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Friday, June 22, 2007

And Just Like That...

TSN's Bob McKenzie leads off the 2007 NHL Draft broadcast dropping the bombshell that Predators current owner Craig Leipold will ask the Board of Governors to no longer consider Jim Balsillie's offer to buy the Predators citing the lack of a finalized sale agreement.

Wow. This is a nightmare.

Mass Exodus Doesn't Even Begin to Explain It

Someone should put the Nashville Predators to sleep already.

After dealing their captain and supposed rising young winger to Philadelphia the puppet management of the Preds has struck again. This time, Nashville trades away their starting goaltender Tomas Vokoun to the Florida Panthers for a first-round pick in 2008 and two second-round selections (one this year and one that could be for this year or next).

The spin doctoring from Predators GM David Poile is, of course, epic:

"We saw Chris Mason emerge as a No. 1 goaltender in 2006-07 and with full
confidence in Chris and Pekka Rinne, we felt as if we could make this move,"
said Predators general manager David Poile. "Mason won 24 games for us this past
season, starting 21 in a row at one point, and finished with the second-highest
save percentage in the NHL.

"In addition, this trade will help restock
our organizational assets and affords our team more payroll flexibility. We now
have two first-round picks in 2008, which is projected to be a strong entry
draft. "

What is left out of this explanation is that Chris Mason makes a mere $1.53 million dollars compared to the $5.3 million owed to Vokoun and the Predators are stuck in financial limbo while the NHL Board of Governors (now headed up by notorious franchise destroying owner Jeremy Jacobs of the Bruins) goofs around and waits to decide if they want to let Jim Balsillie and his $238 million dollar bid for the Predators into the owners club.

If there's anything we know by now it's that the NHL owners are notoriously greedy. How else do you explain the rumor that the NHL wants to expand by up to two more teams? Outside of sheer idiocy, just look at what expansion fees are going for these days: $150 million. If they expand by two teams, that's $300 million dollars for the thirty owners to split amongst themselves (and not with the players). Pure greed.

Nevermind that it's insanity that Balsillie is willing to pony up $238 million dollars for a franchise that's still in its relative infancy and is now being gutted as if it were set on fire. Nevermind that that the Predators have had troubles drawing consistent numbers of fans during their entire run in Music City, U.S.A. Nevermind that Balsillie was "only" going to pay $170 million for the Pittsburgh Penguins, a team so brimming with young talent it would've been foolish to turn down buying the team. Just pay no mind to any of those things - it's incredible and typically frustrating that the transfer of ownership hasn't happened yet.

The Predators are now mired in dire straits as the current ownership is scared to spend money on something they're not sure they're going to have anymore and Jim Balsillie isn't about to throw them a lifeline because the team getting torn apart and left for dead will allow him a much easier way to get the heck out of Dodge and off to southwestern Ontario. Balsillie has sworn that as soon as he is made owner of the team, he'll spend whatever it takes to suit up an immediately competitive team.

Now while Balsillie is someone who's hard to trust (especially after backing off of Pittsburgh and then supposedly misleading Heir Bettman about keeping the team in Nashville) I do believe him when he says he'd spend like a drunken sailor to field a winner. Balsillie knows what the bottom line is all about and in the NHL the only way to make sure money keeps coming in is to put a winner on the ice. It keeps the fans coming to games and that's where the money is made these days, especially given how cutthroat ticket prices are.

I can't help but wonder how long this charade will continue with the Predators. I'm sure what's going on with them will dominate discussion during the broadcast of the NHL Draft tonight and a lot of the same things will be said and no one will hit on the real point in that the NHL continues to drop the ball in every conceivable way all while trying to sell us on the buzzwords of "new rules" and "shootouts." Yeah....right.

Monday, June 18, 2007

A Change of Seasons

I've been thoroughly hungover and left speechless and wondering over the last couple of weeks after the only prediction I'd made to myself came true with Anaheim handling Ottawa in five games to win the Stanley Cup and set the NHL right back to square one. Of course, the NHL thought they'd gotten off that square after the lockout killed an entire season and it seemed like free-wheeling hockey was going to be back in a big way.

Nuh uh - not so much.

Anaheim and Ottawa co-conspired to set the NHL back to 1995 - obstructing and trapping each other to death and not-so-coincidentally enough, the one fun and exciting game of the Finals was the game won by Ottawa. Teams like Anaheim (and New Jersey, Ottawa, Minnesota, Calgary, Dallas, Vancouver...the list will grow more next year without a doubt) have taken full advantage of the referees giving up on listening to grown men whine, complain and dive all over the ice to enhance calls or to get the referees to stop blowing the whistle all together just for the sake of the game to keep moving.

Funny, I don't recall the NHL having issues like this throughout the 1980s - all anyone seemed to complain about then was whether or not it mattered to even have a goalie out there and if anyone played any defense at all.

Fact of the 1980s: Only two Stanley Cup Champions were true defensive stalwarts in the 1980s - the Calgary Flames (1989) and the Montreal Canadiens (1986). The Canadiens, of course, are the inventors and originators of the infamous trap that Jacques Lemaire taught to the New Jersey Devils in the 1990s. Of course, it wasn't the trap that was the problem (since every team traps in some way, it's the way you get turnovers after all) it was the obstruction and the officials refusal and ignorance and the NHL giving it the wink-and-nod approval from on high.

I know I get off on this ramble quite a bit, but I suppose I do it now to beat the drum that this is the road the NHL is headed down once again if they don't do anything - and given what we've seen of Bettman and Company, we'll see them do something about it by the time the CBA runs out and they're deciding on a TV contract between having games shown on National Geographic Network and the Bloomberg Channel.

After all, this is the man who wants to accept Jim Balsillie's bid for the Predators so badly just to get his mitts on his $220 million dollars but doesn't want the PR nightmare that will accompany such a move because the Predators will be out of Nashville on the first Mayflower Moving Truck he can scrounge up. Given that the NHL in the sun belt states while removing it from traditional hockey areas is Bettman's pet project, it would be egg on his face to see a team go from the southern U.S. back to Canada.

Just keep this in mind, with the recent advances the Canadian dollar has made against the U.S. dollar, keeping a team out of Canada should one want to relocate back there and using the currency difference as a reason not to go is no longer viable.

Bad taxes and crappy facilities, however, is still a damn good reason to say, "NO!"

What has disappointed me in this Hockey Apocalypse Redux is the lack of outrage being voiced by writers and those who follow the NHL the closest. Apparently having close games that are for the most part boring as hell to watch is favored over games that are even slightly high scoring or close to being officiated correctly (which NHL officials were good for about one good period in each game played). There were a handful of columns that came out in American media about how Anaheim winning wasn't the end of the world and then listed off a pack of mythical reasons as to why it's a good thing - none of which actually focused in on the quality of play but rather decided to play up the "success in a non-traditional market is a good thing" angle.


As the attendance figures from this year showed, only one of the sun belt teams that have won the Stanley Cup recently have maintained the kind of figures the NHL should want: Tampa Bay. Carolina and Anaheim both checked in at less than capacity for the year, which is even more embarassing for Carolina since they've won it and been in the Finals another time just in the last five years. Their success doesn't give the fans a reason to stay away. Of course, these issues in many team's cases hinges upon the ticket prices themselves with many fans getting gouged by their own teams horribly, most notably Toronto. Of course, the Leafs still sell out, so they're just getting spiked for their rabid loyalty. Sheesh.

The antithesis of that is the Chicago Blackhawks who at last report some ten years ago had rabid loyal fans, but owner Bill Wirtz has gone out of his way to make sure that Chicago fans hate the home team as much as possible. He doesn't televise home games because he fears that fans will stay home rather than go to United Center to watch the team that he's assembled with all the care of Ebenezer Scrooge without a scout.

These problems aren't anything new, unfortunately, yet they all go unchecked and as long as Bettman continues to somehow magically make money for the owners, he'll have a job for life meanwhile the game suffers under his every idiotic whim to keep the outsider "fans" pleased and the soccer moms, who only pay attention to hockey when someone gets hit in a dirty way, happy. What can you say, the man know's who his constituents are!

All that said, it's time to think about the future this Friday night with the Amateur Draft - and unlike the last few years where there was stud, knock-it-out-of-the-park talent at the top of the draft or Mike Milbury working the phones to do something incredibly stupid, this draft will likely be more about teams trading players and picks and everything in between. Some of the best deals we've seen recently in the NHL have happened at the draft and we've already seen one rather questionable one go down with Nashville and Philadelphia.

You might remember them for their near-deadline deal of Peter Forsberg - this time the Predators sent a couple of guys they likely weren't going to afford in forward Scott Hartnell and captain defenseman Kimmo Timonen to the Flyers for the first round pick that they'd originally given to Philadelphia in the Forsberg deal. You got that? Essentially the Predators traded Scottie Upshall, Ryan Parent, Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell for Peter Forsberg.

Under normal circumstances you'd say, "Wow, how dumb is Nashville?" Not so fast.

Timonen and Hartnell were both unrestricted free agents, but the Flyers having a heap of cap space and an upper management pining for the good ole days of no salary cap you get the Flyers giving Hartnell, a career third-liner, $4+ million dollars a year for six years and Timmonen gets $6+ million a year for six years as well. I like Kimmo Timonen a lot, but for that much money? Screw that. This now sets the bar for Sheldon Souray's unrestricted services into the stratosphere. Souray has been a monster defenseman for Montreal the last few seasons after escaping the clutches of New Jersey and being allowed to show he has talent and now he's looking to get paid. And you better believe he's going to now - as he'll probably come in somewhere close to what guys like Niedermayer, Pronger and Lidstrom make per season.

Hartnell's salary scale of over $4 million a year also sets a nice high-low bar for guys like Chris Drury and Daneil Briere who are both unrestricted and will likely get paid big time for what they've done in Buffalo. Whether it's by the Sabres remains to be seen as they're up against the cap pretty hard and would likely only be able to keep one of those guys all while hoping no one gets daring and signs Thomas Vanek to an offer sheet (he being a restricted free agent and all).

It's at least good to see some owners showing fiscal responsibility. I wonder if anyone will actually face punishment for going over the cap - like New Jersey last year should've but got around it by making a highly questionable deal with San Jose. My answer is, of course, no - nothing will happen because why would Bettman step in and upset one of his bosses?


Sunday, June 3, 2007

Consistent Inconsistencies

Dare me to say, Game 3 was....good? See what happens when goals are score, gumming up everything becomes secondary to having to put the puck in the net. It's incredible! Goals are GOOD for hockey. Who knew?

What's not good for hockey? The answer these playoffs is pretty clear: Chris Pronger

Now I made enough of a stink during the Detroit series about Pronger's cheap hit on Tomas Holmstrom and had I been blogging about the NHL for the last ten years or so, I'm sure there would be an extensive history of my words on how much a real cretin Chris Pronger is - since there's not, you're just going to have to believe me that I'm not a big fan.

Last night during the early part of the third period with the game knotted up at three, Ottawa's Dean McAmmond got a step on the Ducks defense and was chasing down a rebound. Watch the nonsense that ensues here.

A couple of things to note after watching this:

1. Chris Pronger had all day to decide how exactly he was going to put a hit on McAmmond. Rather than deliver what would've been a tide-turning crunching body blow, he opted to elbow McAmmond in the head as he skated by. Yes, he really manned up on that one. Congrats Chris.

2. What in the world was the official looking at here? You'll notice in the lower right corner of that video that one of the referees is right there watching the play happen and even has McAmmond slide to his feet after he's been knocked out - something that finally prompted him to blow the whistle. Now if the hit happens away from the play I can understand not seeing it - but this was on the puck, the heart of the play! Open your eyes ref, you're missing a good game.

This egregious display of ignoring the rules of the game and the rules of respect players are supposed to have for each other, Pronger escapes without a penalty on the play much the same way he didn't get a penalty for being the far more guilty participant in the hit on Holmstrom. The NHL has once again had it put on their plate to cover up for their on-ice officials and this time have truly dropped the ball.

Before we get into breaking down what possibly could've been going through Colin Campbell and Gary Bettman's head on this decision let's take a look at the book that no one in the NHL Front Office must ever read - the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Quoth the CBA (once again, emphasis mine):

Factors In Determining Supplementary Discipline

In deciding on supplementary discipline, the following factors will be
taken into account:

1. The type of conduct involved: conduct outside of NHL rules; excessive force in contact otherwise permitted by NHL rules; and careless or accidental conduct. Players are responsible for the consequences of their actions.

2. Injury to the opposing player(s) involved in the incident.

3. The status of the offender, and specifically whether he is a
first time or repeat offender. Players who repeatedly violate NHL rules will be more severely punished for each violation.

4. The situation of the game in which the incident occurred: late in the
game, lopsided score, prior events in the game.

5. Such other factors as may be appropriate in the circumstances.

So based upon what is written there...how do we figure that Chris Pronger gets a one-game suspension? It's pretty easy to figure out why.

A) It's the Stanley Cup Finals

B) Pronger is the big marquee name for the Ducks, at least as far as their marketing is concerned.

C) Bettman and Campbell combined have no guts.

Now I'm not about to turn this into an NBA vs. NHL pissing match, but David Stern has seen no problem with throwing his hat in the ring when he's had to to uphold the letter of the law, even when the on-court officials may miss things.

Gary Bettman in this case has decided that he doesn't want to rock anyone's boat and upset any potential future clients and would rather not have his actions dictate what happens on the ice. Well too late for that Gary - you're ignoring what was agreed upon by the owners and players in favor of keeping one of your big names on the ice still, presumably out of fear that people won't watch the games if Pronger's not playing.

Here's another hint to Gary: The only defensemen in NHL history that fans have ever said, "Man, I've got to see that game because _______ is playing!" are Raymond Bourque and Bobby Orr. THAT'S IT!

Chris Pronger doesn't keep people watching TV or put fans in the seats. The one thing he does do, however, is to do stuff like this and not just in these playoffs - he's got a long history of doing things like this and only now is it coming to light.

What's all the more amusing about this, however, is that Chris Pronger's physics lesson that he delivered to us before about how his height made sure that he hit Tomas Holmstrom in the head from behind with his forearms is again being thrown around as a reason as to why he hit Dean McAmmond in the head with his elbow.

Some quotes here for hilarity's sake:

"We think it was totally unintentional. The league thought different,"
Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. "Chris Pronger is a competitive player. Some
people will say he's using his size as an excuse.

"The fact of the matter is his elbows are higher than most
people's elbows. It's not like he raised his elbow to deliver a blow to the head."

You've got to be kidding me here. I can't wait to hear what Brian Burke will say about this because I'm sure it'll be neanderthal-like and completely bogus.

The Ducks should consider themselves lucky that the NHL has no sense of anything because Pronger should be getting sat down for two games. After all, the Collective Bargaining Agreement does say that players who repeatedly violate the rules are subject to stiffer suspensions.

Then again, it pretty much makes sense that they can't even stay consistent with their own rules and regulations even off the ice. After all, since it can't be done on the ice, why be consistent off of it? It amazes me how much the NHL is able to find new and inventive ways to embarass itself - if only Gary Bettman could find a way to upset the owners enough so that they'd ask for him to step down. It's really unfortunate that Bettman is so much of an ownership lackey that we'll never see it happen.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Shutting My Trap

Before the outcomes had been decided in the Wales Conference Eastern Conference Finals, ESPN.com columnist Damien Cox wrote a column that should've struck a nerve and resonated with each and every hockey fan and NHL fan alive.

The point of his column was that you didn't have to like the Buffalo Sabres, you didn't have to root for them, the city or the players - but what you should be doing is rooting for what they represent. Some folks pushed aside what he wrote as campaigning for the American team against the Canadian team - somehow, someway nationalism rears its ridiculous head into the discussion when it comes to hockey all the time.

What Cox was saying here, though, was that the way the Sabres play is the reason to root them on because the way they play is representative of how the NHL should be played. Fast skating, free-wheeling, high octane - you know, the way it used to be played back in the archaic 1980s.

Of course, now after witnessing the semi-nationally broadcasted torturous re-murder of the NHL that is being disguised as the 2007 Stanley Cup Finals, perhaps some folks will realize the error of their way for pshawing Cox's column. Game 1 saw the abuse of the ignorance upon officials to call obstruction and while goals were scored, some folks sat on their hands and said, "Well, at least goals are still being scored while these teams continue to skate in each other's way."

Game 2 proved how quickly things can go from awful to nightmarishly horrific. The first goal of the game which proved to be the game-winning tally wasn't scored until there were just under six minutes left to play in the third period. The Ducks continued to employ a suffocating neutral-zone trap that prevented the Senators from skating freely between the blue lines and then forced them to again and again dump the puck into the zone before gaining the line. Having to continually do this followed up with the defensemen stepping up and impeding the progress of the attackers (without penalty of course) made sure to earn Ottawa all of 16 shots on goal in the game leading J.S. Giguere to his easiest shutout since the 2003 Finals (forever to be known here as Hell on Ice).

With the Ducks throwing up hockey's version of the Berlin Wall and using their defensive trap positioning to pick off passes and catch up to dump-ins before the Senators could even gain the zone (thanks to rampant, uncalled interference), Anaheim was able to long-distance pepper shots at Ray Emery. The game-winning goal was scored by Samuel Pahlsson thanks to a defensive "oopsie" courtesy of both Daniel Alfredsson and Joe Corvo. What kind of "oopsie" was it? Not interfering with anyone and standing everyone up illegally at the blue line. Give Pahlsson a ton of credit, he scored on a great shot - but that said, the Ducks are playing one style of hockey that we'd seen year in and year out while the Senators (no angels themselves in this regard, just ask Buffalo) are at least showing some signs of wanting to play hockey the right way.

Well that is until Bryan Murray saw that the Ducks are getting away with murder and has vowed to play the same way back at them.


What my main worry here with the Ducks making it this far was that teams next year would follow their lead and go back to old, bad, sport-ruining habits. Now it appears that we don't even have to wait that long. Thanks a lot.

ESPN.com's Scott Burnside made note of this in one of his articles, pulling this quote out (emphasis mine, as always):

Although Ottawa coach Bryan Murray didn't complain about the Ducks' obstructing
his team as he did the past two days, forward Dany Heatley said the Ducks are
playing them differently than any of their three previous playoff opponents.

"No question. No question," Heatley said. "They do a good job, whether
it's subtle or whether it's blatant. They definitely play a real hold-up
style, defensive style.
We just have to find ways to battle through

Isn't that supposed to be illegal under
the new rules?

"Yeah, it is," Heatley said.

Now, I'm not going to just cite one quote and tell you that the sky is falling - I'll just ask you to go ahead and re-watch those first two games and tell me what you think. Now does this mean the rest of the series will be unwatchable? Not really.

In the Calgary-Tampa Bay final three years ago we saw two terrible and nearly unwatchable games played in Games 1 and 2. Of course, the hype going into that final was that neither of these teams play the trap and we'd see the return to good old fashioned hockey. What happened then, of course, is that both teams were terrified of each other's offensive weapons, got scared of taking any chances at all and bored everyone to tears by trying to out-trap and out-interfere each other. Thankfully that series went seven games and games 3-7 made up for everything else (for the most part).

If you're going to tell me I should have hope that things will turn around in this series and that we may still see some exciting end-to-end style hockey though...you won't catch me holding my breath as Anaheim has been doing this kind of crap all season and now moreso in the playoffs (with the added flair of being dirty as well) without being check-mated by the League. So now Ottawa in desperation is going to follow them down into the sewer and play things the same way because when in Rome you do as the Romans do. In this case, the Romans want us to be bored and not see a single compelling thing ever again.