Posts tagged NHL
Posts tagged NHL
“There’s one other guy, I believe, in hockey today, that’s still working in the game that’s won more Stanley Cups than me. So, I think I know a little bit about winning.”
Kevin Lowe, Edmonton Oilers press conference – April 15th.
It seems to me Kevin Lowe was the most underrated player on those Edmonton Oilers Stanley Cup teams of the 25-30 years ago. Wayne Gretzky, well, he was a pretty big deal. Mark Messier and Grant Fuhr were the other headliners. Phenomenal talents like Paul Coffey and Jari Kurri won team and personal accolades. Glenn Anderson was a 50-goal scorer who made the Hockey Hall of Fame and had his number retired.
And Lowe was there all along, for all 5 championships. Yes, he chipped in his share of points and he had a hard edge, never hiding when things got rough on the ice. However, most importantly, I think he was the one member of Edmonton’s blue-line that actually excelled playing defence, the only shutdown rearguard on the club over that span.
After another Cup with the New York Rangers in 1994, Lowe eventually retired in 1998 and moved right behind Edmonton’s bench, first as an assistant coach, then as the head man. In 2000, he was named General Manager of the team and has been with the front office ever since.
In this lockout-shortened NHL season, the Oilers were expecting to breakthrough and rejoin the post-season party. Instead, a swoon in March and April killed any chance of that happening, so Edmonton is once again making some dramatic changes.
Recently, the Oilers fired Steve Tambellini as General Manager and replaced him with Craig MacTavish. Scott Howson rejoins the organization as Vice President of Hockey Operations. He has worked under Lowe before he spent time in Columbus as GM. While the oil industry, in some respects, may be slow to embrace recycling; it’s alive and well in Oil Country.
I am not here to say Tambellini was doing a magnificent job. Clearly, the Oilers underachieved this season. However, as Lowe stated in that same press conference referenced above, the team is in the midst of a rebuild.
Tambellini was brought in, trying to clean up a mess that Lowe himself had made. The last decade, with Lowe making most of the key decisions, the Oilers have been terrible. Only in the miracle 2006 Cup Finals run, has Edmonton won a playoff series dating back to 1998. The last seven seasons, the club hasn’t even qualified for the post-season, finished no better than 4th in the Northwest Division. This is a run of incompetence that we like to think only happens on Long Island, central Ohio or southern Florida.
If we throw out the ’06 run, the Oilers have won 4 playoff games under Lowe as GM and Team President. After the Oilers made the finals, he handed out some dreadful contracts to players like Shawn Horcoff and Fernando Pisani (yes, Pisani got hurt, but he was never even a 20-goal scorer before he inked that $10 million dollar deal). Even Ales Hemsky’s contract, while justifiable due to his scoring skills, looks bad in retrospect as the Czech has spent too much time on the injury report.
Lowe’s track record running the draft is just as dubious. Before the Oilers were picking first overall every June, all under Tambellini, high draft picks were regularly wasted on the likes of Alexei Mikhnov, Jesse Niinimaki, Marc-Antoine Pouliot and Riley Nash. The balance of those drafts didn’t produce much else either. Some of the players who made an impact were Jarrett Stoll, Matt Greene and Kyle Brodziak. None of whom are still with the club (Stoll and Greene both recently won the Stanley Cup with Los Angeles).
Lowe’s trade record isn’t as bad as Mike Milbury’s—but that isn’t saying much. Bill Guerin was flipped to Boston for Anson Carter and a first rounder that became Hemsky. That was good. Doug Weight brought in Jochen Hecht, Jan Horacek and Marty Reasoner from St. Louis. Not so much. Mike Comrie was sent to Philadelphia for Jeff Woywtika a 1st (Rob Schremp) and a 3rd (Danny Syvret). Looked good at the time but didn’t pan out in retrospect.
Then there’s Chris Pronger. Lowe bagged him for Eric Brewer, Woywitka and Doug Lynch. For Lowe, this was larceny. Unfortunately, the former Norris Trophy winner’s time in the Capital was short-lived and he demanded a trade out of Edmonton after just one season, for reasons sordid or otherwise.
When Lowe dealt Pronger to Anaheim, the bounty was pretty decent, Joffrey Lupul, Ladislav Smid, two 1sts (one conditional) and a 2nd. Thankfully, one of those picks turned out to be Jordan Eberle, which is looking very good indeed. Still, at the time, I was surprised that Lowe couldn’t pry either Ryan Getzlaf or Corey Perry from the Ducks in the deal. Neither player had yet busted out becoming the player they are today, but the signs were there. Had Lowe pressed for one of them, instead of Lupul, as the centrepiece to the deal, does Anaheim say, “No thanks?” I highly doubt it.
Throw it all into the consideration—the team record, the draft history, the cap management, the trades—and where does Lowe rank? It’s not like he’s in the same class as Lou Lamorello or Ken Holland. He would have been fired 3 times over by now in Toronto or Montreal.
But in Edmonton, in the ‘City of Champions,’ Lowe survives no longer winning championships. No matter if the team’s glory days date back 20-to-30 years back. No matter than other than one fluke year, the Oilers have done nothing of note, other than pick first overall three times in a row in a decade.
Oil fans have to worry that with the re-hiring of MacTavish, the club gives too much deference to its past as it tries to compete in the ever-changing NHL. Lowe’s vehement defence of his track record at that press conference excuses his current performance in trade for past glory. The victory parade can only go on for so long.
Earlier that day, Lowe said, “Half of the NHL teams would trade their roster for his”, he’s probably not wrong. The immense amount of young talent in the organization may in fact be just a step or two away from helping vindicate Lowe and company.
But if things continue as they have for the last 20 years in Edmonton, I will think of Lowe as an underrated NHL player and that’s about it.
The most hyped event of 2013 has recently passed and
The Papal Conclave the National Hockey League Trade Deadline delivered its usual amount of activity. And the Calgary Flames, for the first time in over a decade it was different—the club was selling assets. It shipped out the most beloved player in franchise history, its best defenceman, who was supposed to be the next Gary Suter/Al MacInnis when he was acquired just a few years ago…and Blake Comeau.
I suppose with Jarome Iginla, Jay Bouwmeester…and Blake Comeau…now donning other team’s jerseys (and how weird was it to see Iggy wearing Pittsburgh Penguins silks for the first time?) the Flames are finally getting serious about a rebuild 3-years too late. Even if the organization seems loathe calling it a rebuild, Holmes on Homes has surveyed the wreckage and says the top floor, kitchen/dining room and basement all require a major overhaul.
We can debate all day about if the Flames got the right return in the three deals; however, the more important point is these moves had to be made, starting with The Captain.
All Flames fans can agree, the impact Iginla made on the organization is the most profound of any man to wear the Flaming ‘C.’ All the way back to the time he was acquired in a trade with Dallas for then captain Joe Nieuwendyk, to scoring his first goal in his first game (a playoff contest versus Chicago), to becoming an all-star, to becoming an Art Ross, Maurice Richard and Lester B. Pearson award winner, to leading the team to the 2004 Stanley Cup finals, to twice winning gold with Canada at the Olympics, to setting all of the major records in club history, to scoring 500 goals and 1000 points, to being the consummate professional on and off the ice—Iginla is, was and always shall be the ideal Calgary Flame.
Trading Iggy had to happen for two reasons: To give him a legitimate shot at winning a title before he retires and for the organization to finally admit to itself a new direction was necessary. With Iginla in the locker room, a proper team deconstruction was impossible and not fair to him.
With Iginla dealt, it seemed like pretty much means any other player in the organization, not on an entry-level contract, was up for grabs. Bouwmeester never became the Norris Trophy winner many fans thought he should be but the ex-Medicine Hat Tiger delivered exactly what he has his entire hockey career: A major minute-muncher, with above average skill, below average grit and subterranean charisma.
And while…Comeau…was the only other player moved at this time, the off-season could be even busier.
Flames General Manager Jay Feaster has been skewered by many for not getting back any ‘A-List’ prospects back in the Iginla/Bouwmeester trades, but he did acquire two first-round picks (the choice from St. Louis is for 2013 if the Blues make the playoffs; 2014 if they don’t). Considering the players had no-trade clauses, Feaster didn’t have much leverage to shop either player to get the best deal possible.
Shortly after the moves were made, Feaster spoke to the press and one thing stuck out more than anything. Despite moving Iginla, Bouwmeester…and Comeau…the club was not ‘rebuilding.’ And in fact, Flames ownership is expecting the team to make the playoffs next season.
Ever since 2004, the Flames have been chasing the Cup. After the Finals run, it made sense, after all, Calgary was one proper goal review from actually having won the championship*.
*I’m just saying it was the eliminator—Martin Gelinas!
After the ’04-’05 lockout, Calgary finished over 100 points, 1st in the Northwest Division before flaming out in the first round of the post-season. The next 3 years brought about 3 more first round exits. Then the next 3 years the Flames narrowly missed the playoffs. Instead of taking a step back, first with Darryl Sutter in charge, then Feaster, the organization kept making moves with only the present in mind.
Now what some people—including this guy right here—have thought for years is out in the open: Flames ownership, Murray Edwards and friends, have mandated making the playoffs and pursuing the Cup as the only option. Even this season, with the franchise battling for the NHL basement, ownership is eyeing 2014 as the year the club can return to the post-season.
Now, for any professional team to have ownership in place that really wants to win is rarer than one might think. Before the NHL had a salary cap, Chicago’s Bill Wirtz and Boston’s Jeremy Jacobs were more than happy to rake in dough while Detroit and Colorado spend tons of money pursuing Lord Stanley’s mug.
I’m worried the Flames are like the New York Yankees of yesteryear. Not the World Champion, spend $200-million Pinstripers—but the 1980s teams. While George Steinbrenner won more than his share, there was a time he thought just throwing money around was enough to build a winner. The ‘80s Yankees were San Diego Padre-like. It wasn’t until Steinbrenner changed his ways, stepped back from the day-to-day operations of the team and hired some bright baseball minds, most notably Brian Cashman.
New York started to develop young players, and a nucleus led by Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte brought the club back to glory. Yes, money was spent on free agents, superstars were acquired in trade, but without the young core peaking together, those recent World Series titles would have been near impossible to come by.
Looking at the more successful teams of the post-salary cap NHL era: Pittsburgh, Detroit, New Jersey, Boston, recently Chicago and Los Angeles, these teams were built through the draft, using a young, homegrown core of players to achieve success.
For too long, Calgary has eschewed player development for free agents and trades. Acquiring players on the free market rarely works like it should. The players available have generally already peaked. There is a reason they are free agents: Their former teams did not believe they were worth the investment.
The trade game can work, as even Sutter showed early in his Flames tenure, stealing players like Miikka Kiprusoff and Craig Conroy among others. Beware the team looking to offload a veteran with a big contract—Hey Mike Cammalleri!
What should worry Flames fans is if ownership is really thinking it’s a one step back this year, for two big steps forward next. Who is to say Calgary can even build through the draft, the club has a lousy track record the last 25 years or more. The New York Islanders have been a lottery team for centuries.
There’s a lot not to like right now for the Flames. And most troublesome is ownership if it believes its club is a playoff contender next year.
I’m not saying it can’t happen. But a long time has passed since 1989. And I don’t see a roster stocked with one-time draft picks like MacInnis, Suter, Vernon, Roberts, Fleury, and Nieuwendyk on it.
Well, that was quick.
It seems it took about all of three minutes for Canadians to get over the recently resolved National Hockey League lockout. When negotiations seemed to be going nowhere, there was a large public backlash against the owners and players, with many people talking about boycotting the NHL even after the dispute was resolved. It proved to be just tough talk. As soon as the season finally started earlier in January, buildings were sold out in the 7 Canadian markets once again. Even television ratings in the United States are encouraging. Perhaps absence really does make the heart grow fonder.
Now the games are back and with it 30 fan bases have hope this is the year their team hoists the Stanley Cup. Well, expect in Columbus. Even the most ardent Blue Jackets fan is looking at that team and thinks, “Maybe next year…we won’t finish last.”
And no team’s fan base is as optimistic as that of the Edmonton Oilers. Oil Nation is jacked about its team with its influx of youth and talent. The skill level acquired through the draft the last few years by Edmonton is no joke and the club will be must watch TV for a long time going forward.
Still, in this even more restricted salary cap world, I wonder what the Oilers window of opportunity is to win a championship. As things stand, the organization has the next two or three years before it will have to make a lot of shrewd and perhaps difficult choices.
For just the second time in NHL history, a team has picked first overall in three consecutive Entry Drafts. The Oilers selected Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov from 2010-2012 respectively. Add Jordan Eberle, the 22nd overall pick in 2008 and free agent acquisition Justin Schultz (Anaheim’s 2nd round pick in ’08) and the bounty of talent is the envy of pretty much any other NHL club (Calgary Flames fans know what I’m talking about).
The first NHL team to have 3 first overall picks was the Quebec Nordiques from 1989-1991. Just before the franchise moved to Colorado, it selected Owen Nolan, Mats Sundin and Eric Lindros. While none of those players helped the Avalanche win the Stanley Cup, the subsequent Sundin, Lindros and Nolan trades, along with picking Joe Sakic 15th overall in ’87, paved the way.
The early picks, along with potential stars atop the draft, mean the Oilers have had the chance to pick up some dynamic playmakers. The ceiling for Hall, Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins and Yakupov is sky high and early on, there doesn’t appear to be an Alexandre Daigle or Doug Wickenheiser in the bunch.
If this quartet lives up to its potential, the outlay in cash is going to get very expensive for Edmonton. Already, Hall and Eberle have signed contract extensions, each with a cap hit of $6 million apiece for the next 7 and 6 years respectively. There’s no reason to believe that Nugent-Hopkins won’t get a hefty extension once his rookie deal runs out after next season. If RNH puts up comparable numbers, $6 million per season will be the minimum he’s going to make per annum. As for Yakupov, he’s another offensively gifted player. If the Russian can push a point-per-game pace in the next couple of years, as I’m sure Oilers fans are hoping he does, by the end of his entry level contract, add another $6 million, or more, cap hit on the books starting in 2015.
Potentially, the Oilers will have 4 players making $24-$26 million bucks against the salary cap in time for the 2015-2016 campaign. At least Shawn Horcoff’s bloated contract will be off the books by then. Now, having four players possibly counting that much against the spending limit can be done and I liken this upcoming situation to the Chicago Blackhawks of recent vintage.
Chicago was a bumbling franchise from the mid ‘90’s through the mid ‘00’s. Then the team got better through the draft and led by youngsters Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, won a championship in 2010, ending a near 40-year drought.
Afterwards, the Blackhawks kept their core intact, and in fact, have 6 players with cap hits of over $5 million apiece (Kane, Towes, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Seabrook and Keith).
However, the ‘Hawks eventually had to move other young players who were very instrumental in helping win the Cup, including Lethbridge’s Kris Versteeg, Troy Brouwer, Antii Niemi and Dustin Byfuglien to manage the salary cap. Today Chicago is still a very good team but has slipped from NHL Stanley Cup favourite consideration. Also, when the cap falls next season by $6 million, the ‘Hawks may have to move one of their high priced players.
A nod to capgeek.com for all salary cap information. As it stands, next season the Blackhawks will have 18 players making over $60 million bucks with a salary cap set at $64.3 million.
In 3 seasons time, it’s almost a given the Oilers will have a similar salary cap situation if they keep a similar roster. The top guns of Hall, Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins and Yakupov will all be at least $5-$6 million dollar cap hits. If Schultz can put up even 40 points a year as a defenceman, he will join that quartet at as $5 million dollar player with his next contract.
The average NHL salary is nearly $2.5 million dollars. Perhaps that value comes down with a stricter salary cap. But with the way contemporary NHL owners spend, it won’t be too much.
A decent netminder is at least $4 million a season, unless if you get one on his rookie deal, or a Niemi who has a career playoff run at just the right time. An all-star goalie is $6 million. Maybe Devan Dubnyk develops into one, as it is; he’s already a cap hit of $3.5 million. If the Oilers become a playoff team, his salary will go up when his contract is up after next season.
At the very least, it looks like 6 players will be making close to half of the Oilers cap by 2015-16. Yes, the Oilers seem to have the top-end talent to become a Stanley Cup contender in the near future. But the best chance the club may have to win the title is in the next two or three years before all of these big contracts kick in.
In fact, the 2013-14 campaign may be the most promising. The club will have all of its young stars in place and enough cap room to go after the right veterans to round out the roster. After that, economics will play as big a role for the club going forward as goals and saves.
It will make Oilers General Manager Steve Tambellini’s job very interesting going forward to say the least. He’ll have to channel Ken Holland to make it work and not Kevin Lowe.
And in the end, a prolonged Oilers run may be shunted because there’s only so much money to go around.
Editors Note: Through a serendipitous stroke of fortune, For What It’s Worth has received what appears to be a discarded journal penned by National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman. What follows are some unedited excerpts from it. Do not ask how FWIW obtained this book. It most definitely had nothing to do with a well placed mole working in New York at NHL Headquarters rifling through the Commish’s recycling bin.
August 18th, 2012
My, what a beautiful summer’s day here in NYC. Too bad I can’t enjoy it. The NHL Players Association counter-offer was such a joke! They think they can tell these owners how to divvy up billions of dollars? Most of them can’t even balance their massive cheque books. The nerve! Without my leadership those players would still be making on average less than a million dollars per season in a 20-team league. Could you imagine a $200 million contract in the days of John Ziegler? Now there’s a guy who couldn’t walk and chew gum at the same time. Oh well, we all know a lockout is inevitable, so let’s just get to September and get it started already.
August 30th, 2012
I hate Bob Goodenow. But I miss him. At least I knew the players would eventually tune him out and help us get the upper hand in negotiations. Now Donald Fehr? I would rather spend 30 days on a deserted island with Goodenow than spend 60 seconds in an elevator with Fehr. Donny’s just spoiling for a fight. He doesn’t give a crap about ice hockey. He just wants to win this negotiation at all costs. People have told me he does well here and he says he’ll get back to a real league like Major League Baseball or the Lingerie Football League. We’ll see about that Donny.
September 15th, 2012
Now this is what I’m talking about! The lockout is on. Don’t get me wrong, I wish we could have avoided all of this and have a nice fair collective bargaining agreement in place, but really, it was wishful thinking. I can’t get 30 owners on the same page, I can’t imagine how 700 players can all agree on something as complex as a CBA. You know, I should really get this lockout thing sponsored. “The Master Lock-Out.” Or the “Yale Lock-Out.” Or the “Ric Flair Figure-Four Lock-Out.” Cha-ching!!
October 1st, 2012
All these meetings and talks and we can’t even discuss numbers yet. I’m all for player safety and crap, but I want us to compare our skewed numbers versus their skewed numbers. I’ll admit, it’s getting tough to keep crying poor, when it’s all all over the place that the NHL is making more money than ever. Yes, some teams are in tough shape, who ever thought of putting a team in Phoenix anyways? That guy should be shot.
October 11th, 2012
Well, I should be dropping the puck somewhere for opening night. Boy, cancelling games is always kind of surreal. We all know the season is about 30 games too long anyways. If we ever get back to playing this season I can’t wait to see all of those smartass columnists write about how much more enjoyable a shortened season will be. “Every game is like a playoff game,” they’ll write! I don’t get it, it’s not like my career is being aborted by losing all these games. Eat that Teemu Selanne! And I get paid either way.
October 19th, 2012
More games cancelled today. That reminds me, I should cancel my gym membership. What have I gone, like four times this year? My delts are paying for it too. Nothing like that Roger Goodell. His shoulders are boulders.
November 2nd, 2012
And there goes the Winter Classic. I’m not much for being all cold outside, especially in Detroit, but I do love that 24/7 show on HBO. Oh man that Ilya Bryzgalov is a weird guy. Kind of reminds me of Colin Campbell in a way. They both sure love outer space!
November 24th, 2012
More games cancelled, the easiest one was the All-Star Game in Columbus. Like it was going to save hockey in that town. What a downright terrible team. Just an awful franchise. Whoever thought putting hockey in Columbus was a good idea should be shot.
December 4th, 2012
Well, as much as I hated to not be in the room today, it looks like some good progress was made. Getting Fehr out of the room was key too. He eats all of the Boston cream donuts and that just gets everyone in a foul mood. If we could keep Fehr out of the process we just might get a deal done and have some Boston creams left over for Sidney Crosby.
December 6th, 2012
SO ANGRY!!! FEEEEEEEHHHHHRRRR!!! MUST SMASH DONALD!!!!!!!!!
December 12th, 2012
Oh mediation is so tedious. All I’m thinking about is that new Mini iPad. I hope I get one from Santa for Christmas. I mean it’s smaller than my other iPad, but bigger than my iPhone! I wish I worked for Apple. Then I could probably get a free Mini iPad.
December 26th, 2012
Now that I have my Mini iPad, I think we should get the lockout over with. Maybe I’ll float the idea of a drop dead date for the season for January and that’ll get some butts moving. All I know is the owners have more time on their hands now that they’re done with NFL Fantasy Football for the year. I can finally get them to focus on other less important matters like salvaging the NHL season.
January 1st, 2012
Sooooooo hungover. We have to counter their counter but the room is spinning. Too much Cristal with Jacobs and Dolan last night. I don’t care what we offer now, so long as we get some ibuprofen coming back our way.
Relief. That’s all I feel as it looks like we have a deal for a new CBA. Not joy. Not elation. Just sweet, sweet relief. I can’t stress enough it doesn’t matter how many lockouts I am commissioner for, it never gets any easier. I swear Fehr wanted this thing to go on for another year. In the end, we got where we needed to go thanks to everyone realizing we’re doing what’s best for the game. Even though we could have, should have done this in the summer, at least I’m not cancelling another entire season! How many commissioners have done that? Not many I bet. With at least 8 years until the next negotiation, I’ll have more than enough time to get a lockout sponsor.
In what’s become an annual tradition here at For What It’s Worth, here are my hopes and wishes for sport for the upcoming year, 2013. We had many great moments in 2012, along with the usual disappointments and outright shocking events. This is why sport is so great: Truly anything can happen—and often does.
THE END OF THE NHL LOCKOUT
As we hit January, it still looks like this may never happen. Great Toe Blake’s Ghost I hope not. The fact there is another National Hockey League work stoppage is outright indefensible. I grew tired of this story in 2004. To have it happen again (and again, and again) is a shame.
If a season begins, it will be interesting to see how fans respond. It’s hard to give up the NHL, as it showcases the game we love with the planet’s top players. Still, wouldn’t be nice to see a consolidated effort to boycott the league for a time, to show both the owners and players that we fans are tired of their shenanigans.
THE LETHBRIDGE HURRICANES WINNING HOME ICE FOR THE FIRST ROUND OF THE WHL PLAYOFFS
As the Western Hockey League embarks on the second half of the 2012/2013 campaign, the Lethbridge Hurricanes are firmly positioned to make the playoffs after a 3-year hiatus. If you haven’t been down to the Enmax Centre lately, you’ve missed out as this team has played some pretty exciting (if still a bit inconsistent) hockey. But this is a developing side with its best days ahead. After all, the ‘Canes remain the Dub’s youngest squad.
The group of forwards have great offensive potential, and a few like Jaimen Yakubowski, Russell Maxwell and Brady Ramsay have taken a big step forward this season. On the back end, Daniel Johnston may be the WHL’s most underrated d-man, with a crop of first or second year skaters filling out the blue-line including the impressive rookie Ryan Pilon. Ty Rimmer has been a rock between the pipes, often spectacularly giving the club a chance to win every game.
For the Hurricanes to crack the Eastern Conference’s top four, it’s going to be a challenge. Defending WHL Champion Edmonton is a good bet to repeat. One of the top two seeds will go to the East Division champs, which Prince Albert is the first half leader. However, I still wouldn’t put Saskatoon out of that race. The Blades have shrugged off a poor start and are playing more like a team befitting to host the Memorial Cup (and you know Saskatoon will make any moves necessary at the trade deadline to bolster its lineup in its pursuit of glory).
Calgary is back in a big way, as the Hitmen may challenge the Oil Kings for the Central Division Crown. That leaves the ‘Canes battling the Red Deer Rebels, either the Raider or Blades as the East race plays out, and probably a couple of other teams in the second half for a top four seed. It will be fun to watch, that’s for sure.
A BIG SECOND HALF FOR THE UOFL BASKETBALL TEAMS
As we know, Southern Alberta loves its basketball. It’s even better when the University of Lethbridge teams are in contention. Some of my favourite memories were watching the Pronghorns teams led by Danny Balderson and Spencer Holt rock the ‘Old Cave’ more than a couple of years ago.
Now, neither of these year’s ‘Horns teams are a national powerhouse, but both the men’s and women’s sides have a chance to make the playoffs, providing they win more than they lose in the second half of the Canada West schedule.
The men’s squad is trying to overcome the loss of two key cogs from last season—Dominyc Coward and Daryl Cooper—and have done a pretty good job of doing so. The ‘Horns are averaging nearly the same amount of points for and against per game.
Derek Waldner is playing his best basketball. The 5th year senior is the only man on his team in the top 20 in Canada West scoring and is among the conference’s rebounding leaders. From there, it’s a team effort with different players rising to the occasion on different nights like Logan Reiter, Julian Spear Chief-Morris, Morgan Duce and Chaz Johnson.
In order for the UofL Men’s team to make the playoffs, a win on the road is most likely needed, as the squad was 0-4 in the first half. Still, the ‘Horns should be threatening until the end, with a post-season invitation hanging in the balance.
As for the UofL Women’s basketball team, I believe most people are surprised by their 5-5 start to the CanWest season. First year head coach Erin McAleenan has nearly matched last season’s win total of 6, this after 5-year senior, and leading scorer Lauren Taal graduated.
Stepping into the breach is Ali Cameron. The 3rd year guard is has led the team in scoring, adding nearly 7 points-per-night to her average. The Raymond native is in the top ten in Canada West scoring—a nice surprise to be sure.
If the ‘Horns are going to make the playoffs, more offence is going to be key. Two other starters—Kim Veldman and Erin Skippon—are both averaging double-digits, however, the squad is in the bottom half in scoring offence overall.
To have both ‘Horns hoops squads in the playoffs in March should get the 1st Choice Savings Centre rocking in 2013.
…The Toronto Blue Jays to win the American League East. The Jays have been the darlings of the Major Baseball League offseason, making huge deals, first with Florida to acquire Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson and others; then another swap with the New York Mets for Cy Young winner RA Dickey. With the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox both looking vulnerable, this may just be the year the Jays regain at least a playoff berth. I’m not a Jays fan, but if they are good, it’s great for baseball here in the Great White North, which I am all for.
…The Los Angeles Clippers to win the NBA Championship. Hollywood’s other team; the Clippers have long been one of The Association’s laughingstocks. However, this winter, the side is coming together as a legit championship contender. Led by Chris Paul, the Clips have run out to the NBA’s best record (as of December 28th). There’s a great mix of youth (Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan) and veteran experience (Chauncey Billups, Jamal Crawford and a now in-shape Lamar Odom). If my Celtics can’t win another title—why not the Clippers? As long as it’s not the Lakers…or Heat.
And of course, most of all, I hope for a safe a prosperous New Year to all of the Lethbridge Journal’s readers and their families.
I really didn’t want to write about the NHL Lockout which started earlier this month. After all, approximately 1 billion words have been burned on it already by much better hockey minds than mine.
However, it’s still a major topic. And thankfully (he wrote sarcastically) the NHL and the NHL Players Association have gone down this road several times in the last two decades, so I guess we’re accustomed to this kind of thing.
In fact, we’re all so used to it; I went through the Kubler-Ross model, also known as “The Five Stages of Grief” in record time.
DENIAL – 13 minutes
Really, another NHL workstoppage? Surely these two sides must realize the NHL is coming off one of its best seasons in memory.
Look at all the great things that happened in the 2011-2012 campaign. NBC paid real money for a 10-year TV deal, unlike in the recent past where the league just gave the network its programming away for nothing.
The relocation of Atlanta to Winnipeg was a tremendous story. Seriously, could the Jets have been any more of a success?
The Winter Classic between Philadelphia and the New York Rangers was a huge boost, thanks in no small part to top-notch production used in HBO’s 24/7 series and the “performance” of Ilya Bryzgalov.
Parity was rampant, as aside from a few teams, everyone was in the playoff chase. Then once the post-season arrived, Los Angeles went on its magical run to attain the first Stanley Cup in team history, becoming the toast of one of the league’s largest markets.
Really, outside of Columbus, things were pretty exciting.
And there’s going to be a lockout this season? Nah…no way.
ANGER – 4 MINUTES
Oh, I guess there’s too much logic in avoiding a work stoppage. These owners think that we NHL fans will stand for another lockout?!? What is this, the 8th time in 10 years?
The fact this is happening again is dumbfounding. I’m not taking sides here, but look at some of the things that have happened this summer. Multiple players inked 8 and 9-figure contracts that are worth more than some actual franchises. Then the owners are coming to the negotiating table crying poor? What the Helm? How does this work? Owners want to rein in spending, while a number of teams are giving out deals that are over $100 million bucks. I’d like to be at the table when this is rationalized.
Put it this way: If your place of work was making records amounts of money, and management came to you and said you have to take a pay-cut, what would you think?
What a bunch of dopes.
BARGANING – 9 MINUTES
C’mon guys, get together and work something out. Be reasonable about this. There’s billions of dollars generated by the league, surely, everyone can come together and agree on a system to divvy it up.
The trickledown of a work stoppage affects much, much more than the owners and players. Think of all of the employees of the teams that don’t make 7-figure salaries. The front office support staff, the ticket brokers, the ladies and gentlemen who work the concessions who depend on their paychecks on a bi-weekly basis.
Think of the children!
DEPRESSION – 2 MINUTES
I can’t believe we’re going to miss NHL hockey this autumn. Seriously, what else am I going to do? I just finished up at Global and have my evenings and weekends off! I was going to get that NHL Centre Ice package and watch games every day from 5pm until midnight.
I was going to enter 15 hockey pools/fantasy leagues and win a lot of…er….glory!
I was going to buy a new Calgary Flames Roman Czervenka jersey. I still can’t believe the team gave him Niklas Hagman’s old number 10.
Alas, all signs point to it not coming to pass.
ACCEPTANCE – PRESENT TIME
Well then, I think there’s more to life than the NHL. Perhaps I will finally write that book about the 1984 Hartford Whalers. I can’t wait for the audio book that will use the Brass Bonanza as chapter breaks and narrated by Dave Babych.
Also, I remember that I like other sports too. I suppose I can get by watching the NFL, NBA, NCAA anything, MMA, NASCAR, the PGA silly season, soccer (Champions League, Premiership, Serie A, etc.), billiards, trick-shot billiards, Premiere League Darts, poker and Ninja Warrior.
And then there are all of the local sports that I can attend: Hurricanes, Pronghorns, Kodiaks, high school sports, minor hockey and more. I think if I need a fix, I’ll find something to keep me busy.
Well, NHL and NHLPA, good luck sorting out your differences. I won’t be paying any attention to negotiations, or the lack of them. I’ll be busy doing something else.
There are plenty of things going on in the world of sport. Here are musings, random thoughts and detritus that have accumulated in my brain that are not quite enough to turn into a full blown For What It’s Worth.
—I think many people are shocked that the NHL is on the verge of missing games to start the 2012-13 season. After all, wasn’t the last lockout supposed to give the league labour peace for an extended period? Well, I think we’re seeing that things don’t quite work that way. In reality, too many teams are losing money. A new lockout will actually help struggling franchises save money near-term if games are missed—payroll is as well.
No matter what system the players and owners come up with, it always seems player agents find a way around it to maximize their top clients earning potential. In the end it’s the middle class that gets squeezed (doesn’t that sound familiar?).
A better revenue sharing model is needed, or there will continue to be franchises that prosper and franchises that struggle. I just don’t know if it’s possible, unless a massive national TV deal can come through, so there’s enough money in the community chest to give out to the Carolinas and Floridas of the league.
All I know is when teams like Minnesota dole out $250 million bucks to a couple of players in free agency, the collective bargaining agreement can change to anything it wants. It’s not going to stop teams and GM’s from throwing out massive amounts of cash to players, whether they can afford it or not.
—Major League Baseball recently suspended two players for failing a performance enhancing drug test. I’m not sure what’s more shocking: San Francisco’s Melky Cabrera who tried to cover it up using a false website report or Oakland’s Bartolo Colon because he’s…um…the before pic for one of those late night fitness infomercial products?
—Do you remember Spanky Lavalliere, Jose Lind or Stan Belinda? If you do, you remember the 1992 Pittsburgh Pirates—the last time the MLB club had a winning season. Two decades have passed and perhaps the Bucs are ready to get off one of the most awful skids in professional sports history. With about a month to go, the team is primed to finish above .500 and is in the hunt for a playoff spot. As a San Diego Padres fan, I have watched some bad baseball over the years, but for the last 20 years, I could say “at least I’m not a Pirates fan.” I can’t say that this year (I hope).
—In the NBA, a massive trade sent, most notably, Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers. The all-star centre whined his way out of Orlando, as the Magic apparently have none when it comes to keeping big men happy. This mirrors Shaquille O’Neal moving to Hollywood back in 1996 and he helped the Lake Show win 3 championships. It remains to be seen if Howard will have the same kind of success—teaming up with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash—as Shaq did. Non-Laker fans (despite Nash being there) should have no problem rooting against the club, as most people hate to see a malcontent like Howard succeed anywhere. With LeBron James having a successful summer, I’m sure Howard will now become the NBA’s least favourite player.
—Augusta National added its first two female members in its 80 year history: Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore. That’s great to see, but does it mean I’ll get to play there someday? No? It’s still a pretty exclusive club as far as I can tell.
—UFC had to cancel its September pay-per-view after Dan Henderson’s injury jeopardized the main event against Jon Jones. When no suitable replacement could be found with 8 days before the event, the mixed martial arts organization pulled the plug. UFC President Dana White went off to reporters afterwards; saying Jones was unwilling to step up against some other competitors. The light heavyweight champ confirmed admitting he wasn’t about to take a fight against someone he hadn’t had the proper time to prepare for. With White trashing one of his stars, it’s bad optics for the UFC, which has had a terrible run of luck lately with fights getting changed or cancelled due to injuries. The promotion needs a good fall here as it looks like it’s losing all the momentum it built up last decade. Getting some healthy fighters and quality main events will help.
—A new WHL season is approaching and the Lethbridge Hurricanes face a crucial year. With the team in financial troubles and having missed out on the playoffs for the last 3 springs, some on ice success would cure a lot of ills. There will be pressure from fans and the shareholders to make improvements on and off the ice. I think we all want more from the organization and there will be pressure to produce. Here’s hoping it happens as the 2012-13 campaign plays out.
In the last decade, nearly half of the National Hockey League clubs have vied for the Stanley Cup. Over a 10-year stretch from 2001-2011, 14 different teams have made at least one appearance in the championship series. New Jersey, Colorado, Detroit, Carolina, Anaheim (Ducks Mighty and otherwise), Tampa Bay, Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston and Vancouver have all made it to the end.
I guess this shows parity is alive and well in the NHL. So there’s really no reason to be surprised a “team that’s come out of nowhere,” the Los Angeles Kings have become 2012’s dominant playoff club.
Still, there was plenty of doubt that the Kings would even make the post-season. While some folks liked the club to be a potential Stanley Cup threat at the start of the year, a big mid-season swoon had L.A. among the dregs of the Western Conference. When things were bleak, General Manager Dean Lombardi, rumoured to be on the hot-seat himself, went and made some big moves.
In December, the Kings axed head coach Terry Murray and replaced him Darryl Sutter. Revisionist history is easy, but at the time, many questioned why a goal-starved side would hire a guy who’s perceived as another Jacques Lemaire defence-at-all costs type.
And true, goals did not come easy for the Kings under Sutter, any more than they did under Murray. But I think we have to say now: The best was yet to come.
In February, at the trade deadline, L.A. acquired forward Jeff Carter from Columbus for a 1st-round pick and Jack Johnson. Another curious move at the time, as Carter, along with Mike Richards (who was traded for by the Kings in the summer) were thought to have been run out of Philadelphia for poor attitudes.
And while Carter is a one-time 40-goal scorer and two-time 30-goal man, his play for the Blue Jackets was so uninspired, there was no guarantee he would turn things around in So-Cal. And again, during the duration of the regular season, he didn’t make much of an impact.
But the Kings keep the puck out of the net. And if defence and goaltending wins championships, then Los Angeles certainly had a legitimate shot at winning the first title in franchise history.
The side was second best in goals against this season, boasting the fourth-rated penalty kill. While netminder Jonathan Quick (deservedly) gets plenty of credit, L.A.’s defensive corps is underrated. We all know about Drew Doughty’s skills, but it’s the other 5 guys who I’ve really learned to appreciate this post-season. Willie Mitchell is playing out of his mind. Matt Greene reminds me of Ken Daneyko. I guess there’s a reason Pittsburgh hasn’t won a Stanley Cup since Rob Scuderi left. Slava Voynov and Alec Martinez both seem to make plays as needed, keeping mistakes to a minimum.
Up front, the addition of Carter has created great balance among the Kings forward group. Sutter is rolling four lines, such an advantage in the grind of the NHL Playoffs.
For me, of the teams that made the Stanley Cup final four, if I could take one player from any of them (excluding goaltenders) to start a franchise with, it would be Anze Kopitar. Sure, Ilya Kovalchuk is among the league’s top snipers and Brad Richards is marvellously talented, but for a 200-foot game, it’s hard to find many better than the Slovenian. Kopitar makes Dustin Brown and Justin Williams look good on a regular basis. And while Brown is a terrific player (and having a Conn Smythey-like playoffs), swap him out for Jarome Iginla and Iggy would easily score 50 a season playing along with Kopitar.
Carter, Richards and Dustin Penner (who plays great every fourth spring and makes Kevin Lowe want to sign him for $5 million a season) form a fine second line. Then the third line consists of Jarrett Stoll (having a great series against Phoenix) Trevor Lewis and Dwight King.
Now, for those of us who watched King play for the Lethbridge Hurricanes, we always thought if Dwight could ever put it all together, he’d dominate. Some nights in the WHL, that happened, and King was such a force, using his tremendous size and formidable skill to terrorize the opposition. However, there were other nights where he was missing-in-action and it made you wonder if he could ever become consistent enough to take his game to a higher level.
In the Western Conference Finals, King is showing Phoenix, when he’s at his best, he can make a huge impact. Playing up to his size, the Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan product is also lighting the lamp (four goals in the first three games of the series). For King, this may be the next step that puts him on the path to becoming one of the NHL’s top power-forwards. Let’s hope so, because it’s so enjoyable watching him play this way.
All together, the Kings stifling defence, plus now potent offence has turned the squad into a juggernaut. Sutter has come in and slowly groomed a team that is peaking at the right time. While he may not make a great general manager, I don’t think anyone can question Sutter can get the most out of a team when he’s behind the bench.
Barring an epic collapse, as you read this, Los Angeles will have made the Stanley Cup Finals. Whether New Jersey or the New York Rangers qualify from the east, in my eyes the Prince of Wales Trophy winners enter the finals as the underdogs. The Kings are that good right now.
In today’s NHL if your team sucks one season, wait one year. It just might win the Stanley Cup.
For reasons we cannot get into here, For What It’s Worth has recently secured some audio recordings from Brendan Shanahan’s office at NHL headquarters located in New York City. Shanahan is the league’s disciplinary czar and he has been very busy here in the first round of the 2012 NHL Playoffs. Here are some excerpts from the transcript between Shanahan and various other NHL employees recorded between April 16th and April 17th.
April 16th -8:32am
Colin Campbell (NHL Executive VP & Director of of Hockey Operations): Wow, I’m happy I’m not in your shoes anymore.
Brendan Shanahan: Well, a guy has to start somewhere in this office.
Campbell: So, what are you going to do?
Shanahan: About what?
Campbell: What do you mean about what? Flyers…Penguins. If you thought Game 2 was chippy, yesterday was like a Walmart opening its doors on Black Friday.
Shanahan: I didn’t see the game. I spent a glorious afternoon at the Museum of Modern Art checking out the Diego Rivera exhibition. Did you know he was just MOMA’s second monographic exhibition? After Henry Matisse of course.
Campbell: Right. I believe it set a MOMA attendance record during its original 5-week run from December 1931-January 1932. I appreciate his brilliance as much as the next guy, but you got a big crap-storm to sort out.
Shanahan: What happened? Surely, these two teams who embody sportsmanship and fair play wouldn’t have done anything that I should be concerned with!
Campbell: You may want to look at the tape.
Shanahan: Man, I hate Mondays.
April 16th - 12:32pm
Gary Bettman (NHL Commissioner): So Brendan, what are you going to do about the Flyers and Penguins?
Shanahan: I don’t know Chief. That was some pretty ugly stuff. I mean Kimmo Timonen and Kris Letang fighting? Claude Giroux and Sidney Crosby? What was Aaron Asham thinking? I mean we’ve all wanted to crosscheck a guy in the throat. But to go out and really do it? That’s another thing. And 10 years ago we would have been celebrating James Neal’s hit on Sean Couturier. Now, with the concussions and everything, I probably got to give him something.
Bettman: We need to send a message to some of these guys. Although it has to be the right message.
Shanahan: Why did you just wink at me?
Bettman: Brendan, our ratings are higher than ever here in the United States. Did you see those Philly fans at the game? They were loving it!
Shanahan: Well, it helps we’re actually on TV in the States now.
Bettman: All I know is, while some guys are skewering us in the media, the fans are tuning in. We’ve got to say, “We are concerned with player safety” but still promote the beautiful violence of the sport.
April 16th - 1:34pm
Shanahan: So I just talked to Andrew Shaw from Chicago.
Campbell: And what did he have to say for himself?
Shanahan: Well, he doesn’t see what the big deal is, he was trying to avoid hitting [Mike] Smith, he’s sorry, the same old B.S. What would you do?
Campbell: Roll a die.
Campbell: When I used to have to suspend guys, I used to just roll a die. One-to-six games!
Shanahan: You used to roll a die? How did it come up with one so many times then?
Campbell: I had a special die made that had three ones on it, two twos and a five.
Shanahan: Plus, I’ve got to go and explain everything on those damn videos. Who came up with that brilliant idea?
Campbell: That consultant who came in last summer and thought communicating directly to fans was a good idea.
Shanahan: Anyways, I’ll be releasing the suspensions tomorrow. Right now I’ve got to go to the studio and get my make-up on.
April 17th - 8:36am
Campbell: When it rains it pours, eh Shanny?
Shanahan: What does that mean?
Campbell: Don’t tell me you missed it? Nicklas Backstrom…match penalty against the Bruins last night.
Shanahan: Backstrom got a match? What is this league turning into? I missed the game. Monday nights I volunteer with the New York City Coalition Against Hunger. Did you know 1.5 million New Yorkers face food insecurity on an annual basis!
Campbell: I know. Even more, 1 in 4 are children. Well, back to business. You’re going to want to watch the tape. Back in my day, a great player like Backstrom would have gotten a slap on the wrist.
Shanahan: Like the one I gave to Shea Weber after he slammed Henrik Zetterberg’s face into the glass?
Campbell: Well, maybe we’re more alike than I thought.
April 17th 6:34pm
Bettman: Hey, tough couple of days around here for you.
Shanahan: Yeah, I hope these guys get the message we’re not messing around.
Bettman: 4-games for Asham was fine. We can’t have that in our league. And 1-game for Backstrom for doing pretty much the same thing was good too. We can’t have our superstars missing too much time.
Shanahan: I got a lot more respect for Colly now.
Bettman: Everyone thinks this job is so easy.
Shanahan: Well, I’m going to head home and check out Venus on my telescope. It’s always so bright at this time of year.
Bettman: Did you just see that? On the TV?
Shanahan: What now?
Bettman: Raffi Torres just steamrolled Marian Hossa. Oh boy. He’s not getting up.
Shanahan: Gary. I think I’m going to get a drink.
Another spring brings us another Stanley Cup Playoffs. For the third straight year, the Calgary Flames will be watching it along with the rest of us. In the always tough Western Conference, Brent Sutter’s crew was in the mix for a 2011-2012 post-season berth, but a swoon in the last couple of weeks of March doomed its chances.
The prevailing talk among hockey fans these days is the Flames have to blow things up. In fact, many people I have talked to recently believe it should have happened a couple of years sooner. It’s hard to argue against this reasoning. The Flames are no closer to competing for the Stanley Cup than the Edmonton Oilers. And while the Capital gang has bottomed out the last few seasons, accumulating 1st overall picks and getting really young, their Cowtown rivals are stuck in mediocrity.
So, another off-season of uncertainty awaits Calgary. Tough decisions will have to be made but it’s pretty safe to say, the roster as it is currently constructed, is for the most part, comprised of players who are too accustomed to losing.
On this year’s club, only two Flames had won a Stanley Cup: Cory Sarich and Alex Tanguay. The former turned the trick with Tampa Bay in 2004 and the latter with Colorado in 2001. Despite their contributions, neither were the key reasons why those squads ended up with the championship.
Among the rest of guys on the team, only one—Scott Hannan—had won at least one playoff series in more than one spring. Even then, it can be said Hannan’s San Jose Sharks teams underachieved (and are still doing so after he left). This despite most of the roster littered with veteran guys, many in their 30’s.
Despite his wonderful reputation, Jarome Iginla has only found playoff success in 2004. While he led the team on an improbable Cup run, the captain has not won a series at any other time. Mike Cammalleri helped the Montreal Canadiens make the Eastern Conference Finals in 2010. Other than that, he has never even helped a team qualify for the second season.
Even the venerable Miikka Kiprusoff is like Iggy and Cammy, have only had success in one playoff season—the 2004 Cup charge—and has flamed out in every other post-season he’s played in.
Tom Kostopoulos and Anton Babchuk have one playoff series win each to their credit. I just want to mention this for full disclosure.
Flames on this year’s team who have never won an NHL playoff series: Jay Bouwmeester, Olli Jokinen, Lee Stempniak, Curtis Glencross, David Moss, Blair Jones, Matt Stajan, Blake Comeau, Mikael Backlund, Tim Jackman, Derek Smith, TJ Brodie and Chris Butler. That’s a lot of spring golf right there.
A couple of guys on that list really stand out. Jokinen who’s played in the NHL for parts of 14 years has only been to the post-season once. Is that the kind of guy the Flames really want to bring back?
Then there’s Bouwmeester, who’s a famous non-playoff attendee. The gifted, yet flawed defenceman, who made his NHL debut in 2002, has gone a decade still absent from the Stanley Cup tournament. Oh, he never played in the WHL playoffs either while in Medicine Hat (to be fair, Bouwmeester did make the AHL post-season once with the Chicago Wolves, so there).
Breaking down the roster in such a fashion shows it’s pretty apparent the Flames need to change the culture of the dressing room. I am just wondering if they can do it.
Trading Iginla is a hot topic among Flames fans. I can see the argument from both sides. He’s an all-time icon with the organization. However, if he moves on, the club can turn the page towards the future, and hopefully get a good package of assets in return (which is never a guarantee, right Mike Milbury?).
Iginla, Kiprusoff and Bouwmeester should all have some sort of appeal for other teams out there. However, with weighty contracts and no-movement clauses, it’s hard to predict if any moves can be made, should the Flames even try to pursue them.
No doubt, the last half-decade of mismanagement (or is it more?) has hurt Calgary. By giving up young players and draft choices in an errant belief the team was just a couple of veteran players away from winning the Stanley Cup was short-sighted and ultimately unproductive.
Keeping the core together for another season doesn’t make much sense. Blowing things up in a salary cap NHL and rebuilding is tough to execute.
The last few years the Flames have been stuck in no-man’s land. This summer is going to be real interesting at the Saddledome. Will the club try to move on, or re-tool a group of players that fail to win?
Remember there was a time when the Boston Bruins were irrelevant. Joe Thornton was the captain and an MVP candidate. Still, the B’s were post-season also-rans. When he was shipped to San Jose in 2005, the move was panned by fans and critics alike. Sure, Marco Sturm, Brad Stuart and Wayne Primeau never did much in Beantown. Still, the Bruins knew they weren’t any closer to winning the Cup with Thornton, and the move put the wheels in motion for a championship 6 years later.
Now is the time for the Calgary Flames to make some bold moves. The question is whether General Manager Jay Feaster will be given the free reign he needs to pull them off. Can Flames ownership get on board with an Iginla-less future? It better. Mediocrity is easy to get used to.