Search This Blog

Monday, October 4, 2010

Two Blind Mice

So as you can tell, and if you even care, I have been away from the blog for awhile.  My fiance and I took our yearly vacation to Traverse City a couple of weeks ago.  I went to see the famed Traverse City Prospect Tournament hosted by the Red Wings, as well as the Wings training camp, and my fiance went to inspect the northern wine country and make sure, through several samplings, that they had not been slacking off.

Once our duties there were complete (and all the winery tasting rooms empty), we returned, started settling back into work, and I started looking for something to catch my eye, hockey-wise.  While the prospect tourney and training camp were great, they had been done to death by other bloggers, ones with actual talent and access to the players.  I considered doing a season preview of the 30 NHL teams, but again ESPN, THN, TSN, A2Y and even HSN and HGTV had taken a shot at those.

Mike Cammellari
So my search continued on, through "knee-on-thigh" hits (cringe, Franzen, cringe), the Oilers new holy trinity, my fantasy hockey draft, and the typical prognostications of who will and won't be making an NHL lineup this season, until I ran into a debacle in the making on Saturday.

According to TSN, Mike Cammellari was suspended one (1) NHL game for chopping at the foot of the Islanders rookie Nino Niederreiter.  Of course after hearing about this horrific display of the disregard for human life, I rushed right over to the computer to see what the youtubers had dug up for me.

I first saw the video of Cammellari going bananas, taking runs at Nino and even slashing at his face, before slashing the back of Niederreiter's skate and being ejected for it.

Ok, looks like an egregious enough offense to warrant a suspension.  But life doesn't happen in a vacuum, and guys like Cammellari (all 180lbs of him) don't go off half cocked for no reason.  There had been comments made by some of the Montreal bench that Nino had taken some runs at players, including Cammellari, and after I looked for a little while I found a video showing a possible example of one of those incidents.

I know many will disagree with me, but its my blog and I'll bitch if I want to.  This looks to me like a blind side hit from Nino delivered on Cammellari, with possibly even an attempt to make contact with his head.  Now, if my recollection serves me, during the whirl-wind summer that was the NHL off season, both blind side hits and head hits were made illegal (even though they already were).
Nino Niederreiter

Whether or not you agree with me on Niederreiter's intent or not, you must be able to see that something is missing in both of these videos.  Can you spot it?   I'll give you a few seconds to study since I didn't warn you there was going to be a quiz ...........

Got it?  No, that's a dumb answer.  I can't believe you said that out loud.  The correct answer is: where are the refs?  In the initial incident, with Nino hitting Mike, there could have easily been a call for a blind side hit, which would have ended this incident there.

But say the ref doesn't believe it was bad enough to make the call.  Well, we then fast forward to Cammellari's tantrum.  First there is the crosscheck/interference along the boards.  Not calling that one? Ok, how about the blatant slash to the face?  Just a flesh wound you say?  Alright then how about the continued harrasing with crosschecks in the middle of the ice?  Boys will be boys?  Then that leads us to the infamous slash to the back of tha skate which actually injures Niederreiter, hopefully not seriously.

My slightly amusing, possibly obnoxious, rant has a point.  At any time during this incident, the refs could have put an end to this.  Right or wrong, Cammellari obviously felt liberties had been taken by Nino, and he had to defend himself.  His actions prior to the slash were unconscionable, yet no ref saw fit to stop it even then.  The officials waited until someone was hurt until they decided enough was enough.  If the refs had simply done their job once during this entire mess, simply said to themselves "hey, this looks like a bad situation.  I should do something", an injury to a talented rookie could have been completely avoided.

This scenario has played out time and time again in the NHL.  How many talented young athletes are going to have to sacrifice their health, and possibly their careers, before something is done about how the officiating is handled in the NHL?

Meanwhile, the refs continue to cry about being treated unfairly in contract negotiations with the league.  Excuse me if I don't run out and start a telethon.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Miracle Off Ice?

This has certainly been an off-season to remember (or forget, depending on how you look at it).  From the obvious absurdities of the Kovalchuk fiasco and the CBA posturing, to the Shanahan Summit and the scam Don Fehr is pulling on the NHLPA, this continues to be a very eventful few months off the ice.

Now to top it off, according to The Hockey News, the NHL Official's Association may go on strike with less than 2 weeks to go before the pre-season schedule starts.  The NHL head office seems to be concerned enough about this to contact minor league officials in the AHL and ECHL about the possibility of them becoming "scab" referees in the event of a strike.

Lets be honest, NHL officials, as a whole, suck.  Game after game they blow important calls that are obvious to anyone else even slightly paying attention.  The league and the media constantly have to make excuses as to why supposedly intelligent human beings can't see when a puck has crossed a line, an elbow met with someones head, or a goalie 30 feet out of his crease isn't called for obstruction after he bumps into an opposing player facing away from him (Roloson/Holmstrom, 2006 playoffs, look it up).  Could you imagine being so bad at your job that your boss had to make excuses to your clientele as to why they keep you around?

The truth is, they don't blow these calls by accident.  The league has made it perfectly clear that they give their refs instructions on a nightly basis on how calls should be made, and then critique their performance after every game.  If these instructions didn't include making bad calls to help one side over the other, or even just to keep a game close for ratings sake, then I would have to believe that these refs would be fired left and right for poor job performance, but thats just not happening.  The refs have become pawns for the NHL agenda of league-wide parity, and up until this point, they have done it willingly.

And if the hold up on the CBA agreement between the NHL and the NHLOA was because the refs had simply grown tired of beings pawns and scapegoats, I would understand and respect them for their stance.  However, the real reason for the delay is the definition of irony.  Here is a quote from an anonymous minor league official on the issue:

"The guys say the supervisor will tell them one thing in the dressing room after the game then file something else with the league and the guys don’t have access to that,” he said. “The guys feel like they’re walking on egg shells all the time.”

So let me get this straight.  The group who's every action is the epitome of inconsistency, who make calls on the ice according to some ever-shifting standard that no player has been able to figure out since the lockout, which constantly keeps the players, coaches, and GM's guessing at how to play the game, is upset because the league is telling them their evaluation is going to go one way, and when it actually goes the other, they aren't allowed to know why?!?!


Sorry, that was uncalled for.  But how often do you get to see such a pure example of sweet irony?  I don't know if minor league refs are any better than NHL officials, but I would welcome any change that includes these clowns being removed from the ice.  Please NHLOA, go on strike for a long, long time.  And if it wouldn't be too much trouble, take Bettman, Daly, Campbell, Gregson, and the entire NHL head office with you.  Load them all up in the clown car, take a last lap around the center ring, and then leave the tent to the delight of all in attendance.  This circus needs to leave town.

I leave you with 2 of my favorite referee faux pas in recent history:

1.  A WTF! moment that cost Brad May what would have been the only goal he would have scored that season

2.  And the perfect example of refs making things up as they go along when things don't go the way the NHL scripted

The call on the ice, isn't the call on the ice?1?!?!  How do they get away with this stuff in broad daylight?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

It's A Mad Mad Mad World

Suffering succotash, where do I begin.  Well, first off, It's been a few days since I last posted, mostly because I was waiting for this whole Kovalchuk fiasco to figure itself out.  I guessed that it would all end in one of two ways:  either the NHL would remember what a bunch of gutless wonders they normally are and acquiesce to Kovalchuk's demands, or, backed by the arbitration ruling, they would hold onto their collective cajones for just long enough to smack Ilya and the Devils down, and void every contract from Chicago to Vancouver, a scorched earth policy that would effectively destroy any positive momentum they had gained from the events earlier in the summer.  Boy was I wrong.

The NHL chose to go full retard on this one.  First, they received what looked to be another ridiculous contract from the Devils, one that had only 2 years and $2mil difference from the one that was originally rejected, and also had an ultimatum from the Kovalchuk camp attached to it that demanded the NHL approve this contract within five days or Kovi would be playing Russia.

Then, continuing the ultimatum theme of this party, the NHL informed their usual whipping boy, the NHLPA, that unless they agreed to make immediate changes to the CBA to ban these "lifetime" deals, they would not only not approve the Kovalchuk contract, but also void the already established contracts of Luongo, Savard, and Hossa.  After negotiating with the union until the end of the five day deadline set forth by Kovalchuk's agent, Bettman and NHLPA reps informed the world that they would need another couple of days to get something done.

Besides causing a collective groan from the entirety of hockey loving North America, the extension gave the league and the union the time they needed to come up with a couple of new rules that supposedly would stop further circumvention attempts, as well as define exactly what the procedures are for making a valid contract.  According to a report on TSN by Darren Dreger, here is what they came up with:

"First: For long-term contracts extending beyond the age of 40, the contract's average annual value for the years up to and including 40, are calculated by dividing total value in those years by the number of years up to and including 40. Then for the years covering ages 41 and beyond, the cap charge in each year is equal to the value of the contract in that year."
"Secondly, for long-term contracts that include years in which the player is 36, 37, 38, 39 and 40; the amount used for purposes of calculating his average annual value is a minimum of $1 million in each of those years (even if his actual compensation is less during those seasons)."

In return for agreeing to alter the CBA midstream without actually collectively bargaining it (two very important words in a Collective Bargaining Agreement), the NHL will not only approve Kovi's outrageous contract, but also grandfather in all other current contracts that were being investigated for circumvention, which includes those mentioned above.

Now, its late on a Friday night, damn near Saturday morning, I'm kind of tired, and even when fully conscious, I'm not the greatest financial mind in my household, much less the country.  However, this seems to me to be a HUGE win for the NHLPA, the supposed underdog in all of this.  Not only did they save the jobs of numerous union members, added a now very rich returning member to their ranks, and helped keep one of the top goal scorers in the league from taking his talents elsewhere, they, especially in the eyes of the masses, stopped the tyranny of the NHL goon squad who again threw their weight around in an attempt to bully the battered union.  Public opinion is no small card to be able play in a couple of years when the CBA comes up and both sides hit the negotiating table, and right now, I would think the NHLPA has that card tucked away in its sleeve.

The NHL on the other hand comes out of this with very little to show for such a long, and arduous, dog fight.  Kovalchuk gets a smaller, but still no less ludicrous, contract.  I am far from convinced that these CBA amendments will completely eradicate the long term deals that make Free Agency stagnant, and they further muddle what was already a very confusing salary cap structure.  On top of that, the mileage from their arbitration win, one that was heavily supported by the fans, is spent.

In one of my previous posts I said that voiding the Kovalchuk contract was one of the few bits of common sense I had ever seen the NHL use.  What I didn't know at the time was that the stress of that one drop of wisdom would cause the league to snap like a twig and try to blow itself to smithereens.

And this was just a contract negotiation; wait until the CBA expires in 2012.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Change The Station

Out with the Old
For anyone who has ever tuned into the NHL Network on a regular basis, you'd know that it has very few things going for it.  Between endless reruns of Classic Games, NHL on the Fly (the Sportscenter of Hockey), and TOP 10s (Top 10 Zamboni Drivers being my favorite), there are few shining lights peeking through.  Shows such as NHL Live!, Off The Ice, and actual live NHL games (shocker) are the few standouts in the lineup filled with blah.  Those, and a general lack of Doc Emrick, Barry Melrose, and Pierre McGuire are the only things that keep me wading through the tedium every week.

According to an article posted over at Puck Daddy Greg Wyshynski's blog, it seems all of that is about to change.  Charles Coplin, the former VP of NFL programming, will become the new VP of NHL content.  Coming with this change is the news that the NHL will take control of the network, formally run by CTV, a Canadian broadcast company, and give it its own high tech studio in Toronto.

The plan is to bring more hockey news and original programming to the network.  While this all sounds lovely on paper, and I am more than a little excited about the chance to watch hockey oriented programming that doesn't make me beat my head against the wall in an attempt to keep the trite slogans and braindead analysis out, I can't help but wonder how a league that fails at every level to properly promote itself to the public can hope to come up with original shows of any value to more than the casual viewer.

To date, if I weren't a hockey fan, and only watched NHL created tv ads, I would think that every game was some ugly Russian named Ovechkin playing against some snot-nosed, slightly effeminate, punk named Crosby.  Young stars like Stamkos, Stastny, and Toews are virtually non-existent outside of their home markets and hockey fanatics' fantasy pools.

In with the New
Another arena that the NHL has failed miserably in is radio.  Besides the aforementioned NHL Live!, NHL Home Ice on XM radio is a wasteland of mindless babble and breaking of arms as they try to pat each other on the back for being such great guys.  Very few interesting debates occur, and no one dares question the great and powerful Bettman.  The most controversial topic aired there is how one of their broadcasters has dared to dump the Leafs as his favorite team, and is now looking for a replacement.

So the long and short of it is, while this could very well be an indicator of the NHL moving forward in its marketing methods, I'll be sure not to hold my breath for too long for fear of lapsing into a coma and waking up years later to find that the Ugly Russian and the Effeminate Punk are still the only ones going at it.

Friday, August 27, 2010

As The Hockey World Turns

The dramatic soap opera that is the Ilya Kovalchuk contract dispute continued its sorted run with yet another twist.  In a report that surfaced last night, Kovalchuk's Russian agent, Yuri Nikolaev, gave the Devils and the NHL an ultimatum: approve one of the contracts that have been submitted for review, or Kovi will be playing in the KHL this season. 

Who knows if this is just a bluff to help push forward in the stalled discussions, or if they really mean business.  However, this isn't a new tactic for Ilya and his reps to take.  Back in '05-'06, Kovalchuk ran to the newly formed Russian League when his contract talks with the Atlanta Thrashers weren't going his way.  He played a grand total of 11 games in that league, until the Thrashers finally gave in and he returned to finish the year in the NHL.

This time is a little different in the fact that Nikolaev has stated that Ilya would not return for at least a year if he were to bolt for Russia.  And honestly, why would he, considering the truck loads of tax free cash Medvedev, the Russian equivalent of Bettman, is willing to back up to the door of his brand new, state bought, mansion?

Kovalchuk and his group have already made it pretty obvious that, while playing for a contender would be nice, becoming one of the highest paid NHL players, second only to Ovechkin, is what  they are really looking for.  Its this desire to stay as close to $100mil+ line as possible that forced Lou Lamoriello to extend this contract to infinity and beyond to make it anywhere near affordable to the club, and forced the league to act against its signing.

He is a great skater and one of the greatest snipers the league has seen.  But his overall game is nowhere near that of Ovechkin, Crosby, Malkin, and Thorton, and his paycheck shouldn't be near theirs, either.  Ilya has yet to demonstrate that he can be the heart and soul of a hockey club.  He might develop into that player on the right team, but you don't get paid $100mil for what you might do, you get it for what you have done, night after night.

Bettman and the league did the right thing in drawing a line in the sand and putting the kibosh on such a ludicrous contract.  It was one of the few acts of common sense I've seen from the NHL in the 25+ years I've been following hockey.  Hopefully they continue to stick to their guns on this one and not give into the "or elses" of Kovalchuk's camp.  Losing such a gifted goal scorer would be a blow to the league for sure, but the alternative is to further destabilize a league that is already teetering on the edge with another possible work stoppage, failing franchises, and public perception problems.