#CupcakeStrong

The other night, the Colorado Avalanche were losing to the Columbus Blue Jackets.  Down 2-0, I sent out this tweet:

And the Colorado Avalanche’s official twitter account retweeted it, and people started retweeting and favoriting it.

And the Avalanche scored.  And then they scored again.

And then they won it in overtime.

Sunday, I was at the last regular season home game, and the Avalanche were losing, 2-0.  At the second intermission, I went to the cupcake stand on the club level (yes, I know, fancy), and got a Red Velvet cupcake.  My podcasting partner, Jay Vean, put out this tweet:

Eighteen seconds into the third period, Ryan O’Reilly scored.  Then they scored again.  The Avs would eventually lose in the shootout.  But still, a cupcake and a comeback.  I’ll take it.

So if you want to have a little fun (and contrary to what the internet will tell you, hockey should be fun) and it’s in your wheelhouse, come along for #CupcakeStrong.  Get a cupcake, ready it up, and eat it when the team is down.  Who knows, we could make some magic happen.

Note: I’m biased towards Red Velvet cupcakes, and will be having mini-cupcakes.  You can do what you want.

 

 

 

Thin Air – Coaches Comma

A few thoughts from around the league.

– There’s a lot of hand wringing over the Vancouver Canucks and John Tortorella. The question is whether or not he is the right coach for the Canucks considering their current slide and doubtfulness of making the playoffs. Frankly, Tortorella is one of many problems the team has, which started after game seven of the Stanley Cup Final in 2011. Note that I did not say game six. The slide of the Canucks started with the mishandling of the Luongo situation, and only got worse as time went on.

I’m not sure Tortorella is the right coach for most teams. You had better have the right mix and type of player to deal with him. He might be a brilliant hockey mind, but he brings his baggage with him, and expects everyone to be his bell hop. I don’t believe that his antics behind the bench, in the press conferences, or near the Calgary Flames locker room helped his cause at all.

– One of the things that works against Tortorella is something I think every coach at the NHL level fights: every coach that has come before in the player’s lives. By the time a player has reached the NHL, how many coaches have they had? If they were lucky enough to crack an NHL roster in the early stages of their career, they might not have the lineup of minor league coaches that most of your lower draft picks have had. Still, no matter the player, they have had a bunch.

Kids are coached in hockey starting around age five, and I believe that most coaches, systems, and even parents would start earlier if they could. Every aspect of their game has been criticized, refinded, taped, played back, discussed, evaluated, and most likely shoved down their throats. It’s like that guy at the office who has been there for twenty years, and some new manager comes in to really shake things us. And all that guy is thinking is, you’re just the next guy who is going to tell me I don’t know what I’m doing, and I’m going to still be here after you are long gone.

The player’s know how to play hockey. They also know when a coach is full of it, and when they actually know what they are doing. I’m not so sure it’s a matter of a coach losing the room. I think coaches in general are losing the room, because there is way too much coaching. They have practically lost the room as soon as they gained it.

Maybe it’s time to have a three coach rotation. One a hard ass, one a player’s coach, and one in the middle. Rotate them every few weeks. You know, a Coaching-Go-Round. When players tire of one, bring in the next type.

– Can we talk about two rules everyone hates, but I think are absolutely necessary? The first is Intent to Blow. You know, that maddening moment when a puck crosses the line, and the ref says the play ended moments before? I think it’s a generally good rule, even while I understand why it pisses people off.

The two issues with the rule is that it is only used in circumstances when something is going to be waived off like a goal. The other is it brings into question the integrity of the ref. Only they really know when they decided to blow the play dead.

Perhaps we can solve this issue with a sort of video replay. When Intent to Blow is the ruling, play a video of the scene for the ref to watch, and ask him specifically when the play was blown dead. If the puck is in the net after he says the play is dead, you have a goal. Also, the apparent grey line of exactly when the intent was is eliminated. I’m sure it isn’t as simple as this, but why not give it a shot?

– The other one is the delay of game penalty for the puck over the glass. From a pure safety standpoint, I like this rule. I don’t know if a single puck has not gone into the stands because of this rule, but it stands to reason that players think a little more about not putting it over the glass.

I don’t like games being decided on this penalty, but I don’t think anyone enjoys a game ending on a power play of any sort. The rule here to stay. The refs tend to get the call right, and that’s the important thing.

I talked about the #ImagineAvs video already. But the tl;dr version is this: I would not compare it favorably to the fashion show in Slap Shot. But at least they are trying something.

– Elliotte Freidman, in his 30 Thoughts column, mentioned that Ryan Kesler penciled Colorado as one of six destinations he would have allowed a trade to. So let me get this straight. Kesler wanted to go to a Patrick Roy coached team from a John Tortorella coached team. I think that says a lot right there, about both coaches.

But actually, what surprised me was that he thought there was a place on the roster he would fit. The Avalanche are carrying enough centers, so many that they had to move Nathan MacKinnon to wing. Where would he have gone? Fourth line? I’m guessing the only thing the Avs would have been willing to give up would be Paul Stastny, which did not happen, and wouldn’t be enough to land Kesler anyways.

– How much depth do the Avalanche have? How about this: Paul Carey was called up from Lake Erie. Who is Paul Carey? Beats me. Lake Erie have been to the playoffs once since the team was formed, and didn’t make it out of the first round. The depth issue needs to be addressed soon. You can’t carry just enough forwards forever.

Imagine This Happened

After a game of rec hockey, I decided I needed to sit down with the new Avalanche video, #ImagineAvs, and see what I thought.  Responses online are mixed, and about as partisan as congress these days.  If you haven’t seen it, here it is.

My thoughts?  I thought it sucked.  But we need to go into why I thought that, and why it doesn’t matter (either that it sucked, or that I thought it sucks).

Why it sucked:

OK, let’s start with the simplest and most obvious issue: lip-syncing.  Why are the Avs lip syncing?  Why do we need Paul Stastny lip-syncing “whoa oh?”  It’s fairly obvious that the Avs players did not suddenly form some ****-rock band and put out a video.  If you are going to do lip-syncing, it should be fun.  Moody, brooding, I’m-sad-on-the-inside-and-buff-on-the-outside lip-syncing isn’t interesting.

And I called it ***-rock above because I don’t know what to call this.  I wasn’t a fan of the song, and I don’t want to compare it to Creed (because that’s some seriously low hanging fruit, like almost touching the ground).  But what is this?  Wikipedia says they are an “alternative rock band” but I don’t see it.  Alternative to… good?

What the hell is an Imagine Dragon?  Know what? I’m going to let that one go.  Naming things is hard.

The song, Radioactive, doesn’t seem to go anywhere.  I understand you don’t want a lot of depth when you are looking for music to backup a sports franchise, but when you pair it with moody images of players trying to be intense, you are creating (or trying to create) depth.  The two things don’t mesh.  The closest thing to a message the song has is “Welcome to the new age,” which is an appropriate comment on the change in culture the Avalanche have experienced.  Beyond that, the song never seems to go anywhere.

Jay and I discussed songs that talk about being “ready to rock you” like this one does, but never actually get to the rocking, at the end of episode 84 of the Avs Hockey Podcast. This is a classic example.  They are ready to rock us, but haven’t started, and I doubt their ability to do so.

Who the hell is that guy with the homie jazz hands and the bass drum?  Is that an Imagine Dragon?  Is that John Mitchell?  Has there been anyone since Limp Bizkit that looked cool doing this?  I’m pretty sure Smashmouth tried this once and someone got hurt.

Firefox

 

Hey, why so moody, Avalanche players?  Landeskog, you look sad.  And why so angry, Matt Duchene?  You are playing well, the fans are into the games, you are in a playoff position.  What’s with the gloom and doom?  You don’t need to get all “Friendship is magic” on us, but come on.  Lighten up.

What worked for me:

Hockey highlights.  They didn’t do their usual photoshop filter job and screw up the highlights to make them look cool and hip.  Hockey looks cool enough, don’t screw with it.  They didn’t here.

The shots of Denver.

High production values.  The Avalanche media team did a good job with the quality of the video.  It looked excellent, which is what it has to do, because you know they will be showing this on their huge HD jumbotron in the Pepsi Center.

What really matters:

Did you catch what the issue here is?  Did you notice why my opinion of the video doesn’t matter in the long run?

What did I like about the video?  The hockey, because I am a hockey fan.  This isn’t aimed at people who are already hockey fans.

Does the average Avs fan need moody players?  No.

Do they need the cheesecake shots?  I can think of a few, but put out a calendar.

Do we need stalking and beating drums?  Nope.

We need winning to bring back the fans to the ice.  And the Avalanche have been winning.  And the fans are starting to come back.  The 2-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues game needed standing room only ticket sales to meet the demand.  It’s been a while since that has been the case.

No, this isn’t for me, and that’s just fine.

The real question is how it will play with the people whom it is for, namely people who are not yet Avalanche fans.  That’s something that’s harder to measure.  They say you throw away half your advertising budget, but you never know which half.  Even if it’s less true in the  online market, it’s true with traditional media.  It is going to be hard to tie this video directly with any increase in ticket or merchandise sales.  Or Imagine Dragon album sales.  Or sales of imaginary dragons.

What is good is that the Avalanche are finally making things like this.  They are starting to embrace using their players as the best advertisement of the game.  They are making things that move and flow, not just stills with funky filters and photoshop images in TV ads.  For years, the sighting of a billboard with the Avalanche on it was like spotting a rare majestic bird.  The Avs haven’t pushed their presence to the public in a long time, and they have paid the price.

Being critical of this video should be separated from being happy they put it out there.  It’s been a long time since the Avalanche seemed to care enough to put their message out, and they finally have product on the ice that is worth advertising about.  This sort of effort has been a long time coming.

My overall concern is whether the Avalanche put out the story they want to tell.  All marketing is storytelling, and the Avs can shape and tell the story about their team they want to have.  For years, the story the Boston Bruins have told is the hard-working, lunch pail gang going to do their job.  The Montreal Canadiens story is the elite history of the game, the dynasty years and the hockey glory that has been handed to the next generation of players.  The Toronto Maple Leafs trade on the traditions of the game.  The Flyers build their story out of toughness.

What story are the Avalanche telling with this video?  What story are the Avalanche trying to tell in general?  Those are the questions I have after watching this.  It’s not the story I would want told about this team.

Thin Air: MacKinAgain

Some hockey thoughts from the Southwest of America:

– I haven’t watched an ounce of Olympic hockey.  Let’s get this out of the way now: I’ve been busy.  No, really.  I probably could have, but I truly have another thing that is keeping me full time busy, and hockey is just going to have to take a back seat for the moment.  I don’t even know who plays or played today.  Seriously.

– Last Olympics, I watched the final game with my buddy Jay Kumar, then we recorded some podcasts after (his and mine).  It’s going to be hard to trump that experience.  Jay is awesome, and a treat to watch a game with.  In fact, I seem to have luck with people named Jay.

– Should the NHL participate in the Olympics?  I have mixed feelings on it.  I would like to see the amateur players get back in the game, and if there are going to be so many restrictions on other Olympians, they should apply to the hockey players as well.  But the cat is out of the bag, and the only way to remain relevant and not wind up with an asterisk on the Olympic records is to keep the NHL in.  No one cared about the World Cup of Hockey (except me), and few care about the World Juniors and World Championships.  Everything else is also ran.  I think they stay, and the IOC makes a few more concessions to the NHL, which is not their usual MO.

– I took a few skills classes in Tempe, AZ these past two weeks.  Our coach was great.  At 9:00PM, he holds a rookie class, where people who can sort of propel themselves while skating on their ankles do a few things with a puck, then slam into the end boards because they can’t stop.  The entire time they are doing drills, the coach is yelling at them.  “Butt on the boards! BUTT ON THE BOARDS!!!”  I watched this before my first class and thought, I hope this guy is our coach.  This is awesome.

Sure enough, he was, but the yelling was not there.  We had a neutral zone passing drill, and he was encouraging and firm.  After a few drills, he explained the point of what we were doing, then told us to have a good scrimmage.  What an absolute blast.  I got home at close to three in the morning (scrimmage until just past midnight, change, gas up the car, drive to Tucson), and was pumped to do it again the next week.  Hockey is alive in the desert.

– Adrian Dater says, via twitter, that Ryan O’Reilly will not be traded from the Avs (stick tap to Lyle Richardson for the pointer).  Proof there is a new attitude in Colorado?  In the old regime, money and being butt-hurt would have trumped any stats.  In the old regime, O’Reilly would be gone this month, or the end of the season, and we would never see the GM poke out from his hole, see his shadow, and blow six more weeks of BS up our backsides.  Let’s get this straight: something considered a ‘cancer to the locker room,’ or a ‘business issue’ can be worked out.  And winning, just like it brings back the fans, brings the players together.  A lot more than losing will.

– Next trip, Vegas, baby.  Or more specifically, I finally get to see my first Las Vegas Wranglers home game, at Orleans Arena.  And this is going to be their last season there (unless they work out a lease deal, which it sounds like they won’t), so I have to get there while the getting is good.  But also, this is their annual Midnight Circus, which means they will play the game at midnight, and they will have circus performers. I’m not kidding.  The Wranglers have the best promotions.  It also helps that the opposing team is the Colorado Eagles, and I just so happen to have an Eagles jersey with me.  Want more Vegas?  Check out this great oral history of the movie Swingers.  If you’ve ever dreamed big and thought there was no way you could do it, read this and remember that this is the guy who directed Iron Man.

– We play this little game on Twitter every Avalanche game called #AvsTwitterPsychic.  All you do is guess who scores the first goal for the Avs, and you get a retweet.  So far, Nathan MacKinnon has a team-leading 9 first goals.  He has a team leading 22 goals.  He’s fourth on assists and third in points.  The kid is good, and playing like an NHLer much earlier than a lot of rookies.  Matt Duchene took several years to break out of his junior habits.  As much as I would love to see Kevin Shattenkirk still playing for the Avs, he took some time to break out of his college style (but he has, and it didn’t take that long).  MacKinnon doesn’t stand out as a rookie, and I mean that in the best possible way.

– Quick survey time. Do you skate?

Mid-Season Minor League Team Folds: Could It Happen To Yours?

The business of minor league sports is always a difficult one.  It’s completely gate-driven, and if the butts in the seats aren’t there, you won’t make money.  A good arena lease is pretty instrumental to the success of a team, but if you don’t have the fans at the arena, you won’t be able to pay for the arena, no matter how sweet the lease is.

Look at the Wikipedia pages of just about any minor league and you will see the bodies of old franchises strewn everywhere.  What you don’t often see is a team fold in the middle of the season. It throws things into utter chaos for the league, and teams usually have their finances together enough to survive their final season.

So it was a little surprising to hear that the San Francisco Bulls have thrown in the towel and shut down mid-season.  From their website:

“We had a great opportunity come to us that would’ve kept the Bulls in San Francisco at least through the end of the 2014 season, with potential for future seasons, but we ran out of time to complete all ends of the deal,” said Curcio. “At this point, the best thing to do financially is to reluctantly end the season. We will miss playing here, miss our fans, and miss this city.”

The Bulls also say they are taking requests for refunds on remaining tickets.  Requests?  Let’s call those demands instead.  No one is going to call the office and say, “I want my money back.”  They will call to say ,”Give me my money back.”

The ECHL is going to have to scramble to reschedule the Western Conference.  The next game the Bulls were supposed to play was a home game on Thursday, January 30th.  That’s only three days after shutting down.  With a conference hosting a few teams that have to fly to destinations (Colorado and Alaska), it’s not as easy as it sounds, and there will probably be some money lost by the other franchises in the process.

There have been other teams to fold mid-season.  It’s not a unique situation, even if it’s a little odd.  The ECHL lost the Fresno Falcons a few years ago, the IHL lost the Milwaukee Flacons and saw the Denver Mavericks relocate to Minnesota, the Central Hockey League watched the Border City Bandits fold, the SPHL shut down the Florida Seals, the United Hockey League gave up the Columbus Stars and the Mohawk Valley Prowlers.  And you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a mid-season shutdown in the Federal Hockey League.  It almost looks like a right of passage there.

So fine, it happens.  But what about the rest of the landscape?  What are the chances another team will go down before the season ends?

From pure attendance numbers, the Bulls aren’t the least troublesome franchise out there.  In the ECHL, they were second worst in attendance, with the Wheeling Nailers beating them out.  The Nailers have been around a lot longer than the Bulls, and have had half houses as far back as the ECHL website would go.  So they are no stranger to that issue, and seem to do just fine.

In the Central Hockey League, the lowest attended team is the Denver Cutthroats.  They are almost seven hundred down from the next lowest attendance, and 2,200 off the league average.  The CHL has seen a big change in the last several years as their base of Texas teams went the route of the cheaper American Junior hockey leagues, and league ownership shifted to some of the franchise owners.  Will the Cutthroats weather the storm?  I think so, but after this season, it’s a hard question to answer.

The American Hockey League is pretty stable.  I can’t see anyone shutting down mid-season.  With their close ties to the NHL, it’s hard to imagine a franchise being allowed to shut down.  Even the least financially viable, the Abbotsford Heat, seem to be in decent shape.  I expect a few teams to relocate this summer, but nothing mid-season.

The SPHL seems pretty stable right now.  The SPHL draws almost 500 less fans on average per game than the Central, but they are set up financially for that kind of attendance.  At the same time, four CHL teams are below the SPHL’s league attendance.

As for the Federal Hockey League, they can’t afford to lose a team.  They only have four right now.  I suspect that if any team shut down, the fans of the Danbury Whale would just beat them up.  Don’t believe me?  Read this history of the the old Danbury Trashers (which I had the ‘privilege’ to see live once).

So it’s a pretty unlikely scenario, but there are still a few teams in trouble out there.  Whether or not they shut down mid-season is anyone’s guess, but it could come down to deep enough pockets and enough backbone to sustain losses as they mount.  And with some of those numbers, they will mount.

The Attendance Issue Again

Monday was the annual rolling out of the “attendance woes” column by the Denver Post.  Unlike most years, it was given this time to the more thoughtful Terry Frei, rather than the standard pallbearers.  So there was less “bad fan” jabs and more “I’m kind of surprised” this year. It’s a nice change.

I can’t speak for all the fans.  As I’ve found out, I’m not like most fans, and I find that a good thing.  I will speak for myself however.

Since the last lockout, I haven’t spent any money on tickets to an Avalanche game (this season, I’ve been to two games).  I haven’t spent any money on an NHL game, actually, although I have dropped a few dollars on a few minor league games.  I’ve also handed over plenty of money this season to play beer league hockey, so my hockey investment is going somewhere.

I have given the NHL my money in the form of Gamecenter Live.  I have the online package, so I can watch almost any game from anywhere.  With a nice TV and an Apple TV to watch it on at home, I don’t feel like I’ve given up on much.

Is this stance, that I haven’t spent money on tickets, a reasonable one?  I’m not entirely sure.  I only occasionally miss going to games, but it’s mostly for the social aspect of it, rather than the game itself.  The game is wonderful, and I love attending games, but somewhere in the back of my head, I get annoyed that I spend that much money for this.

“This” includes:

  • A long walk to the arena, because I won’t be spending THAT MUCH on parking,
  • The same music, videos, games, gags, highlights, and ads every time,
  • An uncomfortable and squished seat, often around obnoxious non-fans (warn me next time I buy a ticket on “guys night out,OK?),
  • Overpriced everything,
  • An upper concourse you can hardly wiggle though at intermission, or
  • A lower concourse that is jam packed with drunks,
  • Drunks,
  • Drunk fans of the opposing team,
  • Drunk Red Wings fans (they are always around),
  • Loud armchair GMs
  • Loud armchair coaches,
  • “SHOOT!!!!”
  • Lines to unclean bathrooms.

The list goes on.  All of this for an outlay of A LOT OF MONEY, NO MATTER WHERE YOU SIT.  Wow, what a privilege to pay top dollar for that.

I’ll be honest, watching at home gets a little tiring.  I miss the live game, and I miss the experience.  But by playing hockey, actually getting out there and playing, I get such a great experience, even at my low level of ability.  I have a completely different angle on the NHL game and I experience it differently.

As far as the Avalanche, they aren’t the same team as they were in the glory years, and they haven’t been for a long time.  We all know this.  After their success and stars went elsewhere, the fans did as well.  Then the communication with the fans went away.  The marketing went away.  It was like the front office wasn’t even trying.  And when you don’t try, you get exactly what is coming to you.

Fans bemoan being told from the outside world that Denver isn’t a hockey town any more.  I don’t blame them, but the numbers don’t lie.  There are many die-hard fans in Denver, and I love those people.  I count myself as one of them.  But it isn’t Canada.  It isn’t Pittsburgh and much of the East Coast.  Sometimes, it isn’t even Minnesota.  The level of fandom doesn’t tend to translate to the number of fans or ticket buyers.

The numbers tell a different story than we fans want to believe.  Even the minor league Denver Cutthroats, with their free parking, low ticket prices, and loads of promotion are struggling at the gate.  They are last in the league in attendance, averaging 1,371 a game, nearly six hundred down from the nearest competitor.  That’s down 1,400 from last season.  1,400.  Sure, last season they were new, and half the games were played during the NHL lockout.  Sure, the Broncos are a great distraction for the city, but fans are fans.  Cheap games are still cheap games.  Where did everyone go?  I would love to compare to the numbers from the start of the CHL season to the end.

Denver is a saturated sports market.  Two lacrosse teams, all the major sports, MLS, and a minor league hockey team.  There is more sport than there is dollar to support it right now.  At least there isn’t arena football to throw in the mix.  But there was, and it didn’t help the Avalanche cause.

Look, I don’t like it any more than other Avalanche fans, but I’m also not going to many games myself, so yes, I am a part of the problem.  Oh, the injustice of it all.  Right now, I’m an NHL level fan with a minor league budget, and a bit of an ax to grind over the last lockout.  That ax is getting smaller and smaller all the time, but still, the investment I have made in time and money over the years in the Avalanche has been significant.  If I want to watch from the sanctity of my own home, I will do so.  The Denver Post will just have to deal with it.

At least, until next year.

Thin Air: Tort Reform

- Elliotte Friedman called Winnipeg Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec a below average goalie. He’s right, but let us get something clear here. This is real life, not Lake Woebegone, where all the children are above average. Everyone can not be above average. That said, he still is under-performing for a starting goaltender, and needs to up his game. If he can.  Any holdover from the days of the Thrashers should be subject to change, just like a terms of service.

– If Semyon Varlamov is proving anything, it’s that working with a goaltending coach (or at least, the right goaltending coach) can pay off. Development and improvement doesn’t end when the training wheels come off.  But how is that trade with the Capitals working out?  Would the Avs fans take that first round pick back now?  And keep in mind who was available at the time.

– In Justin Bourne’s column commenting on Elliotte Friedman’s 30 Thoughts column (did you catch all that?), Bourne talks a bit about Paul Stastny:

I swear if you have 25 smart players you’ll be damn near impossible to beat. Some guys believe in just drafting the most skill and/or size available – “Look at that monster, he can fly!” – then leaning back in their chair and hoping those players figure it out. I’ll take your turnover-prone brain-dead team against my group of Paul Stastny-level thinkers any day (think about the things Stastny does well. He’s kinda small. Doesn’t skate great. Doesn’t have a great shot. 432 points in 510 NHL games. Dats brains, my friend.)

When I was taking a hockey skills class for beginning adults (aka I suck at beer league hockey and I want to suck less at beer league hockey), one of the instructors was talking about handling pucks that come at your feet or behind you. If you can imagine, passes in rec hockey, if they happen at all, are rarely tape-to-tape. He pointed out how Stastny can just dig a puck out of anywhere if you put it near him. Sure enough, the next game I watched, players were dropping bombs at his feet and he was scooping them up without letting them slow him down. Part of what makes him so good is how he can make something happen with the puck quickly and when it’s not the perfect situation. Do not discount that ability.

– I think we need a plus/minus scale for fighting incidents in hockey. Not just plus one or minus two, but something that looks like those betting odds I don’t understand. For instance, out of ten, the opening play of the Canucks / Flames game might have been +2 / -4. So that’s two points for fighting (if one team puts out goons, you should too), and four points against (staged fights don’t get much bigger, the game went on, lots of ejections, Torts in the hallway). This way, there can be some grey area in the discussion, which is where debate should be. It’s rare to have a nuanced conversation about fighting in hockey, and yet, I don’t know anyone who is 100% for or against it. We’ve heard the extremes of the conversation, let’s get to the real discussion of it.

– Still waiting to hear how long John Tortorella is suspended for trying to get to the Flames locker room at the first intermission. I would like to think the league really calls him on the carpet for his overall behavior. As much as the hockey fan base may like the Tortorella presser (and I am not among those), I doubt the league liked them very much. The NHL can only suspend him for this incident, but Torts doesn’t do himself any favors with his previous behavior.

– I don’t think Tortorella will change his stripes, but I bet he doesn’t do this again. I can see him blaming the NHL for being overzealous with it’s fine and suspension (whatever it may be), but at some point, he has to look at his own bottom line. Before whatever the league does this time, he has already lost $60,000. How much more until he gets it? (source on those figures)

– ESPN also posted the longest suspensions of coaches over the last 40 years. I had no idea about this one:

January 2000 Herb Brooks, Penguins: suspended 2 games for going after Avalanche TV play-by-play announcer John Kelly after a game.

Who knew? Not me.

– Side note: My laptop does not recognize Tortorella as a word. It’s suggestion for correcting it? Turtler. No, really. My laptop is smart.

Thin Air: Opening Night Thoughts

Time to fire up the old bloggy blog machine and talk a little hockey. 

- I am ready for this season.  Last season was short and compact.  It seemed like every night was a game to care about.  I was not pleased with the lockout, was a little burned out from the compact schedule, and my favorite team was horrible.  Also, I was finally playing rec hockey, so I didn’t have much time in watching hockey.  Right now, I’m excited.  Let’s go, hockey.

- A commercial on the CBC just said 1 in 3 kids can’t afford organized sports.  Yeah, no kidding.  I just bought new shin guards (my old ones, which I loved, cracked), and the lower end ones I got were $75.  A few years ago, the same pair would have been $40.  Skates are amazingly expensive, and sticks are ridiculous.  My hockey season is costing me $500 for 20 games and two playoff games.  Just about every sport if cheaper than hockey to play.  Just horsing around with a puck is expensive – ice time, gear, etc.  You can play catch for cheap, basketball takes a ball and a park.  It’s out of control.  

- George Parros hit his face on the ice during a scrap with Colton Orr.  Orr had a grip on his jersey a he went down, pulling Parros with him.  It was a scary sight, as you can see in the replay below.  Good luck to him.  The CBC crew noted the NHL implemented the new rule about fighters removing their helmets.  It goes to show that you never know what is going to happen.  Bigger guys, faster game. (update – Parros has a concussion and is being evaluated at the hospital)

 

- The entire reason Parros and Orr fought in the first place was because PK Subban grabbed Orr by the head and wouldn’t let go.  It was a move that could have been avoided.  Parros did what he was hired to do and stepped in.  It makes me wonder if Subban would chose the same action again.  Sometimes messages are sent, and that’s what Subban was trying to do.  Sometimes, the message comes back: cut the $#!+.

- Toronto’s power play looked pretty bad.  Lots of desperation, lots of confusion.  It’s too early to tell what they will look like down the stretch, but they have to clean this up.

- The Blackhawks raised their Stanley Cup banner tonight.  The video leading up to the ceremony was awesome.  I loved the hockey cards at the end with the players as kids.  The rest of the ceremony was drawn out and dull.  I’m sure it was special for the fans, but it could have been about five minutes shorter.  Thank goodness Coaches Corner was on.  And I don’t say that very often. 

- The Canadiens had their player introductions and opening night ceremony, and while passing the torch from a former player to a current one was nice.  Passing it from player to player through the lineup took way too long.  Again, special if you are a fan of the Habs, but not so special if you are waiting for the game to start. 

- The excitement of the Blackhawks / Capitals game and the Leafs / Habs game was a stark contrast to the Jets / Oilers game.  It’s like a wine and cheese party in Edmonton.  Perhaps it’s the audio mix and where the microphones are in the arena, but the tone sure was muted. 

- The Wednesday Night Rivalry commercial on NBCSN sure is violent. Know what’s missing?  Goals.  Skill.  You know, hockey. 

 

- The new Canadian olympic jerseys are out in public, and everyone is screaming about the black one. 

I think it’s fine.  Aside from the trend to make every jersey look like a practice jersey, this isn’t the worst thing that could have happened.  I’ve had mixed results with Team Canada jerseys, and if there is major printing on the logos, you can be sure I won’t be buying one.  But if you think this is bad, don’t forget what they wore for the 2004 World Cup of Hockey.  It’s not as cool as the old black Team Canada jersey.  Not by a long shot.

- Most people seem to think the Colorado Avalanche didn’t address their defensive issues from last season.  I would say it was simply addition by subtraction.  I don’t take much stock in plus/minus ratings, but Greg Zanon, last season’s +/- “leader” with -16 was bought out, Ryan O’Byrne (-8) was shipped off to Toronto at the trade deadline, and Shane O’Brien (shockingly even, but I think we can call it -0) was traded to Calgary.  Even though O’Brien was in the doghouse for part of the season, that’s still three regular blue liners gone (check out the photo TSN used for his player page).  It paves the path for some younger guys, giving Tyson Barrie and Stefan Elliott (who was sent down to Lake Erie) a better shot at steady ice time.  They brought in a few guys, like Cory Sarich and Andre Benoit, so it isn’t that they didn’t do anything, it’s that they didn’t do anything big.  And big may not be the answer right now.  

But if you want to know what my podcasting partner and myself think about the upcoming Avalanche season, listen to the newest edition of the Avs Hockey Podcast.  Find the latest episode here, and subscribe in iTunes by clicking here

Thin Air: Round And Round

Just some hockey and other thoughts on this overcast day in Denver:

– Jagr to the Devils.  Who does that sit right with? I haven’t talked to anyone who thinks it’s a good fit.  But if there is a team on the verge of an identity change, it’s New Jersey.  Martin Brodeur is on his last legs, Kovalchuk is gone, money is suddenly a real thing, and the future is uncertain.  Perhaps Jagr is a great fit.  I thought he would be a great fit in Ottawa, though. Maybe next year.

– I’m attempting to read Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon for what feels like the hundredth time, and right now I’m reminded of the hardest hockey town I’ve ever been in, Danbury, Connecticut.  I’ve never seen a crowd so loud and angry, enough to make the players want to jump in the stands.  The invisible line between spectator and participant was the only think keeping things from becoming violent the time I saw the Danbury Trashers play in the ‘old’ UHL. It wasn’t the glass that kept them apart. I had never seen anything like it, and I haven’t since.

I was wearing my Kazen Ak Bars jersey, and a woman who worked at the rinks, obviously in some sort of custodial capacity, asked me if I was from there.  I said no, I just liked the Russian jerseys.  She said that was her home, and for a brief and awkward moment, I tried to talk to her, but there was a bit of a language barrier, and she had to get back to work.  I wonder if she is still in Danbury.  I would love to find out what her life is like there.

– Michigan just approved a new arena for Detroit, which will be partially funded with tax dollars.  Joe Louis Arena is well past it’s prime, but if there is a city that doesn’t need to spend it’s money on a new arena, it’s Detroit.  I’m sure there will be more details coming soon.  But can you imagine worse timing?

– The minor leagues are in for a bit of change.  There are always teams folding and moving around, new teams sprout up in the ashes of the previous ones.  But rarely do you see what the Central Hockey League did.  The league was sold to the owners of some of the teams.  It’s been hard to find out exactly which teams are involved in the new ownership group, but it’s an interesting development.  Perhaps the dying gasp of a league that has seen vast turmoil over the last several years?  From losing the majority of their core Texas teams to the junior leagues, to absorbing the UHL/IHL  and losing most if it shortly after, this latest development could go either way, but I’m leaning towards disaster.  Time will tell.

– It’s late July, so things are slow in the hockey world.  So I guess that’s it for the moment.  Keep your ears out for a new Avs Hockey Podcast coming soon.  Yes, it’s been a while.  Life happens, just as it goes on.

A Duke’s Gotta Do What A Duke’s Gotta Do

This is not your mother’s Colorado Avalanche.  It isn’t even the Colorado Avalanche of your youth, or the one from last season.  Things are changing, and it is a bit of a shock to the system.

– Finally fired the coach?  Yep.

– Skipped the top rated draft pick that plays a position of great need? Done.

– Management shakeup?  Oh yeah.

– Talking to the press and fans? Someone released the kraken here.

– Didn’t overspend in free agency, signing depth instead?  It’s dogs and cats living together (mass hysteria).

Anything that comes as no shock might be a shock at this point.  But the fact Milan Hejduk won’t be back by the team might give a few fans whiplash.  It’s… almost shocking.  Almost.

Hejduk previously decided to go the route of Joe Sakic and Teemu Selanne (and what I thought Alfredsson should have done with the Senators, but decided to do with Detroit), and sign one year contracts until the end of his career.  In this season, he is going to sign a contract with another team.  From the Denver Post:

Hard as it is to picture, it is possible Colorado Avalanche fans will see Milan Hejduk playing in another NHL uniform next season.

“He wants to keep playing,” Hejduk’s agent, Jiri Crha said Monday in a phone interview. “If there is any team that really wants to use him for his offensive skills, he still believes he could do it.”

The Avs, however, don’t appear to be interested. Hejduk, 37, is an unrestricted free agent and Crha said the Avs have informed him he is not in their plans.

“They are very honest about their different plans. They don’t believe he can play in their top six of forwards,” Crha said. “We just saw a player (Daniel Alfredsson in Ottawa) who left after 17 years with the same team. That’s the reality of the hockey life.”

I agree.  He can’t play with the top six forwards on the Avalanche, and the top six just got harder to crack.  Hejduk played himself out of the top two lines over the course of the last season, and unless he had surgery on something that was ailing him or found some serious youth cream to swim around in, he wasn’t likely to crack those lines next season.  So where do you put him?  Third line?  With the youth movement going on now, sticking him with MacKinnon and O’Reilly doesn’t look like a good fit.  He has decent hands, but his feet and legs aren’t going to keep up.  Fourth line?  Hejduk is a lot of things, but a grinder he is not.  He does not belong on a checking line.

So it’s time for him to leave, as he doesn’t fit on with the Avalanche any more.  For some reason, Alex Tanguay fits but Hejduk does not, and that reason is actually obvious to anyone who watched him last season.  The Duke is slowing down.  It happens.  It’s not a slam, or mean to him.  It’s just what happens as time goes by.  If I had the legs and lungs I had when I was bicycling all the time in my teenage years, I would be lighting up the rec leagues.  Nope, I’m 40 and it shows.  In a league that is getting younger and younger, a 37-year-old that is slowing down a bit is something you have to make a hard decision about.

The scary part is that the team that is generally associated with older players looking for one more shot at glory is the Detroit Red Wings.  If he were to go there, it would hurt the fans quite a bit.  The rivalry has cooled between the Wings and the Avs, but not for the fans.  The hockey hate is still there.

But the cap era, forcing teams to make money decisions that force players out, has brought about Team  NHL.  The anger and bile thrown at Daniel Alfredsson was stunning considering this is how the NHL is set up now.  From cap crunches to the penalties associated with over 35 contracts, the CBA forces teams to consider letting go of their aging (former) stars.  Hejduk, wherever he lands, deserves to take another shot, and maybe a change will be good for him.

It’s will be strange to see him in another uniform after cheering for him in an Avs jersey for so long. But this isn’t the same Avalanche.  And I’m good with that.