You may remember the Terrell Owens spin on this scene from Valkyrie, but this one hits a little closer to home for fans of the Senators:
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Question: right from the beginning of Sens training camp last season, what was the team’s glaring weakness as stated by those in the know?
Answer: a puck-moving defenceman.
Time and time we were told that the Senators could not get the offence going because as soon as the puck was played deep into their end, opponents pressured its nervous and granite-handed defencemen into turning it over. Without the ability to get the puck out of the zone the forwards were forced to retreat deeper and deeper in order to lend a hand, leaving them wide open to neutral zone turnovers. Even to this layman’s eyes, the lack of a sure-handed offensive defenceman was more than obvious.
Apparently, Senators GM Bryan Murray disagrees.
Murray’s answer to this dilemna is to sign an aging right-winger who’s being run out of town by his former coach and GM for lack of effort. This from a team in the midst of a saga involving a disgruntled superstar upset that his new coach expects an equal effort at both ends of the ice, game in and game out. Take a look at this quote and try and determine who the subject might be:
“The reason we took him off the line was, he wasn’t giving that line any forechecking,” (team’s) coach said. “I think (he) can skate a little quicker than he has been. He’s just got to give us a little bit more away from the puck, do a little bit more forechecking and play the body a little bit better.”
That was John Muckler on Alexei Kovalev in 1998. Now what about this one:
“We’re trying to get out of a situation that is not easy, and until we get 20 guys playing, it’ll be tough,” the coach told reporters before adding that he plans to speak to the player regarding his recent troubles.
That was Guy Carboneau commenting on Kovalev’s apparent lack of effort in February of this year. Finally:
“Nothing different (was asked) than from the rest of the team. You want to see consistency in effort, consistency in practice and to play a team game,” said (the coach). “All you have to do is look at the Stanley Cup final to see what can be accomplished when you play as a team.”
That last one was Cory Clouston commenting on the Heatley disgruntlement saga.
It baffles me that Murray would bring in a player with Kovalev’s reputation just as he tries to get rid of a player who would rather play elsewhere than for a coach who demands effort. And on the other side of the coin: what the hell is Kovalev thinking?
Of course I’m excited about the prospect of what Kovalev can bring, that brilliance that he clearly possesses on some nights, but what the Sens needed wasn’t another aloof offensive artist in the Spezza-Kovalev-Heatley mold, it was a puck-moving defenceman.
That need has yet to be met! If the season starts with the same defensive corps it ended with, Sens fans are in for another year of hurt. One can hope that the Heatley “sweepstakes” will yield such a prize, but if the scuttled deal with Edmonton was any indication, Murray hasn’t identified that need as pressing, or the options available to him are paltry.
I don’t know, but for a guy who came to this team as a head coach, managed to oust the GM in order to replace him, and has now assumed many of the responsibilites of the outgoing president (whose reasons for leaving are still shrouded in mystery), I’d expect something a little more inspired than a two-year deal to for Alexei Kovalev.
Yes, this does feel like an obligatory post to mark the end of the NHL season. I’m sure I’m not the only who’s relieved that it’s over.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are the Stanley Cup champions, Sydney Crosby gets a Cup at only 21 years of age, Evgeny Malkin has one over Alexander Ovechkin and the Detroit Red Wings are left to wonder how they let one slip away. Pretty much sums it up, doesn’t it?
Really, that’s about as much enthusiasm as I’ve got for the NHL right now. As I’ve written before it’s not that I don’t love hockey or that the quality was bad, it’s that I don’t have any hunger left for the sport past mid-May. Hockey is one of my favourite sports and the quality of play in the 2009 playoffs were better than I can remember at any point in my life.
I think a big part of the problem for me is that the NHL in Canada has morphed into what the NFL has become in the U.S.; a 365 days a year media onslaught. You cannot watch a sportscast in Canada on any day of the year without a hockey story. Every little detail is parsed and beat to death on three dedicated sports networks.
Case in point? The Sydney Crosby handshake controversy. It wasn’t enough that the sport had just crowned a new champion, seen its poster boy lift the Cup, drawn the biggest television rating since 1973, had a dramatic ending to a 7-game series – no, the story of the day is that Sydney Crosby failed to shake hands with every member of the Red Wings.
Listen, I’ve been hard on the “Kid” in these parts, but here’s where he gets my sympathy. Overcome with joy and celebrating with teammates, not to mention being pulled every which way by mulitple media outlets simultaneously, Crosby got into the conga line a little late to shake the opposing team’s hand. He managed to get most of them, but Nicklas Lidstrom didn’t get a handshake. This is the main story of the night? Unbelievable.
So now it’s mid-June and the hockey calendar seamlessly flips over to 2010. First we have the draft in a week or so, then free-agency July 1st (don’t worry, Sportsnet has you covered with a special NHL Free-Agency Show!). Interspersed throughout the month will be the obligatory stories of the Cup going moose hunting, golfing, going to some remote town, etc. The Ottawa talk radio guys will spend the summer evaluating the Heatley trade every single day until training camp. Phoenix will be a hot topic until the team is moved or sold. August will see the Canada Junior evaluation camp and possibly an Olympic tryout camp. Next thing you know it’s September with all the yawn excitement of pre-season, and countless news stories emanating from Toronto about how the Leafs are on the brink of winning the Cup.
It’s not hard to see why one would get hockey burnout every couple of years. And just think; because of Olympic participation in 2010, we’ll be having this conversation two weeks later next year. Hockey in July? Hell, why not. Might as well play some games if we’re going to talk about it year-round…
Ottawa is not being kind to Dany Heatley. Nor should it be. Lola layed it out perfectly in the reader comments from my previous post:
He wanted out of Atlanta because he needed a fresh start – he came to a community that has embraced him and his formidable talent.
What you’re seeing in the fiery reaction to his demand is akin to a lover being spurned. The community in question took Heatley in from the storm that was his manslaugher conviction in Atlanta. He avoided most criticisms because Jason Spezza and Wade Redden were the great big vaccum that sucked all the negative attention away. He lived in a city that adores its athletes without suffocating its stars. He played for an organization that by most accounts is classy from the top down.
And what does Ottawa get for all this goodwill? A choke job in the Stanley Cup Finals and a trade request one year after signing a long-term contract that is in the upper echelons of monetary value in the league. It just goes to show that the fans always get the short end of the stick.
We can’t even point to greed as the motivation. Although no less excusable, you could follow the logic if Heatley was heading into a contract year and worried about getting a few less minutes per game under Cory Clouston.
No, such considerations are not at play here because his current deal still has tens of millions left and many years coming to him. According to those in the know, Heatley wants out because his minutes were reduced under Clouston, he was relegated to the second power-play unit, asked to pitch in with defensive responsibilities, and his girlfriend lives out West.
Therefore, we can attribute the trade request to a crisis of ego. Here we have The Athlete unable to come to grips with a head coach that won’t give him special privileges based on past accomplishments. The Athlete wants what he wants and that should be the end of the story because he once scored 50 goals. One wonders how such a prima-donna would have reacted to having Pat Burns or Mike Keenan as a coach (in all likelyhood, the result probably wouldn’t be dissimilar to what we’re seeing now).
Come to think of it, was there ever any evidence that playing in Atlanta had become too difficult in terms of media or fan scrutiny about the fatal Ferrari crash? Could the reason for his previous trade request have anything to do with playing under Bob Hartley, another coach who is no wilting lily? That question might have seemed offsides just a week ago but a pattern is certainly developing, making it fair game. Maybe what Heatley seeks is a Tom Renney-Larry Robinson type of coddler.
A few posters pointed out that this might be a blessing in disguise, and I agree with them. The Senators’ main weakness last season was the lack of a puck moving defencemen. If the Sens were to plug that hole with John-Michael Liles, Drew Doughty or Kyle Quincy, you could just look back and say it’s the deal that should have taken place before this season’s trade deadline (albeit with a different Sens forward). If the Kings are really the dance partner, throw in the 5th pick in this year’s draft and we’ll forget ‘Ol Gap-Tooth in no time.
There’s enough going on in the NHL to warrant a run-down of thoughts:
- Game 7 goes Friday night in Detroit. I haven’t watched a game in its entirety in this series. I won’t be watching one Friday either, since Roy Halladay will be chucking a no-hitter against the Marlins. From what I can tell, however, Detroit seems to be able to flick that switch on and off, and I don’t expect that close a game. My pick: 4-1 Detroit (empty net goal).
- The proceedings into the Balsillie affair got underway yesterday in Phoenix. I’ve got the sneaking suspicion that the judge will side with the NHL, unfortunately. Relocation fees will be the sticking point, where Bettman will hold his ground by demanding ridiculous amounts of cash for the right to relocate. Who knows, maybe Balsillie will say “what’s another $500 million?”. Nonetheless, everything has been set in motion to get another team in Southern Ontario. That momentum will not go away, and the NHL governors will insist that it happens despite the objections of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, whether it’s Jim Balsillie at the helm or not – there’s just too much money to be made.
- Dany Heatley wants out of the Capital. Well boo-hoo to him. Don’t like the new coach, Dany? Tough beans. Unfortunately we occupy an era where The Athlete rules the roost, and The Athlete will have his wish granted. What complicates things is Heatley’s no-trade clause, so not only do the Sens have to trade him but he has to agree with the destination. The NHL would be wise to negotiate the use of this clause out of the next CBA (which means they won’t do it). Leafs Nation would be the first to acknowledge that this clause can ruin franchises (you also need incompetent managers, but that’s another issue).
- So where does he go? Although the talking heads in the embedded media (to borrow a term from Bruce Dowbiggin) have him going to Edmonton or Calgary, wouldn’t a trade with Colorado be the logical assumption? They have a bunch of stars they want to unload (Svatos, Hjeduk, Liles) as they rebuild. It’s in the Western Conference, just like The Athlete apparently demands. Let’s see this happen. Buh-bye Dany.
- I never warmed to Heatley, but I would have thought Spezza would be the one to pull this stunt – would have been happy had he done it. Now the Sens are stuck getting rid of a valuable asset. Here’s hoping they get something serviceable in return.
As a fan of the game with a certain level of neutrality , I equate the Caps performance last night to Lucy, pulling the football away from Charlie Brown – Chuck being a symbol of a fan’s hope for a great conclusion to a great series. We ended up flat on our asses, looking around wondering what the hell happened.
Things started out well enough, with both teams coming out strong for a change. Ovechkin was robbed of a goal by a spectacular glove save by Marc-André Fleury off a breakaway with the game still scoreless. From that point on, though, the game was a complete dud if you were a neutral or a Caps fan. As most of you are surely already aware, the game ended in a complete rout, 6-2 to the Pens.
Good on the Penguins for showing up, but isn’t that the minimum of what’s expected in a Game 7? What in the world happened to the Caps? In retrospect, the series would have been done a service if the Pens had scored in overtime of Game 6. We would have been left wanting more. As it stands, we are left with a sense of being short-changed. I had an epiphany when the score was 4-0: you can’t call something the Game of the Year before the game is actually played. Notch that one up to experience.
Loved the irrelevant Bob Cole commenting after the Penguins took a 4-0 lead “…and that goal silences the crowd”. No Bob, if you had been paying attention, you would have noticed that happening after the second goal. Or Greg Millen after the Caps scored a goal, late in the second period, to make the score 5-1: “Now as a Caps fan you can begin thinking they might be able to mount something here. A five goal lead is impossible to overcome, but a 4 goal lead is within grasp”. But two seconds ago it was a 5 goal lead! Wasn’t it impossible two seconds ago? Still, Greg Millen is an upgrade over Harry Neale and Glenn Healy. Sad, but true.
I stayed with the game until the end because I was interested in seeing the Crosby/Ovechkin handshake. Nothing dramatic happened, nor was I expecting it: just a courteous handshake and a few words exchanged. Had I been Ovechkin, I would have said: “That was fun, Syd. I hope we can do this every year for a long time”. At least, that’s what I hope for as a fan, minus the anticlimactic ending.
Unlike Sportsnet’s marketing department incorrectly labeling last night’s Yankees v. Jays game “The most anticipated game of the season” (if that’s true, what now Sportsnet? Everything going downhill from here?), I am going to go out on a limb and say this is the Game of the Year (of any sport).
Penguins v. Caps tonight has me as excited for a non-Senators hockey game as I’ve been since Canada ripped the USA a new one at the Salt Lake Olympics. Roy MacGregor sets this one up better than I ever could, so I’ll leave with a link to his piece and some art:
And so we come to it then: Alexander Ovechkin and Sydney Crosby in a fight to the death, in a winner-take-all final game that will put a tidy little bow on a package that has done nothing but deliver. It hasn’t been the perfectly played series, and therein lies its charm.
In almost every game the Capitals have come out flat. To my untrained eye it looks like the game only begins in the second period for these young players. Consequently, it is shocking that the Penguins haven’t buried their foe. At one point in the first period last night, the Pens had out-shot the Caps 17-3, in a game the Caps couldn’t lose, yet they were able to tuck their tail between their legs and head to the dressing room only down by one goal.
Oh, and it wasn’t due to Simeon Varlamov standing on his head. No. I found myself wondering why they hadn’t gone to José Théodore for this game. After impressing in his first few games, probably due to his opponents’ unfamiliarity with his flaws, the kid has shown to be most vulnerable in many aspects. Most glaring is his glove side, which is non-existent. He looks so bad on some shots that you wonder if he’s got his mitt on the wrong hand. The reason the Pens weren’t up by at least three after the first is they failed to press their advantage.
Thankfully the energy level picked up in the second period and despite not being a gem like Saturday’s game 5 (a game in which I turned to my 19 year-old brother and said: “I haven’t seen hockey this good in 10-15 years – and you never have”), it finally felt like a deciding game. Crosby had his best game of the series in my opinion, always buzzing around à-la-Ovechkin, and Ovechkin was more subdued but still dominated the scoresheet with three assists. Kind of a role-reversal. Overtime was, as it has been for most of these playoffs, a short affair. Ideally it would be a little longer: somewhere between the triple OT snooze-fest between Detroit and Anaheim and the 12 seconds it took Martin Havlat to dispose of Calgary.
I thought the Penguins deserved to win on the night, but I won’t complain about this series being extended to its limit. Can they give us overtime in Game 7? Something tells me they would have it no other way…
I’d like to end with a rant about periphery stuff in this series. I have to ask the question of the Penguins PR department: what is up with the Pittsburgh white-out? Do you not realize that the opposing team is wearing white? Do you not want your fans to look like they’re supporting your team? What a bonehead move. Meaningless in the grand scheme of things, but aggravating nonetheless. What REALLY gets under my skin, though, is the Washington PA guy who sounds like the Tazmanian Devil and the insistence on burying crowd noise after every home goal with an incessent torrent of cop sirens. Come now, DC: no need to make the inside of your arena sound like the outside. All wisecracks aside, Washington currently has the loudest fans in the league – why not let them be the illustration of the city’s exuberance rather than a canned sound-effect cranked to 11 by some overreaching PR guy? Right, this is North America, where crowd noise is frowned upon.
Even in the spotlight of another Pens-Caps playoff game, the most compelling story yesterday was the Balsillie-Bettman death match. Sager over at Out of Left Field has a nice wrap-up of the online journalistic chatter. The best segment of the night belonged to Scott Morrisson and Jeff Marek who were tracking developments in the story. I think my favourite part of the whole day was reading somewhere that a source described Bettman as “apoplectic” when he heard what Balsillie was trying to pull. There’s just something about picturing Gary Bettman losing his shit that gives me a warm feeling.
You see, I’ve been seen as something of an apologist for Bettman in the past. I’ve often found myself defending him to friends and colleagues because I think he’s been unfairly vilified in the Canadian media. I’m not going to revisit now, because those days are over for me. This is a formal declaration of war against the Little Napoleon, and I hope every Canadian joins me in this battle.
It has become clear that whatever plan the NHL had to conquer the US market is now dead. Franchises that bleed money and need to be bailed out by the league are a cancer that needs to be eradicated. Owners of NHL teams need to realize this, and realize that though there is a place for most US teams in the NHL, the real money to be made resides where the passion is strongest, and that is Canada.
There isn’t room for one more team in Southern Ontario: there’s room for two more. There’s room for another team in Montreal, and Winnipeg and Québec deserve to have their favourite sport represented at the highest level of competition in which that sport operates. I’ve argued against the reality of these things in the past, but I believe now is the time to pounce. If the rumour that the Lightning want to move to Winnipeg holds any water, well it’s time for other NHL governors to man-up and give this thing a kick in the ass. If Atlanta is struggling as badly as we think it is, then it’s time to explore relocation to a market that will go absolutely ape-shit (in a good way) when it finds out it’s getting an NHL franchise. Same goes for Nashville and Miami.
You see, I had my moment of clarity when I compared how Bettman reacted to a franchise being moved south from Québec and Winnipeg to the current Balsillie struggle of moving a team North of the border. The man corellates the loss of a US franchise to a Canadian city as a personal affront to the master plan he and the NHL governors had of landing a huge US television contract. That payday is not coming. We’re a stone’s throw away from the NHL having to pay a major network for air time. The real television money is here in Canada, as the CBC and CTV Globemedia continue raising the ante at every negotiation. Throw in a couple more Canadian teams and the stakes get doubly serious.
Mr. Balsillie’s got his teeth sunk deep into the NHL’s flesh, and this time he ain’t letting go, to the benefit of all Canadian hockey fans.
Join the battle at www.makeitseven.ca
Gary Bettman has won some impressive battles in the past. Most notable among his victories was his destruction of the NHLPA in the last round of collective bargaining. He’s successfully implemented the owners’ desire for more American teams (in a fruitless pursuit of a lucrative national American television contract – the NHL’s Holy Grail). He’s brought in national sponsors and navigated some tricky ownership issues. To think of it, whether you’ve agreed with him or not, he really hasn’t lost any battles. He’s produced on everything the owners have asked of him.
All that is coming to a fiery end. Like the hero from Dale in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Jim Balsillie has finally found the soft spot in Smaug‘s armour. By using the Phoenix Coyotes’ precarious financial position to perform an end-around to avoid the NHL ownership approval process (which has been twisted and turned in the past to block him from owning the Penguins and then the Predators), Balsillie will surely secure control of the NHL team. As Stephen Brunt puts it, Bettman is now in “check”.
Once that happens and Balsillie announces his plans to move the franchise North, brace yourself for a hardcore cage match between him and the league – might as well prep the metal chairs, broken glass and barbed wire immediately. Bettman will stake his future on this battle. And he will lose. With the NHLPA poised to get behind this plan, there is just too much going for Balsillie.
And really, why the resistance? A multi-billionaire hockey nut wants to purchase a failed franchise and move it into a sure-fire, can’t miss hockey market. What are the NHL governors so afraid of? The whole point of expanding (and moving) into the States was to get that big TV contract. It hasn’t materialized and it won’t. The game has receded so badly south of the border that ESPN will have nothing to do with it and the league had to accept NBC’s offer of carrying games for the hefty sum of zero dollars. That’s right: NBC pays the NHL nothing for the rights to broadcast the games.
With that in mind, isn’t in the owners’ best interest to allow a team into Southern Ontario, where it will be prosperous and is sure to make the Canadian television rights fees explode? Won’t MLSE (if they take the long view) grow to be stronger if they have a next-door rival whose first act will be to hand over hundreds of millions of dollars in territorial rights fees? Doesn’t everybody win?
Everyone but Bettman. It will be the death knoll of American expansionism, a signal to everyone that Bettman has failed in the venture on which he staked his career. If you’re one of the many Canadians who revile this man, then you are cheering on Jim Balsillie.
I’m interested in knowing your thoughts on why the NHL has so steadfastly opposed his intention to move a team to Canada. Head to the comments section and let’s get them!