Gross Misconduct Hockey Thoughts from a drifter on the hockey landscape

07/11/2009

Sheer Madness

If I sat here and wrote something psychotic about every idiotic deal that has been signed since the start of the July 1st NHL Free Agency free-for-all I’d never stop writing.

Ever.

So what did I do instead? I holed up in a bunker while the NHL contract nukes dropped and now that nuclear winter has settled in and things are cooling off (after all the biggest name left to go after is Alex Tanguay), went to New York City to take in some baseball games and now sit here and wait for the NHL schedule to come out so in-season road trips can be planned.

Yeah, it’s hockey’s off-season all right.

What’s particularly special about this off-season is how some teams seem to think the fountain of money is never going to run dry and how the salary cap managed to stay in basic neutral (with some help from the NHL Players Association) despite grim financial stories flying in from around the league’s warmer climes.

Chicago appears to be going for it all in the 2009-2010 season even in spite of having three key young players eligible for restricted free agency next season. An epic contract to Marian Hossa followed up by a potential paperwork snafu that lead into Chicago locking up their cast of restricted free agents this year has made Chicago’s salary cap in the seemingly doomed-for-dropping 2010-2011 season an incredibly amazing storyline that we’re going to have to wait a full year for.

Let’s hope this plays out like an old school Heinz ketchup commercial.

That Matt LeBlanc… He’ll become something someday.

James O’Brien over at Cycle Like The Sedins did an epic, and I do mean epic, job of breaking down Chicago’s hopes and dreams in what they hope is the post-coitus afterglow of the team’s first Stanley Cup since the 1960s.

I’ll give you the punchline of one of James’ scenarios in hopes that it’ll tickle you in dirty places and motivate you to click the link to his full rundown that I’ve so nicely provided for you.


d) So, if the Blackhawks lived in a dream world in which they could rid themselves of Brian Campbell, Cristobal Huet, Dustin Byfuglien and Patrick Sharp …

… while signing Kane, Toews AND Keith to trio of bargain contracts …

They would have five forwards and three defensemen for $30 million. This would give them $20 million to fill (at the minimum) seven forward spots, three defensemen and two goalies. To ice a hockey team, they would have approximately $1.67 million per roster spot.

Without a goalie. Without even two full lines of forwards or defense.

This is if the Blackhawks unload a murderer’s row of idiotic contracts.

Even if this situation played out with the current cap, they’d have $2.16 million per open spot.

And this the DREAM scenario.

How boned are the Blackhawks if Cristobal Huet, Corey Crawford or Antti Niemi can’t carry them to the Stanley Cup this year? “Pretty damn boned” is my amateur in-the-basement assessment.

The one pretty bow I can tie around Dale Tallon’s neck for this incredibly short-sighted and reckless means to win it all is that he’s at least being ballsy enough to say, “Screw it, we’re going for it all and don’t give a damn.” It’s really ballsy, but it’s also epically freaking stupid.

Jonathan Toews is their captain, Patrick Kane is the face of the franchise and Duncan Keith is a borderline Norris Trophy candidate and they’re ALL ripe for the picking next offseason and at least one of them is likely done in Chicago after this season.

That, my friends, is mind blowing.

After all, this kind of stupid isn’t at all like what New York Rangers general manager Glen Sather has done. You know Slats, he’s the guy who just a couple years ago signed both Chris Drury and Scott Gomez to ridiculous virtually identical $7 million dollar per year contracts that don’t run out until the sun goes supernova.

Glen Sather gave Rangers fans hope for all of one day that he had learned the error of his ways when he packaged up Scott Gomez and some never-will-be prospects to the Montréal Canadiens for Christopher Higgins and two semi-stud prospects. Higgins was a restricted free agent waiting to be signed and off went over $7 million dollars per year until 2013-2014 from the ledger.

An unbelievably stupid move for Habs GM Bob Gainey and a brilliant stroke of genius for Glen Sather to pull one over on a savvy general manager in his own right in Gainey.

Then July 1st happened and Sather used all of that new found cap space on a guy who tweaks and twerks his groin more than just about anyone that doesn’t play goal in the league in Marian Gaborik. Goal scoring was something the Rangers severely lacked and they went right out and got themselves a guy that will score in bunches. He’s a legitimate scoring superstar who fell out of favor in Minnesota with the Wild for both not doing what coach Jacques Lemaire wanted all the time and for being an oft-injured bitch that seemed to disappear in the playoffs.

Of course when you’re the only scoring talent on a playoff team that is otherwise offensively neutered it’s not hard to just shut down one guy.

Huh… Maybe the Rangers weren’t paying attention to that. Nor did they seem to pay attention to Gaborik’s games played over the last few seasons in Minnesota. In his last four years Gaborik has played in 65, 48, 77, and 17 games respectively.

When he plays, he’s dynamic – flat out. He’s an incredible offensive talent. Problem is keeping him healthy and if fans in Minneapolis grew frustrated and impatient with Gaborik’s inability to stay on the ice… Well, New York City won’t be rolling out the red carpet for him everywhere.

What’s incredible about this is that Gaborik managed to get an even bigger contract out of the Rangers than the one they gave up in Scott Gomez and one that ends the same year after 2014. If Gaborik’s next five years go erratically with the games played the way his last four in Minnesota have Rangers fans are going to go out of their minds. Thankfully for them the Islanders and Devils have done next to nothing to improve themselves this off-season.

Even more fun for Rangers fans is the fact that the Philadelphia Flyers managed to only get scummier by adding Chris Pronger and Ian Laperriere and reverting to their old side show ways in goal bringing Ray Emery back from Russia and then getting former backup Brian Boucher to back him up.

At least they didn’t lock Professor Elbows up to an obnoxious deal that they’ll never be able to get rid of now that he’s in his waning years.

Wait, they DID do that. From Ken Campbell:


When Pronger signed his seven-year contract extension Tuesday, it was front-loaded the way almost all long-term deals are. The extension kicks in for the 2010-11 season and carries a salary cap hit of $4.92 million per season. Pronger will make $7.6 million in each of the first two seasons of the deal, then is scheduled to make $7.2 million, $7 million and $4 million in the next three seasons before dropping to just $525,000 in Years 6 and 7 of the deal, which are the 2015-16 and ’16-17 seasons.

Now, nobody in the game expects Pronger to fulfill the terms of this contract. With Pronger earning $33.4 million of the $34.45 million in the first five years of the deal, it’s a virtual certainty Pronger will retire after the 2014-15 season.

Under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, the Flyers would be on the hook for the entire $4.92 million cap hit for each of the next seven seasons regardless of whether Pronger retires or not, because the contract kicks in after Pronger turns 35 (he turns 35 this October). But there is speculation the Flyers believe that since Pronger actually signed the extension prior to turning 35, they might not have to absorb the cap hit if he retires…

But the spirit of the provision is that it governs contracts that kick in when a player turns 35, not when it is signed.

“The league has sent out memo after memo after memo alerting teams about this,” said one former NHL executive. “If this is what they’re doing, they’re trying to drive a 747 through a loophole.”

The league has yet to hear from the Flyers about this and considers it to be unambiguous. And given that Holmgren has said the Flyers are willing to live with the negative ramifications of signing Pronger to a seven-year deal, it might not be an issue.

Whoops. It’s almost as if Bobby Clarke is still the guy running the show there.

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to just blow through this next season just to see how things go in the NHL. After all, the league that beats them over the head for attention and media glitz and glam, the NBA, just had their salary cap drop by a cool million dollars recently and they’re supposedly awash in cash.

That makes the situation for the NHL, a league without a blockbuster media contract, even stickier and one that bears watching.

Gary Bettman may have been playing the part of Baghdad Bob and saying that everything is OK while we can all see what’s on the horizon, but I will enjoy playing the part of Nero while Rome burns mixed in with my consistent ability to keep telling the Emperor that he’s got no clothes on.

Gross.

06/13/2009

Game 7: Epic Series Goes To Pittsburgh – Penguins Win 2-1

Just watching this series, even while watching it with a stray eye from afar in Washington, was exhausting. For fans, for media, for bloggers, for everyone alike.

Just imagine how it is actually playing the games.

The Penguins showed in Game 7 that they did, in fact, want it more. They played harder and more aggressive for the better part of the game. They played smarter for the entire game and didn’t allow for Detroit to wheel and deal the way they like to.

Most importantly, and this was something I made it a point to say both last year and this, their third and fourth lines responded better than Detroit’s did, a point that was made emphatically in Game 7 by Maxime Talbot scoring both Pittsburgh goals. Talbot last year was the lone player on Pittsburgh’s third and fourth lines who proved to be a burr in the side of the Red Wings.

This year, Talbot solidified himself as a folk hero win or loss given how he handled himself against the Capitals and how he played smartly and selflessly throughout the playoffs. I know that the folks in Pittsburgh’s blogging circles will write folk songs and sing the praises of guys like Crosby, Fleury and Malkin but Talbot is the guy for whom much of Pens fans adulation and warm memories from here on out will be saved for.


Evgeni Malkin is the superstar you should get forced down your throat.
(Photo – AP)

In this go-round, Talbot had sustained help from Ruslan Fedotenko – a guy who already has Stanley Cup folk hero status for the last 25 Tampa Bay Lightning fans that haven’t been run off by the new owners there. Adding characters like Craig Adams and Fedotenko helped solidify the other lines for Pittsburgh helping younger players like Tyler Kennedy and Jordan Staal feel more at home working the grinder lines and realizing that by doing their job checking and defending you can still find a way to pot a goal or two.

Pieces like that are what the team was missing last year and they were able to capitalize best on playing the aggressive forecheck (you know, like I kept saying they ought to do) and put pressure on Detroit’s defense.

No, not Nick Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski – those guys you can’t exactly rattle. Brad Stuart and Niklas Kronwall however…

To this point in the playoffs, I had been singing the praises of Brad Stuart as his play through the first three rounds had been solid if not spectacular. In the Finals, however, Stuart’s efforts in Game 7 are what folks are going to be paying attention to. Stuart took a bad slashing penalty in the first period and had a brutal turnover and mis-timed moment to pinch in leading to both of Maxime Talbot’s goals.

Having that kind of résumé in an elimination game will often get a guy run out of town. For Stuart, it’s a Finals he’d like to forget as his play suffered. Whether that be from his own mistakes or for having to perpetually look out for Niklas Kronwall who would take himself out of plays looking to deliver a hit elsewhere or do too much on the puck it’s tough to say.

For all the advances that Kronwall seemed to make last season in his play after finally finding a way to remain healthy, I couldn’t help but find myself watching him to see how he would handle himself and his positioning. A lot of the time he’s solid, but there’s enough brain farting going on that teams were finding ways to expose him.

I hammered on a lot of this after Game 3 of this series and his +/- rating didn’t change after Game 3. In Games 4 and 5 he pulled in a +1 rating and in Game 6 he was even.

Yeah, you guessed it, he was a -2 in Game 7 along with Brad Stuart. Game 7 saw plenty of reckless play from the two of them and if anything that -2 was well earned on their part. The poor unfortunate guy that had to deal with all that was Chris Osgood who truly played stellar all throughout this series and the playoffs.

For Pittsburgh though, Conn Smythe Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin was the story from beginning to end.

Enough about Crosby and him captaining the team to the win – I’m done with that. Good for him for winning but it’s not because of him they were able to beat Detroit. Not in Game 7 and not in the rest of the series. He’s the guy you’re going to get forced down your throats from now until Lord knows when, but it’s got to be eating him up how much more sound the Penguins play when he’s not around. Malkin carried this team last year while Crosby was out with an injury and he carried the team again in Game 7 when Crosby left with an injury in the second period after taking a hit from Johan Franzen.

This was Malkin’s baby from the start of the playoffs and he earned it. Worst of all? Fans in North America aren’t going to hear enough about him because he’s Russian and speaks poor English and the NHL can’t wrap their head around marketing players that don’t come from North America.

Amazing, isn’t it? I’ve got a full-blown man-crush on the Hart Trophy candidates this year (Alex Ovechkin, Pavel Datsyuk and Malkin) but the league can’t do anything with them. This is why if you too are a Twitter user you should be following Dmitry Chesnokov, one of the contributors at Yahoo’s Puck Daddy.

He’s Russian and gets all the juicy interviews with the Russian stars and gets the personality out of them that the NHL is too ignorant or lazy to try for and hey, guess what, Russian players aren’t the robots you see elsewhere around the league.

Look at it this way, when your favorite Russian player is giving a poorly-worded interview in English, that guy is a regular Jeremy Roenick or Brett Hull when interviewed in Russian.

It’s so frustrating to see such marketing ability available here and no one putting it to use it’s even managed to derail my Stanley Cup wrap up.

I know a lot is going to get made about how Herr Bettman’s wet dream finally came true here, and it did let’s not think differently, but what we’ve got here is a damn spanking nice little cross-conference rivalry teeming over with superstars. Canadians, Russians, Swedes, Finns and Slovaks all over the place.

Sets the stage pretty nicely for Vancouver in 2010 now, doesn’t it?

Don’t worry, training camps open in three months and the NHL Draft is two weeks away with the Free Agency window opening soon after that.

The off-season begins now.

05/25/2009

Keeping It Real – The Day After

It’s funny, I figured that by citing the Chappelle Show in my last entry about how Brian Campbell was maybe the last guy to step up and start swearing vengeance was going to go over poorly, but Ike th didn’t think it would actually play out lie skits do on the show.

So how did Brian Campbell and the Chicago Blackhawks enact their revenge on Niklas Kronwall and the wildly short-handed Detroit Red Wings (who were missing Pavel Datsyuk, Nicklas Lidstrom and Kris Draper in Game 4)?

Well…

First there’s this. You’ll see Brian Campbell in this video pinched in too far on the power play (he’s behind the Detroit net!) leaving Cam Barker by himself as the Red Wings break shorthanded the other way two-on-one.

Then there’s this one where Campbell is used as a screen by Johan Franzen who proceeds to shoot the puck BETWEEN HIS LEGS and over the shoulder of Cristobal Huet.

And then there’s Valtteri Filppula who scores off a rebound untouched after Marian Hossa uncorks one from the left wing side.

Who jumped out on Filppula after he gained the zone in the first place?

You guessed it… Frank Stallone.

Er, Brian Campbell.

What makes this all the more amusing is that the third goal, a power play goal for Filppula (one of three power play goals the Red Wings would score in a 6-1 rout of the Blackhawks) is that apparently Joel Quenneville had some issues with how the Red Wings got that power play in the first place.

That’s right folks, the worst call in the history of sports. I can’t rip into Quenneville as well as his own fans can, so leave it to the folks at Second City Hockey to step in and do the job for me:

Joel Quenneville – You were brought in to keep your cool and provide a guiding hand for a young team. Your players saw you lose your composure, and promptly followed suit. That outburst was unacceptable.

Unacceptable, immature, and about a thousand other adjectives you could throw in there. As for me, let me just offer up one suggestion for Joel Quenneville:


Wire Brushes: Guaranteed to get the sand out of your vadge or your money back!

Use that in your nether regions to get the sand out of the most delicate of crevices. Perhaps you could get away with whining like that in just about any other series.

Not this one though, not after what happened with Niklas Kronwall in Game 3. This is frustrated petulance at its ugliest out of Coach Quenneville. It also allows me to quote myself:


Hyperbole is a dangerous verbal weapon because it often renders the user stupid.

As for Martin Havlat, he played in this game.

Ballsy? You bet.

Gutsy? Absolutely!

Stupid? You bet your sweet ass it was and here’s why:

You won’t get a closer view of that, but that was Havlat getting taken out by Brad Stuart. He left the ice and did not return to the game after that. What Havlat is doing out there in the first place will remain a mystery as Coach Quenneville already made it a point to cover his tracks and proclaim that all was well.

You can lie to us all you want, coaches do it all the time, but you can’t lie to us about this one because this is what Marty Havlat looked like in Game 3:


The guy from The Karate Kid was heard yelling, “Get him a body bag! YEAH!”

You cannot tell me he had it all together enough to be even thought of as remotely ready to play. Jesus, looking at this picture hurts my head and I’ve never had a concussion. James Mirtle at From The Rink has a great entry just on this angle and whether or not Havlat should have played.

James hits it home on this closing thought:


He’s fine. He’s ready. He’s all right.

Perhaps. But he didn’t look all right, at least to my eyes. I wish the question was asked if Havlat had suffered a concussion and what treatment, exactly, he’s had in the interim. It’s not impossible that he recovered just fine from having his bell rung a few days earlier, but why then does he have to leave the game after taking a routine check early in the game?

Isn’t that cause for concern? Perhaps especially so for a player with Havlat’s extensive injury history?

You bet your ass it’s a cause for concern and the question of whether or not Havlat BS’ed his way into the lineup or the Blackhawks trainers and Quenneville would willfully ignore Havlat’s condition is something that I hope the beat writers will try to find out more about.

As for this series, for all of Brian Campbell’s talk of the Red Wings being a “gutless” team, the ‘Hawks have a lot of soul-searching to do after putting in a putrid performance like that in a game that was set up for them on a platter to take. Two of the best players in the NHL, nevermind just on the Red Wings, the entire league were in the press box for this game as well as one of the top defensive forwards and Chicago comes out with that performance?

Brutal. Simply brutal and a truly gutless performance out of this team that was too caught up in seeking redemption for a guy who ended up wrongly suiting up for the game. I’ll let the guys at Hockee Night wrap this one up for how Chicago “performed” in this crucial Game 4:


Christobal Huet. What a sieve. He probably wound up with sunburn fro the red light. He gave up a lot of goals, and none of them were particularly tough. He was absolutely brutal.

VERSTEEG! When you’re down 4, you don’t skate out of the box and get chippy in open ice. That’s dumbshit hockey, and that isn’t what makes a good team a top team. Oh yeah, calling out guys when you’re down 5? Nice set of balls you grew there, kid.

The Hawks’ passing. They’ve gotten this far by opening up the ice with stretch passing, but the Wings have just run a passing clinic, everything has been tape-to-tape. At times the Wings looked like they were doing some Harlem Globetrotters stuff out on the ice, moving the puck at will.

Things are not looking up for Chicago and this is setting up for a blowout of even more embarrassing fashion for the Blackhawks because if you can’t nut up and strap it on for a game where the other team is ridiculously shorthanded from the get-go… Then what game can you get up for?

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