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[Archive] 2014 interview with Bernie Nicholls

August 21, 2014 Leave a comment

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This interview with NHL legend Bernie Nicholls posted on The Score’s Backhand Shelf blog on February 10th, 2014. The LA Kings were in search of their second Stanley Cup in three seasons, and though Nicholls had moved on from their coaching staff, the lessons he left them with clearly had taken root. LA captured that Cup, and the players that Nicholls mentioned working with specifically appeared even more dominant than they did in 2012. 

The audio of this interview can be heard on the XP PSP: the eXPat Pro Sports Podcast by clicking here, or by listening/downloading on iTunes.  

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An Interview with Los Angeles Kings’ great Bernie Nicholls

Bernie Nicholls

When you think about the LA Kings and what players have meant the most to the team since their inception in 1967, most long term fans would not omit Bernie Nicholls from their list of all-time greats. Though he spent time with six different NHL clubs over 19 seasons, the nine seasons Nicholls played with the LA Kings were most his impactful, and what he is best remembered for. His 150 point season in 1988-89, team records of most points in a game and most goals in a season, and fifth place position in all-time team points left an impression on the franchise and its supporters that holds up to this day.

Nicholls was also an instrumental part of the coaching regime that replaced Terry Murray in LA in 2011, and set the Kings on course to win their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.

I caught up with Bernie via telephone just prior to the Superbowl to talk about all things Kings, coaching, his career, what’s wrong with the slumping LA team and how he’d fix them, where he keeps his Stanley Cup ring, and why he declines his New Jersey Devils’ alumni game invitation every year.

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First of all, how’d your Superbowl predictions turn out?

I got killed. I had Denver. Every one of my bets was with Denver. It was not a good day for me.

It’s tough to find a properly defined role to say what your job description with the LA Kings is right now. “Consultant” or “unofficial assistant coach” is what I’ve read in various reports. Whatever it is, it was enough to get you a day with the Stanley Cup when LA won two years ago. Can you clarify what you do with the team?

It was an assistant coaching job. They said I was a consultant to the coach, Darryl Sutter. But I did everything that the assistant coaches did, pretty much. I did more with the players than the coaches. I think I was a lot closer to the players. It was still like an assistant coaching role. I worked the power play, worked with the kids. When they were slumping or getting down, I think it’s always easier for players to talk to a former player than the head coach. I had a really good rapport with the players. It was along the lines of an assistant coaching role.

You’re talking about this stuff in past tense, are you not with the team anymore?

Yeah I’m not with them now, I didn’t go back this year.

How did the opportunity come up, initially? Word is you worked for free in the beginning because you wanted to work with the team so badly.

I was always asking to try and work with the Kings. They were the team I wanted to [work with] but it didn’t really work out. Then once Terry Murray got fired and they hired Darryl, I called Darryl right away and gave him the idea. Once he took over, I came down with him. It worked out great.

You scored 475 goals, and 1209 points in your career, including 88/89 when you scored a ridiculous 70 goals and 150 points. But that was a different era – people often criticize the goaltending of that time, and goaltending styles and equipment have evolved a lot since then. When you work with today’s players on scoring, do the same principles from when you scored 70 in a season apply, or did you have to take new approaches when helping in that department? How did your experience in your era overlap into players of today having success in this era?

Well I think scoring goals is scoring goals. In my opinion, obviously goalies are better now, and players are much bigger and stronger, but for the most part when you’re playing hockey you still have to score goals, and do the things to give yourself opportunities to score goals. That’s the sort of thing you can teach guys. To me, it’s just working hard. When things aren’t going well, you’ve got to work hard, work your way through it, be yourself in those hard places, and things will work out for you.

Obviously the Kings are having trouble in the goal scoring department these days. What is their problem in your opinion, and how do they fix it? Is it at the point where trading for new players is necessary, or is it just a matter of refining what they have? The team is by no means in short supply of goal scorers with the likes of Jeff Carter and Anze Kopitar, but the Kings are second last in goals per game average with 2.25, only better than Buffalo’s 1.83 (top team is 3.42), and second last on the power play with only 13.9% (top team has 24.7%).

They do have some offensive talent, for sure. They play a great defensive system, but for some reason they find it very difficult to score, and I’m not really too sure why. They do have some very talented players. They could create more on the power play. They’re second last, that’s not good. That’d be a start – create, and give themselves more opportunities that way, and just try to find chemistry. I know when Darryl put Kopitar and Carter together they worked very well together, but I think they’ve just cooled off. But it’s tough to score in this league. That’s the biggest problem, and those guys are finding that out real bad right now.

Is that a product of coaching, or of other teams adjusting to their style of play?

The other teams, for sure. Darryl allows the guys to create opportunities. That’s one thing that he does do. He gives guys opportunities to be creative. But one thing about Darryl, if you’re not working hard and you’re not competing, you won’t have an opportunity to be on the power play or be in an offensive role. He demands that you work at it, but sometimes that just doesn’t work.

On the flip side of those negative stats, LA is league best in goals against average with 2.07, gives up the third fewest shots per game with 26.8, has the most wins when winning after two periods with 100%, and win the most face-offs in the league with 53.3%. How has the team been able to accomplish those positive instances alongside the slump? Is there more to it all than having an elite goaltender in Jonathan Quick and great backups in Scrivens and Jones to him, as well as guys like Carter, Kopitar, Stoll, and Richards being dynamite in the faceoff circle? Or is it simply Sutter’s coaching systems, perhaps?

In my opinion, they have the best goalie in probably the world in Quick. They play great defense. That’s Darryl there – he demands his systems are great, a good work ethic, whistle-to-whistle hard nose play, and the players do that, man per man. That may be why you don’t see as many goals from that team, because they do play such a defensive game. No one cheats. To create offense, they play their defensive role, and that gives them an opportunity, but maybe doesn’t give them quite the opportunity to score as many goals. They take care of one end, and that’s key for them. They play so well defensively. They’ve got a good defensive system and a great goalie. That’s why they’re in every game. If they could score goals, they would win every game.

You mentioned you worked with the “kids”. Who were those guys you worked with the closest, and what did you focus on with them?

One thing I preached more than anything — and we worked on it everyday — I’d take Drew Doughty or Voynov out and just work on their trade. You watch good athletes in general, they work hard, and they work hard on their trade. Whether it’s a football player throwing passes all day, or a hockey player shooting hundreds and hundreds of pucks every day. That was key. We would do that. You work with those guys, work on one-timers, quick release, shots from the slot, coming out of the corner…you just work on things to help you create goals. Guys working on their trade is one thing I tried to work on more than anything.

You played with six teams during your NHL career, including nine with the LA Kings. Is there any particular reason you decided to work with LA when your playing days were over, instead of one of your other five former teams? Do you feel you identify with LA the best of them all? Did you have opportunity to work with the Rangers, Oilers, Devils, Blackhawks or Sharks?

LA was the team I approached first. They were the team I wanted to coach. I knew most of the guys there, I spent more time in LA, they were the team I played with the most. I still say it was my team as far as the team I felt most comfortable with. I just liked the guys too. When Darryl went there I felt it was a great opportunity for me to go there. It was more or less because they were my first team, I played the longest there, and I’m there more than any place.

What was it that made you feel LA was your team more than any of those other five you played with?

I played in the organization for ten years, and the others were for two or less. It was the first team I played for, and for the longest, my kids are there… I feel more comfortable with the LA team than any other team I guess.

Do you do any sort of alumni stuff with those other teams, or are you primarily just an LA guy?

I still do some alumni stuff for Chicago a little bit, San Jose I have. I haven’t for the other ones, but I would. I’ve been asked every year to go to New Jersey, but it’s moose hunting season for me at that time and I can’t make it. But I’ve done charity games for the other teams as well, and I enjoy doing it, for sure.

When the Kings won their first Stanley Cup in franchise history, did you feel any personal connection with the championship as a former Kings player, and further as a player who was so instrumental in the smaller successes the team had while you played? You’re fifth in all-time team points (758), and even have a couple of team records that Wayne Gretzky doesn’t have: most points in a game by a King (8), and most goals in a season (70) – those sort of things tend to stitch you to a team pretty tight, especially to fans in retrospect. Obviously you weren’t on the ice when they won, but did you feel like that was your Cup too?

Well, it’s not the same as playing, obviously, but it’s a close second. Being around the guys, you get the joy from watching them compete everyday. You know, as a former player, what they go through and what it takes to be successful. You’re out there helping them any way you can, and if you’ve added a little bit to their success, then great. You hope that you did, and looking at it like that, yeah you do feel like you’re part of it.

Did you get your name on the Cup, or a ring?

I got a ring, yeah. It’s on my dresser in my bedroom.

An interview with you I read said you had never touched the Stanley Cup, presumably before you got your hands all over it when the Kings won. How good did it feel to finally be able to break that vow?

It was really exciting. More so for the players than myself. It’s much different as a player than as a coach, assistant, or whatever it may be. But it was still really, really exciting to be there. My daughter was with me, and we spent a lot of time with it that night. It was really exciting, no question.

Was there any one player on that team that you felt you identified with most, had the best rapport with, and was particularly happy to watch win the Cup?

Other than one or two players, no one else had won the Cup, so they were all really, really excited. I played similar to a Mike Richards I guess, but I think I could identify with the skilled players – Kopitar, Doughty, Carter – that’s kind of the role I would have taken. Those guys played so well, and so well as a group. They were not going to be denied. They had as good of a run in the playoffs as probably any team has ever had. It was pretty cool.

Why in particular is that tradition of not touching the Cup unless you’ve won it so revered? Lots of people with or without hockey backgrounds seem to uphold that approach — even former players who will never win it.  

I think it’s just respect. As a hockey player, you realize how tremendously difficult it is to win, that it’s such an honor to win, and until you do win I just don’t feel, and I’m sure there’s a lot of people who don’t feel like you should be touching it as far as players and former players who’ve never won it. It may be a little weird, but it is what it is. I just think the players have so much respect for the Cup that if you don’t win it, you don’t deserve to touch it.

What are your thoughts on the NFL’s tradition of the winning team’s owner touching the trophy first, rather than how the captain gets first touch in hockey?

I have no problem with that. Everything’s different. Every league’s different. That’s great too. The owner is the one who pays all the players all the money, so he’s responsible for the team, and it’s his team, so I have no problem with him touching it first either. I’m not sure every player gets their trophy for a day like hockey does though, which is just amazing.

So if Dean Lombardi, or Kings owner Philip Anschutz had touched the Cup before Dustin Brown did, you’d be ok with that? Or is it just ok for the NFL because it’s a totally different sport with its own unique customs?

I love the way we do it. They way it’s presented on the ice, the way they do it I think is great. Football’s different. They have the big stage, the owner, GM, and coach are up there, and then they’ll call up one or a couple of the players to talk, but that’s fine too.

Another interview I read with you regarding the 2012 playoffs quoted you as saying,

“We had a big meeting the night before Game 1, and I went for a walk after, and it was like I went right back to (being) a player. I was really excited, I had the butterflies, I was just so amped up, I was so excited – that was the first time for me in 12 years. It was unbelievable. To have that feeling is great – athletes get it a lot before big games and I had it. I could have played that night, I could have played, I was ready to go!” 

How hard is it to be in a position like that and not be able to play? How often do you get to play these days? You seem like a player that genuinely loves to play the game.

Well I don’t think it’s like you want to jump on the ice and go, that kind of wears off after you’ve been out for a couple of years. But just that thought – I hadn’t been around the game in a long time, or in a competitive setting like I was there, back in the game again. As athletes, you’re kind of wired different than most. Regular season games are regular season games, but once you make the playoffs, your body and your mind knows it’s a different animal. You feel different the day of the game — your body does, your mind does. For me at that time, we had the meeting, and I just went for a walk, and I felt like I did in one of my playoff games when I played again. It’s a great feeling to have. It’s tough to explain unless you’ve been there. Most athletes who have been there understand. It was really a cool feeling to get that again – to get those butterflies, to get all excited about the game. It’s difficult when you can’t do anything though. If I’m working the power play and I’m watching them and they go 0 for 5 or something and you go, ‘wow, I maybe could have helped,’ not that I could, but your mind still thinks you can, and you’re body says, ‘noooo, you can’t.’

Did you get the chance to skate on the Dodger Stadium ice during the Stadium Series event?

I didn’t. They dropped the ball so bad. Out of all the outdoor games, the only one they did [alumni games at] was the Winter Classic. They had Toronto and Detroit and they had two games. That’s how many alumni they had. They had 40,000 people there for an alumni game. I can’t believe why at Yankee Stadium they wouldn’t let the Rangers and Devils play an alumni game, or at Dodger Stadium. I heard Luc [Robitalle] tried, but the league wouldn’t let them. I just can’t believe they wouldn’t let them do that. It would have been so cool.

I still do fantasy camps, though. I’m going to do Wayne Gretzky’s fantasy camp in Vegas in March, I’ll try to do the Kings, I think I’ll do the Sharks at the end of March. I still love to skate. Even to this day, I put my skates on, and I still feel like a kid when I go out on the ice. It’s something that will probably never leave me, and I hope it never does. It’s always fun to put those skates on.

Are you one of those players who is superstitious and still uses all his old gear, or have you upgraded your equipment over the years? 

My pants I had in Chicago in ’94, I don’t wear a helmet anymore but I still have my CCM helmet from LA, my skates I’ve had for a little while but new skates are always better than the old ones anyway. I’ve got my old gloves too. I still like the old setup.

So you didn’t get on the Dodger Stadium ice, but did you get down to the event? Did you get any beach volleyball in on the court in left field?

No, I was at home. I was back in Canada for it. I wasn’t out there. I would have liked to have went, but I was back in Canada, in the snow.

Well that was a poor decision.

It was a terrible one.

To your knowledge, is there any reason the Kings decided to go with gray jerseys for the game, rather than a throwback to the purple and gold version, like most teams tend to do for outdoor games?

I think they did the same as New York. They went white and black I think. I just think they did all that for advertising and for merchandise to sell. The uniforms looked beautiful. The Ducks’ were different, so were the Islanders’ and Rangers’. I just think it was a big money grab to sell merchandise. Just another jersey. The Kings always wear the old jersey on legends night. There are about three times a year that they’ll bring the old purple and gold out.

When you look back on your career as both a player and a coach, what’s that one moment that stands above the rest of them?

I think having an opportunity to play with Wayne Gretzky was great. Just playing in the NHL. I feel like I’m just a kid when I’m playing. To think you get to play a game every day in front of thousands of people, I can’t think of anything better to do. Just everything about it to me is amazing. Playing in the NHL for that long, playing with the great players that you play with, travelling around… it was a dream that most kids dream about and only a select few get an opportunity to do, and I was fortunate to be one of them.

 

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Gretzky spotted in enemy territory signing autographs, sporting Breitling bling

May 30, 2014 Leave a comment

 

While one of his NHL alumnus has already advanced to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final, another still waits to earn their berth to the very same dance with the New York Rangers. But in a game so littered with gratuitous superstition, former LA Kings captain and club’s all-time single season assists and points leader Wayne Gretzky was recently spotted rubbing elbows in a Chicago jewelry store. Unless Wayne had a sabotage of Blackhawks players planned and was using this appearance as a clever diversion, the Windy City is probably not a place Kings fans would want him to be while LA jousts with Chicago for the 2014 Western Conference title.

But conspiracy theories aside, here’s the scoop on what Gretz was doing at Razny Jewelers in Chicago:

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From Left to Right: Breitling USA President Thierry Prissert, Wayne Gretzky, Ingrid and Stan Razny

BREITLING HOSTS HOCKEY GREAT WAYNE GRETZKY AT EXCLUSIVE EVENT AT RAZNY JEWELERS
Guests Meet ‘The Great One’ and View Newest Timepieces from Breitling

Wilton, Conn. (May 27, 2014) – Breitling, the Swiss watch manufacturer, celebrated the expanded collection of Breitling timepieces available at Razny Jewelers with a special evening with friend and fan of the brand, Wayne Gretzky. Guests came from all over Chicago to see the newest Breitling watches – direct from their global debut at this year’s Baselworld – and to pose with the hockey legend while enjoying canapés and cocktails.

“It is a pleasure to be here in Chicago with Stan Razny and Wayne Gretzky. Both are legends in their own right,” said Breitling USA President Thierry Prissert. “Razny Jewelers is a family-owned business, like Breitling, and a longtime supporter of the brand. We are thrilled that they recently expanded their entire Breitling collection into a new corner of the store.”

Guests were able to view pieces from Breitling’s latest collection, including the Chronomat Airborne, making its worldwide debut in the United States, the Navitimer 01 46mm, the Navitimer GMT and the Breitling for Bentley GMT Light Body B04. Each of the new watches houses a Breitling Manufacture movement, has a five-year warranty and is chronometer-certified by the COSC, the Swiss Official Chronometer Testing Institute.

“I’ve been a huge Breitling enthusiast for many years, so it was wonderful to join them tonight to see the new collection of watches and meet some of my fans at Razny Jewelers. Chicago is a great hockey town and I know they look forward to some great games in the playoffs,” said Gretzky, a hockey hall-of-fame athlete.

ABOUT BREITLING: A specialist of technical watches, Breitling has played a crucial role in the development of the wrist chronograph and is a leader in this complication. Léon Breitling founded the company in 1884 in St. Imier, Switzerland, and chose to devote himself to the exclusive and demanding field of chronographs and timers. Breitling developed the first independent chronograph pushpiece in 1915 and then added the second pushpiece in 1934 to complete the final configuration of the modern
chronograph. In 1969, the brand introduced the first self-winding chronograph movement. Today Breitling is the world’s only major watch brand to equip all its models with chronometer-certified movements, the ultimate token of precision. Breitling is one of the rare companies to produce its own mechanical chronograph movement, entirely developed and manufactured in its state-of-the-art workshops with its quality guaranteed by an unprecedented five-year warranty. This family business is also one of the last remaining independent Swiss watch brands, celebrating its 130-year anniversary this year in 2014.

watches

ABOUT RAZNY JEWELERS: Razny Jewelers is family owned and operated. The Razny family represents the world’s top brands and offers custom creations. Razny Jewelers is always on the cutting edge showcasing the brightest stars in the jewelry and Fine Swiss Timepieces’ world. For over 60 years, Razny Jewelers has defined the essence of what a fine jewelry store should be to their clientele. Razny Jewelers is dedicated to the best combination of old-world and modern values. They are one of the only jewelers in the Chicago area that fabricates custom creations truly by hand. With several bench jewelers on staff, custom jewelry remains their specialty. Their careful attention to perfection and unrivaled craftsmanship turns dreams into reality. In addition, Razny Jewelers has Certified WOSTEP Watchmakers on premises to service your timepiece requirements. Razny Jewelers’ integrity, honesty and commitment to unparalleled personal service bring their customers back time after time. Razny Jewelers are located in Addison, Highland Park and Hinsdale.

ABOUT WAYNE GRETZKY: The greatest ice hockey player of all time has been a Breitling ambassador since 2011, Canadian-born, Wayne Gretzky is a living legend in the world of ice hockey. He is renowned for his professionalism and his fair play. He also has a record-breaking list of achievements to his credit, including four Stanley Cup Championships, 61 NHL records, and being named 18 times to the All-Star teams. In tribute to his absolute superiority, his famous jersey number, 99, has been retired by all NHL teams.

CONTACT FOR HIGH-RESOLUTION IMAGES AND MORE INFORMATION:
Centigrade for Breitling / Lindsay Paterson / lindsay.paterson@centigrade.com

T +1 323 556 8854 Extn 41154 M +1 949 204 7059

W centigrade.com   T twitter.com/centigradeworld   F facebook.com/centigradeworld

Centigrade, Inc. 8383 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 350, Beverly Hills, CA 90211 US

Schultz Sweepstakes Settled, Hype vs Reality Next

July 5, 2012 Leave a comment

He hasn’t even played one NHL game yet, and already Justin Schultz is starting to annoy me.

The Edmonton Oilers agreed to terms with the 22 year old on June 30, ending months of speculation as to which NHL uniform would have his last name stitched on the back of it.

Prior to the media inventing the “Schultz Sweepstakes” schmozzle that began to elevate his billing to an inaccurate Sidney Crosby level (you may remember the Sidney Crosby Sweepstakes of 2005), the kid did a lot of things right – he played Junior ‘A’ hockey rather than Major Junior, which qualified him to earn an NCAA scholarship, plus he got drafted by the Anaheim Ducks in 2008, before his arrival at the University of Wisconsin in 2009. He’s even from my hometown of West Kelowna, BC, Canada, and played with our local junior hockey team (Westside Warriors of the BCHL) from 2006-09. I’ve never met him, but there are a lot of reasons why I should back the kid.

But here’s where Schultz gets a little squirrely to me. My beef boils down to him seeming like a guy that started to believe his own hype, got a little selfish, and dictated his own future in a game that so many young, hopeful players would do/accept anything in order to play at its top level. And if you sense a tinge of jealousy in that statement on my part, it’s because I’m stocked full on it. I just don’t see how a player who hasn’t competed in a single NHL game could have so many teams falling at his feet to sign with them, especially a defenseman. It’s all just so…. Eric Lindros/Quebec Nordiques-ish.

Chronologically speaking, the first thing that bothers me is his seemingly cavalier approach to his college career. His play spoke for itself, winning him seven NCAA awards and two finalist nominations for player of the year while enrolled at the University of Wisconsin, so clearly he earned all the on-ice accolades he collected while there. But after playing out three of (presumably) four years of his eligibility/scholarship, Schultz withdrew from school, and walked away from another free year of education, and likely whatever degree he was working towards.

That move pretty well nullified his rationale of not playing Major Junior hockey in the first place (assuming he had the option as a teenager), and pursuing the college route that every hockey parent hopes their hockey playing child with NHL aspirations will choose instead.

On a personal note, as someone who played college hockey, earned a degree, and is still paying off student loans six years after completion, this move grinds me a little extra. I mean, he couldn’t have waited one more season, graduated, and jumped to the NHL the following season? There’s always the possibility of injury, a down year, or some other stock-dropping scenario to that option, I suppose. And also, when your paycheck is going to start including millions of dollars every year, securing a strong education for the purposes of landing a good paying job to secure your future in a struggling economy probably isn’t a high priority anymore.

Secondly, as an afore mentioned player who would have killed to play in the NHL myself, Schultz turning his nose at the team that drafted him rubs me the wrong way too. Granted, the Ducks sat on him long enough without pulling the trigger that he had the right as per the CBA to entertain offers from the 26 teams that expressed interest (just who were the four teams that didn’t even try, by the way?), so it’s not like Schultz technically did anything wrong here – it’s just that I never had any NHL team interested in me and would have taken anything passed my way (I’m not the only one), especially from the team that claimed me first; whereas Justin Schultz has size and a ton of talent that rightfully garnered him a plethora of interest from nearly every team in the world’s best hockey league once he became an option. The notion of rejecting an NHL team absolutely boggles my mind. If roles were reversed, I’d like to think I would have chosen loyalty and stuck with Anaheim, personally. I was never good enough to find myself sitting in the position he was though, and maybe if the freedom of options that were plunked in his lap were given to me, I very well may have gotten selfish with my future residence too — especially if I had received a persuasive phone call from Wayne Gretzky to try and seal the deal.

Without knowing him personally, I doubt Schultz desired the attention his situation drew, but it certainly was enough to generate an amount of widespread interest that I assume produced a better offer than Anaheim was tabling to him. Good on the kid for getting the amount of money and location that he wanted, not many players get to do that.

Whether you agree with what he did or not, the deal’s done, and the onus now is on Schultz alone to deliver on his own hype. I don’t see it being easy for him – he’s used to playing less than 50 games a year in the NCAA against lower (than the NHL’s) caliber, compared to the NHL’s 82. The NCAA has produced its share of future NHL talent though (Toews, Parise, Miller, Thomas, Keith, Heatley, Kesler, St. Louis, Kessel, etc), so don’t look too far down your nose at the talent pool he most recently developed in. Also, he’ll be no stranger to the travel rigors of playing all over the continent, so that will work in his favor. But beyond that, I don’t have any other bones to throw him.

As we’ve been doing since this all started, all we can do until October when Schultz lines up for his first faceoff as an Oiler is continue to speculate as to whether he will turn out to be the star that some believe he will be, the bust that others predict, or just an average player in the league. Playing alongside Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Nail Yakupov can’t hurt his chances of success – but we’ll see how reality plays out soon enough.

And truthfully, although this little situation does annoy me, I am pulling for the hometown kid to live up to his billing.

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Penner’s Road To Redemption, Celeb Kings Tweets, LA’s Awesome Media Department, and More…

May 24, 2012 2 comments

 

After about four years of being on the receiving end of folly and failure, things are finally turning around for Dustin Penner.

Though it was indeed a big goal, Dustin Penner may have confused his OT series winning tally in game 5 of the Western Confernce final with one that won the Stanley Cup or Olympic gold medal – after a few well deserved fist-pumps, Penner yard-saled his stick, and then later in the handshake line felt his gloves no longer needed to be on his body either. Through the whole sequence of events from goal scored to the end of the handshake, Penner is the only guy without his stick and gloves.

But good for him really, and why not – this is a guy that has taken nothing but heat since leaving the Anaheim Ducks after winning the Cup in 2007, and had his commitment/ability/dedication/conditioning constantly called into question. He even threw his back out while eating a stack of pancakes, and got divorced shortly after.

That’s not to say any of it was undeserved (aside from the pancake incident), but it wasn’t until this year that he really got called out on the hockey end of his woes. Kings’ GM Dean Lombardi once suggested Penner may be a better fit for a rec league softball team, and Darryl Sutter called him horseshit and healthy scratched him in February. Whereas the criticism was purely vocal up until the Sutter era in LA, the Kings were the first to act on it and actually put the $4.25 million cap hit on ice for being awful. If tough love ever worked out, this may be the prime scenario. He’s about ¾ of the way from coming full circle though – only a Stanley Cup will bring him around the full 360.

In the meantime though, you chuck that gear Penner, you’ve earned it. Now just don’t go saying anything stupid….

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Apparently Wayne Gretzky thinks this year’s version of the Kings is better than the squad he captained to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1993, and has horses on LA and NYR to root for…. though being the diplomat he is, doesn’t count out New Jersey. He also makes a case for Darryl Sutter as a candidate for the Jack Adams. With the way he’s turned around guys like Dustin Penner and Dustin Brown (two guys primed for relocation at the trade deadline), it’s really not a stretch of a thought. I’ve posted before that I hope if a team Gretzky used to play for wins the Cup this year, he finds a way to get down to ice level and give the ol’ grail one last hoist. I’d say he’s earned it after all his post playing career follies. Full story: http://www.sportsnet.ca/fantasy/hockey/2012/05/24/hockey_hearsay/

In other absurdities, the LA Dodgers want the Kings to play in the Winter Classic game — at Dodger Stadium. In California. Apparently they have the technology…..

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Celebrities are emerging as tweet-happy Kings fans…. of course, LA is no stranger to stars while they all film movies in town, and have the Lakers, Dodgers, Clippers, and Kings in town, but some are making their fandom known on Twitter too. Here’s some of my favorite celeb Kings tweets to date: Matthew Perry tweets about traffic issues while en route to Kings games, tweets pics from ice-level at Staples Center, offers congratulations, feels adulterous when attending games played between other teams, and even tries to rally support for Anze Kopitar to be on the cover of EA Sports’ NHL ’13 — amongst plenty of other pro-Kings tweets.

Rob Lowe hasn’t forgotten his roots as Dean Youngblood, and offered the team congrats from the fictional hockey prodigy he once played.

And perhaps my favorite thus far, Rainn Wilson (aka Dwight Schrute from “The Office”) inquired about attending a Kings game, and had LA’s Twitter respond by saying they’d deliver them to him encased in Jell-O. The terms were accepted, and Wilson even live-tweeted game stats during the game he attended, amongst other musings. And ironically he even crossed paths with Matthew Perry whilst enjoying the evening.

Will Ferrell has been known to make an appearance at the Staples Center for a Kings game as well.

What have I missed? What are you favorite celeb sightings at Kings games or Kings tweets you’ve read?

****************

The Kings’ media department continues to rule…. not only does their Twitter account dominate, their webpage throws the occasional knock-out blow too. Here’s their follow up on kings.nhl.com to all the LA local TV stations screwing up everything there is to screw up about their team on TV: That’s gold, Jerry, gold.

Hockey Talkie: Gretzky Playoffs, Ovie Expendable, Worlds Woes

May 7, 2012 Leave a comment

[originally post for www.betonhockey.com on May 2, 2012]

A puck bucket full of hockey thoughts to tee up….

Four of the eight teams remaining in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs have direct ties to Wayne Gretzky – The Great One played 18 games with the St. Louis Blues in 1996, 234 games with the New York Rangers from 1996 – 1999, coached 4 seasons for the Phoenix Coyotes from 2005 – 2009, and played 539 games with the LA Kings from 1988-1996, captaining them to their only Stanley Cup Finals appearance in franchise history. Had the Edmonton Oilers not been laughingly awful yet again this past season and lived up to hype and expectations, this could have been an all-Gretzky playoffs. Gretzky was known to have been vocal about wanting to win just one more Stanley Cup before he finished his career – is it that far-fetched to think that if one of those teams manages to win the Cup this year (there’s currently a 50% chance of that happening), Wayne might find a way to sneak on the ice and hoist the grail one last time?

••••••••••••••

Speaking of the Los Angeles Kings, they’re beginning to draw a lot of similarities to the underdog 2009-10 Montreal Canadiens – both entered the playoffs as the eighth seed of their conference, both eliminated the President’s Trophy winner of that season in the first round (Montreal beat Washington, Los Angeles ousted Vancouver), and both had/are having unexpected success in the second round (Montreal eliminating Pittsburgh, LA currently mauling St. Louis). The main difference though, is that it took Montreal 7 games to win both of those series – it only took the Kings 5 in the first round, and they are in the driver’s seat with a 2-0 series lead now. Of course, Montreal was beat in the third round, and LA’s playoff fate is not yet written. Los Angeles’ main criticism heading into this year’s playoffs was their inability to score – coming off a series sweep over St. Louis most recently, and with three players in the NHL’s top 25 playoff scorers (Brown, Kopitar, Richards), that ailment seems to be cured. Their goaltender remains a standout, and they’re shown their toughness is not an issue either, mixing it up frequently in both series. While both the Habs and Kings teams look similar, LA looks to be well on their way to faring far better.

••••••••••••••

A moment of discussion about a frame from game 2 of the Rangers/Capitals series…. The score was 3-1 Rangers with roughly 8 minutes to play in game 2, at which point Washington took a Too Many Men penalty. Caps’ coach Dale Hunter elected to have Alex Ovechkin serve that penalty. The announcer was quick to point out that Ovie’s serving of the penalty was a strategic move in hopes of springing him on a breakaway at the conclusion of the infraction, which is all well and good. My counterpoint to that is that on every team and every level I’ve played on, the player that generally went over to serve a bench minor penalty was an “expendable” player – maybe a fourth line or injured player, or just someone who wasn’t getting a lot of ice time for whatever reason that game, and it certainly wasn’t by any means because our coach had a strong confidence in their breakaway ability. So from that standpoint, it looks like Ovechkin may simply have been chosen for removal from participation in the game for 2 minutes when their team needed 2 goals really badly in a short amount of time if they hoped to win the game.

The chance of that breakaway opportunity actually occurring is relatively slim and more of a crapshoot; a hail mary play that is too low percentage to gamble on when the puck could just as likely be in a precarious scoring chance against Washington when the penalty expires. It seems like a positive spin a coach might pose to a psychologically fragile player that needs positive reinforcement to perform well so they don’t conclude that they are the team’s expendable player while sitting alone for two minutes or less. By the strategic logic, Hunter should have put Matt Hendricks, Washington’s shootout goal leader through the regular season, in the box for the opportunity at an uncontested run to the net.

It’s not like Hunter is afraid to clip Ovie’s wings if he’s not performing either– Ovechkin played 21 minutes in game 2 and was a -1 in the loss, while in game 3 he only saw 13 minutes of play (the least he’s ever played in a single playoff game), and scored the game winning goal. So the query point I want to raise is this: do you think Ovechkin serving that bench minor penalty was a strategic move for a chance at a scoring chance, or was it a knock towards his expendability and/or need to improve from coach Dale Hunter?

Further, the Caps should maybe consider making Ovechkin a dman if he’s only going to score from the point now.

••••••••••••••

The 2012 World Hockey Championships are nearly underway in Finland/Sweden, and the world’s “best” will be competing to improve their world rankings – Canada currently sits at fifth in the world, and will be looking to improve on that seeding with a decent roster, but one that does not include names like Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Roberto Luongo, Joe Thornton, and many other big name players that are available, but have elected not to compete for reasons of varying legitimacy. With many national rosters in the same boat, is it even fair to place as much value on this tournament as there is? Is there no way that this tournament can be played out at a different time of year where all of the world’s best hockey players can compete against each other to determine the world’s best? Or is it possible that the world’s best hockey players simply aren’t taking the tournament seriously enough when they should be jumping at the chance to wear their county’s colors on the international stage?

The All-Star Game & Ovechkin Inquisition

January 27, 2012 Leave a comment

[Originally post on www.betonhockey.com on January 25th, 2012]

Well it appears I got my wish, and partially to my own chagrin. Alex Ovechkin will not be attending or participating in the 2012 NHL All-Star Game after all. Not because the vote for him to be there (which was clearly based on his reputation, not his current point total) was reversed, but because he’s pulled himself out.

Ovechkin was suspended for three games by the NHL on Monday for his hit on the Penguins’ Zbynek Michalek. Interestingly, the Penguins defenceman was not hurt, and Ovechkin was not penalized during the game for the play, but those points are apparently neither here, nor there. Ovie sat out his first of three on Tuesday, and is not permitted to return to NHL action until the Capitals play the Montreal Canadiens on February 4th. Since this prohibition period overlaps with the 2012 NHL All-Star Game on January 29th, Ovechkin has taken it upon himself to suspend himself from the All-Star Game (in addition to the Skills competition, which he “retired” from earlier in the season) as well.

Now some might call this Ovechkin taking the “high road” and doing the right thing – he does make a good point after all. But those in the media looking for a juicy storyline may see this as Alex either protesting the suspension laid down on him by the league, Alex just wanting to take a few days off (ala Nicklas Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk in 2009, who declined their invitations, and were promptly suspended one game each for doing so), or maybe, just maybe, Alex realizing he’s not an all-star this year. Having an off-year or not, Ovechkin is a superbly talented hockey player that brings more than his share of much needed attention to the game. But what is this All-Star Game really all about? Or perhaps more importantly, after holding this game for more than 60 years, what has this game become?

Here’s what we know: these days, the ASG is lauded every year as being a farce of hockey. There’s no hitting in the game, and there’s a school-yard style team picking format; yet the NHL still keeps tally of nearly 30 individual records (most goals, assists, games played, and even penalty minutes, to name a few), charge over $100 for tickets, and give away a vehicle to the game’s MVP (Hey all you millionaires that all own 10 cars already, we’re going to get the 50 richest of you together all in a group to play a game, vote for the best, and then give him another vehicle that he’ll never drive, and will probably give away. Sound good? Great. Good talk, guys.). So someone tell me, are we fans and the participating players supposed to take this game seriously, or not?

If we aren’t, then Ovechkin should go/should be made to go, because it doesn’t matter what he’s done this year, it’s all about his entertainment value, and the extra dollar amount his presence at the game can generate through advertising, ticket and merchandise sales – and no one in the league is more entertaining at his peak than him (though Ilya Bryzgalov has been heating up lately). And if only for this reason, he should be there so Phil Kessel could have his moment of revenge to photograph Ovechkin being picked last.

But if we’re supposed to take it seriously, and get excited about the prospect of someone like Steve Stamkos or Rick Nash breaking Wayne Gretzky’s record of four goals in a game, or Mario Lemieux’s record of six points in a game, then Ovechkin should not be there for a number of reasons: one, because he’s legitimately suspended, and shouldn’t be able to pursue those feats while barred from the game; two, because he simply hasn’t been good enough to be there this year; and three, because lots of other guys deserve to be there ahead of him this year and pursue those milestones.

So NHL, what’s it going to be? Is this game worth me clearing my weekend schedule to watch your programming, or should I just trust that Sportscentre will be able to piece together a decent enough highlight package for me to get the gist of it? At least I know there won’t be any idiots skating around in it wearing sunglasses and a Tilley hat with flags stick out of it this year.

 

Are Ovechkin’s Best Days Behind Him?

November 13, 2011 Leave a comment

 

[originally post for www.betonhockey.com on November 8, 2011]

Is it possible that Alex Ovechkin’s best and most productive days of hockey are behind him?

Probably not, but let’s speculate some evidence of why they might be, if indeed they are.

Last year, in the first ever fantasy hockey pool that I paid money to take part in, I somehow lucked out and drew the first overall pick.  At the time, it was a no-brainer and generally assumed that your first pick would be either Ovechkin or Crosby.  I picked Ovie.  Mainly because in his past 4 of 5 seasons, he had 100 or more points, and seemed like he could score whenever he wanted to.  He was just always dangerous if he had the puck.  The guy scored a goal sliding on his back on the ice while doing a barrel-roll for crying out loud.  Now, you may argue that I did get the better choice of the two considering Crosby’s season-ending injury, and that Alex finished ahead of Crosby in points.  But, for the guy that was supposed to finish first overall in scoring, instead he placed seventh, and scored 24 fewer points than he did the season before.  I made an early exit out of the fantasy pool and lost all my money.  **Screams in my best Captain Kirk/George Costanza Wrath of Khan reference impression** OOOOOOVVVVVVIEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!

We’ve since learned that he was injured – as he took 10 games off before the playoffs, and has eluded in interviews to rehabbing over the summer during his training.  Whatever was bothering him then, may continue to linger.  When an injury site is vaguely referred to as an upper or lower body injury, it’s hard to speculate the possible extent and long term effects on the injury.  BUT, from experience, between a torn ACL in my knee, broken collar-bones, pulled groins, and minor neck, back, and shoulder issues, they all had range-of-motion limiting effects on me, though I eventually healed and played through them all.  Wayne Gretzky’s back injury in 1991 was one that had lasting effects on his career and offensive productivity until he retired.  As of this post, Ovechkin’s sitting at #39 in league scoring, averaging less than a point a game, and sitting at -1.  For him, that’s unheard of.  Since 2008, his point totals have been slowly diminishing, and so have his shots on goal (you know, scoring chances).  In 2008, he took 528 shots.  The following years, he only took 368, then 367 shots.  And with those lowered totals have also come less wild, pre-meditated stick-burning goal celebrations.  While he’s still excited when he scores, his reactions are noticeably subdued, for him anyways.

He’s changed his gear this year too, switching from CCM to Bauer.  Hockey players are very particular with their gear, and once a player finds a setup they like and seems help put pucks in the net for them, they’ll quite often remain loyal to that brand forever.  This move may be purely monetary, but it may also indicate that Ovechkin’s lost confidence in his previous equipment to help him score goals.  And further, it may have damaged his confidence in himself to score goals.  You could always tell in Ovie’s goals, skating speed, interviews, and off-ice antics, that confidence has never been an issue for him.  When you’re a player of Alex Ovechkin’s caliber, you can’t afford to have anything get you “in the head” if you hope to score torrentially like you once did.

And further on confidence, even his coach, Bruce Boudreau has shown lower confidence in him; benching him on November 1st, in favour of other players.  Boudreau was quoted as saying, “I thought other guys were better than him …I’ve got to put out the guys that I think are going to score … I just didn’t think Alex was going to score.”  Moments after Boudreau cold-shouldered him, Ovechkin was cussing like a sailor at the snubbing.  Ovechkin’s used to being the go-to guy when the team needs a goal, and in these key situations, he’s starting to not be the guy Boudreau taps on the shoulder first anymore.  That can’t be good for the ol’ ego.

And further still, Ovechkin’s the Capitals captain.  What are other players supposed to think of their leader when they see him not chosen to lead them?  The C may simply be too much responsibility for him, ala Mike Modano, Brett Hull, or any other former NHL captains that have either surrendered their C, or had it taken away by their coach/team management.

Boudreau’s not exactly innocent of blame here either.  He’s spent so much time trying to change Ovechkin and the Capitals’ overly offensive playing style over the last couple of seasons that Ovie couldn’t even be his old-self if he tried.  His most effective style – the kamikaze-bull-in-a-china-shop-shoot-and-score-from-anywhere-blow-guys-up-and-there’s-no-need-for-defence- style – has been rendered obsolete.  Bruce, you seriously want an offensive juggernaut to turn in his guns and become a 2-way, defence-first, responsible, playmaker instead?  Has anyone told you who plays for your team, and what they do best?  Sure, balance out weaknesses, but come on, no other team has the scoring personnel that Washington does.  Last I checked, you still have to score more goals than the other team to win a hockey game, right?

Ovie could be just plain distracted too.  He’s doing endorsements and/or commercials for Bauer, Nike, Mr. Big, Eastern Motors, ESPN, and probably forty companies based in Russia.  Maybe making money’s beginning to take mental precedence over being a dominant hockey player every year?

Some speculative conspiracy:  George Laraque recently wrote in his book regarding steroids in the NHL, saying that,

“I can give you some clues here that will help you identify the ones using steroids, if you really feel like it. First, you just have to notice how some talented players will experience an efficiency loss as well as a weight loss every four years, those years being the ones where the Winter Olympics are held. In the following season they make a strong comeback; they manage a mysterious return to form.”

I’m not going to say Ovechkin was/is on PED’s, but his production did begin to decline post 2010 Olympics. Heck, even during the Olympics.  Ovie’s former other-worldly talent, speed, and scoring ability suddenly turned suspiciously average.  Like Tiger Woods, but without the TMZ scandal.

And finally, the guy just can’t seem to win the big one.  Besides the 2008 World Championship tournament that’s attended by a fraction of the best players in the world, the Stanley Cup, and the Olympic gold medal (the real world championship in my view) continue to elude him.  Could frustration over continual early playoff exits, and Crosby’s ongoing trumping of him be wearing him down too?  Is it possible he’s become complacent with just being really good and making a lot of money?  Is it feasible that with Sidney Crosby sidelined, Alex doesn’t have the competitive drive to try and be better than Sid, his arch-nemesis, the player he’s most often compared to?

I love watching Alexander Ovechkin, and I truly hope he gets back to form and proves all of this wrong.  He’s been the face of the league since he’s been around, and if he can get his act together, there’s no reason why he can’t continue to be.  But the question is, will he?

 

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