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Thursday, October 9, 2008

An Opening Night Sing-Along

You know the song well, and frankly, I've been sitting on this video for a while.

It's made some circulation around the hockey blogosphere, but it's either going to be me or the guys at www.FireBettman.com that should bust this out to kick off the new season.

Without further ado - it's time we got this thing started. Sing along as loud as you can when Herr Bettman rears his trollish midget self out on the ice at Joe Louis Arena tonight.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Thanks For Playing - Part 5: Los Angeles

The final team in my series that can pack it in and call it a year and wait for 2009-2010 I really don't want them to go away. I'm going to enjoy watching them whenever they might land on my television.

Unlike the other four teams where maybe there could be hope for the future, in this case, the Los Angeles Kings have obvious signs that the future will be good and it will be enjoyable and they will be a force to be reckoned with. Don't believe me? Check this out:

Anze Kopitar: 32 G 45 A 77 PTS
Alexander Frolov: 23 G 44 A 67 PTS
Dustin Brown: 33 G 27 A 60 PTS
Patrick O'Sullivan: 22 G 31 A 53 PTS

Do you remember what place in the NHL this team finished last year? Second to last. They had the #2 pick in the Entry Draft and continued their road to filling the gaps in the defense - a defense that was so porous they allowed 266 goals last year, third worst in the NHL (Atlanta 272, Tampa Bay 267). With the second pick they chose Drew Doughty from the Guelph Storm out of the Ontario Hockey League. He alongside with University of Michigan stud Jack Johnson are the building blocks on which the backline of this team are going to be built upon.

That said, these are it for the highlights for this team. What's more incredible about the Kings is the fiscal responsibility that General Manager Dean Lombardi set in place for the Kings. They only recently signed Patrick O'Sullivan and they've got their eyes on the future despite having oodles of cap space and a glaring need to improve along the blueline and in goal.

Since even I can't sniff out these answers, I've gone to the source I trust best - another sarcastic hockey die-hard by the name of Rudy Kelly. You may know Rudy from his work at the Battle of California blog where they do triple-duty following the Ducks, Sharks and Kings.

I bothered Rudy with a list of questions I demanded answers for or it would be time for some regicide. He didn't answer and only said I'd be doing him a favor but when I told him that I wouldn't be able to resurrect him in a couple of seasons when the Kings are stomping everyone's asses in, he relented and offered up the information as he best knows how to dish it out.

HockeyJoe: I never thought I'd live in an age when
a Los Angeles team not named the Clippers was trying to be financially frugal but we know Phil Anschutz is rolling in money. Why are they insistent on staying as close to the salary floor as possible while seemingly hurting relationships with guys like Patrick O'Sullivan?

Rudy Kelly: Rich Hammond (the awesome beat reporter for the LA Daily News)
stated early in training camp that the Kings had a
$40 million cash budget
for this season.

There's two ways you can think about that: either they're going cheap and the Kings are screwed, or they're saving money in a lost year so they can spend more once they make the playoffs and are all awesome and rainbows come out of my ass.

I'm not sure if the whole Patrick O'Sullivan thing is really related; it's dangerous policy to just throw around money and rationalize it by saying, "Who cares how much money we spend, we're not near the cap." Next season the Kings have Kopitar, Johnson, Ted Purcell, Brian Boyle and Matt Greene up for free agency; they're going to need money. Plus, if Marian Gaborik wants to sign here we need that money too. (Hi Marian, love your work.)

The Kings seem to have very good scouting and are
seemingly teeming with youth at every position - why haven't we seen more and
better veterans mixed in with these guys to become more competitive right now
rather than biding their time towards the future? Selling guys on Los Angeles
and Hollywood and starlets galore can't be that hard....can

Rudy Kelly:
I think the reason good free agents haven't been signing here is threefold:

One, the Kings are terrible. Sure, LA has hot chicks and nice beaches, but guys ultimately want to win a championship and they realize the Kings are ways away from doing that.

Two, the Kings probably aren't offering long terms.
Like I said, the Kings have a lot of good young guys coming up and they need
financial flexibility that doesn't afford for big free agents. A guy like, say,
Jeff Finger isn't going to sign with the Kings if he knows that in a year or two
the Kings will probably trade him to another team in a terrible city like, well,
any other place besides LA.

Three, Dean Lombardi isn't stupid. I can't really think
of a free agent signing this off-season that I actually felt was fair value. I
would have been pissed if the Kings had signed Ron Hainsey or Brian Campbell to
their ridiculous deals. Dean Lombardi has said he offered deals to Chris Drury
and Zdeno Chara but they just weren't enough. I can't say I blame him for

HockeyJoe: Offensively, there are guys on this team that will pile up points (Brown, Frolov, Kopitar) and outsiders will look at them and say, "These guys shouldn't be this bad - what gives?" What do you tell these apparent fantasy hockey gurus?

Rudy Kelly: The Kings are a pretty dynamic offensive team: they finished 12th in goals scored, which is pretty amazing when you consider they played 24 games against Dallas, Anaheim and San Jose, 3 of the top 6 defensive teams in the NHL last season. They should only get better this season with a new 2nd-line center (Jarrett Stoll) and more youth in the bottom six.

The problem, of course, is the defense. Our best defenseman is 21 year-old
Jack Johnson. Eek. New additions Matt Greene and Sean O'Donnell were basically
#6 defensemen on their old teams and 18 year-old Drew Doughty is going to be
their fourth defenseman. A bigger problem is that Johnson, Greene and O'Donnell
all take a lot of penalties, which is going to leave them short-handed a lot
more than they were last season.

Jason Labarbera is a good goaltender on a bad team, but he's proven a
little inconsistent and injury-prone over the past few years. I think the new
schedule change will help the Kings because they'll play more non-division
games, but those 24 games against the brutal Pacific are going to kill

HockeyJoe: If you were the GM: What kind of deal do you give Patrick O'Sullivan? Would Schneider have been a pick up? Khabibulin? What move would you make right now to get this team into the playoff hunt today?
(note: O'Sullivan was signed an hour after this e-mail correspondence was sent)

Rudy Kelly: Overall I'm really stoked (that's SoCal slang, baby) about Patrick O'Sullivan's deal. He ended up getting a 3-year, $2.95 million dollar deal, a deal that pays him while providing a lot of flexibility for the Kings going into next season. By the end of the deal the Kings will know who has panned out from their prospect pool and should have Alex Frolov either tied down or shipped off. I think O'Sullivan will eventually price himself off the Kings, but he's a good young player that can play all three forward positions and I'll enjoy watching him the next few years.

I would have loved to have Mathieu Schneider on the Kings and was
disappointed the Kings didn't get him. I think they could have gotten him easily because Schneider wanted to stay in Southern California but ultimately the Kings couldn't afford him. It is what is is. If I had wanted to get the Kings into the playoffs this off-season, I would have traded for Schneider and either Jay McKee from the Blues or Adrian Aucoin from the Flames. Both could have been had for cheap because they're teams were up against the cap.

I wouldn't have gone for Khabibulin because I actually think he's about as good as Labarbera at this point in his career. The Kings aren't that far off. They have a franchise player, a solid young defensive core, a great supporting cast, and a 3 good young goaltenders in the pipeline.

The Kings have made the stew; now it just needs to simmer for about 2
years. Of course, it does me no good because I'll be dead by then, but I'm sure my loved ones will be celebrating.

This is where all of us folks in the blogosphere and the hockey writing world all agree. There's a ton to like in Los Angeles and there's a zillion reasons to want to get in on the Kings bandwagon because it's going to fill up fast.

Even Mike Brophy from Sportsnet Ontario knows what's up:

"So let me say this then: the Kings could miss the playoffs and may very
well finish last in the West (I think the Islanders have the best shot at
finishing last overall), but I'd rather be the Los Angeles Kings than the
Toronto Maple Leafs, or the Islanders, or the St. Louis Blues, or the Vancouver
Canucks, or the Colorado Avalanche.

...When I look at the Kings I see a team that has the potential to take a
giant step forward very soon as long as ownership continues to show patience. GM
Dean Lombardi has been very calculating in turning this team around and he
understands there are no quick fixes in today's NHL."

The Kings are going to end up being a very good and very dangerous team.

Just not this year.

Like Rudy mentioned, their division is brutal with Anaheim, Dallas and San Jose. Mix in what should be a better Phoenix team and the Kings are going to take their lumps hard, especially with what figures to be suspect goaltending with Jason LaBarbera and Erik Ersberg (and Jonathan Quick mixed in too) made to look even worse thanks to very suspect defense.

I'm looking forward to watching the Kings play. They're going to score goals. They're going to play up-tempo. They're going to frustrate teams with their offensive talent. They're also not going to be able to stop anyone else from scoring either - firewagon hockey at its best, you just can't be a Kings fan and totally warm up to it since they're going to end up on the short end of the stick more often than not.

They're going to stink this year. The entire Western Conference is brutally difficult. Like I pointed out already, the only other true patsy is in St. Louis. Fear not L.A. fans, you're only a couple of years away from getting to stand on the top of the mountain and saying...

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Thanks For Playing - Part 4: New York Islanders

You could make an argument that while the 2007-2008 Atlantic Division had one of the more interesting and exciting playoff races ripe with rivalries in full effect, old school hatred brimming over and plenty of tight games to decide who landed where in the standings that it may have been one of the most exciting divisions to watch beat each other up endlessly throughout the unbalanced schedule.

You remember that nightmare where intradivision opponents would play each other up to eight times a year during the regular season. This was Herr Bettman's method of developing rivalries between teams within the division.

Think of how dumb that sounds on its own. For the most part, these divisions featured teams that have been playing each other since each other's inception. The Atlantic, in this case, had no expansion teams - the most recent addition to the crew was the Devils in the early 80s and they managed to tick off the Rangers, Flyers and Penguins over the course of the last 20 years pretty easily. The battles between the Flyers and Rangers, Penguins and Flyers, and the playoff matchups that ensued between the Devils and Rangers as well as the Pens against the Rangers and Flyers proved that Gary Bettman's means of creating rivalries, in the Atlantic Division's case, was pretty freakin' stupid.

The Atlantic featured some of the closest games last year and had some of the best competition on the ice in the NHL....

Hang on, sorry. That's what the NHL suits would like me to write. Here's what it really was like.


Let me clarify a bit. Games that involved teams from outside of Pennsylvania were horribly, terribly, boring.

The biggest offenders of this? You ready for it?

No, seriously...You ready to hear who the most brutally boring team in the Atlantic Division as well as the entire NHL was last year?


Surprised? You better not be - get ready for a statistical throwdown.

I'm showing you the standings because there's a column to the right of wins, losses and losses obtained due to the skills competition. It's the GF column. That's "Goals For" for those of you who have been dumbstruck by the revelation that the New Jersey Devils weren't the most boring team in the NHL.

The Islanders scored 194 goals last season - good for second-lowest in the NHL. Columbus was one worse with 193. They allowed a stunning 243 which makes it more abundantly clear who Philadelphia and Pittsburgh seemed to be lighting up the most. The Flyers allowed 233 goals but they at least covered up for themselves scoring 248, best in the division. The Flyers also finished the year as the #6 seed in the Eastern Conference and advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Islanders finished 13th in the East and 15 points out of the 8th spot in the playoffs. With Ted Nolan at the helm and teaching an overly cautious defense-first style of play on a team that was also riddled with injuries...well, suffice to say, it wasn't meant to be for the Isles.

This year? Ted Nolan is out after disagreeing with General Manager Garth Snow over just about everything and Scott Gordon moves up from the AHL where he coached the Providence Bruins. With him, Gordon brings his upbeat, pressing and attacking brand of hockey. Good things, right?

Not so fast. The Isles are severely lacking in a little thing called "talent." To their credit, they were smart and tricked/convinced college standout Kyle Okposo to leave the University of Minnesota and jump into the fire in the NHL. This year, he'll be counted on heavily to make a major contribution to a team that is relying heavily upon untested youth.

Sure you've got Mr. Hillary Duff, Mike Comrie leading the way, but he's coming off of off-season surgery. By the way, Comrie lead the Isles in scoring last year with 49 points. 49!

There's the semi-ageless Bill Guerin on the wing and while, sure, he's the captain of this team... I can't think of another captain in the league who's as well-traveled as Guerin is. Then again, Isles owner Charles Wang figured that naming him captain upon arrival to the Island was a good idea, especially since Alexei Yashin was given the boot. I guess anyone would've been a step up from Yashin but...yikes.

Looking at their depth chart as it stands now the team looks like the kind of lineup you would put together if you were playing fantasy hockey and you had to assemble your team after 29 other teams had done all of their drafting already and you got the scraps of what was leftover.

After all, if you're really thinking that Doug Weight is your #2 center...you're in deep.

Is there hope here? Maybe, but it will have to come from their youth. Jeff Tambellini, Sean Bergenheim, Blake Comeau and Okposo are all going to have to play above their expectations. Most of these guys got a healthy dose of NHL play last year which either means they could be ready to mature and emerge, or they'll be ripe for a sophomore-esque jinx and not build any chemistry with each other.

On defense, the Isles, and I can't stress this enough, have to stay healthy. Unfortunately, they're already dealing with problems. Andy Sutton and Chris Campoli are already dealing with injuries. Is it a harbinger of doom? Let's hope not - injury problems like the Isles had last year, including losing Campoli, Brendan Witt, Marc-Andre Bergeron for long stretches of the season made playing defense in Nolan's system even more difficult.

The Isles brought in free agent defenseman Mark Streit to quarterback their power play and should Gordon's system work out the way he wants it to, Streit will benefit greatly from it after playing something like that in Montreal. That said, the offense is going to struggle again and if Rick DiPietro can't carry the bulk of the load in goal (and given his injury history) things look pitiful on the Island.

At least when Wade Dublewicz was backing up DiPietro, there was some kind of safety cushion there that they could count on. Now it'll be up to Canadiens outcast Yann Danis and journeyman Joey McDonald to have to be ready at an instant to step in if/when DiPietro breaks himself again.

It would take a remarkable stroke of good luck and good health to keep the Islanders in the hunt for the playoffs and while the NHL schedule doesn't force as many intra-divisional games this year, the Isles still are getting the bulk of their games against four playoff teams. While each of those other four teams all have their own sets of question marks, those teams are also light years ahead of where the Islanders are right now. The Isles will get to fatten up on the likes of Toronto and half of the Southeast Division, but they're going to get beaten up and tossed around by their neighbors.

The only bright spot I can find here is that at least they won't be completely dreadful to watch. An upbeat, aggressive style, even when played with less-than-stellar parts can be entertaining. At least then you can count on the better teams using that to their advantage and showing off.

Then again, Isles fans, those few of you out there who are continuing to stick by them, and bless you for doing so, you don't want to watch your team get throttled on. The only bit of advice I can offer to you is to listen to this guy (and ignore the lizards):

Friday, October 3, 2008

Thanks For Playing - Part 3: St. Louis

I've picked on the Eastern Conference a bit and, believe me, there's plenty of material to work with there, but it's time to dig into the West. The Western Conference is a funny place this year because there's only a couple of teams who I can say, right now, are done.

For the St. Louis Blues, they can take some solace in the fact that their season was done before their young, stud defenseman Erik Johnson was mysteriously injured on the golf course. How Johnson was hurt is a matter under speculation. Johnson says his foot got tangled up between the accelerator and the brake pedal and he denies vehemently that he got hurt playing this:

Now I'll do the right thing and say I believe Johnson when he says he got hurt the way he got hurt, that's fine. But if you want me to believe that a multi-talented NHL defenseman is that much of a klutz...that's a harder sell. It's a much harder sell than telling me that a 20 year-old was goofing around on the golf course with his buddies and managed to screw up big time and get injured in said goofing around.

That said, this injury only helps set the tone for the Blues this year. Sure, they're playing in a division that generally is pretty weak aside from the overlords on the top from Detroit. This year is different. Chicago is the media darling for improvement, and rightfully so. Nashville has somehow miraculously made the playoffs the last four years, much due to most everyone else in the Central feeding them wins and consistency at the top with head coach Barry Trotz. Heck, even Columbus should be better this year provided Rick Nash stays healthy, Pascal Leclaire is as good as he showed last year, and everyone is fully bought into coach Ken Hitchcock's brutally boring system.

St. Louis really is swimming upstream this season and they just don't have much of anything to sustain themselves. Outside of Erik Johnson, along the blue line they've got Eric Brewer and Barret Jackman as their top defensemen and Jay McKee as their classy old veteran player (at 32 he's the most veteran defenseman) who gets to show the rest of the guys in the locker room how it's done, which surprisingly, will come in handy.

Jeremy Rutherford at the Morning Skate blog from STLToday.com outlined what the "grueling" pre-season has managed to do to the Blues defensive depth with the recent injury to Jeff Woywitka (no, that's not the name of the guy Shia Lebeouf played in Transformers):

Pre-training camp lineup:
1. Eric Brewer
2. Barret Jackman
3. Jay McKee
4. Erik Johnson
5. Steve Wagner
6. Jeff Woywitka
7. Roman Polak
8. Jonas Junland
9. Alex Pietrangelo
10. Mike Weaver

Now, Pientrangelo or Weaver could be the sixth d-man on the roster on
opening night, Oct. 10.

Here’s a look:
1. Brewer
2. Jackman
3. McKee
4. Wagner
5. Polak
6. Pietrangelo
7. Weaver

Now, I know what you're saying looking at those lists:

Who? What? Is this a joke? This team doesn't play professional hockey.
Oh, but they do. At least in name they do.

Since I know you're curious, the Pietrangelo being talked about is not goaltender Frank from the days of NHL yore, it's his second-nephew Alex, the Blues first-round pick from this year's draft.

In a perfect world, Blues General Manager would like Pietrangelo to get his feet wet in Peoria of the AHL, but with two of their original top six out for large chunk or the whole chunk of the season - trial by fire seems how it'll go for Alex Pietrangelo. Mind you, I find nothing wrong at all with letting premiere talent getting started instantly in the pros, I just worry about having that premiere talent A) being defensemen and B) on a bad team.

Starting off your career with a -30 rating doesn't do much to make one feel great about their own game or their future.

That said, the youth is going to be king in St. Louis and in this case, it's not going to serve them very well because they don't have the hugely talented offensive forwards that can jump right out and get things done instantly. Judging by what our friend Jeremy Rutherford has to say about the Blues forward set up... patience will be the thing to have if you're a Blues Backer:

Paul Kariya - Patrik Berglund - David Perron

Keith Tkachuk - T.J. Oshie - David Backes

Lee Stempniak - Andy McDonald - Brad Boyes

D.J. King - Jay McClement - Yan Stastny/Cam Janssen/Chris Porter

The one "veteran" line you'll have out there (that meaning a line full of guys that all have major NHL experience) is the line of Stempniak-McDonald-Boyes. Boyes is a 40-goal scorer and an example of why teams should make deals with the Boston Bruins. McDonald is the Stanley Cup winning center for the Anaheim Ducks who found his way to St. Louis when Brian Burke decided he'd rather have Doug Weight and his lower salary. Stempniak is a Dartmouth College player who has been one of their steadiest players the last few seasons yet doesn't seem to bring in much of any respect.

You look at those first couple of lines and see some classic names in Paul Kariya and Keith Tkachuk. Tkachuk isn't quite the force he was back about 10-15 years ago (he is 36 years-old after all), but he parked home 27 goals last season once again (he did the same the year before) and if nothing else, he's consistent and he and Jay McKee can get some words in edgewise to teach these young whipper snappers a thing or two.

Jay McKee and Keith Tkachuk grow tired of the rest of the team not getting off their lawns.

Paul Kariya is another guy who you think of as old (he is 34) and probably on the backside of his career as a goal scorer. What you probably never realized about Paul's career is that he's a much better passer than he is a finisher. When he came out of the University of Maine (just ask Gary Thorne, he'll gush just a little bit) in his one full season in Orono, Kariya netted 75 assists - mind you, it's rare when college players get even 75 points (even scoring is down in college as it is the pros, for shame) nevermind 75 assists.

If the line Rutherford assembled for the Blues holds true, look for Kariya to be the true playmaker on that line with the 20 year-old Swede Patrik Berglund, playing in his first NHL season and 20 year-old David Perron, playing in his second NHL season. Berglund's stats from Sweden indicate that he's got equal touch scoring and passing and Perron looks to be more of a goal scorer in the NHL than anything else.

St. Louis is going to be a three-line team at best and should Oshie struggle alongside Tkachuk or get bumped down the depth chart, this team will struggle even more. Should that occur, you'll then have a top-loaded first line presuming that Brad Boyes or McDonald would be placed with Kariya and Backes or Perron.

The fourth-line for this team will be out there simply to start shenanigans, especially on nights where D.J. King and Cam Janssen are teamed up together. In fact, I predict this line will get a fair share of work against Detroit and Chicago simply to just start nonsense.

The best part of this team, however, is the head coach Andy Murray. Murray is a smart enough guy and is always able to get the best out of his teams. He did very solid work with the L.A. Kings until things turned horribly southward there and it's that experience Murray will have to draw on for handling this Blues team. The Blues will have a spurt or two in them where they're able to man-up and pull a few surprises out and goaltender Manny Legace, or presumptive backup from Nashville Chris Mason, are more than capable of stealing a couple games throughout the season, but don't buy what they're selling. This team is bad.

This team in the super-competitive Western Conference has neither the horses to withstand the season nor the summary talent to get through their bear of a division. In fact, the only thing Blues fans have to be happy about this year is the fact that for 15 games through the season they're going to look really awesome losing:

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Thanks For Playing - Part 2: Florida

As bad as Atlanta will seem this year, there's another team in the Southeast Division that is going to make life easier a few times a year for them and for everyone else in the NHL. Behind every positive you might be able to find for the Florida Panthers, there's a large and ominous negative lurking behind it - even at its most basic level.

You'd have to think that playing in Miami, Florida in the middle of winter and making a home there wouldn't be all that bad and that it would serve to motivate players to want to go there. Instead, the Panthers have been irrelevant to the NHL since 2000 when Pavel Bure was single-handedly lifting the Panthers on his back.

The Panthers being in Miami (or Sunrise, FL to be totally exact) play in a market where fans root for the Dolphins 365 days out of the year. Everything takes a backseat to the Fins. Miami has been a blessed market for professional sports having had a normally successful NFL team each year, a recent NBA championship with the Heat and a two-time World Series winner in the Marlins.

The Panthers, however, are the Rodney Dangerfield's of Miami. No respect at all - not that they've done anything to deserve it of late. They got their Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 1996 and got swept out by Colorado and then had only two more playoff appearances to show for it after that in 1997 and 2000.

Now? Hopeful youth has turned sour. Players like Nathan Horton, Stephen Weiss and Jay Bouwmeester have either not followed through fully on expectations or are just playing out the string until it's time to leave. For a stretch, the Panthers actually drafted decently with their top picks. Horton and Weiss are both useful players and Bouwmeester, despite what that THN column above says is a very good defenseman - it's just very difficult to gauge how good they are playing in a hockey vacuum.

For the longest time, or so it seemed, Olli Jokinen was the face of the Panthers, taking the job from John Vanbiesbrouck and Scott Mellanby before him. During the NHL Draft this off-season, he was shipped off to the desert to find more old folks in retirement homes in Phoenix.

While you'd never know nor ever heard it, word came out after the deal that Jokinen was dogging it in Florida and wasn't a leader nor did he have any guts. We shall see how this pans out for both teams as Florida was able to bolster their defense in the deal getting Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton from the Coyotes, but having seen Jokinen play in Olympic competition for a team that was very successful in Team Finland, I can't help but think that Florida is going to get shown up again here, especially with Phoenix being very close to becoming quite good in the Western Conference. If Jokinen is the clubhouse cancer that these gutsy, anonymous NHL executives claim to be, Phoenix is in a world of hurt and Florida's rebound from mediocrity starts now.

That ain't going to happen because the Panthers are awful.

Take a look at this roster and tell me who on this team is going to become an offensive force to carry this team.

Take a look at the team scoring statistics from last year and tell me who is going to step up.

All signs point to Nathan Horton, it appears, but who is going to work with him?

Stephen Weiss? David Booth? Rostislav Olesz?

These guys are all very young. Look at Horton who is the presumtive leader of this team. He's 22 years-old and is going into his fourth full year with the Panthers, fifth overall.

Stephen Weiss is two years older than Horton and has yet to really show if he's worth it. Weiss was the #4 overall selection in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft and his best point season came two years ago (20-28-48).

David Booth is a name to get acquainted with because he'll probably be suiting up in 2010 for Team USA. That said, him playing in Florida is a good way to keep him a secret. Booth is 23 years-old and finally broke out last year scoring 22 goals finishing with 40 points. I know that seems poor, but with the Panthers, he was certainly one of the guys the coach was telling you to keep an eye on.

They signed Cory Stillman away from Ottawa this offseason, but he's a guy that comes in on the backside of his career and, while solid, isn't much of a scorer anymore. That said, he will likely be Horton's left wing and go-to guy. Yup, welcome to Florida.

Yes, that's how bad it's going to be this year. If any team gets lit up by the Panthers this year, I'm demanding that that team's coach work them out immediately after the game Herb Brooks style. You know what I'm talking about...

Yes, the Panthers are that bad. They are the Team Norway of 1980. And yes, they will make someone feel really bad about themselves later on when they manage to steal a win or two.

These guys won't be 1974-1975 Washington Capitals bad, but they'll make you wish for a cyanide soda if you're stuck watching them too often.

The strength of this team is on the blueline and in goal. The two guys they got back for Olli Jokinen are decent and they'll be used to playing defense on a bad offensive team having already played in Phoenix. They added Toronto's headache and whipping boy Bryan McCabe which this year will look really good, but let's face facts, McCabe was brought in as Jay Bouwmeester insurance once he's traded away.

Bouwmeester will again be the best player back there but this is where the good gets wiped out by the bad. Bouwmeester is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year and while he's said all the right things about waiting to see if the Panthers get it turned around as to whether or not he'll want to come back, don't get lost with it - dude wants to get out of town and get paid.

General Manager Jacques Martin is going to have to know when, exactly, will be the time to pull the trigger on a deal for their best player. If the Panthers want to get anything at all for Bouwmeester, the trading deadline should prove to be a great time to pinpoint when the Panthers actually get their stuff together to turn around the franchise or if they can start gathering their things to move to Las Vegas or Kansas City and call it a day in South Florida.

If the Panthers don't/can't get a premium package for Jay Bouwmeester, it will prove to be a devastating turn of events for this franchise. Martin and the rest of the front office cannot buy the lip service being served up from Bouwmeester. He's leaving Florida regardless of what magic you think you can pull. Trade him, get lots of fun pieces to add to the team and for God's sake, get your head screwed on straight for the draft - if you end up with the #1 pick, you're all set.

If not - start scouting.

Oddly enough, whether injur occurs in goal or not, the Panthers are very much set. Tomas Vokoun and Craig Anderson are both more than capable and with Anderson's success last year while Vokoun was injured, I'm shocked we didn't get any stories out of Florida about looking to deal Vokoun to get cheaper. Since that didn't occur, Vokoun and Anderson will provide some of the lone stability you'll find on the Panthers this year, problem is, will they get any support for their efforts. All signs point to ABSOLUTELY FREAKING NOT.

The Panthers might keep the Thrashers out of last place in the Southeast, but they should prove to be cozy roommates at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings (and they'll be joined by one other team down at the very bottom of the pile in the East) but Florida is shaping up to perhaps be the very worst of the bunch. They'll need Vokoun and Anderson to be Jennings Trophy winners to be in the race for the playoffs and they'll need all of their youth to have breakout years so they can at least trot out two solid scoring lines.

Every goal scored this year for new head coach Peter DeBoer, fresh off of a championship season with Kitchener in the OHL, is going to have to be worked for even harder than what you'd see from better teams in the NHL. It's clear why DeBoer was brought into this situation in Florida, he's got experience coaching the team enigma Stephen Weiss as well as a couple of other players. They're hoping that his new blood as well as experience with some of these guys will light a fire.

There won't be any fire here though. There won't even be any smoke, sparks, tinder, lighter fluid, gasoline... you get the point.

See you next season Panthers - thanks for not showing up.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Thanks For Playing - Part 1: Atlanta

I'm convinced that there's no better a way to bore you, the mostly anonymous Internet audience, than by doing the same old schtick this time of year: Season previews. Sure, it's a nice, cheap way to get a few blurbs in either praising your favorite people on a team you think is going to rock everyone's face off or pile on the cheap shots.

Don't get me wrong here, I'm all for cutting analysis and cheap shots just the same, but I'd rather do something that you're probably not going to get too bored with reading here.

Everywhere you go you're going to get praise about the Detroit Red Wings. Why not? They picked up one of the nastiest scorers in the league and added him to a team that already won the Stanley Cup last season with virtually the same roster. It just makes sense.

You'll get a lot of fun talk about the Penguins and Capitals because of their array of talent as well as having their own versions of the new Hockey Jesus on their rosters. Big superstars mean lots of press.

It's science.

What's more fun here is to tell those of you out there that you can just give it up right now and not even bother to watch any games this year because it's only going to go poorly.
Starting today, I'm ending five seasons before they've even started.

The next week will be littered with descriptions of these teams and today, where better to start than the city where they once had a team that did so poorly that they moved to Canada to be successful!
Imagine that sort of world where retreating to Canada is made acceptable! Things sure were different in the early '80s! We go to Ted Turner Land - the city of Atlanta where professional sports go to die an unknown and unrecognizable death.

Of all the teams here whose season ends with the start of training camp, the one I feel the worst for are the Thrashers. Bob Hartley did the best he could with this team last year before getting axed by GM Don Waddell in favor of... Don Waddell. The team traded away Marian Hossa for a pile of young guys and draft picks in Pittsburgh and the Thrashers quickly went from the playoffs in 2006-2007 to being one of the worst teams in the NHL in 2007-2008, even in the Southeast Division.

This year, the Thrashers are going the Major League 3 route to "success" - they're going Back to the Minors. It seems fitting to compare this year's Thrashers with a terrible, should-never-have-been-made sequel of a series that should've ended after the first success. If you will, indulge me while I compare the roster of the Thrashers with that of the Salt Lake City Buzz/Minnesota Twins. Yes, I've seen Major League: Back to the Minors and can, indeed, pull this off. Watch the horror unfold.

The most talented guy on Atlanta is, by far, Ilya Kovalchuk and he's been named captain of the team, a dubious naming since Kovalchuk hasn't always been known as a strong guy in the locker room nor on the ice. In fact, he's probably a more cocky and selfish incarnation of Sergei Fedorov, except without the defensive skill set. That said, he's easily the best player on the team and the only guy on the roster you have to worry about leaving alone on the ice. He's got the track record of danger, has a punishing shot and even on this brutal team he can and will score 50 goals.

I give to you, the Ilya Kovalchuk of Major League: Back to the Minors:

Much like in the movie, the rest of Ilya's teammates aren't much to talk about. Most of them are incredibly young or they've got innocuous histories. On the youth side, you've got guys like defenseman Tobias Enstrom, recently signed to a four-year extension that packs on the dollars and expectations. Enstrom would've been a nice partner with Braydon Coburn if he hadn't been foolishly traded to Philadelphia in February 2007 for Alexei Zhitnik. That's the same Alexei Zhitnik the Thrashers bought out this off-season to clear him off their records.


Instead, the Thrashers were bad enough to earn a nice, high draft pick to take defenseman Zach Bogosian, a player who ought to make the opening night roster and unless the Thrashers are being run by morons, should stick there for some time to come. The downside with Bogosian is that he's terribly young (he's 18) and learning on the job in the NHL comes with plenty of mistakes in waiting and playing alongside Enstrom, who is 23, means that while the talent level is high...it's very green. Patience will have to be a virtue for the handfuls of fans in Atlanta. Veteran players like Niclas Havelid and newly acquired Mathieu Schneider will have to be steady with the guiding defensive hands for these guys and big free agent pick up Ron Hainsey is going to have to be very good for the Thrashers to not look like a circus on the blueline.

The signing of Hainsey drew a lot of questions and I'm sure now that Hainsey sees what he's gotten into in Atlanta he's probably wondering if the five-year $22.5 million contract he signed in the off-season will be worth it. I can tell Ron this: It certainly won't feel like it this year - but things will get better.

The strength of this team, oddly enough, is in goal. Problem is, who is going to get the most starts? You've got Kari Lehtonen as the default starter and Johan Hedberg as the much beloved crowd favorite backup. Lehtonen's ability to get hurt and give up soft goals seems to irk Thrashers fans a bit. Thankfully for them there's a player eagerly waiting for his turn to take over the job for good in Ondrej Pavelec.

In an ideal Thrashers world, they would deal Lehtonen to a goaltending-desperate team for a couple of instant impact players and then make a run at the Southeast Division title with Pavelec as the top guy and Hedberg as the ever-capable insurance policy. While Lehtonen is slowly entering albatross status (something another groin injury might cement) he's still a very good goaltender and the best thing for him would be a coach that can get his head screwed on straight so that he doesn't get too shaken by a bad goal. He's going to feel the pressure this year and being on a team that is going to be very defensively poor he's going to have his hands full.

Picture if you will Kari Lehtonen as Rube Baker, the lovable yet colossally dumb catcher of the Salt Lake City Buzz. Rube had a mental block that wouldn't allow him to throw the ball back to the pitcher. Much like Rube, Kari Lehtonen has a mental block that won't allow him to shake off giving up a bad goal and he gets all down on himself.

Poor Rube...er, Kari.

Up front, the Thrashers are a one-line squad. Slava Kozlov and Kovalchuk are the best scorers they have and from there, quality drops off hard and gets really young, really fast. Jason Williams was signed away from Chicago this summer to help bolster the team up the middle and he'll have to be better than any of the stats he's put up in his career to put Atlanta anywhere near a shot at a playoff spot. If Williams can put up numbers like he did in his final season in Detroit (21-37-58), that will go a long way.

From there, youth is king.

You have the pieces obtained in the Hossa deal with Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen and Angelo Esposito, the Penguins 2007 First Round pick and blue-chip piece obtained from Pittsburgh. Expect to see Esposito playing at least the first nine games for the Thrashers this year. He's fast, he's innovative, he's very talented - he's also going to make mistakes as well but he is going to be good. Eventually. If the Thrashers allow him to stay and don't send him back to juniors, it'll make the immediate future of the team hurt a little bit, but the pain will be worth the pleasure in future seasons.

Brett Sterling and Bryan Little are the other guys that will get involved in the scoring mix, but this team is one Kovalchuk injury away from being the Chicago Wolves, which might not be so bad since they've been dominating in the AHL the last couple of seasons.

You're probably saying to yourself, "Who the hell are these guys?" Don't worry, you're not alone.
Meanwhile, the role players here are numerous both up front and in back. Chris Thorburn, Marty Reasoner, Eric Perrin and there's even an oft-injured enigma in Todd White. If you want to eyeball anyone that will punch someone's lights out you've got a nice sampler platter with appetizers like Chris Thorburn and Garnet Exelby, a main dish of Eric Boulton and a potential breakout super-goon in defenseman Boris Valabik. Boulton is a loose cannon and doesn't think twice about making a questionable hit nor of fighting anyone. He reminds me of a certain guy from a certain movie I'm obsessing on here...

Worse yet, after all of this, the guy I really feel for here is the new Thrashers head coach John Anderson. Much like Bruce Boudreau in Washington, Anderson has paid his dues in the AHL and is finally getting his crack at the NHL after being promoted from Chicago to coach the big team in Atlanta. Anderson has twice won the Calder Cup as coach of the Wolves in 2002 and 2008. Winning a title with the minor league team ought to get you strong consideration when the big league team needs a new guy, I just don't know that this is the sort of situation Anderson was hoping for.

He is getting a team that is surely more talented than his Wolves teams (at least, I think they are) and he ought to be familiar with plenty of these guys already so there's an advantage. Given the amount of success and experience many of these guys have with Anderson, perhaps that will carry them through some of the early struggles you'd expect for this team. I just don't see it happening. I just hope that Anderson can be more charming than say... Gus Cantrell was!

Yeah, the bar is set pretty low here for Atlanta, even with the addition of Schneider to the team, this team is going to be hopeless on defense and they're indescribably thin on offense. Goaltending will have to carry this team and unfortunately that position is occupied by a guy who's on shaky ground in his head and at home since they love the backup and minor league guy more than the starter. I feel for John Anderson, I do - but I wouldn't even wish this team on Marc Crawford.

OK, maybe I would, but that's just me being spiteful.

This team will finish last in the Southeast and damn near the bottom of the Eastern Conference. They'll be front-runners in the John Tavares sweepstakes come next summer. They'll be duking it out with a handful of other teams we'll get to later on, but the only saving grace the Thrashers have and the only reason why they'll put up some respectable numbers is because they're in a putrid division and get most of their games against them. If this team were in just about any other division in the NHL, I'd have no doubts they would get crushed harder. That said, they'll do better than what their talent would indicate but they'll still be terrible.

Thanks for coming Atlanta, please proceed to the exit.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Passing Of A True Legend

I'm going to take a pause from the needling of the establishment to say a few words about a man who many NHL fans might know from their history books about his days with the Detroit Red Wings as both a coach and general manager but had such a far reaching and deeper history in the college ranks that for those unfamiliar with college hockey (or lacrosse for that matter) or who never grew up in Upstate New York you may have never heard of him.

I'm talking about Ned Harkness who passed away today on his 89th birthday.

This is a bit more of a localized story, I understand that and what folks don't know about Coach Harkness or his history is a shame because his history and his story is rich with the kinds of things movies are made of.

Harkness' legacy in Upstate New York hockey that moved me to become the hockey fan that I am today, because without him and everything that he did not just for the RPI program but for Glens Falls, NY hockey as well.

Harkness' record with RPI speaks volumes for itself. He took over the coaching job at RPI in 1950 after then RPI President Livingston Houston wanted to revive the hockey program. After seeing what Harkness did with the lacrosse team, it seemed like a natural fit that he should take on the hockey team as well.

Did he ever.

In the 1953-1954 season, Harkness along with star players like Frank Chiarelli, put RPI on the national map by leading the Engineers to the National Championship. The teams they beat along the way?

University of Michigan and University of Minnesota.

Not too shabby.

His record at RPI from 1949 to 1963 was a modest 187-90-7 with the crowning glory season being 1954's National Championship team. In 1951, Harkness established the RPI Holiday Tournament which still continues today some 57 years later.

From there he moved on to Cornell University and his legacy was cemented leading the Big Red from 1963-1970 and winning the National Championship in 1967 with a little help from a goaltender named Ken Dryden and again in 1970.

Harkness' 1970 team was thoroughly incredible and dominant finishing the season 29-0-0. This would be Harkness' last year coaching in the NCAAs as he was hired by the Detroit Red Wings to be their coach. His days with the Red Wings would not be remembered well as long time fans in Detroit think of those days as "Darkness Under Harkness" as midway through his first season as coach of the Red Wings he was moved up to the General Manager's office where he stayed for three seasons and going through a number of head coaches as the Red Wings struggled.

It could be said that Harkness had the dubious distinction to try and follow in the shoes of beloved Red Wings legend Sid Abel, but the Red Wings during these days weren't the machine that they were through the 1950s and 1960s.

It was Harkness' ties to the Red Wings that brings him up to speed with my own interest in hockey. Growing up during the 1980s in Upstate New York and becoming a hockey fan at a young age marveling at the play of Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Mario Lemieux choices were limited as to what local action you could watch up close and personal.

Harkness, of course, got his start with RPI and RPI hockey for the longest time after his departure saw its share of ups and downs. When Mike Addessa coached the team in the 1980s, however, the team saw greatness on the ice like it had not seen since Harkness stood behind the bench for the Engineers in the 1950s. In 1985, RPI was lead by incredible talent, talent unlike what RPI had seen since Frank Chiarelli took the ice in Troy. RPI, instead, had future Hall of Famer Adam Oates centering their top line along with players like John Carter and George Servinis along with goaltender Daren Puppa - the Engineers won their second and final National Championship.

Nothing makes someone a fan more than a winning team does, and the RPI teams under Coach Addessa with Adam Oates were exactly that. That team lead me to become a hockey fan as well as an RPI fan and follower. Without Ned Harkness, there would be no RPI hockey in Troy. There would not have been a team to watch nor would there have been the all-world talent like Adam Oates for me to watch live and in person. I'd be a worse-off sports fan because of all that.

To that end, Harkness was also responsible for the establishment of the Adirondack Red Wings. Sure, his time working for the Detroit Red Wings was less-than memorable by Red Wings standards, but with Harkness being a Glens Falls resident, after being born in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada his family moved to Glens Falls.

In 1979, the Detroit Red Wings main farm team in the AHL was established in Glens Falls where they remained until 1999. The first General Manager of that team was none other than Ned Harkness. From 1979 to 1982, Harkness was the GM for Detroit's farm team and in 1981, the Red Wings won the Calder Cup defeating the Maine Mariners four games to two, a championship that proved to be the final feather in the cap for Harkness as he helped put together the first championship team in his home town of Glens Falls.

The legacy of the Red Wings in Glens Falls is impressive given their 20-year stay in the small city. Four Calder Cups (80-81, 85-86, 88-89, 91-92) and numerous future NHL players and stars later, the Red Wings inspired many folks to become hockey fans. Even more amazing is that the 1985-1986 Red Wings team was also lead by Adam Oates as well. That RPI connection runs deep here and it all falls back on Harkness.

Sure, hockey isn't the popular sport fans like myself would like it to be and times have become tough for the local favorites in college and the minor league pros, but without Ned Harkness, hockey in upstate New York would not be what it is today and the world of college hockey would not even be close to being the same.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Further Example of the Greatness Found Here

It was great to see a newly revamped look over at what is easily the best collection of hockey information on the Internet at Kukla's Korner. They've razzle-dazzled their appearance and added a few new bloggers to the fold.

It was also pleasing to read that I've proven myself to be a huge inspiration on one of the old bloggers in a new location there.

For those not clicking on links out of fear of Internet madness, The Puck Stops Here's post is titled:

How Much Power Does The Anschutz Group Have In The NHL?
To go a little Troy McClure on your asses - you might remember these storylines when I was writing about them last month. Your refresher course can be found here and more of it right here. Click away, I'll wait for you.

I'm glad that my scribblings about a month ago and making waves through the Internet and others in more prominent Internet locales are snooping around and catching the rumblings we started here a while ago.

Just be sure to say "Hi" when you're here is all.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Serenity Now!

As I pointed out here yesterday, the Board of Governors were going to sit around and be rich old farts and talk about ways to further disturb the NHL.

Turns out they may actually be getting wise as Tim Wharnsby of the Globe and Mail in Canada tells us.

There is an arena ready to go in Kansas City and one planned for the near
future for Las Vegas. Last week, deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the league
hopes to have teams based in Europe in the next 10 years.

But despite the apparent fascination, expansion was not a topic on the
agenda at the NHL board of governors meeting in Toronto yesterday.

I'm faint, my head is spinning with this news - I demand further quotation as proof.

"We like our 30 teams now and we don't feel this an appropriate time to do it,"
commissioner Gary Bettman said. "What the future may hold, I'm not prepared to
predict, but it's not on the agenda."
Well how about that. Do I believe any of this for a minute? Not really - these owners and Bettman are famous for talking out both sides of their mouth. I'm sure there were some enlightening conversations behind the scenes about these cities.

One quote that I was foolish enough to look past but has been brought up in discussion on Kukla's Korner was this from Herr Bettman courtesy of Pierre LeBrun at ESPN:

"At the present time, we're not ready to engage in any sort of expansion
process," Bettman said yesterday. "If that changes -- and it doesn't mean it
will, but it could at some point -- then we'll open it up and see what the
interest is."

Without any prompting, Bettman himself brought up Vegas.

"There were some articles indicating that there's no building deal yet in
Vegas," Bettman said. "We've had expressions of interest from lots of places,
both north and south of the 49 parallel, and at some point we may deal with
them. But not right now."

The NHL will be Vegas one day. You can bet on it.

Is Gary tipping his hand here or what? Then again, I kicked the tires on this happening a while back. While I did speculate that the Kings might be just that team to go to Sin City, Wharnsby's story brought up something that's a bit more worrisome.

What else comes to light, and has come up elsewhere recently, is that the fervor which the NHL gained steam behind the Canadian dollar is slowing up in a very noticable way, especially to the owners who have capitalized greatly on hockey's success in Canada and the "extra money" that has come flowing in thanks to the relative strength of the Loonie compared to the U.S. Dollar.

Mind you, it's not as if the U.S. Dollar is the world beater it was years ago, that's not the case at all - but while the Loonie caught up to our Benjamins, with it went NHL revenues and the salary cap. It begs our attention to keep an eye on what the Loonie will do because that will tell us if the Salary Cap continues to shoot up or leads to chaos in the front offices.

A weakened Canadian dollar against the U.S. Dollar means less money for everyone since Canada is obviously the NHL's cash cow. Shocking, I know. Less money means that teams in trouble like Nashville, Atlanta, and Florida could be looking for greener pastures. Hell, even Calgary could throw its hat in the ring once again if things got bad enough for the Loonie - Calgary was supposedly close to peril before the Canadian dollar leveled out with the U.S. dollar.

While expansion may not have been on the table, I'd bet more than anything Kansas City and Las Vegas were being discussed in great detail about the sweet deals and opportunities that await in these cities (Kansas City especially) and while no one is looking to move right now... things change. And when things change in this situation, these cities might just get to pick and choose from who they'd rather come to fill up their AEG owned arena.

Did you ever get the feeling that while the NHL owners were doing right by the CBA and their own revenues and what the books were saying that they'll still find a way to get caught with their pants down?

Yeah - so do I.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Warning! Board of Governors to Meet!

The NHL's Board of Governors will meet today to discuss a few things. Pierre LeBrun, who now writes for ESPN, a surprising step up in quality for the worldwide leader in three sports, highlighted what the Board will focus on. From Pierre:

1. There will obviously be an update on the ownership situation
in Nashville, the league still reeling from the bank fraud charges laid on
part-owner William "Boots" Del Biaggio III. There will also apparently be talk
of "preliminary qualification procedures for ownership transfers." I can only
translate this as meaning the league wants to somehow set more rigid guidelines
for future owners or future franchise sales.

2. Owners will also discuss "new potential franchise markets" from groups who have expressed interest. This is standard at these meetings; it doesn't mean the NHL is
planning to expand any time soon. But there will be the usual update from groups
interested in Las Vegas and Winnipeg, among others.

3. A discussion of the collective bargaining agreement and the players' union. The
NHLPA can opt out of the CBA after this season, although I would be shocked if
the players did.

4. An update on the lack of an international player transfer agreement, the league's talks with the IIHF and the goings-on in Russia.

Obviously, the first three things on this list are of the highest interest to yours truly as they involve subjects that have been addressed ad nauseum here. While Pierre has no seeming angle to his reporting, unlike some folks we're familiar with, I can take what he's outlined here and translate it for what they're actually going to discuss. Let's take it point-by-point:

1. Let's face it, the Nashville situation is getting some pretty sweet General Schultz treatment by most everyone who has been unfortunate enough to get their name tagged along with the franchise sale to a group of Nashville investors and the dubious "Boots" Del Biaggio. The owners say they want to discuss things concerning Nashville and to see how they can avoid these things from happening in the future.

A couple of tips for you guys concerning this. First off, never look a gift horse in the mouth - even if the horse comes from Canada and is desperate to take his new barn back home. The Board and Bettman's refusal to allow Jim Balsillie to buy the Predators is where all this nonsense began in the first place. Balsillie, of course, was radically different than Boots because he both actually has money and was open about his wont to bring the team somewhere else - two things that Boots was not open about.

Hint to future buyers: Don't disclose anything about yourself to the Board, just show up with a reputation for throwing around a lot of money and you're golden. Idiots.

2. I know Pierre made it very clear that discussing other markets and potential means to move to these places are always discussed it makes me wonder what exactly this pack of old farts discusses. You've got a handful of franchises in bad situations currently and at least three areas that are dying to get a team, two of which are in the precious western part of the United States.

I've been critical already about how both the league and prospective owners have pussyfooted around and half-heartedly talked about things to either help address these current failing situations or to do something to fix it.

The problem is that the markets that are in trouble (Phoenix, Miami, Atlanta, Nashville) are all prominent American cities and highly viable professional sports markets. Some places have clauses written into their deals that make it impossible for them to go anywhere else (Phoenix). The other three, however, are key to Herr Bettman's proliferation plan. Vacating any of those cities to go to Las Vegas, Kansas City or anywhere in Canada would be a step down in the eyes of the suits and to most everyone else as well, regardless of how sweet the package would be in Kansas City.

Those cities aren't answers for what plagues the NHL with the ones that are lagging behind, but if expansion is the talk that comes up most often, that's foolish to a degree so high science can't come up with it and would signal a huge financial problem amongst the owners because expanding the NHL again would mean these greedy morons are out to pick up a check from expansion fees once again. I just pray that LeBrun is right and this is just typical idle chatter and nothing of any substance.

3. There is NO WAY the NHLPA opts out of this Collective Bargaining Agreement but the first owner that mentions the CBA will likely be subjected to a severe spanking. If the owners talk about anything concerning this that doesn't involve lots of four-letter words and venom over about how "those darn kids" got one over on them again, I'd be shocked. If anything, this could become a brainstorming session on how to better formulate a plan to ruin the league with an even longer work stoppage.

Basically this is setting up to be a league-wide gnashing of teeth and bitchfest. I'd love to be a fly on the wall for this just to soak in the heaps of ridiculousness that get thrown around amongst these Mensa failures.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Please Make It Stop

Hockey isn't the only thing that gets our attention around here, movies do the same thing. When they decide to collaborate the memorable and successful parts are hailed as all-time wonders while the miserable failures are swept under the rug or locked away in the basement to be forgotten about forever.

Think about it. The be-all, end-all of hockey movies is and forever shall be George Roy Hill's comedy wonder Slap Shot. Paul Newman headlined the cast and played the role of Reggie Dunlop masterfully perfect. Those of you who know or have befriended hockey players know that there's always a guy like Reg amongst the hockey playing masses.

Reg was cool, Reg was ahead of the game and most of all, Reg wanted to do right by his teammates whether it was motivating the guys by making them think they were headed to Florida or by antagonizing the other team into losing their mind or their bladder. Reg was the captain and coach of the Charlestown Chiefs and you couldn't ask for anyone better than him.

What's got me worked up here is that Hollywood seems to have an odd and spiteful relationship when it comes to hockey movies. Take, for instance, the movie Youngblood a movie that's gotten a renaissance makeover thanks to the cast having very young actors named Rob Lowe, Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves. Back in 1986, the movie stunk and didn't get much attention.
Fast forward 20 years and have all three guys attain huge celebrity status (even icon status if you're name is Swayze) people accept the film for its crappiness and now love it even in spite of its somewhat hackneyed storyline. Talk about making the best of an initially bad thing, Youngblood pulled it off big time.

Other films like Mystery, Alaska and the incredibly well done and well performed Disney picture, Miracle were entertaining enough or inspiring enough to gain instant credibility and make folks think that hockey culture or the game itself lends itself well enough to be made again and again on the screen.

Unfortunately, you're dealing with Hollywood - home of a group of people even more shameless and carefree about their attempts to steal money from consumers foolish/ridiculous/dumb enough to cough up money for anything and everything hockey related.

It's for these people the first stone was cast into making hockey thoroughly unpalatable. It is these people that I blame for giving rise to Slap Shot 2: Breaking the Ice. Now, mind you, Slap Shot the iconic classic film was made in 1977. Slap Shot 2 the direct-to-video abomination came out in March 2002, conveniently 25 years after the original.

I'm sure it seemed like a good idea on paper to make a movie virtually in tribute to the original all while making something new and keeping the original movie fresh in the minds of the movie consuming public as well as the hockey fans.

Problem here being that releasing a special 25th Anniversary Edition DVD of Slap Shot would've done the same and been better served. Just picture getting a double-disc edition of the original movie with the second disc loaded with interviews with the guys, perhaps a feature called "Catching Up With the Felons of Hockey" and doing plenty of interviews with Ogie Ogilthorpe and Dr. Hook. Imagine getting to go back and revisit the arena where the Chiefs played at as well as some of the other teams of the Federal League. How great would that have been?

Instead, we got Stephen Baldwin, Gary Busey, Barry Melrose and Dave Babych (yes, the former Canucks defenseman) in a direct-to-video slopfest with a plot so ludicrous I'm not even going to bother laying it out for you. If you're demented enough to check it out, feel free, but if you don't want to get all angry about these things the way I am then don't bother. You've been warned.

Slap Shot 2 sucks. Hard.

This kind of crapfest has not satisfied those in charge enough, however.

Do me a favor and click this link and try not to put your head through an electric fence covered in razor wire and guarded by rabid pit bulls.

Words fail me.

Slap Shot 3: The Junior League

Again, it's set to be direct to video so that means it won't suffer the ignominous failure of seeing time on the big screen for a week before being moved aside for something involving Tyler Perry or Jason Statham or both.

Instead, they're trying to dial it back to the "roots" of the original masterpiece and they've recruited Leslie Nielsen to play the part of the Mayor of Charlestown.

This is going to suck harder than Tera Patrick.

As bad as this is going to be, and as much as it sucks that the only people that are involved in all three movies are the cult heroes the Hanson Brothers. I'd love to hang the blame on them and say that their over-the-top performance as the greatest all-time movie goons helped to feed this need to ruin the legacy of Slap Shot, but I can't do that. I hang it all on Hollywood executives that just can't let something get away without bleeding it dry and then screwing the bloodless corpse afterwards.

I'd like to say that that direct-to-video slop fest is what I'm ultimately most upset about, but I can't do it.


Because Slap Shot is about to go the way of The Bad News Bears and The Longest Yard - other iconic 1970s sports films.

It's apparently going to be remade with a modern twist.

Public Enemy #1 to hockey legacy and film making as well as supposed screenwriter Peter Steinfeld had this to say about the project:

"Right now I’m finishing writing the re-make of the iconic hockey movie Slap
Shot for Universal. I’ve never had so many people hate me for writing something
they haven’t seen yet. It’s such a classic film and fans of the original feel
like I’m grave-robbing or something. But I think the movie will be really fun
and will capture what it’s like to play minor league hockey in 2008. We haven’t
set cast yet…”
First of all, I'm not surprised that people think you're trying to rob a grave. In fact, I'm surprised people aren't accusing you of having relations with a corpse.

Problem with this, Peter, is that you can't do the humor the same way as you did in the 1970s, not without having a thousand different groups getting up in arms over being offended by the jokes anyhow. You can't replace that sort of humor with scat jokes and gross sight gags. You just can't do it.

Leaving well enough alone and letting some films stand alone as the tip of the cap to the era isn't good enough anymore and let's face it, some people are arrogant enough to believe that a remake can be as good or better than the original.

I'm still waiting for the first good remake to be made and I sincerely doubt this is going to be the one. Instead, a new generation will see this new movie and say its terrible. I can only hope that this generation of hockey fans will be smart enough to go looking for the original and then kick themselves for contributing any money towards helping to ruin more classic movies.

And to think, I was able to get through all of this without piling on the megabomb of the summer of 2008 that featured the Maple Leafs winning the Stanley Cup against the Kings with a Keebler Elf playing the part of the coach.

Screw off Hollywood - leave hockey alone already.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Ahhhhh.....See Ya!

Dear Henry Samueli, indefinitely suspended owner of the Anaheim Ducks:

What happens when you lie to the Government about money? They treat you like a bitch is what they do.

Samueli tried to plea down to help ease the pain on himself to the tune of five years probation and fines totalling just over $12 million dollars, an amount that's insurmountable to the rest of us but easily peeled out of the checkbook for a rich fancypants like Samueli. The one catch with this plea is that it required approval of U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney.

Here come da judge!

"The court is not alone in concluding that a five-year probationary
sentence does not capture the seriousness of Dr. Samueli's alleged misconduct,"
Carney wrote in a tentative ruling he made final in court.
That stings a bit.

A couple of Samueli's fellow crooks with Broadcom, co-founder Henry Nicholas III and former CFO William Ruehle, are also in hot water and awaiting decisions on what will happen with them. They, of course, have plead not guilty to their backdating of stock options and drug charges as well.

While Samueli may not go to jail, he and his pals are getting bitch-slapped by the judge because they apparently think they can write a check and make their problems go away... Which they still may end up getting a chance to do while getting a shortened stay in the hoosegow.

There are plenty of sources for this story, and I enjoy that they all point out something quite interesting to note on this case. Check the further quotation of Judge Carney.

"It would erode the public's perception of our justice system to accept a plea
agreement containing an unprecedented payment of $12 million to resolve the
criminal liability of one of four coconspirators in an alleged $2.2 billion
securities fraud."
That's right folks. Samueli figured that if he cut a $12 million dollar check that he could make $2 BILLION DOLLARS worth of fraud go away virtually unpunished.

I just want you folks to remember this when the owners go back to pleading poverty because the players are making too much money off of them. I want you to remember that some of Herr Bettman's good buddies, even one that he suspended for getting rung up on securities fraud charges like Samueli, are as crooked and rotten as the day is long meanwhile other guys are frozen out because they don't play ball the same way.

You know the way that goes: Lying plain as day about how much money you have while scheming behind the scenes to cut deals to move a team that's not even yours yet or flat out breaking the law while trying to screw others out of their money.

With friends like these, who needs to actually go to prison to see the crooks? You could just go to a Board of Governors meeting instead.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Dear Fans: You're Boned. Signed, The NHL

The Denver Post and ESPN's Terry Frei is taking up the cause for us. That's right, he's standing up for Joe Consumer who gets to continually take it in the backside from the Greed Collective that are the NHL Owners:

Ticket prices keep going up, in part to keep up with the payroll demands
created by the rising cap, which includes a floor and also pressures to at least
get in a "competitive" payroll realm; and the cap goes up in part because of the
additional revenue generated by the increased ticket prices; and …

Or is it the other way around?

What matters is that it's a continuing cycle, and the NHL didn't do much to
try to stop it after it got its alleged idiot-proof cap system.

You can't really say it any more succinct than that. Good on you Terry.

It can't be stated any clearer that while this CBA agreement made it seem like the Owners and Players were going to tie up all the loose ends, especially with the fans by bringing the game back and being more entertaining to watch all while the owners were going to stick it to the players and make them learn for wanting more. Never, ever doubt that the owners merely care about the bottom line - problem is, the owners managed to give the players the key to the city.

What's more is that the owners are also busy chewing on each other to the point where it's nearly collusion against the fans. Case in point behold the wisdom of Ebenezer Scrooge reborn in the form of Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs:

"The attendance in Buffalo is strong. Buffalo has had a very low ticket price
for a number of years. As long as the interest is strong as it is, it may be
painful, but people may have to pay more for tickets… On a comparative basis,
when you're paying comparative salaries, you need comparative income."
In other words: "Hey Buffalo! You're ruining it for the rest of us with your success and lower prices!"

Some of these owners, Jacobs among them since he's the head of the NHL Board of Governors, have even gone as far as to accuse Golisano for keeping ticket prices down so the Sabres could collect on revenue sharing from the rest of the league.

As you can see at this link, the ticket revenue levels have stayed about the same for the Sabres the last two years, even improving slightly last season when the team missed the playoffs. Consistency is good, especially when it means having a full house - at least, that's what you'd think.

It's incredible to me that teams who can't fill their own house get to point fingers at those who do. The Sabres have done great to sell the game and the experience to the fans since Golisano took over as owner, so much so that there's a waiting list to get season tickets to see the Sabres. However since the Sabres aren't "taking advantage of that" and jacking up prices at will across the board and cut off their nose to spite their face, they're at fault for their woes and they're the ones stealing from the other owners.

Talk about your bully pulpit.

We know how these owners enjoy working together to make sure they get the most money possible. Just revisit expansion of the 1990s if you need a refresher course.

Perhaps its my upstate New York mindset or awareness or just flat-out common sense that tells me that maybe, just maybe, Golisano and the Sabres recognize that Buffalo is a tough town to squeeze folks for their money and that he recognizes that the Buffalo market isn't as financially strong as the bigger cities, something the Ilitch family could take a lesson on since Michigan's economy is about as fragile as Buffalo's.

While I can appreciate the NHL owners for wanting to make sure everyone is doing their part to keep up appearances and no one is dogging it just to pick up a welfare check, in Buffalo's case I don't know that its the same thing. If you jack up the prices in Buffalo, you'll turn it into something eerily similar to what you see in other formerly successful attendance markets. Just look at the numbers from last season attendance-wise.

Buffalo checked in, as a non-playoff team, with a capacity percentage of 109% Yes, greater than capacity thanks to standing room tickets. If Jeremy Jacobs is so insistent on Golisano and the Sabres doing things his way, apparently selling tickets to 82% capacity is how to get things done. It's not quite half-assing it, but it's close.

That's where the question that's akin to "What came first: The chicken or the egg?" comes into play. The Sabres are doing premium priced ticket plans where certain teams will bring with them a certain cost to the tickets. It's a reasonable approach to make to capitalize on games you know are going to be sellouts. Every game the Sabres play with Toronto is guaranteed to sell out because you've got folks from Buffalo and Toronto looking for tickets. Leafs fans especially enjoy coming stateside for a game because Sabres tickets are vastly less expensive than tickets to see the Leafs at Air Canada Center.

The problem you run into with raising ticket prices across the board, and this is where the Sabres and other teams that have gone this way got it right with premium games, is that no one wants to pay the same price to watch the dumpy team you never see as opposed to seeing the blood rival you'd pay out the nose to get in the building. The advantages all work for the team here.

Sadly this is the NHL - a league where mediocrity is the ultimate goal of the owners as far as what the fans get and what they want out of the players all the while making absolutely sure their pockets stay heavily lined and if anyone isn't doing their part to greed up...you get smacked.

At this point, multiple relocations and expansion (God help us all if it comes to that) are the only solutions the league will consider to help rebuild the coffers if it comes to that. The NHL has enough teams playing the role of the "weak sister" and for the time being, the Board of Governors and the Commissioner's Office are saying all the supportive things. You have to know that if teams are bleeding as much money as some say they are (Phoenix and Los Angeles respectively) then the rest of the owners are not happy because they're dragging them down hard and virtually flushing money down the toilet.

So, in the meantime, how do you make up for them? You cough it up out your ass for tickets.

Congratulations, you're paying for rotten miserable owners.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Offenders of Offense

Tomorrow is Labor Day (or Labour Day to those of you with Canadian/European tendencies).

It's not generally that big of a deal unless you manage a retail outfit and plan to SELL! SELL! SELL!

It's a big deal over here in hockey fandom, however.

Training camp awaits and with it, just merely another month behind it, a new season.

Being that this is the start of Season 2 under the watchful eye of Gross Misconduct (nèe Violating the Trapezoid) and being that I keep an extensive watchful eye on teams that are out to ruin hockey, it's about high time that I crank out a list of my Five Most Wanted for Offenses Against Offense.

I'm not going to rank them in order of sleep inducing to least likely to be boring, that's just foolish. If you're not actively trying to score at will in the game of hockey, you're spitting in my face while trying to hit on my mother all at once. It's straight up wrong and I want to punch you in the face for trying.

That said, let's warm up the boredom train and pull into the station to wait it out, these teams are going to suck the fun out of a theme park.

1. New Jersey Devils

Surprised? No, you shouldn't be and I just want to get them out of the way right now because Lord knows that they were going to pop up here now. Truth be told, every team not named "Pittsburgh" out of this division could go on this list but the Devils were the founders of hockey hell and they continue to hold the fort down. The way I see it, they're dragging the rest of the division down with them. But I digress.

Games between the Devils and just about any team end up being ones with a small handful of scoring opportunities, dump and chasing akin to what you'd see from a person with a nasty case of Montezuma's Revenge and lots of analysts talking about how they'd love to be Martin Brodeur's next mistress, Chico Resch excluded since that's a nightly event for him to wish that upon his star.

The Devils haven't changed their philosophy at all since Jacques Lemaire was manning the bench and now it's become clear that the mastermind behind hockey boredom was Lou Lamoriello. There are nice offensive pieces on this team (Elias, Gionta, Rolston, Parise) but everyone else is a defensive forward stiff out there to make sure no one takes any shots at all.

Some call this brilliant, I call it awful - and it's been awful for nearly 15 years now. Devils fans are tired of hearing about it and the ones that do exist on the Internet are more than happy to chime in and say, "AWFUL TO THE TOON OF 3 CUPZ!11! LOL!11!" Just because you were the best at playing the worst brand of hockey ever imagined doesn't give you something to hang your hat on.

Then again, folks in New Jersey have been proud of being mired in filth for a long time now. Par for the course I guess.

2. Vancouver Canucks

You're going to notice similarities between the Devils and Canucks here. Both teams have all-universe goaltenders. Roberto Luongo can't do a whole lot more to help Vancouver than he has. Both have some nice offensive parts. The Sedin twins have become a pretty solid scoring duo the last couple of years. Both teams don't offer much of anything else once you get past those big scorers.

Go ahead, have fun and tell me who on the current Canucks roster could be called a big scorer.

What aides in making Vancouver dreadfully boring is that they play in the Western Conference - the place where you'll find most of the harbingers of boredom in the NHL and Vancouver, if I were to actually slot out where they belong, would be a Top 5 offender.

This team plays everything close to the vest and their style of play has not deviated since the NHL came back after the lockout. Their series with the Dallas Stars in the playoffs two years ago was made of the stuff that cures Insomnia and the Canucks are happy playing it that way for a million reasons. Luongo can stand on his head to face 25 shots a night just fine. In fact their goal differential last year wasn't bad at all considering they finished last in their division (-2, 213 GF 215 GA). It's the point that they scored a mere 213 goals that's the problem.

Things will not get better in Vancouver unless they allow Mason Raymond to go hog wild and skate around everyone.

3. Dallas Stars

This team was a dreadful bore already. They play in a building that doubles as a hothouse for two-thirds of the year so the ice stinks year round even when its not 90 degrees outside. Come playoff time, forget it - you're better off throwing a boat out on the rink and dragging guys around behind it on waterskis.

I mention this because it has everything to do with their style of play. They like to slow it down, they don't exactly have the high-skill type of skaters and they're really big on hitting guys in the mouth and thensome. This season, add in the Sean Avery factor they'll at least have a little bit more "excitement" to them, but this is a team that is an affront to how hockey ought to be played. Steve Ott, Sean Avery, Krys Barch... these are not actually talented hockey players. Avery I enjoy for his antics and in being everything that NHL players generally are not. He's not humble, he doesn't give the same post-game interview and he frankly has no respect for anyone else - I'm OK with that in small doses in the NHL.

Goofs like Ott and Barch, however, are not enjoyable unless they're on your team. Considering that Dallas will now have one of these clowns polluting three out of four lines, potentially, makes me fear the road the Western Conference is headed down. It was bad enough to have a team like Anaheim and their Circus of Unabashed Goonery polluting the hockey landscape but now it appears that Dallas wants to join them.

Stars captain Brendan Morrow was a guy whose play I enjoyed for a while, but now he's gone the Jarome Iginla route of being a crying little girl come playoff time all while digging in with a cheap shot now and again - something we saw a few times just last season.

Consider me not a fan of that.

They've got a highly talented scorer in Brad Richards now and guys who at one time were talented scorers are aging and oft-injured (Modano and Lehtinen please stand up with the help of an assistant) while other guys have the lovely background of being a diving Nancy (please, get up Mike Ribeiro).

This is a loathsome team and they're going to make sure to bother everyone and unfortunately, their style of play fits in ideally with what most of the rest of the Western Conference wants to do. They'll fly under the radar until they end up at or near the top of the Conference and then once the playoff coverage begins, people will say, "Jeez, these guys are real assholes!"

4. Boston Bruins

It's all Claude Julien's fault here folks. The Boston Bruins in their eminent wisdom after years of either not making the playoffs or getting bounced out too early for their liking while trying to cut corners financially finally caught up to the mid-1990s and got on the Dump-And-Bore train started by Jacques Lemaire and Lou Lamoriello. These financial skinflints headed up by Jeremy Jacobs finally got the master plan to skimp out on spending stupidly and hire a coach who would slow things down to the point of frustration for everyone on and off the ice all while improving the standing of the team and try to capitalize on how every other Boston-area franchise was trying to win it all.

After all, winning it all means you can sell more merchandise, gain more fans and find new ways to steal money from a fanbase more than eager to throw away their money on everything with the word "BOSTON" written on it.

Of course, what helps to do this is a team with superstars who wins in an entertaining way. Jacobs will settle for games that continually end up 1-0, 2-1, 3-2 will somehow find a way to be exciting just by the game itself being close in score. Enter Claude Julien and his "Defense first, second and third priority" style of coaching. This is especially heartbreaking because there are really talented scorers on this team who have been already brutally mismanaged by Julien and his boring style.

Phil Kessel and Patrice Bergeron should be the one-two scoring punch answer in the Eastern Conference to guys like Crosby and Malkin - instead, Kessel gets continually chided by Julien for not doing things his way and Bergeron is finally going to be recovered from a massive concussion he suffered last season.

Kessel is an electric player who under Julien's watch won't be given free reign to do just that. Bergeron will be fascinating to watch to see what, if any, ill-effects he has from getting blasted in the head from behind against the Flyers.

Julien's answer, no doubt, will be to have him play better positional defense rather than try to track down a puck in the offensive zone - God forbid anyone bust their ass trying to retain possession and score goals.

At the very least, we're assured that the games between Boston and Philadelphia will have a little fire to them, but outside of that and games with Montreal... who would I look forward to seeing Boston play? No one. Julien's style doesn't allow for teams to take advantage of them nor does it allow for his team to have the freedom to attack at will. It's a counter-attack kind of team that relies on turnovers and power plays to do all the scoring. Five-on-five hockey is the time spent between opportunities to get a power play or to fight off on the kill. Julien's favorite game is one that ends 0-0.

The worst part of this is that Julien's style works. Somehow, horribly so, it works. Boston was the lowest scoring team in their division last year. They scored 19 fewer goals (212) than last place Toronto but allowed the same number of goals as first place Montreal (222). It's a goal differential of -10 yet up until the final few months of the season, they were one of the top three teams in the Eastern Conference. Gross.

Their 212 goals were the third fewest in the playoffs behind New Jersey and Anaheim and they were one goal worse than the New York Rangers who scored 213. Thoroughly abysmal offense and stifling, boring defense-only style of hockey makes me want to stab my eyes out with icepicks and right now, the Bruins are the team I look forward to watching the least. For as exciting as their playoff series was with the Canadiens last year, I found myself wishing for Montreal to score eight goals on Boston just to see what Boston would do when they were forced to open up their game even a little bit. I pray that an emerging Kessel and Bergeron returning to form will get Julien to open things up a little, but I don't see that happening as long as he's coach.

5. Anaheim Ducks

The Ducks are another long-time offender to hockey, and their fate was sealed in 2003 when they teamed up with the Devils to play The Worst Stanley Cup Final I've Ever Seen. Their 2003 team, like a lot of the teams who at some point adopted the Dump-And-Bore style was low on talent, had one line that could really actually score and three others that were great at grabbing attackers.

In 2007, the NHL saw fit to look the other way as the Ducks gooned and thugged their way to the Finals and won the Stanley Cup. After all, plenty of Cup winners have had teams that saw a guy get suspended multiple times during the same playoffs for cheap hits.

What hides the fact that they play a ridiculously boring style of hockey is their goonery. The fights, the cheap hits, the mouthy douchebag players all hide the fact that this team relies heavily on the power play to score at all. Jean-Sebastian Giguere has been their be-all, do-all goaltender since that 2003 Cup Finals season and the Ducks, out of all the teams on this list, have taken the lessons taught by the Devils of the mid-90s and extrapolated on them in a big way.

Giguere has proven he's more than capable of stopping the same crappy 25 shots per game while his team chips and pokes and gums up the ice in front of him. If the opponent gets a little too excited and zips in behind the defense? Grab them. Cross-check them. Punch them in the face. Whatever it takes, just do it. More often than not, it'll work and you'll get them to retaliate which then turns the game into exactly what the Ducks want: A parade to the penalty box that allows them to put out the Brad May's and George Parros' of the world more to actually mix things up. Throw in an actually talented scorer who does nothing but run his mouth like Corey Perry and you've got the West Coast version of the Philadelphia Flyers... except that the Ducks actually win big games now and again.

All this yammering on from me and I haven't even really gone into why Chris Pronger is, perhaps, the most loathsome puke in the NHL. The record speaks for itself in regards to him and enough people have wasted bandwidth on him and I'm not about to pile on. In short, screw Chris Pronger.

Some folks might argue that this teams penchant for fighting doesn't make them boring. Fights and cheap shots, however, are false excitement that has nothing to do with teams putting the puck in the net. Fights are another category unto themselves, which, if I was to rank out teams I most enjoy watching when I have an urge to punch someone in the face, Anaheim might be at the top of the list because I know they'll fulfill that urge.

Whether that's thanks to them playing an abhorrent style of hockey that makes me wish for death or because they're busy skating around the ice like the Hanson Brothers is irrelevant at that point.

Fact is, the Ducks scored the least number of goals of the playoff teams last year (205) and allowed the second fewest (191; Detroit was first with 184). They're a dreadfully boring team to watch five-on-five as long as they're not being goons. I'm glad this team plays on the West Coast so I'm not subjected to more of their garbage brand of hockey, unfortunately, as my hit list shows you and the Versus TV schedule backs up, we'll all get more than our fair share of teams looking to ruin your NHL fandom.