[originally post for www.betonhockey.com on November 22/11]
No games since January. First game back: 4 points on the Penguins’ 5 total goals scored. First goal of the game. Last goal of the game. Game winner. My. Mind. Blown. In the lip-read words of Sid Crosby himself after scoring his first goal in over 10 months, “F*** YA!!!”
In one game, he catapulted himself by hundreds of statistical spots at a time by each backhander that went in, and every pass that his teammates converted into goals. From 711th, to 605th, to 523rd, to 464th, and finally to 373rd in the NHL’s total points standings for this season, after one single game. Todd Bertuzzi, Scottie Upshall, Jordin Tootoo, Dustin Penner, Paul Bissonnette, George Parros, Blake Comeau, and 330 other established NHL players got leapfrogged in points in one hour of play. And there’s now even talk of whether Crosby can beat league leader Phil Kessel in points this season, who has a 25 points and 20 games advantage. Bets are being taken on whether Crosby will win the Hart Trophy this season. And no one’s kidding or balking when they ask or hear about either possibility.
It reminded me a lot of Brett Bulmer, a former Minnesota Wild player who played 8 games with them this season, before being sent back to his major junior club, the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL. In his first game back, Bulmer dominated the game, and dictated the pace, also scoring 2 goals and 2 assists by the conclusion. Only difference was what Bulmer did was against junior hockey talent; what Crosby did was against NHL talent, aka the best hockey players in the world (clearly not the 29th place New York Islanders, but you get the point. By the way, Crosby annihilates the Islanders statistically nearly every time the Penguins play them). If you’re still calling Sidney Crosby overrated at this point, you’re, well, an idiot.
In a night where nothing else that happened that evening in the league really mattered or was even worth televising, it became pretty apparent that the NHL needs Sidney Crosby and the attention he brings to the game. While millions were tuning in to see a sold-out Pittsburgh audience chant Crosby’s name and shake signs emblazoned with his first name, other headlines from the night’s NHL action included “Red Balloon Gets Attention During Coyotes-Capitals Game” (seriously, here’s the link from NHL.com : http://www.nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=602620), as a low-flying helium-filled balloon apparently caused quite a scene during the epic clash for 14th place in the league. Yes, the same Washington Capitals that Crosby’s nemesis, Alex Ovechkin still plays for. Ovie managed to contribute a secondary assist in the game.
Some question whether Crosby’s return is the antidote to awaken Ovechkin from his offensive amnesia, which currently has the former Art Ross and Rocket Richard trophy winner sitting at 57th overall in points. The two have seemingly been the yin to each other’s yang since they both entered the league – at this point though, I’d have to wager that Ovechkin needs Crosby a lot more than Crosby needs Ovechkin.
All in all, a successful return for Sidney Crosby. Keep in mind though, it was only one game, against a not very good team. I don’t question his ability to continue to perform at this level, but there are many more games to be played, and a lot more hits to be taken (let’s hope the Penguins are more akin than the Buffalo Sabres are to standing up for their superstar if someone takes a cheapshot on him). I’m excited to see what unfolds.
[update: at the time of this re-post, Crosby now has 2 goals and 9 assists for 11 total points, and sits at 176th in NHL overall points, having passed another 197 players in offensive production]
If you’re going crazy Black Friday or Cyber Monday shopping, and you’ve got Christmas gifts for a hockey fan in mind, consider what I got sent my way from Bobby Atwal from The Fan Zoo. Also check out the gift ideas in the new SDC STORE.
Are you wondering/stuck on what Christmas gift to buy the hockey fan on your list this year? Bobby Atwal, president and CEO of The Fan Zoo (and self-proclaimed hockey super fan) has selected his top five holiday gifts for the ultimate hockey lover to try and help you out — some of which you won’t find at your average sporting store.
Hockey enthusiasts are some of the most devoted fans in the world. They live and breathe the sport. However, choosing the right gift for them can seem like a daunting task, since hockey fans cover a wide demographic (male/female/young/old) or they already have everything a fan could want.
Bobby’s Atwal’s Top Five Holiday Picks for the Hockey Fanatic
(Ex: Canucks Triple featuring Mason Raymond, Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows – From the 2011 Western Conference Championship team).
More on The Fan Zoo….
The Fan Zoo is a sports memorabilia company focused on connecting athletes with their communities of fans.
Connecting professional athletes with their communities of fans is what we’re all about. Founded in 2003, by sports enthusiast Bobby Atwal, the Fan Zoo provides the highest quality of authentic sports memorabilia to the fans who love to support their favourite athletes. From autographed photos, framed prints, plaques, balls, sticks, to jerseys – we acquire the merchandise you want, directly from the source. Visit http://www.thefanzoo.com
We know that fans exist only if their communities can thrive. That’s why we believe in helping the children who are most in need today so they can become the superstars of tomorrow. Every month The Fan Zoo tangibly makes a difference with a child in need within our community, by enabling them to participate in the sport or athletic pursuit of their choice. The Fan Zoo events are ‘Fan Experiences’ you won’t want to miss. From private and public signings to dining with a sports hero, we put you in touch with some of your favourite athletes. How about inspiring your corporate event with an athlete appearance or gifting your loved one with a personalized voice recording for special occasions? We make it happen!
– Mason Raymond
More on Bobby Atwal…
Bobby Atwal is 1st and foremost a sports fan. Raised in Vancouver B.C., Bobby had a huge collection of cards from his favourite Canucks players. In 1994 when his team made it to the Stanley cup playoffs, he would go to the airport to get his cards signed by his heroes like Pavel Bure. His memorabilia collection slowly grew to include prized pieces like a personalized jersey signed by the Canadian Olympic team in Salt Lake City and a bottle of wine signed by Wayne Gretzky from the !rst vintage of the Great One’s winery. His hobby eventually evolved into a business, when Bobby created what today is known as The Fan Zoo.
Turned off by the industry, which to a large degree is unregulated, Bobby wanted to create a brand built on integrity and focused on connecting athletes with their communities.
He developed trusted relationships directly with professional athletes and their agents. He guaranteed his company’s memorabilia to be authentic by only going directly to the athletes or their agents for purchase. Photos are all licensed images – meaning all people involved are paid fair royalties. Jerseys and memorabilia are purchased directly from the professional manufacturers and athlete signings are performed in controlled environments. Furthermore, his company is committed to giving back to the community. Each month The Fan Zoo sponsors a child in need to help them achieve their sports dreams.
[originally post for www.betonhockey.com on November 15/2011]
With even Marty Turco’s name entering the discussion of future Toronto Maple Leafs’ goaltenders now, at this point, the writing’s gotta be on the wall for Leafs’ goalie, Jonas Gustavsson, wouldn’t you say?
As much as Brian Burke refuses to admit any loss of confidence in “The Monster”, it’s his actions that tell the true story.
Look, I’m sure Jonas was as good as he was scouted to be in the Swedish Elite League. His last year there, he had a 1.96 GAA. And he had an intimidating nickname to boot. So what could go wrong? What went wrong was the Leafs gambling a goaltender would put up Swedish Elite League numbers in the NHL. They needed him to be better than Vesa Toskola, Andrew Raycroft, and the rest of the revolving door of past Leaf goaltenders that failed to guide the Buds to the Stanley Cup. Let’s be honest, he’s been average at best, and has in no way lived up to a moniker as lofty as “The Monster”. Unless your lack of confidence in him scares you, or you compare him to the creatures from the animated Pixar movie, Monsters, Inc.
For all intents and purposes, Gustavsson should be the Leafs starting goaltender right now. He’s 27 years old, and into his third NHL season. I’ll give him credit, he did outlive 34 year old, former Conn Smythe Trophy winner, J.S. Giguere. But with the emergence of 23 year old James Reimer on the scene, Gustavsson was again shuffled to a secondary role. And with Reimer hurt, the Leafs elected not to give the reigns to Gustavsson, but to bring up 25 year old Ben Scrivens, who has basically been rendering Jonas obsolete altogether. How many times does Jonas have to give way to other, younger goaltenders before even he realizes his lifespan in Toronto is limited? Either the Leafs enjoy having 1.4 million dollars inactively sit on the bench, they’re too proud to admit a mistake and trade him, or are going to try and “show him off” in limited activity this year, in order to reclaim some value from him at the end of the year when his contract expires.
Whatever the scenario, I wouldn’t bet on Gustavsson being a Toronto Maple Leaf past this season.
Some thoughts on the Philadelphia Flyers/Tampa Bay Lightning “stalemate”.
Tampa Bay was playing a system – “The Trap”, if you will. Philadelphia realized this, and countered the system that relies on an active breakout to breakdown, by being completely passive. Which is intelligent; some might even say smart. But most are saying it’s boring, and bad for business. And to Tampa’s credit, that’s one heck of an effective system, if you can make it work. Both teams were simply trying to win the game (Tampa did), or at least not lose it. Philadelphia later showed they could break the trap, and the game went on, but for 2 minutes of play there, it was pandemonium at NHL headquarters.
Here’s the thing: the new NHL is all about speed, scoring, and doing everything at a million miles an hour. So while what both teams were doing were fantastic moves from a strategic we’re-trying-to-win-the-game standpoint, they are horrendous channel-changing deal-breakers to casual southern American hockey fans tuning in to hopefully see a hybrid-blend of boxing and NASCAR on ice.
If there was ever a more poignant example of the fact that the NHL is trying to run an entertainment business rather than a sports league, I can’t think of it. It’s like Gary Bettman got scared NBC was going to back out of their freshly signed 10-year broadcasting deal if they saw that game. We are now at the point where NHL higher-ups are going to have conversations about making rule changes in order to negate coaches ability to implement solid game strategies. It’s no longer about winning folks, it’s about presenting an entertaining product. I can’t think of one reason why a true hockey fan should be happy about this development.
And finally, the Buffalo Sabres are officially the largest collective of gutless cowards on the planet. Their all-star goaltender, Ryan Miller, got run by Milan Lucic, and not one Sabre players did anything of consequence to him. I’d be generous to say that Thomas Vanek and Andrej Sekera both gave him mild bodychecks. Announcers said during the broadcast that the Sabres didn’t have anyone tough on the ice at the time to respond, but the hit took place with 6 minutes left in the FIRST period. That means there were 46 other minutes worth of hockey for at least one of the Sabres to grow a set and attempt subtract a few incisors from Lucic’s mouth. This is the EXACT instance where fighting in hockey is required. Of anyone who supports fighting and hockey, they would all agree, this is the prime example of where it is justified. The Sabres absolutely embarrassingly failed to do the right thing, and they got walked all over the rest of the night. Their goaltender is out with a concussion, and if Buffalo’s mentality doesn’t change, I’d bet they’re going to get walked on the rest of the season too.
Even minor leaguers knows that if someone punks your team out, it’s not necessarily how you do or how tough you are, but that at least you do something; as evidenced by this vid of Justin Bourne dropping the mitts with a player that had just knee’d his teammate in an ECHL game a few years back: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8yfvWdS6MAU
Every player in hockey knows this is the norm, and it’s astonishing that Buffalo didn’t do a SINGLE thing immediately, or for the duration of the game. Boston will likely continue punking teams out because they have guys who can, will, and that get away with it; and teams like Buffalo that continue to not at least take the punk test will continue to fail it and get walked all over.
[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?
Hi folks! Below is the companion piece to the last article I wrote about WHL players leaving their junior teams for NHL clubs. Brett Bulmer played 9 games with the Minnesota Wild this season, before being sent back down to the Kelowna Rockets. I talked with him a few days later. Enjoy. -SDC
Playing in the NHL may be the dream of every young Canadian kid, but with only 690 spots available, there definitely isn’t room for everyone.
Kelowna Rockets forward Brett Bulmer got to live the dream this fall, playing nine games for the NHL’s Minnesota Wild.
In those nine games, he registered three points and six penalty minutes. It was even reported Bulmer had beaten out six-season veteran Eric Nystrom for his spot on the Wild’s main roster in training camp.
“It was amazing,” Bulmer said of his stay with the Wild before his season debut with Kelowna on Friday. “To play the nine games and to be around all the NHLers was pretty cool. Everyone there was really good to me. It was cool to be around guys who have been there a long time. It’s something you dream of as a kid. To play in the NHL as a 19-year-old was very special.”
One can imagine that playing against men in the world’s most highly regarded hockey league is a little different pace than competing against players who are 20 years old and younger in major junior.
“You don’t really have too much time with the puck, and you’ve got to make quicker decisions,” Bulmer said. “I just jumped into it and I got better as I went along. It’s actually almost easier at that level because the passes are always on your tape. You always know where you have to be because they’ll let you know. It’s very professional and everyone wants to win every night.”
Minnesota elected to send Bulmer back to Kelowna before playing a 10th game, which meant the Wild avoided having to count the first of Bulmer’s three-year contract towards their salary cap this season.
Although a little disappointed to not have stuck with the big club, Minnesota left Bulmer optimistic that’d he’d be back.
Brett has his sights set on returning to the Wild next season, after he carries out the marching orders given to him by Minnesota with the Rockets this season.
“I’m disappointed because I did a lot of work to try and stay there,” Bulmer said. “It’s not a bad thing, though, because it’s just a year to grow. It was a matter of them wanting me to get lots of playing time this year. I probably could have made it as a third or fourth liner, but they want me to be a guy that can play more diverse roles once I make it for good. Nineteen is a big year to develop, and I can still get a lot better. They told me I’m a big part of their future. I want to be a guy they can build their team around one day, but I need to work hard here this year to make that a possibility.”
Bulmer took the Wild’s orders seriously, scoring four points in his first game back (two goals and two assists). He also averaged a plus-one rating over the Rockets’ two-game weekend homestand against Portland.
The output was welcomed by Ryan Huska, Kelowna’s head coach.
“It’s important, of course,” Huska said. “He’s a guy that brings a lot to the table for us – not only with his offensive ability, but with his size up front. It’s something that we had missed and it’s nice to have him back.”
Bulmer’s return also adds leadership to the team. He wore an ‘A’ on his jersey in both games this past weekend against Portland.
“He’s going to be a part of our leadership group,” said Huska. “He has to be because he’s the guy with a lot of experience for us.”
Now as a WHL player with NHL experience, Brett is also fully aware of the extra pressure and high expectations on him to perform. Especially on a team that desperately needs offensive production and wins.
“I love pressure,” said Bulmer. “I thrive on it, so it’s not something I worry about. I like to be the go-to guy. I’m glad to have everyone look to me to do something. Every night I’m going to go out and do my best for the team and try to help us win. I’ve got a leadership role here, and I’m happy to do it.”
[originally printed in The Kelowna Daily Courier, October 30/2011]
When I heard the recent news that Sean Avery was returning to the New York Rangers roster from his earlier AHL banishment , I immediately thought of a similar, non-hockey event, which seemed to match the scenario almost perfectly.
Does anyone remember when Norm MacDonald was fired from Saturday Night Live in 1997, but then was brought back a year and a half later to appear as guest host? If not, click this link, it’s a spectacle. Below is the written transcript:
“When the people here asked me to do the show, I’ve got to say, I felt kind of weird. I don’t know if you remember this, but I used to actually be on this show… a year and a half ago, I had sort of a disagreement with the management at NBC. I wanted to keep my job. And they felt the exact opposite. They fired me because they said that I wasn’t funny. Now, with most jobs, I could have had a hell of a lawsuit on my hands for that, but see, this is a comedy show. So, they got me. But, now, this is the weird part, it’s only a year and a half later, and now, they ask me to host the show. So I wondered, how did I go from being not funny enough to be even allowed in the building, to being so funny that I’m now hosting the show? How did I suddenly get so goddamn funny?! It was inexplicable to me, because, let’s face it, a year and a half is not enough time for a dude to learn how to be funny! Then it occurred to me: I haven’t gotten funnier, the show has gotten really bad! So, yeah, I’m funny compared to, you know, what you’ll see later. Okay, so let’s recap, the bad news is: I’m still not funny. The good news is: The show blows! Alright, folks, we’ve got a bad show for you tonight!”
And so here we are with Sean Avery. About a month ago, Rangers head coach was quoted as saying, “we have better players than Sean Avery right now”, and promptly demoted Avery to the Rangers’ AHL affiliate. Now, not a year and a half later, but only a month later after toiling in the minor leagues, either John Tortorella or Glen Sather (or possibly both) have come to the conclusion that they don’t have better players than Sean Avery, saying bringing him back now “is the right decision”, and have returned him to the Rangers’ line-up after clearing re-entry waivers — without incident of another team swiping him, ala the Red Wings/Islanders Nabokov fiasco.
So if Avery’s thinking anything like Norm thought, he’s got to be saying to himself, “In a month, how did I go from not being good enough to even be allowed in the arena, to being so good I’m back on the starting roster?” Then it might occur to him as well, it’s not that he hasn’t gotten better, it’s that the Rangers have gotten bad. Yes, it is early still, but sitting at 17th overall, and one spot out of the playoffs right now in the Eastern Conference, the Rangers are currently mediocre at best.
Though it’s probably due to injuries on the Rangers roster, it’s fun to think that the recall might have something to do with the entire Madison Square Garden crowd chanting “We Want Avery”, and bringing signs requesting Tortorella be sent to the Connecticut Whale instead. Great players have had their names chanting during games they put on memorable performances, but when was the last time a hockey player had their name chanted and presence requested by a mass audience, while said player wasn’t even in the state at the time?
Business in the NHL is about to pickup folks; the attention seeking/grabbing/bothersome-pest/entertainment-piece is en route back to the NHL. I for one can’t wait to hear his first monologue. Err, I mean, interview.
BET: Avery and Tortorella do not finish the season on the same roster. [update: SDC wins]