Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Joe no superstar yet.

A few thoughts from the San Jose/Vancouver series.

Dany Heatley is too slow to be able to produce when the tempo of the game gets as high as it does in the 3rd round of the NHL playoffs.  Patrick Marleau has proven again he is not an impact player in important games.  What San Jose does with these two contracts is a major conundrum,  but what is clear is that the Sharks cant win the cup if they have to depend on these two players to be major cogs in the big Shark wheel.

While admirable that Joe Thornton played the final game of his season with a separated shoulder, the reality is he failed once again to lead his team over the hump.  A great many players have endured his injury or worse so he is by no means alone with the wounded hero tag.  He is a star player but does not deserve the superstar moniker until he can take over a series and lead his team to the cup.  He will always get more credit that he has earned because he is a wonderful guy, easy to like and thus the media loves him, but it doesn't change the fact that to become one of the greats you have to be the central figure in leading your team to greatness.  He appears to be on the Eric Lindros track.  Unlimited ability but just cant get it done.

Nobody in the East knew who Douglas Murray was until this series and now everyone knows who he is.  Murray is huge and plays a rugged, effective game.  He is a star despite the fact he doesn't produce much offence.  His shutdown and punishment abilities are at superstar levels.

Roberto Luongo is a very good goalie.  Better than average.  Better than above average.  Better than good.  After the final 2 games of this series you could say he is a star player,  but still not a superstar.  Nobody has been called the best goalie in the NHL for a longer period of time without actually winning anything and carrying his team to those victories.  Haven't heard anyone say he carried Canada to the Gold.  Maybe a cup win would lift him to superstar status.  Maybe a few cup wins and you could start having the conversation about him being one of the greats like Roy and Brodeur.  Despite all the fan and media hype he has not yet earned that and wont until production matches promise.

Ryan Kessler is a very very good player.  Also one of (if not thee) worst (or best) divers and actors in the NHL.  His ongoing display of embellishments in this years playoffs is impressive (or embarrassing) depending on your perspective.  It is difficult to trust that any of his reactions are legitimate.  If and when he is ever seriously injured,  how will we know?  What cant be faked is his superior talent and ferocious competitiveness.

After being MIA in parts of round #1 and #2, the Sedins were outstanding against San Jose.  When they were on the ice, they often controlled the whole game.  Like many high skill players they will have to endure the criticism of shying away from contact far too often,  but nobody cares about that while you are holding the cup.

See you at the rink.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

No cash for you

I am OK with the province of Manitoba announcing it will not subsidise the NHL's return to Winnipeg.  I am not OK with the double standard which continues in this country and the skewed debate over partial funding of NHL facilities.

I always hear the ridiculous claims that taxpayers should not be helping millionaire players and billionaire owners.  The taxpayers already are!   Tax and funding fairness is the issue here.  I am fine with provinces and the federal government staying out of those situations as long as they stay out of all of them.

industries and companies all across Canada are regularly the recipients of government assistance and we all accept that as a way of keeping jobs and helping the economy and the communities in which these facilities are based.  Often the companies who receive this assistance employ the same number of people (or fewer) than an NHL team.  Generate the same (or less) to the tax base and don't come close to NHL teams in what they bring to the city in exposure, culture, entertainment, spin-off jobs and a sense of civic pride.

So what is the difference?  Political optics.  Politicians are less worried about fairness and more optics.  When Senators owner Rod Bryden was looking for fairness it was pointed out that Cognos at the time employed about the same number of people in Ottawa and their top 25 employees made more than the Senators top 25 employees (players),  but Cognos still qualified for Federal research and development grants but the hockey team was told to go suck eggs.  The fact is much of the city of Kanata's development was due to huge tax breaks and federal grants to millionaires with names like Mathews and Copeland whose top 25 employees all made much more than the highest paid NHL players.  Are we all OK with that too?

The optics are created by the average guys awareness of what an NHL player makes and what the owner is worth because the media regularly talks about both subjects.  The media does not talk about the top 25 employees salaries or what Cognos owner (Mike Potter at that time) has in the bank.  Potter is worth more than many NHL owners.

Governments at all levels routinely try to both entice and hold onto businesses to keep the jobs and the tax benefits that come from those paychecks.  You should want to keep 25 millionaire hockey players in your town because they pay big personal income tax. 

The debate about directing funds to hospitals and schools instead of the NHL is also a circular debate.  The best way to afford more hospitals and schools is to try and keep millionaires in your town to pay taxes.   When has it ever occurred that more money was put into hospitals and schools when an NHL team left?  Ask Winnipeg and Quebec City if their hospitals and schools are better or worse off since their NHL teams left.  The answer on that and every single level is NO!  Thus the reason both are so interested in getting teams back.

If you don't want to help fund NHL arena's I am fine with that but the same rules should apply to every single for-profit business in this country.  Its only fair.  We would have said good bye to Bombardier long ago.  Two of the three big Canadian auto makers would likely be dead right now.  The list is very long.

This should be about fairness not optics.
but it is not and will never be because politicians are about optics first and fairness,  well, that is well down the list.

See you at the rink.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Scotty we've got the technology

Nashville coach Barry Trotz has publicly complained about Vancouver's embellishments in game #3 of their series.  Shea Weber's hooking penalty was caused by Ryan Kessler holding onto Weber's stick under his arm, or as everyone in hockey calls it "the chicken wing" move.

Jarred Smithsom took a penalty after moving his stick over Roberto Luongo's head and the goalie then jolted his head back drawing the penalty.  Replays showed that the stick never hit Luongo.

This is not new.  Gamesmanship is part of the game and a big part of the playoffs.  Cant blame a guy for trying,  but nobody feels good about players faking or finding sneaky ways to draw penalties.  The logic on the Weber call is, if his stick wasn't there in the first place then Kessler wouldn't have a chance to hold it and draw the penalty.

The problem is these things are becoming more and more common and the game is just too fast for officials to see and call everything.  In an ideal world Weber would have received his hooking call and Kessler would have received a holding the stick penalty. That did not happen and we all know what happened on that power play.

The NHL has the technology to try and curb this kind of thing.  You cant possibly catch all of it during a live game but its fairly easy to see after on video.  The NHL should use the power of video to lessen this behaviour and send a message to players that trying to embarrass NHL officials has a price.

Any player determined to have embellished or faked or chicken winged in a game should be subject to a fine and the amount of that fine and his name should be made public.  The fine is not the most important part of all this since $2,500 dollars is the max a player can be fined under the CBA and that is peanuts to an NHL player.  Being publicly outed for the behaviour is the most important part.  Get caught 3 times, its a 1 game suspension.  No player wants to face the media to answer those embarrassing questions.

If the NHL really wants to help stop players undermining the authority and credibility of NHL officials, the league has to do something to stop players from making them look foolish.  Use the power of video to do that.

See you at the rink.

The balance is all wrong.

The Washington Capitals were swept in their 2nd round playoff series by Tampa last night.  It means in the last 4 years this mega talented team has lost in the first round twice and in the 2nd round twice.  What is the problem?

Balance.  They don't have any.  I have said this about Washington for 3 years now and I said it again this year before the playoffs even started.  Most everyone in today's NHL knows you cant score your way to the cup you have to defend your way to the cup.  The last team to score its way to the cup was probably the Oilers of the mid-80's.

This requires a team to have the right balance of scoring forwards who also understand the idea of team defence.  A strong defence corps with very good to great goaltending.  In today's NHL that is the balance you have to try and find to have a chance at the cup.

Washington simply does not have it.  The team is simply too heavy with players who are wired to be offensive.  That's good in the regular season,  but its the achilles heal in the playoffs.  During the regular season this year,  Washington head coach Bruce Boudreau tried mightily to get this team to play tighter defensively,  but to no avail. 

Boudreau will likely be fired, but I cant see the next coach having anymore success with that roster.  Its a personnel problem.  Yes you can coach any player to be better defensively but some players are just not wired that way.  They can get better, but if their natural instinct is always offence,  that is a tough job for a coach to change his stripes.  That's why you draft and develop shut down defencemen or you sign them as free agents.  You don't take an offensive defenceman and try to transform him into something he is not.  Mike Green might get better in his own end,  but he is always going to be obsessed with scoring not shutting down.

We have all watched those car restoration shows on the Discovery Channel.  You can turn a Camero into a station wagon with a cutting torch, and a good welder,  but it will never be as good as the real thing.

Washington doesn't need a new coach,  they need some balance in their roster.

See you at the rink.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Kudos to Hughie

Name pronunciation in the NHL is one of my pet peeves.  Too often people in our business either guess or just ask someone they think knows how to pronounce a players name.  Too often they are wrong.  The only way to get it right is to ask a player directly how he wants his name pronounced.  

The way the question is phrased is the most important thing.  Some guys say to a player "is it pleck-AH-nits?"  Often a player just says "ya" because that's close enough and they don't care.  That's why you have to ask a player "how do you pronounce your name?"  and then listen to how he says it. 

I know this Montreal centre has his name pronounced two different ways.  I asked him when he first came into the league to pronounce his name and I recorded him saying it.  He pronounces his name "pleh-CAN-its" just the way Bob Cole says it on HNIC and not "pleck-UH-nits" they way some people pronounce it.

Kudos to HNIC's Jim Hughson doing the Vancouver/Nashville series.  Preds goalie Pekka Rinne has one of the most mispronounced names in the NHL.  His first year in the NHL Gord Wilson and I were in the Preds locker room and the first question we asked him was how he pronounced his name.  It is not "RINN-eh" or "RINN-ey" it is "REE-NAY".  Hughie did his homework and asked the simple question.  It doesn't seem like a big deal but its one of the smallest but most important details of doing our job.  Hughie does not miss the details.

See you at the rink.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Bush League

The Snowgate debate in the San Jose/Detroit playoff series is nothing short of bush league.  There should be some things that are just beneath the professional standards of an NHL player.  Spraying snow and ice chips into the face of the opposing goalie is one of those things.  We tell 8 year old kids to stop doing that because its disrespectful and stupid,  but some NHL players think its a "tactic".  If the best you can do to get a goalie off his game is spray him with snow,  then you have no game plan at all.

It is hard enough to get some viewers in American markets to take our game seriously, but trying to explain this kind of buffoonery to them is difficult because there is no way to make it sound smart or professional.  Reggie Dunlop and the Johnstown Chiefs would have loved this part of the series.  Juvenile and moronic!  If the NHL would spend as much time trying to get stupid out of the game as they do trying to get Zdeno Chara to not drink Coke on camera,  we would all be better off.

What makes this even more of a joke is the Sharks assertion that these snow showers are accidental.  Simply the byproduct of going hard to the net looking for a rebound.  Funny part about that is, if they really are accidental why is it these things don't occur in their own practice.  Teams routinely do net drive drills at full speed with full contact, yet their own goalies never get snowed in practice?  The claim of accidental snow showers insults the intelligence of every hockey fan.  The idea that an NHL player can't change the angle of his skate blades in 10 feet is also comical.

The claim that there is no specific penalty to call in these cases is also laughable.  Its called unsportsmanlike conduct.  Its on page 105 of the rule book if you are looking for it.  There was no specific penalty for the absurd stick waiving from Sean Avery in front of Martin Brodeur in the 2008 playoffs,  but eventually it was called under this rule.  This rule basically covers any behaviour which could be construed as the actions of a jackass.  The snow in the face routine definitely falls into that jackass category.

Play the game hard.  Play the game like a man. Stop the bush league tactics.  It makes you and our game look stupid.

See you at the rink.