Dec 042008
 

There’s been a lot of talk about Sean Avery‘s recent comments and its suspension but I think there’s still some issues to discuss. There’s been some talk about the league’s motivations behind the suspension, considering that a hit from behind to the head these days gets you only 3 games. Here are some things to take into consideration as well.

1 – Avery’s smart. He knows what he has to do to drum up some excitement. A while ago he made a comment about how villains and heroes sell and he has no problem playing the villain. He relishes that role. A part of me actually thinks that he’s trying to leave a legacy the size of his ego – after all, there is already a “Sean Avery” rule. While his comment was a generalization, there’s no mistaking that it was directed at Dion Phaneuf and Elisha Cuthbert. The only thing that’s a little confusing is that he’s trying to build excitement for a game against the Flames in Calgary. To my knowledge, nobody ever needs to build up excitement for a hockey game in Canada. It’s built-in. If the game had been in Dallas, it might’ve been a little different.

2 – I didn’t find his comments that crude. It’s an off-hand comment that guys often say to each other to get the blood boiling. There have been a lot worse things said on the ice, and the line between trash talk and personal attacks is pretty fine. Denis Gauthier and Georges Laraque have both claimed to be victims of racial slurs. However, the fact that he choose to premeditate his comments and say it off ice in front of cameras was what got him into trouble. Had he said the same comments on the ice, there wouldn’t have been any ramifications at all.

3 – I think an often overlooked aspect in a physical game like this is escalation. It’s going to sound a little crazy, but what if the league wanted to protect Avery? Phaneuf and Jarome Iginla chose to ignore his comments, but you have to remember that, as non-factor as it was, Todd Bertuzzi is on the same team. Avery was asking the Flames to feed him his lunch, there’s no question about that. There’s a general bounty on all pests in the league, and perhaps none may be bigger than Jarkko Ruutu‘s, but only because Avery can still be an effective hockey player without his big mouth. What if Paul Mara had gone completely nuts and decided to pummel Ruutu whether he wanted to or not in that Rangers-Senators game? Had something happened to Avery, there would’ve been talk about the league’s clear disregard for player safety.

4 – The NHL is suspending Avery on the basis that his comments were detrimental to the league and game. What if he had just said, “Phaneuf should stop falling in love with my sloppy seconds”? Would that have made a difference? That in itself is a personal attack, albeit public, but at least Avery didn’t mention “NHL,” or “league,” or “other players.” I think that if he had chosen his comments a little more wisely, after all, he is often under the league microscope, he wouldn’t have been suspended. The comparisons to the other leagues about trash talk are baseless because of each sport’s unique culture. The cross-references to the NBA or NFL or MLB are all moot points. However, how many games Avery gets suspended for will raise further questions of disciplinary action and set a precedent for comments like these.

5 – The Stars have pretty much banished Avery. There’s no way Avery would want to come back to a team that has left him out to dry. It’s hard to stick up for a guy that is supposedly a cancer in the locker room, but he is their teammate. The fact that a traditionally close-knit team like the Stars have refused to stick up for a teammate tells us how dysfunctional that locker room really is. The Stars can’t buy out Avery until June and there won’t be many takers for Avery. The best solution for the Stars is to send him to the minor leagues and let his play do the talking before he gets another chance in the league. Brett Hull needs to find a way to offset his mistake.

Anyway, this topic has been beaten to death, and it’s time to move on. For the Stars, it’s time to right the ship. If they can’t put together a string of good games, changes are in the making. It may be time for the Stars to look outside of their organization for help.

Sep 292008
 

The topic has been beaten to death, but more articles have appeared about the NHL’s potential expansion to Europe. John Vogl at The Buffalo News believes that it’s a bad way to market hockey. Vogl argues that there are still hockey markets suffering in the US and that playing games in Europe doesn’t do anything to help.

Bettman, however, thinks its a great idea.

“Now we have an opportunity to go to more well-developed hockey markets where a number of our players actually come from. We are getting, from the early indications, a fabulous reception.”

I agree with Vogl that playing NHL games in Europe doesn’t do anything to help the American market. While last year’s Cup finals did generate the best viewership numbers in years, the failing American teams are still failing. Most of the teams in the southern belt still struggle to sell-out home games regularly.

The ONLY thing that playing games in Europe accomplishes is re-affirm the fact that Europe is hockey-mad.

NHL Europe

 media, NHL, Rumours  Comments Off
Sep 132008
 

So Bill Daly thinks that 10 years down the road, we could be seeing franchises pop up in Europe. This is not the same thing as two North America-based teams playing exhibition or season (god forbid) games in Europe. Daly is directly stating that it is not completely out of the question that places in Sweden, Slovakia, Czech Republic, and Russia could have NHL teams.

While Europe does have a fantastic fan base, and I have no doubt that should a NHL team suddenly pop up overseas that it’ll do moderately well financially, you have to not think about the dollars when making a decision such as this.

First off, there are still many untapped markets in the NHL, most notably, southern Ontario, as Wayne Gretzky had suggested yesterday. The struggling franchise 5-6 years ago are still struggling today. Nashville, Tampa Bay, Carolina, and numerous teams in the southeastern US and California are still struggling to win fans over. One of those teams is still stuck in turmoil after an ownership debacle and now the Boots Delbaggio investigation. Kansas City, Las Vegas, and Salt Lake City have been pining for a NHL team, and while their potential is still hotly debated, it’s no secret that Gary Bettman and Daly still have a lot of work to do to make this game “stick” in the US. During the lockout, a poll of all 50 states showed that only residents of Minnesota missed the NHL. In some states, such as California, where it hosts 3 NHL teams, the answer was a very alarming and surprising 70% “no.”

Second, with the increase of oil prices, a hectic 82-game schedule plus playoffs, back-to-back home-and-home series, the travel is just simply impossible. Unless the NHL cuts its regular season games down to around 70, which will never happen, players will start fatiguing before the playoffs. Could you imagine if Anaheim or Vancouver got to the finals and had to play a team based in Prague? Fatigue and injuries would start to kick in, and that doesn’t make for a very good finals – never mind that it doesn’t feature a team from a big American market – I would think that it would be very hard to keep track given the time differences. The logistics of it just don’t make sense. A team based in a city without a very big international airport, say Ottawa, would have to fly through either Toronto and/or New York to get to European destinations. Could you imagine?

Third, Daly made no mention of franchise re-location – meaning that it’s assumed that the NHL may expand to over 30 teams in 10 years. Thanks, but no thanks. The NHL seriously needs to think about downsizing, perhaps just be even 2 teams. There’s tons of talent in the NHL to make all 30 teams relatively competitive, although not all at the same time, but losing two teams won’t hurt. In fact, it may even be beneficiary to the league. While that does mean that 40 regular spots are gone, it also means that the game itself becomes that much more competitive. The fringe players will continue to trickle through to Europe, but the best of the best remain in the NHL.

Gretzky manages to have some kind words for Bettman and his crew, but unfortunately the fans (the ones who matter most), disagree. As a side note, I wonder what Bettman would do if Gretzky had some choice words to say about the direction of the league. Would he hand down a strict fine to Gretzky to show everyone who’s boss of the league, or would he simply let it slip, as Gretzky is the NHL’s premier spokesperson?

Aug 282008
 

“It’s very important for us to put on a great show in Kansas City. We owe it to Kansas City. Because we have so many good young players, we’re able to do this.”

Those were Kings president Luc Robitaille‘s words, when asked about the Kings’ exhibition game on September 22, reported by the Kansas City Star. The Kings kick off their preseason with two simultaneous games on the 22nd, splitting up their training camp roster of 60 to play against St. Louis in Kansas, and Phoenix in LA. Paul McGannon, who is the head promoter of the game, had this to add:

“They are bringing their best players. We went over that before we scheduled the game. They want Kansas City to work, and they want a good showing, and as owner-operators of the building, they want to put their best step forward… Those folks wouldn’t be coming up for a B-squad.”

Question, Mr. McGannon, who, exactly, is “we,” “they,” and “those folks”? It’s probably the NHL’s worst kept secret that they want their preseason games in non-NHL cities to work (financially), especially in Kansas City and Las Vegas, where it’s being held at the prestigious MGM Grand. These preseason games will be auditions for future destinations for folding or re-locating franchises – Hamilton, of course, is not an option, having no NHL preseason games scheduled there. Apparently, Robitaille has promised McGannon that the Kings will send their best players to Kansas City, including the likes of Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Jack Johnson, and Drew Doughty. While I’m all for promoting hockey throughout the States and Europe, this move does not speak highly of the NHL or the Kings.

For the NHL, to the surprise of no one, Gary Bettman is more interested in money matters than the game itself. Bettman’s trying to sell the game too hard, in my humble opinion. His rule changes, made to allow for more scoring and hence more excitement, is obviously not working as well as league revenue reports make them out to be (Honestly, isn’t a 2-1 nailbiter more exciting than a 7-3 blowout?). A lot of the NHL’s revenue these days is based upon the strong Canadian dollar and very low revenue expectations from the onset of the new CBA. To ensure that this whole Kansas City experiment isn’t a bust, the Kings are sending (perhaps Bettman asked) their top players to that game, in the hopes of generating more hype… because apparently Los Angeles is already bit by the hockey bug. Bettman needs to realize that he needs to fix the status quo. McGannon made reference to Kansas City as possibly a potential destination for a NBA team (there’s going to be exhibition game there too) , and I can’t help but wonder if Bettman’s trying to compete with the NBA. I say drop it, Bettman, there’s no way you can win that battle.

For the Kings, it’s really a dumb move to stockpile all your good players on one team for an exhibition game. I don’t think there’s any need to elaborate more on that. The Kings seem to be the puppet, the test rat, the human experiment, of the NHL. The Kings should be more concerned about how to flesh out the rest of their roster than figuring out who to send to Kansas.

The Kings and the NHL don’t owe Kansas anything.

Aug 222008
 

“Vicarious liability.” That’s the technical term for the liability that is imposed on the employer for the conduct of his/her employee, on the grounds that the employer should be held accountable for third party losses. Bruce Dowbiggin at the Calgary Herald argues that the recent turn of events in the Steve Moore case could set a precedent to the NHL’s policy of allowing “extreme violence” in the sport. This trial is extremely significant for the NHL because unlike the Marty McSorley or Dino Ciccarelli case, this is a civil case, not criminal.

Marc Crawofrd has vehemently denied any responsibility for Todd Bertuzzi‘s actions, and had argued that he was in fact trying to get Bertuzzi back to the bench moments before the sucker punch. Dowbiggin’s source claims that the trial will come down to Moore’s own decision to play that game. Should Moore have willingly dressed for that game, he will have to assume some responsibility, since it is assumed that there would be some concern for injury and high levels of risk.

However, Moore is arguing that the form of violence he was expecting was not “clean,” meaning it wasn’t a body check or a fight. He is further arguing that Bertuzzi had used unreasonable force, and if the judge sides with Moore there could potentially be a big payday for Moore. Should Moore win, the NHL head office may have to make drastic policies in allowing vigilante justice and violence, and perhaps change the overall face of the game. Intimidation tactics like the ones the Broad Street Bullies and the Ducks used may very well be a thing of the past.

Dowbiggin’s source also doesn’t think the blame should solely lie on the shoulders of Crawford, Canucks management, or Orca Bay, but the league as well:

“The NHL could have avoided this. Knowing the level of tension involved in Moore’s hit on Naslund, they could have simply suspended Moore for the two remaining games against Vancouver. That would have solved it. But the league was so arrogant it thought nothing would come of the situation. That let it happen. Now, they’re in a position where it may rebound on them big time.”

Apparently no one else in the world has 20/20 hindsight like Dowbiggin’s source. I would think that the league would’ve come under a lot of fire if they had to suspend Moore for “safety reasons.” Could you imagine to what lengths the league would take precautionary actions for a guy like Sidney Crosby? Would future Buffalo-Ottawa games not feature Ottawa’s entire top line? I’m sorry, but that’s just a bunk argument.

Condolences to…

 media  Comments Off
Aug 212008
 

Ron MacLean‘s family, whose mother passed away last night from pancreatic cancer. MacLean will return to Oakville to be with his family and has left the anchor position for CBC’s Olympic broadcasts. He has covered every single Olympics since 1988, and has been on Hockey Night in Canada for the past 18 years.

We, at HockeyAnalysis.com, give our sincerest condolences to the MacLean family.

Aug 202008
 

Todd Bertuzzi has yet to find a home. Since his Vancouver days, the burly winger has never spent more than a full year with any team. First, he was traded to Florida for Roberto Luongo, but promptly shipped to Detroit at the deadline. He wasn’t as effective as Ken Holland had hoped for, despite putting up 4 points in 8 games. He then promptly signed a lucrative contract with Anaheim, re-uniting him with Brian Burke, and with the promise of possibly playing alongside Ryan Getzlaf or Andy McDonald, things looked pretty bright. But with Scott Niedermayer notifying the team of his commitment for 82 games, and with Teemu Selanne still mulling over retirement, it left Bertuzzi, along with his hefty contract, the casualty. So, for the third straight season, Bertuzzi will be putting on a different sweater than the season before.

All this, some argue, can be traced back to the 2004 Steve Moore incident. Moore suffered facial lacerations and broken vertebrae as a result of Bertuzzi’s sucker punch and the pile-up that followed, and promptly smacked a $38m lawsuit against Bertuzzi, Marc Crawford, Brian Burke, Brad May, and Orca Bay. The lawsuit was filed in Colorado, the place of the event, but was thrown out as the judge felt that BC would be a better venue. In Vancouver, Bertuzzi pleaded guilty to charges of assault causing bodily harm, and completed his probation successfully. In 2006, Moore filed another lawsuit against Bertuzzi in his native province of Ontario, citing loss of income, aggravated damages, punitive damages, and mental distress. The lawsuit claims that Bertuzzi should owe Moore roughly $20m.

Of course Bertuzzi didn’t have $20m lying around (he had tried to settle with Moore for $350k), and has since filed a lawsuit against Crawford in his own defense. Bertuzzi claims that he was obeying Crawford, and that he was contractually obligated to do so. However, just recently Crawford has came out saying that Bertuzzi refused to listen to him, and that his actions were of his own doing and further claims that he had tried to get Bertuzzi off the ice. Crawford is vehemently denying any involvement in the incident. It’s a battle of his word against mine, and I don’t ever see Bertuzzi winning this lawsuit because Crawford is innocent until proven guilty. Bertuzzi will have to bring forth some very convincing evidence to win.

Aug 172008
 

1 Montreal Canadiens
2 Pittsburgh Penguins
3 Washington Capitals
4 Philadelphia Flyers
5 Ottawa Senators
6 NY Rangers
7 New Jersey Devils
8 Carolina Hurricanes
9 Tampa Bay Lightning
10 Boston Bruins
11 Buffalo Sabres
12 Florida Panthers
13 Atlanta Thrashers
14 Toronto Maple Leafs
15 NY Islanders

Again, I’m going to have to disagree with THN over this. If the Pens had managed to keep Ryan Malone and/or Marian Hossa I’d be inclined to agree that they would finish atop their division, but they won’t. When you potentially have Miroslav Satan as your top scoring winger you’re not going to go anywhere fast. The rest of the team remains largely the same.

I have a hard time believing the Sens will finish ahead of the Rangers and Devils. Despite the fact that Wade Redden‘s game is in decline, losing him will hurt because they didn’t replace him. The Sens are still looking for ways to fill out the rest of their roster, but like so many other teams in the East, goaltending is their primary concern. If Martin Gerber doesn’t hold up, they’re slightly above average at best by virtue of their incredible top line.

The Bruins are going to make some noise this year, especially with a completely healed Patrice Bergeron. Michael Ryder will head into camp as the favourite to land the first line right winger slot, and considering the success Claude Julien had with Ryder, along with an elite playmaking centre in Marc Savard, he could be a very nice surprise. Once again, however, they head into training camp with a 1A-1B tandem of fan favourite Tim Thomas and the disgruntled Manny Fernandez.

The East is much more clear cut than the West because so many teams have holes. The Habs, arguably the best team in the East, also has a shaky goaltending situation considering how Carey Price fell apart last year. These goaltending problems also plague at least 3 of the playoff teams listed. It’ll be interesting to see how this season plays out – a lot of teams have areas to improve, and considering the mass exodus of players from the East heading West, this year could be rather different.

Aug 162008
 

The Hockey News’ Rankings in the Yearly Yearbook were released, and for the West they’re as follows:

1 Detroit Red Wings
2 San Jose Sharks
3 Minnesota Wild
4 Dallas Stars
5 Anaheim Ducks
6 Edmonton Oilers
7 Chicago Blackhawks
8 Calgary Flames
9 Nashville Predators
10 Phoenix Coyotes
11 Vancouver Canucks
12 Columbus Blue Jackets
13 Los Angeles Kings
14 Colorado Avalanche
15 St. Louis Blues

Detroit at the top is an absolute no-brainer. They won the Cup and somehow got better by adding Marian Hossa. They’ve got Pavel Datsyuk locked up for awhile, and it’s hard to see Henrik Zetterberg not follow suit. Niklas Kronwall, and to a lesser extent, Jonathan Ericsson, look to take over Nicklas Lidstrom‘s mantle when he retires. They’re going to remain a powerhouse for years to come.

I have a hard time believing Minnesota will finish atop the Northwest Division. They lost key offensive pieces in Pavol Demitra and Brian Rolston, and replaced them with two aging veterans (Owen Nolan, Andrew Brunette) and a mid-level winger in Antti Miettinen. Their biggest acquisition is Marek Zidlicky, but the Flames have improved more – Calgary’s the early division favourite.

I don’t think the Oilers will finish that high. Adding Lubomir Visnovsky was huge, but they will miss Jarret Stoll‘s shot on the PP. Erik Cole was also another nice add, but I don’t think Visnovsky and Cole makes them better than the Coyotes. Their biggest question mark remains in net, and with some quality goaltending in the West that might be their downfall.

The Coyotes to me are a playoff team – they’ve got a talented forwards, a responsible captain, a respectable defense highlighted by a rejuvenated Ed Jovanovski, and good goaltending from Ilya Bryzgalov. The dogs have tons going for them, and with Kyle Turris expected to make the squad out of training camp the team will be loaded with offense, led by the newly-acquired Olli Jokinen, who might get his first taste of playoff hockey this season.

How the Kings are ahead of the Avs and Blues is beyond me. Technically, they don’t even exist in the NHL because they’ve yet to reach the salary floor. Even with they do be re-signing all their RFAs, their team is laughable at best, and just might win the Calder Cup. This team needs at least two more season to grow before they’re even a playoff contender – it looks like they’re going for the John Tavares sweepstakes and rebuilding Pittsburgh-style.

The Avs, even without Joe Sakic for most of the season, remained competitive until the late stages of the season. Should Sakic retire, they don’t have a player to take over as captain or offensive dynamo yet, although Paul Stastny comes close. A healthy Ryan Smyth and having Adam Foote for a whole season, with some of Darcy Tucker‘s toughness, will make them a respectable squad, but like the Oilers, their biggest question mark remains in net.

Stay tuned for the East.

Jun 102008
 

This whole HNIC theme song fiasco can be sumarized by one word: MONEY. The creator of the song, Dolores Claman, through Copyright Music & Visuals has sued CBC for an unreasonable sum of money ($2.5 million) for supposedly using the song in ways not allowed by their agreement. I believe the Copyright Music & Visuals then used that unreasonable sum of money as a bargaining chip against CBC by saying ‘ settle this lawsuit or we won’t renew’ but when CBC refused to settle the ridiculous lawsuit for a ridiculous sum of money they were forced to say thanks but no thanks. CBC even offered one last ditch effort by offering to go to arbitration to settle the issue once and for all but apparently Copyright Music & Visuals didn’t like that avenue, possibly because the inevetible outcome would be far below their rediculous $2.5 million claim and instead sold the song to CTV for what is rumoured to be around $2.5-3 million. If that sum is true it tells you exactly how rediculous the Copyright Music & Visuals $2.5 million lawsuit was. They were suing for as much as the song was worth.

What I find odd is why CTV would even be interested in the song. Yes, the song has a lot of tradition and intrigue to hockey fans and even Canadians in general, but does it really bring added value to TSN hockey product? The tradition was related to Hockey Night in Canada on CBC, not hockey in general and although the song has tradition and intrigue, I really don’t see it as something that will add to a hockey broadcast. In fact, for me it will detract from the hockey broadcast because I not view the song not as a symbol of hockey but rather a symbol of money and greed and commercialism at its worst. TSN does a lot of creative and original stuff with their hockey coverage and are very good at what they do (Pierre McGuire excluded) and effectively outright stealing someone elses open music just seems cheesy and amateurish.

Even more dumb is how CTV is trying to sell their buying the song as saving the song from “obscurity” and that they only got into the negotiations after CBC backed out on Friday. The song was not going to fall into obscurity and had it not been for CTV I expect it would likely still be on CBC next fall. I am almost certain that CTV has been in contact with Claman and Copyright Music and Visuals far before Friday. I am sure Claman knew they had CTV as a backup and thus felt at east putting all the pressure on CBC to agree to their demands and not vice versa. If Claman had no other suitors there likely would have been an agreement with CBC earlier.

So there we have it. Money and Greed have ruined yet another great tradition in hockey and we can no longer start our Saturday winter evenings with the same song we have for so many years.