Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Kyle Dubas and the Toronto Leaf-Hounds

Everyone develops algorithms and heuristics for decision-making, whether they are conscious of the fact or not. Kyle Dubas, GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs has a very simple approach when it comes to signing or trading for a player: if said player previously played for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League, preferably when Dubas was part of the organization, the player rises to new heights of desirability. He must become a member of the Leafs at all costs regardless of recent play and injury history.

Dubas's love affair with former Soo players was vaguely endearing to Leafs fans over the past few seasons. But now his obsession has risen to the level of neurosis. Sure, Dubas has had some success with signing players from the OHL organization where he got his uber-privileged start as a stickboy on the same team his grandpappy used to coach. 

As the walls close in and the Leafs playoff-round winless streak with Dubas as GM stands at 4 seasons (18 in total), Dubas now seems to rely on nothing else but the Soo connection when adding players to the roster. How else can you explain his decision to take Matt Murray in a cap-dump trade from the Ottawa Senators? With only 25% of salary retained and some late-round picks from Ottawa thrown in (and the Leafs still owing the Sens future considerations), Dubas has effectively made Murray the Leafs' starting goaltender next season at a salary a shade less than what Jack Campbell was seeking.

Toronto Leaf-Hounds

But Campbell wants more term, the invincibly gullible Dubas acolytes say. That's no rational argument about a Leafs team stripped of first-round picks over multiple seasons by Dubas as he continually tries to band-aid over his blunders. Besides, Dubas will be long gone by the time Campbell's next contract, now likely with the Oilers, reaches its twilight stage. 

Over the past few seasons, Campbell has undoubtedly been a better and healthier goaltender than Murray. Murray's save percentage was lower than Campbell's during that stretch, he's started far fewer games and has been absolutely hammered by injuries. When Murray has been bad with the Sens, he's been waived-and-no-other-team-gave-him-a-second-look bad.

Does Campbell have issues as well? Of course. He hasn't been immune to injuries. And his borderline weepiness after tough losses and self-admitted mental weakness aren't selling points. But he's played lights-out during stretches and at a level that should at least give the Leafs a chance to advance beyond the first round of the playoffs. But the core of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and John 'Legs-Turning-to-Cement-in-Real-Time' Tavares have hardly shown their worth in the playoffs when it counts the most. 

The irony is, Campbell is also a former Soo Greyhound, traded for by Dubas when he was GM of  that team and made the starter over, you guessed it, Matt Murray. And that in a nutshell is Dubas's fatal flaw, the basis of his Soo obsession: he's a sentimentalist. For all the talk of advanced stats and whiz-kid analytics, Dubas is no more forward thinking than other NHL GMs born two or three decades (or sometimes four) before him.

The Toronto sports-journalism herd had always had its share of braying mules in Dubas's corner. Dubas is forever respectful of  those around him (though it's been said that Dubas throws some classic tantrums behind closed doors), especially the hacks, who can turn nasty when the time is right. So it's not surprising that some are giving him a free pass on the latest head-scratcher. The argument in this article is basically, 'well, what else is he supposed to do?' Which nicely avoids the fact that Dubas's over-payment to his top four playoff under-performers has handcuffed the team for the duration of their contracts.

Dubas is in bunker mode now, oblivious to the waves of criticism and ridicule crashing down around him. He and his Soo alumni (Head Coach Sheldon Keefe, Head of Goalie Development (?) Jon Elkin, among others) have their narrative and they're sticking with it. Dubas recently made a slew of hires that only an organization like the Leafs could justify: assistants to assistants to assistants. All well qualified, accomplished people who will go on to have long careers in the hockey world and can return the favour long after Dubas's tenure with the Leafs ends.

Could the wild, flailing, low probability Matt Murray trade work out for the Leafs?  Of course it could. But betting on sentiment alone is a risky move for a GM whose time remaining with the Leafs is now measured in months instead of years.

Monday, November 8, 2021

All or Nothing Toronto Maple Leafs: An Embarrassment of Riches

When the most intriguing scene of the teaser for All or Nothing: Toronto Maple Leafs doesn't appear in the actual series, you know you're in for a monumental disappointment.

Leafs All or Nothing
At least All or Nothing didn't disappoint in the disappointment category. That scene you might have noticed in the promotional lead-up to the release of the Amazon series? The scene where Kyle Dubas says his patience is wearing thin? Nowhere to be seen in any of the five episodes. 

The makers of All or Nothing were granted behind-the-scenes access to the Toronto Maple Leafs for the entire 2021/21 NHL season and the playoffs. Hundreds of hours of footage, they said. And this is what they came up with?

For the most part, we get maudlin set-pieces featuring a half dozen or so players. And many viewers may go for that kind of thing. Interviews with the families of Auston Matthews and Jason Spezza. Nick Foligno saying goodbye to his family as he departs for Toronto after being traded to the Leafs. Zach Bogosian with a nice story about his grandmother. And a couple other similar bits involving players and coaches.

What about the everyday goings-on at the rink? Some players clearly like the camera more than others. Joe Thornton seems at ease and rather likable though he veers into buffoon territory a few times. Matthews makes numerous bland, post-game comments. Others, including Morgan Rielly, are rarely seen or heard.

Sheldon Keefe, head coach of the Leafs, is probably on camera more than any other single member of the organization. At practice, in meetings, talking with Kyle Dubas, Leafs GM, and behind the bench during games, Keefe is generally heard yelling and cursing. Other interviews with Keefe were obviously spliced in after the season to make him seem more prescient and less of a loud-mouth.

And the oft-criticized Mitch Marner? He seems to shrink in behind-the-scenes footage. He's oddly silent in locker-room intermissions. Or perhaps he and his entourage demanded his utterances be sliced out of the final cut. Judging by his cringe-worthy commercials, it was probably a good idea.

Speaking of endorsements, Marner sure likes wearing hats featuring a sponsor's name and logo. Throughout the series, does he show up outside of the rink more often in Leafs gear or sponsors gear? Not sure. Maybe worth another look.

Marner Height Weight
And here's one for the conspiracy theorists. In a few scenes in Kyle Dubas's office, we see shots of magnets with all players names and info on a whiteboard. But only Marner's magnet is absent height and weight information. Why might that be? Probably nothing more than a simple oversight. Or perhaps his stats changed recently and hadn't been updated (though certainly he's finished growing height-wise).

But that won't stop people from speculating. Marner has developed a reputation as being obsessed with managing his image. And his entourage has a reputation for meddling. So a demand to keep his official height and weight secret wouldn't be surprising.  

The narration is on par with everything else in the series. The narrator, Will Arnett, has a good voice. But the script is lacking. Using 'we' 'our' and 'us' just doesn't work. Sure, plenty of fans have the habit of speaking of their team in that way. But here, it comes off as contrived. Be sympathetic and biased in the team's favour? Sure. But with some separation and a more impersonal tone, the tension could have been increased, the suspense ratcheted up, the official party line challenged to some degree. But here you get a sycophant for a narrator. It's overwrought attempts at inspiration, simplistic observations, an occasional cringe-worthy try at humour and a few instances in which he inserts himself into the narrative with personal anecdotes.

Even game footage in the show disappoints and often fails to capture the essence of what transpired. Remember Game 6 against Montreal? And that disastrous sequence that included William Nylander's goalie interference penalty, Keefe’s ill-advised challenge on the Habs resulting power-play goal and then Marner's puck over glass penalty to put the Leafs down two men? Never appears in the game action. Not even a mention.

To be fair, aside from the games, there is some drama. After a regular season loss, Auston Matthews says in a post-game interview that the Leafs played "too safe." This sparks a discussion between Keefe and Dubas. Later, Keefe addresses the comments in an off-ice meeting with the team. If that off-hand comment resulted in real concern and urgency, then you know the best stuff never made the final cut.

A handful of players—Jimmy Vesey, Frederik Andersen and Ilya Mikheyev—receive some criticism in face-to-face discussions with Keefe and are the subject of some conversations when they're not around. Andersen and Vesey were no longer with the team when the series was released, and Mikheyev is not part of the team's core. That's basically all you need to know about whose egos have to be managed with the greatest care and who can be called out in public.

I can't really blame the players and the team for the content of the series. They want to protect their reputations. So they no doubt demanded the right to have final say on what scenes were left on the cutting-room floor. That’s too bad. Because with a subtle hand, the results could have been iconic and memorable.

People being interviewed tend to respond with clichés. Professional athletes even more so. And so you push back. Ask the same question. Re-phrase it and ask again. Seize on hesitation, doubt, the merest hint of an original thought. Gain the trust of the interviewee and slowly you draw something worthwhile out of him.

Most documentary film-makers will tell you they start out with an idea and begin filming. But reality inevitably takes things in a different direction. And so they go with it. But this documentary has the feel of setting out to, above all, soothe egos and avoid embarrassment. No unscripted insight from the stars of the team. Nothing that might make them seem more human. No indications of fears, worries or doubts. Mostly stock answers given in press conferences after games or carefully worded Hallmark card sentiments in the fluff pieces.

Surely there were some compelling storylines that emerged. Some tensions that came to the surface. Anyone who thinks otherwise is delusional. When rich young athletes get together, one thing is certain. Arrogance, entitlement, jealousy, resentment and self-doubt are in abundance.

Game 7 Loss to Montréal
Ultimately, the mediocre final result falls on the film makers. Sure, they may have been limited by what the organization was willing to share. But they were also too desperate not to offend or sorely lacking in creative instincts, or both. Nothing authentic emerges here. A better title would have been An Embarrassment of Riches, for the overpaid star players who consistently under-perform when it matters the most and the film-makers, who had a glorious opportunity to make something memorable but failed. 

The final clichéd scene shows Matthews and Marner alone in the dressing room after the Game 7 loss to Montréal, towels over heads. They either knew what was expected of them or it was completely staged. Either way, together with the closing voice-over—one last cringey attempt at earnest, moving commentary that falls flat—it perfectly sums up the series. Just not in the way the film-makers hoped it would, 

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Montreal Canadiens: Shameful and Destructive 2021 Draft Pick

The first-round selection of Logan Mailloux by the Montreal Canadiens in the 2021 NHL draft is so shameless, short-sighted and harmful to the organization, that you have to wonder if something is seriously wrong with Canadiens’ general manager Marc Bergevin

Is he on the verge of a nervous breakdown? Is he harbouring deep resentments about a real or perceived slight from the NHL, other GMS, or even someone within the Canadiens’ organization? Has he become immersed in a bizarre corner of the online world like so many other people these days? A warped alternate reality of grievances and rage that have roid-charged his world-view and led to an irrational thought process? Is he consciously or otherwise trying to self-destruct?

Whatever the reasons, he has done severe damage to his and the team’s reputation, alienated many fans, and likely increased the suffering of a young woman in Sweden. He will undoubtedly reap real consequences for this ill-advised selection. And scrutiny on his past and future actions will surely increase. 

Why did  Bergevin and the Canadiens slither out from under a rock to make such an unwise choice?


First, some background. On loan to Swedish hockey club SK Lejon last season, Mailloux committed  a sex-related crime. He took a non-consensual photo while engaged in an intimate act with an 18 year-old woman, then distributed the photo online, without her consent, in a group chat with team-mates. He also attached one of her social media profiles to the photo in the chat, revealing her personal details. The woman learned of the incident and contacted the police. Mailloux, seventeen at the time, admitted his crime, was found guilty, received a summary conviction and was fined. The unnamed victim has stated she does not feel Mailloux is remorseful. 

But some of the facts still seem a bit murky. For example, the status of the posted photo is unknown. Any of the individuals in the group chat could have disseminated the photo more widely or saved it to distribute at a later date. Regardless, the psychological effects will be immense and long-lasting for the young female victim. Her reputation has undoubtedly been damaged. 

The news was known by many, or perhaps all, thirty-two NHL teams shortly thereafter. He was interviewed by some of those teams, ignored by others and put on no-draft lists by at least eleven teams. The news didn’t break publicly until a few weeks ago. Mailloux made a public announcement only days before the 2021 NHL draft claiming that he didn’t want to be selected. It was all scripted PR boilerplate, of course. An expedient, self-serving decision no doubt, but the effect of losing a year would have at least been something. Especially considering the long-term effects the crime will have on his victim. 

And then, inexplicably, Marc Bergevin selected Mailloux in the first round, thirty-first overall. Since that moment, it has been a surreal psychodrama starring the po-faced Mailloux and the shameless Bergevin. 

This pick was wrong on so many levels.

The biggest problem is the crime was committed less than a year ago. If you commit a crime like this and suffer no consequences aside from the fine and negative publicity, it sends a very bad message. If you are rewarded so soon after the crime, it sends an even worse message to fans, other young hockey players and anyone who has been victimized in a similar way. But the complete lack of sound judgement didn't end after the selection.  

The actions of the Montreal Canadiens since the controversial pick have been cringe-worthy at best. Shortly after Bergevin announced the pick, an emotionless Mailloux starred in a freakish press conference, during which he read from a head-up-the-ass, cack-handed script, surely prepared by one of the most incompetent PR hacks in history. An intoxicated ape with a Ouija board could have produced something with more empathy. Instead, the focus was on Mailloux and his 'journey.' He didn’t utter the word ‘crime’ once, and repeatedly referred only to a ‘mistake.’ I imagine those close to the victim, and perhaps the woman herself, would like to perform some ‘mistakes’ on a few people’s skulls with blunt objects. 

Mailloux has not faced any real consequences for his crime. And the Montreal Canadiens endorsed that reality when they went against his published wishes not to be selected. When the doppelganger for a young Frankenstein’s monster (but lacking a similar level of emotional development) deflected questions about the Canadiens ignoring his request not to be drafted this year, he removed any doubts about the sincerity of that initial request. Then he was asked if he knew the pick was coming and dodged that question, too, instead offering a weasel-word response. 

The fallout from this decision will be greater than having been pressured to wait a year to be drafted. All it would have taken for that minor inconvenience to become a reality was for all thirty-two teams to honour that request. Now the rightful criticism will ramp up a thousand fold and the scrutiny on the person who did the crime and the people involved in the draft selection will increase. 

Just as important, the Canadiens and specifically Marc Bergevin, have aligned themselves with some invincibly ignorant people. The people supporting the first-round selection don’t have much to say aside from empty clichés. They don’t provide a shred of nuance or even reference the specific details of the crime. The irony is that the loudest, most shamelessly dismissive will do more harm  than good to their young hero. And yet Bergevin and the Canadiens have seemingly embraced this kind of idiocy. They spoke of a ‘plan’ for Mailloux, but when pressed they gave no details. They referred to ‘his journey’ as if all that matters is how Mailloux can turn this into a positive experience for himself. In choosing equivocating, dismissive words, they have elevated this colossal blunder to a whole other level. 

Let’s do away with all this nonsense about character, shall we? All sports teams pay tribute to past victories and legendary players. But everything is about degrees. The Canadiens really play up that angle. As the oldest NHL franchise, they do have a lot to be rightfully proud of. And they are very quick to reference their standards of character and conduct. But for the current iteration of this team, it’s no longer going to mean a whole helluva lot. Stop coasting on the reputation of the past and show that all this self-congratulatory nonsense is more than just words. 

The current owners and management seem to think having legions of loyal Canadiens fans means the team is immune from backlash. But you should never take that kind of loyalty for granted. The pick and accompanying behaviour adds up to a very repellent degree of arrogance. This may have more tangible consequences than Bergevin or any of his flunkies thought possible. And that’s what it’s really all about. When something doesn’t touch you directly, it’s easy to be dismissive. 

If the crime had hit closer to home, the Canadiens would not be so cavalier. A case occurred last year that may serve as a good analogy. A veteran reporter for the New Yorker magazine was caught ‘pleasuring himself’ on a Zoom call with colleagues. Apparently he’d been flashing back and forth to another screen where he was engaged in some kind of seedy interaction with a sex worker. He was promptly fired when the story leaked. His conduct wasn’t even criminal. So why this analogy? After all, he’s over 50 and should know better. Besides, the worlds of sports and journalism are far different.

Here’s the point: if a young NHL prospect did the same thing, he would rightfully be released outright by the team that had drafted him. Why? Because the fallout and shame would be immediate and in close proximity to the team. It’s easy to dismiss the seriousness of the crime committed by Mailloux because it occurred half-way around the world. But most importantly, it didn’t directly affect Bergevin and other Canadiens executives who signed off on the selection. When you don’t have the capacity to feel empathy, you’re a poor choice for GM of such a high profile team.

Look at it from a more self-serving angle: even if you’re a mule unable to empathize and show respect towards the victim and instead announce ‘proudly’ that her victimizer is worthy of joining your team eight months after the crime, how much damage are you going to cause the organization? How about the current roster of the Canadiens? How do players like Carey Price feel? This bizarre move by Bergevin stole the spotlight away from important comments Price made about residential schools just a few days before the draft. 

Everyone now knows about one of the most horrific episodes—which lasted longer than a century—in Canadian history: residential schools. The devastating treatment, including sexual abuse, suffered by generations of Indigenous children in those schools is made far worse by an unpleasant truth: very few, if any, individual people have ever been held to account for those crimes. Obviously more severe and horrible by many degrees of magnitude than what I’m discussing here. But it’s in the same sick wheelhouse of destruction and avoiding consequences.  

It's hard to fathom that the clowns who made this selection can't comprehend what all the fuss is about. Marc Bergevin has been derided for many years as one of the worst GMs in the NHL. That was before the Canadiens' amazing playoff performance that ended a few weeks ago. But the goodwill the team and Bergevin earned during the run to the Cup Final has been wiped out for many fans. 

Simply declaring that something is not a serious matter does not make it so. An interesting thing about pressure is that it can never be fully resisted. The selection of Logan Mailloux is a destructive move that will haunt Marc Bergevin and the Montreal Canadiens for many years to come.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Seattle Kraken: Own Goal Before First Game Played

Seattle Kraken
Seattle's NHL franchise has announced its new name: the Kraken. It's hard to imagine a worse choice.

First, it has no connection to the region in which the team is based. Sure, that's not always a necessity. Many team names do not have that connection. But the Seattle team is peddling the name as if there is, in fact, a connection. You see, the Kraken is a mythical sea monster and Seattle is near the ocean. Great. But the Kraken of Scandinavian myth dwells in the seas off the coasts of Norway and Greenland. Okay, fine. Most people aren't going to make an issue out of misappropriating a myth.

But there are other issues. The name doesn't roll off the tongue. Not only that, but there are probably three possible pronunciations. Check out the pronunciation sound file on for one pronunciation that I wouldn't have even considered.

The Kraken Wakes
Here's another problem. It's not really clear if this mythical monster is a one-off creature. Is there only one Kraken? Like, say the Loch Ness monster? If, on the other hand, there are many of these octopus-like creatures roaming the fantasy-world seas which they inhabit, why is the team name presented as if it's a single beast? No plural 's' on Kraken. It's almost treated as if it's an uncountable noun.

And that's a personal preference on my part. I've never liked team names that are uncountable nouns (The Wild, The Lightning), or ones that aren't usually uncountable, but treated as if they are (or considered as a single entity), like the Avalanche. The shortened forms, 'the Avs' and the related 'the Bolts' deal with that issue nicely. And those modified forms highlight the fact that people do like team names that are countable nouns.

Finally, it's good to consider the way other teams and other fanbases will mock your name. Krakheads? Krakhouse? Yes, those first-level insults will rain down on the team wherever they play and in online battles between fans. That's also not much of an issue, since often there's kind of a twisted pride taken by fans when their team's name is bastardized.

But the name is still ridiculous. And it's as if the team knows that, but the process somehow took over. It happens. A small group of people get caught up in their own biases and feel the time pressure. They convince themselves that the 'most popular' choice is the best one. No one has the guts to speak out. Yes-men (and women) and sycophants in the organization rule the day and suddenly the horrible choice becomes reality.

I've heard representatives of the team suggest that 'the Kraken' really was the most popular choice among fans. Perhaps it created the most curiosity and stood out the most because it's so odd. But that doesn't mean it's the best choice. Leadership often means disregarding the mob and current trends to make a decision that will stand the test of time.

And a strange thing happens in a lot of focus groups. The people asked to take part have a way of sensing what the preferred choice is of those in charge. Often the choices are presented in a way that reflects a less-than subtle bias. The focus group members feel flattered to have been asked. They don't want to offend. And so they go along with the expected answer.

The Day of the Triffids
The team is so proud of their new name, that the only indication of the mythical creature on the new jersey is a weak-ass tentacle worked into the large S for 'Seattle.'And the anchors? What do those suggest? That the Kraken slaughtered everyone aboard one or more ships and took the anchors as souvenirs? And the pigeon with the red wing? What's that all about? Likely missed by the graphic designers and team management who were so satisfied with what they'd come up with.

They won't change the name now. That would suggest a flawed process and lack of instincts for selecting a name that is evocative and potentially iconic down the road. (or even instantly iconic). Once any decision has been made, validation bias kicks in. As the din of mockery ramps up, the fans (some of them) and management will double down.

Of course, some people do seem to genuinely like the name. But I get the sense that they're putting on a brave face. Like the person who always wears the latest fashions. Even when they wear some ridiculous item that doesn't quite work, they battle against that niggling voice in their heads. You can sense a kind of visceral embarrassment lurking just beneath the surface. But they put on a false smile and blunder ahead because the power of the herd has convinced them this is what someone in their position must do.

Considerations When Choosing a Team Name

Does it offend anyone?
Yes, that must be considered in this day and age, and rightfully so.

Does the name have a connection to the local geography, history or climate?
Not always necessary, but it can help.

Pronunciation, euphony, evocativeness.
Does the name have a standard pronunciation? Does it roll off the tongue? Does it evoke images you want associated with the team?

And how can people speak about the team and players using the name?
Two Bruins and a Red Wing fighting for the puck in the corner. Or two Leafs players collide. But two Krakens?

Are there any false friends, secondary meanings, or ways the team name can be bastardized?
A 'false friend' in linguistics is a word that exists in two or more languages, but which may have a different meaning in one or more of those languages. In a world where teams are trying to appeal beyond the geographical location in which they are based, this is no small thing. And the ways the name 'Kraken' can be bastardized are numerous, as mentioned.

Is the potential name already being used by another sports team?
This doesn't always have to eliminate a possible choice. It depends how close the team is, geographically, to the team selecting the new name. RoughRiders?

What kind of imagery is associated with the name?
This is a huge consideration as it relates to merchandising and marketing the team.

Possible Names for Seattle's NHL Team

Below are some other potential names I came up with for the new Seattle hockey team. Others may well have suggested some or all of these names earlier.

The Seattle Coastliners
The Liners for short. Cocaine jokes? Bring 'em on.

The Seattle Norwesters

The Seattle Seals
'Seals' has, of course, been used before.

The Seattle Captains
Sure, there's already one team name shortened to 'the Caps', but so what? Who's going to captain the Captains?

The Seattle Timber Wolves

The Seattle Timber Cats
What's a timber cat? Who knows? Create your own mythology. A cat with a chainsaw? Why not?

The Seattle Steamers

The Seattle Reapers
No doubt it's been done before, but not at the national level as far as I know. Sure, it would offend some. But the potential imagery would almost be unlimited. 'It's Reapin' Time!'

The Seattle Serials
Based on the strange number of serial killers who seem to have operated in that region. Okay, no, it wouldn't fly.

Who knows? Maybe the Kraken will sound iconic in a few years. And they could have done worse. They could have chosen a team name from another John Wyndham science-fiction novel. They could have been the Seattle Triffids.

Wait, that would have been better...

Friday, March 2, 2012

Ron Wilson Fired as Head Coach of Toronto Maple Leafs

Maple Leafs logo
With fewer than 20 games to go in the 2011/12 regular season and with the Toronto Maple Leafs shrieking head-first towards earth without a parachute, the likelihood of missing the playoffs for the 7th consecutive year hammering towards them like a semi-trailer truck traveling at 100 miles an hour with the driver dead of a heart attack slumped at the wheel, Brian Burke has finally fired Ron Wilson.

Proof once again that pressure can never fully by resisted, even by the biggest blowhard of a GM in the NHL.

Cringe-worthy Behaviour

Wilson contract extension tweet
Most sane people cringed when Burke, in a  bizarre move, handed Wilson the right to announce his own contract extension. Wilson chose Christmas day 2011 to make his smug  announcement on Twitter. Strange decision by Burke and disrespectful to fans.

But every criticism directed against the Leafs this year has been brushed aside by both Burke and Wilson. They seemed consumed with their hatred of the Toronto hockey media and used this to justify just about everything.

The fans wanted to see Wilson fired? According to Burke, that is because the media has presented Wilson in a negative light. It's got nothing to do with the horrid special teams, the inability to motivate players, or the abysmal slide the Leafs are on that sees them with the worst record in the NHL in the past ten games.

So what finally pushed Burke to pull the trigger on Wilson? Perhaps the realization that his own job may be at risk as his fourth season as Leafs GM draws to a close. With little success to point to and numerous failed signings and questionable moves, the self-preservation impulse likely kicked in.

Or maybe Wilson provided all the justification Burke needed when Wilson dared to offer up a borderline criticism of Burke:

“Everybody is frustrated right now. We did not do anything at the trade deadline and we came out tentative, to say the least, and got behind early.”

This after the Leafs lost 4-2 to the Washington Capitals after the trade deadline had passed without any significant moves by Burke.

In Burke's arrogant, self-serving world, he establishes the goal posts and moves them at will. He offers up deflections, excuses and insults to journalists who aren't appropriately deferential.

When Burke said the negative pressure was now off and insinuated that the Leafs were ready to start winning, the subsequent losses coupled with Wilson's subtle jab were likely enough to provoke Burke to take action.

Wilson has got his 1400th game as an NHL coach and a nice fat contract extension/severance package to ease the pain of being sacked.

But have the Leafs got enough time and the necessary tools to claw their way back into a playoff position?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Arron Asham Knocks Out Jay Beagle: NHL Hockey Fights

And fighting comes one step closer to being eliminated altogether in NHL hockey with another vicious result in a game between the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday, October 13th, 2011.

The fight was between Arron Asham (Pens) and Jay Beagle (Caps).

Brutal knockout of Beagle by Asham.

And what are fans outraged about? The fact that, in the heat of the moment, Asham made some theatrical hand gestures after Beagle was knocked out and lying on the ice.

Which goes to prove that in hockey, as in everything, being humiliated by someone after the fact often causes more outrage than the initial instance of conflict.

Drive your fist into someone's face, knocking him out, possibly shattering  his jaw and likely concussing him? No problem. You see, that is ritualized and has a long and storied tradition in the NHL. Celebrate the total destruction of someone after the fight? Now that really has a way of focusing people's sense of what is right and wrong.

And I am not trying to be ironic here. That's just the way things are. Not least because of the fact that in most NHL fights (as in this one), the two combatants willingly engage in battle. But there is something repellent about mocking your opponent as he lies injured on the ice.

On the other hand, some fans claim that Asham absolved himself of the post-knockout taunts by tapping his stick against the boards in the penalty box when Beagle got up off the ice.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Don Cherry Calls Former Players Pukes and Hypocrites

On the first day of the 2011/12 NHL season, Don Cherry vomited forth a load of bile on his Coach's Corner segment in the first intermission of the game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens on Hockey Night in Canada on CBC.

This time around, he referred to a few former players—Chris Nilan, Stu Grimson, and Jim Thomson—as "pukes" and "hypocrites" for daring to hold a view contrary to his illogical, incoherent opinion on fighting in the NHL.

The castrated wonder Ron MacLean sat there like a well-trained little eunuch and didn't dare to question his meal ticket. And the gutless snivelers at the CBC have once again equivocated and bowed down to Cherry, under the delusion that he is somehow an untouchable who is responsible for the millions who tune into Hockey Night in Canada every Saturday during the hockey season.

Sad that the buffoons in charge of CBC Sports don't realize that with one of the most captive TV audiences left in existence, and with an abundance of entertaining and knowledgeable hockey commentators working in Canada, that they could create a truly memorable and quality show to take the place of the embarrassment that is Cherry's weekly rant.

But aside from the fact that Cherry has successfully pushed things to a place where he can get away with slander and ad hominem attacks without so much as a mewling, symbolic tut tutting from his dutiful little fart-catcher MacLean (at 800, 000 a year for his cringe-worthy weekly performance that is the equivalent of picking up one of Cherry's turds, grinning at it with that simpering, moronic look on his face, gulping it down and then further mugging for the camera, apparently he would do anything to keep his snout up to the trough)...

you do have to question those who think Cherry's attacks are all well and fine, and who perpetuate the BS that he is "just an entertainer" and that his irrational verbal attacks are "his schtick," until such time as...

they are the ones getting shat upon.

Chris Nilan's response to Cherry's blindside on HNIC on Oct.6, 2011 was justified and accurate. Nilan makes some great points and correctly highlights Cherry as ignorant and misinformed. Cherry misrepresented what Nilan said in the past, and yes, Cherry is one of the biggest hypocrites of them all. He constantly shrieks about loyalty and friendship and then shoves the knife into Nilan's back.

But if you don't say anything when a self-serving hypocrite like Cherry is ripping people for years on end, then you can hardly be surprised when he turns his sights on you. For Cherry is a shameless self-promoter who sees various individuals for the benefits they can provide him, whether by classifying them as friends or enemies.

Stand up and condemn this fool for his attacks and the cowards at the CBC for allowing him to continue on, or don't be shocked when it is your turn.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

NHL Player Killed in Fight During Game

NHL Fights RIP
The title of this post is a future headline that will one day appear in newspapers across the country.

As players get stronger, fights in NHL games become more vicious, and the league continues to condone aggravated, bare-knuckle assaults, it's only a matter of time.

When the inevitable happens, NHL owners and the players' union will quickly convene a meeting, and shortly thereafter, fighting in the NHL will cease altogether.

Or at the very least, fighting from that point onward will be dealt with in a serious enough way that teams will stop paying otherwise talentless players to provide entertainment to the blood-lust set under the guise that it somehow benefits the game.

The Official Response

The NHL will be swift in delivering a slyly worded, equivocating bit of nonsense regarding the tragedy. The ultimate goal will be to avoid liability and offer up some clever, nostalgic tripe about the passing into history of condoned fights in which players were allowed to drive their fists into each other's faces with little or no possibility of defending themselves, and with no worry of being penalized in a meaningful way.

The official response from the NHL will be quick for a simple reason: it is already prepared and ready to go for when the inevitable comes to pass. All large organizations prepare for crises, and the death of a player during an on-ice fight is something that the NHL has undoubtedly expected for some time now.

But until a death does occur in the inane and indefensible NHL sideshow known as hockey fights, the baboons in charge will continue deluding themselves into thinking that there is no good reason to take preventative action.

As the Bettman experiment of expanding the league into southern US states starts to collapse, the head clown and his band of little sycophants no doubt believe that pulling the plug on mutually agreed upon aggravated assaults would further galvanize his time in power as one of the strangest and most tin-eared that any professional sports league anywhere has ever experienced.


As the corpses of NHL enforcers past and present continue to pile up in this most depressing of off-seasons, surely it must be dawning on the wackos in charge that there is something inherently warped in allowing the most amateurish, cack-handed aspect of the game to continue on unabated.

However, I'm guessing that the broken enforcer who is hanging by a thread in his personal life is a narrative that is far more familiar in the relatively closed world of the NHL than it is to the general public. Those at the top have known for a long time the all too predictable storyline that follows the enforcer.

"But the fans love it!" the mules shriek. Sure, people everywhere love unhinged displays of violence. If the NFL were to allow players to engage in fights during games in which they swung their helmets wildly at each other's faces, and then paid a senile old fuck a couple of million dollars a year to pander to ignoramuses while talking up the helmet-swinging sessions as being absolutely necessary for the integrity of the game, then it would likely be somewhat popular as well.

And let's be honest about the tragedies of Boogaard, Rypien, and Belak: they're good for business. Death sells. Tortured souls who died well before their time is an emotional narrative that will result in a deluge of "soul-searching" type articles just in time for the new season. And it will make many fans feel that they are part of something big and important that has real and tragic consequences. The bit of tripe vomited forth by Bettman and his boys in response to the deaths is as meaningless as all the other garbage they offer up when the heat is on.

The NHL policy of tacitly allowing on-ice assaults has helped to create these Frankensteins, most of whom likely suffer from brain damage and turn to booze and drugs as a way to escape the physical pain and/or to fulfill their anti-hero, hard-man roles.

No doubt their off-ice woes are also related to the effects of knowing they have to attack and defend night after night. The possibility of being humiliated, injured, or severely damaging another player has got to take its toll. Add into the toxic mix the fact that enforcers often have a tenuous hold on their jobs with NHL teams, and the pressure has got to be at times overwhelming.

Let the Shrieking Commence

And when the expected happens and a player is finally killed in an NHL fight, the shrieking from all sides will reach a fever pitch. Cherry will exploit it for his own gain and his legions of moronic followers will regurgitate his every incoherent utterance as they face the reality that one of their beloved outlets for their sociopathic tendencies is coming to an end.

The entire nation, except for family and friends of the dead player, for those are the only people ever truly affected by a death, will experience a collective exhilaration stoked on by unctuous journalists, politicians and other self-serving pukes.

The most apoplectic of the NHL fight crowd will scream with renewed fury that those who oppose fighting "just don't get it" while being utterly incapable of articulating the rationales that they claim they understand so well. But more than that, the fighting proponents will state outright that anyone who says fighting should be banned in the NHL is somehow less of a man.

For that is at the heart of the visceral passion that so many have for watching other people attack and assault each other: feeling like a hard-man by proxy. Like chicken-hawks who lust for war while those who have experienced its horrors are always more circumspect and cautious, I've always had the suspicion that those who love hockey fights the most have rarely, if ever, been involved (with many exceptions of course) in arranged or spontaneous fights.

Just as watching other people self-destruct is sublime and romantic, seeing other people assault each other and hearing of complete strangers dying is a strangely satisfying tonic for human beings. It reminds us that we are alive and that something horrible has not happened to us yet.

So the spectacle of NHL fights will continue. Bettman and his yes-men have apparently convinced themselves that the end of condoned fights on their watch is not a legacy they want. Presumably, the death of a player during an NHL fight is something they are more comfortable with.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Rick Rypien Dead at Age 27

Sad news: Rick Rypien has passed away at the age of 27.

Rypien had recently signed to play with the Winnipeg Jets for the 2011/12 season.

True North Sports & Entertainment (TNSE), which owns the Winnipeg Jets, has already released a statement. From the Winnipeg Jets website:
True North Sports & Entertainment and the Winnipeg Jets Hockey Club would like to issue the following statement in regards to the passing of Rick Rypien:

“We are deeply saddened to confirm Rick’s passing. As many people are aware, he had strong ties to True North Sports & Entertainment, the Winnipeg Jets Hockey Club, the former Manitoba Moose Hockey Club and the Vancouver Canucks. We would like to express our sincere sympathies to the Rypien family as well as Rick’s friends. We also appreciate all of the support that has come pouring in from Rick’s fans. Rick was a talented player with an extremely bright future. His hunger for the game made him a valued team member both on and off the ice. This loss has impacted us as more than just a hockey team.”

The organization will have no further comment at this time. We kindly ask the privacy of Rick’s family and friends be respected during this difficult period.
People will of course speculate about what happened before there is any official confirmation, and the Wikipedia page for Rypien is already fueling the discussion.

Whatever the reason, it is tragic and sad news. Rest in peace and condolences to his family and friends. 

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Locker Room Cancer: NHL Gossip

Heatley cartoon
In any workplace, a person's performance can be broken down into three general categories: competence, responsibilities, and emotions. This also applies in the hockey world.

Competence: does the player consistently perform his role and put in a strong effort?

Responsibilities: does he come to the rink, airport and team events on time? Does he follow the advice of his coaches and try to improve his skills?

Emotions: the big one. How does he interact with other players, the coaches, and even the fans? Does he speak in a professional and respectful way to the media? Can he keep things in check at crucial times during the game and not take stupid penalties? In short, does he play well in the sandbox?

And just like in most job situations, emotions are often the weak point of hockey players. It can be the main reason that a player is shipped to another team. Or at least the tipping point that exaggerates other shortcomings and makes a trade seem like the only way to deal with the problems.

Teams are unlikely to ever come out directly and state that a player had some kind of personality defect that made him an unwelcome presence in the locker room. They may speak in code and say that the player was "not a good fit," but no one is going to air the team's dirty laundry.

Yet the salacious, gossipy type rumours about internal team conflict turn into some of the most popular stories. These types of stories have gained more popularity recently and will receive even more coverage in the years to come. This is for a number of reasons.

First, the rise of the internet, and the increase in the number of sports networks and the resulting 24-hour coverage of all things hockey. No off-season exists for the media outlets that strive to supply a never-ending stream of content for hockey fans.

Also, a realization exists amongst the people responsible for creating content, that gossipy stories are some of the most popular amongst fans. These are the articles that appeal even to the casual fans. It is easier than ever to determine what content resonates with fans and to subsequently justify writing and "researching" more of the same. Click-throughs are easy to measure and so it is a simple matter to determine what "sells."

Though "serious" fans may deny any interest in such prurient topics, you can bet that many of those same individuals have read all the details about the latest melodrama and have formed an opinion.

Conflict sells and is at the heart of all drama, whether fiction or non-fiction. The best regular season and playoff games are themselves stories, with stars, plots and turning points. An easy-to-understand storyline that everyone can relate to, and one that everyone has played a part in, is that of the co-worker who can't get along with others.

What better way to ratchet up the prurient intrigue than for the story to include a highly paid professional athlete who may be on your favourite team, or, perhaps even better, a team that you loathe?

Finally, gossipy stories full of speculation and rumour require far less expertise and familiarity with the game to produce.

To be sure, there are different degrees of gossip, and the vilest insinuations lacking sources (even unnamed) or evidence of any kind will only show up in online locations where there is little or no accountability. But even more reputable outlets are starting to get in on the action.

Leave it to the online hacks or self-proclaimed gossip columnists to get the ball rolling, then everyone can join in the fun with the qualifier that the coverage itself is now a story, and hell, might as well venture forth a smug tut-tutting with some related commentary tucked in for good measure.

Prima Donnas, Punks and Pissants

Just as there are common stories that have been played out hundreds of times with varying details in popular films and books, so too there are some common themes that turn up time and again in NHL melodramas. One of the most common is the "locker room cancer."

The locker room cancer is a player who is a negative influence on those around him and can infect an entire team with an insidious outlook on life and the game. Also known as locker room poison.

What is a Locker Room Cancer?

What does it take for the locker room cancer tag to gain traction with a player?

They are often very good players. A scrub who is also a nasty piece of work in the locker room just doesn't resonate in the same way.

Obviously, the unpleasant personality and/or behaviour does have to exist to fuel the rumours that eventually surface. The behaviour itself could take many forms. From sullen and disinterested, to abrasive and abusive.

A poor stretch of play from the player in question and or the team on which he plays is often a prerequisite for the unpleasantness to come to the surface. Winning is easy. The real test for anyone is when the losses start piling up.

Usually the player has been traded at least once. This provides plausibility to the claims.

The first whispers often coincide with the trade. While the public pronouncements from the team from which the player was traded are always positive, the stories start to circulate. It's "never say anything bad about anyone, ever" for public consumption.

Even though teams pay lip service to that sentiment, too many people are involved with a team for the truth not to come out. The stories have to come from somewhere. For the most part, journalists in the mainstream media don't just make stuff up. Extrapolate, speculate and exaggerate? Of course...filling in the blanks when the full story is not known is what humans do best.

The final factor is that the claims must have an air of truth about them to resonate with fans. How does the player conduct himself on and off the ice? What about his mannerisms and body language?

Anecdotes gleaned from personal contact at autograph sessions, sightings and other non-game situations can play a part as well. It all adds up to a public image. And so, if the stories match up with the public presentation, the claims become believable.

New Beginnings

Luckily for most players tagged as difficult (the locker room cancer is only the extreme), there are going to be other teams willing to give them a chance.  Because it's all subjective. Maybe the other players are the ones who don't know how to interact.

Or maybe it is the coaches or more generally the overall team culture. And of course, even if there is some sense that a team is taking on an abrasive personality, there is always the hope that a person learns and changes over time.

In the end, despite public comments to the contrary, teams may take on a player knowing full well that he is a petulant, glory-seeking prima donna. But that talent is so irresistible that the rationalizing takes over and team management convince themselves that things will be different this time around.

The fans who claim they have no interest in such stories are the rarity or more likely, being disingenuous. Other people's lives intrigue and amaze. Especially when they are rich, talented, and play on the teams that fans love to cheer for. The insight gives a more interesting picture of the players fans love to watch. At the very least, it  provides a point against which fans can rank themselves. "Harummph! I'm too sophisticated to be interested in crap like that."

Amongst all the great games, performances, and playoff races, you can be sure that the coming season will also feature plenty of gossip, rumours and innuendo.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Sean Avery Arrested

So Sean Avery was arrested after getting involved in a dispute with police officers who were called to his home on a noise complaint.

No doubt some schadenfreude will be coming Avery's way because of the loathing many fans have for his on-ice behaviour and comments. Not from me. I've always liked the entertainment value Avery provides with his unhinged antics.

However, the fact that he got arrested after driving one of his neighbours up the wall with noise and then allegedly assaulting a police officer is a good thing.

I can hear the outrage now. "What cowards! To go to the police when you could nicely ask the person to keep the noise down!"

Rallying Cry for Selfish Behaviour

Yes, the rallying cry (with many variants) of those who want to behave however they wish without any worry of consequences. The kind of grade-school oaths that suggest going to some kind of authority is lower than the nasty pieces of filth who engage in the kind of behaviour that causes the need for intervention in the first place. Amazing how many people swallow these kinds of low-life mantras.

No, you must act swiftly and decisively to squash the bullies and thugs who are completely bereft of any notion of sharing the world with other people. The kind of self-serving ignoramus who engages in that kind of behaviour in the first place is the very type who would laugh at respectable attempts by a person to ask them to moderate their actions. The type who would be likely to get violent.

And of course, maybe someone did go and ask first. But more likely, in a neighbourhood like the one where he probably lives, you probably can't just walk up to a neighbour's door. Too much security.

No, do whatever necessary to force selfish, ignorant people to act in a responsible way so that they don't negatively affect others. Selfish people are thrilled that there are so many unassuming, decent people who choose to avoid confrontations and are tolerant to a fault.

Dealing with Scum

Been down this path before. Too many people mistake politeness for weakness. So it's call someone in or take matters into your own hands and then you're the one who's in trouble.

Another unpleasant outcome of trying to be reasonable with a sneering individual regarding his noise pollution is that you develop, however weak and tenuous, a twisted emotional relationship with that person. When they inevitably carry on their arrogant conduct, it becomes all the more personal.

As for the reports that Avery may have put his hands on a police officer, if true, it's obviously not a smart move.

Avery Comes Out Against Noise Pollution?

But the whole unpleasant incident could have a positive outcome. An opportunity to highlight the complete lack of consideration shown by pukes who think their loud music and drunken shrieking is something that others should just deal with. Just as Avery took up the cause of gay marriage, perhaps he could come out against noise pollution.

No, not a chance. Not enough cachet for a hipster like Avery.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Winnipeg Jets' Alternate Logo: Another Logo Released

Winnipeg Jets Alternate Logo
The Winnipeg Jets have unveiled another alternate logo.

This one is in addition to the primary logo and two secondary logos that were introduced to the public on Friday, July 22nd, 2011.

Speculation is that new team slogans are due for release in the near future as well, among them, "Laying Waste to Our Opponents."

And the buzz is already building around the soon-to-be announced cheer-leading squad for the Jets, tentatively called "The Collaterals."

Friday, July 22, 2011

Winnipeg Jets' New Logo: Verdict and Review

Leading up to the release of the new Winnipeg Jets logo, talk of creating a design reminiscent of and/or that paid tribute to the Canadian Forces Air Command was rampant. I wasn't sure what to think of any potential logo that went down that path.

However, the new logos have now been released, and the tacit association with the military has been confirmed.

new Winnipeg Jets logoAn incredibly short-sighted decision in my opinion. A logo can exist and be part of a team's identity for years or decades to come. But the new militarism that is currently popular in Canada is only a recent phenomenon.

No, I do not mean to suggest that Canadians do not have a proud history connected to our military nor that we have not always supported the work that has been done in the past to defend our country. We have and will continue to do so. But the jingoistic, chest-thumping brand of support is something that has only been imported from the US since 9/11.

Consider how imbecilic the Toronto Raptors name sounds years after they anointed their team with an identity based on the fact that a wildly popular movie at the time had made dinosaurs all the rage. Of course, a country's military is far more likely to stay relevant but it is still not the best choice.

The quietly proud, get-the-job-done-and-don't-waste-time-congratulating-yourselves brand of patriotism appeals to most people in Canada, at least in my experience. To design a professional hockey team's logo with the aim of paying tribute to the air force goes against that.

While the majority of Canadians support their country's military, political considerations often surround the actions that a particular government takes and how they may use or misuse military force. Most people want to leave behind any real-world divisive issues when they go to see a hockey game.

True North Sports and Entertainment (TNSE) has ensured that is no longer the case. Sure, the connection is not official, but the logo automatically creates the sense that the team owners are boosters of whatever military action the Canadian government takes.

The current federal government in Canada has announced that it will spend billions on new fighter jets. The government has also been criticized for failing to take steps to support veterans in a more comprehensive way (something that past governments have not adequately addressed as well). How long before the government reaches out to TNSE to try and gain an advantage by associating themselves with a team that has made their support of the military so clear?

The Blowhards Will Love It

The new militarism in Canada has a few unique features. The people who shriek the loudest and try to associate themselves with this new militarism often seem to be in it to boost their own profile as much as to pay tribute to the military. To me, "support" means not just letting everyone know that you consider yourself honourable for supporting the people who take the risks, but actually giving money or time to help those people.

And most of those individuals are hard-core black-and-whiters. To criticize a logo that has that indirect relationship to the military, of course means to the blowhards that you are criticizing the military. It just adds a permanent angle to the identity of the team that I feel is inappropriate. Keep the tributes to individual games and/or pre-game ceremonies. The intentions of TNSE are no doubt good with regard to the logo, but I believe it wasn't the best decision.

The Verdict

But enough of that. How does the new logo rate in terms of its design?

First, the colour combination of blue, silver and red is slick and looks very good.

new Winnipeg Jets logo mainThe main logo features a fighter jet over a red maple leaf on a white circle surrounded by a blue inner ring and a silver outer ring.

Some people may claim that the red maple leaf is not an accurate depiction of a maple leaf as the stem is made to look like a thrust from the overlapping jet.

But, you might say, who cares? It doesn't have to emulate a real-life maple leaf. True, but it may look a bit off to some people.

Also, for most hockey fans, the maple leaf is part of the Toronto Maple Leafs logo and identity. But who says one team has a monopoly on a symbol that is so important to so many Canadians?

Overall, this logo reminds me of a bottle cap. A tie-in with a local brewery could be in the works.

new Winnipeg Jets logo secondaryAs has been pointed out by others, one of the secondary logos looks like a military medal.

It features a military-type insignia that is shaped like wings, over which are imposed two crossed hockey sticks (that also look vaguely like two splayed feet), a red maple leaf and "Winnipeg Jets" in two white banners. It will likely be a shoulder patch.

new Winnipeg Jets logo secondary twoFinally, the other secondary logo features mainly script, and is weak, in my view. The font just does not look very good.

While nothing is ever final, the look of the new Winnipeg Jets is set, at least for the foreseeable future.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Book Review: The Ovechkin Project by Damien Cox and Gare Joyce

The Ovechkin ProjectThe story of Alexander Ovechkin is still far from being complete. But in his six years as a left winger with the Washington Capitals, he has seen highs and lows, and in his 25 years of life, he has experienced tragedy and victory.

The Ovechkin Project: A Behind-the Scenes Look at Hockey's Most Dangerous Player
by Damien Cox and Gare Joyce, examines Ovechkin's professional and private life from his youth growing up in Russia to the 2009/10 Stanley Cup playoffs.

The book opens at the 2010 winter Olympics in Vancouver with Ovechkin and his Russian teammates lined up against Canada in the quarterfinal game. A nice preview, it introduces the insiders whose comments and insights on Ovechkin are presented throughout the book.

Sadly, as the authors note in the acknowledgments section, they were never able to secure access to Ovechkin or his family. A shortcoming that no doubt means a less thorough book but not one that renders the result unworthy of reading for hockey fans.

Outrage at the Title of the Book?

Some readers and critics seem to have been affronted by the fact that the book was sub-titled A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Hockey's Most Dangerous Player, when no direct input was provided by Ovechkin himself.

In fact, that's what most of the handful of reviews for the book at Amazon seem to focus on. It almost seems like a concerted effort to glom onto to this minor point and take away from what is an otherwise entertaining and informative book. The criticism is not really relevant, especially because all PR about the book plainly states that it is an unauthorized look at Ovechkin's life.

And the book does contain many comments from Capitals' insiders: owner Ted Leonsis, GM Mike McPhee, head coach Bruce Boudreau and numerous teammates, past and present, of Ovechkin's.

The Early Years

Readers get a fairly lean retelling of Ovechkin's childhood in Russia and the single-minded focus of his mother Tatiana to turn her son into a world-class athlete. Perhaps he absorbed his mother's passion to see him make it big or maybe he was just blessed with a natural drive and determination. But whatever the cause, together with his relatively prosperous upbringing in post-communist Russia and the sports-related opportunities it afforded him, Ovechkin drove himself to be better than anyone else on the ice.

But not everything goes smoothly. When Ovechkin was 12, his older brother died after being involved in a car accident, one of a handful of deaths of people close to him that would have a lasting effect on him.

Recent History

The past few years of Ovechkin's life offer up some great drama and an arc to his character development that couldn't have been more appropriate for an engaging analysis if it had been created by a fiction writer.

The negotiations for Ovechkin's current mammoth contract of 13 years and 124 million dollars is one example of the real-life drama and provides for great reading. It also further highlights how much his family is important to Ovechkin; he had no agents involved in the discussions for his new deal and instead relied on the input of his mother and father and others in his inner circle.

Following the contract, Ovechkin seems to have changed noticeably. His previous goofy, happy-go-lucky self is replaced with someone who is more arrogant and wary of others. With all the people who are out for a piece of someone in that situation, his reaction is not surprising in many ways.

This is where feedback from Ovechkin could have made this a much better book. Of course, this is no fault of the authors. They could have easily reacted with a negative view of their subject but for the most part avoid that path (except where Ovechkin's behaviour may have warranted criticism).

This relative lack of editorializing on certain topics is good: for example, Ovechkin responds to a question from a reporter that alerts him to the length of a suspension he had been handed from the NHL and his first thought is that he will lose out on over 200, 000 dollars because of the missed games. What does it say about Ovechkin? That is pretty much left to the reader to decide.

Major Disappointments

Major disappointments for his teams, both with the Capitals during the 2009/10 playoffs when they bow out in the first round to a determined Montreal Canadiens team with a hot goalie, and the abysmal performance of the Russian squad at the 2010 winter Olympics, add more intrigue and raise further questions about Ovechkin.

The story that emerges of Ovechkin is of someone who is immensely talented but who has not yet found a way to translate that talent into championships for his team. Someone who is in a fierce rivalry with Sidney Crosby, and someone who, while hailed as a leader by his teammates, occasionally veers towards selfishness both on and off the ice.

Crosby/Ovechkin Rivalry

As far as the ongoing competition with Crosby goes, no doubt there is something there. But writers often try to create a strong narrative around which to structure an entire book, and that is the case here with the Crosby/Ovechkin rivalry. It is played up just a bit too much. For example:

“With no apologies to Bird and Johnson, theirs [Ovechkin and Crosby's] could be a rivalry without precedent in the modern history of sport.”

Not an apology, but a glaring bit of prolepsis.

The rivalry theme inevitably concludes, in not so many words, that Crosby has got Ovechkin beat on most levels: well-rounded multi-dimensional play, a Stanley Cup ring and Olympic gold medal, and the willingness to face the heat in an open and honourable way when his team loses.

Other “Sub-Plots”

As with many books that are ostensibly about a single individual, The Ovechkin Project can't help but include numerous other interesting characters and "subplots." One of the most interesting bits in the book is a section about Bruce Boudreau’s incredible turn of fortunes in the past few seasons as he was named as Capitals' head coach during the 2007/08 campaign and helped the team turn around their season. In the early going of the book, a good discussion on the history of Russian players in the NHL also makes for great reading.

Of course, all the threads are somewhat linked to Ovechkin. The NHL’s move over the last few years to start showcasing some of its biggest stars, with limited results, receives attention in the book. And the endorsement agency that Ovechkin signed with, IMG, and how they have tried to mold his public image in an attempt to help him and them cash in, is also interesting.

The requisite hockey book play-by-play recounting of games and series are here and games from the Vancouver winter Olympics of 2010 and the 2009/10 Stanley Cup playoffs are described in absorbing style.

Worth Reading?

The writing is generally tight and entertaining in The Ovechkin Project. Cox and Joyce are good writers and offer up straightforward, unclichéd prose with some good turns of phrases. This excerpt describes the build-up to game two of the first round series between Washington and Montreal in the 2009/10 Stanley Cup playoffs:
It was as thought the NHL playoff schedule was specifically designed to keep the personal game of H-O-R-S-E between Ovechkin and Crosby going. Going into Game 2, Ovechkin had seen all the highlights from the second game of the Pittsburgh-Ottawa series from the night before when Crosby had constructed a brilliant setup for the winning goal. On that play, Crosby eluded Jason Spezza behind the net with a series of reverses, like he was running a three-man weave by himself, before feeding Kris Letang for the clinching goal. Crosby also made the key defensive play for the Penguins earlier in the game, batting a loose puck away from the Penguin goal line. So the standard was again set, or lifted, for Ovechin as he stepped out on the ice for the second game against the Habs.
But there were some annoyances. Throughout the book, Cox and Joyce insert italicized sentences following some bit of action that has been described involving a player or coach. As if the italicized words represent what the person was likely thinking at that moment. For example, from this passage that describes Ovechkin’s involvement in a scrum after a goal:

“A melee ensued after Staal’s goal when Orpik got his stick up into the face of Pothier and Ovechkin tackled Letang, sitting on top of him and squeezing the life out of him with a bear hug. They stand up for me, I have to stand up for them.”


Ovechkin skated off the ice after another disappointing loss. The 100 thousand every game soothes the hurt just a bit.

OK, I made up the last one, but you get the point.

This often works to good effect. It makes a story being told in the past tense seem more immediate and it also provides some indication of what that player in question may have been thinking at that moment. But it becomes tiresome through the course of the book. And sometimes the supposed thought is so inane or obvious as to detract from a good section. Other times it just seems like an opportunity to take a dig at someone.

Another criticism: like many hockey books, the copy-editing here falls on the somewhat sloppy side.

Aside from those minor points, there is enough new information and insight from those associated with Ovechkin to make for an enjoyable read. Ovechkin is likely waiting for what he assumes will be a championship or two in the coming years before he collaborates with someone to present his life story—a book over which he and those closest to him will no doubt insist on complete control. Until that time (and perhaps even after), this is the best critical look at the life of one of the current greats in the NHL.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Winnipeg Jets' New Logo

Winnipeg Jets logoA sports team's logo is very important for its fans. The team logo represents in a single image all the hopes, memories and frustrations that a fan has experienced in his relationship with the team. The logo is a call to arms. An image that the fan can use to advertise his commitment to the team. An unspoken challenge to opposing teams and their supporters.

A team logo that has existed for decades becomes iconic and fans could not imagine it being otherwise. All six of the original NHL teams have logos that are instantly recognizable and elicit numerous emotions for fans of the teams and hockey fans in general. Their logos are classic, relatively simple and memorable.

Does this assessment come from an objective analysis of the logo designs or because the logos have existed for so long and become so much a part of each team's history? Probably a bit of both. And it is important to note that even the original six logos have been tweaked somewhat over the years though all have maintained their essential original look.

Winnipeg Jets Fans Await Team's New Logo

After the outpouring of opinions from fans in Winnipeg made it overwhelmingly clear that they wanted their city's new NHL team to be named the Jets, the team owners did the smart thing and acceded.

Now fans of the new Winnipeg Jets await the unveiling of the new Jets logo. The general consensus seems to be that the new logo will vary quite a bit from the Jets logo that was apparently resigned to history when Winnipeg's first NHL team moved to Phoenix in 1996. Of course, some image of a jet is likely to be there in the new design, but beyond that, there will possibly not be much similarity to the old logo.

Most fans seem to be going along with this notion. It's almost as if, strange as it seems, that fans are willing to accept this as a sop to the owners. While no one seems to know for certain, it is likely that the first choice of the owners was not to name the new team the Jets.

So once fans let their feelings be known and True North Sports and Entertainment (TNSE) rewarded the prevailing sentiment with the return of the Jets name, the current thinking has become, "well, they deserve to bring in new colours and a significantly new logo for the merchandising potential and because they want to make the team their own."

Honour Tradition

I disagree. I say, retain the old colours and tweak the old logo somewhat. If you are going to (rightly) honour tradition, why not go all the way?

Regardless of what logo the Jets unveil in the next few weeks, I believe the time pressure is a good thing. Too much time, too many consultants and gobs of money involved in coming up with a logo often lead to over-thinking the design. A desperate need to provide an adequate back-story for the logo can be another consequence. The result can sometimes be ridiculous.

Let's hope that the new Jets logo is an instant classic without too much reliance on fancy computer graphics programs that cause some designers to go over the top simply because they can. Regardless, in due time, any logo they come up with will become part of the Winnipeg Jets and will be accepted by even the most critical fans as time passes.

History of Winnipeg Jets NHL Logos

Winnipeg Jets NHL logo original

1979 to 1990

Winnipeg Jets NHL logo 90s

1990 to 1996

Monday, July 11, 2011

Leafs GM Pledges Commitment to Fans

As the GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs,

—tasked with bringing the Stanley Cup back to Toronto after 45 years,

—and having been given a 6-year contract at numerous millions of dollars per year

—with the weight of millions of fans' expectations on my shoulders

—and a legion of scouts at my command

I pledge to you that my first priority above all else is to...


Sunday, July 10, 2011

Cult of Luongo on Life Support

Canucks logoRoberto Luongo had one hell of a regular season in 2010/11. Luongo combined with Vancouver Canucks' backup goalie Cory Schneider to allow only 180 goals all season. Which was good enough to win the Jennings trophy for the fewest goals scored against during the NHL regular season.

Luongo showed brilliance during the playoffs as well. But he stumbled badly in the finals against Boston. After playing solidly in games 1 and 2, the wheels came off for the Canucks in games 3 and 4. Luongo played poorly in both of those games in Boston and was pulled in game 4. Luongo was also abysmal in game 6 and was pulled once again, and his play in the deciding game 7 in Vancouver was less than brilliant.

His finals performance will only fuel the criticism that he chokes when the most important games are on the line.

Will next season see the Luongo's popularity take a serious hit as a result?

The Cult of Luongo

Luongo has always garnered near cult-like status amongst many Vancouver Canucks fans. But it's not only because of his stellar play (most of the time) that elevates Luongo's reputation with so many fans.

It's also because he demonstrates such a passsion for the game. But it's that overwhelming pressure of caring so much seems to cripple him at times.

The War of Art

In The War of Art, author Steven Pressfield discusses the mental forces that conspire to foil the performance of artists, entrepreneurs or anyone who devotes his life to chasing a dream. This passage summarizes how an athlete like Luongo can sabotage himself:

The professional has learned, however, that too much love [for his endeavor] can be a bad thing. Too much love can make him choke. The seeming detachment of the professional, the cold-blooded character to his demeanor is a compensating device to keep him from loving the game so much that he freezes in action. Playing for money or adopting the attitude of one who plays for money, lowers the fever.
The more you love your art, calling, enterprise, the more important its accomplishment is to the evolution of your soul , the more you will fear it and the more resistance you will experience facing it. The payoff of playing a game for money is not the money.

The payoff is that playing for money produces the proper professional attitude. It inculcates the lunch-pail mentality. The hard-core, hard-head, hard-hat state of mind. To think of yourself as a mercenary, a gun for hire, implants the proper humility. It purges pride and preciousness.
The above excerpt also explains why so many Canucks fans have built up the cult of Luongo. Because he is like one of them. He dies a little every time he lets the big one slip away.

And which is why the latest failure by the Canucks to win the Stanley Cup can be a good thing. With his relatively poor play being so costly for the Canucks in the Stanley Cup finals, the effect on Luongo could be profound enough that he is able to take that cool detachment to a new level and keep it going, without let-up, all through the 2011/12 regular season and playoffs.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Return of the Winnipeg Jets

Winnipeg Jets logoAfter 15 years, the NHL returns to Winnipeg.

Only a few years ago, this seemed unlikely. But thanks to the insistence of Gary Bettman to encourage and authorize franchises in the most absurd locations possible, a good number of teams in the past few years have been ripe for relocation. And of course, let's not forget the hard work of Winnipegers and the new ownership group in securing the team.

Having served up a team for Calgary in 1980, Atlanta has once again provided a franchise for a city in western Canada.

But now that the team is in Winnipeg, the dynamics will instantly change and will continue changing as the years pass. When you're desperately chasing a goal, you often convince yourself that everything will be all right if you just make it happen. But after you reach the goal, familiarity is right behind and almost as fast you start to take for granted that which you once thought was so important.

Numerous conditions seemed to stand in the way of Winnipeg ever seeing a return of the NHL. The relatively inadequate old Winnipeg arena and its limited seating capacity of 15 393, together with the size of the city and the population from which ticket buyers could be drawn were always pointed to as obstacles.

But the new arena where the Jets will play has only 15 015 seats for hockey. And the population of Winnipeg has essentially remained static since the first Jets team scarpered to Phoenix.

Yet, we are assured by those who wanted the team back in Winnipeg the most that things have changed enough to make an NHL franchise viable over the long term. More luxury boxes in the new arena and more head offices in Winnipeg (hence, all those new, well-paid employees are going to spend their disposable income on hockey tickets?) are two reasons commonly mentioned.

Back then, with some tickets costing as little as 10 dollars each, many games were not sold out. In some post-seasons, you could walk up on game night and buy a ticket. Now the cheapest ticket will be much more—about 39 dollars. And Jets tickets overall currently rank as the second most expensive of NHL teams in Canada.

The city from which Winnipeg purchased the current Jets team is a two-time loser in the NHL department. And it is safe to say that if the Jets ever skipped town again, there would be no third chance. Beyond the honeymoon period of three to five seasons, what is the likelihood that the new Jets will be in Winnipeg for the long term? A few important factors will decide their fate.


The most obvious way to assure a long and happy stay in Winnipeg is to put together a winning team. A long standing lament of fans of the old Jets team was that it was tough to have any post-season success in the Smythe division with the great Oilers teams around. But today's NHL with 30 teams can be even more difficult. In the 21-team league, a team rarely missed the playoffs for multiple years in a row. Now, teams with 5, 6 or as many as 10 years out of the playoffs are not uncommon.

Ride out the Tough Times

The new owners have deep pockets and have expressed the desire to keep the team in Winnipeg as long as possible. Talk is cheap. If the time comes when the team is hemorrhaging cash on a yearly basis and the novelty of having a team is long gone, will the new owners take multi-million dollar losses on an annual basis without considering moving or selling? Who knows?

The Economy

Closely related is the economy. In the late 1980s and early 90s, it was difficult for most NHL teams in Canada. The weak Canadian dollar and the fact that many players had contracts that paid them in US dollars always made things tough. While economic times are relatively good in Canada at the moment, and the dollar is a lot stronger, there is no guarantee that will continue over the long haul.


Having lost one NHL team and knowing that a second team leaving town would likely spell the end for many decades to come, will fans be willing to support the team through thick and thin? And by support, I mean coughing up the money for tickets if the team goes through a period of horrid play and seasons out of the playoffs.

I hope to see the Jets in Winnipeg for many years to come. The new Jets need to establish themselves as a consistently competitive team within the next three to four seasons to help make that a reality.