Monday, December 12, 2011

Stars should stay off the IR

On Monday we received news that Sidney Crosby is experiencing concussion-like symptoms again and will be out indefinitely. With their biggest star is again sidelined, this has reignited the hockey world with talk of concussions. What surprises me most is that no one is talking about Sidney Crosby's play, and how it may have contributed to his relapse.

Actually, only Don Cherry on Saturday night's Coach’s Corner, mentioned that Sid's play was a bit reckless for someone who has just come back from the concussion that had him out of the lineup for almost 11 months. Cherry showed highlights of Crosby's play, especially in the game against Boston, and questioned his eagerness to provoke shoving matches both before and after whistles.

Crosby's first game back was nothing less than phenomenal. He scored on his second shift and registered four points (2 goals and 2 assists). He looked comfortable, confident, and had seemingly no rust despite being off for so long. He didn't continue that production but he still contributed to his team, but you could argue that the Pens played even better with Sid in the lineup.

But if you look at how he is playing you see that he is being almost too aggressive and trying to do too much. Not aggressive in trying to score, or make plays, but in being an agitator. He's getting into shoving matches, going hard into the boards, and getting into people's faces. The problem that I have with this is that it's unnecessary. Crosby is a star because he is an amazing player, not because he's aggressive and in the face of other players. I would rather him stay healthy, and do what he's amazing at rather than trying to assert himself so aggressively.

Another example is Taylor Hall of the Oilers. The kid is really good; however he is almost too rambunctious and goes into every play as hard as he can. This would be fine, if it wasn't for the fact he was out last year, his first season, due to an injury in a fight, and now he's missing 2-4 weeks with a shoulder injury sustained in November. It's his second year with the Oilers who were doing very well at the beginning of the season, and now have to manoeuvre in the Western Conference without him.

Some would argue that there are star players, like Jerome Iginla, who get into fights and play aggressively. No one would question Iginla's courage or grit. However he's smart about releasing his aggression without putting his body through unnecessary punishment, as witnessed by his eight full 82-game seasons.

Both of these players would make their fans a lot happier if they would stay off the injury reserve and played in as many games as possible. Obviously injuries happen, but if they are injuries that could be avoided by not involving yourself in every movement on the ice, then I would like the stars to stay out, and let the role players who are on the team for that very reason to step in. Afterall, stars are of no help to their team from the IR.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Why are we awarding losers?

The NHL has many problems with the game that they're frequently trying to fix. It surprises me though that the overtime point does not come up as something the NHL needs to look at to improve the game.

The overtime point was introduced post-lockout in order to make games more decisive, with a shootout at the end of 5 minutes of extra time. Prior to the lockout, games would end in a tie and teams would use how many ties they had as a tie-breaker for entry to the playoffs. The point each team would receive for "making it to overtime" was supposed to eliminate this indecisiveness because the team that won either in extra time or in the shootout would be awarded an extra point.

This has now turned the 3rd period of some games into something that can become horrible to watch. On November 23rd, there were 13 games played and 7 of them went to overtime. That's more than half! During the last 10 minutes, the game practically stops being played if it is tied. Both teams just try to make it to overtime to get one point, and then try for the extra in extra time. This is ridiculous and not hockey.

First of all, fans pay good money to go to these games and watch a hockey game take place. Nothing makes me angrier as a fan than watching players dipsy doodle all over the place, playing a super tight defensive game and trying half-assed on offense, just to make sure they don't sustain an "actual" loss and not have any points to show.

Why is the NHL awarding points for losing?! They did not win, so why are they rewarded. If you wanted to make the game more decisive, why not just award one point to the winner in overtime, not two because they made it there and then won, and the loser gets nothing? Because they're the LOSER! Also, this allows teams to squeak into the playoffs due to the points they were awarded in overtime for losing. It makes no sense whatsoever.

The NHL needs to make changes to extra time to ensure that teams actually play the game the way it's supposed to be played. This will make the game more enjoyable, more decisive, and ensure that losers are not awarded for losing a game.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Fans Want Consistency

Someone has obviously sat Brendan Shanahan down and told him to slow down and pull back. During the preseason he was handing out suspensions on all kinds of hits, setting what many thought was a dangerous precedent and would change the way the game was played. Don Cherry was his loudest critic, pointing out players who were going in for soft hits, or avoiding hitting altogether.

Cherry was criticizing Shanahan for the three game suspension that Toronto's Clarke MacArthur was issued for his hit on Justin Abdelkader. MacArthur didn't raise an elbow or his shoulder to hit Abdelkader, rather issued a clean open ice hit, that made incidental contact with the head. Abdelkader only missed his next shift due to the penalty he took trying to gain retribution on the hit.

Since the preseason, suspensions handed out by Shanahan have dropped significantly. So much so, that when Milan Lucic delivered a devastating hit to Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller, he was not issued a suspension or fine. Now there are some out there that consider the fact that Miller was significantly out of his crease, playing the puck, and should be aware of what's going on and is fair game. However, the rule book says quite differently. Rule 42 states that "a minor, major or a game misconduct shall be imposed on a player who charges a goalkeeper while the goalkeeper is within his goal crease. A goalkeeper is not 'fair game' just because he is outside the goal crease area. The appropriate penalty should be assessed in every case where an opposing player makes unnecessary contact with a goalkeeper. However, incidental contact, at the discretion of the referee, will be permitted when the goalkeeper is in the act of playing the puck outside his goal crease provided the attacking player has made a reasonable effort to avoid such contact."

Lucic received a penalty for the hit, but that's it. Miller is now out with a concussion. Lucic's own goalie did not like what he saw, and was worried about retaliation. “I will say that as a goalie, you’re not really prepared for people to hit you in a situation like that,” Thomas said. “You’ve been trained over the course of your whole career [to believe] you’re not going to get hit in situations like that. It must have taken him by surprise.” There is no touching the goalie. No if ands or buts about it. Buffalo showed class by not seeking retribution against Boston's goalie.

I watch this hit on Miller and wonder how Shanahan can justify his suspensions on MacArthur and others in the preseason but completely back off in the season when it matters more, and not give any kind of penalty for what happened. Shanahan is now facing harsh criticism due to this decision, having to defend himself at the Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony, but no one seems to agree or stand behind his decision. He has dug himself a hole in the preseason and needs to be consistent or else it looks as though he's not capable of doing the job properly.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Devil in the Details

With three Stanley Cups in less than 10 years and the Hall of Fame goaltending of Martin Brodeur, the New Jersey Devils have been known as a serious contender in the NHL. However, since the lockout this team has been a shadow of its former self.

First of all, the Devils have not won a playoff series since 2006-07 season when they beat the Tampa Bay Lightning. Last year they did not even make the playoffs. How can they be considered a contender with no recent playoff success? Due to management's inability to recognize the results for what they are, and the revolving door of coaches, the problems have gone from the front office to the ice.

Without question, Ilya Kovalchuk is the Devils’ banner acquisition post-lockout. Prior to Kovalchuk’s trade to New Jersey, he was a two time 50+ goal scorer. In his time with Atlanta, he averaged a goal every 1.68 games. New Jersey acquired him, and then subsequently signed him to a 15 year, $100 million contract, to produce all-star offensive numbers. In New Jersey, including the results from this season so far, he’s averaging a goal every 3.6 games. Clearly, his production has not justified his salary.

Beyond Kovalchuk’s salary, he has had other negative impacts on the Devils, chiefly the diminished role of team captain and “franchise player” Zach Parise. With Parise coming up on Unrestricted Free Agency, there should be cause for concern that Parise, and his camp, have not agreed on a long term deal with the Devils. Parise’s average ice time is 3 minutes less than that of Kovalchuk. Parise is playing 1:30 less in power play time this season compare to Kovalchuk, and Parise has more goals at the moment. Before Kovalchuk’s arrival, Parise was an undisputed first line NHL left winger, although it’s now clear that he’s second string.

Through parts of three seasons, it is evident that Kovalchuk and Parise have virtually no chemistry on the ice. Despite this, Jacques Lemaire and his successors, have continually tried to play both left wingers on the same line. I’m starting to wonder when the coaches and management are going to wake up and realize that this is not working. These two players have succeeded in the past with two severely contrasting styles. Anyone who watched Kovalchuk play in Atlanta would know that he hardly ever scored while manning the point on the power play, which is how New Jersey futilely deploys him. Parise, on the other hand, generates the majority of his offensive abilities off the cycle. Given Parise’s sharply declining production, he has less incentive to sign long term with New Jersey.

New Jersey’s management may not have noticed that both their goaltenders combined age is almost 80. Based on his health and recent statistics, Martin Brodeur is nowhere near the Hall of Fame calibre that he displayed earlier in his career. And, there is nothing wrong with that. Brodeur’s impressive longevity has more so to due his recent accolades than his overall goaltending quality. For example, journeyman Johan Hedberg has been the better goalie for the Devils.
The 2010-11 season Hedberg is statistically better than Brodeur, posting a 2.38 goals against average, and .912 save percentage versus Brodeur’s 2.45 goals against, and .903 save percentage. This season the statistical gap is even larger. However, at 38 years old Hedberg is not an exceptional goaltender capable of carrying his team deep into the playoffs. Looking at New Jersey’s goaltending pipeline, things do not look much better. Jeff Frazee, at age 24, has not been able to crack the role of backup goaltender in the 3 years he’s been with the Devils farm team. Given their cap situation, New Jersey will have a hard time finding a quality replacement through free agency, when their current tandem ultimately retires.

Another issue for New Jersey is their defence. In this past offseason, the Devils bought veteran defensemen Colin White out of the last year of his deal. White has been a big bodied defensemen with the team since they won their second Stanley Cup in 1999-2000. Despite suffering a serious eye injury, over the past couple of seasons White has been their most consistent and reliable stay-at-home defensemen. The questionable part of this transaction is they kept Bryce Salvador, after he did not play a single regular season game last year due to a concussion he suffered during the pre-season. New Jersey fans know that Salvador’s abilities were diminishing prior to his injury. Therefore, keeping Salvador while releasing long time Devil Colin White makes little sense, especially given their virtually identical salaries.

On top of that, Andy Greene, who signed a long term deal with the Devils this season, has seen his role diminish in favour of the 18 year old rookie defensemen Adam Larsson. I made my thoughts clear on 18 year olds in the NHL in my last post, so it comes as no surprise that I do not see the reason for this. Larsson has replaced Greene on the power play as the point defensemen. It took Larsson 10 games to register his first NHL point. Greene has played barely over 1 single minute of power play time this season after scoring 37 points in 2009-10. Since New Jersey’s power play was more potent with Greene as quarterback, the reasoning for his lack of play escapes me, especially since Larsson has not yet proven to be an effective power play point man.

New Jersey cannot be considered a contender any longer. Based on the standings and overall look, this team do not appear strong enough to make the playoffs, let alone win a series. The more the team stagnates, the less reason Parise has to commit to the team long term. If I have noticed that his role in New Jersey is declining, then I’m fairly certain Parise can as well. Management needs to recognize the mistakes they have made and reconstruct this team into an ACTUAL contender rather than relying on the remnants of a dynasty.

Friday, October 28, 2011

When In Doubt

With news that Mika Zibanejad was sent back to Sweden rather than staying with the Ottawa Senators, there were conflicting feelings in the nation’s capital whether this was the right decision or not. Based on the Senators current situation, many feel that this team of young guys with nothing to lose by keeping him up. There are many others though who feel the same way I do: the Senators are doing the best thing they can do for their 18 year old prospect.

There are very few 18 year olds who have played in the NHL and made an impact in their first season. Obviously, every 18 year old is not Sidney Crosby. And the debates coaches and media go through on whether a player should stay up or be sent down around the 10 game mark are, frankly, annoying. How can you possibly be debating after rookie camp, training camp, pre-season AND nine games on whether a player is worthwhile to keep up or send down?

I think that if you’re debating it, then send the player down. You’re not doing the players ANY favours by having them warm the bench or yawning from the press box. In the past two drafts (2009 & 2010), only four players drafted in the top 10 from each draft have played more than 10 games. Last year was Taylor Hall (EDM), Tyler Seguin (BOS), Jeff Skinner (CAR) and Alexander Burmistrov (ATL/WPG). In 2009, this was John Tavares (NYI), Victor Hedman (TBL). Matt Duchene (COL), and Evander Kane (ATL/WPG). Only Jeff Skinner and John Tavares played all 82 games of the regular season.

Some of these players would have benefitted from being sent down. Burmistrov had 20 points (6 goals, 14 assists) in 74 games played, and was scratched for the remainder. Tyler Seguin is one who some use as an example of someone who was beneficial in staying with Boston, especially since they won the Stanley Cup. However Seguin was scratched for 8 regular season games, and put up 22 points in those games, and only played 13 of the 24 games Boston played in the playoffs. He had 7 points in those games, which made an impact, but not enough for him to play all the games. Seguin would have led team Canada at the World Juniors, and possibly even carried the Plymouth Whalers deep in the playoffs (especially after being named league MVP the year before). He would have learned how to be an impact leader and first line centre amongst his peers, rather than learning how to perform spot-duty in the NHL.

If a player is drafted to be a first line player, as most first round players are, why not have them play and develop in the farm system until they are ready to do this on your team? In Zibanejad’s case, he was playing less than 15 minutes a game on the third line. By going to Sweden, he can play on their first and/or second lines and tear it up there, or develop more in that position so when he comes back to Ottawa he can contribute to the team in the way he is expected to. Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are playing on Edmonton’s first line, and contributing the way Edmonton’s coaches and GMs expect of them, so it makes sense to develop them in the position and role where they are ultimately projected to thrive. But if coaches are questioning whether a player is ready, he generally isn’t.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Asham-Beagle fight

I was initially going to write this post about the team I have been cheering for (for the past 8 years since moving to Ottawa)the Ottawa Senators. But I told a friend that I would give them 10 games before passing judgement, so I'm going to hold to that, but I doubt my views will change.

Instead I want to comment on the Arron Asham-Jay Beagle fight. People were in an uproar over, what Asham himself, called a "classless act". Jay Beagle, who is trying to prove himself to his team, was being a bit of a pest to Pittsburg defensemen Kris Letang. Asham, one of Pittsburg's enforcers, took issue with this and called Beagle out to drop the gloves. Punches were thrown, and Asham ended up knocking Beagle out.

Now if you're new to watching the sport of hockey, and have been inundated with Brendan Shanahan's videos cracking down on head shots, you'd think that the uproar is about the fact that a player was knocked out (clearly some kind of head trauma causes you to black out). Well, you'd be wrong.

The issue comes with what happened after the fight. With Beagle out cold on the ice, Asham celebrated the knock out with a lights out gesture. THIS is what people have issue with.

Now I enjoy a good hockey fight as much as most hockey fans do. I stand up in the area, move from side to side as people who are taller than me continually block my view, by jockeying for a view of their own, and give the applause at the end of a fight for a job well done. And I want to be clear that I DO NOT want fighting to leave the game.

However, my problem is that people's issue is with the knock out gesture, rather than the knock out itself. In a time when people are calling for tougher punishments for head shots, shouldn't it be looked at when someone gets into a fight and does have their lights punched out? Yes I think it was unnecessary for him to make the gesture, but seriously who cares?

If we're going to take great offense to gestures, that frankly cause no harm, then why are we not taking GREATER offense to things that actually cause people harm, and in some cases, SERIOUS harm?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Head Shots

Well the NHL preseason is over, and there has been a lot that has happened that is a preview for the next 82 games. The new regime of Brendan Shanahan has show that the league is taking hits to the head seriously. This is coming after major hits to the head happened to Sidney Crosby, and the possible career ending hit to Marc Savard by Matt Cooke.

Shanahan is getting praise for his harsh penalties for hits to the head, and even harsher ones for repeat offenders, as James Wisniewski and Pierre Letourneau-Leblond have found out. Since September 22, Shanahan has issued 9 suspensions. He has even taken to issuing a video explanation as to the reasoning behind the suspension, placing it on the NHL website, and on Twitter.

However, yesterday Ryan Malone was NOT issued a suspension for his hit to the head of Chris Campoli. Shanahan explained that the reasoning behind this was that Campoli changed the position of his head prior to the hit.
In the end, we felt that Malone had committed to the hit when Campoli was
upright. However, when the contact was made, Campoli's head position
significantly changed just prior to the hit. Shanahan said in a statement
released by the league.
The problem I have with this decision, is that it now creates a precedent. Similar to how last years hit by Zdeno Chara, that shoved Max Pacioretty into the stanchion, created an uproar to the precedent it set. If a repeat offender laid a similar hit onto someone, there would be no recourse for any discipline since Chara did not receive any. Now, if a vicious hit to the head happens, but results due to a shift in position, how can Shanahan justify any kind of punishment? Malone jumped into the hit, and head contact was incidental however there was contact nonetheless. And he led into the hit with a jump. I don't understand how Shanahan can justify this.

Fans across the league were upset with the hit to the head that Sidney Crosby received during last season's Winter Classic. Dave Steckel, who was the one who blindsided Crosby, was not punished, and was chastised for months after by fans and commentators alike, and people wanted a change to the rule. Crosby has played one game since then, and has been out with post-concussion like symptoms. The league's biggest star has not played a game since the first week of January 2011. This hit was not intentional, and Crosby's position changed, which caused his head to be hit.

Clarke MacArthur was one of the first time offenders who has had a Shanahan suspension handed down to him. MacArthur was quoted as saying,
I just think there’s going to be no hitting in this game. I think that is
going to happen. No one wants to take five- or 10-game suspensions. You’ve
really got to think when you’re going to go finish your hit, you’ve really
pay attention because the guy with the puck doesn’t have any responsibility
any more. It’s on the guy hitting.
I don't believe that things would get this far. However, I do agree that players will really have to think about what they're doing when going in for a hit. Hitting is part of the game, and will be, as it has been for over a century. But I do think that suspensions, punishments, etc. need to be consistent and have the punishment fit the crime.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Is the 4th line goon still a necessity?

On Monday night, Wayne Simmonds, of the Philadelphia Flyers, and Sean Avery, of the New York Rangers, got into it from the get go of the game. As the game went on, they got into a fight and in the end, Wayne Simmons allegedly utter a homophobic slur at Avery. Avery has recently become an advocate for gay rights and been seen as the first of his kind in the hockey world.

If Simmonds did say something in appropriate, then he is very much in the wrong. This is a man who had a banana thrown at him the week before. Homophobic slurs are now seen as bad as racial slurs, and the old adage of "what happens on the ice, stays on the ice" still remains, however with cameras, replays, mics and lip readers, that's not exactly the case anymore.

All of this, to get to a totally different point, but this incident brings it to the forefront. Everyone knows that Sean Avery is a giant pest. In my opinion, he is a shame to the game of hockey. I was discussing it this morning, and my boyfriend stated that refs should have a lot more leeway with unsportsmanlike conduct. I completely agree. He is someone who does not give anything to the sport of hockey other than an annoyance. Even his own coach disliked his style of hockey stating,
"Enough is enough," Tortorella said on TSN, before he was a Ranger. "He's
embarrassed himself, he's embarrassed the organization, he's embarrassed the
league and he's embarrassed his teammates, who have to look out for him. Send
him home. He doesn't belong in the NHL."

If someone looks at how play is conducted in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, these four line goons are either up in the press box or they're playing about 3 minutes a game. Clearly, these players are not in any way useful to a team in, what some consider, the most important games of the year. If these players are not important then, that they don't even dress for the game, why are they part of the season?\

On top of all this, the hockey is trying to reform the game to get a way from head hits, bad hits, and just in general making the game more safe. Why then is the 4th line goon still in the game? Do we really need the likes of Sean Avery, Colton Orr, or Matt Cooke to be out on the ice? I'm not talking about getting rid of those players who stand up for their teammates when pushed around, but those that just annoy people, take bad penalties, head shots, and get into fights just for the sake of getting into one. Look at Avery's play against Brodeur. Instead of screening the goalie like other players do, Avery stood facing Brodeur, chirping, and blocking his view. This is not hockey.

As an avid hockey fan, I do enjoy the odd fight. But the thing I like most about hockey is the game itself. I don't want to see my game interrupted by Sean Avery's antics, or Matt Cooke's head hits. I want to watch the game of hockey for the game that it is. So in my opinion, we should get rid of the 4th line goon, and make space on the roster for those who want to play the GAME of hockey.

Wade Belak

When I heard yesterday that Wade Belak was found dead in Toronto, my reaction was pretty much the same as everyone else's. Seriously, another NHLer dead. This has been an odd off season for the NHL. Never before have they had to deal with this kind of situation. In a matter of three months, two currently players and one recently retired have died. Two within two weeks of each other.

The outpouring of shock from players, coaches, and fans alike was that he seemed to be a happy, upbeat guy who had nothing wrong and was looking forward to the future outside of the NHL. My thoughts, when I heard that he had possibly killed himself, was that how could someone who had two little girls at home not go get help for whatever was eating away at him. I cannot understand that.

I, myself, have entered some dark times in my life. Not dark where I thought of ending it all, but dark in which I didn't want to get out of bed, couldn't see the light at the tunnel, tears constantly, and just in general wondering if it was all worth it. I did tell a few close friends how I was feeling, discussed what was happening with them, and eventually things turned themselves around. I was definitely going to speak to someone should I not feel better soon. So I do understand being depressed and not seeing benefits in a lot of things. But killing yourself, that's not something I understand.

Now everyone is looking for a reason as to why this happened. Why did a man who seemed upbeat, positive, and that he never had a bad day, kill himself and leave his wife and young daughters without him? Some say it's because there is no support for NHLers who are no longer playing. I don't see this as a good "excuse". He retired after the trade deadline when he was waived and not picked up by another team. I doubt he had even had a chance to sense he wasn't playing.

The main reason people are coming up with is the enforcer role on a team. All three players who have died this summer were all enforcers. Georges Laraque came out and said that he did not like having this role and that it bothered him. He also stated in a further interview that enforcers are paid a lesser amount than most, and no longer getting those pay checks is hard. But the thing about the three of them are different. Everyone knew that Derek Boogaard, the first player to die this off season, had addiction problem. He died by mixing prescription drugs and alcohol. Boogaard had surgery, that may have been the start of his drug addiction, but his death was accidental. Could have been nothing more than losing track of how many pills he had and drinking too much.

Rick Rypien had a history of depression for the past 10 years. Some say it may have started when his girlfriend was killed in a car crash while playing junior. He had been on leave a few times to deal with depression and a few weeks ago, it seemed to be too much for him and he took his life.

Belak is different than the other two. No one has come out to say they thought anything was wrong. I've read several articles quoting that he seemed to never have a bad day. He made jokes, was a fan favourite and seemed to be an all around nice guy.

Yes the NHL should look into these deaths and see if there is a connection between them being enforcers and their deaths. But I think that these are three separate cases which just happens to involved three men who had similar roles in the NHL. I do hope that something comes of their investigation and that the NHL can find a way to show these men that there is nothing wrong with seeking out help when things look bleak. Seeking help, rather than hurting the people we love, is far better than trying to keep up a macho image.