Archive for November, 2011

Lightning Sign Hedman

Just heard that Victor Hedman signed a 5 year contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning.  I thought this was good news for TB until I saw the price tag…$20,000,000.00!  That’s right, $4 million/year.  For a guy who has been mediocre coming out of his entry-level deal I don’t see how Yzerman justifies this.  Where is Hedan’s leverage to get these kind of numbers? 

Hedman was drafted 2nd overall behind John Tavares and ahead of Matt Duchene.  Both have been spectacular in their early NHL careers.  Hedman has done little and is known best for his hit on Crosby that sidelined the world’s greatest player for 11 months. 

I have no doubt that Hedman will grow into this contract and be a $4 million player by the time it expires, but he won’t get there for a few years.  Not sure why TB didn’t work to sign him to a 2 year, $2 million/year contract and jump to the big contract then.  As Phoenix just showed with Kyle Turris, who held out for 2 months demanding a trade until he signed a 2 year/$3 million and change contract, the player has no leverage and all the incentive to sign at this stage in their career.  Steve Yzerman has received a lot of praise for the job he has done and justifiably so, but here he has over paid for no reason.

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The Highs and Lows of Brian Burke

A few years ago I was talking to my dad about leadership.  He asked me who I currently looked up to as a leader.  The Anaheim Ducks had just won a Stanley Cup and Brian Burke was a co-arctitect of that champion team.  He made some great moves and added great experience to a young and budding group of stars.  Even though Brian Murray built the core of the team, Brian Burke added the finishing touches.  I bought into his self praise and sanctimonious attitude and told my dad that Burke was my guy.  It wasn’t until he got into his feud with Kevin Lowe that I began to realize how much he loved the sound of his own voice and really, how self important he came across. 

I slowly turned from a Burke fan into a Burke pessimist.  So when he got to Toronto and traded 2 first round draft picks and a second for Phil Kessel, I was ecstatic.  What an incredible blunder!  No-one outside of Toronto was disillusioned in thinking they were a playoff team let alone a contender.  Not only did he make a move that would do little to help his team now, he also took away all  Leafs fans’ hope.  Those draft picks were the only things they had to mitigate the failure of their team and they had just been given away for an awkward,  defensive liabitily who yes could score goals, but also had the unfortunate distinction of having the same haircut as Ralph Wiggum.  Burke seemed to drink a little too much of his own kool-aide and had thought he had brought about a quick fix to a very old problem.  He hadn’t.  He had only exacerbated the problem.  Set himself and the Leafs 2 years back.  So for 3 years, his team sucked and sucked really badly.  The were among the worst in the NHL year after year. 

But last year, as the trade deadline approached, Burke did something very unBurke like.  He dumped a bunch of bad contracts and underperforming players for draft picks and solid young prospects.  He traded Beauchemin for Gardner and Lupul, two solid contributors to the Leafs current lineup (how much would the Ducks love to have those 2 guys back right now).  He traded Tomas Kaberle for Joel Colbrne and a 1st round draft pick (probably a pity trade from Boston as they felt guilty for the Kessel trade).  And then traded Brett Lebda for Matt Lombardi and Cody Franson.  These three trades are absolute steals and are the reason the Leafs have been able to turn the corner this year.  These moves had given the Leafs incredible depth and hope for the future as well. 

These trades were a change in course for Burke, perhaps an admission that he had made mistakes and was willing to rectify those mistakes, that he was willing to start over.  I have a great deal of respect for that.  I’ve been a huge critic of Burkes over the past few years but I am happy to give him credit when credit is due.

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WTF Is Wrong With John Tortorella?

A couple weeks back John Tortorella addressed the media by saying he would not discuss the game, a game where his team played poorly and lost.  Reporters were dumbfounded as Torts walked back to the lockerroom.  What is wrong with this guy?  Does he not know that being a coach in the NHL requires him to speak to the media?  It is how he and his team is accountable to the fans who sustain the league.  What shocks me the most is that the media puts up with it.  They laugh it off like it’s some inside joke.  How amusing.  Yeah sure, seeing a grown professional act like a pouting 5 year old is amusing.  It’s also embarrassing and unacceptable.  If I was apart of the NHL or Rangers brass I’d be pissed.  His attitude on this and many nights, that he is above talking to the media, that he can brush them off, is absurd.  In fact the NHL should fine him and any other coach who behaves as he does when he decides to get terse or dismissive with the media.  He’s in a bad mood?  Too bad, he needs to do his job.  His team lost?  Too bad, do your job!  Addressing the media is a part of this job.  It’s time for him to stop acting like a child and man up, take his shots, and do his job.  I’m sick of his BS.

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Jets — A Success Story (for now)

Winnipeg has an NHL team.  Old news.  They’ve played on par with how Atlanta played for most of its existence, along the line of mediocrity.  Nobody expected them to be any better than they have been this year and the fans are so excited to have a team they’ll accept this mediocrity for now.  But can the Jets do what few small markets have been able to do: Become successful while operating on a limited budget. 

The Nashville Predators have found this balance through solid drafting and sound coaching.  They’ve also been fortunate to have very good goaltending, from Vokoun through to Renne.  The Jets have average goaltending, they have good young prospects, but like most small market teams, by the time these prospects become true dominating forces in the league, they will be free agents and the small market Jets will have to overpay to keep them.  I know, ironic.  Winnipeg is not a desired location, so they have to make it a desired location.  They have to look at Detriot as a model to follow, as Detroit is not a desirable city, but is now a desireable hockey location due to a well run corporation where success if expected. 

Winnipeg has drafted well, in spite of the fact they picked Mark Schiefle instead of Sean Coutourier, but is this record of  strong drafting due to good scouting or due to drafting in a strong position?  You can look at some of their later draft picks, from the second round and on, and see a lack of success.  From that I draw the conclusion that they’ve drafted well due to their draft position and not due to their scouting staff.  This will have to change.  It’s great to see Winnipeg with a team again, but they’re going to have to establish a true number 1 goaltender and draft better in the later rounds if they’re to see real succes on the ice.

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Manic Depressive Leafs Radio

I recently moved to Toronto (Burlington) from Vancouver.  As I prepared for the move I thought about my hockey allegiance.  I’m a Canuck fan.  Always have been.  But Canuck games start late in Toronto (usually 10:00 pm) and so I knew it would be hard to follow the Canucks as intently in TO as I did in Vancouver.  So which Eastern team was I going to become a fan of as a local alternative? It wasn’t going to be the Leafs, that’s for sure.  No self-respecting Canucks fan could.  That’d be like a Catholic going to the synagogue on Saturday for service. 

So I decided I’d follow the Sabres.  They’re a good organization close to my new home, have a solid team, great uniforms, and ownership committed to winning.  I thought it would be a good fit.  But there was one problem I didn’t foresee, there is no Buffalo Sabres coverage in Southern Ontario.  Not on the radio, not on the TV, sure there was the internet, but I can follow any team on the internet.  I don’t have internet radio in my car.  I don’t have internet video on my TV.  So I was stuck listening to Leafs radio, watching Leafs TV, reading the Leafs paper following Leafs analysis, on the road, at home, it would be Leafs talk.  Then something started to happen.  No, I didn’t start to become a Leafs fan, that’s just not ever going to happen, but I was drawn to the daily happenings of the Leafs. I became fascinated with Leafs nation, with the manic-depressive behaviour of Leafs fans. 

The Leafs got off to a great start.  Fans were cautiously optimistic, a term they used every time someone talked about where they were in the standings.  But also, every time they lost, there was talk of the wheels falling off, another term that was used too loosely.  Everything was dependant on the night before.  A win and the team was a contender, a loss and the team was a joke.  Then in late October they managed to win enough games to get to first in the NHL.  Cautious optimism was lost.  They were first! In the league!  The Leafs!  That’s right!  Leafs radio was going crazy.  They brought Leafs alumni onto the radio for interviews to talk about the last time the Leafs were in first place, you know, the good old days.  Backup goalie Ben Scrivens just had a great game, and he was their 3rd string goalie.  Everyone talked about the team’s loaded depth.  How Ron Wilson deserved to get a contract extension.  Why hadn’t he been offered an extension?  Then that Saturday night the Leafs got blown out by Boston (again).  Then they lost to Florida.   The goaltending was terrible.  The defence was suspect.  There was talk of benching newly signed young star Luke Schenn.  They needed better depth in goal.  They needed to trade a defencemen to balance the depth.  The needed more veteran leadership.  Ron Wilson needed to be fired.  Why wasn’t Ron Wilson fired?  The wheels were officially falling off.  This was two games after being first overall in the league.  I must admit it is very similar in Vancouver, the passion, the analytical dissection, the nervous appreciation of success.  It is the fortune of having a committed fan base that cares what happens every night. 

Last year I went to a Canucks game in Anaheim and the post game show had no post game discussion at all.  It had an hour-long interview with a player’s wife discussing a charity she was involved with and how her kids loved playing ice hockey.  They never once discussed the game.  They obviously haven’t figured out how to market the game properly down there.  They haven’t figured out the power of constant coverage.  So as a Canucks fan, I will continue to follow the Leafs, not as a fan but as a person who finds the soap opera reactive fan base fascinating and dispassionately appreciates their exteme highs and lows.

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What To Do With Lu

Roberto Luongo sits on the bench again as Cory Scheider performs brilliantly between the pipes for the Vancouver Canucks against the Columbus Blue Jackets.  Schneider makes a big save and the camera cuts to Lu.  It’s an awkward shot but one Canucks fans are drawn to due to the dynamics of Luongo’s 12 year contract and Schneider’s incredible play.  It’s a shot that we’ve seen a lot recently and will see again and again until Lu gets a chance to get back between the pipes.  There has been a lot of talk of trading Lu, trading Schneider, in an effort to end this inner turmoil that has the city abuzz.  It’s a story that is hard not to be fascinated in. 

The real issue here isn’t Luongo sitting on the bench.  The real issue is Luongo’s reaction to being benched.  In the past the team has walked on eggshells around Luongo.  They’ve let him call his own shots.  He’d start when he wanted to start eventually pushing himself to where he was burnt out and unable to perform to his absolute best.  In the NHL, there is no where for a goalie to hide when he’s not at this best and he will be exposed.  This is what has happened to Lu over the past few years as he’s flamed out spectacularly in the playoffs.  Canucks’ fan are fed up with it.  But this year the team seems to be willing to manage him instead of letting him manage himself.  They’ve let the better goalie play.  But can Luongo’s ego live with this?  He’s been quoted saying it’s not about him, it’s about the team.  This is what the Canucks and their fans want to hear, but is it the truth?  If so, than there is no controversy, there is no issue.  You simply have 2 high-caliber players playing as teammates.  But if Luongo is saying this without sincerity, than you have a major problem, a problem that management has to deal with by moving Lou and his contract, if possible.  

Whose fault is it that he has been mismanaged in the playoffs for the past few years? Is it Luongo’s fault or is it Alain Vigneault’s fault?  AV has a tricky job here because he has to have insight into Luongo’s ego and if that ego can handle the disappointment of being benched, even if it is for his own benefit.  It’s AV’s job to sell this scenario to his Lu.  If Lu doesn’t respond, than that 12 year contract is a major problem.  But so far, up until now AV has been scared to put Lu in this scenario, to keep him on the bench.  AV has to give the Lu the chance to live with this scenario to see how he responds.  If he can’t deal with it, trade him.  If he can, you know you’ve got a player that you can work with, that you can move in and out of the lineup hopefully allowing him to remain fresh and focused. 

Eventually the Canucks are going to have to move one of these goalies.  It’s simple asset management.  But the Canucks need to see how Luongo responds here before that happens.

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The Columbus Conundrum

The Columbus Blue Jackets have been terrible this year. Hell, they’re terrible every year. Due to this poor product, the fan support has wavered, attendance is low, dollars are being lost to the black hole of bad business. The unfortunate part of this is that Columbus should be a good U.S. hockey market. But can the potential of a good hockey market out wait the absence of profit long enough for the team to turn things around and become a regular contender? This is what is needed for hockey to succeed in almost any market that isn’t Canadian.   

Back in the 80s, the Vancouver Canucks had this same issue. The Canucks had the worst record of any professional sports team in North America and it showed in the stands. The Pacific Coliseum was half empty on a regular basis. Then the Canucks drafted Trevor Linden, the team stole Pavel Bure in the draft, and what once was a losing tradition turned into a team that could compete. Fans started to show up. It became a profitable business. The Canucks are now one of the most successful teams on the NHL on and off the ice. Can Columbus find this identity? The NHL has developed a revenue sharing system where it helps mitigate the financial losses of teams suffering economically but as we saw in Atlanta and continue to see in Phoenix, these losses have to stop somewhere. The Blue Jackets’ management thought this would be the year that things began to change, that this was the year the team would start to win. Unfortunately key injures, Jeff Cater  and Kristian Huselius among others, terrible goaltending, and an 8 game suspension to key free agent acquisition James Wishnewski compromised that change, that shift towards success. The Blue Jackets have a decent core. I would have liked to see them keep their #8 draft pick and select Sean Coutourier, he would have made a great 1-2 punch with Ryan Johanssen in a few years, but in reality, the Blue Jackets don’t have the luxury to wait a few years. They needed a healthy and productive Jeff Carter now. They need to start winning now.

With the team now relatively healthy, with Curtis Sanford providing solid goaltending, the team is starting to compete. Hopefully they can keep it up. Hopefully they scrap those awful swirling star jerseys and stick to the “Canon” jerseys, one of the better jerseys in the NHL. Hopefully someone in the organization will figure out that the term is Blue Coats and not Blue Jackets and change the team’s name to reflect this. Hopefully they’ll find success and the fans in Columbus will be rewarded for their patients the same way Canucks’ fans were.

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