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[Archive] 2013 interview with Jonathan Cheechoo

August 19, 2014 Leave a comment

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My interview with Jonathan Cheechoo posted on The Score’s Backhand Shelf blog on November 28, 2013. Cheechoo was right in the middle of his first season abroad, playing in Croatia for the KHL’s Medvescak Zagreb. Cheechoo was named an assistant captain of the first year team, made the all-star game, and finished 16th in league scoring. Despite a solid season, Zagreb was swept in the first round by Lev Praha.

Cheechoo has signed with the KHL’s Belarus based Dinamo Minsk HC for the 2014-15 season.

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Life after the Rocket Richard Trophy: An interview with Jonathan Cheechoo

jonathan cheechoo

Jonathan Cheechoo hasn’t exactly been making headlines over the last few years, but that isn’t because he hasn’t been around. After his award winning 56 goal season in 2005-06 with the San Jose Sharks, Cheechoo’s point production steadily headed south, along with his health – to the point where he was bought out of his last NHL contract, and relegated to the minors. After spending the last four seasons with four different AHL clubs, Cheechoo has resurfaced with Medveščak Zagreb of Croatia in the KHL — the league that many consider to be the NHL’s top rival. At the moment, he looks like the Jonathan Cheechoo of old on the scoresheet — leading his team in points, and even wearing the captain’s “C” on his jersey.

Cheechoo graciously spoke with me recently about his KHL experience, the league’s reputation, his battle with injuries, playing with Joe Thornton, his thoughts on returning to the NHL, and a whole lot more.

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First off, Barry Brust was nice enough to put this interview together, how has Barry been as a goalie for you guys so far? He broke Johnny Bower’s 55 year old AHL shutout streak last season with the Abbotsford Heat, and has nine wins and three shutouts for you guys as of now this season.  

Cheechoo: “He’s been great. He’s stepped in and made some big saves, and kept us on our longest winning streak of the season. He’s definitely a bit of an unorthodox goalie as far as the way goalies go today, but he gets the job done. He’s pretty solid. He competes hard. That’s one thing you don’t see in some goalies – some goalies are technically sound but you don’t really see a compete level in them. They’ll say ‘I was in the right spot, and if you beat me, you beat me’, whereas he’s passionate about making saves. You don’t see that a lot.”

Why did you choose Medveščak Zagreb in Croatia over others, say HV71 in Sweden who you played for in 04-05 during the NHL lockout, or any of the other teams and countries you could have had your pick of with your background?

Cheechoo: “For me it was just opportunity. We’d been on holidays in Croatia about four or five years ago and really enjoyed it. For me, the last three years or so I was trying to get back into the NHL and in those spots I really didn’t have my family around all that much. So, for me it was important to pick a spot where I could have them with me, we could enjoy it together, and I was still able to play at a top level against top competition.”

How is the KHL? Obviously it’s a good place if people like Ilya Kovalchuk are willing to leave huge NHL contracts to play there, but there are also some stories of teams not paying players, and obviously the facilities and materials can at times be questionable looking at the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl airplane incident – how has your experience been with your team? What have you seen or heard as far as horror stories from other guys in the league? Is any of it true, or is it all just made up?

Cheechoo: “I think obviously some of the things in the stories must have happened in the past. But since I’ve been here, the word I’ve got is that the KHL hires an insurance firm so that if you’re not paid after a certain amount of time by your team, they pay the salary out of the KHL insurance that they have on the contracts. Nowadays I’m not sure how true not being paid is, but I can only speak for this team. I’ve only been on this team and guys I’ve talked to, for the most part, everyone’s been paid. I think there are a few stories like that though. For us here playing in Zagreb, we fly on Croatian Airlines, so we rent the actual planes that fly everyone around out of Croatia anyway, so that’s pretty much as safe as you’re going to get. Things maybe will happen that are out of your control. I can’t really speak for the Russian teams; some things may be different over their way. But I’ve heard of guys that have their own private jets and stuff like that to fly them around, so kind of on par with an NHL team in that regard.”

So when the opportunity arose for you to sign with Zagreb, were any of those stories in the back of your mind, or did you think that as a new team that was probably set up pretty well financially, it was a low-risk situation to join them? 

Cheechoo: “For me, I’d heard rumblings about the past, but I talked to a few guys. I talked to Aaron Fox, the GM here, and was pretty much assured that was all in the past. The KHL’s looking to make a good name for themselves here with the team as well, so to get players, you can’t fall behind in payments or anything like that and I think they knew that and that was a pretty big reassurance to hear that, coming from them. Anytime you go somewhere new it’s a leap of faith too. For us, we felt it was time to move on and try something new, and I still wanted to play at the highest level I could. For me, I saw the KHL as being where you’ve got a lot of guys that could be playing in the NHL playing in this league. I figured this was the next best league, outside of that.”

Is the KHL an even level to the NHL these days, or is it still a step back? Obviously there is a lot of talent there, but where do you see the league right now, comparatively? 

Cheechoo: “It’s a pretty solid, competitive league. Everyone has a chance to win every night. Over here, you see a lot of games where top teams are getting upset by the weaker teams. That’s the key to a good league, whereas some of the lesser leagues you know that there’s this team coming in that you can beat no problem. It’s almost like a point night. Even in the AHL you’ll be playing a young team and it’s pretty much like you should beat them. Whereas over here, there’s maybe one team every year that doesn’t do so well. But for the most part, every team’s in every game, they’re tight games, occasionally you’ll get the blowouts, but for the most part there’s two good teams playing each other.”

What about just life in Croatia and Russia, is it a challenge with culture shock or the language barrier for you and your family? Have you picked up the language?  

Cheechoo: “I picked up a bit of Croatian, not a lot. I’ve got the key words down, but other than that I think my son’s picking it up faster than I am. But it’s been great. I’ve enjoyed it. We’re pretty adventurous as a family, and this is a thing where we looked at it and said, ‘we can have fun over there, there’s a lot of stuff to see and do’. My wife’s taking advantage while we’re on road trips, going around travelling a little bit and we’ve travelled a little when we’ve had breaks. It’s not too far off. For me, the hardest part about moving here was probably learning to drive stick. I hadn’t done that in about ten years, so re-learning to drive stick was probably the hardest part. Pretty much everybody speaks English or can somehow communicate with you, through sign language and stuff, because they get enough tourists here I guess.”

Do a lot of people in that country know who you are from your NHL career and what you did there, or do you have some anonymity in that part of the world? 

Cheechoo: “A lot of people know who I am. I got a lot of press when I signed and before I came over here. They’re pretty knowledgeable fans too and they’re pretty hard supporters. Coming over here, the one thing they told me was to be prepared, everyone is going to know who you are and everything you do. It’s not that big of a deal, everyone’s pretty respectful, and they let you go about your business. You may get a few kids asking for autographs but that’s something you should enjoy.”

You’re currently first in team goals, third in team scoring, top 40 in league scoring…have you had to make any adjustments to your game to be successful over there? Do you feel pressure to put up big numbers as an import with an NHL and award winning background? 

Cheechoo: “I’ve felt great. I put in a good summer of work before I came over here, and then we had quite a long training camp to get ready, so coming into the season I felt strong, felt ready, and I was healthy, which has been half the battle for the last six or seven years of just trying to stay healthy. So far, so good. In terms of pressure, I probably put more pressure on myself to score – because I love to score – than anyone could possibly put on me. It’s one of those things that I take pride in, being able to score. Coming over here, the main adjustment was just the big ice, getting used to it, and its different angles. You go to take a shot from what would be the slot, and it’s a little farther out than what it would normally be. It’s just compiling those things, and getting used to them. I figure I have. I feel a lot better playing on the big ice now. At home, we have small ice anyway, so that’s the challenge – adjusting back and forth.

Speaking of scoring, and to turn back the clock a little, in 05-06 you won the Maurice Richard Trophy as the NHL’s leading goal scorer with 56 goals, lead the NHL in game winning goals with 11, and set franchise records for the San Jose Sharks  –  most goals in a season (56), power play goals in a season (24), and hat tricks in a season (5). Most reports assume that you were simply the benefactor of Joe Thornton that year. Do you agree with that notion, or do you feel like that is a slight to you and what your talent allowed you to accomplish that year?  

Cheechoo: “It’s alright, I don’t mind. Joe is a talented player. He was great to play with. I think the thing that made us play so well together was that I love to score and shoot, and he’s a think first pass player. He always comes in and he’s thinking pass before he thinks shoot. Then if his passing options aren’t open, he’ll shoot and he’s still a threat, so it keeps the goalie honest. That helps open up a little more time and space, and the goalie has to respect him a little more. He got like 20 goals a year as well, he wasn’t just a passer. Playing with him was pretty amazing, but he’s played with a lot of great scorers. I think I got the most goals out of anyone that’s played with him, so I did do a little bit of the work myself.”

Have you found anyone since then that you’ve clicked with on the level that you did with Joe? Your numbers did start to decline after the 05-06 season; by 09-10, your production was cut to 14 points with Ottawa and you were bought out of your contract. In your opinion, how did that happen? Do you mostly attribute it to injuries? 

Cheechoo: “I think injuries played a big part in it. That was the only year I played in all the games. The injuries took their toll on me and my body. I hurt my knees – my MCL’s three times each – and after a while, it takes a toll on you. All the injuries add up and slow you down a little bit, but I felt I regrouped well in the minors and started to feel strong again. Down there, I don’t think I really played with anybody that had quite the passing ability of guys that I played with in the past. Playing a little bit with Patrick O’Sullivan, we clicked well together when we were in Peoria, but other than that I never really played with a pure passer since then. But now over here, it seems like I’m playing on a good line — me and Matt Murley have clicked quite a bit, and Billy Thomas. Those two guys are pretty good players that look to pass the puck, so it’s been fun being the shooter-type guy on the line again.”

When you were playing in the minors, did you think about making it back to the NHL someday? Do you aim for or envision an NHL return in the future, or are you content with where you are in the KHL? 

Cheechoo: “To get back to the NHL would be the ultimate thing. That’s the top league in the world. But for me, I work hard when I’m down. I love playing hockey. I’m not going to cheat the game. I always play hard, wherever I am. I play to win. If I can get another shot at it, then I can get another shot at it. If not, I’m going to work my hardest for whatever team I’m playing on, and try to win. I love winning, and it sucks to lose. Being able to be part of a team and playing is a big thing for me, but I want to be able to produce at the same time. I want to bring my best game out. I think the only way I can really help the team is if I’m out there giving my all.”

Do any of those old injuries affect you today, or are you totally healthy nowadays?

Cheechoo: “Everything’s good. I felt good when I went down to Oklahoma City last year. I hurt my back two years ago and I missed some games, but last year I sat out half the year and I think it helped heal pretty much everything. When I came back the second half of the season in Oklahoma City, I felt healthy and put up some good numbers. Over here I’ve been healthy and playing well. On a four game road trip I felt best on the fourth game, so I think I’m feeling healthy right now.”

What are the big differences in the culture and atmosphere of the KHL in the dressing room, arena, in the stands, amongst the team? What makes that experience special and so much different than North America?  

Cheechoo: “They have a real passion for the game, is one thing. You don’t get a lot of people that just happen upon the game. They’re real supporters of the team. There aren’t a lot of huge arenas, there are smaller arenas, and there are people that really come out to support the team that have done it for years. It’s pretty amazing. You’re a lot closer to the fan base. You walk in with them, you walk out with them, there’s less separation between the players and fans, so it’s kind of cool in that way. You’re playing for them, and they’re out there rooting for you, so it’s quite a thing to be a part of.”

What has been your favorite moment of the experience so far? You scored the first KHL goal in Zagreb history – does that or something else stand out as a big moment for you? 

Cheechoo: “I think we were viewed as pretty big underdogs coming in here, no one really thought we’d do anything, so to come out with a big statement win right away, and to get that first goal was pretty special, and something a lot of these fans will remember, and something that made them excited to be part of the KHL. Getting that first goal was probably the biggest moment so far.”

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Why Canadians Should Be Cheering For The LA Kings To Win The Stanley Cup

June 4, 2012 1 comment

[originally post for www.betonhockey.com on May 30/2012 ]

[click here for the 2014 LA/NYR SCF version of this post]

There’s a big fuss being made over the fact that, for only the second time ever, an American captain will be hoisting the Stanley Cup for his team first at the conclusion of this year’s playoffs. While it is an interesting statistic, it seems that the same people that are so concerned with captaincy nationality are uninterested in discussing the birthplaces of each of Dustin Brown and Zach Parise’s teammates that they are leading into battle; and less interested in talking about where the coaches that these captains are taking orders from, originate.

We should examine the origins of the remainder of each team’s roster to see exactly where our nationalistic allegiances should be strewn. Let’s do that now.

LOS ANGELES KINGS

The active roster of the Los Angeles Kings features 25 players – 15 of them are Canadian, 7 are American, 2 are Russian, and 1 is Slovenian. Add 1 Canadian if you count head coach Darryl Sutter. The Kings have more Canadians in their lineup than the Ottawa Senators, and as many as the Vancouver Canucks – the only two teams based in Canadian cities that made this year’s playoffs.

Representing Canada (60%): Jeff Carter, Kyle Clifford, Colin Fraser, Simon Gagne, Dwight King, Jordan Nolan, Dustin Penner, Mike Richards, Brad Richardson, Jarret Stoll, Kevin Westgarth, Justin Williams, Drew Doughty, Willie Mitchell, Jonathan Bernier (Darryl Sutter).

Representing the USA (28%): Dustin Brown, Trevor Lewis, Scott Parse, Matt Greene, Alec Martinez, Rob Scuderi, Jonathan Quick.

Representing Europe (12%): Slava Voynov, Andrei Loktionov, Anze Kopitar.

Assessment: Predominantly CANADIAN.

NEW JERSEY DEVILS

New_Jersey_Devils_BetOnHockey.gifThe active roster of the New Jersey Devils also includes 25 players – 7 of them are Canadian, 7 are American, 4 are Swedish, 3 are Czech, 2 are Russian, 1 is Ukranian, and 1 is Lithuanian. Add 1 Canadian if you count head coach Peter DeBoer.

Representing Canada (28%): Steve Bernier, Eric Boulton, David Clarkson, Adam Henrique, Travis Zajac, Bryce Salvador, Martin Brodeur (Peter DeBoer)

Representing the USA (28%): Ryan Carter, Stephen Gionta, Cam Janssen, Zach Parise, Mark Fayne, Andy Greene, Peter Harrold.

Representing Europe (44%): Patrick Elias, Jacob Josefson, Ilya Kovalchuk, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Petr Sykora, Dainius Zubrus, Adam Larsson, Henrik Tallinder, Anton Volchenkov, Marek Zidlicky, Johan Hedberg.

Assessment: Predominantly EUROPEAN.

CONCLUSION

If you’re basing your team allegiances upon the nationality content of each team, here’s how you should focus your cheering:

If you are Canadian, and want to cheer for Canadian players, you should be cheering for the LA Kings in the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals.

If you are American cheering for Americans, it’s your choice.

If you’re European cheering for Europeans, you should side with New Jersey.

[click here for the 2014 LA/NYR SCF version of this post]

The Top 10 Internet-ually Influential NHL’ers

May 4, 2012 Leave a comment

Hi folks! I had this list passed on to me from the fine folks at PeekYou.com. Interesting list! Scroll to the bottom for two of my own additions. 

-SDC

 

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It’s NHL playoff season – the race to partake of the questionable sounding act of drinking from Lord Stanley’s coveted cup is upon us in earnest.

With that, PeekYouthe leading people search engine presents the PeekScore line up of the NHL’s top 10 scorers as per their respective Web presence; just in time for playoffs.

PeekScore is a rank from 1 to 10, assigned to every person. The higher someone’s score, the “more important” they are on the web. In calculating your PeekScore and updating it often, PeekYou takes into account your known presence and activity on the Internet, including but not limited to; your bloggingparticipation in social networks, the number of your friends, followers, or readers, the amount of web content you create, and your prominence in the news.

Rank

Picture

Name

Team, Goals Scored

PeekScore

1



Evgeni Malkin

Pittsburgh Penguins, 50

8.19 / 10.00

2



Alex Ovechkin

Washington Capitals, 38

8.17 / 10.00

3



Steven Stamkos

Tampa Bay Lightning, 60

8.10 / 10.00

4



James Neal

Pittsburgh Penguins, 40

8.06 / 10.00

5



Phil Kessel

Toronto Maple Leafs, 37

8.05 / 10.00

6



Marian Gaborik

New York Rangers, 41

8.04 / 10.00

7



Ilya Kovalchuk

New Jersey Devils, 37

8.04 / 10.00

8



Scott Hartnell

Philadelphia Flyers, 37

8.03 / 10.00

9



Corey Perry

Anaheim Ducks, 37

8.02 / 10.00

10



Matt Moulson

New York Islanders, 36

7.81 / 10.00

[Dave’s note: I’d like to add two names to this list as interesting NHL player Twitter follows:

1) Dustin Penner @Dustinpenner25 for his immediate hilarity as a Twitter rookie, self-deprecating Pancake humor, and odd digs at LA sniper Anze Kopitar. 

2) The substantiated but heavily speculated Twitter account of Roberto Luongo @strombone1 which has speculatively been serving as a sounding board for the goaltender that asked for a trade from the Canucks recently. Luongo has never admitted to running the account, but bloggers and TV stations alike have been hot on the trail.  ]

About PeekYou

PeekYou is a search company that is re-indexing the public web around people’s identities, and redefining what it means to look someone up online. Rather than matching together mutually relevant URLs and keywords, as Google does, PeekYou matches any given URL to the identity of the person who created it, or whom it is about. To date, PeekYou has identified over 250 million people as the authors of over 3 billion public URLs. Over 7.5 million visitors use PeekYou’s people search engine every month. As of February 13, 2012, http://www.peekyou.com was ranked the 235th most popular website in the U.S., according to Quantcast. PeekYou’s analytics products deliver enterprise-class social audience measurement solutions. The Social Analytics API provides game-changing audience insights to better target content, engage relevant consumers, and create highly converting social initiatives for your brand. More info available at: http://analytics.peekyou.com/. The company was founded in 2006 by Michael Hussey, who created the globally recognized network of “RateMy” sites such as www.ratemyteachers.comwww.ratemyprofessors.com, and more.

Hockey Talkie: Status Report on the NHL’s Long-Term Front-Loaded Contract Signings

December 16, 2011 1 comment

[Originally post for betonhockey.com on December 6/2011]

Alright all you NHL teams that tried to weasel your way around the NHL salary cap by signing players to long-term front loaded contracts, how have your deals been working out for you so far? You thought you were pretty smart by signing those sneaky but legal deals, so let’s see what you’ve come up with so far.

New Jersey Devils, you made the most publicized deal of the bunch, signing Ilya Kovalchuk at age 28 to a 15 year, $100 million dollar contract; keeping him as your property until 2025 when he’ll be 42 years old. That very same year, Kovy appeared in 81 games and put up his worst year’s point total (60) since his rookie year when he only had 51 – a far cry from the 98 he put up as a Thrasher in 05-06. Oh, and you missed the playoffs last year too. You better hope he picks his socks up, because no team in their right mind is ever going to be involved in a trade for that much money for a player with such relatively poor point production. The only offsetting factor is that Kovalchuk’s an outstanding player. He could neutralize most of this heat by playing like a superstar again. If he doesn’t, the Devils get a FAIL on this one.

Philadelphia Flyers, you signed Chris Pronger at age 37 to a 7 year, $34 million deal that locked him up in orange until 2017, when he’ll be 43. You also made him your captain. You’ve had decent playoff success, but still failed to win the Cup. Pronger’s been injured on numerous occasions, with a knee and eye injury being the most recent. Last year he only appeared in 50 games, his lowest since 94-95, and consequently had his lowest point total since then as well. This season he’s missed games due to a virus, the afore mentioned eye injury, and surgery on his knee. Is he going to make it to 43? Although Pronger brings a lot of veteran leadership and experience, I’d say Philly is behind the count on this one. [update: on December 15/2011, it was announced that Pronger will miss the remainder of the NHL season and playoffs due to post-concussion syndrome]

New York Rangers, looks like you didn’t think your signing of Scott Gomez in 2007 for seven years and $51.5 million was that great a move after all, considering you paid him $18 million of that contract before flipping him to the Montreal Canadiens for them to pay the remainder. Might have been a good play though, Gomez’s point production is constantly under criticism, and he’s coming off a career worst point total of 38 (his best was 84 in 05-06 with the New Jersey Devils) — pretty poor for a centerman. He’s the Habs’ problem until 2014, when he’ll be 34 years old. In the end, a win for NYR for moving him, and a tie at best or loss for Montreal when it’s all over.

Vancouver Canucks, you inked Roberto Luongo at age 32 to a 12 year, $64 million contract, keeping him a Canuck until 2022, when he’ll be 43. As much as I hate the Canucks, there’s no question that Roberto is an elite goaltender, so I understand your wanting to keep him around. Thing is though, as great of a run you had last season, Roberto let in more than 20 goals during last year’s Stanley Cup Finals. Between that and your stars not scoring, you failed to win your franchise’s first Stanley Cup, and your fans destroyed your city. And that was only year one. You’ve got 11 to go, and Lu has already been shaky; giving way to “backup” Cory Schneider multiple times this season. Many think that Schneider should be the team’s #1 goaltender. Do that, and you’ll have $5.3 million dollars sitting on the bench every year you allow it. It’s great to have a President’s Trophy winning season and all, but if you fail to win the big trophy, it’s all for not. If Luongo can’t be consistent when it counts over the next decade, Vancouver loses this one. And maps may have to be re-drawn over the area that used to be the city of Vancouver, if rioters are given any more reason to cause carnage.

And New York Islanders, the pièce de résistance unquestionably still belongs to you. In 06-07, you signed Rick DiPietro to a 15 year, $67.5 million contract – keeping him on Long Island until 2021, when he’ll be 40 years of age. Apparently you were not informed that Rick needed to be kept in an antique store with a “FRAGILE” sign around his neck. You got two decent seasons out of him right off the hop, but it has been downhill from there. Due to injury, Rick played in only five games in 08-09, eight games in 09-10, and just 26 last season. Goaltending has been nothing short of a metaphorical revolving door, as DiPietro has shared the net with multiple goalies – none of which seem to be able to keep pucks out of it. The team has been, or close to, dead last in league standings the last number of years. You haven’t made the playoffs since Rick’s first season with the team. Between hip surgery, knee surgery, groin problems, neck injury, concussions, facial fracture, and sickness, DiPietro has only been able to play in a fraction of the games you surely hoped he would. And when he did play, the team still ended up being bad. Sorry NYI, there’s just no way you come out on top from this one. [update: on December 15/2011, DiPietro was placed on injured reserve yet again, after suffering a groin injury]

So, NHL owners, what have you learned?

Hockey Talkie: Bobrovsky, Skinner, Worlds, Chi-Van for Winter Classic, Quiet Room Exploit, Coyotes, and Thornton in Flip Flops.

May 9, 2011 2 comments

I love TSN analyst Jay Onrait’s comparisons of Sergei Bobrovsky’s pulls and starts to a cop being pulled off a case, surrendering his gun and badge/getting them back & being reinstated on the case.  The frequency of his being “hired” and “fired” from the “force” is comparable to George Steinbrenner’s yo-yo’ing of Billy Martin.  It’s a classic tale of guy who’s dug himself a hole with a shot at redemption; but instead of realizing that potential, blows it and finds further condemnation, constantly restarting the cycle.  For all we know, he could be living out a real-life hockey player/fictional cop version of Groundhog Day; having to get it right to proceed in life.  The vids will clutter the blog up, but below are some links if you ‘re totally lost on what I’m talking about:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PyGSH4Ofuxw&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ps5IPq7DAgE&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S0M9F6GN2Ng&feature=related

Also, why do Philadelphia and Washington refuse to spend money on a dependable goaltender?

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Some perspective food-for thought…. With 63 pts this season, Jeff Skinner entered himself into the all-time-leading-scorer-as –an-18-yr-old conversation.  As remarkable as it was for him (while simultaneously nullifying the Taylor/Tyler debate), that total still put him behind Sidney Crosby’s mark as an 18 year old…trailing him by 39 points (102); and also behind Wayne Gretzky (110 in WHA, 137 in NHL).  As good as Skinner’s numbers were, they’re barely halfway to the best ever. 

BUT consider this too:  Skinner and Ilya Kovalchuk both had 31 goals this year, and Skinner ended up with 3 more total points than Kovy.  The fiscal difference between them? $97.3 million in salary.  So there’s that side of the coin as well. 

Now Skinner’s competing for Canada at the 2011 IIHF World Hockey Championships, and doing just fine for himself.  I may have touched on this before, but this tournament just isn’t a fair portrayal of the world’s talent in the game; and I maintain that the Olympic tournament should be the measuring stick in world rankings.  Currently, Canada is ranked #2 behind Russia.  But why?  Because Russia does better in tournaments where the world’s best talent is still competing for NHL teams?  In a tournament where rosters are seemingly allowed to change as frequently as teams desire?  Canada destroyed Russia in the Olympic tournament where the world’s best players were ALL playing for their respective country.  A true world championship should be contested by the world’s best players; the IIHF Tournament does not offer this.  Why do they refuse to hold the tournament at a time where all players are available?  The potential for credibility is right there, but it seems more like pride that is holding the IIHF back from changing more than anything else.  In the meantime, Canada will continue to send the best they have available at the time and on short notice to top up their roster as best they can.

And a little further on Worlds rosters…. Toronto Maple Leafs’  Dion Phaneuf, James Reimer, and Luke Schenn were all good to go for Canada at the Worlds, but Phil Kessel said he was too tired to play for the US.  Feel free to insert your own American joke.  On the one hand, I think Kessel deserves the lambaste for this, but on the other, I think it speaks at least a little to how unimportant  some players view this tournament.  Playing for your country is an absolute privilege; it’s too bad that the IIHF refuses to present a tournament that all players wouldn’t waste a second thought on whether they would join their country’s roster or not. 

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If these two ever get teamed up in the announce booth, I'll quit watching hockey.

Can the NHL go ahead and book the Chicago Blackhawks/Vancouver Canucks for next year’s Winter Classic?  Great rivalry that has developed there; would make an entertaining HBO 24/7 special too.  They’d need to do it in Chi-town though, unless they’re prepared to deal with hockey’s first ever rain delay.

Glen Healy is approaching Pierre McGuire-level ridiculousness in some of his HNIC on-air commentary.  Though I hate the Vancouver Canucks, and a high-percentage of their fans, I do at least respect the Green Men.  Healy has, for whatever reason, decided to make it his mission to slag these guys at every on-air opportunity he gets.  Truth is, as annoying as they are, the Greenies  are just fans who have paid their ticket money, are excited about and supportive of their team, and aren’t hurting anyone around them.  If Glen Healy has a problem with fans, he might want to remind himself of who paid him his 14 years worth of NHL salary.

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I thought about this when Brent Seabrook got concussed by Raffi Torres in the first round….The NHL’s new “quiet room” rule (a player that receives a headshot has to sit in a quiet room for 15 minutes and be evaluated by a doctor, good idea) seems easy for a team to exploit to get an opposing team’s good player off the ice for 15 solid minutes.  I don’t know that any player/team would stoop that low, but when you think about it, if you can get a dangerous scoring threat or an impossible to beat defenceman off the ice for nearly an entire period, that doesn’t hurt your chances of winning the game.

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I love DJ Steve Porter’s sports interview remixes, especially these NHL ones: http://t.co/cwXdc6V  http://t.co/Uax93Bc

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It’d be too bad if the Phoenix Coyotes ceased to exist; I do like their red and white howling coyote jerseys.  It’d be a shame to have to ditch them.  Also, how unfair was it to the Coyotes that the media decided to talk about their pending relocation the entire time they were in the playoffs?  They never had a chance this year.  Oh, Glendale’s going to bail them out again next season now?  Wow, glad we had to go through that unnecessary hype and conversation a few weeks ago. 

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Everytime the San Jose Sharks lose a game in the playoffs, I’m pretty sure Joe Thornton thinks to himself about how much more comfortable his flip-flops and boardshorts are than his hockey equipment at that moment.

Hockey Talkie: 24/7, NYI, Kings Colors Contention, Price Pose, Langenbrunner Laud, Spin-O-Rama’s, Pro-tection, and Euro-League Relegation.

January 15, 2011 3 comments

So I, seemingly like every hockey fan, loved HBO’s 24/7 Road to the Winter Classic mini-series. I touched on it a couple of blogs ago already, and the topic’s generally been beat to death and forgotten by now, but there’s two points I still want to discuss: First, as cool as the series was, the build-up was for a gimmicky mid-season game. Doesn’t the series seem tailor-made for the passion and emotion behind the pursuit of the Stanley Cup in the playoffs, and for specifically, the Cup Finals? Wouldn’t your eyes be glued to your TV watching the triumph of winning and heartbreak of losing the toughest trophy to win in sports? The boyhood dream storyline, first and last shots at the Cup… can you imagine seeing Marian Hossa backstage at any point of losing 2/winning 1? It blows me away that Americans need hockey to be put in a football stadium (where I can’t imagine fans at the game can see any of the action on a playing surface that’s ¼ the size of the football surface, unless they’re watching the jumbotron the whole game, in which case why didn’t they just stay home and watch it on TV?) in order for them to flock to it. Part of me thinks someday they (Americans)’ll get our game, the other part thinks the US sell is a big waste of time and the NHL should just milk the Canadian loyalist audience for all its worth.

On a lighter note, one of, if not the funniest segment of the whole series was Capitals’ coach Bruce Boudreau Christmas shopping for his wife, getting distracted by a Haagen Daaz ice cream store, saying “it’s never too early for ice cream”, getting turned away because the store didn’t serve ice cream that early, getting rattled, and then leaving the store with a shoes for his wife that were admittedly the wrong size and color. I mean, fat guy hypnotized by ice cream? The comedy writes itself. Enjoy:

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In an ongoing effort to not be poor, I was seriously considering betting against the New York Islanders for the rest of the season to make some money; and it seems good that I didn’t follow through on the notion, because they started beating top teams like Detroit and Pittsburgh. Someone tell the Islanders they’re not supposed to play “spoiler” until the playoff push. Good for them frustrating top teams lately, as well as my interest in gambling.

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If the LA Kings were better in their earlier years, do you think they would have stuck with the purple and gold jerseys? The LA Lakers win titles, and they look good in those colors; yet the Kings were bad, and got mocked for them. Coincidence?

Same colors: One is adorned in rap songs, the other ridiculed through history.

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I really enjoyed Carey Price’s crossed arm pose after stopping Pittsburgh in a shootout recently, mostly because of the heat he’s taken in Montreal for so long; it was good to see him have some success and win some favour back.  I’ve secretly been cheering for him to shake the Halak-ian curse, and I think he’s pretty well done that, finally.  Then of course, the Habs lost to Pittsburgh, and Marc-Andre Fleury jammed it down his throat by doing the same pose. Hmm, oh well, so much for that.

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I was surprised to see Jamie Langenbrunner not only traded from the New Jersey Devils recently, but also traded for so little. A guy that’s won 2 Cups, captained an NHL and Olympic team, and always put up consistent, steady point production seems worth more than a 3rd/2nd round pick. But there isn’t much value in anyone from the Devils these days. I think NJ got hosed in that deal; at least Langenbrunner gets to play for a good team.

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There’s been lots of talk about spin-o-rama goals in shootouts these days. My thought is I’m fine with them. My only potential beef is with goals like Mason Raymond’s ; I think he might have stopped moving forward, which is the only real shootout rule, besides the idiotics of Kovalchuk losing the puck and Stamkos falling (seriously, of all players, those two both f’d up clear, uncontested breakaways?).

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Ovie demo'ing the 2012 Oakley visor

I’ve never understood why pro players insist on things like wearing no helmet in warm-up, taking the earguards of their helmets, and wearing visors that are not approved by any standards association in the world. I just don’t get wearing less protection at the level full of the biggest and toughest players in the world, that theoretically could damage you more than anyone else in the sport. Did anyone see Scott Gomez a few years ago take a puck in the head during warm-up that ricocheted off the post and into his melon and bust him open? At literally every level of hockey besides pro, you have to wear approved equipment (minor, junior, college/university, & minor pro), so why do players shed all the gear they’ve gotten used to over their entire playing career to be less safe? It’s gotta be all aesthetics, right?  From a business standpoint, it’s a really dumb move — the pros wear all this special gear, and young minor hockey players want to wear it, but when they go to buy it, they find out it’s not approved by the safety standards that regulate equipment use at their level (The Oakley visors are the prime example, they’re illegal in every level up to pro).  These kids are the major market for equipment manufacturers because parents will buy their kids whatever they want, in contrast to the junior or college player who gets all their gear provided to them by their team. 

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And lastly, do you think European-League relegation theory would ever work in North American hockey, specifically the NHL–AHL and maaaaybe ECHL? The process is this: If you win your league, your team ascends to the league above and receives an inflated budget. If you finish dead last, you go down and lose money. Sure, this could introduce a lot of problems, most notably probably the last-place/first-draft-pick system, but it’d make for a little more competitiveness and exposure to unknown teams, don’t you think?

Hockey Talkie: Brodeur, Byfuglien for Norris, HBO 24/7, Sutters, Spengler, Waffles, & The DiPietro Deficiency.

December 29, 2010 15 comments

Could the New Jersey Devils’ situation be any worse? Dead last in the entire league (as of Dec 28/10), their bazillion-dollar signee, Ilya Kovalchuk sucks, and their former best-goalie-in-the-world is anything but, often injured lately, and having a tough time doing the most important thing about the goaltending position job description – stopping pucks. You gotta think Martin Brodeur is, at least, contemplating retirement at this point. No disrespect to him, but I mean he’s won everything for a goalie to win (3 Stanley Cups, Olympic Gold twice, 4 Vezina’s, multiple All-Star selections; holds 20 NHL records, including most wins, shutouts, most games and minutes played, even scored a game-winning goal).  But really, at this point, what is the purpose in him hanging around, especially when he’s  now playing for the worst team in the league? After all his accomplishments, it’d be a shame to see him fizzle out and get Chelios’ed in his remaining time.

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secretly, NYI owner Charles Wang was trying to get the NHL to outlaw outlandish contracts all along.

Speaking of bad teams, how many more stints on the IR for Rick DiPietro until the New York Islanders decide buying out the remaining 11 years on his contract is actually the better option?  Tough for the Isles to get the most bang for their $67 million bucks out of a constantly injured goalie who hasn’t played an entire season since around the time he signed that contract. 

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Dustin Byfuglien’s the early favourite for the Norris Trophy, no? He’s 13th in league scoring as I write this, and there is not another defenceman on the list until Nicklas Lidstrom at 26th. He’s even got more points than Ryan Getzlaf, Eric Staal, Alexander Semin, Jarome Iginla, Jonathan Toews, Dany Heatley, Evgeni Malkin, Teemu Selanne, Joe Thornton, Martin Havlat, Rick Nash, and Patrick Kane, to name a few. To be fair, he is currently 65th in +/- rankings, which may or may not be a more important measure of a defenceman’s worth, depending on who you are. He’s still got my vote, for now.

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Like many of you hockey folks, I’m loving the HBO 24/7 Penguins/Capitals Road To The Winter Classic miniseries. I know lots of people are talking about it, so I’ll try to raise a few points that aren’t being beat to death, too badly.

One – Bruce Boudreau has been getting a lot of heat for his constant cussing in the dressing room and on the bench. My response to this is that the only people balking at this have to be people who are either over-sensitive, or just have never been in a hockey dressing room before; because, and I hate to break it to the weak at heart, but that’s exactly the way hockey dressing rooms and coaches are during the game. They get frustrated when things don’t go right, and when you’re as emotionally invested in the game and the success of the team as a coach has to be, f-bombs begin to flourish, especially in a slumping team situation. Personally, I love the fact that he’s not pulling any punches or walking on egg-shells just because there’s cameras around him all the time.

Two – I love seeing that NHL players are pretty much like every other hockey player that plays on every other team in the world and every other level (minus the skill level and multi-million dollar contracts, of course). It should be pretty obvious, since they all came up through all the same developmental leagues that all other players do to get where they are, but there’s something humanizing about seeing a teammates pulling hotel pranks on each other during road-trips, coaches telling players to “pack up your stuff so we can get the f— outta here” after a road loss, generally being jokers off the ice, and then really dialling in their serious side when it’s time to perform on the ice.

Three – as cool as this build-up to the Winter Classic has been, and as amazing as that game will be, this kind of TV series is tailor-made to a Stanley Cup Finals showdown, is it not? I know the big sell is the Crosby-Ovechkin matchup for American viewers by the networks, but isn’t the confrontation for the Cup, aka the biggest prize in the sport, even easier for fans to invest their advertisement-susceptible eyes to, compared to a gimmicky mid-season outdoor game?

And further, isn’t it a testimony to how unnecessary it is to advertise hockey in Canada that, compared to the Winter Classic media blitzkrieg, there has barely been a mention of the upcoming Heritage Classic outdoor game between Calgary and Montreal? You mean to tell me the mention of Jarome Iginla vs Josh Gorges isn’t enough to put butts in seats, and eyes on TV’s?

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Even though I’m an avid Calgary Flames hater, it’s unfortunate to see Darryl Sutter “resign” as team GM, after team CEO Ken King asked him too.  Seems like an either-quit-or-you’re-fired face-saving situation for Sutter; which, if you’re going to publicly announce that you ask a guy to quit, you might as well just fire him.  I don’t support Flames success, but I have to admit, Sutter has been the only guy to get any out of that organization in recent history, including brother/head coach  Brent, who barely batted an eyelash at the situation, citing his family’s unparalleled ability to separate family from business.  Man, that’s got to be an awkward family to be around at Christmas.

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I love the Spengler Cup.  I wish it could be rescheduled so it actually got some coverage, instead of being overshadowed by the WJC.  With personnel like Mark Messier coaching, Hockey Canada obviously supports the team; why aren’t they allowed to sport the official Hockey Canada jerseys like every other legit Canadian team representing Canada in international play?  Surely HC just doesn’t want to desecrate the uniform with all those euro ads, right?

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a little suspicious that this rink guy has an entire box of Eggo’s….

And finally, I’m loving the waffles being thrown on the ice at Toronto Maple Leafs games. It’s just such an amusing item to throw. It causes a delay of the game, bla bla… some one could get hurt, yadda yadda… let’s be honest, if the Leafs keep sucking, and Kessel keeps not scoring, they’ll be thanking their lucky lifetime season-ticket holders that something as soft (and delicious) as waffles is all that’s being thrown on the ice.

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