Monday, May 15, 2006

Slick Oil

The good people at VCOE must be banging their heads this morning. Who would have thought that their evil Oilers are proving to be Canada's team this year? As sacamano from The Battle of Alberta notes, even Flames fans are jumping the Oilers' bandwagon:
I'm still down in Calgary, and I've gotta say, I love this town. It is chalk full of Oilers fans. When I first arrived on Friday, I turned on my folks' tv, which is approximately the size of a cell phone screen and needs at least 20 minutes to warm up, and the first person I saw through my binoculars was Astrid Kuhn -- the Calgary CBC reporter -- wearing an Oilers sweater. "I just thought it was time to cheer for the Alberta team", she said. Beautiful.
As luck would have it, I'm going to be in Edmonton for the next four days. As long as there are no incidents like this and this, Wednesday night should be fun.

Comments/Questions: Feel free to post in the comments section or email me at gocanucksgo10 (at) hotmail (dot) com.

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Sunday, May 14, 2006

Sens Done

The Buffalo Sabres beat the Ottawa Senators 3-2 in OT last night, eliminating the Senators from the 2006 playoffs and eliminating me from playoff pool contention. Already, the questioning have started on the Senators, whose postseason flops are becoming legendary (and actually make us Canucks fans feel better about our team).

Here's Erin Nicks (Slam Sports) after the loss:
Nine seasons. Nine seasons of playoff berths. Nine seasons that saw the Ottawa Senators top the 100-point mark five times. There was a President's Trophy, and a Jack Adams award-winning coach. Nine seasons that allowed the top defensive core in the league to form. Nine years that saw this team eventually emerge as the odds-on favourite to win it all -- a begrudging admission to make, specifically for the team's many critics.

But these nine years also bore witness to a team perpetually on the losing end of a mental battle. Goaltending issues. Confidence issues. History kept repeating itself, yet everything seemed logical on paper. Why couldn't it work out?

And more importantly, why couldn't this year be different, when so many believed it would be?
Ken Campbell (Toronto Star) was a little more specific:
The Senators outshot the Sabres 179-117 in the five-game series, but were doomed by an inability to put the puck past Sabres hero Ryan Miller. Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson and Dany Heatley had just one point each at even strength, while first-round hero Martin Havlat had just three. It was a shocking indictment of the Senators play at even strength.

To make matters worse, the Senators lost the game on the power play when Jason Pominville, who was on waivers early this season, slipped past Alfredsson, who was playing the point, to scored shorthanded.

It was the second time this series that the Sabres had done that to Alfredsson and considering all four of their wins were by one goal, many fingers will be pointing at Alfredsson as a huge factor in the Senators' latest loss.


Alfredsson, who has been the face of the franchise for the past decade, might not have to endure another disappointing playoff loss in the nation's capital. Those who know this team are certain the Senators will entertain the possibility of dealing Alfredsson, who is 33, doesn't have a no-trade clause and is under contract at $5 million (U.S.) per year for another four years. Zdeno Chara, another playoff underachiever, is an unrestricted free agent and if it comes down to a choice between him and Wade Redden, Chara is gone.
Captain Daniel Alfredsson doesn't have much of an answer:
"This one is the worst of all," said Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson. "We felt like we had a team here that could compete for the Stanley Cup and we just didn't get the job done.

"It's tough to take. I mean, crap, we had the chances and we just weren't able to capitalize on them. I'm just really disappointed right now and I'm really hurt. I hate this feeling." :
And neither does Chris McMurty of Hockey Country:
Well I feel pretty shiity, let me tell you. I don't think I've left the building formerly known as the Corel Centre so quickly or so discouraged. The drive home was quiet and, frankly, depressing.

Rather than dissect the game in this state, I'm going to sit on my thoughts for a few days and have something up Monday morning on the playoffs as a whole. Hopefully by then, we'll all be able to think rationally and discuss things like people instead of the raging lunatics/manic depressives we're all right now.
Not surprisingly, an ecstatic Tom L. from Sabre Rattling doesn't mind doing some talking:
I’m glad the Sens lost this series the way they did. Frankly, it was embarrassing. All that talent, all the words, the time, the promises… in the end it amounts to nothing if you aren’t willing to give everything in your being to overcoming that which stands in your way.
And he doesn't stop there:
The Sens played this series with a sense of entitlement, that this was their turn. Afterwards, Bryan Murrary finally conceded that they didn’t afford the Sabres the respect they deserved… I guess, visions of 10-4 romps were still running through their heads, replaying those easy goals against a disorganized team thinking that the guys in the sweaters hadn’t changed….

Well, they hadn’t changed anything… except the outcome on the scoreboard.
And the outcome on my playoff pools. Congrats to the Sabres.

Comments/Questions: Feel free to post in the comments section or email me at gocanucksgo10 (at) hotmail (dot) com.

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Saturday, May 13, 2006

Where's The Buzz?

Here's a nice piece from Jeff Patterson (Georgia Straight) about the seemingly lack of buzz in this year's NHL playoffs:
The NHL sacrificed a season to, among other things, grow the game by promoting geographic rivalries. The league felt that one way to generate excitement and interest in hockey was to up the number of games so-called rivals played against each other during the regular season. As a result, every one of the 30 teams in the NHL plays its four divisional opponents eight times each throughout the year. That’s 32 divisional games, or a substantial 40 percent, of each team’s regular-season schedule.

Now, on the surface, there is nothing wrong with pushing such rivalries and stirring the passions that go along with such battles. In many ways, it’s one of the better ideas to come down from the NHL’s ivory tower. But how can the league put so much stock in regular- season rivalries and then simply turn its back on those same matchups when they matter most: in the playoffs?

Does anyone else find it ridiculous that of the eight first-round series this spring, only one—the New York Rangers versus the New Jersey Devils—was a divisional matchup? And now in the second round, again, just one—the Ottawa Senators against the Buffalo Sabres—is a battle born of regular-season hostilities. So of the initial 12 playoff series in the run to the first post-lockout Stanley Cup, the league has hung its hat on a whole bunch of contests that don’t have mass appeal or marquee value. In other words, the league itself has stamped “who cares?” on most of this postseason.
I've thought that as well. And while I'm not fond of the unbalanced schedule, I will admit that because of it, the league was successful in creating a buzz in the regular season. However, it also eliminated a lot of the same buzz when most teams started the playoffs playing teams they - and their fans - didn't see much of for the first seven months of the NHL season.

Jeff continues:
No one really needed to see the Nashville Predators play the San Jose Sharks in the opening round. In fact, the people of Music City USA weren’t all that interested in that series, as evidenced by the fact the Predators couldn’t sell out game two even after they had won the first game on home ice just two days earlier. However, had the Preds drawn the Detroit Red Wings, their divisional foe, a team they slugged it out with all season and their truest rival, the place would have been packed and the city buzzing.

Look at the matchups involving the four Canadian teams in the opening round of the playoffs: Calgary versus Anaheim, the Edmonton Oilers against Detroit, Ottawa taking on the Tampa Bay Lightning, and Montreal Canadiens facing the Carolina Hurricanes. Although each series managed to produce some decent hockey and a few memorable moments, not one of them captured the imagination the way a Calgary-Edmonton or Montreal-Ottawa series would have.

To be sure, determining the final playoff lineup is out of the hands of the National Hockey League. It sets the regular-season schedule and waits to see what transpires. But for a league scratching and clawing just to get noticed south of the border, why not give the networks and the fans what it’s been claiming they want? Why not rework the playoff structure to promote divisional battles in the opening round? Why not start the playoffs off with a bang?
Eric McErlain weighs in on the same topic:
Well for one thing, back when the league was just four divisions, there was a time when the first two rounds of the playoffs were played inside the division, with teams seeded 1-4 in each.

The problem, however, was that it wasn't all that uncommon for a dog of a fourth place team in one division to have a regular season record far worse than a fifth or sixth place team in another division in the same conference (Hartford Whalers, white courtesy phone!). But if you seed playoff teams 1-8 inside a conference, the problem disappears.
So how about this for a hybrid solution:
  • Make the top two teams in each division play each other in the first round.
  • Add a "wildcard" bracket between the top two point-getters from the rest of the conference.
  • For the second round, the league can use a fixed bracket (like the NBA does) where the winner of the series with the top point-getter in the conference plays the winner of the wildcard, or it can re-seed the remaining teams like it does now.

This hybrid format, like the current format, also relies on good luck for divisional rivals to meet after the first round, but for one postseason round at least, it guarantees the divisional rivalries the league wants.

One point of caution from Eric:

Can you say change fatigue? How much change can the league go through before fans just stop paying attention to all of the tinkering?

Good point. But sometimes much change is necessary when things aren't working the way they're supposed to. It's just that in the NHL, things don't work the way they're supposed to a lot.

(Links courtesy of Off-Wing Opinion and Kukla's Corner.)

Comments/Questions: Feel free to post in the comments section or email me at gocanucksgo10 (at) hotmail (dot) com.

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A Sad Suit

From the Globe and Mail:

A dozen teenage boys have filed suit against their Etobicoke minor hockey team, alleging that the general manager abused them verbally and refused them permission to try out for a higher-level team.

All members of the Etobicoke Canucks Bantam AA team, the boys sought release from part of their two-year commitment. According to the suit, permission to try out for other teams was promised but then denied without explanation, days before scheduled tryouts.
Via the Toronto Star, Greater Toronto Hockey League president John Gardner responded to the suit:

The plaintiffs wanted to try out for AAA teams, but players 13 years and older are locked into their teams unless given permission to skate by their club.

"No rule in the book gives the league the right to force a member club to give a letter of permission to skate or a release," said GTHL president John Gardner. "The rules are specific. A club has until May 31 to offer a player — 13 years or older — a registration card for the following season."
Having never been through the minor hockey system, I have to admit about not knowing much about how it works. But, in the hockey world or in any other industry, this kind of story reeks. These kids - and yes, they are only kids - are at a critical point of their hockey careers, and if the team indeed promised them an opportunity to try out and move up the system, then shame on them for backing out on it.

Comments/Questions: Feel free to post in the comments section or email me at gocanucksgo10 (at) hotmail (dot) com.

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Friday, May 12, 2006

Nothing Ducky

In yesterday's Cam Cole piece, Brian Burke said:

"I love Canada, I loved being a GM there, I love the atmosphere and how much people care," said the former Canucks boss, "but I'll tell you what: if you're a GM in Canada, you can forget having a five-year plan. The only plan the fans and media there are interested in is the RFN plan."

He didn't elaborate, but there was no need. RFN? Right F---ing Now.
However, fans and media of Burke's new team, the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, wouldn't know anything about the five-year plan. In Burke's first year as the top Duck, they have advanced to the Western Conference finals. They also made the Stanley Cup finals just a couple of seasons ago.

So how did he do it? Eric Duhatschek quotes him in another piece:

"I studied the Indianapolis Colts' operation for the last couple of years," said Burke, the Anaheim Mighty Ducks' general manager, "and Bill Polian, the president and GM there, is a genius. So, when he's looking at their board and he says, 'these four guys, that are all starters, are unrestricted next fall.' And I'm like, 'well what are you going to do?' And he says, 'let 'em go.'
Burke obviously took that advice. Eric adds:

Burke orchestrated an extreme culture change in Anaheim, turning a skilled but soft team into a gritty, determined, make-you-pay-the-price organization -- and he did it in record time. He signed Scott Niedermayer, traded for François Beauchemin, but his most impressive work was moving out expensive underachievers (Sergei Fedorov, Petr Sykora, Sandis Ozolinsh) in a year when few teams were looking to add to payrolls.

From no playoffs to Stanley Cup contender in one season. I wonder if the Samuelis have sent Stan McCammon a thank-you card yet.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Not-So-Gentle Giants

The Vancouver Giants are WHL champions after a convincing 6-3 win over the Moose Jaw Warriors last night. The Giants swept the series, the series before that, and finished their postseason with an amazing 16-2 record. They will make the trip to Moncton, NB to represent the west in the 2006 Memorial Cup.

Gilbert Brule, the Columbus Blue Jackets draft pick who led all skaters in the postseason with 30 points in 18 games and was named series MVP:

"This is the best thing that's ever happened to me so far -- that includes getting drafted and starting the year in the NHL"
Dustin Slade, who recorded six shutouts in 16 wins:

"This is so sweet. I can't thank everyone enough for taking a chance on me and giving me this opportunity. I've never been closer than I am with these guys. I'm just so happy -- for myself, for my teammates, for the organization as a whole and for the city."
And Mark Fistric, the Giants' first-ever bantam draft pick:

"This is so great -- I'm so happy for everyone. From like three wins the team's first year to two losses in the playoffs and a league championship this year -- I'm speechless. We're a family here and I just want to say it's been great to be a part of such a great group of guys."
The 2006 Memorial Cup starts on Friday, May 19th.

(Photo taken from canada.com)

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