Saturday, October 17, 2009

Have Leafs Ticket Holders Finally Had Enough?

Leafs logoCould things possibly be changing?

With the Leafs:
—well into their fifth decade of incompetence,
—on a winless streak to start the season that has them at the bottom of the standings,
—demonstrating that whoever occupies the position of GM is instantly enveloped in a haze of buffoonery and shortsightedness,

and most importantly, with the arrogance of ownership that

—truly doesn't give a damn,
—has the shameless, insidious gall to maintain the highest ticket prices in the league by a wide margin,
—raised ticket prices once again this year in the face of a long rebuild,
—and devotes more energy to keeping other teams out of "their territory" than actually trying to put together a winning team,

Leafs ticket holders may finally be waking up to the absurdity.

This Toronto Star article gives great hope to those who have been for years wishing for a colossal karmic bashing for the individuals who make up MLSE.
The legendary willingness of Leafs-loving Torontonians to dish out mortgage-payment-like sums to witness a perennial loser may have reached its breaking point.

Tickets to Maple Leafs games are being sold for unprecedented low prices on the open market – in what ticket brokers and resellers say is an early sign of a backlash against the club's league-topping ticket prices and basement-dwelling performance.

Sure, it's nothing that a two game winning streak won't solve. And of course, the seats are still full and the falling resale value of tickets doesn't have much of an effect on MLSE. (Though it would be interesting to find out if the Leafs get a cut from ticket brokers. Regardless, guaranteed they fret and fume about finding ways to get their mitts on some of the profits that scalpers make.)

The great thing about pressure is that those on whom it is exerted simply can't resist its effect. But in a situation where the possibilities for exerting pressure are almost non-existent, it can create nastiness, stagnation, and a lack of incentive to improve. Insatiable demand, and a loyal, hockey-mad fan base (like the shirt of the Leafs fan pictured in the article says, "still loyal, just upset") has, for years, sent the message to MLSE that fan fealty is unconditional.

So the news that the rabid devotion may be leveling off is a sign of hope. Imagine the support the Leafs would generate if they offered up a good will gesture like dropping ticket prices.

Genetic Manipulators from the Stars

Ironically, for those of us who aren't Leafs fans, but follow the team for the sheer social experiment/entertainment value, interest may be rising instead of falling.

Maybe the genetic manipulators from the stars who control the Leafs are finally sending the whole circus careening off in a new direction.

As for the current losing streak that the Leafs are on, the odds of breaking it inevitably increase as the schedule advances. On the other hand, no team wants to be the one to give up the first win of the season to the Leafs. The game against the New York Rangers on Saturday, October 17th at the ACC should be a good one. A blowout against the Leafs or a loss coupled with an obvious lack of effort, and the fan rage will ratchet up once again.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Georges Laraque and Scantily Clad Women

Georges Laraque has apologized for appearing in an advertisement with scantily clad women.

Apparently Laraque rocked up to a commercial shoot and was overwhelmed by the horror of it all. But he went ahead with it anyway. Nobody told him about the details beforehand.

So Laraque is contrite because he upset some people who don't like women wearing skimpy outfits. Here's a person who gets paid good money to break rules in a game. To lay aggravated assaults on opponents (granted, most are willing participants in the fights), to repeatedly drive his picnic-ham-sized fists into other people's faces.

But what's that got to do with anything? It's a bit of a stereotype to assume that what a person does off the ice is indicative of how he will play the game. Still, the kind-of contradictions are kind of amusing. And maybe that's what this is all about.

Just as his opponents are willing participants, no doubt the women in the commercial were willing as well.

There were people who claimed they were offended after the fact, prompting the apology from Laraque.

But there are numerous people offended at the ridiculous nature of what he gets paid to do. Is he going to apologize to them as well?

The Laraque dichotomy—the animal lover, vegan, good natured soul off the ice, and the thug on the ice—makes for great publicity.  People like the whole duality, contrast thing. And no doubt the birds lap it up.

But this whole episode seems somewhat contrived. As with all such manufactured controversies, there is a huge jolt of free advertising for the product that was being flogged. Plenty of indignant media outlets who are giving huge play to the entire absurd melodrama. And it's great exposure for Laraque.

But hey, maybe an ad that had been languishing in obscurity for weeks did suddenly prompt outrage from groups who monitor things like this. And as for the media response, who can blame them? It's got sex, outrage, and a great character in Georges Laraque—things that everyone can get their head around.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Ron Wilson and Media Relations 101

Leafs logo"Don't get in a pissing match with people who buy ink by the barrel."

A saying that has long applied to politicians is also applicable in the hockey world. Even the most insignificant relationship between scribe and coach will guarantee that the coach gets an easier time of it in the morning paper.

It's a natural human tendency to feel empathy for those who are closest to you. But it's also amazing how much your attitude will change regarding a complete stranger if the smallest bit of good will exists. Which is why different industries spend billions a year in handing out trinkets to those with whom they want to do business.

Howard Berger has touched on this fact numerous times over the years, and had the guts to admit that criticizing a player like Mats Sundin was harder for the simple fact that Sundin is such a decent person and always had the time of day for the press.

Damien Cox gushes every time Wayne Gretzky's name comes up because the Great One has granted him a handful of interviews over the years. When Gretzky was getting hammered by many observers in the hockey world for his behaviour in the Coyotes fiasco, Cox dutifully played devil's advocate.

So it's perplexing that Ron Wilson is apparently one of the surliest, media hating coaches in the NHL. Toronto is one of the toughest markets in the league in which to coach. Primarily for the fact that any coach who ends up there is saddled by a freakish management outfit that seems to enjoy the whole sideshow entertainment value of watching others take the heat while they rack up the profits.

So as the Leafs are off to a horrid start, aggravated by some equally terrible expectations management courtesy of Wilson and Brian Burke, it's no surprise that Cox and others have started suggesting that Wilson is the weak link. Not outright beating the drum for Wilson's firing mind you, but it's only a matter of time. Cox planted the seed in the most thinly veiled ways, acting incredulous that anyone would dare suggest that Wilson was already in firing range while doing exactly that in the process.

Not that he is the only one in the media hinting at the need for someone to take the fall early on in what is shaping up to be one freakshow of a soap opera season even by Leafs standards. The aggravation at having been snubbed or insulted by Wilson will make many in the media gleeful at the prospect of seeing him get hung out to dry. And they will only be too happy to push the narrative along.

And once you go down the road of criticizing and ridiculing someone, especially in such a public way, there's no going back. Self-justification and dissonance ensure that any twinges of regret at ripping on the individual are set aside and the rationale always becomes, well, the son-of-a-bitch deserves it.

Does the criticism have anything to do with lack of results and the apparent inability of Wilson to motivate the Leafs to play better? No doubt. If Wilson were on better terms with the media, would they be willing to cut him more slack? It's a good bet.

As the Leafs get hammered once again, the need for an instant scapegoat mounts. Because of his self-defeating relationship with the media, Wilson has helped to ensure that they will target him as the likeliest candidate.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Book Review: McCown's Law: The 100 Greatest Hockey Arguments by Bob McCown

McCown's Law: The 100 Greatest Hockey Arguments by Bob McCown with David Naylor offers up 100 mini essays on some of the most common and divisive topics that spark discussion amongst hockey fans. It is one of the most entertaining and enjoyable hockey books that I have read in a long while.

Are all these arguments completely original thoughts put together by McCown and Naylor? I doubt it. Many of the arguments contain ideas I've been reading on discussion boards for years. But here they are more fully developed and fleshed out with numerous angles. All synthesized in one location, it makes for very good reading.

Some of the very arguments McCown preaches are ones that I've written about in this blog. Most of these are not arguments in the way that the word normally conveys. They are points of view strongly and convincingly delivered. In the instances where the opposing view on a topic is presented, it is sometimes weak and often veers into straw-man territory. But that doesn't really matter in a book like this. The entertainment value is in the different angles and the dismissive sneering asides about anyone who would dare to hold an opposing viewpoint.

But McCown also offers up compelling and nuanced arguments on numerous hockey-related topics that you may have never considered before. Like all good analysis, there are plenty of patterns highlighted and underlying rationales plainly and logically explained. In the way that a person who is knowledgeable about a subject makes something seem so eminently obvious that you're left wondering why the hell you didn't make the observation yourself. In fact, I can guarantee that within a week or so of reading this book, you will find yourself involved in a hockey debate and repeating McCown's words. Pray that it is with someone who thinks that Don Cherry is the last word on any hockey discussion.

McCown hammers the moronic non-arguments put forward by many of the mouth breathers who enjoy the sadistic side of the sport. He beautifully rips Cherry on numerous occasions and labels followers of the clown as "Cherry's disciples." Not that Cherry or anyone who supports his viewpoints ever offers up a rational or defensible argument, but McCown does such a perfect job of demolishing their absurd claims that they will likely splutter and experience more angst than usual when someone bashes their circular nonsense.

McCown presents a few different types of arguments in the book. Discussions of who was the greatest player (at various positions, during different eras, and of all time) team, and dynasty are some of the best. These are the instances where McCown presents evidence for all sides and then weighs in with his final decision. Discussions about the NHL during different eras rate the competitive and entertainment levels of each. The issues arguments—many of which are about violence or other odd, antiquated aspects of the game— are also very compelling.

And McCown offers interesting perspectives on claims that have become such clich├ęs over the years that no one really stops to consider their validity. For example, in argument number 54, McCown takes on the declaration that "Canada is easily the greatest hockey nation on earth." He doesn't disagree with that statement, but instead explains why Canadians would have to be ashamed if it were any other way.
Consider that for a population of roughly 33 million people, Canada has 3,000 indoor rinks and another 11,100 outdoor rinks. That's one rink for every 2,357 Canadians. It's an astounding ratio when you think of it. In fact, we have a lot more rinks per person than we do hospitals.

Second on that list would be the United States with its 2,400 rinks, 2,000 of which are located indoors. On a per-capita basis, you're talking about one rink for every 123, 000 Americans.

The rest of the world doesn't even come close. According to the IIHF, Sweden has 445, Finland 253, Russia 145, the Czech Republic has 143 and Slovakia comes at 41—about as many rinks as in Toronto.


I won't dare to suggest that Canada isn't the greatest hockey nation on Earth. But when you handicap that debate against actual numbers of players and facilities in each country, you could make a pretty good argument that, pound for pound, Slovakia deserves the title.

With 100 arguments, some veer into the filler category. And some of the arguments McCown makes are just plain ridiculous. When he states that the women's hockey gold medal winner in the Olympics is a foregone conclusion for the foreseeable future, he isn't wrong. But to suggest that women's hockey shouldn't be an Olympic sport until other countries catch up with Canada is not very convincing. That would eliminate incentive for girls and women who play hockey in Canada and would reduce the sport's visibility elsewhere.

The 100 Greatest Hockey Arguments is written in a straightforward and conversational way that is reminiscent of McCown's radio broadcasts or a good discussion board rant. Well worth the read for those who love watching, playing, and most importantly, discussing the game of hockey.