I don’t get what all the commotion is about. The guy likes Montreal. That doesn’t mean he hates Ottawa. When Todd White was not offered a deal to stay in Ottawa he said almost all the same things as he left but the people in Atlanta didn’t get all upset. He liked Ottawa and wanted to stay but that wasn’t an option and he still plans on living here when his career is over. Does that make him a bad Thrasher?

Ray Bourque did not want to leave Boston. The Bruins did offer him a deal to stay but his reasons for leaving had to do with wanting to win a cup. Did the people of Denver assume he was going to live the rest of his life in Denver? Did they believe this life long Bruin was now a life long Avalanche?

We wonder sometimes why pro athletes won’t be straight with the media and fans. This is one of the reasons. Kovalev was asked a straight question. He gave a straight answer which did not differ from what he has said publicly in the past but now for some reason people are questioning his commitment to Ottawa?

I believe he will play as hard for Ottawa as he did for Montreal. He will play his 2 years here and if there is a deal to return to Montreal to finish his career he will take it. Just like hundreds of other NHL players who find themselves playing in places other than their first choice.

Do Ottawa fans think Kovalev grew up in Russia dreaming of one day being a Senator? Do they believe Jason Spezza grew up dreaming of being a Senator? Start adding names as you like to this question.

Alex Kovalev did not say anything new, outlandish or inappropriate. This is being blown completely out of proportion. Maybe we are all just so tired of talking about Dany Heatley we need a new distraction even if we have to engineer it ourselves.

See you at the rink.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Dany has "enjoyed" his summer??

In today’s Ottawa Citizen there are more quotes from Dany Heatley and for me, more head scratching. I can’t figure out how a guy as smart as Dany just doesn’t get it.

"It has been a fun summer," Heatley said. "I've enjoyed it. Been out at the lake and getting ready for this season. It hasn't been unlike any other summer, really."

If Dany has found any of this “fun” then he is the only one. If this summer hasn’t been much different than other summers then he is living on a different hockey planet. Dany was asked if all the words from commentators and columnists calling him selfish, petulant and immature are unfair criticism.

"Yeah, I think so," Heatley said. "Any time when you haven't met the person or heard the whole story, I think it's tough to jump to conclusions. That's what we have to deal with sometimes, but the summer has been fun. I haven't really been listening too much. I'm just getting ready for the season."

"There's a process that has to take place," Heatley said. "I don't want to get into it. When I find out where I'm going and it's all said and done, I think then will be the time to talk about it."

Well Dany pretty much everyone in hockey has met you even if you don’t remember them. The reason no one knows the whole story is because you won’t tell it. You can’t claim to be the victim of unfair criticism and blame it on a lack of knowledge when you are the one refusing to impart that knowledge.

Hold on a second, how could you know about the comments since you haven’t paid much attention to it?

Dany has spoken publicly 3 times now since his prolonged summer silence ended. Each time he has damaged himself in the areas of public perception and character. Nothing Dany has done or said during any of this has caused anyone to change their mind about what they think Dany is both as a player and a person.

Stacey McAlpine and JP Barry are his agents. They might want to spend a little money on a public relations expert. This has become the gold standard as an example of how to assassinate your own reputation.

I am now tingling with anticipation to hear the “whole story” after Dany’s trade is completed. Judging by the way he and his people have mapped out their strategy so far, they might want to pre-book the noose and gallows right now for the death of what’s left if his reputation.

See you at the rink.

Friday, August 21, 2009

What diminished role?

I was tweaked by Dany Heatley’s claim that he wants out of Ottawa because of his self diagnosed “diminished role”. When Corey Clouston took over as head coach there were a few games where Heatley got only 13 or 14 minutes of ice time but for the most part nothing much changed.

Last season Daniel Alfredsson got more ice than any other forward and deservedly so. He averaged 20:52 minutes per game. Guess who was 2nd? You got it! Dany Heatley at 20:06. On average he played only 46 seconds less per game than Alfredsson. In other words one shift. That puts both of them in the top 30 in the NHL for ice time amongst forwards.

Here is a very short list of some very good players who averaged less ice time than Heatley last season:

NHL Rank /Player/ TOI-GM
#32 Henrik Zetterberg 19:52
#33 Jordan Staal 19:50
#36 Jason Spezza 19:41
#37 Marc Savard 19:32
#40 Joe Thornton 19:27
#43 Alex Kovalev 19:25
#45 Alexander Semin 19:14
#46 Pavel Datsyuk 19:12
#60 Zach Parise 18:45

The two names of particular interest to me are Zetterberg and Datsyuk. Both are integral players in Detroit. Both have won the Stanley Cup. Both at times play on the first powerplay unit. Both at times play on the second unit. Both at times kill penalties. They quietly do what the coach asks them to do for the good of the team. Neither, to my knowledge, has asked for a trade because they feel their role has been diminished and their ice time is not in keeping with their status as super stars.

Dany Heatley it appears is not pleased with being taken off the penalty killing team early in the season and being relegated to the 2nd power play unit in the last third of the season. Well the team was terrible early in the season and the penalty killing was awful. It improved when Heatley was taken off. It didn’t improve because he was replaced, but he didn’t make it better when he was on it. For 8 million dollars a year isn’t he supposed to be a difference maker?

The power play improved after Clouston came in and the number of important goals also increased. This was after Heatley was moved to the 2nd unit. It didn’t help his personal stats but it did help the team win more games.

The worst thing for Dany is that the longer this goes on, the more people are going to put his contentions under a microscope. The more that happens the worse he looks and sadly for Bryan Murray, the harder he is to trade.

See you at the rink.

Dany is a "team guy"

So Dany Heatley has finally broken his silence.
We know a bit more, but not much more. Let’s run through some of the answers.

He wants a trade primarily because he believes he should be an integral part of the team and he feels his role has diminished.

He still wants a trade but will show up at Senators training camp and fulfill his contract if he is not traded before camp.

He says he has nothing against Ottawa or Senators fans and that this is a straight hockey issue and not a life issue like his departure from Atlanta.

He claims neither he nor his camp released the information to the public and he has not spoken until now because he didn’t want to make it more of a circus. Dany says these things are a process and he didn’t want to disrupt that.

Dany says he has nothing against Edmonton but turned the trade down because it was and is the only option presented to him. He wants multiple options to choose from. Heatley says he knows there are teams out there which are interested.

The entire conference call lasted just under 17 minutes and was cut off before all questions had been answered after Heatley’s agent Stacey McAlpine said Heatley had another media event to attend.

That one was a bit surprising since he hasn’t spoke in 3 months and now has 2 media events planned so tightly together he can’t fully complete one before heading to the other?

There were a few questions which were partially answered but not fully. That’s where the media training really helps in deflecting and sliding on questions. One late question from the Sun’s Don Brennan was interesting. Don asked if Heatley will turn in his “A” if he is a Senator to start camp. Heatley’s only answer was “I’ll be at camp ready to go”.

I guess he still wants a leadership role on this team even though he doesn’t want to be on this team.

Another puzzler is this “diminished role” issue at the centre of it all. In Edmonton he would have been their best and most important player the day he arrived. He would have been far more “integral” there than almost anywhere else with the ice time and situational ice time he desires, but he said no.

Although not said, I believe Dany wants to be a stand alone superstar but he wants that role in a cool city. New York or Los Angeles where there is more glitz, more trendy places to spend his millions and a greater ability to be anonymous when the spotlight starts to burn. If this was a straight hockey situation as he says, then why should the location of a trade matter if it means the criteria of him being an “integral” player is met?

For me the most telling questions and answers were about character and his battered public image. Dany says he doesn’t worry about questions about his character. When asked about being selfish he said you can ask anyone he has played for or with and they will tell you he’s a team guy.

I don’t believe Dany fully understands that one of the major reasons Bryan Murray can’t make a trade is because too many people in the NHL think he is selfish, has character problems and in fact is not a good team guy because he asked to leave his last 2 teams. Ron Hextall from the LA Kings said red flags went up for them as an organization because Heatley apparently had problems with his coach in Atlanta, Craig Hartsburg and now Corey Clouston. Leaders look for answers others look for exits and Dany has been too quick to look for his.

I think today’s conference call didn’t do much to help a GM feel better about making a possible deal for Heatley because the questions that dogged him during his silence were not answered today. Dany is about Dany no matter how well he gets along with his team mates.

Everyone I have talked to on the team echoes Dany’s claim. They like him and he’s a good team mate. But simply not hating a team mate doesn’t make them a good team guy. Being a team guy means putting your team mates and your club ahead of yourself. That has not been the case for Dany and it appears he is confused about what constitutes a good team guy.

Dany says he knows there are teams out there that are interested. Sure they are if they can get him for the value of a journeyman and not the value of a 50 goal scorer. That doesn’t make a trade any more feasible for Murray.

I may be wrong but my guess is that Dany Heatley will start the season as a Senator and may be in Ottawa for longer than he hopes. Today’s media conference proves there is a great divide between what Dany believes the reasons are that a trade hasn’t happened yet and the real reasons a trade hasn’t happened yet.

The problem is not the coach or an over demanding GM or a cautious business environment in the NHL. The only reason nobody has stepped to the plate to snag a 50 goal scorer is that there are too many GM’s who fear he will hurt their team more than his goals will help their team. Biggest of all the concerns are, giving away prospects, players and draft picks for a player who may walk out on his 3rd team and you are the GM of team #3.

See you at the rink.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Stealing from Ian Mendes.

I would like to say this post is a direct copy cat. I am going to ask for the same thing as Sportsnet's Ian Mendes does on his current post in his Sportsnet blog.

Please don’t embarrass our industry by crashing Jason Spezza’s wedding just to try and get a quote from the currently mute Dany Heatley.

In this business there is pressure from the top to get the story, get the quote, get the picture. There are many readers/listeners/viewers who believe that when a pro athlete hits a certain pay threshold, they must forfeit their personal lives and privacy. I believe they do have to give up some anonymity as the cost of being a multi-million dollar public person, but there are limits.

Another persons wedding is that limit. If hearing Dany Heatley speak is important enough to ruin Spezza’s special day then he should be a president, pope or prime minister and not a hockey player.

This is one of those rare occasions where the media can demonstrate the kind of class and compassion they expect from their subjects but too often don’t demand of themselves.

I just can’t imagine Dany Heatley would have anything important enough to say. One day he will talk, but it shouldn’t be that day at that place and the media shouldn’t be there to report on his silence.

See you at the rink.

Monday, July 6, 2009

No guts, No glory.

No one is going to say Bryan Murray has no guts.
First the trade deadline deal to move Antoine Vermette to Columbus for goaltender Pascal Leclaire. When healthy he has been one of the best goalies in the NHL. Problem is he hasn't been healthy enough over the past few years. Big gamble for Murray right there.

Now Alex Kovalev. When he decides he wants to play, he is one of the very best in the NHL. The skill level and strength are off the charts. Problem is, his game has been dotted with enigmatic play his entire career. He can do almost anything with the puck but on too many nights he looks like he doesn't want the puck.

The wild card for Bryan Murray is the Spezza factor. In his 6 years in Montreal, Kovalev never had a playmaking centre the caliber of Spezza. If anyone can get him excited to play it will be Spezza. The one thing that very creative players love is other creative players. Spezza is certainly all that.

Bryan Murray has been put in a horrible situation by Dany Heatley, but clearly he is not throwing in the towel. This Kovalev move is certainly high risk, but also has the possibility for high reward.

Say what you want about Bryan Murray, but he certainly has the guts.

See you at the rink.

The end of the No Trade

One thing Dany has done through all of this is make no movement clauses more difficult for other players to get in their contract negotiations.
How many GM’s around the NHL are thanking the heavens they are not in the spot Bryan Murray is in. John Ferguson Jr threw no-trade contracts around like nickels and it helped make Toronto more of a mess as they tried to turn things around. Now after just 1 year of a 6 year deal Dany wants a trade and wants to decide where he goes.

It is difficult to move a player who is due 8 million dollars this season. It is more difficult when he gets to pick the team. It is ridiculously difficult when the player you are trying to move has had his reputation ravaged around the NHL as badly as Heatley has been ripped apart.

Trading a player who many other teams believe to be selfish and not a team player is very hard when the guy makes 2 million. Its even tougher when the guy makes 8 million.

Have a look at the LA Kings website. Ron Hextal works for the Kings and there is a video of him speaking at a “State of the franchise” luncheon. He is asked about Heatley since L.A. is appearantly one of the places Dany wanted to go. Hextal admits that their #1 priority is a high scoring left winger, but says the red flags went up because Heatley had problems with his coach in Atlanta, Craig Hartsburg and now Corey Clouston. Wow!

When you are exactly what a team needs and wants and they don’t want you for non-hockey reasons, that’s a shot. Hextall also pointed out the number of prospects they’d have to give up and Dany’s hefty contract go into the mix as well, but if you watch the video, the very first thing he talks about are character issues. Hextal even starts with “I don’t like to say anything negative about players, but….”. Yikes. Camp Heatley better think about a personal image consultant like the Hollywood stars use, because his personal image right now appears to be mud all across the NHL.

Right or wrong there are many teams which now feel this way about Heatley. He may get his wish to leave Ottawa, but it will be a very long time (or maybe never) that his reputation is restored.

See you at the rink.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Tom, stop helping!

Last Tuesday Wayne Scanlan wrote in the Ottawa Citizen about the comments from the former neighbor of Dany Heatley’s parents in Calgary. The guys name is Tom Malloy. He is a development coach in Austria so clearly he has the type of resume you need to have solid opinions in this situation.
Let’s go through some of his comments and see if they helped Dany.

“His mother is very upset. And the attacks are all personal stuff, about his character. Nobody mentions that this is a guy who gives up a month of his summer every year to play for Team Canada."

I would expect his mother would be upset. She is a mother. Hard to imagine she is surprised that the attacks are about his character. Also hard to imagine the rest of Canada should be kissing Dany’s feet because he gives up a month of his summer to play for Team Canada. He has always said it was a privilege but I guess the country owes him. Also maybe Dany has played in too many of these events. Had his teams done better he wouldn’t be available.

Tom talked about how Redden was crucified despite all his charity work, Hossa was traded and he thinks Melnyk should ask Murray “why don’t guys want to play here anymore”.

Well Redden didn’t want to leave Ottawa; the Senators could not justify his salary based on his current level of play. The Rangers are finding out the same thing. Wade was and is admired for all his charity work, but the hockey part didn’t work. As for Marian Hossa, he was told that if he got the money he wanted he would be too expensive for Ottawa to keep. When he got the money he said he was surprised to be traded. He also wanted to stay in Ottawa.

“Dany wants to play on a team that believes in his abilities”.

I think its pretty clear the franchise believes in his abilities since they signed him to a 45 million dollar contract and paid him 10 million dollars last year for his 39 goals. I think the point here is Corey Clouston and the Senators have a different idea about how to maximize those abilities and it does not correspond with Dany’s views on how his abilities should be used. Questioning whether he has them is not the point.

"The new coach (Cory Clouston) has decided that Dany is a second- or third-line player, uses him on the second power play and plays him 14 minutes a game. Dany had many closed-door conversations with him and was told that the situation would improve, but it didn't in the two months they were together."

Translation. Clouston didn’t do what Dany told him the way that Hartsburg and Paddock had done. I can imagine Dany would be perturbed about a coach who wouldn’t do what he was told. It is also preposterous to call Heatley a second or third line player. He didn’t always play with Spezza but neither did Alfredsson. In fact neither do Zetterberg and Datsyuk. Those two don’t always play on the same power play either. Does that mean Datsyuk has been demoted or is the coach just trying to force the opposition to defend against 2 great power plays because both units have elite players on them? And the playing time issue. Yes there were a few games where Heatley played 15 minutes or less. Most games he played over 20 and sometimes 23 minutes. Please let’s not pretend Dany didn’t get enough ice time to produce more. That is just laughable.

"Two years ago, they looked like the old Montreal Canadiens," Molloy said, "but they haven't been able to right the ship since."

As a guy who makes 10 million a year and asked for and received a letter and more team responsibilities, wasn’t Dany supposed to be one of the key guys to stop that slide? Now the responsibility lies with “they” and Dany is just a bystander?

Malloy says that maybe the Senators wanted to force Heatley to move by making things hard for him.

What? Are you kidding? What part of this is good for the franchise? What GM would intentionally put himself in this situation? This may be the dumbest of all the dumb comments from the Austrian Hockey teacher.

"Alfie is a god," Molloy said of Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, "and nobody wants Spezza in a trade."

Mr. Malloy really thinks he’s helping the Heatley’s here. I believe the average person would surmise this is an opinion from Heatley’s parents which was likely former after private comments to them from Dany himself. So Mr. Malloy has now helped Dany to smear the team captain and his best friend on the team. Nice. Really nice.

Mr. Malloy my advice to you is to stay in Austria developing hockey players. You have to be better at that than helping Dany Heatley and his parents repair their public image.
Don’t do the Heatley’s anymore favors.

See you at the rink.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

What does Dany want?

I need someone to explain this to me.
I know that people expect those of us in the media to do the explaining, but this time I need some help.
Dany Heatley asked for a trade. He wants out of Ottawa and away from Corey Clouston and his outrageous demands that all players on his team play hard at both ends of the rink.

None of the teams Dany wanted to play for want Dany or at least some of them did not want him bad enough to make an offer that was reasonable. Edmonton wants Dany very badly. Presented a nice package to Bryan Murray. Dany was asked if he would consider Edmonton and he said “yes”. Then when the deal was done Dany said “no”. His agent JP Barry claims Dany needs more time to think about it. Well, thinking time ended at mid-night last night. Dany knew that was when his 4 million dollar cheque was to be paid and if a deal could not be worked out by then, there might not be a deal at all.

Besides everything, I don’t know exactly what Dany Heatley wants.
He won’t speak and his agents are extremely vague when they speak to the media.
His parent’s neighbor seems to be the only guy speaking out and I think he inadvertently damaged Dany’s reputation more with the logic he used to defend Heatley.

Will someone please explain to me exactly what Dany Heatley wants?
Dany if you are reading this send me a private email. I won’t divulge its contents. I would just really like to know what you want.

See you at the rink.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Too many clowns in the car.

For such a smart, successful guy, its amazing Jim Balsillie isn’t getting the hint.
The NHL is not Walmart. You can’t go in and take what ever you want off the shelves just because your Visa card has no limit.

In the tech world he lives in, you can make your own rules. Out maneuvering and out marketing your opponent works. Those techniques guarantee a losing campaign in the NHL world or almost any other franchise based industry. Just because you can afford the franchise fee to acquire a Tim Horton’s store, doesn’t mean they have to grant you one. If they do, Tim’s decides where that store will be and how it will look. If you don’t like those rules you don’t have to apply for a franchise.

The NHL is no different. In effect this is a private club and its members have decided what the rules, procedures and protocol will be. If Jim Balsillie wants to be a franchisee he must go by their rules. I use the word “their” intentionally. Some believe this is a personal battle between Balsillie and Garry Bettman. Bettman is the commissioner but it’s the governors (owners) who decide what the rules are. In fact Bettman doesn’t even get a vote when it comes to ownership purchase or transfer. He is fighting the fight the owners want.

Why would an owner like Toronto arbitrarily give up a piece of the region they legally own and control just because Jim Balsillie doesn’t think it’s fair that they control it?

I don’t think it’s fair that the Shriners jam all those clowns into one car, but if that’s they way they operate what right do I have to challenge it. The Shriners have a private organization with their own rules and bylaws for their members and all the individual units which make up their organization. They are allowed to by law and I have no right to challenge it.

Jim Balsillie is now organizing a rally to keep the dream alive of buying and moving Phoenix to Hamilton. He is great at tech and marketing just lousy at reality.

When Jim Balsillie understands he has to go through all the laid out channels to acquire a team, the sooner his relationship will get better and maybe one day to the point where he would be accepted as a prospective owner. Right now he’s just that annoying freshman who keeps knocking on the door of the frat house party. He doesn’t know the password, but thinks that more knocking will do the trick.

Learn the rules and you’ll need less useless knocking.

See you at the rink.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Goodbye Roy.

The Roy Mlakar era with the Ottawa Senators is now over. 13 years has flown by and the Prez has much to be proud of. He would never run through that list of things for you because Roy would much rather talk about the kid he met at CHEO last week or the new piece of equipment they just moved into Rogers House. That to me marks the Mlakar era. All the things Roy did not only for the franchise but for this community. The selfless use of his time and power to make things better for a great many people, while running a franchise from bankruptcy to the top of the NHL’s list of best run franchises.

Roy and his wife Tami will be missed of that there is no doubt. Get your office pool going now and try to predict what in this city will be named after him. You know something will.

I am very relieved that the reigns of the franchise have gone to Cyril Leeder. I think I am not alone when I say I like the fact that one of us is the new man. Someone from outside Ottawa would have a difficult time fitting in, filling the shoes and being accepted while doing it. Cyril has been around since before day #1 and in fact was one of the architects to put the bid together to get the franchise in the first place. Cyril is loyal, hard working and very, very smart. If two jobs are now going to be combined into one, Cyril is the right choice. He cares deeply, he is fully committed and he is the kind of competitive person who wants to win at everything. You have to admire that.

It is the nature of business and also the hockey business. The owner always has the prerogative to structure his company the way he likes and Mr. Melnyk has chosen this route.

My father once told me that change is not to be feared, it is to be expected. Still change can be hard. This franchise and this city is losing a very good man.

See you at the rink.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Crosby not the villian.

With all due respect to Chris Draper, he may want to buy a stopwatch.
Draper was very vocal about his displeasure with Pittsburgh Captain Sidney Crosby after game #7 of the Stanley Cup Final. Draper contends Crosby showed a complete lack of respect for Nick Lidstrom and the rest of the wings by not being in line quick enough to shake hands after the final buzzer.

Crosby shook about half of the Red Wings hands, but missed the first half of the team as he was celebrating and doing network TV on-ice interviews.

Crosby has refused to apologize saying there was no attempt to slight or disrespect anyone. If the Wings wanted to get off the ice fast, then that’s their choice.

Draper has a great deal more experience than Crosby being in the final, but he doesn’t have much more experience in losing the final. There is as much etiquette for the vanquished as there is for the victor.

Simply roll back the video from last year when the tables were reversed. Put a stopwatch on the time it took the Wings to line up for the hand shake. We have all seen the pictures of the Penguins leaning against the boards waiting. Do you think they enjoyed that? Do you think they wanted to get off the ice fast? The answers are absolutely not and absolutely yes. But they didn’t. They suffered through the painful wait and were forced to watch the Wings celebrate.

Chris Draper I believe spoke out of frustration and emotion after just losing the cup. When you are expected to win, believe you are the better team, and don’t win, your ego crashes as hard as your hopes do. The loser is required to work off the winner’s time table, not the other way around.

In fact it’s not just the winners time table, it is also the NHL’s. They have network TV partners who have been promised immediate interviews with key players while the emotion is fresh and the time is now. Crosby can not dismiss those obligations.

The stopwatch would also be helpful is looking at almost every other final since the lockout when the NHL developed this new partnership with Network TV. You will find every losing team waiting for the hand shake.

Despite their great regular season and the premature anointment as champs long before the final was even played, Detroit lost. There may well have been a lack of respect issue in this case, but the accusers may well be the offenders.

See you at the rink.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Stacey said what? Oh....nothing.

It has been several days since the news came out that Dany Heatley wants a trade out of Ottawa. One of his agents was on the Team 1200 yesterday with Steve Lloyd and Jason York. I actually felt sorry for Stacey McAlpine. While he is obliged to speak publicly for his client because his client clearly doesn’t want to do it himself, you could tell McAlpine wanted to be anywhere else but on the radio trying to explain this without explaining anything.

There was very little he said which would shed more light on the reasons. Yes Dany did have problems with head coach Corey Clouston, to which Clouston himself was more than surprised. McAlpine did say there are more things than just a difference in philosophy with the head coach. We still don’t know exactly what those things are and we may never know.

It may just be that Dany is a super star and didn’t feel like he was being treated like one. Being asked to forecheck, backcheck, skate hard and play defence when his team didn’t have the puck. It doesn’t sound like an outrageous expectation, but who knows maybe Dany sees himself as an offensive star and that defence stuff is someone else’s job. Ice time, Powerplay assignments, possitioning of his locker stall, I don’t really know because camp Heatley really isn’t saying.

It may be a Marian Hossa/Pittsburgh kind of deal. Marian wanted to leave Pittsburgh and sign in Detroit because he wanted to win the cup and believed Detroit had a better chance of winning. At least in that situation he was up front about it. You may not have agreed with what Marian was doing, but you had to respect the fact that he was up front about it.

Maybe Dany perceives serious problems within the organization and just wants to be polite and not make those feelings public. There are still a million maybe’s and we may never know all of his reasons.

I have always had a good relationship with Dany and I like him. I was surprised when I emailed him to get some clarification on his reasons and the response he sent me was simple. Ask JP or Stacey. JP Barry and Stacey McAlpine are his agents. I wrongly assumed that because of the relationship I have had with Dany that he would communicate with me in some way. I was obviously wrong there.

There is an expectation that people like me, Gord Wilson, Dave Schreiber and many others have inside knowledge of everything because we are at the rink each day and try to build relationships, that we know things others don’t. In this case that isn’t true. I don’t know any more than anyone else because Dany won’t talk to me and his agents aren’t saying very much.

At this point after listening to the call in shows on the Team 1200 the last few days, I get the sense the fans don’t really care what the real reasons are. If he doesn’t want to be here, they don’t want him here and the attention has now turned to the return on investment. What can Bryan Murray get for Heatley?

I must say I am impressed at how quickly the fans have dispensed with the scorn and emotion and moved on to the optimism of change. I think in many ways it shows how we have matured as an NHL city.

See you at the rink.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Dany wants out !

Dany Heatley wants out of Ottawa and so far he hasn’t said exactly why.
I am a bit surprised that the information was not forthcoming when the news was leaked to the media. I would bet a million bucks it didn’t come from the team, so Dany or his agent JP Barry may well have been the ones to vault this from a whisper to a scream.

How it came out is irrelevant now. It is out. The reasons why Heatley doesn’t want to remain in Ottawa are also largely irrelevant. There will be the automatic guesses. Does he not like the City/GM/Coach/System/Team-mates/Eastern Canada/Division/Conference? Is it personal like his last trade demand from Atlanta where he just needed a fresh start after that horrible accident which claimed the life of his friend and team-mate? Maybe this time he wants to escape the constant reminders of a relationship gone sour or the amount of pollen in the air here affects his allergies. What ever the reason, he is not the first player in NHL history to request a trade and won’t be the last. The location where he collects his 8 million dollars this year is really his only question. Dany will be playing somewhere and somebody is going to give him 8 million bucks to do it.

Will the fences be mended and he will remain a Senator? Will a trade happen? What if a trade doesn’t happen but he still wants one? Does he hold out? Does he play unhappily and wait for a trade or a change of heart? Will the Senators get fair value for a 50 goal scorer? Will the teams that want him be able to absorb his substantial contract? Will the teams which can, be places Dany wants to go? Will this damage his reputation? Will it damage the reputation of the Senators? Will this go away quietly?

I have guesses like everyone else for the first 10 questions. I feel very confident that the answer to the 11th is NO. In a Canadian market that is hockey mad, this will not be a quiet process.

There will be talk shows and columns in the newspapers. Angry words from fans towards Heatley and the Senators and both. There will be supposition, there will be accusations, there will be unspoken innuendo about the “real” reasons. There will be unsubstantiated calls to talk shows about too many spottings in downtown bars and unsubstantiated calls about how he was treated by the club or the manager or the coach. One thing I have discovered over years of seeing these things happen. You never really ever find out what the tipping point was unless the player himself tells you in a moment of pure honesty. He may tell his wife or agent but he is never going to tell a fan or a member of the media. In fact he may never tell the Senators. There is no law that says he has to. He has the right to request a trade and they have the right to try and make one or not. If they choose not, then Heatley has a decision to make. Play or hold out. History has shown that ultimately players always win these things.

Alexei Yashin didn’t get his money from Ottawa and a court ruled the team and the NHL were correct in the interpretation of his playing contract. But he did end up getting 90 million dollars in Long Island. In the end he did get out of Ottawa and did get his fortune, so despite losing the court case, did Yashin really lose?

And what of tarnished reputations. There will be some who believe Dany is behaving like a selfish egomaniac and puts himself before the team too often. Even if that were true, Ray Emery’s apparent soon to be re-entry into the NHL proves again that a tarnished reputation is of no consequence in the NHL if your skill level is high enough and Heatley’s is certainly high enough.

There will be some who believe the club should have been more perceptive to Dany’s needs, wants and desires. After all there aren’t very many 50 goal scorers in hockey so making sure yours is happy should be important. Will the Senators, Bryan Murray and Corey Clouston’s reputations be tarnished because some will believe better care should have been taken to keep a star player happy? I doubt it. In pro sports today it is almost expected there will be a certain amount of drama involved with high level players at high level salaries.

There are 2 things I know for sure.
#1-This won’t be is a quiet summer in Hockey Country.
#2-It will mean less talk about Mats Sundin’s hockey future.

See you at the rink.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Pens hate "let em play"

Watching game #2 of the Stanley Cup Final last night I was struck again about the age old debate about calling penalties or “letting em play”. Don Cherry on HNiC complimented the officiating crew of Bill McCreary and Marc Joannette over and again about not calling the chintzy little penalties and letting them get some flow into the game. On most nights I agree with that but I can’t help but think about the Penguins.

I doubt Pittsburgh see’s it that way today. The go ahead goal in that game should never have been scored since Marian Hossa clearly was guilty of an obvious hooking call and Thomas Holmstrom was in the crease before the puck arrived. Pick either transgression and the bottom line is that goal should never have happened. A goal in the Final is worth about 25 goals in the regular season as far as importance is concerned. I doubt the Pens like this “let em play” philosophy.

I am sure they didn’t like it much in game #1 either when Henrik Zetterberg should have clearly been called for closing his hand on the puck in the crease. That should have been a Pittsburgh penalty shot. Either of those 2 goals could have changed the outcome of those games.

At the end of game #2 the little fracas between Evgeni Malkin and Zetterberg netted Malkin an late game instigator penalty which usually means an automatic 1 game suspension. That was quickly waived off by the league before any newspapers went to print last night. The NHL couldn’t get their decision out fast enough. Colin Campbell’s official response included the many criteria for the suspension and the repeated clarification that the automatic suspension can always be reviewed and rescinded and this one was. The rule is meant to stop teams from sending messages late in the game. The rule clearly is meant for role players and not star players. The other point missed is the match penalties to Zetterberg and Malkin. Neither had their tie downs done up which is an automatic match penalty.

So let’s review. Leaving the Zetterberg hand on the puck penalty from game #1 out of it, let’s just look at game #2. The officiating crew missed an obvious hook which led to a go ahead goal. The officiating crew missed the fact that Thomas Holmstrom was in the crease before the puck on that same goal. An Automatic suspension was lifted before the ink on the game sheet was even dry and 2 automatic match penalties went un-called. Is that really a good night of officiating?

If you are Detroit you have to be loving this “let em play”. If you are Pittsburgh you can’t hate it enough.

See you at the rink.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

SI's Dirty Boys.

Tomorrow Sports Illustrated’s latest edition hits the news stands. In this edition there is a story on the dirtiest players in the NHL. The fine people at SI sent me an advance copy. This is not some panel of media people or blowhards like yours truly giving you their list. This list was compiled by polling 324 players. Yes, NHL players telling you through blind polling who they think the dirtiest players are. I love this type of thing because the anonymity allows the players to vote exactly they way they feel even if they are voting for a team mate or against a team mate….you know what I mean.

Not shockingly the winner is….Anaheim’s Chris Pronger. Actually he tied for first with Dallas agitator Steve Ott. Both garnered 13% of the total vote. Senators forward Jarkko Ruutu is 3rd at 12%, then in 4th is Rangers carney Sean Avery and in 5th is Flyers forward Scott Hartnell.

The top 5 are all dirty in different ways with the exception of Ruutu and Ott. Pronger simply wants to hurt people. His long list of suspensions and head shots have clearly been documented. I like him. I would have him on my team any day.

Ott and Ruutu are both the sneaky guys who try to annoy and distract you until you snap. I would have both on my team simply because they are both indeed weasels, but they will fight when push comes to shove. This type of role in the NHL is effective, but I still have a problem with the players who create these situations but leave the fighting to their team mates.

That brings us to Sean Avery. He (in my view) is in the category above. I know he has been in fights, but too often his team mates have had to do it for him. I know some of them and they don’t appreciate the situations he puts them in, but is rarely around to account for. In addition too many of his antics both on and off the ice are an embarrassment to the game. He has brought nothing to the game thus far except farcical ridicule especially from non mainstream hockey media. CNN shows very little in the way of hockey and Sean Avery has been on CNN more times than any player in the last 5 years. They have never shown anything about him or the league which is the least bit flattering to either.

And last but not least in our top 5 is Scott Hartnell. I don’t mind Hartnell at all. Very good player who competes hard and has a decent skill level. Problem with him is too often thinking comes after acting. He led the NHL in minor penalties this season. That usually means too many dumb penalties, lazy penalties and discipline and selfishness related penalties. Wouldn’t want him on my team. Good guy by all accounts but just hurts his team too often.

I clearly have a problem though. As I look over this blog before I post it, I realize the dirtier the player, the more I seem to like him. Maybe that isn’t exactly true either. The players I like have an edge but also some degree of honor. You might not find many players who agree that Ruutu and Ott have as much honor as they would like, but that’s just the way I see it.

Chris Pronger is the dirtiest and maybe the most dangerous player in the NHL and if I were a GM I would want him at the top of my list too.

See you at the rink.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

A tough time to trust.

Why does the gnashing of teeth and bleeding eye reviews of game tape from the first round loss of San Jose seem so familiar? For Senator Fans the questions being asked in San Jose seem too familiar. A team with great talent which had a wonderful regular season falls so desperately short in the post season.

The team’s big super star centre is at the centre of all the talk about what is wrong with this team. Joe Thornton is currently trying on the goat horns owned for the past year by Jason Spezza. Right or wrong when you earn North of 7 million and are the #1 centre on an underachieving team, they just fit you for the horns at the start of the season and wait for a good time to give them to you. Hardly seems fair in a team sport, but that’s the way the fans and media look at it, so fair or not that’s the way it goes.

The big difference between the two teams is the fact that Ottawa got to the final with all this talent while the Sharks still could not find their way out of the first round and they haven’t gotten past the 2nd round in the 3 previous seasons. That makes the Shark tank more acidic than the Nation’s Capital.

All the same discussions about breaking up the core of the team are now taking place in Northern California. But how do you rid yourself of Thornton, Marleau, Cheechoo or even Nabokov? There would certainly be teams interested but absorbing those big salaries is tough with the cap destined to go down over the next 3 seasons. All this is predicated on the assumption that the big dollar guys would be willing to waive their no-trade clauses. There will be changes, but don’t expect Doug Wilson to tear down this house. It would be nearly impossible to do even if he wanted to.

No this is the time to trust your earlier decisions despite the fact it’s the toughest time to have trust. You loved this team when you signed all these guys. You loved this team when they won the President’s Trophy. You loved them when the first round of the playoffs started. Now 7 games later some want it ripped apart? It might be the right thing to do or it might be the worst thing to do.

Here in Ottawa before Corey Clouston took over as coach, the talk shows were filled with people who were absolutely positive the only fix was to trade Spezza, Heatly, Alfredsson, Phillips…etc etc. By the end of the season people were talking about this team being 2 players away from being a contender again.

The Sharks will change before next season and one of the big guns may actually be moved, but not a full scale rebuild. But one individual may have been badly damaged by the first round exit. That is Jumbo Joe and the assumption he is about to become thee dominant centre in the NHL at long last. His stock has now plummeted so quickly there is talk he will not only not captain Team Canada in the Olympics, but he might not even make the team. The biggest Shark may have lost his teeth in 7 simple playoff games.

See you at the rink.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Start of Tomorrow

The Senators season ended on Saturday night in Toronto. It is amazing how attitudes can change. No post season is certainly not a good thing, but surprisingly the fans I speak too feel optimism. There isn’t this feeling of being at a wake after the season ends. It’s almost as if people believe the operation was a success. The patent still isn’t out of the woods and is headed to the recovery room, but for all signs there is reason for cautious optimism. The patient will have the summer to heal and rehab before heading back to work and punching the time clock next September.

People seem to have the sense that the major ills of this team have been cured and the off-season of chasing the 2 specs of gold dust can begin. Those specs are the same 2 that 28 of the 30 teams in the NHL are all looking for and seem to each year. Ottawa GM Bryan Murray wants to find a top-4 defenceman and a top-6 forward. Those are the specs of gold that everyone wants but can’t find in abundance at a price that works.

Since February 3rd only one team in the eastern conference had more points than Ottawa. That was Pittsburgh. Ironically the two teams which fired experienced NHL coaches and replaced them young aspiring AHL coaches. Ironically the two teams which have gone to the final the past 2 years and both have tried to carry forward the huge weight of expectations in their respective communities.

It really makes the Detroit Red Wings even more amazing. Those expectations are squarely on their shoulders each year and the weight seems to have next to no affect. Even if they don’t make it to the final, the 18 straight years of being in the playoffs is simply amazing. Pressure and expectation I have come to realized are the 2 toughest things to manage and 2 of the most crippling things to deal with for professional athletes. The huge paychecks can’t stop internal 2nd guessing and the burden of so many fans almost guttural need for their team to win.

The Ottawa players will have something this coming season that they haven’t had the last 3 years. The knowledge of who their coach will be before this season ends. They will come to camp next season knowing who he is, what to expect, what he expects and what the system and the plan is. That is a large step forward because it means no buy-in time. No worries about the players believing in the new coach and the new system. They already believe in both right now.

I will end this season with a bold prediction about next season. Many things will happen this off season and some players will go and some new ones will arrive. I am ready to make my prediction right now. The Senators will make the playoffs next season. The bitter taste of a 5 month summer is the horrible cough syrup required to remind players they don’t want to catch this kind of cold again.

See you at the rink.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The view from outside.

With the Senators season set to end on April 11th in Toronto, for me that could mean the end of my season unless like last year Hockey Night in Canada needs an extra play-by-play guy and I get to work in the first round. For the first time in 11 years I may not work in the playoffs and that is both financially and emotionally disappointing. The post season is more fun than you can imagine. This is a wonderful and fulfilling job any time of year, but the playoffs carry such a different excitement level for everyone involved, it’s hard to imagine not being a part of it.

This situation does however give you a chance to reflect on ones good fortune in the past. I believe you do develop a certain arrogance based on the unspoken assumption that the team you cover will be in the playoffs and thus the startling reality of not working during that time hits you in the head pretty hard.

Looking at the Senators roster at the start of the year I would never have guessed this was a possibility. I first started to think about this team not making the playoffs just after Christmas when I started doing some math on probabilities and possibilities. While the last several weeks have been impressive for Ottawa, simply the hole is too deep. Making up ground in this current scheduling system is next to impossible. If you take last season for example, the teams in the Eastern Conference which were in the 8 playoff positions on February 8th were the same ones which got those playoff spots when the regular season ended. There was some shuffling from February 8th until the end, but in the end those same 8 got the spots. A depressing reality for teams chasing with more than a few points to make up down the stretch.

For a team like Montreal, holding the 8th spot is tough but for Florida and Buffalo catching up is even harder. With the number of in-conference games and division games, it means that when you lose to a team you are chasing the plight is obvious. But when you look at all the games this time of year where you have 3 point games, that is the killer. You don’t fall back but you don’t catch up either. When the Senators for example went on their run winning 8 of 9 games they only moved up from 12th to 11th and the spread between them and the 8th place team changed by only 3 points.

It is like walking down the street in your old neighborhood remembering when this was the street you lived on. “Chasing Lane”. In Buffalo, Florida and St.Louis I have spoken to friends who are in the chase. Their excitement and hope is wonderful and uplifting. Emotions I had come to take for granted because of the run the Senators have had for the past 11 years.

It makes me appreciate far more what this franchise has done for a very long time and what it will do again. While the thought of a long off-season is not an appetizing one, I have learned some lessons in appreciation. Getting to work in the playoffs is a privilege earned not granted for both players and even old broadcasters too.

See you at the rink.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Sitting firmly on the fence.

First the facts. Back on March 18th Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler caused a stir when he told the Vancouver Province newspaper "If we're going to win the Cup, we need guys to take pay cuts. The way the salary cap is now, you really can't get what you're worth now if you want to win. Everybody in this locker room knows that."

As you can understand he received a call shortly after from the NHL Players Association. NHLPA executive director Paul Kelly said "We talked to Ryan and he regrets some of the comments he made,"

A few days later Kesler’s agent said publicly no one should assume his client will be taking a hometown discount to stay with the Cannucks in his current contract talks. He continued that he will be looking for fair market value for Kesler.

I doubt Kesler regretted his remarks until he was told he regretted them. Kesler did not say anything that everyone doesn’t know but his mistake was saying it. The NHLPA is well aware of players accepting below market salaries to stay in situations they like, but the association would have a tough time trying to drive up the average salary in the league if the player’s expectation is less and not more.

I am on both sides of this fence. I understand exactly what the association is doing. It’s not intimidation but probably closer to coercion. But as an association, unanimity is tough to establish and tougher to keep and control. Make no mistake though, the association’s strength is based on how close to one voice, one thought and one plan they can get. 100% is impossible but the leadership has to try and keep the number high and reminding players that their actions and public comments can erode the NHLPA’s strength is not out of line.

This is the not so subtle difference between an association and an actual union. This association is a collection of highly paid independent contractors who may or may not sign individual contracts which drive the comparables up for other players. Free agent contracts and arbitration in the NHL are based on comparables and if too many players accept less it becomes impossible to keep salaries high. If the NHLPA turned into the NHLPU and became certified as an actual union then negotiating contracts for all players could then fall under the umbrella of union leadership. Players would never want that. One small group of people negotiating a pay grid system or some such arrangement is fantasy. It will never happen because the best players would not want to be contained by that kind of hockey socialism.

There is nothing new about this though. For years the association was not happy with Ray Bourque. The belief was that he took too many home town discounts to stay in Boston and some believe he was a major reason salaries for many defencemen remained artificially low because none of them could use Ray’s salary as a comparable. Martin Brodeur is also one of those problem children for the NHLPA. He may go down as the best goaltender in NHL history and yet has never been the highest paid netminder in the NHL. He also has taken less many times to stay in New Jersey and make sure there was enough money to keep the rest of the team solid. The difference between these cases and Kesler is they did take home town discounts, they just never said the words out loud publicly.

I can’t tell you who is right and who is wrong here. If I ran the association, I would also encourage players to get as much as they can for the greater good of all players. If I was a manager I would want players to see the bigger team picture. Take less so that the team is strong at all positions and has a chance to win in the salary cap world.

I sit firmly on the fence on this one. I suppose if you in your life are a staunch union member you see it one way and if you are not in a union or an employment association you probably see it differently.

See you at the rink.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Kill Ovechkin!!! not.

This is when it is sometimes embarrassing to be a member of the media. I agree totally with Washington head coach Bruce Boudreau. This whole Tampa/Washington retribution story was completely a media engineered non-story. Invent some news which doesn’t actually yet exist to then cover the self-made news to see if it really occurs and becomes actual news.

The last time Tampa and Washington played Alex Ovechkin scored his 50th goal of the season and then performed his now infamous “my stick is too hot” shtick. Reporters in lockers across the NHL were asking players the next day for their opinions. Some laughed and said they liked it or didn’t mind or didn’t care. Others thought it was showboating and mocked both the Lightning and the game. Coaches, Managers, retired players were all asked their opinions and theirs varied as much as the players.

The opinions which received the greater number and higher placement in news stories were the negative ones. That helped generate an environment to question the possibility of retribution from Tampa the next time the teams played. That possibility then spawned some analysts to predict retribution which caused others to expect it and those expectations led sports editors to send reporters to cover this game just in case things boiled over.

Did anyone from Tampa ever say or intimate they would try and exact revenge? Were there any legitimate conversations about payback? Did anyone of the large number of NHL insiders have any of their sources tell them it was possible or even probable? If they were told this I assume they would have said it since un-named sources are the chief rumor mongers in both politics and the NHL. I don’t remember anyone saying any of that. Many of the insiders did phrase it in the form of a question which led me to believe that no one had told them it would happen otherwise they would have said that.

The game occurred and Washington won. Was there anything directed at Ovechkin other than the dismay many teams have trying to contain him?

Sometimes we in the media should be reminded that our job is to cover the news not make it.

See you at the rink.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Throwing games

We have all listened as fans and the media talk about and debate the Senators recent turn around. Since Corey Clouston became head coach the team has played better and won more. The net result is that Ottawa has now moved up in the standings to the point where they will still not make the playoffs but also it appears will not have a shot at the #1 pick in the draft. The way the draft lottery works is that should a team get the #1 ball in the bingo draw, that team can not move up more than 4 places in the draft. It means that even if you get that #1 ball, you can only get the #1 pick if you finish in the bottom 5 of the league. Ottawa is now out of that bottom 5. If they were to get that #1 bingo ball they could move up and pick 2nd or 3rd but not first.

There are those who contend that teams like Ottawa and Toronto should stop trying so hard to win games when it won’t change their playoff chances, but will damage their draft position. My first question to those people is always the same. How do you get players to not play hard and get coaches to coach to lose? If they are competitive people playing at the highest level, they simply don’t have that chip in their hockey brain. There are also integrity issues. How could you ever look a coach or a player in the eye knowing they didn’t try to win? It goes against everything we’ve been taught in areas of competition and goes against what we all try to teach our children. How would you like to be that fan who paid good money for his ticket, sitting there watching a team not try to win so that next year or the year after things will be better? That fan would feel cheated and rightly so.

While Ottawa may not have a shot at the top pick maybe the way to find a silver lining in a disappointing season is to consider the things you thought were lost but now have been found. Maybe the Senators have finally found a coach who can push the right buttons while still holding a stern hand. Maybe the Senators have discovered that some of the players, who were thought to have lost something, might still have it. Maybe this dose of humility after an 11 straight playoff seasons is something we all needed to calm the arrogance which comes from never considering your team might not make the playoffs.

The idea of being lousy enough to miss the playoffs but not being lousy enough to get a shot at the #1 pick is fair comment. But it’s a loaded comment. The integrity of your manager, coaches and players is at stake when people believe you are no longer trying to win. That is worth far more than a lost season or a chance at the #1 pick. That can lose you a generation of ticket buyers who would always wonder.

See you at the rink.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


In last nights Ottawa/Toronto game, with just over 2 minutes to play in regulation time, and the Leafs down 2-1, Toronto coach Ron Wilson called for a stick measurement on Jason Spezza’s stick. Jason shaves the end of his stick and the measurement was not on the curve but on the width of the blade. The officials on the ice deemed it to be an illegal stick and the Leafs got the powerplay. They did not score and Ottawa won the game.

Ron Wilson was fully within his rights as a coach and the rules do exist and he did wait until exactly the right time to give his team a chance to tie the game. Great coaching move although considered by most in the NHL to be a cheesy move. Every team in the NHL has a few players and some teams have more than a few players who have illegal sticks. There is a reason why few coaches call for measurements. It is considered by most to be a minor league method of getting a power play. I personally don’t see it that way and I can’t understand why more coaches don’t do it. They are all looking for every advantage and this could be one. But I guess that’s why I am not an NHL coach. The coaches also have a code and this I guess is breaking the code of good taste. It’s like this type of thing is beneath an NHL coach. I guess its just one of those things I will never understand.

That being said, I don’t understand why there are any restrictions on sticks at all. The legal limits were all instituted and later modified because of goaltender safety. Restrictions on curves for example came into effect to protect goaltenders from high hard shots at a time when some goaltenders still didn’t wear masks. That time has long past in the NHL. How many goaltenders are actually injured by a puck each year? I can only think of one from last year. That was Ryan Miller in Buffalo who broke his thumb when hit by a puck. Most goaltender injuries after from players falling on them or tweaking their adductor muscle and things of that nature. So how is a big curve or thin blade now a danger to a goalie? It isn’t and thus players should be able to use any kind of curve, thickness or length of stick they want.

Back in February Calgary coach Mike Keenan accused Vancouver defenceman Willie Mitchell of using a stick which was longer than allowable by NHL rules. Why should the league care if a player uses a longer stick? Yes it would be better for the poke check but worse for shooting and stick handling. Is a very long stick really an advantage to the average player? It may be, but also a disadvantage in other ways. If a bigger curve gives Alex Ovechkin a better shot is that not balanced out by the fact it would become virtually impossible for him to backhand the puck with that same stick?

The rules were instituted for safety reasons. With their new equipment goaltenders are no longer in danger. Let the players use what ever curve, thickness or length of stick they want. Don’t we all have more important things to worry about?

See you at the rink.

The Crash

The financial chill of the world economy was evident during the NHL trade deadline this year. While the number of deals consummated before the deadline is only slightly below average, the type of deals definitely showed the financial caution NHL owners are wise to employ in this environment.

Jay Bowmeester did not move. Chris Pronger did not move. With the exception of Ollie Jokinen there really weren’t any big salaries which were moved around. Fear is the simple reason. Managers and coaches wanted these players but owners know what is coming.

The NHL has done considerably better than most industries in weathering this global financial storm, but let’s remember that most of this years revenues with the exception of attendance were already in the bank before the season started or early in the season from sponsors and partners. That means that next years cap will be based on this years revenues which were good. So the cap may go down, but not by much. Problem is next years revenues decide the cap the year after. Everyone in the NHL who operates a calculator is dreading the 2010-2011 season because that is when the cap is expected to drop like a stone. Some believe over the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 seasons the combined cap drop could be as much as 10 to 12 million. That would bring the cap back into the mid-40 million range. Problem is the long term contracts signed for 6,7,8 or 9 million dollars must still be honored while the teams try to fill out their rosters with enough inexpensive players to meet the cap.

I am no financial whiz, but if I were part of the NHL’s middle class I would be scared. Very, very scared. Many or most of those players don’t get contracts longer than 2 or 3 years. They don’t wield enough power to earn term in their contracts. It means many of those players in the 1.5 to 3.5 million dollar per year price range will be free agents when the cap collapse occurs. That could mean playing for half or a third of your previous contract even if your stats increase. If you are unwilling to accept the pay cut teams will simply use more entry level players out of simple financial necessity. What kind of market place will it be for those players in today’s middle class when hundreds could be looking for work at the same time? Many will jump at the first offer and that will keep the financial bar low, thus those who hold out on principle and/or ego will find themselves without a team to play for.

When this time comes some will blame the calamity facing the players on the owners and/or the CBA. Lets all remember how economics works for the rest of us in the real world. Companies struggle, they don’t buy sponsorships. When they don’t buy sponsorships NHL owners make less or lose more. When NHL owners make less or lose more, they reduce staff and cut costs. When that doesn’t work they reduce the budget for hockey operations and players have to go and cheaper ones brought in. It takes a while for the economy to reach an NHL player but when it does, the NHLPA will certainly tell all of us who are to blame. The list will be long and the accusations of incompetence, greed and wacky accounting will be pointed directly at the owners or an ill conceived CBA.

What really will have happened is the rest of the worlds problems will have burrowed through all the layers of financial insulation players often enjoy and the real world will hit them square in the head. The only difference is millions of people with lesser means will have suffered greater financial hardship and woe for a longer period and a lot earlier than any NHL player.

See you at the rink.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Hey, it's not personal !

I have received many comments since the last post on Mats Sundin’s return to Toronto and everyone’s re-visitation of his reasons for not waiving his no-trade last year. The vast majority I will not allow for viewing on my blog. In this case and all others, vulgar language, demeaning verbiage and personal attacks on me or anyone else are always rejected as postable comments. I will answer 3 which were typical but still printable.

Anonymous said...
Wow, you really can't stand Mats Sundin. Give it a rest! He is a classy individual. Face it Dean, you bought "Daniel Afredsson" stock ten years, and it's turned into a steaming pile of crap! Sounds like sour grapes to me...
February 26, 2009 7:17 PM

Anonymous said...
This post is about 2 months out of date.We've al moved on - why haven't you ? I bet you never got your term papers in on time back in High School.
March 1, 2009 8:13 AM

Anonymous said...
Did Sundin steal your lunch money when you were in Grade 3
March 2, 2009 8:01 AM

As you can see there are some people out there who believe I have some kind of personal issue with Mats Sundin. I do not. In fact as I have stated before I believe he was and is an outstanding player, very strong leader and a classy guy. In my dealings with him he has never been anything but a gentleman and a professional. I have never personally attacked Mats Sundin, but only gave my opinions on his own words and actions.

If you are a Mats Sundin fan, I apologize that my opinions don’t drip into the adoration pool you continually swim in, but that is life. If your only responses to thoughtful comments and opinions are demeaning barbs about what you believe I do or don’t think about Mats personally, then save the time you spend writing me and use it to read with your children. It’s a far better use of time. If you would like to engage in objective debate I am willing and eager.

See you at the rink.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Don't cry for Mats

On Hockey Day in Canada, Mats Sundin made his return to Toronto as a Cannuck. The fans at the ACC cheered and adored him for the most part, to honor the 13 years he spent with the team and how he wore the captain’s “C” with such class for so many years. Mats deserved all the adoration and his teary response to the fans was real and moving. That was the wonderful part of the return for me. Fans who loved him and he who loved the fans and the city. Both treated him very well while he was a Leaf.

The debate over the departure is the part that bothers me. I have seen and listened to commentators who say they are “disgusted” by those who question Mats for not agreeing to waive his no trade clause in his final year to help the franchise which helped him so much. Disgusted? I love a good debate, but I don’t hate or condemn those who debate against me. You are disgusted by anyone’s opinion which doesn’t align with yours? Really. Wow that is the kind of intellectual arrogance usually reserved only for politics not hockey.

I agree with the basic facts here. Mats Sundin had the no trade clause and it was his right to choose. There are many rights all of us have, but not all are weighed evenly against good taste. It is legal to burn the flag, but most people find it distasteful as a form of protest.

The question is not whether he had the right to exercise his no trade clause, but was it the selfish thing to do? That’s really the question here. How do people feel about Mats doing what was best for him and not the franchise despite the fact he had the right to choose?

Mats at the time said he didn’t believe in being a rental player and that you are only a part of a team if you go through camp, pre-season, regular season and the playoffs as a member of that team. Joining Vancouver mid-way through this season clearly means he has changed his mind on that very important point of integrity. On the weekend Mats expanded on that saying that the Leafs were only 6 points out of a playoff spot and he thought the team could make the playoffs and he wanted to stay and be a part of that. Well if Mats really thought that team could make the playoffs, he was in very select company since the clubs management made it very clear to everyone they didn’t think it was possible as evidenced by the fact that they asked all the important players to waive their no trade clauses, not just Mats.

On the topic of what the Leafs “owed” Mats for his years of service, I find this one tough to understand. Mats has everyone’s admiration as a standout player, wonderful leader and classy gentleman through many turbulent times in Leaf Nation. Other than that admiration the Leafs don’t owe him anything. Mats has earned over 74 million dollars in his playing career so far and most of it in Toronto. His thanks was deposited in his account on the 15th and the 30th each month for 13 years. It should be noted that no player has earned as much or more than Mats without also winning the Stanley Cup. There are many great players who have made a great deal of money and not won, but Mats is at the top of this list. I only state this because we are talking about what Mats is “owed”.

The biggest question fans debate is, did Mats owe the Leafs something for all that adoration and cash. Was it fair to ask Mats to waive to the no trade clause so they could start refilling the franchise tank? It was fair to ask, just like it is fair for players to ask for more money, better terms or no trade clauses in their contracts. There is nothing demeaning or insulting with asking. Did Mats in fact have a moral responsibility to a franchise and fan base which had given him so much, and I believe the answer is yes if we take Mats himself at his word.

Mats is the one who has said over and over how much he loved the Leafs, the city and the fans. If that’s true then you make personal sacrifices for the things and people you love. We all do that in our personal lives all the time for a family and friends, but up to a point. Mats simply didn’t love the Leafs, the city and Leaf Nation enough to do something he didn’t want to do. No harm in that. It simply points out Mats love for the Leafs had limits and being traded was one of them.

This points out one of the oldest adages in life. Judge a man by what he does, not by what he says. Too often they are different things. The actions of Mats Sundin do not match his words. It doesn’t diminish his contribution to the Leafs for 13 years it just means he had a no trade clause, no desire to move and no concern about what that might do to the Leafs. It’s not what he said it’s what he did that tells the story.

See you at the rink.