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.