Showing posts with label Phoenix Coyotes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Phoenix Coyotes. Show all posts

Friday, November 2, 2007

Rick Tocchet Re-Instated by the NHL

NHL logoYotes logoRick Tocchet will be back behind the bench of the Phoenix Coyotes as an assistant coach in February. He was re-instated by Gary Bettman with a stern but forgiving public lecture and given a set of conditions that must be adhered to.

This seems odd to me on a few fronts. First, the requirement by the league that Tocchet must not have anything to do with gambling and also has to undergo examination by league doctors and agree to treatment if necessary. This is good. But is everyone forgetting the fact that Tocchet attended the World Series of poker only a few short months ago?

If you believe that the legal nature of his participation in that tournament makes such an example irrelevant, you are clueless as to what is at the crux of this issue. The fact that Tocchet got involved with questionable characters in setting up a sports book says all you need to know (the independent investigator hired by the NHL found that there were no links to "organized crime." But wasn't the gambling ring itself "organzied" and a "crime"?)

Like with any addiction, gambling skews your priorities and perception. That Tocchet couldn't see this as a potential problem demonstrates that. That it didn't register with him that showing up in Vegas to join a widely publicized orgy of gambling at a time when he was unemployed because he had been suspended for gambling, sort of confirms that notion.

I'm all for giving people second chances but this has potential jackassery of the highest order written all over it. It's like putting a former junky in charge of a methadone clinic. Tocchet will be back in that highly charged atmosphere that acts as an appetizer for the thrills and risks that gambling provides long after the game has finished. He'll also get a healthy increase in salary from the zero per month he was receiving for the past two years. He'll surely have some debts to pay off as a result and may even have some income to dispose of.

Most people can accept that gambling is an affliction like other compulsive and destructive habits such as drinking and drug use. The high from gambling is every bit as addictive as other vices and may even be stronger. Without the accompanying physical battering, it can have an energizing effect on a person. The risks involved and the hit to a gambler's ego when they succeed/get lucky heightens the rush. An added element to the challenge can be keeping the habit hidden and thinking you've put one over on others.

In the credibility-deprived NHL operating under the umbrella of other professional sports leagues hammered by scandal, the decision sends a message to both fans and other players and coaches. While the perception of those under the spell is filtered through their addiction, for fans of the game it becomes a trust issue with all the attendant possibilities and nastiness.

To others within the NHL with gambling problems, the message is "it's manageable." Keep it low key, don't bet on hockey and be secure in the knowledge that you're more clever than that anyway. Worse comes to worst and you get found out. Plead instant epiphany, claim you're cured, take a vacation to Vegas during the down time and return fresh and ready to go.

Convinced of your own prescience and skill in making the right picks together with your healthy salary makes money issues unimportant. Financial ruin is an impossibility and even if it came to pass your mates would bail you out. You wouldn't be ashamed enough to keep it quiet. And you certainly wouldn't be stupid enough to be receptive to others leaning on you. Persuading you to agree to just help out with a few things and in the process get out of that hole you're in...

Lacking any clear evidence that Tocchet's actions were more serious, the NHL apparently doesn't have much choice but to allow his return. They believe in his ostensible desire to give up gambling. Walking away from the World Series of poker after being sighted by the press has convinced them of this.

Hopefully this works out for everyone involved but if it blows up in their faces you can't say they really weighed the odds too well.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

NHL 2007-08 Week Three: Results, Changes and Stats

Habs logoOilers logoFlames logoYotes logoJets logoThrashers logoLeafs logo50 years since Maurice Richard became the first player in the NHL to score 500 goals. And with the commemoration comes that inevitable parlour game: would he have fared as well in the current NHL? Such discussions are interesting and yet another way for fans to rank their knowledge against one another.

Of course, it's totally hypothetical and rather meaningless. But because of the passion some invest in these "what if" scenarios, I'm always surprised that the most obvious qualifier of all is rarely mentioned.

If Richard were to have played in this era as opposed to in the past, he also would have come up at a different time and thus benefited from better conditioning, nutrition, coaching and competition. So, all other things being equal, he probably could have been a very good player in today's NHL.


The first battle of Alberta is in the books and it wasn't even close. Apparently the two teams are headed in the opposite direction with the Flames overcoming some early season collapses and the Oilers dropping most of their recent games except against other bottom feeders like the Phoenix Coyotes.

"It's still early yet," but Dustin Penner hasn't produced much offense during the first eight games. Which generally goes to show that most players are not of the impact variety and instead see their fortunes rise and fall depending on who they are playing alongside.

On the bright side, if Penner does become the largest and most expensive pylon ever, at least those dire predictions of overpriced offer sheets for restricted free agents might not come to pass.


Speaking of the Coyotes, has there ever been an NHL team that has experienced so many years of futility, first as the Winnipeg Jets and now in their current existence?

It's a bit ironic for Wayne Gretzky, considering the amount of regular season and playoff misery he inflicted on the team when they were located in Winnipeg.

Who would have believed it all those year ago? Imagine if someone had approached Gretzky in the visiting team's dressing room at the Winnipeg Arena after the Oilers had once again eliminated the Jets from the playoffs and said to the Great One,

"Hey, this is all well and good but one day you will be saddled with the very team that you've just beaten. While they are currently mired in this northern wasteland, at that distant point in the future they will be located in a desert."

Gretzky: "You don't say? That's interesting...Hey Mess! Ya got an extra bar of soap?!"

Strange how things play out in life. With Gretzky's partial ownership of the Coyotes and his iconic status in the hockey world, he has stayed on far longer as head coach than most others would have.

Kind of a conundrum for Gretzky since he essentially can decide for himself how long he remains as coach. Remove himself and some will label him a quitter. Stay on and the frustration mounts. Fair play to him for sticking with it.

Looks like another painful season of "rebuilding" ahead for him and the Yotes. I’m sure he’s not taking bets on his team making the playoffs…


The Atlanta Thrashers sacked their coach Bob Hartley and then quickly got their first win of the season against the Rangers the next evening with GM Don Waddell behind the bench. A coaching change often results in at least a temporary jolt of momentum, though as Atlanta demonstrated following their lone win of the year when they got back to their losing ways against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday, it often takes far more to turn a season around.


The Thrashers will slump into Toronto on Tuesday for a game against the struggling Maple Leafs. If the Leafs can't put up a win against Atlanta or are listless and offer up another abysmal 3rd period, the winds of change are going to be blowing a lot stronger in the Big Smoke.

The Leafs 3rd period collapses only eight games into 2007-08 have been shocking. It's a carry-over from last season where they had one of the worst 3rd period team plus/minus records. Many people point to potential conditioning problems when such late game fades become a trend. But if you look at this season's 3rd period stats for the Leafs, it's probably more because of discipline than anything else.

So far this year the Leafs have a 3rd period team plus-minus rating of minus 2. But more importantly, they have taken 21 third period penalties that have resulted in six power play goals for their opponents. Add in another four overtime penalties with one game winner scored with a man advantage for the opposing team and it's not surprising Toronto are 1-2 in the extra frame.

Losing to the worst team in the league on Tuesday would not bode well for the fortunes of either GM John Ferguson Jr. or head coach Paul Maurice.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

NHL 2007-08 Predictions: Western Conference

Sharks logoWings logoWild logoNucks logoDucks logoStars logoFlames logoBJacks logoAvs logoOilers logoPreds logoBlues logoKings logoHawks logoYotes logoFar less rambling to accompany my Western Conference predictions. Just a few notes on why I see various teams improving or regressing compared to last season.

1. San Jose Sharks
2. Detroit Red Wings
3. Minnesota Wild
4. Vancouver Canucks
5. Anaheim Ducks
6. Dallas Stars
7. Calgary Flames
8. Columbus Blue Jackets
9. Colorado Avalanche
10. Edmonton Oilers
11. Nashville Predators
12. St. Louis Blues
13. Los Angeles Kings
14. Chicago Blackhawks
15. Phoenix Coyotes

First, with the relative stagnation of Detroit I don't see them repeating as conference champions, though they will still quite easily capture the Central Division title. When I say "stagnation" I am only considering the moves made by division and conference rivals as compared to the lack of action by the Wings in the off-season. What the Wings have is still solid and in some cases spectacular, including players such as Nicklas Lidstrom on defense and Pavel Datsyuk as the top line centre. Time will catch up with netminder Dominik Hasek and defenseman Chris Chelios at some point, though we'll have to wait and see whether that's evident this season.

You might think that with softer competition from their division rivals, Detroit would have an even easier time of walking away with the most points in the conference. I'm going to hammer a knuckle ball into that theory and say that the lack of strong clubs in the immediate vicinity will be a disadvantage for the Wings as they drop more games with stronger teams from other divisions and may even let up with their Central division competitors. It's the old, "play golf with skilled players and your own game improves" theory.

At least one intangible as well regarding the Wings. Though Scotty Bowman has professed otherwise, I still believe that he has been playing footsie with Toronto and any further developments on that front during the season could be a distraction.

I see the San Jose Sharks stepping up a notch this season. They still have one of the best top 2 line centers in Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau respectively. Thornton especially should continue to be a huge points producer as he goes for his third straight 90 point plus campaign. On defense, the Sharks lost Scott Hannan to the Avalanche but they also gained Craig Rivet late last season and with the added off-season and training camp to become even more familiar with San Jose's system, their defense corp. should be as strong as ever. Evgeni Nabokov is now the undisputed no.1 goalie as Vesa Toskala was shipped off to Toronto along with potential headache Mark Bell. As long as Nabokov stays healthy, this team is as solid as they come.

A kind of palpable rage develops within teams that are stocked with talent but have faltered come playoff time. This added motivation of showing everyone what they are really capable of should turn the Sharks into a wrecking crew to be reckoned with this season.

The Anaheim Ducks will still be a strong team this year, but not to the same degree as in their Cup winning campaign. Teemu Selanne and Scott Nidermayer are nowhere to be seen and without those two, the team chemistry will be markedly different. Add the enigmatic Todd Bertuzzi to the mix and the potential is there for a nasty brand of thuggery delivered by him and Chris Pronger. Without the regulating force of the departing vets discipline could be a problem.

I'm taking the Minnesota Wild to win the Northwest division and thus place third in the conference. The Wild haven't done much in the off-season but they were already exceptionally strong in 06-07 and they have a lot of young players that will continue to improve. Rock solid defense and the goaltending duo of Manny Fernandez and Niklas Lidstrom will help them to beat out Vancouver in the improved Northwest division this year.

Vancouver Canucks' goalie Robert Luongo is roundly hailed as the best player between the pipes and there's no argument here. The problem is that the lack of offense wasn't really addressed by the Canucks in the off-season, though they did pick up Ryan Shannon and Brad Isbister. No doubt GM David Nonis will try to address that lack of scoring at some point during the season. That the Canucks are still a solid team is a testament to the skill of Luongo and Vancouver's good defense.

Logic and a modicum of common hockey sense would dictate that the Columbus Blue Jackets won't make the playoffs, especially ahead of the Nashville Predators and even the improved Edmonton Oilers. But if I were to take the popular route, my picks would only be derivative of every other half-baked, two-bit prognosticating son-of-a-bitch out there. Columbus has to make the playoffs eventually, so this season's as good as any. Well, no...actually it's not. But, I'm sticking with my "to hell with it" pick.

In fact, Columbus did make some improvements to their team, the most notable being the signing of Mike Peca. Now, a 33 year-old centreman coming off a nasty season-ending injury might not be the player you would think could help push the B Jacks into the playoffs for the first time. But he is the type of individual who can have an immediate effect on a team, not just in terms of the skill he brings to face-offs and the penalty killing unit but also the motivating force he can have on younger players.

Ken Hitchcock in his second season as the Blue Jacket's coach together with the addition of new GM Scott Howson are both pluses in my opinion. Like most new GMs, Howson will likely look to make his mark with at least a few moves throughout the season.

Nashville has been gutted to some degree and together with the collective venom from Canadian fans clogging up their karma and hindering their mental game, they will fall completely out of the playoff picture. Kimmo Timonen, Paul Kariya, Tomas Vokoun and Scott Hartnell are all gone this season and that will hurt them. Rate both the Predators and Blue Jackets as my wild cards thrown in the mix for the sake of making things more interesting, though I think both picks could come to fruition.

I fought against my visceral dislike of Mike Keenan and slotted the Flames in at 7th place. The Flames were considered some of the biggest underachievers in 06-07 and Keenan's brand of nastiness could be just what they need. A shared loathing of their new coach could be a unifying force for the Flames and may spark them to more wins and some success in the playoffs.

I like the changes the Oilers have made but it's just a matter of the moves of other teams and mitigating factors conspiring to squeeze them out of the playoffs once again this season. I always like an underdog and the disrespect the Oilers have been absorbing from around the league makes me want to see them over-achieve. I just don't quite see the additions they have made being enough to result in a huge improvement over last year.

Again, my lack of familiarity with some teams means they are getting short shrift and for that I offer no apologies. That's just the way it is.

Now that we have the predictions out of the way, on to the REGULAR SEASON!!!!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Let's Stay in Touch...

NHL logoYotes logoJets logoThe Toronto Maple Leafs and the Phoenix Coyotes played a pre-season game in Winnipeg yesterday, with the Leafs coming out on top 3-2.

The Jets slumped out of town in 1996 never to...oops, they do keep returning in their Coyotes incarnation for exhibition games and I believe they even played a regular season game there a couple of years back.

I doubt there is any other example of an NHL team that departed a city and then kept coming back for the sake of nostalgia. It's great for hockey fans in Winnipeg and decent of the Yotes owners to oblige them (of course the dollars have to be there to make it happen , but still) but I've got to believe at some point Phoenix will decide to bypass any further match-ups in the Peg.

For any Phoenix fans who are really passionate about their team, such games have got to have a slightly less than appealing odour to them. Kind of like former girlfriends who want to "keep in touch" if only for the possibility it provides to keep having a good sniff around to confirm that they made the right decision to leave in the first place.

With each subsequent return of the team formerly known as the perennial Smythe division chumps, the lobby for bringing the NHL back to Winnipeg gets a bit hornier than usual and starts rolling out what they consider are their undeniably sound arguments. These have been bolstered recently by what they believe is their new trump card...the salary cap and the apparent boon this is for small market teams. It definitely would be an added help to whatever pro team may eventually get a shot back in Manitoba's capital city but it would be no guarantee of long-term success.

Even the apparently pro-return columnists in Winnipeg, who have got to add at least a bit of nuance to their arguments compared to the core of rabid fans, aren't overly enthusiastic. Here is the less than blinding endorsement from a columnist at the Winnipeg Free Press: "modest stability may be more financially attractive than sinking another drill into unfamiliar territory only to discover more dirt."

One argument against such a return is the impossible to deny fact that the Jets never enjoyed consistent fan support in terms of sell-outs, both in the regular season and playoffs. I went to many a game that was not sold out and never had problems getting tickets for playoff games. Often those regular season tickets were bought for 10 dollars each through a promotion at 7-elevens (hey, I was a university student) and even the seats in those sections were often not full. Remember too that there were some very good Jets teams during those years.

Winnipeg is a medium sized city of about 700, 000 people whose population has been almost stagnant for the past 25 years. There just aren't that many people who can be tapped to become new fans. I know, I know...there are thousands of people who are huge fans and likely many saw every Jets game ever played in Winnipeg. But it's more about money than ever before and to keep the beast fed there must be a wide swath of people who can slurp up tickets, blow money on merchandise and make advertisers and media outlets salivate.

It's also important to note that the city is notorious for producing some of the tightest bastards around. There was an urban myth that used to circulate in town. Usually delivered with a knowing sneer, it was said that market research companies regularly tested products in Winnipeg under the premise that if they could flog something there, they could sell it anywhere.

The price at which tickets would have to be sold to sustain a team compared to how much they cost when the Jets were around, would be far greater than the rate of inflation over that time span (7-eleven 40 dollar student tickets somehow don't seem likely.)

I would be the first one to cheer on such a move and would hope for their success. However, while the people of Winnipeg have been conditioned to deal with nasty soul-destroying winters, it would still be a bitter wind that would blow through town if they ever became two-time NHL losers.