Sunday, November 28, 2010

A New Way.

With the whole Colin Campbell debate still raging about supplemental discipline and the implied conflict of interest, it makes me believe that the things I said 5 years ago remain my opinion today and in fact lead me to believe that it is more important than ever. Colin Campbell is a solid hockey man in an impossible situation. In the position he is in right now as it relates to supplemental discipline, it is not and can never be pure. There is simply too much input, too much politicking, too much coercion from too many different sources involved in almost every case.

When a case is reviewed there are league pressures, marketing pressures, seat sale pressures, team pressures, opposing team pressures, player pressures and everyone at every level has the ability to call Colin and talk to him. They all have their case to make and it is impossible for any human to field all those pressure tactics and consistently come out with the proper ruling and precedent based decision.

So, as I have said before, like arbitration a third party should be the one deciding supplemental discipline in the NHL. That person would be sent all the relevant video evidence along with written perspectives from the two teams involved. No one from the league, the NHLPA or the teams would be allowed to have any contact with the adjudicator unless he or she requests direct contact for the purposes of clarification. Decisions would be based on the exact interpretations of the rule book and precedent.

This would take politics out of the process and remove any hint of bias. One of the important byproducts would also be the NHL being forced to make its rule book and the often talked about but never seen, "situation book" more clear with fewer things open to interpretation. One of the biggest problems in the NHL is that almost every rule and every call are open to interpretation which leads to every call being debated. That continually undermines the NHL's ability to have fans, media, players, coaches and managers believe that the rules of the game are called with consistency.

The NHL employs the best officials in the hockey world yet almost everyone agrees that the biggest problem with the game is officiating. No one seems to know what a foul is on a night to night basis. The ambiguity of the rule book and its application is a huge part of that and the NHL would do itself a favor by dealing with that.

See you at the rink.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Sobering perspective

I have to admit that right now talking about the Power Play or which team is the best one in the East or the lack of trades in the NHL all seems pretty trivial right now. The suicide death of Luke and Stephanie Richardson's youngest daughter Daron has put so many things into a different perspective for all of us who are around Luke, this team and this league.

Maybe because all of us who live in this NHL life have an unsaid arrogance that this type of horrific tragedy doesn't happen in our world. Clearly it does.

This tragic loss of this young life is no different than any other. It is the same grief and sorrow that comes with any teen suicide, but this is different because its public. Working in the NHL means that you must forfeit some of your privacy and anonymity. The Richardson's know that and have been remarkably public about the details of their daughters death. If I were in their shoes I doubt I could be that strong and I admire their grace during what is the very worst time in all of their lives.

What has come of this so far is remarkable though. Out of such a brutally heart wrenching situation is some good that benefits all of us who have children. First was the organ donation and second the conversations. There are parents all over the city, the region and the league who are having conversations with their children about suicide. Conversations about depression and dark thoughts. Conversations about making sure there are open lines of communication with their children. Conversations about what to do if you ever feel like you have no options and the world is not worth living in.

There is nothing that can ever erase the pain the Richardson family is going through and even with that, by being so public about their situation they have given all of us a gift. The gift is a sobering perspective on teen suicide which may help prevent one or two or five or ten other ones.

There is nothing any of us can say to the Richardson's to ease their pain. Sadly it is theirs to carry for the rest of their lives. But we can say thank you for finding the very little that is good from this and sharing that sliver of good with the rest of us, to help the rest of us foresee and avoid the horror you are now going through.

God be with you.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

I am still alive and blogging

Yesterday I was driving my daughter to school. Kenny Walls the producer of the morning show called and asked if I was listening to the show. I had my 10 year old daughter in the car, so no I wasn't listening. Love the show but never have it on when the kids are in the car. I don't even want to begin trying to explain the Turkey Skin Luggage song to my kids.

Kenny wanted to know if I was listening as JR slagged me on the air about never writing in my blog. I went on the air with the boys ready with my excuses. Unfortunately I didn't have any good ones. I still don't. Just stopped at the end of last season and never really started again at the start of this season.

generally I write my stuff in a separate file and then after I tweak it I copy and paste it to the blog. I have a new laptop with Microsoft Office 10 and I have not yet learned all the nuances of this great software. For some reason it allows me to copy but will not paste to the blog. So the 3 or 4 pieces that I have written, I have not posted because I am simply too lazy to re-write them from scratch.

I wish I had some better excuses but I don't.
I am simply the laziest blogger out there and now being shamed into changing my ways.

I promise to write something sometime about something somebody might care about.

See you at the rink.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

No Shame

After the Senators lost last night and their season came to an end, I listened to the Team 1200 Post Mortem with JR for a while. There was the usual questioning of earlier trades, and the use of the goaltenders over the run of the season and all the usual “what ifs”.

The overwhelming sense I got from the fans while listening on the web from my hotel room in Boston was that they were disappointed “for” the team and not disappointed “in” them. Two very small words which make a very big difference. Years ago after the 4 game sweep at the hands of the Leafs fans were disappointed in that team. The compete level, the emotion level, the courage, in fact everything was questioned.

Losing to the defending champs in 6 games, 2 of which went to overtime, is no shame. Especially considering Ottawa was missing one veteran top-4 defenceman (Kuba), two top-6 forwards (Kovalev, Michalek) and the captain played the entire series with a torn abdominal muscle with a rookie defenceman logging the most minutes in the series.

Their compete level was high. The emotion level was high. The resolve to beat the odds was high. Their grit level was high and for all those reasons there is no shame in this loss.

Now more than ever I believe these players became a much better team the day Heatley was traded. They swapped a me for a we and traded goals for character and this team had plenty of that against Pittsburgh.

See you at the rink.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Sutton hit

As I am working the Buffalo/Boston series for HNIC during the first round I am surrounded by people who are not Senators fans nor are they media who regularly follow or cover the Senators. With no bias to be found I can tell you there is no hockey person I have spoken to here in Buffalo who does not think the Sutton hit was a clean, legal, hockey hit. None were surprised that there was no supplementary discipline.

Most of the surprise is that a veteran like Leopold was caught like that. Sutton’s continued use of that move is because players continue to come down the wing with their head's down, apparently unaware that he is on the ice and he has done this many, many times. If something works keep doing it until it doesn’t.

Penguins defenceman Brooks Orpik admitted as much after the game when he was asked about the hit. He said it was a clean hit and they had all watched video of Sutton’s tendencies both good and bad.

It continues to beg the question, why aren’t today’s players more tuned in to who is on the ice and what they tend to do. It was the same story after Chris Neil hit Tampa’s Viktor Hedman. It drove him backwards and he suffered a concussion when his head hit the boards while falling. It was a clean hit from the front, and Hedman saw it coming but said he didn’t think Neil would hit him. What did you expect him to do? Did no one tell him what Chris Neil does for a living? Did no one warn him that #25 plays hard, finishes his checks and will drop the gloves? How could this have possibly been a surprise?

Did Daniel Alfredsson complain when he was injured after a hit in Pittsburgh? He blamed himself for allowing himself to be vulnerable. Just because a player gets injured doesn’t mean that the play that injured him was illegal.

See you at the rink.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Paging Kreskin

The NHL playoffs started last night and I watched the opening games from my hotel room in Buffalo. While I will call the Buffalo/Boston series for HNIC, the Senators opened up against the Pens with a 5-4 win. Some shaky goaltending at both ends and Ottawa doing a very good job at closing gaps and jumping up into the play. With a team like the Penguins, laying back and trying to defend is a quick way to lose.

Ottawa is certainly the underdog in this series, but it’s probably the toughest series to predict. A bunch of us were throwing some ideas around and realized that Ottawa sweeping Pittsburgh is a legitimate possibility. Pittsburgh sweeping Ottawa (which is now impossible) was also just as legitimate. This series going the full 7 games is also very easy to envision. The Senators have been so streaky this year that it makes it hard to handicap this thing.

When Ottawa has been hot this year, there is no team they have been unable to beat. When the Senators have been cold, they have been ice cold and at times looked like they couldn’t win a practice. So what will happen in this series?

I have no clue. I only know how tired Pittsburgh must be after playing more games than any team in the last 2 years. I also know how much it would mean to the Senators and the city if they can rebound from missing the playoffs to upsetting the defending champs in round #1.

See you at the rink.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Where is the honour?

Ok let’s start the debate again. Was Matt Cooke’s blindside hit on Marc Savard legal or not? It was clearly cruel and intentional but was it illegal?

I have listened to the guys who call themselves “old school” and claim its part of the game and Savard has a responsibility to protect himself.

I am old school but obviously I went to a very different school. I love hard hockey but I greatly dislike hockey without honor and that hit had no honor. I watched it 20 times on Youtube and Cooke clearly saw what he wanted to do and also clearly knew Savard had no clue he was behind him. That is the key for me. Hitting a man like that simply because you can, knowing he doesn’t see it coming is just wrong.

I have spoken to Matt Cooke several times and have always enjoyed the conversations. He seems like a wonderful guy, but you can’t escape the history. All you have to do is type his name into Youtube and you can find all the video you want. His hit on Shean Donovan that blew his knee out. His head shot on Artem Anisimov which got him a measly 2 game suspension. The time he kicked Detroit goaltender Chris Osgood. His kneeing of young Zach Bogosian. Blowing out Eric Cole’s knee. Slew footing Kurtis Foster. Crosschecking Andrei Markov from behind into the boards. Anyone can go to Youtube and type in his name and these are some of the videos’ that come up, but these aren’t the only incidents.

There is a very serious pattern here. The pattern is a complete disregard for other player’s safety. There also seems to be too much evidence to suggest this is just a series of coincidences from a player who has to play on the “edge”.

My question is, why is a player with this history not seeing the level of supplementary discipline escalating? You don’t injure this many people by accident.

Talk of a “new rule” this summer to be added which will curb these kind of hits kind of makes me chuckle. The NHL rule book is already twice as thick as it needs to be. Officials can’t call current rules consistently enough now and we are going to add more rules? How about this for a revelation. The rule already exists. It’s called intent to injure. That is already in the book and is next to never used despite the fact players in this league intend to injure each other every night.

Officials need to use the power they currently have to do their part. The NHL needs supplementary discipline at a high enough level to change behavior and players need to find a way to inject a little honor back into the game.

The countdown clock is ticking. We are getting closer and closer to the next on-ice death. Mark my words it will happen and when it does all 3 of the above mentioned bodies will have questions to answer.

See you at the rink.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Gord is the hardest working man in hockey.

I want you to know a little bit about my longtime partner on radio, Gord Wilson. You hear him on the radio doing games and likely have little understanding of what goes on in his life each day.
First you should know he is and has always been a hockey junkie of the highest order, so while his schedule seems ridiculous, I can assure you he loves every day of it.

Let’s take Saturday for example. Before anyone else from the media is at the rink, Gord is already there with his suit on. He doesn’t have the luxury of going home during the afternoon to change, so he is ready to rumble before any of the rest of us are even there. Gord is MCing an ESSO fan event which will happen during the morning skate and he is at the rink early to prep for that and start gathering information which he will use in the afternoon to build his depth chart for the Leaf game later that night.

After the MC thing is over, he grabs his notes and a pen and heads up to the stands to watch the morning skate and take note of line combinations and who is missing, who is playing with whom and gather tid bits from some of our friends who cover the Leafs to add to our radio broadcast.

When the skate is over, it’s downstairs to listen to Cory Clouston’s media conference and after that a separate one-on-one interview Gord does with Corey to run during the pre-game coaches’ show. Right after that he is handed a mic by a camera man and it’s into the locker room to interview players for Sens TV. When that is completed its back into the stands to watch the Leafs skate and take more notes before heading downstairs to talk to Leaf players and listen to Ron Wilson.

One third of Gord’s working day is now done. He goes back to our broadcast office, takes his jacket off and gets down to work. On each game day we each construct a depth chart. It’s a layout of line combinations, league and personal stats of all the players in the game and taking all the tid bits both researched and discussed in the morning and logging them onto the depth chart for easy access during the game. It takes on average a little over 3 hours to build a depth chart for each game.

Since this is a Saturday, Steve Lloyd is off and that means Gord is also hosting the 2 hour pre-game show on the Team 1200. Gord is not the kind of person to just walk into the booth, flip the switch and start filling time. He wants it to be current, compelling and a must-listen for hockey fans. That takes work. Gord collects interviews and sound bites from earlier in the day and gets them ready for drop-in’s during the pre-game show. He gets his out of town scoreboard information ready which entails researching what is going on with each team playing in the NHL that night. He then writes his opening to the show and lays out a plan to synchronize when topics will be raised and how much time each discussion point will be given.

When most of the rest of the media heads to the meal room for the pre-game meal, Gord heads to the booth upstairs to get ready for the pre-game show. At 5pm he is on the air and first up is a conversation with Bob Mackenzie. You don’t talk to this man without being prepared and Gord has already figured out every question he is going to ask Bob. The 2 hours fly by as Gord controls and guides the 4 ring circus of himself, Mike Eastwood, Bruce Garrioch and yours truly. When that ends its on to a 3 hour game which includes 2 intermissions, both of which Gord hosts and digs into what has happened in the game as well as what is going on in the rest of the NHL.
Usually the first commercial break in the 2nd period is when Gord runs down the hall to go to the bathroom. You may want to listen to that some time because if you know the inside story you will get the inside joke. I often ask Gord a question about something that happened during the 30 or 40 seconds of play he missed while running back from the bathroom. A question he cant possibly know the answer to, but I love asking him anyway just to hear the imaginative, vague answer which is always a masterful bluff.

When the game ends, Gord and I go through the game summary, pick the 3 stars along with the hardest working Senator. When the stars are announced in the rink, they always say it’s the Team 1200 broadcast crew who picks them, but really that is Gord too. When the selections are required in order to radio down and grab the guys as they leave the ice, the game is actually still on and I am still calling it. So while I have input during the game, it is Gord again who is left with the responsibility to make the final picks and fill out the form while trying to keep at least one eye on the game which is still going on.

Now our part of the actual game coverage ends but that is not the end of Gord's night. He heads straight downstairs and does a post game on-line show for Bell which begins as soon as he gets back down to the locker room area. When that is done, Gord's working day is done.

Very few people know what goes into a hockey broadcast and nobody puts more into their broadcast day than Gord Wilson and he does it every day with Professionalism, poise, good nature and great patience. Another part of Gord’s daily life is babysitting his 2 play-by-play announcers. Both Dave Schreiber and I rely on Gord for a great many things, some of which have nothing to do with hockey.

Gord and I have known each other for almost 25 years and very few people know me better. Gord has always been my behavior monitor. I wish I were not this way, but I can often say some inappropriate things both on and off the air. I am a blunt and often sarcastic person and Gord is the one who lets me know which things require my inside voice and not my outside voice. He has saved me from myself many, many times.

Our broadcasting styles are very different. I pride myself on not becoming emotional while doing a game. I feel I lose concentration and the ability to accurately describe what’s going on if I don’t treat the game like a science project which is to be described correctly, analyzed correctly and broadcast correctly. Gord is the opposite. He wears his emotions on his sleeve and you are never wondering how he feels. I believe that is why we have made a very good team for a very long time. My weaknesses are his strengths and vice versa.

Selfishly I love working with Gord because he gets my sense of humor and we truly enjoy each others company in the booth. Both of us know exactly how lucky we are to have these jobs and we never take them for granted and with that shared appreciation of our circumstance comes a shared gratitude for each night we get to spend in a booth calling the greatest game in the world.

Gord Wilson is a talented and outstanding broadcaster who is rarely appreciated for how much he does and how well he does it.

I just wanted the rest of you to know.

See you at the rink.

Just what the Doctor ordered

Just before the NHL traded deadline, Senators GM Bryan Murray brought in Matt Cullen from Carolina and Andy Sutton from the Islanders. Neither move brought a shudder from the rest of the NHL. There was no need in other Eastern Conference cities to make a move to match the bomb blast in Ottawa. Neither player created a feeling amongst other teams that they had to match nukes.

Both these players however are very important in subtle ways. Neither is a front line player. Neither is a game breaker. Neither is expected to come in and be “the man”. They are expected to fill a role.

Cullen is expected to be experienced and versatile. Play centre, wing and the point on the power play. He does 2 of the 3 very well. He does seem lost a bit when he plays the wing. Sutton is expected to play solid, boring defence in his own end. It is solid but not so boring when he uses that 6’6” frame to crush someone into the boards. Both have plenty of experience and most importantly the maturity to understand roles, situations and fitting in.

Sutton has walked into the lineup seamlessly and looks like he’s always been a Senator. Cullen has had a slower path to finding his spot and chemistry with his line mates, but as a smart veteran he will figure it out.

There have been other deadline deals that looked good at the start, but turned out to be busts. Many of those were not successful because the players being brought in were expected to play roles greater than they were able to. Murray and Clouston are not asking Cullen and Sutton to do anything they haven’t done regularly for the last 10 years.

These 2 players may quietly end up being 2 of the best deadline deals this franchise has ever made.

See you at the rink.

Hallmark has gone Hockey

The NHL trade deadline has now passed and we will all speculate and guess about what deals were good and which ones were bad. We will all try to figure out who won and who lost. It caused me to think about this whole day as I watched Sportsnet and TSN and listened to the Team 1200 and the constant pinging of my blackberry all day.

TSN has done a masterful job of becoming the sports broadcasting version of Hallmark. The Hallmark greeting card company decades ago realized that by creating events out of what had been loosely held traditions, was good for business. People would need their products to celebrate those events. Things like mothers day, fathers day and others were literally the invention of Hallmark. It was a genius move.

The CBC has done that with Kraft Hockeyville and HockeyDay in Canada. TSN has done the same thing with the world junior hockey tournament. It used to be another one of those age group international hockey tournaments that no one other than parents and scouts paid much attention to. TSN has turned it into an event in Canada almost as big as the Grey Cup, the Briar or the NHL playoffs. Most of the same players took part in the world under 17 championship and nobody really cared about that. The reason is no network has turned it into an “event”.

The same holds true for the NHL trade deadline. It used to be a conference call that everyone knew about the day after it happened and life leading up to it and just after it, didn’t seem all that different. TSN changed all that and now every media outlet treats it like an event with special coverage and countdowns and tallies. It is now like an election.

I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing but I know it is now a “thing”. I love it! I love the excitement, the wondering, the anticipation and the hundreds of thousands of amateur GM’s who now break down every trade that either was or wasn’t made.

See you at the rink.

Congrats Vancouver

The Olympic Games are now over. It is very easy to pick out every little thing that didn’t go as planned and drone on and on about some poor decisions. Putting a chain link fence around the flame was a bad idea. Karin Lee Gartner and Gaetan Boucher not being a part of the opening or closing ceremonies was a bad idea. Drinking beer and smoking cigars on the ice was a bad idea. Yes all these things are small negatives. But overall only a grim pessimist would focus on those types of things instead of what the games really brought out.

These Olympic Games may be the best thing to happen to this country since confederation. In my lifetime I can not remember anything that tied this country together like these games. The pride in our athletes was topped only by our pride in Vancouver and how well they hosted and that is topped only by how we as Canadians embraced our song, our country and most importantly each other.

It is certainly important that the rest of the world walks away from the games with a positive impression of Canada and Canadians, but selfishly I believe the greatest legacy will not be the facilities and infrastructure but rather the connection Canadians seem to feel in each other. The only other thing since confederation to unite this country in this way has been war. This is a far better form of national glue than the death and sacrifice of war.

Congratulations to the organizers, the broadcasters who brought it all into our homes, the people of BC for selling us this bill of goods and congratulations for all of us skeptical and reserved Canadians who bought what they were selling.

See you at the rink.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Head shot solution

I was listening to a radio show when one of the commentators said that hockey is pretty much the same as it used to be and the focus on all the head shots is simply because so many more games at all levels are televised and there are so many more media outlets to talk about and debate the hits, than in years past. Despite that being a ridiculously long run on sentence, I can’t disagree more with the contention.

While it is true there is far more attention paid because there is far more coverage and access through hi-lite shows and youtube, the number and type of hits is infinitely greater than it used to be.

Yes there have always been head shots and dangerous plays in the game but the number is far higher now for a number of reasons. There are the obvious ones. The average size and speed of the players is greater. New equipment causes as much damage as it protects. The wide range of the size of players. There was a time when very few small players got to the highest levels and very few of the biggest players made it because they were too slow and uncoordinated. Now at the NHL and CHL levels we have players who range from 5’6” and 160lbs to 6’9” and 265lbs.

The biggest single difference is attitude and respect. Players do not have the same respect level for each other as they used to have. There is no shame now in being thought of as a dirty or dangerous player. Players now do not contemplate the down side of being thought of by their peers as a player without honor.

The instigator rule also plays a part in all of this. The number of head shots and the supplementary discipline which results from those hits shows us quite clearly that players have not been penalized sufficiently to change their behavior towards each other. Since supplementary discipline is having next to no affect it conjures up the old argument about the instigator rule. While certainly not perfect and those plays did occur before the instigator rule, the frequency was much lower. Players thought about the on ice repercussions of their actions. If you leveled one of those hits, you knew someone would be visiting you on the ice to force you to physically answer for your behavior. That fear had a greater impact on behavior than supplementary discipline has so far.

We will never see the instigator rule rescinded so supplementary discipline must be amped up to change on ice behavior. The NHLPA must also institute some sort of peer based supplementary discipline. A player’s greatest threat to his career is from another player. A player based disciplinary board is completely germane here since over 70% of NHL players believe it is a front burner issue in the NHL. If the players want a solution they have to be a part of it.

See you at the rink.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Speak no Evil

Vancouver Cannuck Alex Burrows says referee Stephane Auger told him he was going to settle a score based on disrespect and did.

Let’s be real here. Referees are people too. There are some players they like and some they don’t. Some players in this league get more leniency than others all the time based on their personality, reputation, resume and other factors. If any of the allegations of Burrows are true, the only thing Auger did wrong was say the words out loud. It absolutely goes on all the time and everyone knows it.

This controversy has many tentacles. Firstly, some players have complained to the league in the past about referees swearing at them on the ice. That is a ridiculous double standard. Watch the lips of the people on the ice during any NHL game. You can clearly see that players use foul language towards, at and about officials all the time. Players can’t continually swear at officials and then be offended when officials use foul language when communicating with them.

Officials are also in an impossible situation. There is one easy way to end all of this from happening. Under NHL rules an official is not obliged to speak with any player or coach. If he chooses to, only captains or designated alternates are supposed to be allowed to speak to the officials and only if invited to have a conversation by the official. If you watch hockey you know that all players and all coaches are continuously speaking or trying to speak to the officials. Every one of them could be penalized if the ref chose to.

Referees however can’t do that. If a player can’t communicate with an official he complains to his coach. If the coach can’t communicate with the ref he complains to his GM. The GM then calls the league and complains that officials wont communicate and the officials are then instructed to have more communication despite the fact they are supposed to have the individual power to either accept on ice communication or not.

Do referees make calls in games based on some personal bias towards some individuals or teams? Absolutely they do. All you have to do is to go through the game sheets to map the trends. These things are discussed privately with the NHL all the time. Is there a way to fix it? No. Not as long as you have human beings calling the games. Just like teachers at school, some students are treated differently for a variety of reasons. It might not be right, but it is reality.

If Alex Burrows wanted the relationship fixed with Stephane Auger he should have done it quietly and privately. If Auger wanted to keep this from becoming public he should have just nodded to Burrows and skated away.

Why was Burrows disciplined by the league and not Auger? Because Burrows broke the publicity code by talking to the media about it and any discipline for Auger would have created at least the impression there may be credibility issues in his calling of games as it relates to fairness and unbiased neutrality.

At the end of the day Burrows broke the un-spoken code about speaking. That is the greater sin in the NHL, even if he was completely correct in everything he said.

See you at the rink.