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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.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

What Came First.....

Going through my usual list of daily blog updates from THN today, I came across an article written by veteran blogger and columnist Adam Proteau about the NHL's current state of discontent with the shootout.  In it, Adam comes to the conclusion that the coaches, by directing their teams to play it safe during overtimes, have caused the occurrence of too many shootouts during seasonal play, and therefore a rallying of NHL bigwigs against it.

It's a situation that calls to mind the proverbial "chicken or the egg" argument.  Does the addition of the shootout itself ruin the final minutes of regulation and the 4v4 overtime, or does the coaches reacting to the initiation of shootout hockey cause the problem?

In my mind, It's hard to question an NHL coach of a fringe team, hanging on for dear life to any hope of making the playoffs, doing anything he can within the rules to get his team that extra point.  I mean, that's his job, and as we've seen so many times in the past, not making the playoffs could cost him his job in the very near future.  The notion of condemning a coach for using a gimmick created by the league to keep his club as competitive as possible against superior teams seems almost hypocritical.

For example, lets look at the Edmonton Oilers.  Not a great team, or really even a good team by any stretch of the imagination, especially in the shootout era.  They have played my beloved Red Wings, a perennial 100+ point team, in 7 games that ended in a shootout.  Out of those 7 shootout games, Edmonton won 6.  By comparison, in that same time span, the Oilers are 3 - 10 against the Wings in games that ended in overtime or regulation, and 1 - 10 in games that ended in regulation.  So what was McTavish/Quinn supposed to do, give up on those extra points because they should be ashamed they had to rely on the shootout so much?

So it becomes clear, to me at least, that the need to reduce the importance of the shootout, or completely remove it from the game, is valid.  The NHL already took steps towards this by changing the way regular season tie breakers are decided, eliminating shootout victories from the calculation of total wins.  Good start, but not good enough to stem the tide of a shootout laden regular season.  I've seen several suggestions batted around the forums, blogs, and Hockey Summits, from eliminating the shootout all together (my favorite idea, as it doesn't belong in a team sport), to changing the overtime formula to help increase scoring chances.

My favorite middle-of-the-road idea that I have spotted is to make each game worth 3 points, period.  The winning team gets either 3 points in regulation, or 2 points in overtime or the shootout.  The losing team gets zero points in regulation, and 1 point in either overtime or the shootout.  This solves two problems in the current league set-up: the need to de-emphasise the shootout, and a way to get rid of those pesky 2-point games that somehow become worth 3 points (2 to the victor, 1 to the loser) when overtime gets involved.  Purists get less shootouts, and hippy tree huggers, I mean casual fans, get to keep the shootout.  And we all live semi-digruntled, but a little less frustratedly ever after.

And I leave you now with a video of Marek Malik, a NYR defensemen who scored 2 regulation goals that entire season, scoring on an amazing hand-eye-foot exhibition to end what is still the longest overtime game on record (15 rounds)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Out With The Old, In With The New

The Old:  Ex-Red Wing Aaron Ward is now an ex-hockey player, as he decided today to retire after 15 years in the NHL with Detroit, Carolina, Boston, and Anaheim.  He was a member of 3 Stanley Cup winning teams (2 in Detroit, 1 in Carolina).

While never in the hunt for a Norris Trophy because of his lack of offense, he was a wrecking ball in his own end, often leveling 2 players at a time while clearing the front of the net or battling for the puck in the corners.  He was always a favorite of mine during the late 90's, early '00s in Detroit, but never seemed to be able to get out of Bowman's doghouse, who gave him only limited play time.

Once he moved to Carolina, he seemed to develop a steadier game, and became a big part of their defensive core for the next 4 seasons, especially during the '05-'06 run to the Stanley Cup, where he posted some of the best offensive numbers of his career.

While overall Scotty Bowman is clearly a hockey genius, its a shame that he wasn't able to get over his personal differences with Ward and allow him to flourish under his system.  He was always fun to watch, and even though they don't receive much accolades in the media, reliable stay-at-home defensemen (reliable being the key word) don't grow on trees.

The New:  Detroit finally came to terms with Justin Abdelkader today, signing a 2 year deal reportedly worth $1.575mil over the life of the contract.  Unless he has a terrible pre-season, this looks to be Abdelkader's first full year as a Red Wing.  He's slated to be on the fourth line, but I could see him easily moving up, as this kid does nothing but train hard and play hard.  He seems to have maintained a great attitude during the courting of Mike Modano, which pushed his contract talks to late this summer, and pushed him and fellow youngster Darren Helm down the depth chart.  He is also looking to help out in the enforcer department after taking boxing lessons over the summer.

I can't help but be excited about this kid.  Ever since watching him score the game winning goal for MSU against Boston College with 19 seconds to go in the 2007 NCAA Championship game, which is still the most exciting, and most nerve wrecking, game I have ever watched, I have been anxious to see what Abbie could do at the NHL level.  With his limited exposure so far, he hasn't disappointed.  Everytime he's played on a scoring line, he's helped to create offense with his punishing style of forechecking and constant buzz around the net.  Abdelkader's not going to be a 50 goaler by any means, but he may just turn out to be one of those rare NHL lifers with average skills, but the heart and soul that allows him to will a puck in the net when its most needed.  I might be crazy, but no matter what happens, he loves the Wings, and he's not afraid to throw the big hits, and thats good enough for me.

And on a side note, baring any revelations of epic proportions, I won't be commenting much on the World Hockey Summit.  As demonstrated in the first few days by the "Hot Stove" panels, this is nothing but a penis measuring contest, but the participants can't even agree on the unit of measurement.  The only thing for certain is that everyone involved (NHL, IIHC, KHL) wants to be the biggest prick at the table.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Tweaks of the Twade

The fellas over at TSN have been following the NHL research and development camp, aka the "Shanahan Summit", and layed out some of the new rules and tweaks that were being tested there.  I figured since I've got this shiny new blog, I'd go ahead and throw my 2 cents in on some of them:

3 Face-off Dots: The thinking here is to place every face-off in the center of the ice of each zone, possibly creating offense because it gets the goalie off of his angles.  Personally, I think it just looks ridiculous.  It may have the desired effect, or it may not, but either way, you are going to look bad doing it.

Face-off Variation:  While I'm normally for anything that removes the refs from having control of the play, I just can't get behind this one.  The face-off would occur with the puck already laid on the ice, and the scrum for for the puck would occur upon the whistle being blown.  It seems to me that this would eliminate the struggles that are the earmarks of a good face-off, and would allow centers to cheat even more in the circle.  Even after seeing the refs screw up the simple act of dropping the puck to the ice time after time, I still think its the way to go.

Hybrid Icing:  Again, giving the refs more discretion to decide the game is always BAD, but I have a feeling that this one is inevitable.  Hybrid icing involves the refs being able to blow the play dead on an icing if the defender beats the forechecker to the face-off dots, potentially eliminating the possibility of serious injury.  Unfortunately, it also eliminates a chance for a struggle for the puck, which is one of the basics of the game, and what fans want to see.  I would much rather this be left alone, and more consistent punishment given out by the league as a way of reducing overbearing forwards from dumping a defender head-first into the boards.

Second Ref Off The Ice:  This reminds me of the joke "What do you call a lawyer at the bottom of the ocean?"......"A good start."  Ba Da Bop, Hah hah, Lol, etc...but I digress.  This one has a ref in a tennis-style high chair peering over the ice on the other side of the glass.  This assumes that the refs are just screw ups, and a better vantage point would help them do that less.  My tinfoil hat and I disagree whole heartedly.  The refs know exactly what they are doing, and are often instructed to do what they do by the league.  The "instant powerplay after a goal" trend that emerged during the playoffs is an infuriating example of that.

No Line Change After An Icing:  Straight from the bowels of Bizzaro World comes the most bass-ackward rule change to date.  In this scenario, the attacking team would be punished for an offside by not being allowed a line change, in some moronic attempt at creating offense.  Tell me how punishing a team that is trying to create offense, generates more offense?  If you ever wanted to see an entire game played between the bluelines, this rule is for you.

Modified Overtime:  3 minutes of 4v4, 3 minutes of 3v3, and 3 minutes of 2v2 in overtime.  Minus the 2v2, I think this is a great idea.  Anything that helps to eliminate the shootout is brilliant.  Boiling down  a team sport filled with conflict and competitiveness to what amounts to a skills competition to decide the victor is asinine, and exactly what I would expect from the NHL.  Hopefully this takes hold and eliminates, or at least alleviates, that mistake.

The Yellow Line:  And last, but definitely not least, in a flash of common sense that can only be labeled as miraculous considering its source, is the idea of the yellow line.  The NHL would place a yellow line a tad more than 3 inches behind the goal line (more than the width of a puck laying flat), and if a puck is touching this line, it can be clearly determined that it is a goal.  Besides adding a camera to the net that actually gives a better angle to the puck than the network covering the game (imagine that), this is one of the best ideas I've seen to eliminate the "is it, or isn't it" situations that pop up far too often for a professional league.

Anywho, there are several other tweaks being tested at the summit, but they are either so minor or so mind numbingly foolish that they don't warrant a mention.  In my humble opinion, the NHL should look to consistently enforce the rules that they already have throughout the year, including the playoffs, before adding new ones that they can ignore on a whim.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Ozzie, or Ozzent he?

Just to get it out of the way, I am a HUGE Red Wings fan.  I lived through a good chunk of the Dead Things era, and have been handsomely rewarded over the past decade and a half for those excruciating times.  During these bountiful years, Chris Osgood has been a big part of the many championship runs the Wings have made, not least of which was stealing the starting job from none other than Dominik Hasek and leading the Wings to victory in 2008.  Needless to say there was a time when knowing he was backstopping my boys made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

However, we hockey fans can be a fickle bunch, and Osgood has done nothing short of falling flat on his face in recent seasons .  He was god awful last year, which forced Jimmy Howard into the limelight, and thank the Hockey Gods he shined and kept the playoff streak alive.  Then 2 years ago, as a starter, Osgood was at the bottom of the list for all relevant goalie stats.  Now, stack on top of that the fact that goalie equipment is getting trimmed this year, with Osgood already being mistaken for a stick when not in pads (a short forward's stick at that), and I smell a shitstorm brewing in the crease, especially if Howie goes ahead with that sophomore slump oft predicted by the pundits.

I've been following the Blogger's Roundtable currently being hosted at The Production Line, and have been enjoying the lively discussions between some of the best hockey minds of the bloggosphere.  However, I just can't figure out why, to a man, they believe that Osgood is going to have a bounce back season.  Between the reasons I stated above, the rumblings of his unhappiness with Babcock's use of his talents last season, and the fact that hes another year older, I find it hard to imagine a scenario where Ozzie could have a great comeback performance.