Showing posts with label Players. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Players. Show all posts

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Todd Bertuzzi Uses the Nazi Concentration Camp Guard Defense

I wrote that shamelessly over-the-top title for a few reasons.

First, whenever someone in the past 60 years has blamed his superiors for giving orders in an attempt to absolve himself of culpability in performing an insidious act, the WWII comparison has been a natural one. Especially in a high-profile public situation that involves testimony or court proceedings of some kind.

And, I'm invoking a variation of Godwin's law to demonstrate that the Todd Bertuzzi/Steve Moore incident has taken on the same qualities in online hockey forums. Any heated discussion that goes on long enough will inevitably see references made to the attack that took place almost four years ago.

In can be any hockey discussion on any topic. If it carries on, it will eventually go off on a tangent and someone will mention the on-ice assault that ended Moore's career and turned Bertuzzi into a dead-eyed zombie.

But back to the latest revelation that the Canuck's coach at the time, Marc Crawford, told Vancouver players that Moore "must pay pay the price."

In response, the ranting lunatics on discussion boards who are desperate to let everyone know that they're hip to the violent realities of the game and that such tough-talk is commonplace in hockey dressing rooms, once again succeed in getting to the crux of the most irrelevant aspect of the argument.

It doesn't matter that Crawford never intended or hoped for such a horrific final result. The fact both Bertuzzi and Canuck's GM David Nonis have verified this version of events lends credence to what Moore and his lawyers have been saying all along. That he was targeted, that an atmosphere of revenge was stoked by Vancouver coaches and that this contributed to the assault and thus the organization itself is partially responsible.

A judge or jury is not going to give a flying fuck about the "unique" elements that surround the game of hockey and whether or not some people think that players tacitly accept a special code of conduct by agreeing to play in the NHL. The chances of Moore winning a hefty payout just went way up.

This saga and the reactions of many people continue to amaze me. Specifically, the number of sociopaths who see each subsequent step taken towards litigation by Moore and his team of lawyers as an opportunity to insult and ridicule the former Colorado Avalanche player. It's always those who most like to issue threats by proxy and thrill in claiming they possess a special understanding of the game.

Probably the same individuals who have never known the sickly and singular experience of being done over in such a gutless and life-altering manner. Most people haven't and could never empathize with Moore to any real degree. Many others have been victimized, used or cheated in far less severe ways and still been overwhelmed with murderous rage.

Perhaps that's the one aspect of this whole sad affair that sends the Moore-hating pukes off the deep end. They barely contain their glee at the vigilante nature of Bertuzzi's assault but are offended that Moore responds in the only way a civilized society allows.

If you begrudge Moore for going after as much as he can get, then you are devoid of imagination or haven't lived enough to know how this will affect him in ways more devastating and long-lasting than just the loss of livelihood.

In such a situation you aim as high as you possibly can, knowing that an eventual settlement will fall somewhere far below that. Whatever he receives in compensation, it will be cold comfort for never being able to play another game in the NHL.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Fragments and Viscera from Around the NHL

NHL logoWith few or no consequences there is little motivation to change or moderate behaviour.

On the heels of the season-ending injury to Patrice Bergeron, a Philadelphia Flyers' player has once again laid an illegal hit on a member of the Boston Bruins.

There was at least some valid defense of the Randy Jones check from behind on Bergeron. But this recent incident, in which Scott Hartnell drove the head of Andrew Alberts into the boards, together with the Steve Downie and Jesse Boulerice gutlessness, adds up to some habitual nastiness that deserves punishment. No longer can it be brushed off as incidental and unintentional.

And more importantly, it is becoming difficult to say that this reckless style of play doesn't represent a pattern. It's still hard to argue (and even harder to prove) that there is a specific Flyers' strategy to cheap shot opposing players and intentionally injure them. But it does appear that a lack of control and respect for opponents exists to a dangerous degree.

The lunatics will offer up the usual crap that "never respecting your opponents is a sign of a real competitor. " That notion taken to its logical conclusion would mean that absolutely anything goes without regard for restraint, limits or rules.

The NHL should sort Hartnell out with a reasonable suspension and assess the Flyers a fine that sends a message about this latest cheap shot. Fail to ramp up the official response and the on-ice payback will inevitably turn uglier


Crap jerseys don't seem to be negatively affecting the play of many of the teams wearing them. Maybe the designs are so boring that they're putting opponents to sleep.

Dallas and Anaheim have two of the blandest get-ups in the league yet the Stars are leading their division and the Ducks are within the top eight teams in the Western Conference. Similarly, the Canucks and their awkward looking threads are at the top of the Northwest division.

But the Florida Panthers and their capes are currently out of the top eight in their conference, as are the Edmonton Oilers and their apron strings and the Maple Leafs and their sweaters, which are devoid of any design whatsoever.

Damien Cox of the Toronto Star pointed out a few weeks ago that the Leafs' white jerseys look like the untucked shirts of the frazzled suits who attend Toronto games after a hard day at the office.


13 Canadians, 3 Russians, 3 Swedes and 1 Czech make up the current top 20 point scorers in the NHL.


In the "attributing diabolical genius to make life more exciting" department, is the claim that Brian Burke released goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov knowing that the Phoenix Coyotes would pick him up off waivers, thus allowing the Coyotes to move beyond the Oilers in the overall standings. And that in turn would increase the quality of the draft pick the Anaheim Ducks will get as compensation for not matching the Dustin Penner offer sheet.

Well, Burke is known as a crafty and knowledgeable manipulator able to fleece lesser mortals within the ranks of NHL GMs. But this stretches plausibility just a bit. If it is an incidental consequence of letting Bryzgalov go, he certainly won't be unhappy. But let's not dramatize things beyond what is the more plausible and likely explanation.

On the other hand, if that's actually what he had in mind...

Monday, November 19, 2007

Book Review: As the Puck Turns by Brian Conacher

As the Puck TurnsGiving up stability for a life of diverse experience has its advantages. The greatest benefit is probably the realization that moving on is never a bad idea. Work hard, stay positive and take on challenges with a smile and you're almost guaranteed to carve out a decent existence wherever you go. The episodic nature of your life provides the motivation to keep moving, knowing that another chapter will bring the seminal moments, numerous friendships and fresh outlook that staying in the same place never could.

Brian Conacher lived a colourful and varied life in hockey, observing some of the greatest moments in the game's history over the past 50 years. Player, coach, manager and commentator were all roles he occupied at various times.  While he was never one of the best, most influential or longest serving in any of those capacities, he was still present during some of the most historic and memorable hockey moments of the last half century. He details those experiences in his autobiography As the Puck Turns: A Personal Journey Through the World of Hockey.

Conacher was a fringe player on the roster of the last Toronto Maple Leafs team that won the Stanley Cup in 1967. He picks up the narrative of his life after the '67 Cup win. Following that memorable season, Conacher joined the NHL Players Association at its inception, which brought him the disfavour of Leafs' coach and general manager Punch Imlach. He was subsequently cut loose and then signed with the Detroit Red Wings where he closed out his NHL career shortly thereafter.

Fresh out of the game and with experience playing on the Canadian National squad before his NHL days, Conacher was asked to participate in the broadcast of the World Hockey Championships in Sweden and he readily accepted. He bounced around after that point, going back to play with the National team, then taking on a full time broadcasting career, then attempting a short-lived comeback with the Red Wings.

Conacher would continue to play in the minor leagues for a number of seasons and would also pen his first book, which detailed the state of affairs of hockey in Canada. This earns him the enmity of NHL management and, together with joining the player's association, sets the template for the rest of Conacher's life and the remainder of the book.

Never afraid to question the status quo or stand up for his belief in how the game should be played, this resulted in some natural conflict along the way. Conacher wasn't one of hockey's good 'ol boys willing to become a yes-man to whomever may have advanced his post-playing career. Still, his persistence, love of the game and just plain good timing saw him as a close observer of some of the more interesting and exciting hockey dramas of the past five decades.

Conacher is asked to add colour commentary to Foster Hewitt's play-by-play of the 1972 Canada-Soviet Summit Series and he happily goes along for the ride. The game by game descriptions and the slowly changing mood of the series and public as detailed by Conacher provides the first real in-depth section of the book and it's a great beginning.

He laments the only real blemish on the series, which was the slash by Bobby Clarke onto the ankle of Soviet player Valery Kharlamov. Conacher's distaste for the violence and thuggery of the game becomes a running theme throughout the book.

Conacher has aspirations of coaching and managing in the game and pursues his dream with the Mohawk Valley Comets in the fledgling North American Hockey League. What follows is a lengthy section that is rammed full of the kind of anecdotes hockey fans will love. The trials and tribulations of trying to ice a competitive team and keep the organization financially solvent (Conacher was both coach and GM during his first two seasons with the Comets) provide for some interesting situations and characters.

He confronts the state of professional hockey in the 1970's with the creation of the World Hockey Association (WHA), NHL expansion and the resulting pressure for more players able to play in the top leagues. The increasing violence and goon tactics were a natural offshoot of the demand for more bodies and the fact that not all of them could be of the highly skilled type.

He loathes what takes place many a night as his team travels around the eastern U.S. and Canada visiting opposing teams and being faced with intimidation and violence on the ice. The sad part for him is that in many instances it results in winning hockey for the teams who chose such tactics. He resists going down the same path and in part it costs his team any real success.

Ironically, Paul Newman and the crew for the movie Slap Shot come to town to shoot scenes for the Hollywood film. A movie that exaggerates, ridicules and to some degree glorifies the very aspect of the game Conacher dislikes, his team and others in the league take part and serve as extras. There are some interesting details about the inspiration behind many of the scenes and the not so fictional players as well as observations on the side-show aspect of a Hollywood movie being shot in a small town.

Never one to stay in a situation beyond a point where he wasn't being challenged and also wanting to chase his dream of being a general manager in the big leagues, Conacher makes his next move to the Indianapolis Racers of the WHA. Taking over the GM duties of the Racers, whom the Comets had been affiliated with, Conacher enters the madhouse that is the WHA. Maverick owners, franchises going bankrupt and relocating and a league that is the bane of the NHL, all ratchets the intrigue up another notch.

Conacher realizes the Racers are in deep financial difficulty, butts heads with head coach Jacques Demers and sees the league poised on the brink of dissolution. A handful of teams are doing well compared to the others and so he jumps at the chance to take on the role of general manager with the Edmonton Oilers, one of the clubs expected to make it to the NHL if a merger ever goes ahead. Under the dual ownership of Nelson Skalbania and Peter Pocklington, Conacher is brought in by Skalbania.

In another surprise move that typifies the WHA, Skalbania sells his interest in the Oilers to Pocklington and buys a controlling share in the Racers, the club that Conacher has just left. With Skalbania gone, Conacher knows the gig is almost up and also realizes his dreams of ever being a real player in the world of pro hockey management are almost over. It's almost fitting that Conacher left the Racers before Gretzky briefly came on board and then finally bows out of the Oilers organization before the Great One signs on to make history in Edmonton.

In another instance of fortuitous timing, just as Conacher thinks he will move away from the game for good, he is offered a job as marketing manager at Northlands Coliseum, where the Oilers played their home games (and still do, though the arena has since been re-named.) While now on the periphery more than ever, the final section of the book chronicles Conacher's career managing NHL arenas in Edmonton, Hamilton (just as Copps Coliseum is being completed) and then at the fabled Maple Leaf Gardens.

Still in a situation to observe many of the great hockey dramas of the 1980's and 90's unfold, in many ways these accounts are some of the most interesting of the book. The stories surrounding his time at Maple Leaf Gardens will be especially intriguing to many.

The wealth generated by the Maple Leafs creates a palpable greed that flows through and affects every subsequent layer of the organization. Conacher details the litany of union affiliations whose members worked in the Gardens and the unique position they were in to squeeze concessions from the then owners and management who were loath to ever let a work stoppage prevent a game from going ahead.

Ticket sellers on the take, the outdated and inferior Gardens and the fortunes of the Leafs both on and off the ice are some of the topics covered during one of his final and most memorable jobs in the hockey world.

Throughout his life in hockey, Brian Conacher encountered a wide range of people, both well-known and obscure. He lets us know who he respected and formed lasting friendships with. He also gives the reader a reasonable indication of who he thought less of, though without ever descending into insults or attacks.

An autobiography is obviously one person's version of events and Conacheer seems willing in most cases to not pass judgment too harshly on various individuals. The accuracy of his rendering is given credibility by the fact that he questions and criticizes himself almost as much as others. He accepts that he doesn't quite have the ruthless nature to make it as a GM and even admits to advising Skalbania against signing Wayne Gretzky (after Skalbania bought the Indianapolis Racers and maintained contact with Conacher.)

The writing style here goes beyond the average hockey book. While never too deep or weighted down by lengthy sentences, there are more observations, related topics and extrapolating than many of the slim hockey volumes out there that come across as rush jobs. A decent length that you can sink your bashed up teeth into, I nonetheless almost always wish there was more when reading books about hockey.

If there is any criticism, perhaps there could have been some more cultural flavouring of the times as Conacher takes the reader through the various decades. But after all, it is a hockey book, and anything beyond the sport may have been seen as superfluous by many.

Conacher quite possibly uses more exclamation points than are seen in any other book of this length, but by the end it's part of his positive personality that you've seen come through in the pages.

Surprisingly, he doesn't devote a chapter to the 1967 Stanley Cup winning season with the Leafs. Perhaps because he didn't play a significant role on the team (though he contributed five points during the playoffs) or maybe because the amount of information already out there would make another account seem redundant.

While never a superstar or influential manager, Brian Conacher was a journeyman participant and observer of the game of hockey like few others. His adherence to a particular outlook and his own personal honour code riled some and possibly limited how far he went beyond his playing days. But it also resulted in wide-ranging experiences from within and on the margins. That tendency for not always going with the flow lends itself to an interesting narrative and natural conflict. Together with the number of stops Conacher made along the way, fans of the game have the opportunity to read a unique perspective on the past 50 years of hockey in Canada.

Friday, November 16, 2007

NHL Hockey Fights: Milan Lucic vs. Mark Bell

Leafs logoBruins logoThe fight took place early in a game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Boston Bruins on November 15th.

With the Bruins already leading 1-0, perhaps Mark Bell sensed an opportunity to provide a spark for the Leafs and turn around the momentum. If that was his intention, he picked the wrong 19 year-old rookie to tangle with.

As the Bruins chased the puck into the Leafs' end, Bell and Lucic were jawing face to face as they headed into the corner. Mutual agreement and the gloves went flying.

The first few seconds of an NHL fight can determine the outcome as both players grab each other's jerseys and start swinging.

Milan Lucic tied up Mark Bell's punching arm with a rigid and unyielding gripful of sweater and that set the tone for this scrap. As they were positioning themselves, Lucic's helmet was pulled off by Bell.

Lucic hammers five or six body blows into Bell's side as Bell tries to gain leverage and get his right arm free. Lucic starts throwing some hooks, connecting a few glancing blows on Bell's face and then adds an overhand blow that lands solidly. They are up against the boards now and some re-positioning takes place.

Lucic shows his strength in controlling and moving Bell forward out into open ice. Bell is bent forward and being held down by Lucic. Bell straightens himself and now his helmet is slightly askance, tilted forward and possibly affecting his vision. Lucic backs Bell up against the boards and then Bell does throw one hard punch that connects on Lucic's face.

That's all he can muster for now. Bell leans away from his opponent as Lucic drives another fist into the side of Bell's head. Bell is clearly being overpowered but still manages to set himself and come up from his off balance, hunched over position and in one motion delivers another good overhand shot to Lucic's face.

Lucic quickly counters with another hard shot to the side of Bell's head. The two combatants are slowly pirouetting together as Lucic still has far better unfettered control of his punching arm. Bell's hold of his opponent's jersey is superficial and not hindering Lucic at all.

While holding some fabric near the collar of Lucic's jersey with his left hand, Bell manages a quick left jab into Lucic's face. Lucic drives a well placed punch into Bell's jaw, buckling his knees and ending the fight. The refs move in and break it up.

Definite TKO for Lucic in this one. With the poor set-up by Bell he still had the guts to stay in there and absorb some hard shots, all for the chance of getting in a couple of his own clean punches.

And he made those punches count as other reports indicate Lucic was cut, though of the two, Bell was the one who needed immediate attention after the fight was over.

A solid scrap, the kind hockey fight fans love. Both players willing and able to take a punch and unconcerned by any injuries they may absorb. They're only driven on by the desire to do damage to their adversary, get the win and give an edge to their team or at worst hold their own.

An impressive win by a 19 year-old in his first season in the NHL. Lucic showed some impressive power and was able to dominate Mark Bell in this fight.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Darcy Tucker vs. Sean Avery

Leafs logoRangers logoIn a sport where driving your fist into an opponent's face is tolerated, the uproar over the pre-game tiff between Sean Avery and Darcy Tucker the other night is a bit surreal. Such incidents always elicit responses from those who seem to have a hyper awareness of some kind of honour code that respects a certain "line" that they of course would never cross.

That line apparently applies to both actions and words. Where exactly is that line then, regarding what is allowable in terms of physical play? Does it stop in front of launching an assault against another player who is much smaller and doesn't want to fight? No, that happens all the time.

How about continuing to hammer one's fist into an opposing player's face once he is down on the ice and prone? Again, no. That is a regular occurrence in the NHL. While many of these actions may be ostensibly prohibited in the NHL, everyone knows they are brazenly condoned. The reality is that there is an ever-shifting "code" that is invoked only when it suits the player wanting to issue threats and set up a good revenge scenario.

So why the outrage over a few words exchanged before the start of a game? With blunt actions go blunt words and vice versa. With expectations of an all out war against an opposing team, surely you bring out the heaviest verbal artillery as well. Why would you care what a detested punk on the opposing team had to say about you or one of your team-mates? Why let someone control your emotions and throw you off your game?

Unless of course you are secretly or subconsciously thrilled at the license it provides to act in a certain way and occupy a desired role (victim, avenger, etc.) It even supplies the freedom to openly issue threats in public, the kind which would spark a visit from the local police for most people (what a liberating sense of being outside the law it must be for many professional athletes.)

Wade Belak's fantasizing about what could happen to Sean Avery in the future if he provides the desired provocation is oddly reminiscent of gun lovers and their drooling over the thought of criminals giving them the opportunity to be heroes.

Aside from all that though, what I'm still trying to get my head around, is what exactly could Avery have said about Jason Blake's cancer (If that is in fact what his comments were about. And that story is losing credibility by the day.) "You like suckin' back those pills every day punk?"

As horrible as cancer is, it just seems there are better sources of insults for getting under someone's skin. After going through the shock of hearing the news for the first time and reconciling yourself to a life forever changed, I think any derogatory comments would come across as oddly meaningless.

There are much more effective ways to get people riled up. It's no coincidence that the nastiest insults in languages the world over are based on a person's mother and a certain part of her anatomy.

But despite the lack of any hard proof about Avery going after Blake for having the audacity to be afflicted with cancer, why did that rumour quickly gain traction? Because it doesn't take a genius to know what most people's vulnerabilities are. And we all have some unpleasant, if usually unarticulated, thoughts bouncing around inside our skulls.

That's part of the reason why in many instances words can come close to actions in sending people over the edge. And it's interesting how often words seem to cut deeper than actions. Getting knocked down and kicked in the guts is one thing. But being mocked and ridiculed is somehow even worse and stokes the fires of murderous rage.

Maybe being called a gutless maggot after you've been flattened compounds things a thousand times over because now there's some validity to the claim and the thoughts of self-doubt are more open to confirmation than ever before.

Except in cases where someone is physically injured, actions disappear into the ether the moment they occur. The rationalizing narratives that remain are designed to alleviate any discomfort about what really happened and helps us form opinions about ourselves. Someone getting inside our minds and churning things up with a well placed insult can be distressing and may force us to confront buried truths.

We all know that regardless of what was really said, Darcy Tucker is really most concerned about his opponents behaving in a more respectful way when they come to the Air Canada Centre. Tucker, Toronto fans and all those who love the game of hockey really don't want any villains that ratchet up the intensity and potential for an explosive rivalry between the New York Rangers and the Leafs.

There just wouldn't be enough "class" in a situation like that.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Eric Lindros: Retirement, Legacy and Hockey Hall of Fame Consideration

Eric Lindros officially announced his retirement on Thursday. As he recounted his career, presented a 5 million dollar cheque to the hospital where the press conference took place and joked with the media, Lindros seemed more relaxed and content that he had been at any time during his playing days. An aura of relief seemed to surround him and there was a sense that the drama and controversy that dogged him as a player is finally at an end.

As Lindros steps away from the game far earlier than he probably expected way back on that draft day in 1991 when he snubbed the Quebec Nordiques and set the course for his career, the debate over whether he belongs in the Hockey Hall of Fame heats up. It seems that more than most former NHLers, this will be decided as much by the perception people have of him as a player and a person as by any hard facts.

The Eric Lindros saga resonated from the beginning with anyone who has even a mild interest in the game. The response of fans and the media to many of the melodramas that surrounded him were visceral. The discussions over his legacy are just as often based on emotions as on any concrete statistics or evidence. Lindros is kind of like Neil Young, reality TV shows or marmite; you either love him or hate him.

For those arguing in favour of Lindros as being one of the game's great players, a few standard lines are brought up time and again. The most common is "During his prime, he was the most dominant player in the game."

I have a few problems with this statement. First, it is the kind of claim that is rarely quantified. That's because defining such a word is not easy. Even if an acceptable definition is agreed upon, getting consensus on whether individual players reached that level is difficult due to the fact that such a determination is not based solely on points.

Only those who watched Lindros play the game night after night over a period of numerous seasons can really weigh in on whether he was in fact a dominant player. The repetition of that line by others comes across as begging the question. Simply a convenient mantra that is rarely broken down and articulated by those who spout it. Of course, this doesn't mean there isn't any validity to the description of the Big E as a player who could control a game and single handedly make a difference.

A high scoring center who could also hit, fight and drive through opposing players, Lindros was the deciding factor in many games throughout his career. However, there are other elements that detract from the most oft repeated adjective used to describe portions of his career.

And that is the most important thing that takes away from highlighting him as such a pivotal and overwhelming force. He missed too many games in which he was eligible to play due to injuries that resulted from a fundamental flaw in his playing style. He was hammered and concussed on numerous occasions because he failed to keep his head up, a fact which he jokingly referred to during his press conference.

That is at the heart of his other major shortcoming as well. Lack of playoff success. If you aren't playing you can't help drag your team into the playoffs, can't help your team win the Cup and can't be dominant.

With the exception of 2002-03 when he was far removed from his prime, Lindros failed to play a complete season throughout his entire career. Other injuries that reduced his playing time but were no fault of his own are unfortunate but the "if he had been healthy," arguments are ultimately meaningless.

Proponents of Lindros also seem to both dismiss points totals as a deciding factor in qualifying for greatness, or the very least Hall of Fame status, while at the same time pointing to the fact that he did have decent numbers. They are good without a doubt but definitely not great. There are others with higher totals who may not be inducted. Regarding his points production, the most positive spin is that his per game average is at least within the top 20 all time.

When passing judgment, detractors of Lindros are usually guided by the impressions of him that took root early and were validated throughout his career. Sullen, joyless, selfish and petulant are words that come to mind.

His off-ice behaviour, including the demands, melodramas and meddling by his family, were all distractions that did nothing to help the teams he played for. For someone who had so much potential and at times lived up to the hype, his lack of leadership skills are also a mark against him.

The Lindros story-line that was so compelling to fans contributes to a higher profile than many other players before him who accomplished far more. That increased awareness of him as evidenced by the amount of debate over his legacy probably will push him towards acceptance in the Hall of Fame sooner than it would have otherwise. That and the fact that the standard for inclusion really isn't that high.

The real question though, is how will he be remembered a generation from now? Will it be for his marginal accomplishments, both personally and through the teams he was part of, or will it be for the off-ice clashes, career shortening injuries and unfulfilled potential?

For the answer, simply ask yourself what images and thoughts rise in your mind when his name is mentioned.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

NHL Player Profiles: Teemu Selanne

Heading into the NHL's Hockey Hall of Fame weekend, it's a good time for many fans to look back at their favourite retired players of all time. Joe Pelletier at Greatest Hockey Legends came up with the idea to get as many hockey bloggers onside in posting profiles and memories of NHL players from the past.

My entry is in the de facto retired category. While Teemu Selanne may still end up returning to the NHL, he is already considered one of the game's great players.


Teemu Selanne exploded into the NHL with the Winnipeg Jets in the 1992-93 season at the age of 22. Though a 10th overall pick by the Jets in the 1988 entry draft, he played in his native Finland for four seasons after being selected by Winnipeg.

SelanneHis record setting year was something to behold for fans in Winnipeg. Playing on a line with Alexei Zhamnov and Keith Tkachuk, Selanne started filling the net early on and just kept scoring as the season progressed. He was also helped out by the play-making ability of defenseman Phil Housley.

I took in a handful of regular season games that year in Winnipeg. The one that stands out for me was a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs late in the season.

My room-mate at the time was a student from Ontario who had reluctantly come to Winnipeg to study at the only law school in the country that would accept him. He was a rabid Leafs fan and so we bought tickets for the game, one of two they played against the Jets in Winnipeg that year.

One thing that resonated for me during Selanne's rookie season was not only his speed and scoring but his ability to, on occasion, lay some crushing body checks against opponents. Though I was unable to watch him during most of his post-Winnipeg NHL career, I doubt that trend continued beyond his first few years in the league.

Selanne had a serious injury early on in his career and scoring was of course his real strength but boy did he hammer some opposing players in that first season.

During that game against Toronto, Selanne leveled two Leafs players in a single shift, sending most of the fans into a frenzy. As we looked down on the action in the Jets' end, Selanne took out a Toronto skater just as he sent the puck around the boards and behind the net to another Leafs player on the opposite side of the rink. Selanne flashed across the ice to crush the unlucky player as he touched the puck. The Jets went on to win the game 5-3.

The Winnipeg media seemed as thrilled as anyone that this good-natured, instant NHL superstar in the midst of setting a rookie scoring record was also willing to get involved in the physical side of the game. I still remember Selanne, who spoke with slightly accented English at the time, responding to a post-game question from a reporter who asked about his hitting. With his usual big smile and understated tone, Selanne responded that "when they kick you, sometimes you have to kick back."

Despite a great season for Selanne personally, the Jets were mediocre as usual and exited the playoffs in the first round. Selanne wouldn't see post-season action again in Winnipeg and not for another five years until he was playing with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. Nor would he play another complete slate while with the Jets due to a torn achilles tendon in his second season, the lockout shortened 1994-95 campaign and the trade near the end of '95-96.

SelanneSelanne is probably the most talented NHL player ever to be dealt in two separate such lopsided trades. The first time was when he was shipped out of Winnipeg to Anaheim with Marc Chouinard and a fourth round pick in exchange for Chad Kilger, Oleg Tverdovsky and a third round pick.

Panned as one of the worst NHL trades ever, it was near the end of the Jets' last season in Winnipeg in 1996 before moving to Phoenix. Perhaps a colossal snub to the new owners who would take over the following year or more probably just a panic move from a group that was struggling financially and trying to lessen some of the damage.

Selanne had some hugely productive years in Anaheim playing alongside Paul Kariya. In 2001 when it appeared as though his career was on the decline, he was shipped out to the San Jose Sharks for Steve Shields, Jeff Friesen and a draft pick. With the Sharks he had some steady seasons, if unspectacular compared to his earlier efforts.

Teemu was being bothered by a wonky knee and that contributed to his worst output in 2003-04 while playing with the Colorado Avalanche, who he had signed with as a free agent before the start of the season.

He underwent knee surgery in the off-season and didn't play any professional hockey during the lockout 2004-05 season, which he had initially planned to spend with Jokerit Helsinki in Finland. He re-signed with the Mighty Ducks for the 2005-06 season and that marked the beginning of possibly the most impressive late career resurgence ever by an NHL player.

After that stunning rookie season, Selanne tallied 100 points or more on three other occasions, all coming during his first six season stretch with the Mighty Ducks (most of the '96 campaign spent with the Jets.)

He came the closest to reaching that level again in his final two seasons with Anaheim. The surgery, a year spent recovering and practicing hard and the effects of the league trying to eliminate interference in the NHL resulted in point totals for Selanne that were near his peak years.

SelanneIt would be hard to script a better finish for the Finnish Flash than the 2006-07 season. The newly christened Anaheim Ducks (no more "Mighty") won the Stanley Cup and Selanne was 11th overall in regular season points at the age of 36 and third in goals with 48.

The Winnipeg Jets had no real playoff success during their existence as a franchise. They made it to the second round of the playoffs only twice and never beyond that stage. A handful of good seasons, well played games and series and great players are the memories that fans of the former team hold on to.

The history of the Jets is also absent any major player awards with the exception of two Calder trophies for the NHL rookie of the year, presented to Dale Hawerchuk in 1982 and Selanne in '93.

So that rookie season by Selanne is without a doubt one of the highlights in the history of an ultimately disappointing and failed organization. His relentlessly upbeat and positive personality and his on-ice performance will have Jets fans reminiscing for years to come.

While already having financial difficulties and trying to look forward to ways to keep the team in Winnipeg, many fans probably saw that great season by Selanne as a sign of good things to come for the club but of course it wasn't to be.

Though still pondering a return to the NHL, if Selanne never plays another game in the world's premier league, he would be one of the few who went out at the very top.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

NHL Suspensions: Randy Jones Hit on Patrice Bergeron

nhllogo.gifBruins logoFlyers logoThere's widespread relief at the news that Patrice Bergeron suffered nothing more than a concussion and broken nose after the nasty hit from behind by the Flyers' Randy Jones in the Bruins/Flyers game Saturday night. The fact that a head injury and broken nose are met with relief is a sign of how bad it initially looked and the length of time Bergeron lay motionless on the ice.

The guessing, spinning and closing of ranks began almost immediately after the game ended, accompanied by the contrite, humble apology from the perpetrator that has become a requisite part of each subsequent incident.

Bob McKenzie has offered up his take on the hit at TSN, concluding that the suspension that Jones is likely to receive will be far less than those handed out to his Flyer team-mates earlier in the year (Jesse Boulerice tagged with 25 for his cross-check to the face of Ryan Kesler and Steve Downie with 20 for his hit on Dean McCammond.)

McKenzie's sound and reasoned interpretation of issues and incidents in the NHL have made him one of the most respected hockey pundits in the game. To the point that he probably has the ability to influence those within the decision-making ranks of the NHL or at least give them pause for second thought on occasion.

However, I disagree with him somewhat regarding the hit on Bergeron and what the appropriate (and probable) response should (will) be. Mainly for the reason that he bases his analysis of what happened and the likely consequences on the prevailing reaction of players and GMs around the league following the incident. No doubt there is a collective understanding and wisdom about the game within that group that doesn't exist elsewhere, and the weight of that view can't help but have some effect on the final decision.

I sense a kind of annoyance and "here we go again" exhaustion from other players and GMs after their reactions to a number of previous incidents. The mostly genuine responses at the time came at least partly because of outside pressure. The extenuating circumstances, arguable lack of intent and relatively little physical damage have made it easier to offer up the traditionally callous, "that's the way it goes" response this time around.

There's a mentality within hockey and sports in general, that injury equals weakness. It's right there alongside losing and is seen as a shortcoming of those on the receiving end as much as anything done by those inflicting the damage. "It's the fault of the injured player," narrative gets more play in hockey than most other sports. Most such claims beg the question and rarely is there an articulated or detailed explanation of exactly what the player did wrong. McKenzie at least addresses this somewhat in his editorial:

"Bergeron contributed to his own demise by turning away from the hit and going low into the dasher board, which led to a broken nose and concussion. "

I have to say that in the video I don't see at any time Bergeron turning away from the hit. It appears he went in blind and if anything should have turned to increase his awareness and line of vision of opposing players following him into the boards. The turning away from a hit becomes an issue when a player is in a position of peripheral or full vision and turns away from that to avoid a potential collision. However, McKenzie is right regarding the going in low and stopping with that dangerous few feet of space between the boards.

So, the partial blame theory has some credence . But, if blame is to be assigned, far more has to be shouldered by Jones because of the position he was in, the recognition he must have for the potential danger of such situations and the responsibility he has for being able to pull up. Similarly, if the accidental nature of Jones's actions should be given weight when deciding on a punishment, surely the unintentional and accidental aspect of Bergeron's less than perfect positioning should further lessen any blame he has for his own injuries.

I believe the kind of thinking offered up by Allan Maki in his response to the hit will get more consideration from the league. The suspension to be handed down from the NHL is an opportunity to highlight the responsibility players have to play within some kind of limits and to recognize the increasing speed and potential for these situations to develop. The NHL seems conscious of the changing nature of the game and have made certain that suspensions mean something this season. An insignificant number of games for Jones will simply validate the "things happen" story-line.

While it's hard to argue that this fits in with a particular culture and style of play advocated by Flyers coaching and management, the optics still don't look good on the heels of the prior incidents. I expect at least some coded warnings in the language used by NHL brass to address this, though I don't see any fines being assessed.

I believe the suspension will be less than the ones handed down to Downie and Boulerice but more than the handful of games expected by others.

My prediction is 10-12 games.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

NHL 2007-08: Week Four Headlines

JFJ Tries to Entice Tavares, Tlusty Tallies Two

Ferguson is thankful for the distraction that Tlusty's early pair provided. The Leaf's GM tries some creative coercion to improve his credibility.

Are Jerseys a Joke? RBK offers Patch, Pleads Patience

Still being discussed whether remainders from factory to be used.

Oilers Fans Push Penner to Produce

Does a lummox like Penner simply appear lethargic? Or is the "lazy" tag legit?

Visor Usage Vaults

50% of players now wear them. (When this son-of-a-bitch laced on skates in his first organized game at seven, shield use was scattered and still optional.)

Modano Yearns to be Top Point Scoring Yank of All Time

Needs five more to accomplish feat.

Two Swedes on Top in Scoring Race

Sundin at 36 is stunning.

Boys from Broad Street Head into Boston

Flyers and Bruins put their identically respectable 6-3 records on the line Saturday night. Two of the most improved teams so far this season, they've both shown toughness and determination in surpassing early predictions.

Sens Finish Siesta, Skate into Jersey Saturday

In the inaugural game at the new home of the New Jersey Devils, the Senators will play for the first time after a juicy seven day break. Will the Devils christen the Prudential Center with a win or will the Sens improve their league-wide best record?

Buds on Broadway

Two struggling teams with different problems tangle tonight as the Leafs take on the Rangers in New York.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Bloody Chiclets: Quotes, Shills, and Nasty Thrills

NHL logoA few quotes related to hockey that I've heard or read recently:

Rick Ball, a Vancouver radio host, on Colorado Avalanche forward Ryan Smyth: "He's done more crying than Tammy Faye Baker in the past six months."

Well, Baker's been dead for a while but it's still a good one.

Smyth certainly has been blubbering at will ever since he was traded out of Edmonton because of a difference of a couple hundred thousand dollars.

Great fodder for people who want to rip the guy but I reckon if you're not concerned about things like shedding tears in public on a monthly basis, you probably don't have much to prove in terms of your character, toughness, guts etc.

Or, it could also have something to do with lacking that acute sense of self-awareness that can make some people cringe at the sight of their own shadow.

At Fan House, Greg Wyshynski quoting Steve Farber from a Sports Illustrated article on Islander's player Chris Simon: "A man who has been suspended more times than disbelief."

And then this one that can't be confirmed so I'll leave it unattributed:

"Johnny kept me in labour forever! It was horrible! He was already half-way into the world five days before that. So technically..."


Sometimes huge payouts from a sports equipment manufacturer can be a gamble for the player on the receiving end of the deal. Especially if it requires that player to change the equipment with which he's grown accustomed to using and most importantly, winning.

In his fantastic book The Majors, John Feinstein details the history of golf's four biggest tournaments and follows a number of players competing in them over a period of a few years.

In one section he discusses some examples of players who took fat endorsement deals from golf club manufacturers in exchange for using and promoting their products. The results have not always been worth the cash:
The golf world is littered with sad stories about players who changed equipment at a moment in their career when they appeared to be peaking and all of a sudden couldn't find a fairway, a green, or the hole. Corey Pavin, Payne Stewart, Davis Love, Lee Janzen and Nick Price are a few of the better-known names who took the money and eventually found themselves running from the equipment they were being paid to use.

It would be interesting to find out if there are any similar examples from the NHL.

The best case scenario for professional athletes is when a manufacturer comes knocking when they know that player already uses their equipment. But a huge contract can convince someone to change loyalties and in the process brush aside niggling concerns, superstition and years of preferred use.

Surely a custom pair of skates could be subsequently tweaked for a player who hadn't been used to that particular brand. But when comfort, reliability and years of routine have made something second nature, that out of place feeling could start to minutely affect real on-ice performance and get inside a player's head.

I would never suggest Sidney Crosby's relatively slow start (though he's crept up to 16th overall in points) has anything to do with equipment alterations (nor do I know if he has made any changes since last season.) I do believe he has at some point at least changed the stick he uses to suit the terms of his contract with Reebok.

Too bad the huge dollars involved and the likely terms regarding public comments means we would never get much insight if such a problem did exist.


Speaking of RBK, the controversy over the new jerseys isn't going away anytime soon. I thought I was reading the technology section instead of the sports page when I read that they are offering a patch for the new jerseys.

Apparently they have decided to foot the bill to alter the new sweaters at the request of individual players.

My earlier prediction just may come to pass...


There's an old saying that blood doesn't win boxing matches but the sight of crimson splashing on ice usually does signify a win in a hockey fight, even if it's only psychological and doesn't always correlate with who actually landed the most punches.

Of course, sometimes the blood is a clear sign that the poor sap leaking profusely as he leaves the ice did in fact receive an almighty bludgeoning.

Zdeno Chara thumps David Koci

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.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Bloody Chiclets: the Flames, Hockey Pools and the Words We Use

NHL logoFlames logoThat sound you heard last week may have been Mike Keenan ready to blow a gasket. After the Flames got off to a rough start to the season and then put a few wins together, they blew a 4-0 lead against the Avalanche to lose 5-4 in overtime in their game in Colorado on October the 16th. Last night however, they came out on top against the L.A. Kings 4-3.

Throughout most of their first seven games they have been competitive, with the majority of wins and losses being decided by one goal. Scoring in general has not been a problem for the Flames.

The most recent Flames Insider e-mail update included this interesting stat and new NHL record heading into last night's game against the Kings:

"The Calgary Flames set a modern day NHL record Tuesday in Denver when, for the sixth consecutive game to start the season, a player produced a two-goal game.

Daymond Langkow and Kristian Huselius both have a pair of two goal games, where Matthew Lombardi and Jarome Iginla each have one. "

And then Daymond Langkow extended the streak to seven games with another two goals against Los Angeles.


I'm registered in only one online hockey pool this year, hosted by Hockey's Future (I'm currently 33rd out of about 450 participants.)

Pools add a lot of excitement to the season. Kind of like betting but without any money involved (though there are many pools that do involve money and prizes.)

One thing that surprises me is that no one has yet come up with the mother of all online fantasy hockey sites. Something similar to what the English Premier League has been doing with football (soccer) for the past four or five seasons. The number of entrants has grown every year with about 1.4 million people taking part during the current campaign. But the huge numbers don't result in the feeling that you're lost in the shuffle, as you can set up as many individual leagues as you want. You're allowed one free trade per week and can make as many as you want with a cost of four points each, all depending on whether you have the money to make such transfers. The value of each player rises or falls with each subsequent week depending on his performance.

The team set-up is appealing as well, with all participants being able to select their team colours and each Premier League player represented by a uniform icon with mouse-over stats and current value.

I know there are some online fantasy hockey leagues that have attracted a large number of players, such as and Yahoo! sports. And some of those appear to have similar features to the fantasy football site. But overall, they don't really seem to come close in terms of the wide-ranging accessibility and appeal of the Premier League site. In fact, I haven't even been able to sign up to the NHL website's fantasy league. Not sure if this is the reason but there are only two options for countries when signing up, the U.S. and Canada.


Interesting post at the Globe and Mail's hockey blog the other day about the evolving language of hockey. Writer David Naylor mentioned a few terms that are common nowadays but which were rarely heard in the past. This is a topic I have been thinking about since I renewed my interest in hockey a few years ago; something made possible because of the internet.

It's interesting to note the new words and idioms that have come into play to describe various aspects of the game. Naylor covered some of them in his blog entry and there are numerous other ones.

dangle--not sure how long this has been around but I don't remember it back in the day growing up in Winnipeg. "Stick handling" is what it was always known as before (and still is for the most part.) A word that is far too loaded in my opinion and one which seems to have come about after the increase in female reporters in the dressing rooms after games.

squeezing the stick-- used to describe overly anxious individual players and/or teams.

dressing-room cancer-- a rather nasty way to depict a player who is not well liked by his team-mates and contributes to an awkward, unpleasant or flat out poisonous atmosphere.

There are plenty more. I have been compiling a list of words, both new and old, related to the game of hockey and may end up posting them here in the future.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Ottawa Senators: Not a Bad Situation

Sens logoBut a situation nonetheless.

It's been nice to see Martin Gerber step up and play well with Ray Emery recovering from his wrist injury and surgery. Nice because of the fact that Gerber has patiently waited his turn without any whining, sulking or demands to be traded. He is number one NHL netminder material and he has been mature and confident enough to wait his turn, knowing that his chance would come again. Yes, the opportunity has arisen before with Ottawa and he disappointed. Which makes this impressive beginning to the season all the more valuable for Gerber personally and to the Sens as an organization.

Emery is back with the club after a reconditioning stint with Binghamton of the American Hockey League. The standard wisdom on a situation like this, is that the Senators will play the loyalty card, dance with the one who brought them etc., etc. It's pretty good logic. Emery was the go-to goalie in the second half of last season and throughout the playoffs until Ottawa lost in the finals.

But with the Senators' juggernaut set to roll on this week, John Paddock has announced that Gerber will start the game against the Montreal Canadiens in Ottawa on Thursday night. A signal to Emery that once he gets his chance, and no doubt he will within the next week or so, he will have to play as well or better than Gerber to retain the number one spot.

Having two solid goal tenders is a good situation for Ottawa to be in. The options are to trade one, unloading a sizable salary and getting draft picks or another player or two in return while opening up space for another move down the road. Or, hold on to both and reap the benefits of having two reliable players at the most important position on the team if they hope to return to the finals this year. A 1a-1b type situation with both tenders sharing duties (relatively) equally would leave both with more in the tank come playoff time.

Not making a trade too early also leaves the option of dealing one at the deadline to shore up any weaknesses due to injuries or to bring in a veteran or "missing piece to the puzzle" that may have emerged during the season.

If the trade situation comes to fruition, it well may be Emery who is the goalie shipped out to another team. While younger than Gerber and already having had the experience of playing in a Cup final, he still demonstrates flaws in his playing style at times and has an off-ice persona that won't age well.

Emery craves the spotlight, is a loose cannon and has not yet seen the light regarding the potential danger of lawsuit-hungry wackos baiting him into confrontations. When things are ticking along nicely and Emery is playing well, it's tolerable to a degree. But it's a potential distraction and the kind of unpredictability that could even increase with more success.

It will be an interesting story that plays out regarding the Ottawa Sentaors and their goal tenders. If Emery is relegated to back-up as Gerber was last season, will he handle it with as much class?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Florida Panthers at Toronto Maple Leafs: Hockey Game and Public Execution

Leafs logoI wouldn't want to be Bryan McCabe heading into the Leafs' Thursday night game against the Florida Panthers in Toronto. Well, OK, the 86, 000 plus dollars he will pocket for the match-up (at the 7.1 million he will earn this season in the front-loaded contract that averages 5.75 million per year, divided by 82 games) would make it more than tolerable.

But it's still going to be a gut churning affair for the Leafs' defenseman. McCabe has been abysmal this season and things got a whole lot worse when he scored into the Leafs' net in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday. It was a performance in which he otherwise made relatively few mistakes in comparison to the blunder-fests of previous games.

Toronto fans have been relentlessly raining down abuse to let the highest paid player on the team know that he has to improve. The only other possible aim of the boo-boons is to pressure McCabe to waive his no-trade clause and hope the Buds can pawn him off on another team willing to take a chance. Players rebounding with different team-mates who complement the new arrival and elicit dormant skills is certainly not unheard of.

The huge salary plus no-trade clause for McCabe is the prime example that highlights why John Ferguson Jr. is rarely praised as being a shrewd operator. The fact that there are more than a few contracts with no movement provisions on the team is a hard one to fathom. It's perplexing that the person in charge of an NHL team would strip away his own power by so casually removing his ability to trade a player in the future.

No doubt many players and their agents now head into negotiations asking for no-trade clauses. But I find it hard to believe that such demands are deal breakers if not acceded to by team management. Eliminating your own options and giving unnecessary leverage to players is just not astute or forward thinking.

It adds credence to the claims that Ferguson is unqualified, inexperienced and soon to be unemployed. It's been a difficult year for Toronto's GM and he has probably questioned his own abilities at times. Perhaps Ferguson's unlikely hiring has led him to subconsciously want to reward players beyond their abilities. In the process convincing himself that they will overachieve as he must at times also believe about himself, lest he self-destruct. Or maybe it's far simpler than that. Maybe it's done in the naive hope that it will make the players like him because of his generosity and thus try harder.

But, just like with the morbidly obese contracts awarded to certain players, it's hard to fault the person on the receiving end of a job offer that he is unqualified for. In both examples, incompetence has introduced factors into the story which otherwise wouldn't be so important. Aspects that have been unfairly amplified and focused on simply because someone further up the chain blundered ahead with no concern for perception or long-term goals. The bottomless pit of billions at the disposal of the Leafs organization can't help in such situations either. If things fall apart, just start over with no concern for taking a financial hit.

For McCabe, his salary is what everyone mentions first and what justifies for so many the ruthless nature of the personal insults. And for Ferguson, the fact that he wasn't ready to take on such a big responsibility. A decision which has ruined his development as a general manager. When he is eventually sacked by the Leafs, it will be a long time in coming, if ever, that he gets another shot at running a big league club.

The two issues are directly related, as without the unwise hiring of Ferguson, the McCabe contract never would have become a reality. And so their fates are similarly intertwined.

The looming on-ice massacre by a million boos is the kind of story that even the casual fan can get his head around. This is not a media generated narrative. It resonates and transcends the interest of hard-core followers and has taken on a nasty life of its own. McCabe is one of those players well-liked in the dressing room and even by some reporters (despite the piling on and recent headlines), so there is more than a bit of sympathy for him.

If things continue to decline and he is traded, those who participated in the repeated verbal assaults will know that their efforts got to him in a personal way and succeeded. For he will be the one that has to request or agree to such a trade. If, on the other hand, McCabe pulls out his best performance of the year, he will briefly silence his detractors and just may be able to use it as a turning point.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Mats Sundin: Leaf Number One

Leafs logoDespite having played in Toronto for the past 13 seasons and become the franchise's all-time leading scorer, Mats Sundin remains a bit of an enigma.

At the end of every season he retreats to the comforts of home in Sweden.

Mats SundinThough perfectly fluent in English with nary a trace of an accent and as obliging as any player is towards the media, it is well known that he is still quite shy. Sundin will segue into the stock cliches faster than most when giving an interview, always finding a way to deliver them with a thoughtful and genuine disposition.

One of the most popular and well-liked current and all-time Leafs players, there is still a small number of fans not completely enamoured of Sundin. This is mainly due to the absence of any Stanley Cups for Toronto during his tenure, his salary and his apparent "lack of emotion."

Criticism of any player is warranted, expected and quite often helpful. When you are number 4 in terms of cash raked in by NHL players (see "Fortunes Accumulated") over the last 18 years combined, that analysis naturally seeks out any and all possible vulnerabilities.

It's hard to get on Sundin for the lack of playoff success in recent seasons (especially the last two.) Though for some critics, not winning it all and Sundin's slightly less than a point-per-game production in the post-season warrant the barbs. Considering his relative lack of support in terms of team talent, the negative assessments don't gain much traction with the majority of fans.

It's the "lack of emotion" claims that you hear being spouted on occasion that I find the most unfounded.

A player lacking emotion wouldn't play for years surrounded by mediocrity and not ask to be traded. Make it even more basic than that. A player without that internal drive would never rack up such consistent totals over that time period.

My feeling is that most of these claims are based on a skewed perception. A perception that is largely cultural. When certain fans say that Sundin "lacks emotion," what they really mean is he doesn't display emotion. In that florid-faced, emoting, slightly cringe-worthy way that Canadians are known for.

Passive aggressiveness is an epidemic amongst Canadians in general. Scratch the surface of the placid, nonchalant persona of an average Canuck and they will turn into an abrasive, confrontational wacko thrilled at being granted the license to put on a public display. Not surprising that this is also an attribute seen as admirable in hockey players. I'm not referring to conduct within the flow of a game but after the whistle behaviour such as the little tantrums meant to show just how much the game matters. (For example, see Darcy Tucker's attempts to get at fans in the past couple of Leafs games. How convenient that there is always someone nearby to restrain him.)

I quite like the extra side performances at times as well. It adds excitement to a game, likely acts as a motivator for the animated, gesticulating oaf engaging in such tactics and probably even spurs his team-mates on to perform better, if only for the hope that it will prevent further antics and subsequent embarrassment.

It should be noted however, that different cultures around the world place a much higher premium on avoiding such behaviour, even when taking part in sports. The justifiable "losing it" that seems to be more accepted in North American culture is considered a weakness in many parts of the world. In those societies, strength is in not showing your true feelings to opponents. Based purely on my own anecdotal experiences, and in an attempt to nicely wrap up this collection of generalizations, I'm going to say that Swedes tend to fit into that category.

So, rip Sundin for his salary if you must and compare his performance to the Herculean efforts of other players who single handedly drove their teams to playoff success. But when talking about emotion, consider the superficial aspect of many such claims.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Hockey and Alcohol: a Potent Mix

Rob Ramage was found guilty on Wednesday of drunk driving in the incident that killed former Chicago Blackhawk Keith Magnuson. The response from his coterie of supporters is an odd sort of incredulity that he may actually have to pay for what he did. It's a glaring example of the long-standing claim by many that athletes are so accustomed to being treated as special that they never learn what it means to take responsibility. More than that though, it's a reminder that the booze-soaked hockey sub-culture is alive and well.


One of the saving graces of growing up in a frozen hole like Winnipeg is the number of outdoor hockey rinks that are dotted around the city. Every neighbourhood has a few community centres where, from the beginning of November until the end of February, anyone can go and lace on their skates. You can join in a pick up game or simply coast around on the one ice surface that is usually reserved for both such purposes. As a youngster I spent many hours at the local rinks. By the time I was old enough that a curfew no longer restricted my movements, I would on occasion head out at 11:00 or 12:00 at night when the clubhouse was closed and the floodlights were off.

A perfect windless night for a lone midnight skate with a six pack chilling behind the gate on one of the benches. The ice-cold booze numbs the back of my throat and adds to the surreal atmosphere. Float around in a kind of meditative trance heightened by the effects of the alcohol. Hammer a few shots on net, try to improve my backward skating, enjoy the fact that for once I'm the best player on the ice.

Sit in the box and slurp back a few more leisurely drinks amongst the detritus of the rink. A few splintered sticks, wads of used tape, even a broken puck or two. Laugh about how such an image would play with most people...alone on a frozen night at a deserted ice rink relaxing with a few beers and contemplating life. I take another slug...


The old Winnipeg Arena was located on Maroons Rd. and St. James St. and shared the same patch of real estate with the city's biggest shopping mall, Polo Park. Running along St. James St, which faced the large parking lot and the side of the arena, were a handful of mid-sized wholesale businesses with the requisite loading docks in the back. A rail-line ran behind them and then further on some side streets that were perfect for parking for Jets games and other events at the arena.

Before tail-gate parties there were impromptu pre-game booze sessions that took place on one of the loading docks of the rarely used or deserted businesses. With the arena visible a few hundred metres away and the buzz of the game gaining energy, we whipped ourselves into an alcohol induced frenzy.

The trickle of early arrivers turned into a steady flow of people and then a surging crowd as the opening faceoff approached. Raging towards the game we would stop traffic as we crossed the street and join the throng wedging themselves into the arena. The swilling would continue with cans smuggled in and topped up with the overpriced beer sold at the concession stands.


Playoff hockey provided one of the year's greatest reasons for going on a six week to two months long bender. The rush of the alcohol high together with the excitement of following your team creates an addictive and powerful rush. Not only is the experience incredible but the validation of all those around you who are getting similarly shitfaced adds to the feeling. Even simple things like the barrage of beer commercials rolled out around the playoffs especially to honour committed drinkers, makes it a great time to be alive and drunk. Knowing that the brotherhood of boozers includes many of those players you are cheering for every night adds to the collective insanity.


It’s at once odd but completely understandable that no NHL club has yet enforced a team-wide ban on drinking amongst its players. With the millions at stake and the fleeting window of opportunity for any collection of players to challenge for the Cup, something as simple as eliminating the short-term detrimental health effects of even occasional alcohol intake, would no doubt be positive. Impossible to implement, of course. Beyond any other rationale, booze is legal. Just like the failure to compete and win, a player who can’t handle a few drinks is the one at fault and is simply demonstrating weakness.

Drinking is part of the teenage hockey sub-culture as it is within every other group of adolescent boys. For the simple reason that it feels good and creates incredibly strong and powerful memories. Especially in the early going of a young piss-head’s life, when those feelings are so new and more likely to create lasting impressions.

There are always a percentage of people who, for a variety of reasons, are sucked into the nastiness that is alcoholism and are unable to moderate or control their urges like most others. The NHL has had more than a few examples of players over the years whose careers and/or lives were cut short because of the bottle.


SandersonDerek Sanderson was a star player for the Boston Bruins (and a handful of other teams) and one of the earliest celebrities in the game. Because of all the glamour, accolades and hangers-on that came with success, Sanderson’s off-ice routine became one long alcohol-soaked party. As a way to keep himself plugged into, or insulated from, the non-stop lunacy of the off-ice distractions, he kept on pounding back the drinks.

Sanderson eventually reached the proverbial bottom of the bottle. A down and out skid row vignette straight out of the pits of despair, Sanderson woke up on a park bench hung over, with waves of nausea and self-loathing coursing over him.

Though his playing was greatly affected by his alcoholism, at least he salvaged his life and went on to have a second career as a sportscaster and businessman.

For a player like Sanderson, who reached a high level in terms of playing ability, his off-ice downfall was similarly spectacular and can be compared to other sports legends and their tribulations. Spurred on by the voyeuristic energy of those witnessing such a tragedy, it’s almost like a performance of another kind.


Bryan Fogarty stepped into a tragic role fueled by a cocktail of his inner demons and a river of booze that never stopped flowing until the day he died. It was a trajectory that was instantly recognized by others around him. Yet they were helpless to intervene and save what could have been a very good professional hockey career or at least a life lived beyond the age of 32.

Fogarty could never handle the pressure of a big league career and drank as a way to deal with it all. Just like sports, alcohol is one of those many things humans use as an escape from reality. It allows a person to hide from their problems while providing a whiff of already known or hoped for glory. Of course, the longer you use booze as way to avoid facing your weaknesses, the more tragic their effect on your life will be in the long run.


KordicJohn Kordic was a bruiser who played for a handful of NHL teams including the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs. As with many hard-core drinkers, he seemed to gain solace not only from alcohol but from the seediness and accompanying sideshow that is part of the drinking lifestyle. Perhaps it brought reality down to a place that was similar to the internal dialogue and thoughts he had about himself. It’s tempting to offer up half-baked speculation like that in an attempt to bring some kind of semblance of understanding to tragedies such as Kordic’s, though no doubt it’s more nuanced than that.

Like Fogarty, Kordic died at a young age as a direct result of his drinking (and drug use.) The two had apparently formed a brief friendship based on the shared understanding that they both had a serious problem.


Brian "Spinner" Spencer was another tragic case whose problems with alcohol and drugs led to an early death. Spencer grew up in the tough northern B.C. town of Fort St. James and developed a taste for alcohol at a young age.

The effects of alcohol are different for everyone. For every functional boozer there's someone for whom the drink latches onto one of their fundamental flaws, takes hold and never lets go. For Spencer, it must have somehow seemed appropriate to lead a reckless life on and off the ice. Perhaps he felt cursed after his father was killed in a shoot-out with police.

He had been enraged when his son’s first big league game as a Toronto Maple Leaf played on a Saturday night, a match-up originally scheduled to be shown on the CBC in his area, was pre-empted. He stormed off with a gun to the closest CBC station and minutes after arriving he was dead.

Spencer’s personal life included the usual string of self-made problems that come with out of control substance abuse. He ended up leaving hockey earlier than he might have otherwise and was murdered during a drug deal in Florida in 1988.


FleuryTheoren Fleury played in the NHL for 17 seasons and will best be remembered for his years with the Calgary Flames. Fleury was tough as nails, especially considering his stature, and could score goals as well. Probably as close to a functioning alcoholic as the league has ever seen, the drink still ended up costing Fleury a handful of suspensions and must have at least reduced his potential to some degree. Which highlights what he did accomplish as all the more impressive.

Fleury did not hit rock-bottom in such a dramatic way as some other players and he benefited from an increasing awareness within the league and the advent of a substance abuse program in the NHL.


There is a litany of other second or third tier players who will be remembered as much for their off-ice imbibing and related antics as for anything they did on the ice. In many of those cases, the individuals engaged in a fearless and nasty style of play that fit in well with the hard-drinking desperado image. The likes of Steve Durbano, Link Gaetz and Billy Tibbets fit in this category.


With growing societal awareness and stricter enforcement of laws related to drunk driving, many of the most recent examples of NHL players and drinking problems have come to light only after the law got involved. See Mark Bell and Jay Bouwmeester for such unfortunate situations. Both however, seem to have a shot and leaving their problems behind them and continuing on with their hockey careers.

These are only a sampling of the players whose drinking problems destroyed their lives or affected their careers. Others have been social drinkers able to keep their lives relatively stable and unaffected by alcohol up until one tragic mistake that resulted in the death of themselves or innocents (for example, Steve Chiasson and Craig MacTavish.)

When a case involves a well-known player, it will of course have a higher profile. Add in the intrigue of public melodrama and death and the voyeuristic appeal ramps up even more. Do hockey players abuse alcohol more than the general population? Probably not, though I feel it’s at a higher rate than other professional sports played in North America.

What’s the reason? Perhaps it’s the Caucasian-centric nature of the NHL and the Anglo Saxon roots of the drinking subculture and the connections to preparing for battle. The game of football (soccer) as played in Britain seems to have the same boozing narrative and examples of tragic cases of players stoked by the surreal media glare and lapped up by a sympathetic audience.

Or maybe it’s because after being immersed in the ongoing drama that is a boozer’s life, there’s a realization that the trade-off isn’t all that bad. Reliving the moments of glory within the drunken haze of the endless celebration together with being feted as a true raconteur in exchange for the occasional dark night of the soul, potential ruin and early death. Throw in the sympathy, interest and energy of the fans who watch as your life becomes a real-life soap opera and the alternative, which is the drudgery of even temperament, obscurity and a safe, uneventful personal life, just isn’t enough for some.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

NHL 2007-08: Firsts of the Season

NHL  logo1. The first first tragedy or event outside (or inside) the game that puts things in perspective.

A sad irony that after NHL teams took part in the campaign to raise awareness about cancer on the weekend, Jason Blake announces that he is stricken with a rare form of leukemia on Monday.

People often trot out the usual cliches when they don't know what to say or how to articulate their most vulnerable feelings. I say "vulnerable" because, let's face it, as much sorrow and empathy as we feel for someone who has suffered in some way, it really hits at our innermost fears about what will one day befall us and our loved ones.

"It makes you realize what is important in life," is the one line that comes to mind in such a situation. No doubt family and friends eclipse all else but I'll put the passion that drives an athlete to the heights and makes him successful enough to turn pro as something that is also right up there.

To reach the end of one's life and know that passions were neglected and dreams never realized can cast a cloud of bitter regret over everything, including the relationships with friends and family that should matter so much. Passions are very important and can enrich our interactions with those we are closest to. For some people, such as pro hockey players, those intense commitments to achieve can help them to ensure the comfort and safety of the people who matter most in their lives.  Let's not forget that those distractions and challenges we create and absorb ourselves in help to establish the character and personalities of the human beings who we care for to such a heightened degree when tragedy strikes.

I admire Blake for the toughness he is showing but I'm afraid that when you start to look at the details of his condition, you realize just how serious it is. Here's hoping he beats it and somehow has a great, full season with the Leafs.

2. The first brewing controversy of the season.

No, it's not head shots, though that will rear its bashed melon as an issue again at some point.

It's the new RBK Edge jerseys that were touted as the greatest innovation in pro sports equipment since the ventilated nut cup.

They spent so much time and so many millions on research to develop fabric that would dispel moisture that they never considered where the rivers of sweat would flow. Take a look at this question and answer document (note: it's a pdf file) released by Reebok and the NHL regarding the new uniforms. There's a lot in there about wind tunnels and technologically advanced material:

"Q: How valid and thorough was the research behind this new project?

A: Unprecedented testing was executed by the Reebok research & development teams as well as experts at both the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (wind tunnel analysis) and Central Michigan University (thermal regulation analysis). More than two years of extensive research, development and testing were performed on the new Rbk EDGE Uniform System with player performance and safety at the forefront of the project. Testing started in labs and progressed through various wear-test groups and most importantly Reebok worked directly with the NHL and NHLPA to ensure players’ feedback was incorporated. "

But not much regarding in-the-field-rink testing. OK, there is some information about player feedback but look at the details and time-line:

"Q: Did the NHL and Reebok seek input from NHL players, the NHL Players’ Association (NHLPA) and General Managers? If so, what kind of feedback was received?

A: Players’ input was a key component of the development of this new uniform system from the very early stages. In 2003, Reebok and the NHL had initial discussions to bring Reebok’s expertise in uniform design to the NHL with an overall goal of creating a new uniform that would increase player performance and protection. Over the course of the next year, new uniform concepts were presented to NHL General Managers and the NHLPA. Prototypes were developed and refined by Reebok and by the summer of 2006 the project was approved by the NHLPA and Board of Governors. On-ice testing sessions with NHL and minor-league players continued during team practices through the 2006-07 season and constant modifications were made based on player feedback. Many NHL players have been supportive of Reebok’s modifications to the NHL uniform system and have responded positively to the safety and performance improvements that the new Rbk EDGE Uniform System provides. "

The research and development started in 2003 but the input from players who had actually tried the jerseys in a realistic situation (and even then only in practices) wasn't until 2006-07. It seems like it was almost an afterthought at that point and appears only limited in scope. Why weren't they tested in game situations? How many players took part?

It's not hard to imagine that those few players had a bias and were more likely to highlight the positives and provide favourable ratings. And the people involved in the project were no doubt blinded by the validation all around them and the millions that were flowing like the unfettered gallons of sweat that are currently soaking every scrap of equipment and apparel worn by players. Except of course for those pristine, pathetic jerseys, which by all accounts are remaining as dry as sawdust.

Funny how the little unexpected things end up doing in so many people and big ideas. It was tax evasion with Al Capone and with the new jerseys it's sweat.

3. First unbeaten streak.

There are a few unbeaten teams though Ottawa's streak is the longest at four.

Surprising Washington are unbeaten after three.

Others with two wins and no losses are the Tampa Bay Lighting and the Minnesota Wild.

I'll take Ottawa as the team that keeps their streak alive the longest.

4. The first points leader.

There has been some movement within the first week of the season but Daniel Alfredsson is currently on top with five goals and eight points.

That will likely earn Alfredsson the first NHL player of the week designation as well.

5. First slew of injuries.

There are plenty of banged up players though one of the most recent injuries was suffered by Sean Avery in this nasty but clean hit from Chris Neil during the game between the Senators and the New York Rangers on October 6th.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Bloody Chiclets: Some Early Stats and Online Games

NHL logoDucks logoSens logoLeafs logoNiedermayer decision coming soon? Five games into a less than fantastic start for the defending Stanley Cup champions and Nidermayer is soon going to fill us in on whether or not he's going to grace the Ducks with his presence? And therein lies the answer to this increasingly self-serving display of procrastination.

Niedermayer simply wants to convince his teammates and the rest of the league that he, in fact, is not expendable. The longer the Ducks struggle, the greater his loss is felt and the more his stock rises. At the merest hint that Anaheim is returning to form, he will slide back into the line-up and ride the wave with them, undoubtedly bolstering their fortunes even more as they improve beyond what these first few games suggest.

More likely, he's doing a stint of scouting his current/former team to see if it really is worthwhile to return for another year. Without the assurance of another competitive season with a reasonable shot at repeating as champs, it may seem like a redundant uphill slog to someone like Niedermayer who already has four Cup rings and a barnful of other hardware.

Or, he could just be enjoying the experience of not getting hammered into the boards (and doing a good deal of hammering himself) in October for the first time in almost 20 years.


Hard to start crunching numbers or establishing trends with only a handful of games played by most teams, but here's an interesting stat. The Ottawa Senators and the Toronto Maple Leafs are currently the most penalized teams in the NHL (discounting the Ducks, who have played two more games than the Buds and the Sens, though their per game average is still lower.) Ottawa and Toronto have 31 and 30 minutes in penalties respectively while both have been short-handed 20 times over the span of three games.

The difference between Ottawa and Toronto is that the Senators haven't allowed a single goal while killing penalties while the Leafs have given up two. Ottawa has actually fared even better than that, scoring two short-handed goals. Toronto has allowed a short-handed goal but scored none of their own.

With the man advantage, Ottawa has scored two goals and Toronto just one (the game winner in overtime against the Canadiens yesterday.)

At least some part in why Ottawa has the maximum six points after three games and Toronto just three. Special teams are a huge part of any team's success and this year will be no different as it appears the obstruction and stick penalties will be called as tight as ever.

The numbers aren't that far apart of course, and most importantly, the three games make it all the more lacking in significance. Still, I'm dying to start seeing the trends develop so I thought I'd get some early practice. After ten games things will warrant a far closer and more relevant look.

As for the stats themselves, I've relied on Yahoo! sports for the above numbers. I have seen at least one discrepancy elsewhere regarding the number of times Ottawa has been in a penalty killing situation, with the Globe and Mail quoting 19.

Speaking of stats, there is a satcheful of online sites that cater to those who love the numbers games. The NHL site is a good starting point and also includes links for all the individual team sites. Hockeydb provides some great individual player numbers and details that span over their entire careers. I like ShrpSports for the snapshots they provide of previous seasons including the standings as they were at any particular date in the past.


The attempts to watch games online have proven fairly useless so far. What happened to those glorious, uninterrupted stretches of streaming during last season's playoffs? No doubt it's down somewhat to my internet connection though there are limits to what I can do to improve that. Radio is a weak alternative but still provides some respite.

I like the feature from that gives you the real-time scoreboard of individual games on your monitor together with a pretty good ticker of all the action. The detail in the ticker is impressive with surprisingly intricate play by play that includes shot type, blocks, hits, penalties and of course goals.


To access the scoreboard for a particular match-up, go to Scores and then click on the "Real Time" link that appears next to a game that is currently in progress.