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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Coming Soon: Gary's Spin City

I'm well aware of Herr Bettman's "State of the NHL" speech he made yesterday and there will be much laughter and criticism to be made of it soon enough but let's face it, the Finals come first and I really want to soak in all of his spin-meistering to pick and blow it up to my best.

In the meantime, let me point you to Aaron Portzline's story from the Columbus Dispatch today and let this set the table for what's to come:

At least eight of the NHL's 30 franchises are thought to be suffering significant annual losses.

Phoenix currently is in bankruptcy court. Atlanta, Florida, Nashville, the New York Islanders, St. Louis, Tampa Bay and Columbus are claiming big losses.

Also, owners in Dallas and Montreal are so overwhelmed with personal debt that rumors persist their clubs could be sold.

"No club is in jeopardy," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said yesterday before Game 1 of the Finals. "We are in a recession, and there are a variety of issues affecting businesses and owners.

"It's happening in all sports. We are no stranger in dealing with harsh economic realities."

But of the 24 U.S. clubs, as many as 15 expect to finish the 2008-09 fiscal year with financial losses.

The clouds on the horizon are as black as vulcanized rubber, and they closed in on central Ohio last week.

"The Columbus team is just one of many in the U.S. that are in very difficult financial situations," said Andrew Zimbalist, a sports economics professor at Smith College in Northampton, Mass.

"I can't tell you if (the club's) claim of $80 million in losses the last seven years is entirely accurate or not. But it's certainly credible. It is certainly in line with what you hear and see from other NHL franchises in a similar situation."

Don't worry Herr Bettman, your time is coming.

Game 1: House of Bounce - Detroit Wins 3-1

Tell me you predicted this would happen.

OK sure, you may have predicted Detroit would win the game. That's possible.

Did you predict that Sidney Crosby would be held off the scoresheet?

Did you predict that there wouldn't be a true highlight goal scored?

Did you predict that the one goal that would be the highlight goal would be scored by Justin Abdelkader?

What you can't see there is Abdelkader smacking the puck out of mid-air and floating it into the upper corner to put Detroit ahead 3-1.

As for the other goals scored in this game, well, the Joe Louis gremlins were in full effect and the Hockey Gods enlisted a Hanna-Barbera least-favorite to lend a hand in scoring tonight:

Don't know this guy? Yeah, we're not surprised.

That's right, it's Ricochet Rabbit.

You don't know him? That's OK, he's not worth looking up on YouTube or trying to find him on Cartoon Network - he sucks. Given what went down this evening with Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury we're sure he feels the same way.

Check out the two other goals he allowed this evening:

I know the best way to sum that up is, "Shit happens" but yeah - ouch.

How Marc-Andre Fleury felt in Game 1 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals.

That said, as bad as Marc-Andre Fleury had it, Chris Osgood had it going the other way for the Red Wings in stopping 31 of 32 shots and while a bit shaky early on in controlling rebounds, one leading to Ruslan Fedotenko's seventh goal of the playoffs, Osgood was a rock.

What's turning out to be one of the crazier phenomenons of the NHL Playoffs is that the more folks seem to discount the work of Chris Osgood, the better he gets. From the second he set foot on the ice in last year's Stanley Cup Finals as a desperate replacement for the struggling Dominik Hasek, Osgood has been a playoff freakshow.

His efforts in Game 1 brought his playoff goals against average this year to 2.00, second only to Tim Thomas of the Bruins. His save percentage sits at a lofty .928 yet some folks out there more than happy to discount whatever he brings to the table.

But see, now's the time when I act like a dick and trample all over what I just wrote about him and say: You just never know with Osgood though.

Old memories fade slowly and while you'd like to think the visions of Osgood leading both the 1998 and 2008 Detroit Red Wings to Stanley Cup titles would be the lasting vision of him... The ugly goals and previous poor performances out of both Osgood and some past Red Wings teams tarnish his now incredibly sick and lofty NHL legacy.

Chris Osgood through all this remains the NHL version of Rodney Dangerfield. If he keeps up with the tremendous output and numbers and wins... He's the benefit of a great defense. If he gives up a few and Detroit loses in rough ways, it's "typical" Osgood and he has to do better than that for Detroit to win.

No respect I tell ya! No respect at all!

For all that talk about having the great defense in front of him, Chris Osgood sure is facing a good amount of shots. After Game 1, Osgood has faced an average of close to 29 shots per game (28.5+ for those wanting more accuracy). Obviously he's not having boring games in goal and his 2.00 GAA proves that he's been on top of his game.

Of course, if he goes the way of Cam Ward and melts down completely all this talk is moot and Osgood will probably never shake off the, "You're not good enough" demons for the rest of his career and eventual heated debate on whether or not he's a Hall of Fame goaltender.

After all of that, however, it wouldn't be an official Penguins game if Sidney Crosby didn't get involved in some way. This time it came after the final horn:

Ah jeez. Now, honestly, what is the point of doing that? According to Sidney Crosby, well... You figure it out:

"Yeah, Kirk, he was doing what he always does. Giving guys lip service and things like that. I two-handed him I think on top of the foot there as we were skating by. He felt it was necessary for him to keep talking after the game, and I thought I'd whack him."

Yeah, I don't understand it either.

Signs of early frustration from Crosby? No, that's dumb so punch yourself in the yambag if you think that's the case.

Trying to bait Kirk Maltby and the Red Wings into doing something stupid to go running around after him in Game 2?

Well... Crosby can't be that naive to think that that would actually work. Detroit has already gone through two teams that are both a lot better at that sort of thing and a lot more nasty about it (Anaheim and Chicago) than Crosby thinks he is being in this case and Kirk Maltby running his mouth and getting that kind of reaction out of Crosby means that he's doing his job well.

The storylines for Game 2 are going to be about whether or not Maltby and the Red Wings respond to Crosby's petulance (they certainly won't go out of their way to do it) and whether or not Crosby can give his team a lift and a split before the series turns to Pittsburgh.

Both teams played this game very well and for all intents and purposes it was a very even game. Some folks will be critical of the officiating both ways and there were certainly a lot of non-calls but the key here is that the flow and pace of the game was not affected by it. It didn't become a slow, plodding, slug-it-out sort of game with both teams playing dump and chase all night and if that sort of thing can continue throughout the playoffs and matters stay consistent the series will stay entertaining to watch.

With the quick turnaround for Game 2, this will provide a good test for both teams fitness level because neither one is going to want to head to Pittsburgh gasping for air.

Friday, May 29, 2009

A Stanley Cup Preview - The Prophecy Revealed?

"It's déjà vu all over again."

Simple brilliance plays its way out all the time it seems and the Stanley Cup Finals this year are no different, especially since it involves the same two teams we saw there last year.

Detroit and Pittsburgh: Let's dance again.

When I wrote my preview on last year's Finals, I surprised myself with how tuned in I was. To make a long story short, I shocked myself with how I was able to sound more competent than a CBC Color Analyst.

Obviously I watched a lot of hockey.

One of the things I said last year about the Finals seemed to come through in how the Pittsburgh Penguins played this entire postseason and it's how they have to approach the Red Wings this year as well. Last year, Michel Therrien was too stubborn and too foolish and too immature to implement a plan of attack that took it to the Red Wings and he ignored this sage advice from the relatively unknown blogger who calls himself Hockey Joe:

Pittsburgh's plan of attack here has to be to push, pressure and force the issue. Make Detroit get back on their heels and defend, to throw the puck at the net and keep control of it themselves. If Pittsburgh does indeed decide to pile into their zone defensively and rely on blocking shots and trying to stop Detroit at the blueline...they're going to spend a lot of time waiting for Detroit to just give up the puck to them on a dump in or turnover.

Pretty brilliant stuff there, right?

This year's version of the Penguins, at least the ones coached by Dan Bylsma anyhow, have shown that they'll attack and forecheck and pressure the living hell out of the other team and force them to make bad passes and turn it over.

Well how about that?

Then again, I like to pat myself on the back as it is anyhow with regard to the Penguins because the Pens have shown that they're begrudgingly listening to me from afar as it is anyhow.

Again, a flashback to something I wrote last year after just Game 4 of the Finals:

It's tough to say that you want to run a guy out of town after he takes his team to the Stanley Cup Finals, but these finals have shown me that Michel Therrien is the absolute wrong guy to take the Pittsburgh Penguins into the future. He's certainly not Glen Sather, who in the same position with a similarly young and talented team in the early 1980s, was able to take his lumps against the New York Islanders and use that as a building block to take the league over. I don't recall ever seeing Glen Sather hitting the press and setting a bad example for Gretzky and Messier and Kurri.

Given what Michel Therrien has shown here, he can only lead this young bunch to more bad habits.
There are some good coaches out there waiting to be hired right now that would suit this team a lot better. It might behoove the Penguins to make a move once the series is over and should the Penguins, indeed, lose out to get Therrien out of there and get someone who can mold this team better for the future.

On February 15th, 2009 Michel Therrien was mercifully fired by the Penguins. Not-so coincidentally enough, the Penguins got their collective heads out of their ass and steamed their way back into the playoff picture and now they're in the Stanley Cup Finals after disposing of a gassed and punchless Carolina Hurricanes team.

So what did we learn here? We learned that I'm an idiot savant and master of the obvious. We also learned that ONE YEAR AGO I was using the already-tired comparison of the current Penguins squad to the 1980s Edmonton Oilers.

Then again, it doesn't help that the Oilers in the 80s got smacked around by the Islanders in 1983 and then bitch-slapped an old and on-the-way-out Islanders team in 1984 to win the Stanley Cup. I feel I have to be the guy to put this nonsense comparison to rest.

The Islanders after 1984 have been irrelevant to the NHL outside of a few stunning and spectacular finishes in the playoffs, but they never made it back to the Finals after that drubbing at the hands of Gretzky and Messier and Kurri and all the other Hall of Famers on that team. The Oilers, of course, moved on to be a powerhouse for the rest of the decade until Peter Pocklington needed money and Wayne Gretzky got too big for the City of Edmonton.

These Penguins are set for a while with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal. Coincidentally enough, these Red Wings while some of the parts are old (Nicklas Lidstrom, Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, Chris Osgood... I guess) this isn't a team that's going anywhere.

Andrew Divoff, the Wishmaster, says: Fulfill the prophecy.

Should Detroit lose to Pittsburgh and fulfill the Gretzky Prophecy, these Red Wings won't fade into oblivion, they'll be back again and again and again as long as Mike Babcock is behind the bench. I'm not going to prattle on about the depth of Detroit, that's been shown off enough already in Game 4 and 5 against Chicago.

No Lidstrom and no Datsyuk? Meh, no problem.

As for this Final... Good luck breaking it down because there's a lot going on here that doesn't point to any definitive answers.

What do I know? Crosby and Malkin look a lot better and are teeming over in confidence, a lot more so than last year. Are they as dangerous offensively? Sure they are... As long as they follow the guidelines I told them to follow last year - which means not changing a damn thing from what they've been doing in the playoffs so far.

The Penguins have stayed healthy most of the playoffs and the one guy who may still be iffy out there is power play guru Sergei Gonchar whose knee hasn't been the same since having it knocked around by Alex Ovechkin in the second round.

Christopher Walken in "The Prophecy": I thought prophecies were my thing. I mean, jeez. Come on!

As for Detroit, a lot of the attention on them is on injuries. After all, Nick Lidstrom missed the last two games against Chicago with a mysterious "lower body injury" rumored to be a problem with his ankle. Pavel Datsyuk has been out with the same "lower body injury" since after Game 2 against Chicago, of which no one can really guess what the deal is although rumors of a broken foot have swirled.

Kris Draper has missed time with a groin problem although his replacement in the lineup, Darren Helm, seems to be doing all right for himself and had his definitive game of the playoffs to this point in Game 5 doing a masterful job killing a penalty and scoring the game-winning goal in overtime to vanquish the Blackhawks.

I can't help it, I'm a sucker for the Keyboard Cat.

The reason why I say it's tough for me to gauge just how well Pittsburgh is doing is because the Eastern Conference has been a joke all year and that really showed through in the playoffs.

No, the Penguins aren't a joke - settle down. The Penguins (along with the Bruins) were the two teams I was banking on to find a spot in the Finals. Everyone else? Flawed beyond belief. Flyers, Capitals, Devils, Rangers... flaws everywhere. Boston getting bounced by a hot Carolina team (and they were red hot coming into the playoffs) was about as shocking a result as you could ask for in these playoffs. The Hurricanes having to go through brutally tough defensive teams with a penchant for falling asleep offensively like the Devils and Bruins drained them and the fact that they were able to make their way to the Conference Finals blows my mind. There's no reason why they beat the Devils and it's unreal that they beat the Bruins.

Cam Ward should get a medal of honor for his work having a bum squad of defensemen playing in front of him like Joni Pitkanen, Denis Seidenberg, Anton Babchuk, Niclas Wallin, the mentally fragile Joe Corvo, Tim Gleason, Frank Kaberle.

Really, who the hell are these guys? Whoever they are, they couldn't handle Pittsburgh and Cam Ward only had so many horseshoes up his ass to sustain the 'Canes.

What I do know about Pittsburgh is that they're immensely talented and can score in bunches but are they the dominating buzzsaw we watched in the latter stages of the series with Washington and all throughout the Carolina series?

Can't answer that without making myself into some jerk, so I won't bother.

A lot of folks want to harp on the goaltending for these teams and frankly any fair praise and criticism lobbed at either guy is earned and fair. Many folks are waiting for the "real" Chris Osgood to show up, same goes for Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury got through his potential buzzsaw series with the Capitals and Osgood got through his nightmare with Anaheim.

I'd like to say I'd be shocked if I saw Osgood or Fleury get lit up in the Finals... But I can't in good faith say that. If either or both goaltenders fell off the wagon in this series I would be confident in saying, "Yeah, you could see that coming."

Them's the breaks but anyone looking to cite the regular season performance and trying to apply that to how these guys have done in the playoffs so far is an idiot, a jerk or both. Apples and oranges there kids and it makes me wonder what the hell the deal is with Detroit and I can't help but feel we're getting played by Mike Babcock.

The Wings for the better part of the regular season played sloppy, made folks buy into the talk of a Stanley Cup hangover and Osgood was often outplayed by backup Ty Conklin this season. They were defensively sloppy, Osgood looked lost more often than not and the team would seemingly take two out of three periods off in a game only to turn it on to show that they can still do it.

The playoffs start and Detroit has to deal with a Columbus team that gave them fits all year long and then promptly mops the floor with them in four straight.

Wha... What happened?

They draw Anaheim and predictably struggle with a team that rolls rough and tumble with the best of them and Detroit even manages to get through some suspect rulings and find their way into the Conference Finals against the new up and comers of the NHL and the feel-good story for the Original Sixers in Chicago and manages to get through them seemingly easily in five games.

What's at play here? I think Babcock and the Red Wings have been giving everyone the Milton Berle treatment. Yes, that's right, I'm going to give credit to Bill Simmons here. What's the Milton Berle treatment? From Simmons:

In case you didn't know, Berle was famous in Hollywood circles for being more endowed than anyone else. Basically, he was the Dirk Diggler of Hollywood. (Note: There's a hysterical anecdote in the SNL book "Live From New York" about this. Highest of high comedy.) Anyway, the famous story about Berle (maybe an urban legend, maybe not) was that somebody challenged him to a "who's bigger?" contest once, and Berle soundly defeated the guy, then bragged to someone else in the room, "I only pulled out enough to win."

I don't 100% believe that's what the Red Wings have been doing all season, but the final two games with Chicago showed me something that Mike Babcock has been in his own way trying to keep a lid on and that is how sickeningly deep and talented this team is. The regular season for all NHL teams is an unending grind filled with unlimitless potholes and boredom. The playoffs is what it's all about and for teams like Detroit where they're playing 82 games just to get to the real show... Well, why open the bag of tricks right from the get-go so everyone knows how to prepare for your team?

Just ask the Sharks about how that worked out for them.

Add in the new mysteries here in the playoffs with Lidstrom's injury (which I'm not buying for a second) and Datsyuk's injury (which I do sort-of believe to be mostly true) and the whole thing stinks to me of Babcock only breaking out just enough to win.

After all, when your team dismantles the opponent 6-1 in a game where Lidstrom is out, why suit him up again and risk injury when everyone had everything sealed up nicely without him? Why not rest him up for what could be a short turnaround to Game 1 of the Finals if you win Game 5. Worked out well this time I'd say.

Kris Draper goes down with the same groin injury he had previously and Darren Helm and his fresh legs and speed to burn get to jump in the lineup without controversy? Sounds pretty ideal to me.

Same thing with the talk of Osgood being "dehydrated" during that 6-1 flogging and not playing the third. I don't buy into that for a second, but Mike Babcock will feed that to all the beat reporters and they'll all report it as fact meanwhile he's back in the office laughing at them knowing full-well that he wasn't going to leave his main man in a game where the other team is skating around like a bunch of angry kids and you don't know what they'll do next. Why risk a needlessly stupid injury at the hands of guys that could give a crap about your players in that kind of hornets nest - just sit him out for the third period and get him ready 20 minutes sooner for Game 5.

Will they need all hands on deck to make sure Pittsburgh doesn't run wild like Macho Man Savage on Detroit? Absolutely, although I don't think Babcock is terrified of the Penguins the way many folks seem to think they will be.

I'm just wondering if my Milton Berle supposition here is going to play its way out and say, perhaps, Pavel Datsyuk has a "good enough" morning skate on Saturday and he's a go for Game 1. I think Babcock is playing everyone here and look out if he is, because if he whips it out all the way... It's going to be a freak show out there.

If he's not doing that and Pittsburgh is exactly what they've looked like the last few weeks this is going to be a series for the ages and the official start of a cross-conference rivalry for all of us to sit back and enjoy for the years to come.

Just remember, if the Penguins win and writers from across the Internet start proclaiming their ability to predict the Gretzky Prophecy just remember that it was right here where the comparisons began in earnest a year ago and that Andrew Divoff and Christopher Walken are going to kick their asses for fulfilling the prophecy.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Cost of Words

Colin Campbell's Wheel of Justice was called in to weigh the cost of words against NHL Officials in regard to Joel Quenneville's loony outburst after Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals.

The Wheel spit out a $10,000 fine for these words:

“I think we witnessed probably the worst call in the history of sports there,” Quenneville said after the game. “Nothing play. “They scored, it’s 3-0. They ruined a good hockey game and absolutely destroyed what was going on the ice. … Never seen anything like it.”


Let's go back down the notable checklist of punishments from the Wheel of Justice.

It all makes complete sense.

Stupid NHL.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Keeping It Real - The Day After

It's funny, I figured that by citing the Chappelle Show in my last entry about how Brian Campbell was maybe the last guy to step up and start swearing vengeance was going to go over poorly, but Ike th didn't think it would actually play out lie skits do on the show.

So how did Brian Campbell and the Chicago Blackhawks enact their revenge on Niklas Kronwall and the wildly short-handed Detroit Red Wings (who were missing Pavel Datsyuk, Nicklas Lidstrom and Kris Draper in Game 4)?


First there's this. You'll see Brian Campbell in this video pinched in too far on the power play (he's behind the Detroit net!) leaving Cam Barker by himself as the Red Wings break shorthanded the other way two-on-one.

Then there's this one where Campbell is used as a screen by Johan Franzen who proceeds to shoot the puck BETWEEN HIS LEGS and over the shoulder of Cristobal Huet.

And then there's Valtteri Filppula who scores off a rebound untouched after Marian Hossa uncorks one from the left wing side.

Who jumped out on Filppula after he gained the zone in the first place?

You guessed it... Frank Stallone.

Er, Brian Campbell.

What makes this all the more amusing is that the third goal, a power play goal for Filppula (one of three power play goals the Red Wings would score in a 6-1 rout of the Blackhawks) is that apparently Joel Quenneville had some issues with how the Red Wings got that power play in the first place.

That's right folks, the worst call in the history of sports. I can't rip into Quenneville as well as his own fans can, so leave it to the folks at Second City Hockey to step in and do the job for me:

Joel Quenneville - You were brought in to keep your cool and provide a guiding hand for a young team. Your players saw you lose your composure, and promptly followed suit. That outburst was unacceptable.

Unacceptable, immature, and about a thousand other adjectives you could throw in there. As for me, let me just offer up one suggestion for Joel Quenneville:

Wire Brushes: Guaranteed to get the sand out of your vadge or your money back!

Use that in your nether regions to get the sand out of the most delicate of crevices. Perhaps you could get away with whining like that in just about any other series.

Not this one though, not after what happened with Niklas Kronwall in Game 3. This is frustrated petulance at its ugliest out of Coach Quenneville. It also allows me to quote myself:

Hyperbole is a dangerous verbal weapon because it often renders the user stupid.

As for Martin Havlat, he played in this game.

Ballsy? You bet.

Gutsy? Absolutely!

Stupid? You bet your sweet ass it was and here's why:

You won't get a closer view of that, but that was Havlat getting taken out by Brad Stuart. He left the ice and did not return to the game after that. What Havlat is doing out there in the first place will remain a mystery as Coach Quenneville already made it a point to cover his tracks and proclaim that all was well.

You can lie to us all you want, coaches do it all the time, but you can't lie to us about this one because this is what Marty Havlat looked like in Game 3:

The guy from The Karate Kid was heard yelling, "Get him a body bag! YEAH!"

You cannot tell me he had it all together enough to be even thought of as remotely ready to play. Jesus, looking at this picture hurts my head and I've never had a concussion. James Mirtle at From The Rink has a great entry just on this angle and whether or not Havlat should have played.

James hits it home on this closing thought:

He's fine. He's ready. He's all right.

Perhaps. But he didn't look all right, at least to my eyes. I wish the question was asked if Havlat had suffered a concussion and what treatment, exactly, he's had in the interim. It's not impossible that he recovered just fine from having his bell rung a few days earlier, but why then does he have to leave the game after taking a routine check early in the game?

Isn't that cause for concern? Perhaps especially so for a player with Havlat's extensive injury history?

You bet your ass it's a cause for concern and the question of whether or not Havlat BS'ed his way into the lineup or the Blackhawks trainers and Quenneville would willfully ignore Havlat's condition is something that I hope the beat writers will try to find out more about.

As for this series, for all of Brian Campbell's talk of the Red Wings being a "gutless" team, the 'Hawks have a lot of soul-searching to do after putting in a putrid performance like that in a game that was set up for them on a platter to take. Two of the best players in the NHL, nevermind just on the Red Wings, the entire league were in the press box for this game as well as one of the top defensive forwards and Chicago comes out with that performance?

Brutal. Simply brutal and a truly gutless performance out of this team that was too caught up in seeking redemption for a guy who ended up wrongly suiting up for the game. I'll let the guys at Hockee Night wrap this one up for how Chicago "performed" in this crucial Game 4:

Christobal Huet. What a sieve. He probably wound up with sunburn fro the red light. He gave up a lot of goals, and none of them were particularly tough. He was absolutely brutal.

VERSTEEG! When you're down 4, you don't skate out of the box and get chippy in open ice. That's dumbshit hockey, and that isn't what makes a good team a top team. Oh yeah, calling out guys when you're down 5? Nice set of balls you grew there, kid.

The Hawks' passing. They've gotten this far by opening up the ice with stretch passing, but the Wings have just run a passing clinic, everything has been tape-to-tape. At times the Wings looked like they were doing some Harlem Globetrotters stuff out on the ice, moving the puck at will.

Things are not looking up for Chicago and this is setting up for a blowout of even more embarrassing fashion for the Blackhawks because if you can't nut up and strap it on for a game where the other team is ridiculously shorthanded from the get-go... Then what game can you get up for?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

When Keeping It Real Goes Wrong

By now you've already seen the Niklas Kronwall hit on Martin Havlat from Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals.

Far be it from me to prevent you from viewing it all over again.

The last time I saw a look on a guys face like that was a couple years ago...

Oddly enough, that's the last time Brian Campbell ever checked a player. Even stranger still, that hit looks pretty similar to the one Kronwall delivered to Havlat.

I bring this up because in the press conferences today, Brian Campbell had something to say about Niklas Kronwall and his bodycheck:

"I thought [Kronwall] jumped," Campbell said. "Marty didn't have the puck, I thought his forearm came up high. I thought it was gutless all around. [Kronwall's] done it hundreds of times in the league and it seems like nothing ever happens. He could as easily came in and used his shoulder and hit him with his side and it would have been fine. Instead he comes up and explodes with his fists and his forearms and jumps. I just don't understand it. It's unacceptable and it's not like it's the first time it's happened with that guy."

Hundreds of times? Yikes. Hyperbole is a dangerous verbal weapon because it often renders the user stupid.

As for what the Blackhawks plan to do about it, Campbell added this juicy tid-bit.

"These guys gotta pay for it, guys that are taking shots to the head. It's unacceptable, and it's not like it's the first time it's happened with that guy."

All right, I get it.

A guy lays a clean hit, and this one certainly was, yet people are going to blow it up into something worse. It just follows suit with everything else that's gone on this year and allows Mike Milbury to hang on to the one thing he's ever been right about.

Oh sure, some folks are arguing that it's interference, others are arguing that it's charging - some folks even whipped out the rule book thinking that it helps solidify their case that's turned into an Abraham Zapruder-inspired Internet brouhaha.

Problem now is that Brian Campbell, of all people, has laid down the gauntlet and said that Kronwall is going to pay. This threat would sound more imposing if it came from just about anyone else on the Blackhawks roster. Adam Burish, Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager... Pick one.

Brian Campbell though? What's he going to do to Kronwall, sweat all over him?

This is when keeping it real goes wrong.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Charles Wang Wants To Flex His Nuts

Everyone's pretty well consumed with what's going on with the Coyotes but there's another team to get on the radar, a team whose owner has already warned the locals about his plans to get out of town (well, he'd take a look around at least) should they not work with him to improve their facilities.

Get your relocation radars prematurely locked in on the New York Islanders.

We know that Charles Wang is a loose cannon and that his trust in people is sometimes bizarre and greatly unwarranted, take a look at Rick DiPietro's contract and Mike Milbury's tenure on the Island for examples.

Give Wang credit where credit is due, however. He's been battling the Town of Hempstead and more pointedly the town supervisor Kate Murray. Two of the NHL Blogosphere's biggest Charles Wang backers are B.D. Gallof at Islanders Independent and Chris Botta at Islanders Point Blank.

Strange things are afoot at the Lighthouse.

Chris Botta offers the perspective of a guy who has worked for the Islanders as a PR man for Charles Wang's operation. Botta's name came up in the news today after it was announced the Islanders were mysteriously letting go of Corey Witt, the PR man that replaced Botta. As is mentioned over at Islanders Independent, it's curious that Wang's operation would do this as both Botta and Witt are perfect PR people for the organization since they're local homegrown guys that genuinely love the Islanders.

The thought presented at II is that strange things are afoot in Long Island and none of them mean good things if you like the team where it's currently located.
Sue me for jumping to conclusions, but this organizational change is just another indication of why I am just about convinced that the Isles will not be in NY (much less LI) very much longer. I won't list my "indicators" here, but I have been pointing them out on Logan's blog for about 3 months now. (No anticipated free agent signings, failure to secure or even make an honest attempt at Mr. Hobey Baker, etc etc) Greg describes Corey Witt as a lifelong, born and raised, love LI til he dies, Islander supporter. Not much different than what Chris Botta brought to the Wang Organization. Botta is gone...and now so is Witt.....Another "home grown, ties to the community, press and media relations" guy. Someone that Wang WOULD NOT want involved in certain details about the long term plans of the organization......if those plans were dark.

Now that's the kind of tinfoil hat talk I like. No, seriously, I dig it a lot.

Aside from drumming up more of your own bad public relations, what's the point of letting go of people with strong local ties to the Islanders and have been life-long fans? You know, the kind of person you're ideally looking for to fill that position.

Strap it on, we're going deep.

OK so Charles Wang made sure to say that if the Town of Hempstead doesn't get something done to allow him to build his impressive and paid-for-with-his-own-money Lighthouse Project that he would begin to look for other options on where to go and whether or not he should sell the team.

And this, to me, shows that in this era when sports teams are busy yelling at locales to build them a new arena to sell luxury boxes in and getting the cities to pay for them it's stunning to me that Charles Wang, a guy people don't realize is solely responsible for the Islanders remaining on Long Island, is willing to plunk down his own money to build this sprawling and, honestly, incredible project in Hempstead.

Yet the town wants nothing to do with Wang's money or development seemingly citing the lack of support the Islanders get as their reasoning for not allowing an eccentric millionaire to build what he feels the team needs to survive and help draw crowds to see the Islanders once again.


This is where I question Kate Murray and her seeming vendetta against the Islanders because what are people coming to Hempstead, New York for in the first place? If you were to believe Hempstead's website for tourism, the Islanders are one of the main attractions.

Well then what the fuck gives?

Charles Wang isn't a totally crazy guy and he can tell when he's not wanted and with the Town of Hempstead continues to dick around with him, as is detailed at Islanders Point Blank:

And so it goes with the Town of Hempstead and the Lighthouse Project, the development of Tom Suozzi’s HUB that Nassau County has tried for decades to get off the ground. So it goes for the revitalization of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, as set forth by a Request For Proposals by Nassau County and approved by a 16-2 margain.

Wang, who is said to be completely satisfied by the stewardship of the proposal by Suozzi and the County, has set a October 3 deadline for Town approvals for obvious reasons. The Islanders lease expires in 2015. A “transformed” Coliseum would take four off-seasons to complete. The math is simple. Wang has to decide if he’s finally done losing at least $20 million a year with no development deal in sight.

So, there's a method to all the madness here for Charles Wang - who'dve thunk it? So much for being an eccentric millionaire if you're not going to just haphazardly make deadlines and want to spend loads of money on something a town doesn't even want to bother with.

So what if there's nothing in place by Wang's October deadline to get things started?

Just like Islander Independent said: Start lining up ownership prospects and new locations.

Sure, if Balsillie's attempt to land the Coyotes fails (and there's virtually no doubt in my mind that it will) he'll make a move on the Islanders and for that, all I ask is a seat in the board room at that meeting between Balsillie and Wang.

Imagine that pow-wow. Amazing.

Outside of that, perhaps Bruce Ratner gives Charles Wang a call since the roadblocks in his development of his Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn appear to be falling and construction may begin soon. Why not add another tenant to join the Nets in what would be a huge piece to revitalize Brooklyn?

Then again, maybe Wang will be thoroughly tired of dealing with being unappreciated and asinine politics in New York and just look for the first readily available green pasture that wants to have a hockey team.

I don't know, maybe that pre-season audition they'll get against the Los Angeles Kings in Kansas City is a nice way for the folks at AEG to shmooze it up with Wang to show him everything the Sprint Center can offer the Islanders.

I know this was all theorized before when the game was scheduled (as is proven by that TSN link) but with Hempstead's seeming disdain for anything and everything Charles Wang tries to do perhaps he's left with no recourse but to aggressively start looking for a new place to call home.

It's easy to be critical of Charles Wang, he brings it upon himself quite easily by playing outside the norm and operating his team like a maniac but in his dealings with Hempstead in trying to revitalize the Nassau County Coliseum and develop the area around it and turning it into a place people will want to go to...

Well, perhaps Charles Wang is just the alchemist the Islanders need.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Jerry Moyes to Gary Bettman: Up Yours

Yesterday was a huge day as far as the Phoenix Coyotes saga goes as the NHL and Jerry Moyes headed to court to hash out this whole bankruptcy issue. When they got there, however, the big dust up was over who, exactly was in control of the team to decide it's future.

And you thought this would be easy, didn't you?

Apparently since that entire issue is still a sticky mess, like I was talking about a little bit here the other day, Judge Redfield Baum said, "Screw you guys you're going to mediation." Well not quite like that, but he did say that's how this thing will get squared away.

In the aftermath of that decision as well as the choice by Judge Baum to have a relocation hearing in June just a week ahead of the draft has turned this already ample PR game into a sideshow of Bearded Lady proportions.

The good news out of this for fans in Phoenix is that their team probably isn't going anywhere next season. The bad news is that their maybe/maybe not owner Jerry Moyes is busy scorching the earth to make it impossible for anyone with the money needed to make hockey in the desert work to make the investment.

"Even a winning team would not stop us from losing money unless we received some concessions," Moyes said in his letter.

He made no apology for trying to abandon the Phoenix market by selling the team to Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie, whose $212.5 million (all figures U.S.) offer is conditional upon moving the franchise to Hamilton.

"I have a responsibility to all of the creditors of this business," said Moyes. "No one other than Canadian businessman Jim Balsillie's company has offered enough to pay the creditors, which led to my initiating a court-supervised sale process. This process will be open and transparent, and all offers current and future must be fairly examined; guaranteeing an equitable offer."

In other words, Moyes had this to say to Gary Bettman for butting in on his attempt to backdoor Jim Balsillie into owning and moving the franchise:

Dear Anyone Trying To Keep Hockey In Glendale: Up yours!

Unfortunately for Jerry Moyes and NHL fans in southern Ontario, the NHL and Gary Bettman are always able to unearth someone who wants to keep the show around locally. In this case, word has come out that Coyotes minority owner John Breslow wants to right the ship in Glendale and keep the team there.

Well if that ain't a spike strip on the highway for the trucking magnate.

Of course, since Breslow is a bit late to the party and given how well him stepping up to save the franchise in Arizona would work out for Bettman, you'll have to forgive me if I worry about his full-fledged financial credentials.

After all, the last guy that stepped up this big to keep a team in a struggling market seemed to have some issues of his own.

I certainly don't think that Breslow is a crook here, but this is the bed Herr Bettman has made for us by putting his faith in people who are scumbags, scam artists and all around pricks.

That's not even taking into account Len Barrie and Oren Koules in Tampa Bay who have made it their mission to ruin Tampa, Florida as the shining example of how the NHL can work in a non-traditional hockey market.

I know that sounds goofy and all, but the attendance figures speak for themselves in the case of the Lightning.

2009: Lightning were 22nd in average attendance (out of 30) filling up at an 85.6% rate and over 16,497 per game.

In previous seasons?

2008: 8th (18,692 per game)
2007: 3rd (19,876 per game) filling at 100.6%
2006: 2nd (20,509 per game)
2005: No Season - Thanks Gary

Forgive me if I don't completely buy into John Breslow being the knight in shining armor for the Coyotes because Gary's track record in being able to pick a winner is less-than stellar.

Even better still is that Jerry Reinsdorf was the guy Bettman was pushing as the guy who would get the sweetheart deal even though his plan was to fire Gretzky and move the team to Las Vegas in two years.

That makes me wonder if Bettman refers to Reinsdorf as "Boots" just out of habit. You know, since Boots Del Biaggio's whole plan with the Predators was to supposedly move them to Kansas City yet Bettman was completely unaware of all this.

What a joke.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Bettman's Cloak and Dagger in the Desert

It's quite amazing what this hurricane of scheisse that is the Phoenix Coyotes and Jim Balsillie Dance has done for the appearance of Gary Bettman the commissioner.

To the folks in Canada, he solidifies his position as the most hated man in the country by continuing to apparently deny Canada their seventh professional hockey team. Never mind that 15 years ago Canada used to have eight, that's beside the point here. Canada wants to bring a seventh team back "home" and Jim Balsillie is their cult leader at the helm.

Don't get me wrong here, I'm not against Canada getting another team or two - I want it to happen and I want it to happen badly. My issue is with Jim Balsillie going about things the absolute wrong way to make it happen. That's all. I think Jim Balsillie would be the most fun owner to join the "club" in a long, long time and would help draw more attention to the league and for good reasons.

I maintained a couple of weeks ago when this story broke that there was something really wrong with how things broke down with the situation in Phoenix and while onwer Jerry Moyes being desperate to get out of owning an NHL team that's bleeding money is part of that and Jim Balsillie looking to grossly overpay for a team and move them back to his home is key here, there are other parts to this story that aren't getting the airtime or notice and guess who that all falls on?

That's right: Herr Bettman.

Who am I not going to take issue with here are the folks in Phoenix who are the tried and true fans of this team and are caught in the middle of this mess like kids in a divorce settlement. There's only one way the kids really win out here and that's if their parents can reconcile and get a solution worked out and that doesn't appear to be on the horizon.

After all, when you're a fan in this situation you're completely helpless and you have to hope that a solution that works well for you can be had. Let's face it, this is an ugly and dire situation in Phoenix and a team that loses this much money isn't marketable to other owners in it's current location and a solution to make money has to be found to be able to pawn it off to some other sucker, I mean owner.

What sucks about this situation for the fans in Phoenix is that their hero is also the guy looking to save his own skin and why he's operating a sick sort of cloak and dagger operation.

80s movie reference so deep Dennis Miller is at a loss for words.

Leave it to Gary Bettman to play the part of the parent who bad-mouths the other parent to the kids to show how much he loves them while saying things to his attorney (PDF), in this case Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, that contradict those sentiments completely.

It would figure that Bettman would manage to find a way to drag fans that had their team run away from them as part of the Great Southern NHL Manifest Destiny and get them all excited all over again all in a means to save his own skin while chapping the ass of the guy that's looking to fork over nearly $100 million dollars more than what's being asked of others for a team that's been losing $30-$40 million a year.

It would also make sense that Bettman would make sure to keep it a big secret that the NHL has been in control of the Coyotes since November 2008 while it sniffed around to find other potential owners of the club.

Meanwhile, in this story from AZCentral.com dated April 29th, the Coyotes denied that the NHL was in control and that everything else was just fine. Well who in the world would ask them to stay hush-hush about this because it might hurt the prospect of finding new buyers for the team?

Oh, right.

Look at this quote, it's amazing considering that it would just be days later the truth would be revealed.

Coyotes President Doug Moss refuted that report late Wednesday night, saying the league has not assumed control of the Coyotes.

"We are not reporting to the league," he said. "We report to (owner) Jerry Moyes. I'm dealing with things in my area, the business side, and Donnie (General Manager Don Maloney) is dealing with the hockey side.

"It's business as usual. He's preparing for the draft. I'm preparing for next year on marketing and sales."

This is stunning that a team could just spin the tires in the mud like this. This portrays the Coyotes management acting like the Wizard of Oz after they've looked behind the curtain.

This means that since November, since the second month of the season, the NHL has been pulling the strings of the Coyotes, a team that wasn't fully out of the playoff hunt until there was about a month left to go in the season, you know, around the trade deadline when Phoenix started lopping off valuable baubles like Olli Jokinen and Derek Morris.

The catch here is that Coyotes GM Don Maloney isn't a sham of a general manager and was able to get a nice return or else everyone's red flags would be waving all over the place, especially after how well Olli Jokinen and Derek Morris worked out for the Flames and Rangers respectively. It still doesn't sit well with me that a team that was still within a distant shot of the final playoff spot decided to pack it in rather than empty both barrels and go for the playoffs.

It's all water under the bridge now and Phoenix will help load the youth coffers in the draft yet again, something that a smart and wealthy person will recognize with the Coyotes. Something that one disturbingly wealthy Canadian has already recognized and is willing to throw money at anything possible to bring his team home.

If I'm on the board of governors and I've got some wild-eyed Canadian crazy man who is busy sponsoring just about everything that he can on the United States network that covers the NHL (that being NBC) and even starting up websites like Make It Seven to serve as the PR mouth of his operation... Isn't that the kind of attention-getting guy you want to have on your side rather than working against you?

Instead, the NHL chooses to look at Balsillie as an enemy combatant looking to horn in on their Good Time Fun Club any way that he can. Balsillie thinks that money can buy his way in and the owners tell him to get lost, meanwhile Bettman operates behind the scenes to try and play the role as Savior of the Coyotes meanwhile coming up with a contingency plan that finds a way to stick it to Balsillie and still find no one interested in buying the team to even move them to Winnipeg or Kansas City or anywhere else.

Well, maybe Jerry Bruckheimer can be convinced to bring them to Las Vegas for that other AEG tie-in, but that's just an even goofier side-plot.

Is this really how things operate in the big grown-up world of professional sports? Amazing.

What's hilarious here is how the public relations game played itself out from the get-go. Balsillie rides in to save the day for Jerry Moyes and his failing and bankrupt empire and Balsillie is set to ride off to Canada.

Meanwhile Bettman and gang step in to say that's not going to happen (and legally that's absolutely correct) and rather than be completely upfront about the situation in Phoenix all along, the league says all is well and that everyone will stay the same. And yet, all along, Bettman is searching around for someone to swoop in for the save (namely Jerry Reinsdorf) and keep the team in Phoenix so he doesn't suffer an epic PR hit for taking a team out of Canada and moving them to the desert where they ultimately failed and then had to tuck tail, literally, to move back to Canada.

Got all that? I'm sure there's a run-on sentence in there somewhere.

Unreal. No one is being truthful, at least no one was before all of this shit was thrown into the fan, and now that attention has been turned to the entire fiasco the scramble is on to save face and make sure no one is turned off to the NHL... at least in Phoenix.

Canada? Yeah, well, they're the ace in the hole Gary can count on. Canadians love hockey no matter what and they're not going to give up on the game. He can suffer the PR hits in Canada all he wants because he knows that Canadian fans aren't going anywhere and that they'll stick to the NHL for life. For fans in Winnipeg, Manitoba or Hamilton, Ontario they're going to be watching the Maple Leafs or Flames or Oilers every Saturday night on CBC and all season long on TSN whether there's a team in their backyard or not.

The Canadian NHL Fan is the closest thing Bettman has to a sure thing in his operation, they are his easy money. Getting more money out of Canadians by putting another franchise there doesn't excite him, especially if it means a team playing in an arena that doesn't pass the sniff test (like Copps Coliseum in Hamilton) or one that doesn't hold as many folks as they'd ideally like to see (MTS Centre in Winnipeg).

What can't Bettman afford to do? He can't afford to do what David Stern did so egregiously with the Seattle Super Sonics and just pick up stakes and move to an out-of-the-way place like Oklahoma City all while giving Seattle the finger and lecturing them about how to cave into the NBAs demands.

After all, we're not talking about the Coyotes demanding a new arena they've got that in Glendale with Jobing.com Arena. We're talking about a team that is bleeding money in a market that, media-wise, didn't give a damn about the Coyotes until they were about to run out of town and leave a hulking monument to failure in their backyard.

Bettman and the NHL can't afford (literally and figuratively) to have an empty year-round Jobing.com Arena stand as their legacy and run out of town screaming leaving one of the United States largest cities franchise-free with any and all of the fans they had left behind pissed off and hating the NHL forever. This isn't the kind of situation that happened when the Cardinals of the NFL left St. Louis for Arizona only to have the Rams move from Los Angeles to St. Louis later on.

If the NHL leaves Phoenix, this is what they'll be doing: Not just burning the bridge down, but blowing it up.

There may be a lot of fans in Phoenix and surrounding cities that love hockey, but they will never trust nor care about the NHL ever again should they leave town and every bridge out of town would be exploded and set ablaze to never come back to again. Phoenix would be Gary Bettman's failed experiment in expanding the NHL to new and unthinkable locations.

This is what is at stake here for the NHL and the fans in Phoenix, Scottsdale and Glendale are all caught in the middle. Bettman's e-mail to Bill Daly expressing his thoughts of going back to Winnipeg are a sign of fear.

After all, if things cannot be sustained or saved in Phoenix you might as well bring the team back home before exploring something new and different in Canada and deal with the legal wrangling that would have to take place with the Maple Leafs and Sabres not to mention potentially screwing Jim Balsillie out of his wishes to join the ownership club.

If Bettman were to take the Coyotes back to Winnipeg, he's viewed as a hero and a humbled one for righting a wrong and bringing a team back to Canada and back to a place that once had a much beloved franchise. If things are saved in Phoenix, then it's all status quo and the financial eye just locks in on the Coyotes even more for the time being and the new owners that come in get to play the part of saviors all at Gary's urging.

The only thing that will stay constant in all this is that Jim Balsillie will not be the knight in shining armor for southern Ontario because that's the side in all this that everyone wants no part in...

Unless your name is Jerry Moyes and there's $215 million at stake in the matter for you.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Something Rotten In The State of Arizona

Tell me where we've heard this one before.

Team in a non-traditional hockey market is in financial trouble.

A whimsical super-rich maven from southern Ontario wants to grossly and disturbingly overpay for the team and move them to his home, back in Gary's Hate Zone in Ontario, Canada.

Not sure where you read about this before?

It was right freakin' here.

It's like Jim Balsillie wants to keep me busy writing because after going after the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Nashville Predators and now he's hot after the Phoenix Coyotes.

Why the Coyotes? Because their owner Jerry Moyes has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

"Extensive efforts have been undertaken to sell the team, or attract additional investors, who would keep the team in Glendale," said Coyotes' Chief Executive Officer and Managing Member Jerry Moyes.

"Creating a process under the supervision of a judge assures that anyone wishing to purchase the team will have the opportunity to bid. Likewise, the City of Glendale, which has been very cooperative with efforts to keep the team in Glendale, will be able to provide potential buyers assurances of the City's willingness to offer incentives to keep the team as a tenant in the Jobing.com arena, th
e lease for which is subject to rejection in bankruptcy," Moyes stated.

"The process assures that the identities of the new owner and the team's location will be known by June 30, 2009, thus enabling the NHL to include the team in its 2009-10 schedule."

Cutting things awfully close, aren't we Jerry?

Then there's the... Let's call it "timeliness" of Balsillie's offer to buy the Coyotes.

This evening myself, as well as other NHL bloggers, received an e-mail from the Managing Director of causeacommotion.com, letting us in about the efforts to help get the word out about Mr. Balsillie's bid to buy the Coyotes and their urge to get folks to get connected at their website Make It Seven, a nod for the push to get a seventh NHL team to come to Canada.

From the official press release put out by the Make It Seven:

Jim Balsillie tabled an offer today to purchase the PhoenixCoyotes, following the team's bankruptcy filing. The offer to purchase the team for $212.5 million (U.S.) is conditional on relocation to Southern Ontario, to become the seventh NHL franchise in Canada.

"The current team ownership asked that I table an offer to purchase the Coyotes and significant discussions resulted in an offer that is in the best interests of the franchise, the NHL, and the great hockey fans of Canada and Southern Ontario," Mr. Balsillie said.

"I am excited to move closer to bringing an NHL franchise to what I believe is one of the best un-served hockey markets in the world, Southern Ontario. A market with devoted hockey fans, a rich hockey history, a growing and diversified economy and a population of more than 7 million people," he said.

At the request of the Coyotes franchise owner, Mr. Balsillie has also agreed to post
debtor-in-possession (DIP) financing of $17 million (U.S.). Debtor in possession
financing is bridge financing provided when a company is in an insolvency proceeding which allows the company to continue to operate through the proceeding in advance of a restructuring or sale.

Prior to a final decision being reached on the proposed sale, he called for Canadian fans who want to see a seventh NHL franchise in Canada to make their voices heard.

Obviously, that's a nice hand-picked piece of PR cotton candy fluff and you can't expect me to eat it up.

So I'm not going to.

Balsillie's Blackberry Moving Company: I wonder if he's got a hook up with Swift Trucking?

There's something amiss here about how all of this just happened to blow up on the same night. It's probably not out of the realm of possibilities that Moyes and Balsillie have been working on a plan together that is mutually beneficial, something hinted upon here by James Mirtle.

It gets Moyes out of being an NHL owner with an obscene lease agreement with the city of Glendale, Arizona that agreed to build him a new arena and back fully into his trucking company, Swift Transportation.

It then gives Balsillie the open door to play the White Knight and save a financially addled team and bring them back to his home in Canada.

Sounds great, doesn't it? I know I sure thought so when Balsillie was doing this dance with the Predators before. The difference between then and now is that back then, it really seemed like he was doing the right thing.

This situation with Jerry Moyes and the Coyotes stinks to high hell and it's so obvious that there's something wrong here that even the NHL has declared shenanigans. From NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly:

We have just become aware of today's Bankruptcy Court filing purportedly made on behalf of the Phoenix Coyotes. We are investigating the circumstances surrounding the petition, including the propriety of its filing. We have removed Jerry Moyes from all positions of authority to act for or on behalf of the Club. The League will appear and proceed before the Bankruptcy Court in the best interests of all of the Club's constituencies, including its fans in Arizona and the League's 29 other Member Clubs.

You see that? Balsillie and Moyes served the NHL, the NHL served right back - now it's officially on.

The response to all this from blindsided Coyotes fans is not pleasant. There are too many posts to link over at Five For Howling, but I urge you to give it a look and a bookmark to keep tabs on this situation because over the next few weeks there's going to be a lot happening with this.

You would think that after going through this song and dance with the NHL and the Board of Governors twice already that Balsillie would have a better plan of attack and would actually, you know, really try to sweeten up to these old farts and curmudgeons and make them want to take his millions of dollars.

Instead (let me flex my geek muscles here) he's playing the part of Admiral Ozzel in The Empire Strikes Back thinking that surprising the Board of Governors was the best way to go about getting his way.

Now's the part where I get to bust out with a Darth Vader comeback for Jim Balsillie, and it's tough for me to say this considering the guy is the inventor of the friggin' BlackBerry but: You're as clumsy as you are stupid.

Since the NHL has basically seized control of the Coyotes until the bankruptcy hearing on Thursday and depending on the outcome of that what we've got brewing here is a situation that makes folks recall the plight of the Montréal Expos in Major League Baseball.

Think about it. Shifty ownership making a brash move to get what they want, the league shuffles pieces around to make it work all the while taking control of a team while they search for a new owner.

Remember how that turned out? Yeah... not so well for Montréal.

So what is the end game here? Obviously for Balsillie it's to obtain the Coyotes and get them moved to Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. It always has been and it always will be his motive and he's obviously got the money to burn to pull it off... Just so long as he plays nice enough with the NHL to make it work - something he seems to either not know how to do or not want to do.

I always was quick to side with Balsillie and bought the whole push before about just wanting to do right by the game of hockey and bring a team back "home" to Canada. Now that he's teamed up with a shyster like Jerry Moyes to try and fast track a deal to get himself a team and run screaming away from a situation that while dire and God-freaking-awful with that wretched lease agreement

For Moyes it's to get out of owning the Coyotes and away from losing multiple millions of dollars in Glendale, Arizona under a lease agreement that won't allow him to just pick up and leave on his own. Between Balsillie and Moyes, Moyes comes across like the truest villain of the bunch as he's more than ready to just walk away from everything. Considering that the City of Glendale has more often than not helped him out, he doesn't seem to care about the team, the city and certainly not about the fans.

Keep on truckin' asshole.

As for the NHL and Gary Bettman... Saving face. That's always the trick with the league but this time they've been put in a bad place by Moyes and Balsillie alike and after seeing how things transpired this evening, the NHL has a pretty strong case on their hands to stuff it in Moyes' face hard that he's the guy that screwed this up. The catch there is that it still leaves the NHL on the hook with the team and figuring out what to do with the Coyotes and their overbearing lease agreement.

If the NHL and the City of Glendale can get a renegotiated lease agreement figured out, there's no reason why finding a more reasonable buyer for the team can't be found thus giving Moyes what he wants but still boning over Jim Balsillie.

Then again, perhaps Balsillie should've thought better about teaming up with Jerry Moyes to try and pull a fast one on everyone. I dig Balsillie, I dig his passion and I dig his love of hockey. I also like that he's a crazy bastard and would really be a great owner to have around to mess with Bettman.

What I can't believe is that a guy who is this good of a businessman with BlackBerry would be this obviously reckless in dealing with the NHL. It blows my mind that this guy could be this dumb about business and go for what amounts to be a hostile takeover of the Coyotes.

He has to know that if things are that out of hand with the ownership that the league would just step in and take over. He couldn't possibly think this was a coin flip deal where either the team goes bankrupt and folds or he steps in and plays the hero.

What Jim Balsillie apparently hasn't realized is that the professional sports world, especially the NHL, doesn't operate by the same rules and use the same handbook that the real world does and this is a lesson he's continuing to learn the very hard way. The highest bid doesn't always win in the NHL and hostile takeovers just don't happen.

The NHL operates in Bizarro World. Plain and simple and going by the executive world playbook is not going to get it done, especially when everyone else in the board room seems to hate your guts.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Don't Make Me Hate You, Sid

I'll come out and say it and I don't give a crap what it makes you think of me or my opinions.

Sidney Crosby is a gift to us all.

I know what you're thinking now...


Right, sure, whatever.

Like it or not, Sidney Crosby is awesome and the NHL is a million times better off having him, his talent and his presence around than without it.

Is he over-exposed? Maybe to NHL fans, but not to the world that's for damn sure.

Is he a great player? Fuckin' A right he is.

He's phenomenal and his talent is a once-in-a-generation kind of talent and we're blessed as NHL fans to have three other players in the NHL that are on that same kind of unearthly level of talent (Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Lidstrom).

Are NHL fans pissed that three of those four players are playing in the same series in the second round? Maybe the jerk-off fans that are self-loathers are - but me? I'm tickled. Gary Bettman is tickled too, no doubt, because he gets to see the two prizes he cares about most finally have their "Bird vs. Magic" series.

Never mind that it's taking place in the second round, that's irrelevant. What matters is that it's happening and, as of right now, it's absolutely electric.

Just like most things in the NHL, sometimes things happen that help amp up the story. Sometimes when superstars collide, the best is brought out of them. Case in point, Game 2 of this series. Hat tricks from both of the superstars (their first hat tricks in the playoffs) including this stirring series of bombs from Alex Ovechkin:

As it goes, as it has always gone, when you're the home team and your home guy nets a hat trick, the hats come out on to the ice. It's a tradition that's been around since the dawn of time (give or take an epoch) and it's awesome. Flat out, it's awesome.

Unless you're on the visiting team.

Enter the man in the white uniform and the black hat, Sidney Crosby.

From the DC Sports Bog:

"People kept throwing hats," Sidney Crosby said tonight. "I was just asking if he could make an announcement to ask them to stop. I mean, the first wave came and then I think they were all pretty much picked up, and then more started coming. So for us, we just wanted to make sure we kept kind of moving and kept the game going, wanted to try to get back in it. So wasn't complaining about anything."

Ah, jeez.

Listen, I get that he's being the captain of the team. That's good, that's fine, that's the admirable thing to do. He's also being brutally honest with the press when asked about this.

As a person who has done plenty of sports interviews and gotten nothing but Athlete-speak from them, to get a freaking gold mine of a quote like this is awesome because then jerks like me cite your website, give you more hits and all that fun.

No, they ain't sippin' on some sizzurp - that's straight Haterade.

When your name is Sidney Crosby though... Stuff like this gets a lot more run. Like it or not, Sid's got the reputation for being a whiner. As a fan of hockey, it sucks more than life itself to see that one of the most marketable guys in the league, the like-it-or-not face of the NHL is labeled a big pansy bitch.

That sucks a lot and it drives me nuts to see Sid continue to do things that feed into this image. I want him to be Captain Cool, I want to see him make people that hate him shut up by delivering every damn time. I want him to be The Terminator and crusher of souls. As an NHL fan I want the biggest name and the league's icon to be the man.

Simple as that.

In a series that features the two guys that are fighting to be the A #1 icon of the game, some folks might point to this game as the one that separates them for good. They both deliver hat tricks in stunning performances. Ovechkin with his bomb shots and Crosby doing the down and dirty work in front of the net putting home rebounds.

Had the Penguins won this game, Sid would rightfully be getting the praise for throwing a change up at the Capitals and doing things differently. Sure, maybe that quote gets some more run, but at least that can get spun off to make him more of an honest-to-badass villain. Like, say...

"Hey ref, tell these chumps to stop throwing hats - this game is fucking over with because I said so."

Cutthroat? You better believe it. Cocky? As hell. Bad-ass? Hell fucking yes it is.

Instead, reality deals us a Capitals win with Ovechkin waving his junk at everyone because he's that damn good. In his case, being a Russian helps add to his allure. The interviews are tougher to do with regular schmoe reporters because his English skills are mostly limited to Athlete-Speak.

The one time he did let loose was in an interview with Maxim Magazine and he was instantly villified for what came out there.

Thanks for nothing mainstream media. Dicks.

So now what's the fallout from this for Crosby? He unfortunately solidifies a reputation that's already been made bad enough to handle by a well-paid PR firm.

After all, when you're playing a rough game like hockey where there's a delicate balance between being a cocky braggart and cutthroat competitor, being a crying wuss wins you no favor and makes the job of sticking up for your boy even harder.

At least if I was Sid, I'd be happy to have the guys at The Official PensBlog on my side, I'd hate to see how they'd handle having that kind of ammo to use against him. For that alone, I'd hope to never leave Pittsburgh without a Stanley Cup or two if I were him.

What kills me about all this is that I enjoy how Sid plays the game and he makes it so incredibly difficult to love Sidney Crosby the player. Whether it's the opinion of the other players that he's a whiner or the consistent cries from fans all over the NHL that he's a diver on top of all of that... It's incredibly hard to embrace him as the MAN when there's a guy doing all of those things that you admire playing against him. It creates an instant divide amongst fans.

You're either a Sid fan or an Alex fan.

Simple as that.

When you're put on the spot after a tough game, a tough loss particularly, and you're getting a thousand different questions about the game and someone mentions the other guy, the other big gun outshining you for a night and you're frustrated that you couldn't do more than your own three goals and your answer is to just blurt out that you wanted the officials to make an announcement about the hats being thrown on the ice for the other guy's hat trick...

The best way for Sid to answer all of this is to flip the script and do it right back and let the fans at The Igloo shower the ice in hats. Then to do it again the next game and not relent.

Sid's shown us he can wear the Black Hat and be the villain by driving hockey fans nuts with these things like whining and diving, now it's time to fully embrace the darkside. Be comfortable with being thoroughly hated in places like Philly and Washington and New York.

Score that game-winner in overtime some night and then proclaim afterwards that you knew you'd get it all along. Sid is referred to as "Bing" over at PensBlog, but I'd rather seem him break out something a little more like another cocksure legend:

Is it wrong to want all of our new hockey heroes to be bad-asses? I don't think so.

Snap out of it already Sid.

Do it.