Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Not if I lock you out first

I really didn’t want to write on the lockout.  I do not find it interesting, it makes me angry, and I don’t think either side should be afforded many of my thoughts.  However, as this lockout progresses into October, I decided to address it.

At first I wasn’t too upset about the lockout.  Yes I was disappointed that it was happening all over again, but I started school in September and thought that this would be great since there wouldn’t be Sens and Leaf games to distract me.  I wouldn’t have to worry about a night being taken away from me by making the trek to Scotiabank Place to take in a game live (woe is me). 

I am currently enrolled in the post-grad Journalism program at Algonquin College so I can attempt to break into the sports journalism world.  My passion is hockey.  I love watching it, talking about it, and analyzing it.  Covering the NHL would be my dream job. 

As an aspiring journalist, I want to cover the NHL.  I want to be someone that people turn to for analysis and what’s happening in the game.  But as this lockout continues, I become more turned off the idea of covering this organization.  Both sides have stubbornly assumed a stance whereby they expect the other to blink first. For the time being, the owners can use revenues to offset the loss from this year, and many of the players can find other leagues.  Basically, the stakes are not high enough for either side because they can both tolerate the other’s worst threat. And that threat is mirrored:  “Cave or we’ll lose the season”.  “Go ahead, we’re fine with that”.

With this latest lockout settling in, and with substantive talk petered out, I am resigned to the fact that this season is pretty much lost.  Pierre Mcguire recently said on The Team 1200 that at this time eight years ago, both sides were much more actively working towards a resolution.  The mass exodus of players taking off to Europe didn’t happen until after American Thanksgiving when it was increasingly clear that the season wasn’t going to be saved, for example.

Now in 2012 players are wasting little time in signing contracts to the leagues throughout Europe.  They’re not staying to fight for their season here in North America.  And as an aside, I don’t agree with the argument that NHL players are taking jobs away from players over in Europe.  European players have been paying in North America for decades and have taken jobs away from North American hockey players.  If a resolution appeared imminent, players would stay rather than bother adjusting to a new continent, and new team.

This lockout is hugely damaging to the NHL, more so than the last one.  More than previous editions, this one is just about money and egos. Millionaires vs billionaires, arguing over how to split a 50% increase in revenue over the short seven year life of the last CBA. Fans cannot and will not relate to this.  The NHL better be careful because they can, and will, lose fans and momentum that they gained in the past seven years.  And there is the serious risk of losing people who love the sport, but cannot stand the way both owners and players are recklessly disregarding the sole source of that lucrative revenue. With another work stoppage dragging on, the NHL’s worst case scenario may now be playing out. Rather than anger, the league’s loyal fan base is dangerously teetering on the edge of indifferent accustomization.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Never Go Shopping While Truculent

Brian Burke has done some really great things to turn the Toronto Maple Leafs organization around since the John Ferguson Jr. days. Somehow he continually convinces Anaheim and Calgary to trade with him when they always come out on the losing end of the deal.  However, while Burke has come out as the undisputed winner in several key trades (the Phaneuf, Lupul, and Kaberle deals come to mind), those successes have been undermined by some costly over payments on some severely underperforming UFAs.  The signing of Komisarek, Armstrong, Connolly, Lebda and Orr were met with some scepticism at the time, and the production from these players has not lived up to even the limited expectations they were given.

Mike Komisarek was signed as a feature of Burke truculence revolution after an “All-Star” season in 2009 to a 5 year $22.5 million contract. Three seasons later, he remains the 17th highest paid defensemen in the league, and yet he's been a healthy scratch 6 of the 10 games since his return from injury.  Expectations on Komisarek were, at best, to be a shut-down, impact defensemen and, at worst, a top 4 physical presence. Instead he’s a $4.5million healthy scratch/injury replacement who, when he plays, is less effective than Jeff Finger was. Yeah, I went there.

Colby Armstrong has contributed nothing other than increasing Ron Wilson's tweet count. He’s universally regarded as a good guy and a good teammate, but he’s paid $3million a year to play hockey well, not be everyone’s BFF.  Recently, he’s come back from injury only to take up a seat next to Komisarek in the press box. How many people predicted Darryl Boyce and Joey Crabb playing ahead of him?  Armstrong is said to be upset by this decision, but what does he expect?  He has a 3 year $9million contract, and has produced only 8 goals so far in his career as a Leaf, and none this season.

Another key figure of Burke’s 2009 truculent fetish is Colton Orr. Burke pulled out all the theatrics in a “tie optional” press conference/rant when he sent Orr down to the Marlies, as if it was the league's fault and not Burke’s own for Orr suddenly being made obsolete. Orr’s $1million per year contract isn’t crippling, and he certainly provided some great entertainment value (cough, Carkner, cough). But nobody can argue that a million dollar 4th-line Marlie is money well spent.  

When Brett Lebda was traded last year, Leafs Nation practically had a parade to see him out of town. Our friends over at PPP had “No More Brett Lebda” as their banner for months after. I get it. Lebda was a liability when on the ice and it wasn’t until Matt Lashoff was called up that the Leafs had a respectable bottom pairing. Give Burke credit for committing grand larceny in acquiring an asset like Cody Franson and the overpaid but useful Matt Lombardi for a liability. Lebda’s 2 year $2.9million contract was bought out by cash-strapped Nashville halfway through the deal. A minor UFA signing by Burke, but again, results were wildly different from expectations.

Finally, Tim Connolly. He was picked up in the 2011 offseason to be a first line centre to play with Phil Kessel. Fair enough. His 2 year $9.5 million signing was a bit surprising only due to his injury prone past. But at $4.75/yr, it could be argued that if Connolly was able to replicate his post-lockout 0.82 point per game percentage and contribute to a rejuvenated top-six, he’d be worth the money. Unfortunately, no such thing has happened. Connolly, when healthy, hasn't lived up to anyone's expectations, and is probably the league’s most expensive 3rd line centre.  Some may say he hasn't been healthy scratched because they're worried he might end his career tripping on his way into the press box. Conjecture aside, rack this one up in the “disappointing so far” category.

Imagine what the Leafs would look like if two or three of these signings had worked out as hoped. Leaf fans have mostly ignored these UFA misses because with the cap rising all the way to $64million, difficult decisions haven’t had to be made. But with key players like Grabovski, Kulemin and Franson due for raises this coming offseason, endless cap-space won’t always be such a luxury. With Toronto losing 6 of 7 while key UFA signings rotate in and out of the press box, Burke’s shortcomings have become more obvious. As the Leafs cling to 8th place in the East, fans certainly hope Burke’s got another lop-sided deadline deal up his sleeve.

**Update: after a Thursday loss to San Jose, the Leafs now cling to 9th place. Once again, Komisarek and Armstrong were scratched.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

TIm Thomas

Social media is public domain.  Once something is said on Facebook, Twitter, etc., it is now public domain and cannot be taken back.  You can delete it, but it's been seen by people, and if you're a public figure, it has probably been re-posted by others.  Parents are continually warning their children to be careful what you put on the Internet because it could come back to haunt you.

So it surprises me that Tim Thomas has apparently never received this message.  Or if he has, he hasn't adhered to it.  His snub of the President was explained by him on his Facebook page, and then recently he made a political comments in support of the Catholic Church.  Now, Thomas has been making political commentary for a while on his Facebook page and no one has taken notice, but it was the White House snub that brought all of this into the limelight.

Thomas is refusing to answer interview questions in regards to his most recent political comments. Watching his interview on Thursday in which he eventually storms off due to a reasonable and expected line of questioning made him look arrogant and unprofessional.  First of all, no members of the media condemned what he wrote, they're merely asking for clarification.  Rather than explain his comments that he posted in a public forum, Thomas states that it's his "personal life and has nothing to do with hockey or the Boston Bruins".  If anyone posts political commentary on their social media pages, they generally get questions for why they believe this, or attacked by those who disagree.  So why Tim Thomas is surprised by the fact he is being questioned about his comments is beyond me.

As for his White House snub, this is unacceptable.  It is fine Thomas disagrees with the government and the way they are in his words "out of control", but he doesn't represent Tim Thomas at the White House.  He is  a representative of the Boston Bruins organization.  I realize that the Bruins could have, and probably should have, made him go, but I don't believe that Thomas should have turned a routine White House visit into a controversy.  It's fine for athletes to have their political beliefs, but his behaviour has been very hypocritical.  Thomas plays in a building that is named after a financial institution, and the current economic situation was created by financial institutions being "out of control" and mismanaging their organizations.  But Thomas doesn't have a problem playing in this building, or earning a 5 million dollar salary while do so. 

It makes me wonder, if the Boston Bruins were scheduled to visit sick children in a hospital, and that hospital was performing stem cell research on a separate floor, and Thomas was against stem cell research, would he boycott visiting?  I highly doubt it.  Like it or not Thomas' political views are amplified by his public status as a member of a professional sports team.  And by that same token, he cannot expect to make political statement as a high profile member of a professional sports team without garnering media attention. 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Daily Quickie

When I read this article , my first thought was well if THE Damian Cox doesn’t like the Winter Classic and doesn’t want to cover it, then the NHL has no choice but to do away with it.  Forget the revenues and viewers it brings in.  Forget the fun that the fans get watching a game outside with thousands of others.  Damian Cox sees through your shallow attempt to say you’re going back to the game being played out on the pond, NHL, so just stop it now.  

You know, Cox probably doesn’t like the All-Star game either, because of ballot stuffing, no hitting, and no points being awarded.  Only children like it, and since when do adults pander to what children want?  We’re the grown ups!  

The Big House will have over 100,000 plus people at it to watch the Leafs/Red Wings game, with thousands more who will have wanted to get tickets to it.  It will draw record numbers of viewers due to two Original Six teams playing.  But Damien Cox doesn’t want to cover it or like it, so scrap it.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Daily Quickie

Starting a new segment called the Daily Quickie where I will make a quick thought or note on what's in the news in the NHL. 

I read an article today from the Ottawa Citizen .  Wayne Scanlan talks about the atmosphere in Scotiabank Place on Saturday night during the Senators Leafs game.  As usual, whenever Alfredsson touched the puck, or his face was shown on the scoreboard, he was greeted with a chorus of boos.  This was seemingly shocking after the wonderful reception he received during the All-Star game the week before in Ottawa.

This happens in every Sens-Leafs game.  The Toronto fans outnumber the Sens fans by a long shot, and they take over the arena.  It’s not a fun atmosphere for Sens fans, but this is the nature of the rivalry. There is also a huge Leafs fan base here, and it’s also next to impossible to get Leafs tickets in Toronto.

What bothers me about this article is not what Scanlan is saying. Rather it’s the Season Ticket holders who are complaining about the overwhelming number of Leaf fans at the game, and that this is making them reconsider renewing their tickets.  This to me is a ridiculous reason for not renewing your tickets.  There are 6 games a year where the opposing team’s fans outnumber Sens fans, Leafs and Habs games.  You’re telling me that due to 6 games out of 41 you are not going to renew your tickets?  Are the other 35 games not worth it? 

Also, a lot of these Leafs and Habs fans are getting their tickets FROM Season Ticket holders who sell their tickets on Kijii, because they don’t want to go to the game, can’t make it, or just know they’ll make money off the tickets.  If you don’t want Leafs fans to overrun the arena, use your tickets and convince other season ticket holders to use theirs.  This way people who enjoy the game are Sens fans and they can enjoy the experience more.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Canadian Juniors

After watching the semi-final game between Canada and Russia I had a lot of problems with the way things turned out. It was not necessarily the fact that the Canadians lost, although that was a disappointment, but rather the reaction by many during the game and after.

My first text message after the game was "Well you don't win hockey games by only showing up for the third period". They allowed the Russians to go up by 6 goals, they took stupid penalties out of frustration, and they acted like they were entitled to win the game and couldn't understand why it wasn't happening.

That being said, the amazing comeback in the third period is not something to overlook. It was entertaining, exhilarating, and had the entire country holding their breath to see if they would actually pull it off and at least force extra time. In the end it was not enough and Canada ended up playing for, and winning, the bronze medal against the Finns. Watching the bronze medal game, you can sense the country's disappointment as the atmosphere is clearly not as excited as it could be.

The Canadian boys, and some members of the media, were unhappy with the Russian players comments after the game, calling them ungracious and that the Canadians would have handled themselves a lot better.

However, Russia basically said that they were the better team, and the first two periods and the final result back up those statements. The Russian captain Kuznetsov got the most flack for his attitude during the game and after, however he had a hat trick in the game and a 4 point night. Like it or not, he earned the right to be arrogant after that performance.

I think a big problem is that as Canadians we have a sense of entitlement when it comes to hockey. The tournament has been held in Canada, or a bordering city, since 2009. This is because the majority of the tournaments viewership is in North America, and primarily Canada. I think that having the tournament outside of Canada for the next two years will do the tournament good, but also help team Canada as well.

Canada's attitude of gold or nothing is arrogant. There are other competitors in the tournament looking to win gold, and play hard every game to try and get there. Bronze is not a consolation prize that's handed out to participants. I'm sure Finland would have rather bronze than leaving empty handed.

Another problem Canada runs up against is the fact that during the round robin, they rarely have competition unless they play the United States, Russia or Sweden. This year they had no real competition, as the United States was mathematically eliminated before the New Year's Eve game. If you look at the tournament back to at least 2009, you'd see that when playing any of these three teams, Team Canada struggles.

In the year they won gold in Ottawa, Canada almost lost to both the US and Russia. These games were far more exciting and riveting than the5-1 win over Sweden that won them gold. The game against Russia was only tied up with 5 seconds left by Jordan Eberle forcing extra time. This year's game against Russia caused many people to remember that and hope for a similar turn of events to happen.

Canada needs to realize that these three teams, at least, are opponents that require more than just a basic effort of showing up and shooting the puck. We might be good at hockey, but so are they, and we haven't won gold since 2009, so we need to stop relying on the idea that we are the dominant country in hockey, and either prove it or stop talking about it. We're not going to win games 10-0, so we need to show up and play the game.

The last problem I had, and it's a problem that happens every year and us Canadian fans need to grow up and realize this, is that when you boo Team Canada at the game, you're booing kids under the age of 20!

In a lot of people's eye's they're not even adults yet. These kids give up their Christmas, family and friends time, and free time to play and train for our country. What were you doing at their age? I know I wasn't doing that. So stop booing our boys when they have a bad game, and remember that it's a game, they're kids and booing makes us look ignorant.