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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.