Gross Misconduct Hockey Thoughts from a drifter on the hockey landscape

10/01/2009

Thanks For Playing: Phoenix Coyotes

Filed under: Gary Bettman,Jerry Moyes,Jim Balsillie,Phoenix Coyotes — Joe Yerdon @ 1:26 AM

I feel bad about writing this one.   I like the Coyotes.  I like Coyotes fans (and yes, they do have fans).  I like what GM Don Maloney has done on what amounts to be a bare-bones budget/being under Gary Bettman’s thumb.  Maloney has also been able to do pretty well in the draft for the Coyotes and it shows with their current lineup.

All that aside, the ownership fiasco that’s been covered ad nauseum elsewhere across the Internet and semi-ad nauseum here has derailed any kind of happy thoughts about this franchise.  Of course, on the eve of the start of the season, things have come to a head and Judge Redfield T. Baum has declared that both Jim Balsillie’s and the NHL’s bids for the team are no good and have thrown out Balsillie completely by saying that the NHL has every right to decide who they want to own a team.gretzkycoach

With that fiasco aside for the time being, it’s time for the team to hit the ice and the product they’ll hit the ice with isn’t overly terrible especially now that one of the people more responsible for the lack of forward development is out of the way, part of the collateral damage of the mess with Jerry Moyes.  That person being former head coach Wayne Gretzky.

Gretzky was a no-show for training camp this year, leaving assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson in charge.  Also tossed out was goaltending coach Grant Fuhr and replaced with former Hartford Whalers super goalie Sean Burke.  Former Blue Jackets coach Dave King was brought in to be an assistant coach to someone and then finally a foregone conclusion was reached when Wayne Gretzky announced he was stepping down as coach of the team.

Much the same way that Odin Mercer at SBN’s Five For Howling feels, I too think this is a move that was overdue and will help the team.  After all, the old saying goes, “Those who can’t do, teach.”  Well Wayne Gretzky did everything in the NHL and there’s not another player alive right now that sees or plays the game at all the same way that Wayne did and every person that walked into the Phoenix locker room had to be starstruck having him as the coach.  After all, he’s only the greatest hockey player of all time – how do you handle getting instructions and teaching from a guy that sees the game on a completely different level than every human being alive?  You don’t, that’s how.

wile-e-coyoteDon’t worry, help has arrived… But it’s going to take time.

Enter new head coach Dave Tippett.  Tippett is the former coach of the Dallas Stars and for six seasons he lead the Stars to the playoffs, peaking in 07-08 in the Conference Finals and then indescribably getting the boot after failing to lead the Stars to the playoffs last year, and that’s after the Stars were stuck with a miserable start of  the season by Marty Turco and that whole Sean Avery thing.   Tippett gets the job done, Tippett teaches winners and better yet, young guys won’t totally crap their pants every time he barks out orders.

With all that aside, I like how the Coyotes are made up and I have enjoyed what they’ve been doing for the last couple of years now.  The Coyotes and the Kings are my not-so-secret crushes in the NHL and while the Kings don’t have the off-ice problems (and may actually get Gretzky back in some capacity) they too have been able to capitalize on years of poor play and making the draft work for them.  The Coyotes have been doing the same thing but just haven’t been able to land a guy as awesome as say… Anze Kopitar.

Instead, the Coyotes have loaded up on highly-touted young forwards.  Peter Mueller, Martin Hanzal, Mikkel Boedker, Kevin Porter and Kyle Turris (currently in the AHL) make up a great group of talented skaters up front that Desert Dogs fans have been patiently waiting to blossom.   Among them, Porter should get his first real shot to break out this year after spending last season riding the bus between Phoenix and San Antonio.

Guys like Mueller and Hanzal are the “veterans” among them and Boedker had a solid first season last year.  Turris is the interesting guy to watch as he’s touted as the guy with the biggest upside and the most talented of them all. Yet last year he spent his time getting sent up and sent down to the AHL and this year he’s starting off the season right out in San Antonio.  GM Don Maloney said that he wanted to see how Turris would develop and with him coming off back surgery in the off season, perhaps going to San Antonio to start the year might not be the worst idea.

Then what to do about the center spot?  After all, who is going to be there to play alongside blue-collar man of the franchise Shane Doan?  This is where the Robert Lang signing comes in.  Lang is coming back after an injury-shortened 2008-2009 season with Montreal and while he did not participate with any team in training camp, the Coyotes and Maloney used this as an opportunity to bring in solid scoring veteran.  Savvy move indeed and it takes the pressure off the front office to play the shuttle game with Turris this year, provided Lang can stay healthy.  Adding Lang to another crafty free agent signings like Taylor Pyatt, Vernon Fiddler and Lauri Korpikoski and suddenly the mix of youth and veteran leadership up front doesn’t look so bad.  Peter Prucha and Radim Vrbata (returning from a year wrought with moving from Tampa Bay to the Czech League) add depth to the forwards and provide a full line of Czech Madness (with Martin Hanzal centering).

What about the defense though?  Ed Jovanovski is still here and youngster Zbynek Michalek continues to improve.  Veterans Adrian Aucoin and Jim Vandermeer were acquired in the offseason and help add some steadier veteran play on a blueline that remains mostly unspectacular with Kurt Sauer and Keith Yandle filling out ranks.  Sami Lepisto gets to play the part of the plucky youngster looking to carve his niche in this group of veterans.

In goal, Ilya Bryzgalov is the man – plain and simple.  His stats last year were a bit subdued but on a team that played as sketchily as the Coyotes did last year… You can understand why.  Should things for Bryzgalov go sour, the backup situation isn’t quite so appealing as the Coyotes signed journeyman Jason LaBarbera to back him up.  Al Montoya lurks in the AHL waiting for anyone to slip up so he can attempt to fulfill the prophecy as a first round selection to play goal.

Should the Coyotes goaltending come down to calling on either LaBarbera or Montoya for an extended period, perhaps getting the Vancouver Canucks on the phone to ask about Cory Schneider’s availability might be a good plan of action.

Much like I said last year in talking about the Los Angeles Kings lack of opportunity to make the playoffs, I make this choice for failure with resignation because I like what’s happening here, at least on the ice.  I like the young make up of the team, I love the youth that are in place, I’m a fan of Ilya Bryzgalov and I’m a huge fan of the Dave Tippett signing for the coaching position.  So why won’t they make a run at a playoff spot?  It’s the Western Conference and they play in what may prove to be one of the toughest divisions in the NHL.  Anaheim and San Jose will fight to the death for the top spot, Dallas should be more improved and Los Angeles is on the verge of upsetting the balance in the West.  Phoenix, for now, is going to have to tough it out this season.

With that said, this may also prove to be the team that by the end of the year, they could be threatening to prove me wrong if everything breaks correctly.  Most publications and prognosticators are eager to write off the Coyotes (except for the Two-Line Pass that haikus them in eighth) completely based upon what’s happened off the ice and while I admit I’m doing the same thing here… If the Coyotes go all St. Louis Blues on me and prove me wrong I’ll happily eat my bowl full of crow.

06/08/2009

Herr Bettman’s State of the Reichstag

I’ve held off on this piece for a bit because, well, there’s a big series going on right now. That said, I couldn’t allow for Herr Bettman’s yearly, rambling spin doctoring speech which he calls the State Of The League address go without giving it proper roasting.

Now I know that some of you may think that the harping on Bettman goes over the top and that’s fine and a fair criticism to which I just ask that he not make it so easy to find ways to hammer him. That said, it’s getting more popular to needle the man as Greg Wyshynski at Puck Daddy did quite nicely with his piece examining the NHL constitution and bylaws. If you haven’t given that a look over you should because the NHL constitution goes over about as black and white as the rules interpretations do for officials.

No wonder this league is such a mess.

What we’re going to focus on here, however, is Bettman’s May 30th press conference about what he thinks of the league and its many sticky issues and why he’s the kind of lying liar lying about lies that drive us crazy.


Black and White makes this blog classy-ish. It also opens the door to break Godwin’s Law.

If you’ve watched or absorbed sports enough in your life you know that when you get a talk from or an interview with someone involved in the game either they’re going to bore the crap out of you with the standard athlete/coach speak in which they offer up little to nothing informative or interesting.

If you’re dealing with someone in an executive position you’re probably going to get lied to a lot and if you’re on to their game and understand that they’re lying to you to mess with you, it’s fun.

Red Wings coach Mike Babcock is a superstar at this because he not only flat out lies, he twists reporters in knots with a British comedy-like dry wit in which allows him to both insult and take down a reporter who thinks they’re ahead of the game.

You also have guys like John Tortorella who don’t mind actually taking you down a peg or twelve and believe me, that’s quite the moment to have.

For Gary Bettman though… We know he’s lying, we know what he’s lying about and he thinks he’s being cute with us while others are more than happy to eat up what’s spoonfed by the Lying Mouth That Fails.

Honestly, do you think anyone out there believes it when he says this:

With regard to Phoenix, there has been a lot of commentary on the subject. So let me spend a brief moment on it.

The team was never in jeopardy. It was literally 20 minutes away from being fixed in a way that we thought was going to work quite well, and it’s our view, my view, that the Coyotes should not be in bankruptcy.

Give me a freaking break.

“Literally 20 minutes away from being fixed” – if you believe that I’ve got a team bridge to sell you.

Considering that the incredibly awful situation in Phoenix has now allowed for the soft underbelly of the NHL to be out in full display opening the door for every crazy canuck with lots of money to come running out to make a claim, how is it possible that the league was that close to righting the ship when they can’t even get out of their own way in the first place?

How difficult would it be for Bettman to be up front from the get-go to say, “Listen, things are in a bad way in Phoenix. Jerry Moyes has come to us with concerns and has asked for the league to help out in finding a buyer for the franchise interested in keeping the team tied to the city.”

At worst, the league takes a hit for playing things parallel to what goes on in corporate America with financially miserable companies getting a taxpayer bailout but at best everyone in the situation comes out looking like they’re trying to do the right thing for everyone concerned. Not only does it allow for everyone to look good, it’s solid PR for the league and for Jerry Moyes.


NHL Planning: It’s fannnnnntastic!

Instead you get this from the press conference following the State of the Game address:

Q. Publicly you’ve painted a fairly optimistic portrait of Phoenix’s financial health all season, yet court documents relating to the bankruptcy suggest there were some serious issues all year round. How do you imagine it turning around in that market?

COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: First of all, I know there have been suggestions that either Bill or I have been optimistic. That was not the case. What we’ve always responded to has been the notion that the club was not in any jeopardy. The club’s losses are comparable to what they’ve been.

The City of Glendale is prepared to work with the club in terms of building arrangements. And we believe there are buyers out there who are willing to step up, invest and make it work. This is a club that needs new ownership and a change in management and needs to perform better than it has. As long as there are people prepared to invest in doing that, we think the prospects can be optimistic and should be. At least some of the people that I’ve spoken to believe that it can be turned around and turned around rather quickly by doing a lot of the right things that haven’t been done.

Spin, spin, spin away.

The best part about reading this transcript is that you can see Bettman’s mood change from the start of the press conference to the end of it and he knows that what he’s shoveling isn’t being bought by those in attendance and hey, when you go into one of these things knowing full well that the reporters are going to come at you armed with a litany of hot-button topics you have to think he’d be prepared for this or more media savvy about it.

But it’s great to read an exchange that goes like this:


Q. Having said that, you’ve been in the south now, and your southern expansion, you’ve been 30 teams for, correct me if I’m wrong, 7 or 8 years now – the goal to be to get the big U.S. TV contract. The reward has never come. You don’t have the big TV contract?

COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Really?

Q. Is there any shelf life on being in these cities where across the board down there you’ve got financial problems. Do you ever pull your horns in on this whole 30?team thing and bring it back a little bit?

COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: The answer is I don’t agree with your premise. It wasn’t all about just the big TV contract. It was about expanding our footprint and connecting with fans in more places than before. If you count, I don’t have the exact number, but the number of people that have attended games in the new markets since they’ve come into the League goes into the tens of millions. We have a number of Stanley Cup champions and/or finalists who have come from the so?called Sun Belt.

To use your methodology of seven years, I’ll make it 10 or 12 years, that’s a relatively short period of time in the life of a franchise.

We like where we are. And this is not something that you take a snap shot over. We believe that our franchises can all be successful where they’re currently located. And somebody could have asked me the same question that you just asked eight years ago about the Canadian franchises. They could have said; ‘Why do you have any franchises other than Toronto or Montreal?’ eight or ten years ago, because the buildings in all the other places were two?thirds to half empty. And the answer is because that’s where we belong having franchises. We’re working with our fans. And we don’t run out on cities. We try to make it work. I think at this stage to pronounce that our expansion and the places where we are isn’t working is premature.

With respect to television, the television landscape is a lot more complicated than the discussion about it. Taking the year off that we took had an impact on where we are and who had what needs when, and the perceived value of our product.

The fact is we decided coming back to go in a certain direction in the United States. Our ratings are growing very nicely with a partner who is growing with us. And it’s playing out pretty much the way we planned. So if it’s not living up to the standards, perhaps, that you’ve set for these franchises, I apologize. But we think we’re doing okay.

Freaking hilarious.

I can picture in my head how Herr Bettman pouted over this and about how no one believes what he says when it comes to just about anything having to do with the league.In fact, I don’t have to imagine it.


Gary’s head being this cartoonishly large makes my Photoshop work all the more realistic.

I can just look at this and feel a lot better knowing that this is the look on his face.

With regard to what he’s saying about Phoenix, I doubt there will be any deviation in how things go at tomorrow’s hearing in the desert even though the Toronto Star seems to think that Balsillie has a good enough case to win out over the NHL. While we’re talking about super-wealthy rams butting heads here, I doubt that the courts would ever go with someone trying to back-door their way into owning a team and violating the way the league does business.

Then again, you just never know – law is funny that way. For my own greedy purposes, I’d love to see Balsillie win out in court tomorrow. Getting a judge to help me and others across the Internet give the NHL and Bettman the finger is something I pray will happen some day, I just doubt beyond anything else that tomorrow is going to be that day.

Of course, should it break down like that, the NHL already has the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on stand-by ready to smack that down just in case Judge Baum wants to get frisky.

At least the league is always ready with a backup plan.

Er… Right.

Powered by WordPress