Last week (Monday, Jan 30/2012) at the CHL Prospects Game, I had the chance to chat with NHL legend Mark Recchi. He was nice enough to chat with me for a bit, and we talked about everything from him venturing into coaching and his involvement in junior hockey to the Max Pacioretty/Zdeno Chara incident and Tim Thomas’ presidental snub.
Apparently the NHL and True North Sports filmed an alternate ending to the May 31/2011 press conference announcing Winnipeg’s purchase of the Atlanta Thrashers and subsequent return to the NHL. After the deal concluded positively, this ending was trashed, and never meant to see the light of day…. Luckily for you, we here at The SDC Blogs employ the resources to find such material meant to be seen by the public eye. Have a look at how much different that announcement may have turned out:
Hockey Talkie: Hodgson Hype, DiPietro’s Judgement Deficiency, Collapsing Thrashers, Franzen, Ovie, and TSN’s WWF Playbook Move.
For the Canucks’ sake, Cody Hodgson better turn out to be the second coming of Crosby, like Vancouver media would have you believe. He seems like a good kid, and a really good player, but the more that Sportsnet West jams him down all our throats, they more I start to undeservingly hate him by default. Just let him season a little, or at least get the birdcage off before the greatness assessments start flying; that’s all I’m asking.
So after years of unplanned injuries, New York Islanders’ goaltender, Rick DiPietro, voluntarily pursued one the other night when he squared up with Pittsburgh’s Brent Johnson; where he found himself a broken face, twisted knee, and another visit from the Injury Fairy. You would think that someone that’s clearly so fragile would try to avoid blatant threats against his health; especially with the dark cloud of trying to live up to his first-overall draft selection and his lengthy/exorbitant contract hanging over his reputation, and contending against his minimal activations, frequent and lengthy IR stints, and overall average performance. I’d say Islanders’ GM Garth Snow and owner Charles Wang are almost ready to one-punch him too.
A thought on goalie fights… as even casual fans seem to love them, why can’t NHL goalies that fight just sit in the box for 5 minutes to serve their penalty like everyone else? There’s no real reason why teams couldn’t just put their backups in until the penalties expire; both would be coincidental penalties, giving the goaltenders opportunity to reset after they are released. I’m sure the reason it’s frowned on is all to do with something along the lines of “not encouraging that kind of behaviour” or another hypocritical cliché.
Another Atlanta Thrashers’ player collapses during a game? As much as I wouldn’t want to, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear about a Performance Enhancing Drug scandal in Atlanta in the future, especially now that it has happened to two players on the same team. Had their been two seperate instances involving unrelated players, this might fly under the radar, but it’s hard not to wander towards suspicions after this revelation. These are the most elite athletes in the world; you don’t just collapse for no reason while doing something your body has been trained to do for its entire existence. With Freddy Meyer now experiencing a similar mid-game fainting episode to that of Ondrej Pavelec’s invisible banana peel slip earlier in the season, I’m going to go ahead and speculate with nothing beyond my own opinion that these guys are putting something into their bodies that is causing their systems to operate in an unnatural way – and is causing unnatural reactions. Regardless of whether my suspicion turns out to be true or not, it’s always dangerous to put things into your body that alter the normal operations of your heart or your brain; and if we can look to MLB for any indication of what drug scandals can do to your sport, I hope I am completely off-base, for the players’ and the NHL’s sake.
I really think Detroit’s “Mule”, Johan Franzen could be the best player in the NHL if he could be consistent. 5 goals in one game? A 4-goal game in the playoffs last year after being benched by Mike Babcock the night prior? Who else do you know that scores in bunches like that? He’s got a well-known streaky dominance, but an equally well-known follow-up of extreme average-ness for extended periods of time. After the 5 goal game, Detroit was shut out by Columbus the next night, and Johan missed at least one wide open net.
A further player assessment; for a one time “best hockey player in the world” candidate, Alex Ovechkin’s…. kiiiiiiinda average at hockey now. Well, among the top 30 players in the world that is. Even with an injured Crosby, Ovie’s still 8th in NHL scoring, and 15 pts off first place overall. His hardest shot round at the Skills Competition was nothing short of comical; broken stick, unregistering radar, and swimming through tripped over TV cables and all. I wonder how rattled CCM was that Ovie blew up his CCM stick and then borrowed an Easton stick to finish the shootout? Luckily for CCM, the Easton blast was nothing spectacular. Still, having your poster boy tote someone else’s product in a globally viewed performance review couldn’t possibly be an option written into the product endorsement contract.
Also on the All-Star Game, I never understood why the NHL’s “All-Star” level goalies get so bad at stopping pucks in that showdown. I get that the defence and physicality is limited, while the offensive output is maximized, but isn’t that scenario the goalies’ show-off time too?
I find TSN’s stealing signing of rival sports channel’s broadcasters (Darren Dreger, Steve Kouleas) like the WWF stealing underutilized WCW talent in the 90’s. To be fair, Sportsnet did pick up TSN patriarch Jim Van Horne at one point in time too, so it’s not like it’s a one-way street. Interesting talent joust. Sports channels are possibly the most entertaining they have ever been nowadays. Viewers win.
Hockey Talkie: Brodeur, Byfuglien for Norris, HBO 24/7, Sutters, Spengler, Waffles, & The DiPietro Deficiency.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
Sports Shorts: Brian Burke Getting Trump-ed, Hometown Hockey Allegiances Query, Basketball Beaks, Marion Jones, and more.
Sometimes while watching late-night hockey highlights, I’ll zone out and come to again right in the middle of NBA highlights. As I shake the cobwebs, it’s always a mad dash to get that channel changed asap to something more worthy of my attention (so, pretty much anything else on any other channel, except more NBA highlights). So, here are some recent sports observations…
Does Brian Burke not ever have 5 minutes to comb his hair and freshen up? Can we give this guy a 10 minute break for a shower so he can clean up and make himself presentable? I know it’s a hair-tearing-out environment in Toronto these days, but come on Burkey, you’re getting a little Donald Trump-ish. I’m sure the potential pending sale of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment isn’t helping either.
So the Canucks were the heavy pre-season prediction favourite to win the Stanley Cup, then they lost a few, won a few, lost a few more, and now the discussion is that this may be Alain Vigneault’s last season as Canucks coach if they don’t deliver. Oh, predictable Vancouver bandwagon dumpings…
If a team moves, and then a new team starts in the same city, should fans cheer for the team that used to be there (which is inherently the same group of people that left), or stay true to the city and cheer for the new one? Example: Atlanta Flames move to Calgary, become the Calgary Flames. Atlanta eventually incarnates the Thrashers; so should those original Atlanta Flames fans now return to the homeland and cheer for the Thrashers, or are they justified in staying Calgary fans? Same scenario in Minnesota (North Stars to Dallas, Wild now in Minny), and Colorado (Rockies to NJ in ’82, Avalanche sprout up) in recent history.
Based purely on talent and consistency, the Detroit Red Wings are the most overall dominant team of the modern age of hockey, agreed? From the Yzerman and Federov era to the current Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Franzen et al generation, all mixed in with a handful of Stanley Cup wins, it’s tough to argue this isn’t hockey’s version of the New York Yankees.
The people who broke into Pat Burns’ widow’s car and stole his stuff booked themselves a one-way, non-refundable ticket to hell, did they not? I’m still rattled at the Hall of Fame that they couldn’t do that guy the favour of waiving his mandatory waiting period or whatever so he could enter the Hall of Fame WHILE HE WAS ALIVE. 3 Jack Adams Trophies for coach of the year honors (on three different teams), and a Stanley Cup; are there deeper pre-requisites for HOF entrance?
I recently saw Marion Jones’ ESPN 30 for 30 special… does it say more about Marion Jones and her athletic ability that she walked on to a WNBA with very little previous basketball experience (played with UNC); or less about the WNBA, a league that is supposed to boast the best female basketball players in the world, yet people can just walk on and make their teams, as Jones has done with the Tulsa Shock?
The Hockey Tryout: Even The Best In The Game Still Have To Prove Their Worth (And advice for keeping your sanity through hockey’s trial period).
With the opening of the 2010-11 NHL season looming, fake-meaningless tease pre-season hockey is all us stick-and-puck fans have to tide us over until that first puck drops. We’ve endured baseball highlights on Sportscentre for long enough, it’s time to get some real sports going!
One interesting notable for me looking at the pre-season has been the boggling number of established NHL veterans still looking for a job – and their only option, seemingly, is to “tryout” for an NHL team. Good luck trying to get Stanley Cup champ and former NHL All-Star Bill Guerin to fill out and mail in his registration form and camp fee in a self-addressed, stamped return envelope, in exchange for a free camp jersey and four guaranteed ice-times.
I count upwards of 20 NHL vets now fighting for their right to stay active in the world’s best hockey league:
Anaheim — Joe DiPenta (1 Cup), Stephane Veilleux; Atlanta — Enver Lisin, Kyle McLaren; Boston — Brian McGrattan; Columbus — Dan Fritsche; Dallas — Jonathan Cheechoo (All-Star, Rocket Richard Trophy); Florida — Tyler Arnason; New Jersey — Marcus Nilsson; N.Y. Rangers — Garnet Exelby, Ruslan Fedotenko (2 Cups, Olympian), Alexei Semenov; Philadelphia — Bill Guerin (2 Cups, All-Star, Olympian); Phoenix — Shane Hnidy, Kyle Wellwood; San Jose — Andreas Lilja (1 Cup); Tampa — Eric Perrin (1 Cup); Vancouver — Brendan Morrison, Peter Schaefer; Washington — Matt Hendricks. ( from TSN.ca )
I just gotta wonder what the real likelihood of these guys making these teams really is (see: Theo Fleury, Flames tryout). I mean, it’s not like they’re new players that no one’s had a chance to see because they’ve been playing in an obscure minor league and there are only a handful of youtube videos on them. These guys have all been around the league, and coaches and scouts already know what they’re all about.
And in reality, that’s the shitty thing about trying out for ANY team at ANY level. In most cases, teams are already all but finalized before you show up at camp. Guys have been committed to in the off-season, or re-signed from last year. With only a few spots open from trades, injuries, or releases, if your resume isn’t already speaking for you, your only hope is to be so awesome that you out-perform a seasoned veteran, or that a vet gets hurt and you’ve looked good enough to be a lock for a call-up spot. And that’s just the honest truth.
Too many young, good hockey players have had their hockey dreams dashed at an early or mid-point level because a team apparently already committed a starting spot and full PP/PK time to a player; who then walks out of camp a week later headed back on the 12-hour long bus to the team he was playing for before because things “didn’t work out” the way he was told they were going to at their tryout. To be fair though, the onus is on the player to perform; if he can’t do that during that evaluation period, then the chances of that player being a team fixture do fade, no matter how highly touted or decorated they are. As a coach now myself, I’ve had to weigh-in on some tough (and not so tough) decisions about who will play for our team. While it’s easy to strike a guy off on paper, no one wants to be the guy who has to tell the player that he’s not we’re looking for. It’s easy to tell that a guy wants to make the team, but it’s unfortunate when that’s just not a realistic possibility. I’m sure many teams don’t mind collecting those “camp fees” to pad their team’s budget for the year though.
And that’s where hockey, more so at the minor-pro level, can really get quite exploitive. Hockey is a game that players are passionate about. I mean, blindingly passionate about. So much so that they’ll jump at any chance to play for any team, anywhere. From Northern Saskatchewan to Southern Alabama, if you’ve got a team and a training camp, chances are there are players willing to un-bank their life savings and drive to your hole-in-the-wall town from the exact opposite point on the continent for that one chance to be part of the team and to seek their fame and glory. And chances are also that that team is probably full, despite their advertising to “leave no stone unturned” in hopes of finding talent.
Free-agent camps are tricky too, because they’ll mention how many coaches, scouts, and GM’s will be watching you, and how many were signed out of last year’s camp; and when you show up, there’s only one scout (maybe just a guy wearing a team jacket) from a crappy team that only sticks around for 1 period (this happened to a player I know this past summer) and doesn’t give anyone a fair look.
The third axis is the agent. Many free agents will seek a player agent to represent them in pursuit of a contract. The first tip-off here is the player pursuing the agent, not the agent pursuing the player. If players are not careful, they can get mixed up with people/con-men who will take their money in exchange for promises of placement, and then never hear from the agent again, see their money again, or sign a contract (happened to me). There are lots of good, credible agents and agencies out there, but you really gotta be careful, that’s all. And again, it’s tough because players want to play so bad because of their love for the game and their emotional attachment to it; that pursuit and their trustworthiness is easily abused when it aligns with a person or team who doesn’t mind separating you from your money in exchange only for false hope and promises.
So, aspiring players who have not had the luxury of being drafted and/or a phenom from a young age, here’s your tryout camp mental checklist to review before filling out that form and sending in your cheque:
1) Are you good enough?
2) Ask yourself again, no really, are you good enough to make this team?
3) Are you willing to endure failure and rejection, and self-improvement for what might be years until you do make this or another team?
4) Can you fiscally, and mentally, afford it?
5) Are you willing to live and play in the middle of no-where for an extended period of time, for next to no money?
6) What is your goal is hockey? Will you settle for anything below the NHL in the end?
7) Do the rewards that come with being a hockey player outweigh the benefits to you?
8) If you’re not single, what does your significant other think of all this?
I’m sure I could think of more, but if you’ve answered yes to all the above questions, then you should pursue your hockey dreams, no matter what they are, and no matter what they call for. If you’re hesitant, then you may want to re-evaluate your path in the game. But when it comes to camp time, always do your homework on the team, and be realistic (even if your realism would be described as crazy by others). Other than that, let your heart and passion for the game, combined with your abilities and talents take you as far as they will lead; just don’t be afraid to follow them! Being able to play the game of hockey is a very temporary privilege that only a very small percentage of people will ever have the opportunity to do at any level, so don’t take your remaining time in the game for granted. If opportunity knocks, open the door; just make sure you let the right people in.