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A Message For The NHL’s 2012 Playoff TV Ratings Critics

June 16, 2012 1 comment

[originally post for www.betonhockey.com on June 11/2011]

If there’s one thing that chaps me about the NHL’s critics, it’s their constant evaluation of playoff ratings, and assessment of hockey being “boring” because of low TV numbers.

The Los Angeles Kings/New Jersey Devils Stanley Cup Final isn’t producing the numbers that Boston/Vancouver did last year, and it’s not beating the NBA’s ratings either (this year’s game 6 ratings were actually better than last year, and the LA Kings owned social media interaction, but those are just details).

Well boo f’n hoo.

Look, I get it — the NHL is a business that sells the product of hockey to fans, advertisers, TV networks and the rest, and thusly it has to put a show on TV that a lot of people watch in order to swoon money away from all the afore mentioned parties. Fine.

Back in the day, the league scrambled to regain its post-lockout fan base, and was desperate to lure them back. Fans, viewers, and advertisers alike drooled over the “new NHL” that they were rewarded with, and ever since the NHL has seen its ratings and fan base grow exponentially. New rules were put in place to allow players more time and space to score, and impeding their progress was heavily penalized for the slightest obstructions. Players were paraded to the penalty box, and special teams dominated ice time. Goalies had their pad size decreased, got confined to a trapezoid shape around their net, and rightfully started getting lit up. Fighting became increasingly criticized, and thusly enforcers who contributed nothing besides their fists were put on notice that their services were far less necessary. Fans who came to see boxing matches were disappointed when the only thing that broke out was a hockey game.

Supposedly, the game was fun to watch “again” (it never wasn’t), and everyone seemed happy — except for goalies, tough-guys, all non-elite scorers who had to make defensive adjustments in their game to survive in the league, and also some elite players that took the retirement option rather than the adjustment one – well, everyone except most of the players, that is. So basically no one in the game was better for it, but all in the name of increased ratings and entertainment; everyone from the ground up made adjustments to produce a more entertaining on-ice product because the agreed consensus was it was a necessary evil.

But here’s the thing: you can modify the rules of the game and try to weed certain aspects/players out all you want, but eventually hockey players will adapt, survive, and thrive. Very few players really care if you find them entertaining or not (save for Sean Avery, et al), they just want to play the game they love, not get cut, make tons of money, and win. But they are aware of how their inflated salaries are funded.

Goalies are probably the best example of all – in the 80’s, scoring was probably at an all-time high, as Wayne Gretzky and others were making a mockery of modern goaltending by scoring 200 points in single seasons. Eventually, goalies got hip to it, bought bigger pads, invested themselves in honing their craft, and developed new styles of goaltending (see: Patrick Roy) that became the standard to learn from. Goaltenders even started handling the puck as well as some players, and scored goals (see: Martin Brodeur, Ron Rextall, etc).

In short, goalies got really good at stopping the puck, and scoring went down. Goalies were so good, people started to prefix Gretzky’s scoring triumphs with an asterix, because apparently they were achieved under crooked terms (despite the fact that legends like Gordie Howe, Jean Beliveau and Rocket Richard scored and set records on even worse goalies).

Talented goalies became a “threat” to the product of hockey; so almost as a punishment for getting so good at their position, goalies had to downsize their equipment, stay in a smaller space, and endure ongoing threats of making their nets bigger and other absurdities. All in the name of entertainment.

So they made the adjustments, scoring went up, and everyone was happy — for a while. That is, until goaltenders like Jonathan Quick, Pekke Rinne, Tim Thomas, and an apparently ageless Martin Brodeur were able to adapt, survive, and thrive — and stop a lot of goals from going in.

And once again, people complain that hockey is boring because they don’t get to see 20 goals go in every night – the same thing they criticize the last generation for being able to do — despite the fact that the stars of this generation like Sidney Crosby, Alex Oveckin, Steven Stamkos, Claude Giroux and others still score the way Gretzky, Lemieux, Yzerman, and Hull were able to in the previous one. Either you want today’s elite to score 50 goals in 50 games, or you don’t, pick your side.

The casual fan that the NHL tries so hard to entice into becoming a viewer/customer doesn’t get that every level of hockey player would kill to crack an NHL lineup, if only as a fourth line player whose job description is limited to getting the puck over the center line and dumping it in the other team’s zone and changing. They don’t get that playing defensive and positional hockey is as important as scoring goals in some scenarios,

They don’t get that the players they view as “boring” have been playing the game since they were able to walk, travelled a million miles through every small town in the world, had coaches bench them, been told they weren’t good enough, been cut from teams, put in 1000’s of hours in the gym, spent 1000’s of dollars on equipment and training, gave up summers to devote to self-improvement, studied the game, learned to get better at their position, fought, injured every bone and muscle in their body, and have basically done everything it takes to just be a “boring” player. Casual fans don’t understand why every player isn’t as flashy as Crosby or Ovechkin. They don’t get the thrill of skating down open ice on a breakaway, making a crisp pass that sticks where it’s supposed to, making a big body check, having anywhere from 20 to 20,000 people cheering or booing you, or just how electrifying it is to be better than the other 11 players on the ice for one brief moment and score a goal.

And they’re shocked and appalled when playoff hockey success becomes defined by grit, toughness, and will, rather than the finesse and freewheeling they see all year. They don’t like that prominent regular season scorers like the Sedin’s get roughed up in the playoffs and can’t score as often. This is the way the NHL has always been, and always will be. Through all the concessions of tweaks and modifications they make, the league works hard to protect its roots. The NHL’s regular season is a show, the playoffs are a showdown. Playoff hockey is the real version of hockey, played in the key that every young player was taught by every coach they ever had. Playoff hockey is about two teams battling through everything the other throws at them, and scoring more goals than them by any means necessary. Every pro, college, junior, and minor hockey player know that a switch gets flipped come playoff time.

They want more penalties called because they think it’ll make the game faster and improve its flow – because, you know, nothing keeps the game moving like 50 stoppages of play per game to call penalties. And if they don’t see the penalties called that they are assessing from the comfort of their couch, some have the audacity to claim hockey is rigged. Come on.

Casual fans don’t get it because they’ve never done it. They’ve never been in those situations, and likely never will. Heck, I’d wager a good number of people calling hockey boring can’t even stand up on skates. The NHL isn’t trying to appeal solely to former players, it’s just that people who’ve played know what’s really going on out there, and have a better grasp on how to emotionally engage the game.

To be fair, there are some great minds in hockey that never did ever lace up in the NHL – Bob McKenzie, Darren Dreger, James Duthie, Elliotte Friedman, and plenty others like them know their stats and inside information, no question – but the thing about stats and averages is that they may tell a good story, they can’t ever fully predict the happenings of a game as unpredictable as hockey is from shift to shift. Again, hats off to the insiders, but guys that have been on the ice immersed in those situations insiders try to predict the outcome of – guys like Ray Ferraro, Kelly Hrudey, Jeremy Roenick, Nick Kypreos, and up and comers like Justin Bourne – are the ones I’m going to lend my ear to when I really want to know what’s going through players’ heads. But that’s just me.

Inclusion may be the root of the entire problem – hockey is far more difficult to get involved in than other sports; you have to buy a lot of pricy equipment, plus facility and registration fees are high, whereas participation in sports like soccer and others require very little besides a ball and a sunny day. If there were as many grassroots hockey players worldwide as there are soccer players, maybe we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

So many exciting storylines have developed through these playoffs: LA entered as an eighth seed and dominated top teams, their incredible road victory record, the emergence of Jonathan Quick as an elite goaltender, Dustin Brown’s prominence and then disappearance, Dustin Penner’s redemption, the Radulov and Kostitsyn debacle in Nashville, Phoenix going farther than its franchise ever has and the fall out of their elimination, Martin Brodeur being 40 years old and still making ridiculous saves, Washington’s ongoing Ovechkin/coaching saga, Claude Giroux leading the playoffs in scoring while his team was eliminated for an entire round, every Tortorella post-game interview, and many more beyond those.

In the finals themselves, the first two games were decided in overtime, saw Kopitar score exciting goals, and now is featuring aNew Jerseycomeback when it seemed at first sight that LA was going to sweep the series. If overtime isn’t exciting enough for you, there’s even a plethora of Hollywood stars and other famous people attending games if straight-up hockey isn’t good enough for you – heck, even TMZ is covering stars attending Kings games/events.

But beyond all that still, you have two teams of players and coaches who are playing through pain and doing whatever it takes to accomplish what they’ve wanted to do since they were kids: win the Stanley Cup. It’s still the most difficult trophy to win in sports, and the lifelong goal of every person who’s laced up a pair of skates. To capture it is nothing short of a feat.

Anyone who doesn’t find entertainment in this extravaganza just doesn’t get hockey, and probably never will. The NHL wouldn’t agree with this, but if you’re reading this and are still one of the people calling hockey boring, please by all means, go watch basketball.

More To Kopitar’s OT GWG Than Meets The Eye

June 11, 2012 Leave a comment

 

[originally post for www.betonhockey.com on June 3, 2012]

Anze Kopitar’s game 1 overtime winner was unquestionably pretty, and there’s a lot more within the 10 second series of events that occurred prior to the puck crossing the goal line than one is able to see at first glance that made it even more spectacular.

First, the fact that this scoring opportunity even materialized is ridiculous, and a complete breakdown on New Jersey’s part.

BetOnHockey_Kopitar_Goal_Creation.jpg

1. Things start out as New Jersey defenceman, Marek Zidlicky, forced Dustin Brown to turn the puck over just before the Kings blue line (C). Up until this point, Kopitar (A) was covered by Zach Parise (B), and both were anticipating the puck heading towards the Devils’ zone.

2. When the original Brown/Zidlicky turnover occurred, Parise peeled off from Kopitar to aid the attack. Kopitar perhaps was anticipating a positive outcome of the breakdown and just kept heading to the other end in a straight line, rather than doubling back to help defensively.

3. Travis Zajac (A) responded and swatted at it, but wasn’t able to gain true possession, while Drew Doughty (B) was. Doughty then sent the puck up along the boards to Justin Williams (C), who was waiting near center ice. By the time Williams received the puck, Kopitar was waiting at center completely uncovered (D), as Parise was still deep in the Kings zone (E).

4. New Jersey’s last man back, defenceman Bryce Salvador, pinched on Williams (A) – why he would take a risk like that in overtime is beyond me, especially with an unhindered attacker heading towards his net. Before Salvador could engage, Williams (B) had the presence of mind to chip the puck to the middle (whereas most coaches would instruct you to chip it off the boards and into the zone to be chased down) to a wide open Kopitar at the Devils’ blue line (C), who had at that point been gaining speed since his own blue line. Parise is so far behind on his backchecking, he’s not even on the screen anymore.

5. By the time Kopitar made his shot, Dainius Zubrus (A) was incredibly able to catch up and touch him with his stick, but not with enough force to disrupt the scoring opportunity.

Regarding the goal itself, there are a number of amazing things that occur within the split seconds of it being scored (3 seconds from the time he takes possession of the puck at the Devils’ blue line to the puck going in). The whole scenario almost boils down to a battle of the wits when you slow it down and dissect it.

BetOnHockey_Kopi_Goal_Set.jpg

1. Kopitar throws a deke to the right that Brodeur bites on, but is able to stay with. As Kopitar moves to the left side of the goal, Brodeur continues to track the puck; sprawling across the crease with his right pad along the ice to thwart a goal being scored along the ice.

2. What happened next is where I believe Kopitar won the battle. While on his stomach, Brodeur flexed his right knee from about 2 feet out from the goal line, and elevated his right pad up to around a 45° angle, with his skate blade finishing approximately half way up the 4’ high post — one may assume to counter an anticipated elevated shot that Brodeur had baited by closing off the on-ice options. Brodeur is 6’2”, which means the length from his knee to his foot is approximately 1.5 feet, while the pad being elevated is 11 inches wide. Kopitar had the puck at the 4’ mark at the top of the crease – a 4’ distance and a 4’ high post create a 45° shooting angle for Kopitar. BUT Brodeur has his pad up, and by the estimated distance variables, Brodeur’s sprawl actually cuts the middle 13° out of Kopitar’s scoring angle, and reduces his total feasible scoring area by 40% down to an 18° angle in which he needs to raise the puck within to score – that’s a tough shot from that distance, even by NHL standards.

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3. This is where I venture that Kopitar’s skill/instinct kicked in – as Brodeur’s pad came up, it obviously reopened the along-the-ice scoring option, which Kopitar held on to the puck long enough to draw out – in overtime of the Stanley Cup Final, 25 year old Anze Kopitar had the patience to outwait a 3-time Stanley Cup champion, 4-time goalie of the year, and 20 year NHL veteran within a 4’ space at top speed in a fraction of a second – and tuck it neatly right underneath within an even smaller 14° clearance, while Brodeur unsuccessfully scrambled to get his pad back down in time.

4. Kopitar buries the puck and game 1 in the back of the net behind Brodeur.

They say that in those split seconds, time seems to slow down. I’ve been in game situations like that – not an OT breakaway in the Stanley Cup Finals against a future Hall of Fame goaltender scenario, mind you – but I can attest that you do can have an odd amount of control in a finite window of time like that. Kopitar being the amazing player that he is, demonstrated that point to a tea, and made it count.

Amazing.

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]

Knock Knock, Analyzing The Flyers Flop

May 12, 2012 Leave a comment

[Originally post for www.betonhockey.com on May 10/2012]

 There are plenty of legit reasons that could make a person believe the Philadelphia Flyers should have won the Stanley Cup this year.

At the time of their elimination at the hands of the New Jersey Devils this year, the Flyers had the leading goals (tied with teammate Briere – 8), assists, and points scorer of the playoffs on their roster (Giroux 8g, 9a, 17pts); as well as second place in playoff assists, Jakub Voracek (8), second place in playoff points (Briere — 13), two players tied for the lead in playoff powerplay goals (Giroux, Hartnell – 3), one player tied for the lead in playoff short-handed goals (Giroux – 2), and two players tied for the lead in overtime goals (Briere, Voracek – 1). And in the second round, all this firepower was being directed at a goaltender that turned 40 years old during the series. Mind you, that old goalie is a four-time Vezina Trophy winner, holder of more than 20 goaltending records, and wears the best looking blocker in the league, but I digress.

As a team, the Flyers had the number one rated power play (35.7%), scoring on 15 of 42 opportunities – that’s 6 more man-advantage goals than the second place team – and were second in goals for; only behind the Pittsburgh Penguins, who they disposed of in the first round.

With two of five games in the series being decided by one goal, another two of five being won by two goals, and even in the lopsided game 2 that New Jersey won by three, you’d think offensive numbers like these would have been more influential, and in Philadelphia’s favor.

So what in the world went wrong?

BetOnHockey_Flyers_Bryzgalov.jpgGoaltending, right? It always comes down to goaltending with the Flyers, it had to be that again, right? Well, as it turns out, yeah it kinda was.

Remember when Philadelphia allegedly cured their goaltending ailment by signing Ilya Bryzgalov to a 9-year, $51 million contract that maxed out their salary cap allowance? How’d he do? Dead last in goals against amongst goaltenders in the playoffs, with 37 on 326 shots he faced. The second worse, Braden Holtby of Washington, faced more than 100 more shots (albeit playing in two more games) and let in 9 less goals. More importantly, Martin Brodeur let in 12 less. Out of 23 goalies recording statistics in the playoffs, Bryzgalov placed 19th in GAA (3.46) and save percentage (.887%), and Philly’s backup Sergei Bobrovsky finished 23rd in GAA (8.11) and 21st in save percentage (.722%) [to be fair, Bobrovsky only appeared in one game]; meanwhile, Brodeur is currently pitching a 2.05/.920%. Bryz was so bad, he’s not even being invited to play for Russia at the IIHF World Championships — a tournament where participating national teams clamber for all the available NHL talent they can acquire in an attempt to legitimize their team and an overall watered down talent pool that is somehow allowed to influence world rankings – holding fast with Colorado’s Semyon Varlamov as their starter, and backing him up with two KHL goaltenders, despite Bryzgalov’s availability [also to be fair, much of the NHL’s top talent turns down the opportunity to play in this tournament for various reasons, and is unsubstantiated that he would have gone, even if invited].

Additionally, it didn’t help having Claude Giroux, leader of basically every offensive statistical category in the playoffs, suspended for the series-deciding game five, after a head hit he dished out in game four. Some may argue though, that while facing a 3-1 series deficit to the Devils, the series may have already been over for the Flyers. The on-ice absence of Philadelphia’s captain Chris Pronger was unquestionably missed as well.

BetOnHockey_Flyers_Eliminated.jpgSome may argue still the Flyers felt the relocation of former captain Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, who have both become substantial contributors to the success of the Los Angeles Kings, more so than the acquisition of Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, and even Jaromir Jagr.

Whatever you want to pin it on, it’s back to the drawing board once again for the Flyers. They again bow out of the running for the Stanley Cup early, and now make it 37 years since their last Cup victory. At this point, after acquiring a highly touted goaltender and a bona fide offence, it’s got to feel like they gave all the right answers, and then someone changed the questions for that franchise. I can’t imagine it’s anything short of frustrating for all those involved. I wouldn’t blame Peter Laviolette is he felt like doing this with a real hammer. I regret having to say we’ve heard the last rendition of Mac Miller’s “Knock Knock” in the Flyers’ dressing room for another season.

Schwartzel Taps His Inner Seinfeld For Masters Win, Tiger Loses Again, Norm MacDonald, and Hockey Quips.

April 10, 2011 2 comments

Shameless self-promotion: I had my latest newspaper article published; did you pick up a copy of The View on Friday? Click here to read it online if you don’t get the paper. Also, follow @LakeCountryBB and @BlackbeltsLCF on Twitter.

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Sorry if this throws you off, but I’ve got a few golf comments to make. I watched the final round of The Masters today, something I didn’t think I was capable of doing. A big part of making it tolerable was listening to Norm MacDonald’s “Norm Cast” running commentary of the event, and even getting one of my tweets read on the air live by Norm.  You should follow Norm on Twitter @normmacdonald and @normsportsshow , and check out the website.

The tweet I got read was, “If Tiger Woods wins the Masters today, expect Michael Vick level forgiveness of transgressions from the masses.” Valiantly try as he might, Tiger did not win. Charl (es?) Schwartzel did wins The Masters, and subsequently lifted the “Seinfeld Curse”(dubbed by Norm and company, as Charl has a striking resemblance to Jerry Seinfeld, facially). So I guess this means Tiger is still a dirty man-whore. How slutty do you think Tiger was over the weekend to play as well as he did? Also, do you think Tiger Woods was rattled that Lee Westwood’s wore his same red shirt, black hat/pants/shoes setup for Masters Sunday? That’s Tiger’s Sunday getup, Lee, everybody knows this.

I felt painfully bad for Rory Mcilroy, watching his Masters-sized meltdown. Guy was leading until he hit a shot onto some guy’s front lawn (who has a house on Augusta, btw?), and basically collapsed from there. Had a chance to be the youngest guy since Tiger to win the Masters, and then he BA-lew it.

I was closet-cheering for South Korea’s KJ Choi to win, and he was in the hunt. I bet KJ Choi played a lot of screen golf in Korea as a youngster. Only people who have lived in Korea will understand that comment. Basically, screen golf is virtual golf; and most Koreans play it instead of real golf because there are very few real golf courses in Korea as there’s very little previously undeveloped land to build them on, and the ones that exist are extremely expensive and exclusive. I am a little surprised Jinro Soju isn’t KJ Choi’s major sponsor (another Korean inside joke, sorry). SK Telecom must’ve won a screen golf bet for his rights.

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So the last place Edmonton Oilers beat the Canucks back to back before the end of the NHL regular season? Can anyone else feel Vancouver’s first round slipping out of their hands?

Vancouver’s Raffi Torres’ hit on Edmonton’s Jordan Eberle seemed like a classic tall guy’s elbow naturally falling at short guy’s head level. Clean hit if Raffi got lower. I honestly thought it was a good, hard, borderline clean hit. The Chara-Pacioretty thing has every call on eggshells, and discipline is expected everytime someone goes down. I think Torres said it best himself, saying he was just finishing his hit, and if he hadn’t he probably wouldn’t be seeing much more ice. I like Eberle, but if players can’t hit, the NHL turn into touch hockey before we know it.

I’m happy that my LA Kings won’t be facing Vancouver in the first round of the playoffs, especially now that they are without Anze Kopitar. I’m also happy that Vancouver will be meeting Chicago in the first round. I’m a casual fan, and I don’t invest my entire existence into my hockey team, nor their playoff hopes. If LA doesn’t win, no big deal. However, for Canucks fans, if Vancouver bows out early yet again, look out innocent civilians residing in the lower mainland of BC….

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Rookie Jeff Skinner of the Carolina Hurricanes and seasoned veteran Ilya Kovalchuk of the New Jersey Devils both have 30 goals this year. The difference between them? $97.3 million in salary. That seems fair. Oh, Jacques Lemaire just retired again, and Brodeur sucks now? New Jersey is in trouble going forward. Jeff Skinner on the other hand, not so much. Calder?

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Martin St. Louis sure is content using those obscenely yellow Easton sticks, isn’t he?

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I have a hunch that more NHL players are going after Gordie Howe hat tricks on purpose and as a real stat these days. Not that I mind.

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I enjoyed Toronto’s late playoff push. I love how mad so many people would have been if they got in. I think the Leafs have a lot to look forward to next season, as long as Brian Burke doesn’t Niemi/Halak his #1 goalie and trade James Reimer in the off-season, in favour of backing Giguere or Gustavsson (who is anything but a monster. Unless he’s one from Monsters, Inc).

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And finally, Cory Clouston gets tossed out of Ottawa. After getting the worst out of every good player Ottawa had under his regime, feuding with Dany Heatley to the point of a no-trade clause waiving trade, and finishing nearly last in the league over and over, how did it take this long for this to happen?

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.

NHL 1st Round Playoff Thoughts,TSN Commentator Commentary, and The Pwning of Pierre McGuire.

April 27, 2010 9 comments

As the first round of NHL playoffs comes to a close, 5 SDC Blogs readers have had their picks advance to round 2 of the Double Championship contest.  Congrats to Adam Whitmore, Grant McMillan, Casey Fodor, Rob Cunning, and Rich Abney for living to fight another day.  I am a little hurt by Drew Doughty and LA’s early exit, but I’ll get over it.  Good thing I specified that contestants have until the completion of the final first round series to make their selections.  Still time to vote!

Now, on with some hockey thoughts….

As many long-time readers will know, I have a healthy distain for TSN/NBC hockey announcer, Pierre McGuire.  It’s generally due to his hyper-sensationalizing of insignificant plays, and ludicrous and completely incorrect game assessments.   He’s got a reputation for creeping out other announcers, like Darren Dutchysen.  From time to time, he gets paired up with former NHL player, coach, and GM, Mike Milbury.  Though no stranger to schizo opinions himself, Milbury put Pierre right in his place the other night, saying to McGuire, “Let’s have an intelligent conversation about this, so you keep real quiet.”

Beautiful.   Absolutely beautiful.  Exactly what everyone else wants to say to him, but can’t because they’re worried about staying professional.  When in doubt, get a former NHL cementhead tough guy to do your dirty work.  What’s doubly great is that Milbury’s so much physically bigger than him, that when he verbally belittles him on a TV broadcast, Pierre looks like he just got his lunch money stolen, and though he’s mad, he knows retaliation will mean being housed in a locker, or having his hair washed in the toilet.   

How Pierre McGuire continues to be employed as a broadcaster boggles my mind.   I know I’m not the only one who thinks so either; there are multiple facebook groups dedicated to his stupidity and/or professional demise.  Dave Hodge is another guy that I can’t figure out how he keeps earning a paycheque.  The guy’s hosted way too many shows that have all gone up in smoke, and his hair’s way to grandfatherly looking to be allowed on the air still.  It’s like he keeps convincing the TSN brass to give him another chance, “Look, I know ‘That’s Hockey’, ‘Inside Sports’, and ‘The Reporters’ , were all bad gigs, but I’m telling you, I can make the next one work, honest! Please-please-please-please-please come on I really need this… I got these cheeseburgers man!”

I long for the “Sportsdesk” days (pre-ESPN corporate buyout ‘Sportscentre’), the days of Gino Reda, Michael Landsberg, Teresa Hegert, Paul Romanuk, and the all powerful moustache of Jim Van Horne.  Merge them with the likes of today’s talent, Darren Dutchysen, James Duthie, Jay Onrait, Dan O’Toole, and Jennifer Hedger, and you’ve got a roster that’ll send McGuire and Hodge their pink slips quicker than Vancouver and Montreal fans hang their star players out to dry after they are eliminated from the playoffs every year. 

Speaking of eliminations, the Devils are gone.  But did you see some of the saves Brodeur made in that series against Philadelphia?  I guarantee that if Brodeur had made more saves like this one during the Olympics, Canada would’ve rode him to the gold medal:

From that same series, don’t you hate it when dusters like Dan Carcillo score; especially OT winners? These guys contribute nothing offensively all year (unless you count the ways he offends everyone with his appearance and playing style), and then they happen to find themselves playing on a line with 2 good players to protect them, they’re in the right place at the right time once or twice, score, and then always act like their dirty style and roster spot is so justified after; like there weren’t a million players that couldn’t have scored those tap-in’s  just as easily. 

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Does it amaze anyone else that after 23 years of Coach’s Corner, Don Cherry still doesn’t know how much time he has left for his segment, nor is he able to say everything he wants to in the amount of allotted time that has been the same since the beginning?

Serenity Now!!

Nothing Says “Best in the World” Like a Stanley Cup AND a Gold Medal In The Same Season.

April 21, 2010 18 comments

As all of Canada is aware (and most of the US is pretending not to know anything about it or what we’re talking about) CANADA WON THE OLYMPICS AND WE’RE THE BEST IN WORLD AT MORE STUFF THAN EVERYONE ELSE ESPECIALLY HOCKEY STILL. 

With that in mind, I was thinking the other day, that there’s a handful of Canadian hockey players that played for Team Canada this past Olympics and won gold there, that have teams that qualified for the NHL playoffs, and have a shot at winning the Stanley Cup this year.  So for the following list of players (and coaches), there’s a HUGE opportunity to pretty much have the awesomest year of hockey possible, if they were to win both championships in the same season:

 

Vancouver Canucks    -    Roberto Luongo

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pittsburgh Penguins   -    Sidney Crosby, Marc-André Fleury (does it count if you didn’t play any games?)

 

 

 

 

 

New Jersey Devils         -    Martin Brodeur, Jacques Lemaire

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chicago Blackhawks  –   Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Jonathan Toews 

 

 

 

 

 

Nashville Predators  -   Shea Weber

 

 

 

 

 

Los Angeles Kings    -   Drew Doughty

 

 

 

 

 

 

Philadelphia Flyers   -    Chris Pronger, Michael Richards

 

 

 

 

 

San Jose Sharks          -    Dan Boyle, Patrick Marleau, Dany Heatley, Joe Thornton (does it count if you didn’t contribute?)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boston Bruins           - Patrice Bergeron

 

 

 

 

 

Detroit Red Wings     - Mike Babcock

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buffalo Sabres            - Lindy Ruff

Members of the Sharks and Blackhawks have the most personnel with the opportunity.  But don’t count out Sid and Fleury’s Pens (mostly Sid’s), Brodeur’s been playing out of his mind for Jersey so far, Doughty may be a darkhorse, wily ol’ Mike Babcock and the Wings always have a chance.  You can count out Luongo. 

So, here’s what I am proposing.  I will allow people to post their bets for Stanley Cup Champs/Olympic Gold aka “Double Hockey Awesomeness & Supremacy” (name subject to change), via the comment board.  Once the last team is eliminated in the first round (to the nearest millisecond) I will tally the final ballots, and close the wagering.  Until the cutoff time, feel free to change your votes, but be warned, I will only take your last choice at the elimination of the final first round team.  The person(s) who correctly choose the correct players/team that win it all this year will receive….something, from me.  I’m thinking an SDC Blogs t-shirt that says “I’M THE SMARTEST MAN/WOMAN ALIVE”, or something like that.  I’ll let you know when I get it nailed down.  Whatever, everyone likes t-shirts, right?

*** SDC TRIVIA: Who was/were the last player/players to win the Stanley Cup /Olympic Gold aka “Double Hockey Awesomeness & Supremacy” in the same season?***

                                                                                                                      (no prize awarded for this one)

So with that, happy betting! Enjoy the playoffs, and may the best/luckiest person win!

GO KINGS GO!

THE RUSSIANS ARE LEAVING!! Upsets, and Assessments of Olympic Hockey.

February 25, 2010 2 comments

 

My goodness, Canada obliterated Russia.  Canada lives to fight another day, and Sid wins the latest chapter of the Crosby vs. Ovechkin showdown (actually, they both had zero points in the game, but Sid wins by default with the team win; also Ovechkin was invisible throughout the whole game).  I hate to say it’s typical of Russia, but since the loss, the Russians have been skewering Canada in the media (no offence to any of the nice Russian people I know).  All the people who thought that the loss to the US might have been the “inspiration” Canada needed to get things back on track may just have been onto something.

My most common thought through that game was MAN I FREAKING LOVE TEAM CANADA.  I had a long term relationship with the LA Kings during the Gretzky era, had cups of coffee with the Blues, Rangers, and most recently, I’d been warming up to the Coyotes and Leafs.  But all in all, Team Canada is my favourite hockey team of all time.  I absolutely love it when they win, and I nearly lose my mind when they lose.  All the whining about how American NHL teams are all comprised of Canadians, and when those teams win Cups, it’s really Canada winning, sort of; well this is actually all those Canadian players all together on one team, and all NHL season gripes, grudges, and affiliations are off.  I’ve even come to realize that I really like the new sport neutral Team Canada logo designed for the Olympics.

I really have come to think that the Olympic tournament is the premier

Remember when the US beat us for this in '96? We got revenge in '04.

international hockey competition as well.  As opposed to the World Championships, you have EVERY country’s best players representing their flag; not the small percentage of NHL players who aren’t in the Stanley Cup playoffs that year.  Also, the players are in peak mid-season conditioning; whereas WC players may be “mailing in” their efforts after knowing they’re not going to win the Stanley Cup.  The World Cup/Canada Cup is cool too, but it has no frequency to it; only being contested every 7-8 years.  It would be better if the Olympics didn’t have single elimination games, and best-of series’ instead.  I wish there was a way to have every country play every country at least once, instead of the pool play, but I guess there really isn’t that kind of time.  Maybe next NHL lockout, there could be a Global Hockey League, where we see countries compete in an NHL season format.  How awesome would that be?

Now we face Slovakia, after what must be considered an upset after defeating defending gold medal champs, Sweden.  So Sweden, you’re telling me a squad comprised of Zetterberg, Franzen, Alfredsson, both Sedin’s, Forsberg, Lidstrom, and others were not good enough to beat… wait, who does Slovakia have? Zdeno Chara? (ok they have the Hossa’s and Gaborik too, but come on, not nearly as deep as Sweden)  This was the first legit upset of the tournament, in my opinion, but man were there a few close calls.  The Swiss were a handful for Canada and the US, Belarus made it tough on Sweden, Latvia took a run at the Czechs, and even Norway almost edged out the Slovaks.  Now by the math, Canada should roll over Slovakia, but hey, we said that about the US, didn’t we?

I think it’s great for hockey as a whole, but obviously not great for Canada.  We’re no longer afforded the luxury of thinking we’re automatically the best in the world when it comes to international matchups (someone tell all the women’s teams besides Canada and the US to follow suit).  We’ve known this since 2006 in Turin really, but people like to pretend as if those Olympics never happened; isn’t it odd that the only Olympics Canadians seem to “remember” in terms of hockey is 2002?  Obviously our best showing, but you have to take the bad with the good and make adjustments if you’re going to remain king of the hill.  Another thing that escapes Canadian hockey fans memories is that both Martin Brodeur and Roberto Luongo were our goalies in Turin as well.  Luckily, we’ve already bested our placement from that time.

Go Canada GO!

 

Glass-Housed Stone-Slingers: Return Fire for Foreign Olympic Criticism.

February 22, 2010 9 comments

So many Olympic thoughts running through my brain.  After watching it on TV EVERYday  so far, and even going to Vancouver to see a few events, I gotta say I’m really enjoying the Olympics overall.  I don’t think I’d be

from the CURLING preliminary match I went to.

 wrong to say that most Canadians are as well.  Have you ever seen spontaneous  jubilation in streets, or random outbursts of “O Canada” at curling matches before?  Unreal.  Truly something special; whether you’re viewing from afar, or are there to experience it in person.

Most people internationally would likely say the same thing as well.  Unfortunately, there are a few members of the American and British press who want to rain on everyone’s parade by labelling Vancouver 2010 as the “worst games ever”. 

Sure, the weather hasn’t been ideal; but events have continued, and medals have been awarded.  Sorry we forgot to import the weather machine that does our meteorological bidding.  Our courses are too hard?  The competitors are the best in the world at their sports, right?  Should we make

best Canadian celly so far.

them easier for everyone?  Sorry for training on our own tracks a lot; didn’t know that was such a bad thing.  The world doesn’t like our “Own The Podium” program, where we give more money and training opportunities than we historically have to our Olympic athletes in hopes of them winning a lot of medals?  Oh, sorry, should we just go back to being a mediocre sporting nation for everyone else to roll over like they used to?  What we gave our competitors is still nowhere near that of other nations, and hey, it’s not even working out THAT well for us so far, so chill.  We’re doing alright though, and no one here is going to be less proud of our athletes for any reason.   

A malfunction in the Opening Ceremonies?  Um… whoops.  We swear they were working in practice.  Some people thought the flaming icicles looked like male genitalia, or drug paraphernalia?  Well, think what you want, but be careful what indigenous people you vocalize those opinions around.  No one can get close to the flame?  Hey, they’re working on it.  I got a few good pics; I’m not complaining.  The US beating Canada in men’s hockey?  Wait, that’s Canada’s complaint.  Blame it on the goalies when things go squirrely, right?   

And the death of Georgian luger, Nodar Kumaritashvili; well that was simply a tragedy, nothing else.  That track has been ridden countless times safely, and it’s a very unfortunate and sobering example of just how dangerous that sport is.

So England and America, oh yee dwelling in glass houses and flats; how did your prior Olympic Games hostings turn out? 

London’s Olympic Games in 1908 saw England piss off the Finnish, Swedish, and USA by not displaying their flags at the Opening Ceremonies.  Finland decided not to march, and Sweden left all together.  The Americans were then asked to “dip” their flag to the Royals, which they outright refused.  Solid international relations, England.    

The USA’s Games hosting tenures haven’t been “squeaky clean” either.

Atlanta’s 1996’s Summer Games were considered over-commercialized, had a highly criticized Olympic Village and Opening Ceremonies by spectators and athletes alike, and… what else, what else…. OH YEAH, there was a BOMBING that killed 2 people and injured 111 others.   

Salt Lake City’s Winter Games of 2002 were marred by a bribery scandal (all-expense-paid ski trips, scholarships, Super Bowl trips, plastic surgery, deals on real estate, jobs for family members, and cash for IOC delegates from the Utah bid committee)  to bring the Olympics to Utah which saw several IOC members expelled, and others resign.  Allegations of foul play in figure skating judging saw scores and results reviewed and medals re-awarded.  Suspect refereeing in speed skating DQ’ed a Korean, and angered that entire country to the point that the Olympic website crashed from the overload of threatening emails sent to them over the result.  Russians threatened to go home after they felt they were unfairly accused of doping in cross-country skiing.   

Los Angeles’ Games of 1984 were boycotted by 16 countries.  In LA’s 1932 Games, President Hoover became the first head of state in Olympic history not to even show up at the event.  The 1904 Games in St. Louis became a sideshow of The World’s Fair, and lasted four and a half months. 

Now, all that to say to the critics look, we know things have been going wrong.  We’re working on it.  No one said Vancouver 2010 was going to be perfect.  And let’s be honest, everyone throwing stones at us right now has got plenty of skeletons in their own closets from when they tried to host the Olympic Games previously.  Can we at least agree that it’s a rather dubious task?   And London, you get them again in 2012, so you better be expecting an earful the second after the first thing goes wrong.  I’ll take a few unseasonably warm days in Whistler over any of those other issues any day.  There’s just so much good to be taken from these Games, maybe we can all just quit pointing fingers at our follies and just enjoy our athletes rising above the childish media behavior?      

I think US Men’s Hockey Team GM, Brian Burke, said it best with this earlier quote in response to the criticisms of Vancouver 2010:

I think that’s bullshit.  I’ve been to four Winter Olympics. This is the best one I’ve been to in terms of organization. You’re going to have glitches in an event this size. With this many people, logistical things with multiple venues, you’re going to have glitches. I don’t know why people are whining about it.  I think it’s been extraordinarily well run — again, this is my fourth one so it’s not like I’m a novice. I think they’ve done a marvellous job here. I wish people would quit bitching about it.”

Man, for a million reasons, I wish Brian Burke was Canadian.

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