Hockey is back – again.
Back from another labor abyss: the 3rd work stoppage since 1994, 2nd since 2004.
The first one? Who really remembers what that was about? But suffice it to say it had a lot to do with money. Then there was the 04-05 dispute that wiped out the entire season including the Stanley Cup Playoffs (First professional league to take that drastic and dark step). That one was about philosophical (and physical) changes to how the game was being played and how it should be played going forward, but mostly it was about money. This past Lockout: 100% about money.
So if money is the overwhelming factor in the NHL vs. NHLPA disputes then the solution to avoiding future work stoppages would seem to me to be either do away with greed in society, or, model the sports leagues that have money taken out of the equation (i.e. the NFL)
I agree, probably a much better shot at solution #2 than killing Gordon Gekko’s mantra.
The NFL is the best model because, well, it doesn’t shut down. In the NFL, they bargain and they posture and use replacement players and replacement refs, but they don’t lock their doors. Why would they? Makes no sense to shut off a cash spigot.
And how is it that every NFL team makes money?
A two-letter acronym.
Uh, yes. Television.
TV is football’s 32 teat cash cow. And they treat that bovine better than a Hindu in India treats a milk cow.
You could say Television runs the NFL, and because of that, the NFL runs like a count room in Vegas.
Just stop for a minute and consider how powerful the networks are in that sport.
- Games start when TV says they’ll start, and resume when TV says they’ll resume
- TV puts cameras wherever they want
- TV picks who they want to show
- TV gets its commercials in
- TV gets the interviews it wants
- TV gets its own exclusive sit downs with top players and coaches every week
- TV influences style of play (You don’t think today’s high scoring NFL is an accident, do you)
- TV gets timely and accurate injury reports
- TV constantly looks for innovative ways to present the game to the masses
And so on.
A good example of how beneficial it would be for hockey to ‘give itself’ to the creative whims of television is the work HBO has done in its 24/7 series. Sure it’s a documentary vehicle, very different than the arduous execution of live action games, but it shows how much better (and more profitable) the game and the personalities can be when age-old restrictions are melted away.
Going forward, the NHL and NHLPA ‘partnership’ can only sell so many more tickets, jerseys, hats, key chains, etc. The biggest potential growth area for them is eyeballs -television. But you can’t grow something if you don’t water it and allow it to flourish. Leave it in the same small pot, give it just enough water to survive, always keep it partially shaded and that growth will be, well, disappointing.
As long as ‘leaders’ shrug their shoulders and give in to that tired, generations-old maxim that ‘hockey is the best sport to see live but just doesn’t translate to television’, nothing will change. (I wish they’d ask me for suggestions)
And as long as the people with a big say in how the game is presented on television are the same people who are managing the sport, who are busy ‘trying not to lose’ both the game at hand and their own jobs, and are often hiding behind the skirt of ‘competitive disadvantage’, then sadly nothing will change.
Remember this: The National Hockey League is - at its core - the steward of the 30 franchises that comprise it, and the National Hockey League Players Association has the best interests of the 800+ players it represents as its reason for being. (Both caretakers of what they should be caretaking.) That said, they are rather myopic in their views of what is most important ‘for the game’.
Which brings us back to the repressed 3rd party in all of this; the numerous television outlets that have paid handsomely to broadcast NHL games and chronicle the ebb and flow of the players, teams and their fortunes
So just whom does television serve?
The Fan, that’s who.
TV works exhaustively to take the fan inside the game and behind the scenes, and give him or her information, innovation and entertainment that allows them to enjoy the sport at home, or nowadays – anywhere, at anytime.
TV – if doing its job and nurturing the relationship – gives the fan what he or she wants, not what it thinks he or she needs. The referendum on that is always very simple and immediate. CLICK.
And therefore, in a true twist of irony, over the next decade it may be the fan (TV) that rises to take THE power seat and ensure that in the future the game we all love is not the pawn that it has too often been.
Eyeballs equal dollars, and lots of shared television dollars equate to uninterrupted NHL hockey, which is what everybody desires. Everybody.
So fans, watch hockey, and we’ll try to do better.
"Cleverness is not wisdom" - Euripides
"The best stuff often doesn't make air...This is not that stuff!" - Daryl 'Razor' Reaugh
Pull the sheet over. The viewing is Saturday.
And with that we prep for the impending autopsy during which we should quickly cut away the decay and rot that was too much for the body of work to fend off, and instead focus on the parts that can be harvested for future implementation.
23 and getting better every year. All-Star. Accuracy winner at ASG. Should (needs) to take a more prominent role on Special Teams.
That should about do it for the "Most Underrated Player" patronizing
THE reason they remained in the hunt. His fault is one I can live with; for a second straight season he tried too hard in stretch games, wanting so badly to get this team into the playoffs he appeared over-eager and surrendered too many goals. The team had two runs and during them he was twice Player of the Week and was named the league's 2nd Star in October
His presence was like adding a 35-40 goal scorer out of thin air. Poof! Presto! Shazam! And, when he shot the puck, Ka-Pow!
Character, spirit and determination. He was one of the few players who was consistently good in the disastrous 2nd games of back to backs.
A full year behind an NHL bench behind him with all the lessons learned, the successes and the failures, will mean a much better coach in October 2012.
The pixieish Dane made major strides. He"ll never be confused with Derian Hatcher (or Sergei Zubov for that matter) but he seemed to learn a few hard knocks lessons - most importantly, if something isn't severed, get up.
Swift, physical and competitive, he came out of nowhere to earn a spot on the roster.
It faltered a little in the final weeks but it was better than average. Something to build on.
These aren't at all the only positives from the season (Nystrom, overtime success, Souray...etc.), just the first nine that popped into my head.
Want a little levity? Look at it this way; the Sabres solved their ownership issues last year, spent a wack of money on players in the summer, have the most senior coach in the league - and still missed the playoffs.
Tom Gaglardi took control of the franchise midstream this season. His first order of business was just that, business. He lowered ticket prices to get fans more easily exposed to the team and has hired extremely well atop the structure of the franchise off the ice. The results have been easy to see. Stars games at AAC have come out of their dormant state.
Next up would be making prudent improvements on the ice but with the cautionary quotation "Fill your bowl to the brim and it will spill. Keep sharpening your knife and it will blunt" written in bold print.
To that end, I read someone rip the Sabres brass for their moves. It went something like, "next time spend elite-level money on elite-level players". Ouch. (Have to applaud them for trying though)
So avoiding that trap and trusting that management here can do as well with an expanded wallet as they did this past summer on a shoe-string will surely see a jump to the next level in Big D.
Remember also, external expectations of this team were minimal at the outset of the season. Bankrupt, inexperienced, and hovering just above the salary cap floor doesn't instill a lot of belief.
Ultimately they fell just shy of an unlikely playoff birth. And in the end - despite two wonderful, belief-inducing runs - they were no better than a .500 team, just average.
Sure another non-playoff year stings. It stalls the rejuvenation of this proud club, and it robs us of beard growing season. (Fact: men's beards grow faster in the Spring)
Good times are on the horizon for the Dallas Stars - I believe that with every fibre of my being. But it's going to take patience and smarts and sweat, and yes, money.
There is a promising crop of prospects coming into the organization out of Junior and US college ranks. Their development is going to be crucial to the big club's success in the coming years.
Austin has to become a prime incubator.
Dallas has to again become; a prime landing spot for quality free agents, an uncomfortable place for opponents to play and blast for fans to ' be a part of'.
This franchise got ground to a pulp the past three years. It will likely take that long for it to re-establish itself as the jewel it once was. I know we all want it to get there yesterday but it never works that way.
Oh it's going to get there, trust me, and it's so going to be worth all of our emotional and financial investment.
As for 2011-12...Cue 'Dust in the Wind'
"You're my boy Lou!"
Here We Go Again
"Either you deal with what is the reality, or you can be sure the reality will deal with you."
- Alex Haley
Sharks. Preds. Blues.
That's what's left. That's the challenge.
Last season when Marc Crawford's club went under the whip it was a five-game winning streak against non-playoff bound teams that was needed; @Ana, CBJ, home and home with COL, and then that finale @MIN.
They, as you probably know, fell a victory short.
This year it's a much different challenge, yet it's kinda the same.
Instead of facing opponents headed to a summer on the links, this season it's nothing but playoffs bound - or hopeful - clubs that the team has to conquer, and a season ending winning streak seems to be a necessity - all be it a shorter one. San Jose, @NSH and then versus Hitch's Blues is the trifecta they'll try to hit.
There are no crutches to lean on, not metaphorically nor literally. They either get it done or they're done.
True 'must win' hockey has arrived.
Saturday night was a franchise defining game for the San Jose Sharks and they played like it. Tuesday at AAC won't be as hyperbole-soaked but it will likely decide the Stars playoff aspirations.
Should be awesome.
"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit."
Maybe the most overused, under adhered-to word in the hockey world is "accountability".
Every club talks about "holding each other accountable", but those words - like backchecking - are hard work. Humans don't really like hard work. Hockey people are human. Hard work is hard.
It's human nature to explore 'an easier way' to do things and in sports that translates into taking shortcuts which usually precedes something called 'losing'.
So just what is this accountability thing?
Accountability: Accountability is taking or being assigned responsibility for something that you have done or something you are supposed to do. (noun)
In hockey this would include things like: penalties, turning the puck over, shift length, and whining at officiating, along with other stuff.
Mike Babcock is an accountability coach. The Penguins seem like an accountability team. The Blues appear to have found this religion. And if you watched 24/7 Road To The Winter Classic you are very aware of the level of accountability the Rangers John Tortorella asks for and the manner in which he goes about getting it.
In other sports, Jimmy Johnson's Cowboys had it. So did Bill Walsh's 49ers, Lombardi's Packers and John Wooden's Bruins.
It really is a simple concept. Systems and expectations are not a sometimes thing, they are an every time thing.
Holding others to a standard requires confidence and drive, energy and brass. It's hard. But it's also rewarding.
Saying is not doing. Doing is doing.
The proof, you see, is in the pudding. And the pudding is a playoff spot.
STL - Armstrong built, Hitchcock driven.
VAN - A Pacific Northwest power should be allowed to plow a little water
DET - A glimpse at 'Nik Lidstromless' looks like it might/could be post-apocalyptic gloomy
NSH - Expectations can be paralyzing. Ask Buffalo. Buffalo.
CHI - Too many chiefs, not enough impact players...or saves??
LA - Uh oh, look who learned (paid) to score.
DAL - Karigama
PHO - Octagoney. The Belt and Suspenders Desert Choke Hold is applied, Hockey submits.
SJ - Tinker, Tinker...tick, tick, tick...
COL - How to lose at NHL trivia: Name the Avs G.M. (Hint: It doesn't rhyme with 'Stella Artois' or 'go traffic'). But win or lose, admire what he's done.
CGY - Will an organizational enema be scheduled if they suffer another non-playoff year? Shootout failure is already giving them pain in that area.
One of the fascinating chemistry test/poker table aspects of the race in the Western Conference is juxtaposing what team's did or didn't do at this year's trade deadline with how they've done since. (Approx. 10 games)
Two teams, the Stars and the Blues, stood pat. (Texas Hold 'Em in a paddle-wheeler on the Mississippi) They are currently the Pacific and the Central/W. Conf. leaders respectively. Well played indeed.
The rest did 'something' and here it is:
The Canucks swapped with the Sabres and landed a coveted, rugged young power forward that has huge upside, Zack Kassian. They also acquired defensive center Sami Pahlsson to 'Keep it Swedish'. Prior to and since, the Canucks have played with their food as they are all but lead-pipe locked into the 2-hole.
Last 10: 4-4-2
The Preds were maybe the league's most active team. They added Hal Gill on defense, Paul Gaustad at center, then reunited the Flying Kostitsyn Brothers and any minute now a Russian named Radulov is going to stumble back into the fold like Bobby in the shower on 'Dallas'. Message: Going For It
Last 10: 6-3-1
They acquired defenseman Kyle Quincey. They also have someone named Nik Lidstrom on defense, just in case the Quincey deal doesn't work out. Nik has been out with a foot malady...look at their last 10 without him...apparently he's quite good.
Last 10: 3-6-1
The Hawks badly needed a center so they trolled the waters and came up with defenseman Jonny Oduya. What they really need is a healthy captain Jonathan Toews at center.
Last 10: 7-2-1 (tied with Dallas and St Louis as hottest teams in West)
I've always liked Antoine Vermette and the Yotes were able to salvage him from the rotting pile in Columbus. They were unbeaten in February prior to the trade but are middling at best since.
Last 10: 3-5-2
Jamie McGinn is turning out to be maybe the most impactful addition to any roster in the West. He's potted 7 goals in 10 games since the trade from San Jose and that's helped the Avs cling to the final spot despite being the youngest and most financially economical team in the league.
Last 10: 6-3-1
San Jose (9)
As always, the Sharks continue to tinker with their personnel in an effort to find that which they are looking for. They brought in a trio of players (Winnik, Moore, Galiardi) to hopefully shore-up the league's worst penalty killing and seem to slowly be lifting their nostrils out of the water after a lengthy struggle to tread water.
Last 10: 4-3-3
Los Angeles (10)
The Kings, tired of losing 1-0 and 2-1, 'pried' Jeff Carter from the willing hands of the Bluejackets in hopes of improving their ability to score one goal per period instead of per game. (Carter has scored 5 times in 11 games) It's helped.
Last 10: 7-3-0
Yes they swapped jersey-filler Rene Bourque for former Flame Mike Cammalleri (6 goals in 21gp) but it's two mainstays who were retained that have them still in the mix (Iginla and Kiprusoff)
Last 10: 6-2-2
Bottom line, some of the best trades a GM makes are the ones he doesn't. Unless of course we are talking the ones that were made and did work. Razor calls this, 'selective affirmation'. It is a glorious tool. As am I.
"Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me"
Over the course of the final 10 games the sticks and 'stones' part will be up to the Stars.
I, however, have compiled some mildly hurtful words.
Oh. And if some holier than thou clown from one of these Western Conference cities states that 'When you throw dirt you merely lose ground', tell them to kiss your balloon knot.
In the meantime I am planning to walk around my neighborhood naked and ranting due to what I will later blame on "extreme exhaustion and dehydration"
Blue Note: Sure I'll Vote For You For Coach of the Year But Still, Screw You Hitch
Canucks, Rhymes With...
Alien Didn't Think Predator Was All That Either
Red Wings, Dead Things, Fat Lady Sings
Blackhawks Are Going Down
Coyote Carcass Moved To The Shoulder
Remember How It Ended For The Shark In Jaws
The King Is Dead, Long Live...Again, The King Is Dead
As Flammable As Wet Asbestos
Call Of The Wild: Sad Obo, Lymphatic Flute, Soporific Tuba
Oil?! How About; The Edmonton Dry Holes
Bluejackets; What To Wear To The Lottery Pick Ceremony
They don't invite me to the General Managers meetings because of one measly friggin technicality; I'm not a GM.
Ya I agree, what a joke. But if I was given a voice here's what I would table for discussion and dismissal.
1) Elimination of the Redline
Brett Hull was right. The worst, most anti-skill play in hockey, the one where a d-man slap-passes the puck to a forward just over center-ice and he angles his stick to tip the puck deep into the other end of the rink, is about 90% of what the decision to remove the redline has produced - and it suuuuuucccckkkkks.
2) Trapezoidal Areas
It never worked. Whoever came up with it didn't understand geometry, or modern goaltenders, or game flow.
3) Kicking Motion
This needs to be rewritten to say, "...as long as the players skate never leaves the ice, good goal"
4) Illegal Hand Pass
No one can explain to me why a hand pass should be allowed in the defensive zone only. Unless, the league secretly wants to aid defense and bridle offense, which I know isn't the case
Hybrid Icing intrigues me. No, its not better for the environment and mileage but...whoa, hey, wait, or is it in a way?
Necessary for playoffs, unnecessary for the regular season. For the first 82 lets just play 60 minutes for two points and then, if tied, go straight to a 5-man Shootout. Save some wear and tear, and save our fans from more intermissions and confusing standings.
7) Face-off Rules
Face em up, both players sticks down, drop puck. Simple! Right now it's too much of a sideshow. The play should be the thing, not the pre-play.
8) Permitted Icing During Penalty Kills
A team should be fully penalized for an infraction, not 'partially'. You can't ice it during even strength play so why permit it when you've done something delinquent?! Duh.
9) Late Period In-Arena Goal/Penalty Announcements Made After the Intermission
This is more an annoyance than a rule, and its self explanatory - and its really dumb if you think about it for half a second.
10) Morning Skates
Originally adopted to get players out of bed and perhaps curb late night extra-curricular activity the night before games, its unnecessary nowadays - it's a much different time. Adapt. Abolish. It's now merely a wooby blanket for coaches and some players, and a colossal time waste for everyone else. Not to mention an unnecessary added workload for the athletes.
(Inside an 8-Game Unbeaten Streak)
Feb 21 @MTL: Mike Ribeiro returns to Montreal and sticks his magic Easton right up the fundament of the once mighty, now floundering, Habs franchise. Kari Lehtonen blanks them. And a guy named Garbutt scores in his 3rd NHL game and it's the winner...3-0W
Feb 23 @CHI: The Stars kill the only PP awarded to either team as the league continues to crackdown on any and all crackdowns. They also get a winning performance from backup Richard Bachman, and rally with three unanswered goals in the 3rd to beat a discombobulated Hawks club 3-1
Feb 24 vs MIN: They enter the game as the only team in league yet to win the 2nd game of a back-to-back set. Thankfully the opponent also played the night before and was named the Minnesota Wild. The Wild still haven't won in Dallas since W was in his first term (16 trips, 16 losses) In this episode the Stars chased starter Nik Backstrom and outclassed their northern cousins 4-1.
Feb 26 vs VAN: The West leading Canucks come to AAC for a matinee prior to the NHL Trade Deadline. Stars get three goals from their top line, the 3rd one a beauty in overtime, and down the Canucks 3-2 in a fabulously entertaining tilt in front of 18,010
Feb 29 vs PIT: This one gets listed as a "loss" but really it was a tie, and a titillating one at that. It was fast, nasty and well played right from opening puck-drop. James Neal and Matt Niskanen were making their first visit to Dallas since the trade a year prior. Eric Nystrom trended on Twitter after knocking Letang loopy - one of about 60 hits in the game that was played with vicious enthusiasm and decided in a Shootout. The 4-3 Shootout "loss" is in my top 3 for Game of the Year.
Mar 2 @EDM: First game of the first of two swings through Western Canada in the month of March, the Stars and Oilers played what both myself and TSN's Ray Ferraro dubbed "The Worst Hockey Game We've Done Or Witnessed In The Last Five Years". Not only was it dull, it left a void in our souls, made our eyes cramp, and robbed us of 2 1/2 precious hours of life that we will never get back. Final shots: EDM 20, DAL 15...Final score: Stars 3, Oilers 1, Hockey 0.
Mar 4 @CGY: A showdown between two teams jockeying for a playoff spot in the West, it featured a stellar dual in net between Lehtonen and Kiprusoff that alternated from sublime to larcenic (new word). It was a hard hitting, high scoring-chance game that had to be decided in a Shootout. Shot totals finished at 40-38 Stars, as both clubs strafed the two Finnish goaltenders. Special teams ultimately decided it; the Stars scored shorthanded, on the powerplay, and then went two for two in the Shootout to secure a 3-2 "win".
Mar 6 @VAN: The Stars entered play against NW Division and Western Conference leading Vancouver with a little pep in their step - and fabulous, tender, tomahawk ribeye in their bellies after all were treated to dinner at owner Tom Gaglardi's house and were able to idle there way up the standings while doing so, arriving back at his downtown hotel full, and in first place in the Pacific Division. Ta-friggin-da! That good news was followed up the next night with a show of appreciation as they survived a series of early mis-steps and mis-fires to ultimately spiflicate a semi-uninterested and suddenly struggling Canuck squad 5-2 in front of 20,000 belly-aching Canadians not named Gaglardi.
Good times indeed!
Enough red meat, Shark is next.