Monthly Archives: August 2008

Offenders of Offense

Tomorrow is Labor Day (or Labour Day to those of you with Canadian/European tendencies).

It’s not generally that big of a deal unless you manage a retail outfit and plan to SELL! SELL! SELL!

It’s a big deal over here in hockey fandom, however.

Training camp awaits and with it, just merely another month behind it, a new season.

Being that this is the start of Season 2 under the watchful eye of Gross Misconduct (nèe Violating the Trapezoid) and being that I keep an extensive watchful eye on teams that are out to ruin hockey, it’s about high time that I crank out a list of my Five Most Wanted for Offenses Against Offense.

I’m not going to rank them in order of sleep inducing to least likely to be boring, that’s just foolish. If you’re not actively trying to score at will in the game of hockey, you’re spitting in my face while trying to hit on my mother all at once. It’s straight up wrong and I want to punch you in the face for trying.

That said, let’s warm up the boredom train and pull into the station to wait it out, these teams are going to suck the fun out of a theme park.

1. New Jersey Devils

Surprised? No, you shouldn’t be and I just want to get them out of the way right now because Lord knows that they were going to pop up here now. Truth be told, every team not named “Pittsburgh” out of this division could go on this list but the Devils were the founders of hockey hell and they continue to hold the fort down. The way I see it, they’re dragging the rest of the division down with them. But I digress.

Games between the Devils and just about any team end up being ones with a small handful of scoring opportunities, dump and chasing akin to what you’d see from a person with a nasty case of Montezuma’s Revenge and lots of analysts talking about how they’d love to be Martin Brodeur’s next mistress, Chico Resch excluded since that’s a nightly event for him to wish that upon his star.

The Devils haven’t changed their philosophy at all since Jacques Lemaire was manning the bench and now it’s become clear that the mastermind behind hockey boredom was Lou Lamoriello. There are nice offensive pieces on this team (Elias, Gionta, Rolston, Parise) but everyone else is a defensive forward stiff out there to make sure no one takes any shots at all.

Some call this brilliant, I call it awful – and it’s been awful for nearly 15 years now. Devils fans are tired of hearing about it and the ones that do exist on the Internet are more than happy to chime in and say, “AWFUL TO THE TOON OF 3 CUPZ!11! LOL!11!” Just because you were the best at playing the worst brand of hockey ever imagined doesn’t give you something to hang your hat on.

Then again, folks in New Jersey have been proud of being mired in filth for a long time now. Par for the course I guess.

2. Vancouver Canucks

You’re going to notice similarities between the Devils and Canucks here. Both teams have all-universe goaltenders. Roberto Luongo can’t do a whole lot more to help Vancouver than he has. Both have some nice offensive parts. The Sedin twins have become a pretty solid scoring duo the last couple of years. Both teams don’t offer much of anything else once you get past those big scorers.

Go ahead, have fun and tell me who on the current Canucks roster could be called a big scorer.

What aides in making Vancouver dreadfully boring is that they play in the Western Conference – the place where you’ll find most of the harbingers of boredom in the NHL and Vancouver, if I were to actually slot out where they belong, would be a Top 5 offender.

This team plays everything close to the vest and their style of play has not deviated since the NHL came back after the lockout. Their series with the Dallas Stars in the playoffs two years ago was made of the stuff that cures Insomnia and the Canucks are happy playing it that way for a million reasons. Luongo can stand on his head to face 25 shots a night just fine. In fact their goal differential last year wasn’t bad at all considering they finished last in their division (-2, 213 GF 215 GA). It’s the point that they scored a mere 213 goals that’s the problem.

Things will not get better in Vancouver unless they allow Mason Raymond to go hog wild and skate around everyone.

3. Dallas Stars

This team was a dreadful bore already. They play in a building that doubles as a hothouse for two-thirds of the year so the ice stinks year round even when its not 90 degrees outside. Come playoff time, forget it – you’re better off throwing a boat out on the rink and dragging guys around behind it on waterskis.

I mention this because it has everything to do with their style of play. They like to slow it down, they don’t exactly have the high-skill type of skaters and they’re really big on hitting guys in the mouth and thensome. This season, add in the Sean Avery factor they’ll at least have a little bit more “excitement” to them, but this is a team that is an affront to how hockey ought to be played. Steve Ott, Sean Avery, Krys Barch… these are not actually talented hockey players. Avery I enjoy for his antics and in being everything that NHL players generally are not. He’s not humble, he doesn’t give the same post-game interview and he frankly has no respect for anyone else – I’m OK with that in small doses in the NHL.

Goofs like Ott and Barch, however, are not enjoyable unless they’re on your team. Considering that Dallas will now have one of these clowns polluting three out of four lines, potentially, makes me fear the road the Western Conference is headed down. It was bad enough to have a team like Anaheim and their Circus of Unabashed Goonery polluting the hockey landscape but now it appears that Dallas wants to join them.

Stars captain Brendan Morrow was a guy whose play I enjoyed for a while, but now he’s gone the Jarome Iginla route of being a crying little girl come playoff time all while digging in with a cheap shot now and again – something we saw a few times just last season.

Consider me not a fan of that.

They’ve got a highly talented scorer in Brad Richards now and guys who at one time were talented scorers are aging and oft-injured (Modano and Lehtinen please stand up with the help of an assistant) while other guys have the lovely background of being a diving Nancy (please, get up Mike Ribeiro).

This is a loathsome team and they’re going to make sure to bother everyone and unfortunately, their style of play fits in ideally with what most of the rest of the Western Conference wants to do. They’ll fly under the radar until they end up at or near the top of the Conference and then once the playoff coverage begins, people will say, “Jeez, these guys are real assholes!”

4. Boston Bruins

It’s all Claude Julien’s fault here folks. The Boston Bruins in their eminent wisdom after years of either not making the playoffs or getting bounced out too early for their liking while trying to cut corners financially finally caught up to the mid-1990s and got on the Dump-And-Bore train started by Jacques Lemaire and Lou Lamoriello. These financial skinflints headed up by Jeremy Jacobs finally got the master plan to skimp out on spending stupidly and hire a coach who would slow things down to the point of frustration for everyone on and off the ice all while improving the standing of the team and try to capitalize on how every other Boston-area franchise was trying to win it all.

After all, winning it all means you can sell more merchandise, gain more fans and find new ways to steal money from a fanbase more than eager to throw away their money on everything with the word “BOSTON” written on it.

Of course, what helps to do this is a team with superstars who wins in an entertaining way. Jacobs will settle for games that continually end up 1-0, 2-1, 3-2 will somehow find a way to be exciting just by the game itself being close in score. Enter Claude Julien and his “Defense first, second and third priority” style of coaching. This is especially heartbreaking because there are really talented scorers on this team who have been already brutally mismanaged by Julien and his boring style.

Phil Kessel and Patrice Bergeron should be the one-two scoring punch answer in the Eastern Conference to guys like Crosby and Malkin – instead, Kessel gets continually chided by Julien for not doing things his way and Bergeron is finally going to be recovered from a massive concussion he suffered last season.

Kessel is an electric player who under Julien’s watch won’t be given free reign to do just that. Bergeron will be fascinating to watch to see what, if any, ill-effects he has from getting blasted in the head from behind against the Flyers.

Julien’s answer, no doubt, will be to have him play better positional defense rather than try to track down a puck in the offensive zone – God forbid anyone bust their ass trying to retain possession and score goals.

At the very least, we’re assured that the games between Boston and Philadelphia will have a little fire to them, but outside of that and games with Montreal… who would I look forward to seeing Boston play? No one. Julien’s style doesn’t allow for teams to take advantage of them nor does it allow for his team to have the freedom to attack at will. It’s a counter-attack kind of team that relies on turnovers and power plays to do all the scoring. Five-on-five hockey is the time spent between opportunities to get a power play or to fight off on the kill. Julien’s favorite game is one that ends 0-0.

The worst part of this is that Julien’s style works. Somehow, horribly so, it works. Boston was the lowest scoring team in their division last year. They scored 19 fewer goals (212) than last place Toronto but allowed the same number of goals as first place Montreal (222). It’s a goal differential of -10 yet up until the final few months of the season, they were one of the top three teams in the Eastern Conference. Gross.

Their 212 goals were the third fewest in the playoffs behind New Jersey and Anaheim and they were one goal worse than the New York Rangers who scored 213. Thoroughly abysmal offense and stifling, boring defense-only style of hockey makes me want to stab my eyes out with icepicks and right now, the Bruins are the team I look forward to watching the least. For as exciting as their playoff series was with the Canadiens last year, I found myself wishing for Montreal to score eight goals on Boston just to see what Boston would do when they were forced to open up their game even a little bit. I pray that an emerging Kessel and Bergeron returning to form will get Julien to open things up a little, but I don’t see that happening as long as he’s coach.

5. Anaheim Ducks

The Ducks are another long-time offender to hockey, and their fate was sealed in 2003 when they teamed up with the Devils to play The Worst Stanley Cup Final I’ve Ever Seen. Their 2003 team, like a lot of the teams who at some point adopted the Dump-And-Bore style was low on talent, had one line that could really actually score and three others that were great at grabbing attackers.

In 2007, the NHL saw fit to look the other way as the Ducks gooned and thugged their way to the Finals and won the Stanley Cup. After all, plenty of Cup winners have had teams that saw a guy get suspended multiple times during the same playoffs for cheap hits.

What hides the fact that they play a ridiculously boring style of hockey is their goonery. The fights, the cheap hits, the mouthy douchebag players all hide the fact that this team relies heavily on the power play to score at all. Jean-Sebastian Giguere has been their be-all, do-all goaltender since that 2003 Cup Finals season and the Ducks, out of all the teams on this list, have taken the lessons taught by the Devils of the mid-90s and extrapolated on them in a big way.

Giguere has proven he’s more than capable of stopping the same crappy 25 shots per game while his team chips and pokes and gums up the ice in front of him. If the opponent gets a little too excited and zips in behind the defense? Grab them. Cross-check them. Punch them in the face. Whatever it takes, just do it. More often than not, it’ll work and you’ll get them to retaliate which then turns the game into exactly what the Ducks want: A parade to the penalty box that allows them to put out the Brad May’s and George Parros’ of the world more to actually mix things up. Throw in an actually talented scorer who does nothing but run his mouth like Corey Perry and you’ve got the West Coast version of the Philadelphia Flyers… except that the Ducks actually win big games now and again.

All this yammering on from me and I haven’t even really gone into why Chris Pronger is, perhaps, the most loathsome puke in the NHL. The record speaks for itself in regards to him and enough people have wasted bandwidth on him and I’m not about to pile on. In short, screw Chris Pronger.

Some folks might argue that this teams penchant for fighting doesn’t make them boring. Fights and cheap shots, however, are false excitement that has nothing to do with teams putting the puck in the net. Fights are another category unto themselves, which, if I was to rank out teams I most enjoy watching when I have an urge to punch someone in the face, Anaheim might be at the top of the list because I know they’ll fulfill that urge.

Whether that’s thanks to them playing an abhorrent style of hockey that makes me wish for death or because they’re busy skating around the ice like the Hanson Brothers is irrelevant at that point.

Fact is, the Ducks scored the least number of goals of the playoff teams last year (205) and allowed the second fewest (191; Detroit was first with 184). They’re a dreadfully boring team to watch five-on-five as long as they’re not being goons. I’m glad this team plays on the West Coast so I’m not subjected to more of their garbage brand of hockey, unfortunately, as my hit list shows you and the Versus TV schedule backs up, we’ll all get more than our fair share of teams looking to ruin your NHL fandom.

Hockey on Versus and other obscurities

That’s right, we’re just whizzing away the rest of the summer here because, really – baseball has become uninteresting to us now, football season will be a huge letdown regardless (both in college and in the NFL) and September means… NHL Training Camp.

With that, we’ve learned what games the Versus Network will be covering this year and being that they’re the exclusive home to NHL action on cable…we can’t help but be severely let down. Clearly, they’ve again been struck with a case of the stupids.

This has been gone over already in a couple of places, Steve Lepore at Eye On Media has tackled it as has Yahoo! Sports’ Puck Daddy but I wanted to get my two cents in on this.

I think we can all agree that the key to picking games to cover on TV when you’ve got a fairly limited window to choose from is to pick out the ones with the highest entertainment value, right?

I mean, that seems to be the thing that will rope in a big audience. By that measure, you’d have to expect that the national schedule would be heavy on Washington and Pittsburgh to showcase the big stars, Detroit to show off the Stanley Cup Champions who managed to get even better in the offseason, and to take care of your big markets which in this case includes: New York (just for the Rangers of course), Philadelphia, and Chicago with their renewed interest in professional hockey at the major league level (not to mention the young talent to boot.

Going by those squads you should be able to rack up a lot of fun, fast paced, even chippy games with all the violent side show possibilities one can ask for – the perfect recipe for marketing the NHL in all of its current glory. Let’s face it, you get the best of the best this way.

Thank goodness the Versus Network is there to save us from ourselves. As Puck Daddy had already done for us and kept track of the numbers, Versus apparently didn’t want to come off like they were playing favorites to anyone because the teams you’ll get to watch the most this year are (drunken drumroll please):

Boston Bruins
Buffalo Sabres
Minnesota Wild
New York Rangers
Pittsburgh Penguins

You’ll get eight games from these teams this year on Versus. It appears that the Versus folks wanted to meet me halfway – I guess that will work.

Now, you all know by now how I feel about the sort of play employed by the Wild and the Bruins and about how that generally makes me feel about things. Suffice to say, the Bruins and to a lesser extent these days, the Wild, play an exceedingly BORING brand of hockey.

If I’m the executive at Versus and I get handed this rundown of games, I tell the folks responsible for picking out this docket to go back and try again and that failure to improve upon this will result in being launched into a great white shark tank.

I also question the selection of the Sabres for so many games, but I think I’ll view that as Versus trying to guarantee viewership for eight games because Sabres fans are truly great fans and will tune in no matter what. It also helps that they’ll dial up the ratings big-time in at least one city, so Versus has that going for them.

I can’t help but be left scratching my head on the Wild and Bruins here though. Tthey could be doing the same thing here that they are with the Sabres and trying to lock up killer ratings within one market – Wild fans are also some of the best in the league when it comes to showing up and TV.

The Bruins don’t really make a lot of sense unless the NHL and Versus are banking on the B’s to pull a Celtics-style run out of obscurity and to fire up the bandwagon…. Uh, I mean wake up the long dormant die-hard Bruins fans that all helped celebrate Ray Bourque’s Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche. What’s that? The second game of the opening night doubleheader on Versus is Boston at Colorado? Uhh…

Ahem.

The rest of the team breakdown for Versus makes mostly sense when you consider that Versus is meant to be the American answer to both TSN and CBC (since, you know, NBC doesn’t recognize hockey as a sport until January). TSN and CBC will provide all the coverage of Canadian teams that could ask for since Versus is carrying all of nine games that involve teams north of the border. Three each with the Maple Leafs and Canadiens, two with Ottawa and one with Vancouver. Calgary and Edmonton? Too obscure to cover by Versus, but then again, so is Los Angeles as they too won’t be making an appearance on Versus this season.

Nevermind how stupid it is that in a season as long as hockey season is and the fact that at least Calgary was a playoff team that you can’t get every team on the air at least once in a season, but that’s an argument for another time.

Did they do a good job of picking out matchups though? We’ll see, obviously results during the season dictate how successful they did. If those five teams become the big guns this season, then it’ll be an overwhelming success. I just ask that for the opening night game featuring Toronto at Detroit when the Red Wings raise the Stanley Cup banner that they not screw that up and treat it as a ho-hum normal broadcast.

Show the ceremony. Show the whole lead up to it. Show the national anthems. Heck, do that for ALL broadcasts, CBC does it and it’s stirring to say the least, especially for games in Canada. A lot of the NHL fun is the lead up to the game, especially for big ceremonies. If you’re covering a game with something big going on, how does it hurt to show it?

One more suggestion, if there’s a way, maybe, that you could give Joe Beninati the wrong directions to any of the games you schedule for him, that would be GREATLY appreciated. The Beninati Experience must come to an end sooner than later.

Paranoid and Mistrusting

Hey, remember when I was spitballing the idea that Phillip Anschutz and Tim Leiweke of the Los Angeles Kings were scheming their way towards finding a way to fill up the Spirit Center Arena in Kansas City, Missouri?

Sure you do, you read it here and you’re a loyal reader and enjoy when I get rambling about things that aggravate me.

Apparently the New York Post’s Larry Brooks is big enough and important enough (read: writes for a New York City paper) to get a direct explanation from Leiweke himself about what it is that they’re up to.

Consider me distrustful of those in great power with great wealth:
“Our interest was in the facility, not in the team,” Leiweke said. “The
loan did not come from AEG Sports, but through AEG Facilities.

“We analyzed the situation and concluded that the Predators would be locked
into Nashville for a long time. Our interest had nothing to do with Kansas City,
but rather in getting the long-term management rights to [Sommet Center].”

Basically, all of this speculation and questioning of the situation surrounds Boots Del Biaggio being a lying scumbag who managed to pull one over on everyone involved in the situation. Leiweke, Anschutz, and Craig Leipold were all suckered in by this trickster. Gary Bettman, at least according to Leiweke, carries no blame.

“I’d been assured by Boots that [the loan] had been fully vetted with Gary,
but believing that is just one of the mistakes I made that I regret,” Leiweke
said. “I should have disclosed the information myself.

“The loan was through AEG Facilities and not the corporate ownership of the
Los Angeles Kings. We had nothing to hide. The commissioner not knowing about it
makes it looks worse than it is, but we have nobody to blame for that but
ourselves.”

OK so Gary is blameless and knew nothing about the financial dealings of his friends (possible) and in the financial dealings that affect the teams in the league that he runs (highly doubtful).

Pardon me if I feel the slightest bit skeptical about this.

Also pardon me if I feel really skeptical about what Leiweke is dealing out about how there’s no plans and that there’s nothing actually going on and that AEG’s involvement is strictly with the building and not with the team that inhabits it.

Obviously with such entangling alliances between businesses this can make everything look very convoluted (which, it is) and it allows for this kind of admittedly asinine speculation – but sometimes, real life likes to interject a little fun into things to feed the fire.

Case in point, the NHL preseason schedule offers this fodder for further Mel Gibson in “Conspiracy Theory” type of overreacting:


Monday September 22nd

Los Angeles (split squad) vs. St. Louis, at Kansas City, Mo.
(Sprint Center)
, 8 p.m.

You know, I get it that it’s likely AEG doing their part to throw a bone to one of their other arenas, especially one that they’re trying to fill up with a team or two since, you know, that helps these arenas and their owners make a lot of money. Generally what happens (although not so much) is they send the big team to play a game in preseason at the home of their minor league affiliate.

Sure, that would seem like a hiccup and AEG is just looking to audition, right?

Not so fast! More rampant speculation ahead!


Saturday September 27th

Colorado vs. Los Angeles, at Las Vegas, Nev. (MGM
Grand)
, 10 p.m.

So now the Kings are playing two games away from Los Angeles and they just happen to be playing one of them in an AEG owned arena in Kansas City, a city and arena desperate to add an NHL or NBA team and they’re playing a game in Las Vegas, a city that many have been pushing to add an NHL team and to break the stigma of having professional sports in the gambling capital of the United States.

I just wonder if we’ll spot a picture of Phillip Anschutz cozying up to Jerry Bruckheimer at the game in Vegas. Why? Oh, I don’t know… seems like they could be good friends too.

A group led by Bruckheimer, an avid hockey fan, is the front-runner for the Las
Vegas expansion and has been in talks with NHL officials for months, sources
said. Additionally, Bruckheimer has had discussions with AEG officials about
that group potentially building and/or operating an NHL arena in Las Vegas. AEG
President & CEO Tim Leiweke would not comment on that, but said in a
statement, “Jerry is like a brother. I will be there to support him anywhere he
wants to go.” Bruckheimer is said to be the leader of a group of entertainment
execs, including MGM Studios Chair & CEO Harry Evans Sloan, who want to own
the Las Vegas team.

I can’t imagine where I’d get such crazy conspiracy ideas from that maybe, just maybe, Phil Anschutz and AEG don’t have the best of intentions for the L.A. Kings and that they’re scouting out other locations to see what works best.

I must be crazy!

U.S. Olympic Brilliance

OK sure there’s lots of talk about the Olympics right now. After all, a lot of the best athletes in the world are in China to see who can perform the best under environmental and political duress in games that occur when the weather is normally warm and pleasant.

These Olympics are, of course, inferior to those that will occur in two years in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

What will stay similar between these games and the Winter Games in 2010 is how the United States will fare in the glamour team sports.

I’ve no doubt in my mind that the fretting and worrying and kvetching going on about the Team USA basketball team will again pay off because, frankly, the rest of the world figured out how to play great basketball by watching the same players that made basketball great during the 1980s. The U.S. players, of course, got too enamored with how well Michael Jordan played basketball and everyone from my generation and onwards has been doing a really, really terrible impersonation of him thus eliminating team play in the sport.

You know the kind of play I’m talking about. The kind that Larry Bird and Magic Johnson made absolutely dominant during the 1980s. Those guys made everyone else on the floor with them better and it showed. The same style of ball the Europeans like Spain, Greece and Italy as well as the Argentinians and Brazilians play now. The kind of ball that got the U.S.A. a “lowly” bronze medal in 2004 in basketball.

Given how woefully me-first many of the players on this year’s Team USA are I can’t help but buy into the media fretting and think that the doom and gloom forecast will hold up. These Euro and South American guys can ball and they do it old school style.

Getting owned by Euros is something Team USA is going to have to get accustomed to though. Come 2010 and the Vancouver games, despite the onslaught of young and up and coming scoring talent for the hockey playing Americans, this is a bad time to be gunning for gold.

The host Canadians are going to be very, very good. That goes without saying. Thankfully, in terms of world hockey, Canada gets the Maple Leafs treatment in Canada. They get all the media hype, worrying and coverage one could imagine is possible coming from three major metropolitan media markets (Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver) and then the rest of the world knows that they’re loaded as well and follow suit.

Adding to the circus this time around is, of course, Sidney Crosby – hated by bloggers everywhere outside of Pittsburgh, mocked for not being able to grow anything resembling respectable facial hair and the newest icon of the NHL. Team Canada will be the favorites because they’ll have a maniacal and idiotically rabid home crowd for every game.

I warn you now, if you’re an American get ready for booing. Booing of the team, booing of the players, a whole lot of booing of Jack Johnson – all because during the 2006 World Junior Championships he tried to do the world a favor and send super NHL scumbag and Philadelphia Flyer (pardon the redundancy) Steve Downie a message. He didn’t exactly connect on his message, but if you’re a psychotic Canadian hockey fan, chances are you’re still holding a ridiculous grudge against Johnson. Judge for yourself here:

This was hailed by Canadians as the dirtiest hit in the history of hockey.

And you think they won’t be ready to tear the building down to win gold at home? Oh baby.

Just for reminder’s sake – here’s some of what you may know Steve Downie from this past season:

What sucks for Canada and the United States alike is that while Canada v. USA will have all the hype of a classic rock ‘em, sock ‘em championship fight – the USA is the least of the worries for Canada. The Euros have plenty to deal out but there are two teams in particular that will make life absolute hell for anyone that has to play them in the medal round.

No, it won’t be Slovakia nor will it be the Czech Republic as they’re both aging hard and already a bit thin on all-around talent.

And yes, Ukraine will be weak.

First up: Russia

Yeah, I know, we’ll be 30 years removed from the Miracle on Ice and still USA v. Russia gets people worked up. What won’t be fun for the US is that Russia will break out with Evgeni Nabokov in goal and three of the “other” greatest players in the NHL, maybe you’ve heard of these guys:

Alexander Ovechkin
Evgeni Malkin
Pavel Datsyuk

Sure, Canada has the talent to keep up with those guys – but do you really want to be dealing with those three, potentially on a line together, for 25 out of 60 minutes in a game? No thanks.

Meanwhile, there’s still guys like Ilya Kovalchuk, Alexander Semin and Maxim Afinogenov who enjoy scoring at will.

The Russians are woefully thin on defense however, but that’s OK because Nabokov is used to not having a decent defenseman in front of him. The Russians will be very dangerous and a huge pain in the ass to play. It’d behoove teams to not take penalties because you’ll be assured of getting those first three guys out on the ice together to make Brodeur/Luongo/Price/Fleury’s life hell in net.

Next up: Finland

Finland stunned everyone and their mother in the Turin games in 2006 by making it to the Gold Medal game. They shutout the Russians in the semis winning 4-0 and their toughest game (aside from the Final) did indeed come against the United States in the first game of the elimination round defeating the Americans 4-3.

What helps the Finns is that they’re absolutely stacked in goal. Mikka Kiprusoff, Vesa Toskala, Kari Lehtonen and Nicklas Backstrom all hail from Finland and while its always a question who will say yes to playing for Finland, they’re stacked. For what it’s worth, Finland won the silver in 2006 with arguably their “C” team goalie tandem of Antero Niittymäki and Fredrik Norrena. While Niittymäki was the sometimes starter for the Flyers at the time, Norrena wasn’t even playing in the NHL yet while being property of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

With the talent the Finns have in goal, their scoring prowess is going to, likely, take a big hit in 2010. Saku Koivu will be another year older, Teemu Selanne may or may not play (I’d say he will even if he’s not playing in the NHL – he lives for the International competition), and Olli Jokinen will be the only scorer actually in his prime. The Finns are also going to be markedly weaker on defense as well, but something happens in the Olympics that makes the Finns incredible difficult to deal with.

I am not going to discuss sports voodoo like guts, grit, magic, aura or any of that nonsense but know this: Finland has advanced to the medal round in every Olympics since 1980 except for 1984 when they finished just on the outside looking in in third place of their group. The Finns put it together come Olympic time, just don’t bet the house on them if they make it to the Finals as they’ve yet to win Gold ever.

Finally, there’s this team: Sweden

You might know most of this team already as the vast majority of the big talent on Sweden was playing for the Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings. That’s no slight on the Red Wings nor is it a knock on their style. Sweden won the Gold Medal in 2006 beating their rival Finns for the prize 3-2 in the Gold Medal game.

The Swedes looked lackluster in the preliminary round of the Olympic tournament, finishing third in their group. Little did everyone in the Final Rounds know that Sweden was playing the part of the pool hall hustler. They drew surprising Switzerland in quarterfinals and disposed of them 6-2. They drew the always difficult Czech Republic in the semifinals and destroyed them 7-3.

They were a wrecking ball in the elimination games and notched it up again against Finland to hold them off to win it all.

Worse yet for 2010 – they’re even more loaded than before. As this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs showed, there’s still talent emerging from Sweden. They’ll bring all-world superstars and fellow best players in hockey Nicklas Lidstrom and Henrik Zetterberg. They’ll also have Henrik Lundqvist in goal. They’ll have Johan Franzen. They might still have Mats Sundin – depending on whether or not the NHL’s version of Brett Favre ever decides what he wants to do with his life. The creepy Sedin twins will be there to make the hometown Vancouver fans boo them. Tomas Holmstrom will be there to infuriate all the teams. Daniel Alfredsson might even crack the first line. Hell, Peter Forsberg might even make an appearance too.

Sick. Just absolutely sick.

What’s worse for everyone is that even with their “D” team playing in the 2008 World Championships, since most everyone was still playing in the NHL Playoffs, Sweden suited up a bunch of mostly nobodies and still made it to the bronze medal game where they were shutout by Finland. For what it’s worth, Canada beat Russia in the finals to win the championship but these results barely register as a barometer for how things might go as all of these teams were mostly suiting up guys that won’t even be going to Vancouver.

Sweden is frighteningly good and will be more than equal to the task of the seemingly overloaded Canadians. Don’t get me wrong, it’s going to be fun to root for Team USA hockey in 2010. There’s a lot of talent up front and Ryan Miller is more than a stud in goal – heck, even Rick DiPietro isn’t overly terrible, he’s certainly better than Robert Esche or Tim Thomas, that’s for sure, but Team USA is at best the fourth most talented team going to Vancouver. Canada and Sweden are 1A and 1B. Russia checks in next and then it drops off a bit to Team USA.

Can Ryan Miller steal games? Absolutely. Can Patrick Kane take the baton and be the big scorer? Tough to say.

America will be thin on playmakers and scorers, period. It’s probably for the best that NHL idiot Brian Burke was named the General Manager of the 2010 team because he’ll have to pick a squad ugly and nasty enough to try to slow down the likes of Canada, Sweden and Russia.

Team USA will have a lot of fun youth on the blue line in the form of Jack and Erik Johnson (not related). Ryan Whitney and Brian Rafalski will help out immensely as well but their jobs are going to be extremely difficult in trying to help contain these ridiculously talented teams.

What’s important here is that the USA are going to be underdogs all along. They can play loose, they can play without worry, they can do what they need or want to do because let’s face it, all the pressure in the world is on Canada to win gold in their home country. Team Canada in hockey is what Team USA is in basketball – plain and simple.

But let’s face facts here, things have to break really, really, really well for the United States to have a shot at even bronze. They’re closer in talent to the Czechs, Finns and Slovaks than they are to Russia, Sweden or Canada. That means there’s a good chance that two of those teams will be facing each other in the semifinals of the knockout round meaning if Team USA makes it that far, they’ll have to get the team lucky enough to miss out on that soireé.

Of those three who would Team USA want to deal with? The choice is simple: Bring on the Russians. A matchup with Russia would render the crowd almost neutral, although its likely that the US and Canada will face each other in the round-robin part of the tournament – hello bad blood! Canada has no love for Russia either. Canadians hates their swagger, they hate their flashiness and most of all they’ll have a hate magically built up for Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin for having the temerity to be as good as or better than Canada’s Hockey Savior, Sidney Crosby. The US will have no real flashy superstars on their team and as long as there’s no incident to dump gasoline onto the Canadians rabid fire of hate for the US, the Americans could win the crowd – especially if it means a date with Canada in the Finals.

Yeah, I know this forecasting is way too far out and there are far too many things that will change by the time the rosters are filled and February 2010 rolls around – but I love this. The Olympic hockey tournament is perhaps the greatest hockey tournament in the world and when nationalities and pride are on the line… anything goes.

Just remember Americans… we’re the underdogs for once.

Big time.

Anything positive is a victory of sorts whether it be real medal-winning victory or just moral. Sure, some folks will try to talk it up like Team USA is loaded, but if they do, chances are they work for ESPN or they’re an idiot blowhard blinded by nationalism who still doesn’t jack about hockey.

Just keep in mind, if Team USA loses to a team from Europe it won’t be the end of the world – in fact, it’s probably expected.

Kind of how it should be for Team USA basketball in the coming days.

Think About The Future!

That’s right – it’s a title change, and no, it’s got nothing to do with the Hanson Brothers music album.

Yes, these Hanson Brothers:

I’m going for the more appealing approach and while “Violating the Trapezoid” sounded cheeky enough to be avant-garde, it just didn’t make a lick of sense.

So, more to the point and hockey related – voila: Gross Misconduct

The mission stays the same and it could mean I’m aiming for bigger and more credentialed things in the future.

We’ll see how the future holds up.

I hope you accept and enjoy the change and stick around… Strange things may be afoot at the Circle K.

Even Larry Brooks Gets It!

Larry Brooks of the New York Post is a guy who doesn’t often get things right and he’s hell-bent on sticking up for the Players Association which, by default, makes him an enemy of Gary Bettman’s state. This is something we appreciate – it’s what I do here after all.

Apparently someone told Larry that there is hockey news going on in the offseason and a lot of it circles around Gary Bettman being a bumbling idiot who looks the other ways when his ownership buddies get involved in floating loans to broke other ownership buddies.

No, really, Larry noticed – have a look here.

One thing of note here that Brooks or the interns and bloggers he’s getting his information and creativity from, to which I didn’t even think of and my slant isn’t exactly hidden here, is that Phillip Anschutz, the owner of the Los Angeles Kings and one of the guys propping up Boots Del Biaggio, might be working an angle of his own to get a team to Kansas City. Their plan to get the Penguins fell through, Boots Del Biaggio went broke so there went the Predators. Now what?

How about his team.

The Los Angeles Kings.

Say what?!

Tell it to us Larry:

The NHL may have looked the other way during the first week of 2007, when
Kings governor Tim Leiweke visited Kansas City and did his AEG ownership’s
bidding by lobbying for the Penguins to move to the AEG-owned and operated arena
in KC should things have fallen through in Pittsburgh, but the league doesn’t
appear to be looking away now.

It isn’t looking away at what from the outside appears to be a blatant
conflict of interest and from the inside might be violations of the NHL
Constitution and League By-Laws by AEG, which secretly agreed to loan the
now-indicted “Boots” Del Baggio $7 million for use toward becoming part of the
ownership group of the Predators, coincidentally enough another candidate to
move to Kansas City.

Oh really?! Well what in the world would one of the big wigs with the Los Angeles Kings be doing in Kansas City? The Kings are doing fine in Los Angeles. Clearly this is just a case of Tim Leiweke trying to help his other business arrangements make more money, right?

Preach on Larry:

But AEG, LA owner Phil Anschutz and Leiweke have somehow amassed real power
within the league despite running one of the NHL’s eyesore franchises. The Kings
have missed the playoffs five straight seasons and in eight of the 12 seasons
Anschutz has owned the team. They have won one playoff round (in 2001) since
their 1993 trip to the Cup Finals.

They are likely to have the league’s lowest payroll this season while GM
Dean Lombardi sheds anyone with market value over the age of 25, yet have raised
prices this offseason while promising to do so again next summer.

Ownership could not care less about putting a winning product on the ice,
instead it’s consumed with manufacturing a scheme that will place an NHL team in
AEG’s arena in Kansas City.

Well, my mistake then.

So let me play the role here of the junior detective in this game of Clue:

Tim Leiweke and Phillip Anschultz are both financially involved with the L.A. Kings as owners.

Leiweke works for AEG Entertainment.

Phillip Anschultz is the “A” in AEG Entertainment.

Leiweke and Anschultz supported the sale of the Penguins to a group ready to move the Pens to Kansas City in an AEG owned and built arena.

Anschultz floated money to his friend Boots Del Biaggio to help him buy a stake in the Nashville Predators.

Del Biaggio apparently had plans in place ready to both buy the majority share of the Predators and then have the team bolt town for Kansas City to the AEG owned arena – an arena owned by the group once the Predators, presumably, fell short of ticket sale commitments and broke the lease with the Metro Group of Nashville.

Anschultz is currently running an L.A. Kings team that is, as of this writing, $12.3 million dollars under the NHL salary floor ($27.7 million in salaries, the floor is $40 million).

Anschultz raised ticket prices for Kings games this year despite the team being one of the worst in the league last season and doing so under the promise of bringing a winner to the Staples Center in the coming seasons.

Anschultz Entertainment Group has a stake in ownership of the Staples Center and makes plenty of money from ticket sales of the NBA’s Lakers and Clippers as well as the Kings and other events held there.

Anschultz Entertainment Group also owns the Sprint Center Arena in Kansas City, Missouri which currently has zero major professional sports tenants.

Now, I don’t have to be a genius here to see that adding a professional sports team to the Sprint Center Arena would help fill up a lot more dates (about 41, maybe more depending on playoff success) on the schedule. The Staples Center currently hosts 80+ NBA games a season with the Lakers and Kings as well as numerous large arena rock concerts and whatever else they want to come to Los Angeles.

In short, the Staples Center won’t lose out at all if the Kings were to go away. The Anschultz Entertainment Group would help line their pockets a lot more by bringing a professional team to Kansas City and filling up their spanking new 18,000 seat arena.

Interestingly enough, part of the agreement AEG signed with Kansas City to build the Sprint Center Arena was this:

Anschutz Entertainment Group of Los Angeles has signed an agreement to
contribute $50-million of the $250-million cost of the project, which will
replace Kemper Arena as the city’s main indoor sports center.

The agreement calls for Anschutz to cover any cost overruns AND operating deficits,
manage the arena for 35-years and work to attract both an NHL and an NBA teams.

And lookee what we have here… two failed bids to bring previously floundering NHL franchises to Kansas City and now the guy who has a binding agreement with a city to fill up his new arena with a professional franchise who has a majority stake in a current franchise that he’s running into the ground.

And, amazingly, out of all of this – with guys like Anschultz and Craig Leipold (who is as guilty as sin in this as well for floating loans to Del Biaggio) who are great friends of Gary Bettman – Bettman knew NOTHING of his friends sending money to a broke loser to help keep the dream alive of sending the Predators to Kansas City so Anschultz wouldn’t have to fill his new arena himself.

Right.

Who wants to start crafting the Kansas City Kings logos now?

Return of the Cash Cow

That’s right kids – the magical, mythical and incredible marketing scheme that has made the colored jersey at home the current and ridiculous staple of the NHL is coming back with a vengeance this season.

The third-jersey is back, baby!

Get ready to drop anywhere from $120 to $300 for your new, and quite possibly, horrendously all-time ugly team jersey!

All-time ugly is something yours truly is a great appreciator of, after all, when you’re sporting a collection of jerseys that outnumber U.S. states…these things happen. The beauty of this being the off-season and now merely a month away from the start of NHL training camp, that means we’re that much closer to getting the official unveiling of these potential atrocities to sports fashion.

While I’m wont to give credit to a certain other blog site, I will say that Howard Berger has managed to finagle a view of all of these new jerseys and he reports on what they’re going to look like, and, frankly some of these descriptions have “horror” written all over them.

If this is a topic you should want to follow further, I’ll point you to nowhere else other than to the Icethetics blog, which I did have linked to the right side for a while when it was formerly known as the Tournament of Logos.

I’ll readily admit here that I’m borrowing the graphic that was posted at Icethetics, and likely elsewhere as well, so that I can help visualize things for you rather than send you to that site and then get my wonderful commentary while jumping between windows. Don’t worry Icethetics, I’m linking to your post and your site very much here. Fear not! Should that picture not show up large enough for your liking, feel free to click this link to get the larger version of it.

That said – here goes nothing:

I can already tell you right now which ones will go down as truly great ones and which ones will be held up in all-time infamy as ugly. I can also tell you that the folks in Toronto are either truly die-hard traditionalists or they’re struck with permanent amnesia because their design has held up the test of time since Toe Blake was running around. Either the Leafs ownership group figured what was good before the lockout was good enough or they had this meeting break out:

“So, we need to develop a third jersey for this season. Any ideas?”

“Well, I was thinking… what if we took our logo from the 40s and 50s and made the uniform look like it also came from that era, you know, back when we were always winning the Stanley Cup and could beat the Red Wings and Canadiens with ease?”

“That’s brilliant! It’ll make everyone forget how poorly we’ve been for the last….40 years? Huh… how about that. Anyways – I like it! Let’s run with that! Also, let’s see if we can work out a way to make ticket prices even more ridiculous than they already are! LET’S GO LEAFS! LET’S GO LEAFS! LET’S GO LEAFS!”

Sounds about right, doesn’t it?

First of all, big ups to some of the teams for dusting off old favorites (yes, even Toronto). The Blackhawks, Islanders, Oilers, Sabres, Canucks, Flyers and Penguins have all gone back into the vault to break out iconic jerseys from the 70s and 80s. For this guy who grew up on hockey in the 80s in the times of Gretzky, Lemieux, Beaupre and Wreggett it’ll be a treat to see these jerseys back out on the ice again.

That said, having to see them up against the ones that will be sported by the Ottawa Senators, Atlanta Thrashers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Dallas Stars and Los Angeles Kings. Out of those four, the Kings jersey has the most potential to look good, but I’m hesitant to be positive on this right now.

The Stars jersey I don’t actually mind, I’m just taking points off for them being thoroughly unoriginal as their’s is just the white version of their current home jersey. Soft serve I say.

The Thrashers jersey is thoroughly baffling. They’re going with a deep red version with script lettering. These ideas aren’t bad unto themselves except that the entire Thrashers marketing for their home games is that they’re Blueland. “WELCOME TO BLUELAND!” can be found all over Philips Arena and now you’re going to have your team come racing out on home ice in red?

Ridiculous and stupid. Typical of a team that still needs their public address announcer to tell the fans what the hell is going on in a game.

The Senators and Lightning jerseys just don’t do anything at all for me. I don’t generally have a problem with script lettering at all, except that the Senators appear to be doing theirs in the opposite direction from what we’ve seen with other teams that letter diagonally and the Lightning just don’t seem to have a look that’s at all good. For shame.

As for new and innovative styles, the Bruins are head and shoulders above all others. The old logo with the current color scheme is perfect. I would buy one of those jerseys. Now if only the Bruins didn’t play a dreadfully boring kind of hockey.

The Blues, should their style be correct, will also be big hits. Adopting the style set forth by the Minnesota Wild was a good idea here as was incorporating the St. Louis Arch into the design. Very well done. The Coyotes and Sharks are also coming correct here, although going with a black jersey, while predictable, is a bit of a let down.

The jersey I’m left undecided on is the Hurricanes. There are two designs on that graphic, one inferior to a great degree and the other being head and shoulders superior and in the class with the Bruins and Blues. Should the current shoulder logo be put on the front, that is a big winner for me. Going with the current crest logo and a triangle (meant to stand for the Research Triangle in Raleigh) is an immense bore and a complete loser.

I can’t get too down on the black jersey here, but I think going with a red jersey with the shoulder logo would be a huge upgrade.

Now that I’ve put away my Mr. Blackwell suit and eye for fashion, I’ll gear you up with some words of wisdom (yes, wisdom) from Larry Brooks of the New York Post.