My 2012 interview with St. Louis Blues’ head coach Ken Hitchcock posted on The Score’s Backhand Shelf blog on September 19, just prior to the NHL and NHLPA coming to terms with each other to stop hockey’s latest work stoppage. Since we spoke, the St. Louis Blues have twice finished 2nd in the Central Division, and in the Western Conference top 4 two times as well, but found themselves bounced from the playoffs in the first round on both attempts.
On a brighter note, “Hitch” was named assistant coach for Team Canada at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, where he and the team won gold. He also rose to 8th all-time in coaching wins (2nd amongst active coaches) shortly after he collected his 600th NHL win — one of only 11 NHL coaches to do so.
Posted by Dave Cunning under Biography, Interviews, Ken Hitchcock, St. Louis Blues on Sep 19, 2012
While the NHL lockout rolls on, fans may forget there is a group of personnel that is not aligned with either the NHLPA or team owners in CBA negotiations, yet is directly affected by the league’s labor stall – NHL coaches.
Nearly a year after taking over as head coach of the St. Louis Blues, guiding his team to a second round playoff appearance, and winning the Jack Adams Award for the NHL’s Coach of the Year, Ken Hitchcock is just as busy preparing for a season with an unknown start date as he would be if it were already underway.
I had a chance to interview Hitchcock and he gave me his thoughts on his coaching philosophy, on replacing Davis Payne in St. Louis during last season, and other topics.
Hitchcock on evaluating his team during training camp:
“When you start your training camp, you know within three or four players what your team’s going to be like. You’re not working from a base of 60 players, you’re working from a base of 30 players — you’re trying to educate all 60 that attend, but you know the 30 that are going to try out for the 22 or 23 spots. Every coach visualizes what his lines will look like, and what his team will look like; you already know them in your mind, so those are the players you observe. We watch them whether they are already in St. Louis, or in junior, the American Hockey League, Europe – they could be anywhere – those few are the guys we keep our eye on.”
On what role he plays in scouting for the Blues:
“I stay out of it. There are other people who have that duty, and we stay in our own area of expertise. Everyone else has a job to do – our scouts have their own responsibilities, and ours as coaches don’t include scouting. Other people do that and do it well. All we would do is get in the way.”
On the fact that he is still learning as a coach:
“I have a thirst to learn, and to be part of a team – whether it’s as the head coach, assistant, associate, consultant, or whatever – I love being part of a team. I find great joy in being a small part of something pretty big, and having to work together. My thirst for knowledge leads me to try and find out why teams in all kinds of activities – in sports, business, or whatever – are successful. I want to learn that stuff. Part of that is the technical package –the systems of play and everything, but a big part of it is the synergy or the chemistry that goes on with your hockey club. I want to learn why certain people are successful, why they continue to succeed, and what they’ve learned. I know I don’t have all the answers, and I know I don’t have all the experiences, so I seek them out instead. I enjoy the journey of seeking out information and other people’s opinions, and watching other people perform.”
“Talking with my peers and watching how my peers practice and play feeds the hunger for learning that I have. I talk with other coaches all the time. As long as you’re in that constant learning path, you stay fresh, you stay energized, and you stay current. The minute you get satisfied, or the minute you lose your flexibility and feel like you don’t have to learn, in our business, I think that’s when you become very stagnant. If you stand still, the game starts to go by you.”
On coming in and replacing the previous coach (Davis Payne):
“Over time, you learn what sells to your players and what doesn’t. One of the things that experience tells you is that when you’re in a critical situation, or one where there’s a lot of anxiousness and anxiety, you find out that less is more – that less information and keeping it simple becomes more effective over time. The other aspect is – and I don’t want to call it luck – but when there’s a change, your players need to see instant success for them to buy in. We simplified, and in the four games we played in the first eight days we had wins over Chicago, Detroit, and Pittsburgh, and an overtime loss. Because of that immediate success, the buy-in became a lot easier and more black and white for the players. Every new coach that comes in sells a new program, and if there’s no success early, the buy-in takes longer.”
“When you look at the history of coaching, usually what happened when a coach had success is his players bought in, starting with the leaders. When the leaders buy in, the rest of the players have no choice but to come along. When you have great leadership, and you have cooperative leadership with the staff, you usually have a very successful team. What happens to a lot of coaches is their leadership changes – through trades, retirement, or whatever – that’s when you reach a crisis stage. Your team’s chemistry starts to change, the way of doing business changes, and a transition phase begins. Coaches get fired in that transition phase. Trying to create new synergy and new energy while going through a leadership change and missing a bunch of guys because of it is hard to do. You win in the National Hockey League because a team’s leaders follow their coach, and the players follow the leaders. When there’s a vacuum effect taking place, that’s when it gets chaotic.”
On what happened with Bruce Boudreau in Washington:
“He’s a good coach. Sometimes there are certain horses for certain riders. Sometimes good coaches don’t fit with the personnel that’s on the team, and sometimes they fit perfect. Once you’re a good coach, you don’t all of a sudden become a bad coach. Sometimes change is good for both parties – the players and the coach. It doesn’t mean it’s a matter of bad people, it just means a fresh approach might work better. You can find other ways to do it than changing the coach, and usually if a guy’s a good coach, that option is a last resort.”
What he thinks of the level of play in hockey today:
“This is an unbelievable time to be a hockey fan – this is the highest skill level I’ve ever seen and worked with. Everybody’s a good skater, the knowledge on the players that come from junior and college is at a high level, so they’re able to adapt much quicker. The whole game is at an incredible level. I don’t care how many goals get scored, it’s all about the intensity level and the execution – this is as high as I’ve ever seen it in my life.”
His opinion on the Kings who defeated the Blues in the second round of the Western conference playoffs:
“Nothing they did surprised anybody. The division they played in was incredible — really high end teams. Just getting points out of their own division was a struggle. When they made their personnel changes with about 25 games left in the season, they became big and fast. Anybody who played them in the last 20 games knew exactly how good they were. We played them twice, and we left both games going ‘Oh my god, are they ever a good team’. Nothing they did in the playoffs was surprising.”
On the stress of coaching and how it affects you:
“Coaching requires a lot of focus, a lot of energy, and a lot of work. There’s a tremendous amount of stress on coaches, especially in our sport because there’s so many teams that can win the Stanley Cup. Quite frankly, sometimes coaches lose their energy, get frustrated, or they get critical or cynical because of the stress, the demand, and the combination of everything. Sometimes, the energy level that was there at the start isn’t there at the end. Teams decide to make changes to create a higher energy level. We all think that we should coach forever, and we all think that we should never get fired, but we don’t see the things that other people see. We don’t see the read that players have of our body language, or the little things that ownership or management see.”
On his energy level when he coached in Dallas and Columbus:
“When I got the job in Dallas, I thought that would be my first and last job. I thought I was going to coach there forever. I never thought I’d be let go in a million years. But I did. And as disappointed as I was getting let go in Columbus, the year and a half I had off gave me energy for the next five or six years. It gave me a freshness, an energy, and an enthusiasm that is necessary to coach in the NHL. As a coach, you’ve got to look in the mirror – it’s a hard look, but you have to if you want to stay current.”
On the transient nature of coaching in the NHL:
“In this business, you learn not to hang pictures. We love St. Louis and I hope I stay here forever, but you come to understand that you’re in a transient situation, and that’s just the way it is. That’s the nature of our business, and we’ve gone about living that life. I’ve got great energy right now, but the moment my energy drops, I’ll be the first guy to knock on the General Manager’s door. But the way I feel now, I feel like I could coach a long time. The players have given me faith and hope, and that’s really rejuvenated me. The players have really created an enthusiasm for me, and I can hardly wait for the season to get going. I’m going to get every ounce out of this team and myself.”
I don’t make a point of standing up for too many coaches, so hear me out.
Do the Capitals really think a major-junior coach (albeit former NHLer) ready to lead them to the Stanley Cup right off the hop? Because if Dale Hunter can’t do that, how long could he possibly last himself as Capitals head coach?
Under the four seasons of Boudreau’s watch, Washington won four division championships, a Presidents’ Trophy, an Eastern Conference title, the best regular season records in club history, and a final record of 201-88-40. For you math wizards out there, that’s more than twice as many wins as losses. Boudreau himself won the Jack Adams Trophy in 07-08 as coach of the year, and holds the record for winning 200 games faster than any coach in NHL history. Apparently none of this was good enough to keep him gainfully employed in Washington.
This will be Dale Hunter’s first NHL season as a head coach. Or any level of NHL coach, for that matter. The only stat Hunter really has working in his favour is Capitals coaching history: when Boudreau took over the Capitals from Glen Hanlon in 2007, they had already played 21 games, and were doing poorly. The team is currently 22 games deep into the NHL season, and after Boudreau’s decrescendo, the Caps are once again doing poorly. This is the exact spot where Bruce took over and the team took off from four years ago, and it’s about the only thing I can see that Dale Hunter really has to cling to.
I can’t help but think that the players beat the coach here (or maybe the kids beat the parents, whichever way you want to look at it). It seems as though when Boudreau let the young squad off their leashes to run wild, score as many goals as possible and not play defence, the players were happy, but Boudreau was on the burner for not winning. Then he tried to round out the capabilities of the players by adding the defensive element to their game, but they wouldn’t have it. And they kept losing. More so than before, in fact. And Boudreau was in more trouble.
Washington Capitals General Manager George McPhee said he believed Boudreau had lost the team, and cited Washington’s Nov 26th 5-1 loss to Buffalo and recent string of losses as evidence. New Coach Dale Hunter is a self-proclaimed players’ coach, but qualifies that saying “but the players will know when I’m mad at them. I’m stern on them because that’s the way you have to be to win games. Everybody makes mistakes out there, but if they keep making the same mistakes there will be repercussions.”
Did Dale not see the HBO 24/7 special on the Caps/Pens 2010 Winter Classic showdown? In the history of the NHL, you’d be hard pressed to find evidence of a coach who hurled more sternly-laced expletives at the Capitals roster than Bruce Boudreau did. He even benched the team’s star players to try to get a message across. We saw what happened when Bruce tried to get tough – they players put their tails between their legs and started laying eggs on the ice. I’m not sure that Hunter is prepared for what kind of reception his “bad cop” routine is going to get from the Washington Capitals locker room. And surely to the ire of Washington’s (supposedly) gifted offensive core, Hunter was also quoted as saying, “I don’t believe in run-and-gun hockey,” So much for going back to open season on cherry-picking slap-bombs, it seems.
And at what point do the Capitals’ franchise players finally look in the mirror and pose the question to themselves, “what if it was us all along?” How many times can Alex Ovechkin change gear companies, agents, and other variables before he decides to simply pull his socks up, dig the old Ovie out of the dress-up closet, and play some elite level hockey again? If the players truly decided that they weren’t going to put all their effort into games anymore in protest of their coach, then this team is dysfunctional on a level that people can’t even comprehend. If that sort of internally destructive behaviour is actually occurring, then this team will never win anything together, no matter who’s wearing shoes instead of skates behind the bench.
From the owners’ stand-point, I know it’s a good business decision to keep exciting players on your roster – especially ones locked into long-term contracts. But this is one instance where it should be the child getting spanked for being bad, not the dad. At the end of the game, it had to have been the players on the ice that performed, that onus is not ultimately on the coach. It’s going to take some growing up from the Capitals’ players before this team turns the corner on this forgettable season.
[update: Boudreau was hired only days later by the Anaheim Ducks to replace fired Randy Carlyle. As of December 4th/2011, the Ducks are 1-2 with Boudreau aboard. Washington is 1-2 from the same time with Dale Hunter]
[update 2: this video seems to accompany my article perfectly:backhand-shelf-bloge-salming-present-coach-killer]
[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, Sorry for the hiatus. My wife, mother-in-law, sister-in-law, niece, and nephew and I all took off to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, for a little Easter vacay. After being removed from all english-speaking media for nearly a week, I came back to see that my LA Kings got bounced, Vancouver nearly blew their 3 game lead and went to 7 with the Hawks, somehow the Predators are in the 2nd round, and I think some other stuff happened too. A lot can happen in 7 days I suppose. Big shout-out to the hotel bar for getting SkySports and showing a few select playoff games. Other than that, it was surprisingly easy to be cut off from my phone, computer, email, facebook, twitter, blog, etc for a week. I suggest everyone give it a try sometime.
MOVING ON…. I’m pleased to bring back guest poster, Peter Nygaard (aka @RetepAdam on Twitter) for 4 playoff series’ worth of suggested supplementary drink-along material for you to enjoy the second round with, after the popularity of his first installment. Continue to, or begin to Follow Peter on Twitter for coverage, analysis and whatever else throughout the Stanley Cup playoffs. He occasionally tweets for @FVSports , so pop by there too.
Well, that was quite a first round. Between the 14 overtime games, bitter rivalries and countless subplots, the most exciting aspect of the first round was that it was once again a scoretacular affair. For the second straight year, goals came at a clip of nearly six per game in the first round, and there were nearly twice as many games that featured 7+ goals as there were games with less than three. In the context of this column, what that means is that everybody who participated in the First Round Drinking Games got schwasted.
Yet, somewhere amidst the belligerent stupor, I discovered a newfound ability. My knack for predicting events such as Alexandre Burrows’ series-winner has become so apparent that I’m going to go ahead and say that it borders on precognition.
That’s right. I’m saying I’m psychic.
But I’m not going to lure you in with claims of knowing how the future will unfold, only to turn on you, my loyal reader, and demand a sum fee for a display of my powers. No, I will be giving away these babies for free. So, throw out your Magic 8 Ball. Make chai out of your tea leaves. Sit back and enjoy as I give you a little glimpse of the future.
(1) Washington Capitals vs. (5) Tampa Bay Lightning
-Drink 2 seconds for every penalty, 5 seconds for every fight and finish your drink for every goal.
-If the announcer mentions Alexander Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos in the same sentence, take a drink.
-If the fact that the Tampa Bay Lightning have won a Stanley Cup while the Washington Capitals remain Cupless makes you laugh, take a drink.
-If that same fact makes you cry on the inside, finish your drink.
-If somebody in the room mentions Dwayne Roloson’s name, “The Rock Rule” goes into effect. The first person to successfully pull of an “IT DOESN’T MATTER” doesn’t have to drink while all other players must finish their drinks.
-If Sidney Crosby’s name is mentioned for no apparent reason (i.e. in any context other than discussing Tampa Bay’s first round series), take a drink.
-If the Lightning make some sort of weak pun on their team name as part of a home crowd motivator, take a drink.
-If Mike Green makes an excellent defensive play, pour a drink into your gaping, wide-open mouth.
-If you’re listening to the game at such a high volume level that Washington’s home goal siren causes your neighbors to call the cops on you, finish your drinks on the go.
What the Future Holds…
-After two years of Bruce Boudreau not following John Tortorella’s lead, Capitals alternate captain Mike Knuble will finally take matters into his own hands by skating up to Ovechkin during a break in the action, ripping the ‘C’ off his jersey and placing it on his own.
-“Seen Stamkos?” is no longer used mockingly to refer to the Tampa Bay star’s scoring drought, after he breaks out with a multiple goals in the first three games of the series, and reverts to its original meaning of asking Tampa Bay citizens whether they’ve seen him play. The answer remains a resounding “No.”
-Versus and NBC take every opportunity to show the Flyers-Bruins series instead of this one, leading most fans to not really have more than a vague idea of the series score, just like both of the teams’ first round series.
Prediction: Capitals in 6; Toasted in 4
(2) Philadelphia Flyers vs. (3) Boston Bruins
-Drink 2 seconds for every penalty, 5 seconds for every fight and finish your drink for every goal
-Returning favorite: If the Philly crowd boos (or cheers for Boucher in its own particular… idiom), take a drink.
-If the Flyers blow a lead of any sort (game, series, whatever), take a drink.
-If you’re watching on NESN and the announcers homer up the Bruins, take a drink.
-If the Stanley Cup is mentioned, drink two seconds if you’re rooting for the Flyers; drink three seconds if you’re rooting for the Bruins. One second for each decade since either team has won it.
-To counteract the media hype for this series, after the clinching game, finish an additional drink for every game short of 7 that this series ends.
What the Future Holds…
-Every journeyman goalie ever will watch this series and daydream about what might have been.
-Fed up with Tim Thomas’ continued resurgence, Tuukka Rask will convince team brass to trade Thomas to Philadelphia in exchange for Keith Van Horn.
-After the series ends, Chris Pronger will tearfully reveal his puck-collecting addiction on the most-watched episode of Hoarders to date.
Prediction: Bruins in 5; Friggin’ hammahed in 2
(1) Vancouver Canucks vs. (5) Nashville Predators
-Drink 2 seconds for every penalty, 5 seconds for every fight and finish your drink for every goal
-If “Alex Burrows” and “hero” are said in the same sentence, take a drink.
-If it even appears like Alain Vigneault is considering replacing Roberto Luongo in net with Cory Schneider, take a drink.
-If a Preds player complains about the lack of focus placed on them this series, take a drink.
-If a Canucks player isn’t exactly sure where Nashville is, finish your drink.
-If a game in Nashville gets canceled due to inclement weather, develop a greater understanding of what living here’s been like for the past year and change — and finish two drinks.
-If, by contrast, Vancouver seems like the nicest place in all of North America to live, take a drink. (Note: Having been there, it does.)
-If you live in an area where Versus isn’t part of the television package (for instance, the Vanderbilt campus), drink until the Grizzlies game looks like the Preds game.
What the Future Holds…
-The losing goalie in this series will not win the Vezina Trophy. Also, the winning goalie in this series will not win the Vezina Trophy.
-After struggling to hold Hart Trophy frontrunner Corey Perry in check last series, Nashville captain Shea Weber will have an equally difficult time stopping Daniel Sedin, to the point where after the series ends, he will swear that there are “two of him out there.”
-After reading that last joke — another one in the tired series of twin jokes — you will probably just skim the next section and scroll down the pick.
Prediction: Canucks in 5; Iced in 5
(2) San Jose Sharks vs. (3) Detroit Red Wings
-Drink 2 seconds for every penalty, 5 seconds for every fight and finish your drink for every goal
-If the Sharks miss Evgeni Nabokov, take a drink.
-If the Red Wings miss every playoff goalie they’ve had in the past decade not named Jimmy Howard, take a drink.
-If San Jose fans take a page out of the Detroit playbook and throw a shark on the ice for good luck… that’s freakin’ awesome.
-If Detroit is a man down, drink for every second Darren Helm holds the puck.
-If a member of your viewing party is named Joe, he must be referred to as “Little Joe” for the rest of the series, as “Big” and “Jumbo” are already taken.
-If San Jose’s home goal song gives you the urge to break out your old Super NES, take a drink.
-If Detroit’s home goal song gives you the urge to break out your old Jock Jams mix, take a drink.
What the Future Holds…
-With yet another impressive playoff performance, Johan Franzen overtakes Ray Finkle as the most famous athlete to be nicknamed “The Mule.”
-Joe Thornton will rest on his laurels as playoff hero and not even bother to show up for the rest of the series for fear of diminishing that reputation.
-After making this series pick, I will proceed to be sick with myself.
Prediction: Red Wings in 6; Regretting it by tomorrow
Hockey Talkie: 24/7, NYI, Kings Colors Contention, Price Pose, Langenbrunner Laud, Spin-O-Rama’s, Pro-tection, and Euro-League Relegation.
So I, seemingly like every hockey fan, loved HBO’s 24/7 Road to the Winter Classic mini-series. I touched on it a couple of blogs ago already, and the topic’s generally been beat to death and forgotten by now, but there’s two points I still want to discuss: First, as cool as the series was, the build-up was for a gimmicky mid-season game. Doesn’t the series seem tailor-made for the passion and emotion behind the pursuit of the Stanley Cup in the playoffs, and for specifically, the Cup Finals? Wouldn’t your eyes be glued to your TV watching the triumph of winning and heartbreak of losing the toughest trophy to win in sports? The boyhood dream storyline, first and last shots at the Cup… can you imagine seeing Marian Hossa backstage at any point of losing 2/winning 1? It blows me away that Americans need hockey to be put in a football stadium (where I can’t imagine fans at the game can see any of the action on a playing surface that’s ¼ the size of the football surface, unless they’re watching the jumbotron the whole game, in which case why didn’t they just stay home and watch it on TV?) in order for them to flock to it. Part of me thinks someday they (Americans)’ll get our game, the other part thinks the US sell is a big waste of time and the NHL should just milk the Canadian loyalist audience for all its worth.
On a lighter note, one of, if not the funniest segment of the whole series was Capitals’ coach Bruce Boudreau Christmas shopping for his wife, getting distracted by a Haagen Daaz ice cream store, saying “it’s never too early for ice cream”, getting turned away because the store didn’t serve ice cream that early, getting rattled, and then leaving the store with a shoes for his wife that were admittedly the wrong size and color. I mean, fat guy hypnotized by ice cream? The comedy writes itself. Enjoy:
In an ongoing effort to not be poor, I was seriously considering betting against the New York Islanders for the rest of the season to make some money; and it seems good that I didn’t follow through on the notion, because they started beating top teams like Detroit and Pittsburgh. Someone tell the Islanders they’re not supposed to play “spoiler” until the playoff push. Good for them frustrating top teams lately, as well as my interest in gambling.
If the LA Kings were better in their earlier years, do you think they would have stuck with the purple and gold jerseys? The LA Lakers win titles, and they look good in those colors; yet the Kings were bad, and got mocked for them. Coincidence?
I really enjoyed Carey Price’s crossed arm pose after stopping Pittsburgh in a shootout recently, mostly because of the heat he’s taken in Montreal for so long; it was good to see him have some success and win some favour back. I’ve secretly been cheering for him to shake the Halak-ian curse, and I think he’s pretty well done that, finally. Then of course, the Habs lost to Pittsburgh, and Marc-Andre Fleury jammed it down his throat by doing the same pose. Hmm, oh well, so much for that.
I was surprised to see Jamie Langenbrunner not only traded from the New Jersey Devils recently, but also traded for so little. A guy that’s won 2 Cups, captained an NHL and Olympic team, and always put up consistent, steady point production seems worth more than a 3rd/2nd round pick. But there isn’t much value in anyone from the Devils these days. I think NJ got hosed in that deal; at least Langenbrunner gets to play for a good team.
There’s been lots of talk about spin-o-rama goals in shootouts these days. My thought is I’m fine with them. My only potential beef is with goals like Mason Raymond’s ; I think he might have stopped moving forward, which is the only real shootout rule, besides the idiotics of Kovalchuk losing the puck and Stamkos falling (seriously, of all players, those two both f’d up clear, uncontested breakaways?).
I’ve never understood why pro players insist on things like wearing no helmet in warm-up, taking the earguards of their helmets, and wearing visors that are not approved by any standards association in the world. I just don’t get wearing less protection at the level full of the biggest and toughest players in the world, that theoretically could damage you more than anyone else in the sport. Did anyone see Scott Gomez a few years ago take a puck in the head during warm-up that ricocheted off the post and into his melon and bust him open? At literally every level of hockey besides pro, you have to wear approved equipment (minor, junior, college/university, & minor pro), so why do players shed all the gear they’ve gotten used to over their entire playing career to be less safe? It’s gotta be all aesthetics, right? From a business standpoint, it’s a really dumb move — the pros wear all this special gear, and young minor hockey players want to wear it, but when they go to buy it, they find out it’s not approved by the safety standards that regulate equipment use at their level (The Oakley visors are the prime example, they’re illegal in every level up to pro). These kids are the major market for equipment manufacturers because parents will buy their kids whatever they want, in contrast to the junior or college player who gets all their gear provided to them by their team.
And lastly, do you think European-League relegation theory would ever work in North American hockey, specifically the NHL–AHL and maaaaybe ECHL? The process is this: If you win your league, your team ascends to the league above and receives an inflated budget. If you finish dead last, you go down and lose money. Sure, this could introduce a lot of problems, most notably probably the last-place/first-draft-pick system, but it’d make for a little more competitiveness and exposure to unknown teams, don’t you think?
Hockey Talkie: Brodeur, Byfuglien for Norris, HBO 24/7, Sutters, Spengler, Waffles, & The DiPietro Deficiency.
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.