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Schultz Sweepstakes Settled, Hype vs Reality Next

July 5, 2012 Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hockey Talkie: Winnipeg Jets, Draft, Oilers – Smyth, Taylor/Tyler Trump, and the Creepy Keeper of The Cup.

June 24, 2011 2 comments

Do you remember in 1994 when the unnamed Baltimore franchise competed in the CFL, and then won the Grey Cup the following year? It looked like we might be getting to that point with the “Winnipeg NHL franchise”, until mercifully, they officially introduced themselves as the Winnipeg Jets at the 2011 Draft. Great move. I understand the arguments to have called the team other things to be more provincially inclusive, or go in a different direction; but in the end, the team did the right thing – they gave the people what they wanted. Gonna be awkward when the Phoenix Coyotes play their first game at the MTS Centre though. Now all they have to do is swindle Teemu Selanne out of Anaheim and they’ll be set. Also, jerseys and a logo would be nice.

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On the heels of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, and with last year’s #1 overall, Taylor Hall, ascending the podium with the Oilers brass to announce the first overall pick, I had a thought a while back….with a Stanley Cup ring in his first year in the league, did Tyler Seguin check-and-mate the Taylor vs Tyler debate? Seems like the ultimate trump card, does it not? These guys are going to have long, successful careers in the league, and the debate will probably live on for years, but at this point, Taylor’s got a whole lot of catch-up to play; especially while still a member of the cellar-dwelling (albeit youthful talent laden) Oilers.

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Speaking of the Oilers…. You know you’re either Canadian or just plain nuts when you voluntarily request to move from +30° C LA beach weather to -30° C Alberta blizzard weather, as Ryan Smyth is trying to wiggle his way back to Edmonton. I really respect what Smyth has done in the NHL, and for team Canada and all, but where does he get this crazy notion he can play for anyone he wants to? Even though he’s following all Wayne’s team footsteps, Gretzky went where he was told in the end (PS – you should watch ESPN’s 30 for 30 “Kings Ransom” on the Gretzky trade for that whole story). It just seems a little arrogant for Smyth, which is extremely out of character. With LA nabbing Richards from Philly, I’m sure the Kings aren’t exactly clambering to pick up the pieces after his departure. It’s too bad, because he was one of LA’s more productive players last season, right into their playoff run.

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Good to see the Columbus Blue Jackets finally acquiring some talent to help out Rick Nash from doing everything.  I was seriously thinking of starting a FREE RICK NASH campaign to try and get him traded to team with a chance to win, but with these latest developments, I may have to sit on that one for a little longer.

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Phil Pritchard, aka the” Keeper Of The Cup” sure does polish the Stanley Cup a disturbing, creepy amount, wouldn’t you say? The guy is with the trophy every day of his life; have you ever seen him not rubbing that Cup down with that little grin on his face? I thought he might go all Smeagol/Gollum and run out and stab Zdeno Chara this year after Bettman took the Cup away from him and gave it to the Bruins’ captain. He probably could’ve claimed the riot tweaked him out, and gotten away with it.

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Brad Marchand is the NHL’s new Claude Lemieux, pest/irritation wise. With those babyface red cheeks of his and inability to grow facial hair, perhaps just less assuming, but just as ratty.

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And lastly, even if you didn’t like the outcome of the Stanley Cup Final, you gotta agree, seeing that Stanley Cup hoisted is absolutely extraordinary. What an exclamation point of a literal life-long journey for those fortunate enough to win it. The most difficult trophy in sports to win, and the biggest and most impressive looking for a reason. I wonder if any of this year’s draft picks will be lifting the grail above their heads, ala Tyler Seguin, at the conclusion of next season?

Hockey Talkie: Cooke, Chara, Kovalev, Heritage Classic, and Everything In Between.

March 23, 2011 10 comments

 

I love love LOVE Matt Cooke’s regular season/1st round playoff suspension. Faaaaaaaar overdue. The guy did not deserve as many chances as he got to clean up his act. Only thing better would have been if it were for all playoffs, or more.  I don’t care how good of a guy HBO’s 24/7 series made him seem like, and how much his teammates stick up for him, guys who play like that need to be removed from the game.  Curious that the Mario Lemieux factor finally wrangled an apology out of him too. 

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I can’t help but think Zdeno Chara’s hit on Max Pacioretty was locationally circumstancial. Anyone who’s had their ribcage rattled off Sparrow Gardens’ mid-bench wood pillars knows what I mean (for those who don’t know, that was the now-demolished wartime built airplane hangar/converted home-rink of the Briercrest Clippers, the college team I played for). As absolutely terrible as the result was, the hit would’ve turned out ok anywhere in the rink there was glass, and it seems a little out of character for Chara to go out of his way to hurt a guy like that. I could be wrong. Maybe there’s more to the story that the camera didn’t catch; some stick work, or something that set him off. Good for the NHL in beefing up the stanchion padding in rinks, but do we really need that little media area anyways? I get the ongoing American media sell of hockey and every nook and cranny of the game to increase viewership, but that little hut that houses reporters to call color-commentary and jump on the team benches mid-game to bother coaches for questions doesn’t seem necessary. Not to say that the Euro’s are doing it right, but some of their rinks benches are completely open, and don’t even have a divisible separation point between both teams, besides a huge gap of space. But then again, both teams walk out to the ice side by side, like they’re not about to go out on the ice and try to kill each other, so take that analogy with a grain of salt.

Good call on the no suspension for Chara though, much to the chagrin of Air Canada, who threatened to pull its sponsorship of the NHL out if the league didn’t make its product safer. I respect the move, but it sure would’ve held more water if the 6 Canadian and 5 American based NHL teams spend between $2.5 – 3.5million per season each on Air Canada  flights (via HNIC’s Jeff Marek on Twitter), and if Air Canada wasn’t such a terrible airline.

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So I’ve entered the 1st round of playoffs in the Bourne’s Blog fantasy hockey league. This year marks the first year I’ve put money on the line, and the first year I won the 1st overall pick selection. I selected Alexander Ovechkin, on the basis that I thought he would be awesome yet again. Instead of awesome, I got above-average. And now, when I need him the most, Ovechkin has decided to take 7-10 days off, while each round lasts one week. FML.

Speaking of infuriating Russians, a lesser man would’ve taken the hint he wasn’t wanted, retired, and headed back to Russia after being traded for a conditional 7th round pick. Not Alexi Kovalev. A “conditional” pick seems like the worst one to get in a draft, and pretty well the absolute minimum of acceptability when it comes to collateral in a deal. Doesn’t conditional just mean that the team who’s offered the pick will make sure you get the worst choice possible in that round?

Penguins: “Our conditions… just make sure your pick isn’t taller than 5’5”, he can’t weight more than 165 lbs, and make sure he’s got no track record of doing or winning anything significant or noteworthy in his hockey career. Stick within those parameters and we’ve got a deal.”

Senators: “… that sounds fair.”

Both, under their breath: “ ………suckers!!”

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Vincent Lecavalier did to PK Subban what Mike Richards wouldn’t, and would only talk about someone doing if he kept playing the way he does:  I don’t get what Vinny was so mad about; should Subban have just let him stand in front of his goalie, or maybe politely asked him to move? Maybe he was just mad that a rookie defenceman has played more games, has more assists, and gets more minutes per game and shifts per game than him. Why do the league’s veteran players get so angry with young, quick, talented players who celebrate their goals, and play a highly physical and exciting to watch style of hockey? Surely a Cup champ and seasoned veteran can’t feel threatened by the presence of this new brand of player, can he? Subban sure seems to make a lot of other players mad for fairly perplexing reasons.

Speaking of rookies, Taylor Hall’s first NHL fight turned out pretty well worst-case scenario for him, with that resulting ankle injury. He picked up the Gordie Howe hat-trick though, so there’s that at least for him. That stat puts him in some elite company, and places him only 16 more off the lead set by Brendan Shanahan.

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After being written off for most of the season, Jarome Iginla’s 30 goals/10 seasons milestone sure has redeemed him in the eyes of the hockey world.

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Former Calgary Flame and current Toronto Maple Leafs assistant coach, Tim Hunter is still an ugly, ugly man.

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The slow shootout approach seems stopped more often than not. Get up some speed, move around; do something less easily read by a goalie.

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I respect no-BS guys like Brian Burke & John Tortorella, but I think it’d suck to work/play for them. I’m sure Sean Avery hates every minute of playing for Torts, but at the same time, knows he’s exactly the coach he needs to get the best out of him. Burke won’t tolerate the media’s crap, and I love it. The NHL, and everyone really, needs guys that cut out the crap.

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Some NHL teams should consider rescuing Rick Nash from the Columbus Blue Jackets and offer their entire roster for him. Now THAT’D be a hype-worthy deadline deal. Sure, it’d take a few years to rebuild your roster, but assuming you have a decent farm system (any farm system can’t be that far off pace of CBJ’s actual team), you’d be back up to par in no time, AND have the addition of a franchise player. Nash deserves better. I’m going to start a FREE RICK NASH campaign, I think.

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On the Heritage Classic…..

Might as well have just worn this too.

-Did anyone else think the NHL is fairly stupid for not having the Heritage Classic be either Toronto vs Montreal, or Calgary vs Edmonton? I get the cross-continental viewership theory, but aren’t the afore mentioned rivalries a little more historic and television worthy? Based purely on rivalry/game-entertainment value, who’d you like to see in next year’s version? I’m thinking a Vancouver-Chicago one would be fun.

-Leave it to the USA to declare “Hockey Day in America” on the day Canadian teams play in the Heritage Classic outdoor game in Canada.

-Paul Brandt having a musical note on his Flames jersey in place of a number was ridiculous.

-Why did the Flames wear white pants???? So close to looking totally awesome. Then again, this is a team that throws salmon on the ice at home games, so not sure what I expected….

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And finally, why does ESPN continue to push women’s pool, dogshows, and bowling more than NHL hockey? And why does TSN continue to pick up these feeds? This is exactly why players like Pacioretty get hit into stanchions protecting the league’s media gimmicks. Americans, watch hockey already so players stop getting hurt!

Did Eberle Score the Best First Goal Ever? Counting Down My Top 5 NHL Lead-off Snipes.

October 29, 2010 7 comments

In honour of the 2010 #1 Overall NHL draft pick, the Edmonton Oilers’  Taylor Hall FINALLY scoring his first goal, I decided to look into some of the best all-time first NHL goals ever scored.  Unfortunately for Taylor, he didn’t make the list.  His teammate, Jordan Eberle did though [hint: he’s at the top of the list, and my pick for the Calder Trophy this year/lead all rookies in scoring].  Keep in mind that these are not ranked as the best goals these players have scored, they are only the best first NHL goals scored by players.  Also, there are only 5, and the only ones I could post video evidence of.  I have a feeling I’ve missed some good ones ( I can’t find Gretzky’s, and a whole bunch of others that I assume scored beauts), so feel free to chime in with some suggestions/corrections, but be advised, you have to defend your pick with video evidence 🙂  Please take the poll after you peruse the evidence and vote for your favorite, or specifiy an alternative!

So without further adieu, here’s how I’ve ranked the NHL’s best firsts, starting at the top:

1)  Jordan Eberle toe-drag (ala announcer…”FROM FOREHAND TO BACKHAND!”):

2)  Anze Kopitar OMG:

3)  Mario Lemieux breakaway bury on the first shot of his first shift:

4)  Jonathan Toews snipe:

5)  Tyler Bozak dangle:

*honorable mention for situational awesomeness* Danny Syvret scoring in the Winter Classic:

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