Monthly Archives: December 2007

A Traditionalist’s Pipe Dream

In doing my part to keep up in the world of hockey, there’s virtually just one source in which to do this through on the internet, and it requires crossing internet international boundaries to do so. Since ESPN has given up on covering the NHL or anything related to the game on ice, I have to rely on ESPN’s Canadian brother to the North, TSN. Sure, everything there is told from the Canada-first perspective and why not, its a cable station only carried in Canada – this is how things ought to go there.

The one exception they do make is their over-the-top coverage of the NHL, as well as the World Championships, World Junior Championships, Olympic Ice Hockey, Canada Cup….er, wait, that doesn’t exist anymore – but if it did, TSN would be all over it.

All that said, I can always count on TSN to pick my brain about certain topics. For instance, after all the blathering on about where the Predators were going to end up because Nashville can’t support an NHL franchise (which the new owners will find out soon enough, this new group is merely a Band-Aid for Gary Bettman’s wet dream) there was plenty of talk about the team going to southern Ontario, or if things got really crazy – off to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada – former home of the Jets.

This, of course, got me thinking back to a paper I had to write for a History of Sports class I took in college which examined the failures of some of the more recent NHL teams and why they came to the sun belt of the United States. In this paper, I looked at three franchises that were in hockey hotbeds that were moved away for three different and distinct reasons. You can probably guess those three teams easily if you remember anything from the 1980s and 1990s. If you can’t guess, I focused it on the Minnesota North Stars, Winnipeg Jets and the focus of today’s rambling, the Quebec Nordiques.

While rooting around on TSN, I found this story about how Quebec City is still clinging to their dream of having an NHL team once again. While reading this story, I discovered that even the Canadian press has developed the same nasty habit the American press has cultivated – developing a story out of nothing.

Here, we find out that one of the Stastny brothers (Remember there were three of them who owned Quebec City back in the 1980s?) is still keeping his hope alive that the NHL will someday return to Quebec.

You’re probably thinking now, “Wow, that’s awesome that Peter Stastny is behind this – this can’t lose!”

Well, you’re aiming a little high, but I like that as it’s not Peter Stastny that is behind this.

“Well surely, its great that the next great Stastny brother, Anton, is behind such a movement – he was a great Nordique and makes a great ambassador for this as well!”

Sorry, try again.

“Marian Stastny? Wait…Marian Stastny is behind this? Wasn’t he sent back to Bratislava as an embarassment to the family name?”

Considering that he’s the last Stastny brother still making their home in Quebec City and the NHL hasn’t been there in over ten years now – you might as well be right. Yes, the third and least successful of the professional skating Stastny brothers is the man with the big dreams and big ideas for the return of the NHL. This, however, was not the most amusing part of this story.

This was:

“I think a team will come here at some point,” says Stastny. “But it will take
some kind of crisis in the NHL for the team to return here.”

That crisis, Stastny says, would entail several U.S. teams going broke
simultaneously, an event that might force the NHL to retreat to hockey
strongholds north of the border.

Pardon me for a moment, because clearly Marian has not noticed who the Commissioner of the NHL is. Just one second here….

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

There, now I feel much better. I’m sorry Marian and to everyone in Quebec City still holding out a glimmer of hope for the return of the NHL (which according to the story, barely half of the respondents to a poll asking about the return of the NHL wanted it to come back) but it is never, ever, ever, ever, ever, never, ever, neever, never-nev going to happen. Ever.

Even with the US Dollar continuing to vomit on itself and the Canadian dollar having officially caught up to it for equal value, teams still won’t come back to Canada because Herr Bettman sees it to be a losing move to return to the country where hockey has its staunchest and most rabid fanbase. Bettman could get a feasible plan in place for a team to return to Quebec City, sure, but the problems with taxation in Quebec continue to exist, Le ColiseĆ© de Quebec is still the only hockey arena fit enough to hold an NHL team and it’s antiquated by this point as even back in 1994 they were looking to build a new facility and couldn’t get that going because the money didn’t exist. And it still doesn’t exist in Quebec.

In short, all this story has done is told us that in nearly 15 years since the Nordiques bolted town for Denver nothing at all has changed one bit. Quebec leadership still doesn’t want to invest in a sports franchises and is even less willing to do so now that Herr Bettman already helped to get their beloved team taken from them. Who would ever trust this guy to do a legitimate pro-Canadian deal? The answer: No one. This, however, is all moot since there are no serious bidders or contenders to bring a team back to Quebec City.

So I guess this is what we call a paradox? Blustering about a story made out of nothing? Meh – par for the course here on the Interweb.

Chris Simon: Moron Of the Year

I tell you something, Chris Simon has always been a good, tough menace on the ice. He’s exactly the type of player that you want to have on a playoff team that will get under the skin of the other team as well as have enough skill to find the back of the net occasionally. Chris Simon was never a cementhead out on the ice solely looking to pick fights and rack up PIMs.

The Chris Simon that we saw in the NHL in the late 90s was about as similar to guys like Darren McCarty, the exception being that McCarty got to show his wares in the playoffs year in and year out whereas Simon was more on a hit-or-miss team for the playoffs dating back to his first seasons with the Nordiques and then when he was a Washington Capital and New York Ranger. Simon was an important agitating cog with the Colorado Avalanche in their 1996 Stanley Cup season. He scored 34 points in the regular season and racked up 250 PIMs. You’ll take those PIMs when the guy gets you nearly 20 goals in the season while playing on the third and fourth lines.

Who am I kidding? This is a guy who took it very much to heart hearing players lob racial slurs his way on the ice (Simon is part Ojibwa Indian) and then, reportedly, called Mike Grier a “nigger” while in a scrap on the ice in 1997 – something for which Simon served a three-game suspension for.

He’s gotten tagged for suspensions before and had his 25-game suspension for clubbing the Rangers Ryan Hollweg in the head end early this season. And now he’s gotten nailed for 30 games for stomping on the foot of noted scumbag/agitator/flopper from Pittsburgh, Jarkko Ruutu.

Make note, that Ruutu did flop on the ice as if Simon’s stomp had done big damage but Ruutu missed zero time on the ice. Modern medicine I tell ya.

For Simon, however, this has to be the end of the road. Yes, he’ll play again this year and yes it’ll be a big deal when he does and people will cast an eye towards the Islanders to see if Simon pops off again. Make no mistake, other teams will go after Simon hoping that he’ll snap off once more and do something stupid to hurt his team in that game. Any penalty, a minor, double-minor, major….whatever it is, that hurts the Islanders and helps the opposing team. Everyone knows that in hockey if there’s a hothead on the other team, you bother the hell out of him til he does something foolish. It’s this role that Simon has been fulfilling now at the end of his career. Sure, he does his own fair share of agitating but he hurts the team more than anything now and the Isles should’ve known this already.

Instead, the Isles opted to re-sign Simon in the off-season to a new contract….all while he was still serving his 25-game suspension for his assault on Ryan Hollweg. If only all of our jobs could be rewarded like that.

“Tompkins! You set your desk on fire, beat up Johnson in the cafeteria and lost our biggest client?! Guess what! We’re keeping you on for another year! Now go put out your desk.”

Insanity – but we know the sports world is different than real life and we accept that as fans. NHL GMs, especially former goalies named Garth Snow, should’ve known better that what Simon brings to the ice isn’t worth what he can take off of it and now Simon has again villanized himself and the game with the same reckless abandon he displays we’ve seen out of him year after year.

What Chris Simon should do with his NHL-imposed vacation is to think long and hard about what his career has become and whether its worth it or not to keep lacing them up. Your name is the only thing you have left in the world once the career is over and the millions stop rolling in and for Chris Simon he has to wonder if its worth it to him to keep endangering his name because at this rate his name will be worse than “Mud.”

What is Hockey Hell?

Here’s what Hockey Hell is, courtesy of Blue Jackets defenseman Adam Foote:

They play a system that can be frustrating for you. They have the
fiveback and they give you the outside and it looks like you have a good opportunity and they take it away
.

That’s right, Original Sixers the Boston Bruins have been fully enveloped by the Dark Side of Hockey thanks to Claude Julien.

And you all thought this would go away with the rule re-inforcements?

Suckers.

WARNING: Parity Has Seized Control

In doing some of what I do to fill time in what is a generally hockey-overloaded life, I find myself getting in discussions with lots of fans about the game – fans from all over the map even. It’s interesting how this season has shaken out so far because I’ve discovered that there are actually NHL hockey fans in Boston and Chicago.

I don’t know if they were hibernating awaiting the sunshine of success to awaken them or if they’re new to the whole thing and riding the wave of winning. Generally though, I find myself talking with people who are hardcore fans, some of which don’t often see hockey outside of their own teams. I don’t fault them for that at all, but it does allow me to be amused by I get to hear and read though.

And besides, what’s more exciting than having your team in the thick of things when it comes to the playoff hunt? Nevermind that we’re less than halfway into the season and things are far too far away from being hashed out – nevermind all of that! The thing is, and it’s likely something that Gary Bettman is most happy to see, just about everyone right now is in the mix. Your team would have to be doing colossally horrible to not even be within whiffing distance.

That said, at this point in the season you can be eight points out of the eighth spot and still have a fighting chance to get into the mix. If your team goes on a four or five game winning streak – BAM! – right back in the mix. Case in point: The New Jersey Devils started off the year horribly, buried towards the bottom of the Eastern Conference. A nine-game winstreak later, they’re in first place in the division and second in the Eastern Conference. Not bad, eh?

It’s this sort of tenuous state of being that exists for most teams in the NHL right now, with the semi-glaring exceptions of Ottawa and Detroit which have become bastions of glowing success even in spite of having problems.

In Ottawa, both Martin Gerber and Ray Emery became sieves while the team allowed others to skate all over them leading to a stretch where they lost 8 out of 9 games through November and into early December. Yet even through that, they remain six points ahead of New Jersey for first in the Eastern Conference and six ahead of the Boston Bruins for first in their division.

Detroit, on the other hand, has seen their all-world goaltender suffer through both injury and ineffectiveness this season and has seen that amount to….no change at all as backup Chris Osgood, an old man in his own right, fill in more than admirably while Dominik Hasek struggled physically and in-game as well. In fact, Osgood has played better than Hasek this season and have streamlined the Red Wings into losing just six games in actuality and three others via the skills competition (copyright: Howie Rose, New York Islanders play-by-play man).

What’s incredible about those 6.3 losses the Wings have had is that four of them come at the hands of their should-be-and-now-probably-is rival, the Chicago Blackhawks. Given that the resurgent Blackhawks are fully in the thick of the parity playoff soup, you can see the headlines come April when the upstart eighth seeded Blackhawks upend the top-seeded Red Wings. Who can’t see this coming from a thousand miles away?

But this is what the NHL and Gary Bettman wants for the league. Everyone is in it, everyone gets involved, and you don’t get the same teams involved all the time. That’s perfect for them because then everyone gets a taste of success throughout the league! Hooray! It’s sports socialism! Don’t believe me? Look at the divisional and conference races as they stand now just over 30 games into the season:

In the East, the Devils are two points up in their division and sit second in the East. They lead last place Pittsburgh by five points. Pittsburgh currently sits 10th in the East and two points away from 8th.

We’ve discussed Ottawa and how they dominate atop the East and the Bruins sit six points behind them. Buffalo currently sits last in the Northeast Divsion with 31 points, good for 11th in the East and three points out of last place.

The Southeast Division is, as always, where hockey goes to die and win Stanley Cups and it sees one of the worst teams in hockey, the Washington Capitals, in last place in the division and conference with 26 points. Carolina leads the Southeast with 35 points and sits just six points ahead of not-so bottom dwelling Atlanta who is fourth in the division with 29 points. Florida is third with 30 and Tampa Bay is just four points behind Carolina with 31. Tampa Bay sits tied for 11th with the Sabres in the East. Yikes.

In the West, Detroit leads the Western Conference by nine points and they lead the Central Division by 13 points with 47 points over St. Louis and Columbus who are tied for second with 34. New-found nemesis Chicago has 32 points and Nashville sits in last with 30. St. Louis and Columbus are tied for 8th in the West and Nashville is 13th.

As you can see, the distance between being nearly at the bottom of the conference and in the playoffs can be made up in just a couple of wins.

In the Northwest, Vancouver leads with 37 points and last place Edmonton is a mere five points back with 32. Vancouver could go from first to fourth in the division in the matter of one game as Calgary sits in fourth with 35 points. Ouch! Edmonton is tied for 11th overall in the West with Chicago but could be sitting in fifth as soon as next week if things broke right. As it is for now, people are down on their Oilers saying they need to re-tool.

Here’s the new NHL version of re-tooling: Wait a week!

The Pacific Division is its own bizarre monster in that it has one of the NHL’s best teams with the San Jose Sharks at the top along with the ever-boring Dallas Stars, both with 38 points. Anaheim lays lurking with 34 points in third (incidentally they’re 10th in the West) and then you’ve got Los Angeles and Phoenix sitting tied for last in the division and the conference with 26 points and 12 points out of first in the division and 21 behind Detroit for first in the West. Ouch. Phoenix has turned the tide of late after stealing goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov from Anaheim but they will be eagerly awaiting the coming of the draft lottery with L.A.

That is, unless, they get hot and their young guys like Mueller and Hanzal take over and they storm into the 8th spot.

The underlying point here about parity, however, is that while sure its great that just about every city in the NHL can think and dream and wonder about the playoffs… where’s the greatness at? Sure, people get annoyed when a team goes on an extended run of success and common fans root against that team to fall – that’s normal and that’s expected. What was so wrong about having a team assembled that could come out and flat out dominate and show you the way the game is meant to be played?

We saw it come and go in the NBA, the NFL and even for spells in Major League Baseball and we’ve certainly seen it in the NHL and those teams are revered through the years as some of the greatest hockey they’ve ever seen. The Islanders of the early 80s, the Oilers for the rest of the 80s, the early 90s Penguins – these teams were dominating forces of nature (although I imagine some will argue on the Penguins given that they didn’t win nearly as much as the others, that’s fine) – what no one can argue, however, is that those teams were truly great.

What parity is, and we’re certainly seeing it in the NFL now, is guaranteeing that greatness will not be tolerated in extended doses becuase it’s unfair to everyone else who wants to get to the top of the heap. Instead, it flattens out the mountain so that even the rabble can get to the top and claim that they’re better. That, to me as a fan, is insulting because I want to see the best of the best in the end.

I don’t want to see hockey whittled down and made into a boring game of chance, the way it’s become with the advent of defense-first systems and now the shoot-out to decide games. The GMs want more scoring, the players who don’t play goal want more scoring (because nothing nets a bigger contract than goals) and the coaches just want to keep their jobs longer than a year or two.

If the league is this excited about parity, then why not just play a meaningless regular season and then at the end of it all, put all the names of teams in a hat and pull them out to determine playoff spots. With everyone becoming the same pack, that’s basically what it’s come down to.