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?

Crowdsourcing Time

Time for some crowdsourcing.  This was my tweet from last night:

1) Buy RV.

2) Spend a year on the road watching and playing hockey all over the country.

3) ?????

4) Profit.

Fill in the ????

Comments are open. Go.

My First Round Bandwagon

The Avs are out of the playoffs.  They were out before they even stepped foot on the ice at the beginning of the season.  The playoffs start in less than an hour, and I have to pull for someone.  Here are the teams I am hoping do well in the first round.

West

western2013

 

 

Chicago vs. Minnesota:  Chicago

This is ‘the team that did well in the regular season’ vs. ‘the team that paid to do well’.  Everything may reset at the start of the playoffs, but they dominated in the regular season, and earned my respect.  And they are GENERALLY a pretty clean team.  Go Blackhawks!

Detroit vs. Anaheim: Anaheim

I will NEVER root for the Red Wings.  Go Ducks!

Vancouver vs. San Jose: San Jose

I will NEVER root for the Canucks. Go Sharks!

St. Louis vs Los Angeles: St. Louis 

If the Kings hadn’t won it all last year, this would be a lot harder.  I wouldn’t mind seeing a repeat Cup winner, but St. Louis has been through a lot.  It’s time for them to have some success.  Go Blues!

East

Eastern2013

 

 

New York Islanders vs. Pittsburgh: New York Islanders

It’s time for the die-hard fans to get their due.  They deserve it.  Go Isles!

Ottawa vs. Montreal: Montreal

This is a tough one.  I’d say I’m 51-49 in favor of Montreal.  I just feel slightly more connected to them.  Go Habs!

New York Rangers vs. Washington: Washington

I don’t care all that much about this series, but it’s usually a good match-up.  I’m enjoying seeing Ovechkin stick it to his critics (including myself).  Go Caps!

Toronto vs. Bruins: Toronto 

In nearly every other matchup, I would have picked the Bruins (maybe not against the Islanders).  Here, I want to see Toronto do well.  If only Dion Phaneuf didn’t play for them.  Oh well, no one is perfect.  Go Leafs!

 

Think I should pull for someone else?  The comments are open, try to sway me.  Killing me with kindness is better than the other way around.

Thin Air: Whatevs

Some hockey thoughts –

- Whenever someone is hurt in the eye area, the visor debate rages again. And what I find funny is how outraged that people get, not over the visor issue, but that the issue comes up when there is an injury. Of course it does, that’s just how people work. Relax.

- OK, so visors. I said it before, I will say it again. If the NHL and NHLPA don’t mandate visors, insurance companies will make it happen. Otherwise, premiums will go up, payouts for eye injuries won’t happen, and you can bet someone is going to be angry. So visors, it’s going to happen, like it or not. The only questions are when, and who is going to push it though, the league or outside forces.

- I think visors should be mandatory, and you can grandfather them in for all I care. BUT, you have to remove the extra two minutes for instigating with a visor on. It’s a mixed message, even if it’s just one more punishment for an instigator. The two things shouldn’t be tied together.

- Mike Milbury: Why do you people pay attention to what he says? Actually, it’s a simple answer: he has a voice, and he uses it. I don’t mean voice as in vocal chords. I mean voice as in he has something to say, says it with conviction, is consistent, etc. Every time he says something stupid or controversial, which is by design, you get all outraged and point out how his opinion doesn’t matter because of what a bad GM he was. But if the audience gets all butthurt about him, he is going to keep going because he is getting ratings for NBC. If you are talking about Milbury, Milbury keeps talking. Simple equation. Let the man go, already. He’s wrong, we know it, move on.

- Voice, or a lack thereof, is why people DON’T pay attention to hockey blog number 728. Without voice, what is the point of writing? Without voice, you’re just typing. There’s enough typing as it is.

- The Chicago Blackhawks…. Damn… Marion Hossa was out of the lineup on Tuesday’s game against the Colorado Avalanche. Then Patrick Sharp went down. So who scores the overtime winner? Dan Carcillo. That isn’t just a good team, that’s a team that believes in themselves. Teams with that kind of confidence don’t quit. It’s exciting to watch.

- Last night was probably the best game the Avs have had in a while, but the defense was still shown as weak and porous. If the Avalanche had defensemen as quality as their forwards, they could be a decent team. And they only have two good lines of forwards, and two serviceable lines behind that. Ryan O’Reilly is rusty, and I think he will be a shadow of his former self all season long. He’s just that far behind. The team is going to struggle this season, no matter what.

- The worst job in hockey? Being a ref for my rec league game on Sunday. My god, did we give them the business. How easy it is to forget that refs love the game just as much as the players. To suffer the abuse they get and still go out there game after game, it can’t be easy. And the abuse trickles down from the NHL. If the players didn’t chirp every call, it wouldn’t happen nearly as much at the lower levels. You don’t see it tolerated nearly as much in any other sport. I would like to see more unsportsmanlike calls for abusing the refs. It wouldn’t take long for things to change.

- That said (and maybe this post should just be called “That Said”), considering the news that a player in Switzerland is now paralyzed from the neck down because of a check from behind, I would almost rather be a ref. No, check that, as soon as I heard the news, I said to myself, I would rather be a ref.

You can only control yourself on the ice. I’ve been shoved from behind a little close to the boards before. It was less scary in the moment, but afterwards, I knew what happened, and what could have happened. I know people who have been called for shoving a guy from behind two feet off the boards and were mad they got called because, according to them, they guy had the puck. It was plainly boarding or roughing or whatever you want to call it. It was dangerous, and to them, it was justified. Like I say, you can only control yourself.

I’m not interested in being that guy. From Jack Jablonski to Travis Roy, there is no way I want to be in that position. Those two people are fine character people. I can’t say anything bad about them. But I would not want to be in their position, over a hockey game. I’m sure some jackass would think that’s a lack of commitment or some stupid BS, because people are stupid. So yeah, if the game gets any more dangerous, I’ll pick up a whistle. Gladly.

Puckmarks: What Is That?

This is Puckmarks, showing some of the interesting pucks I find around the rinks.  If you have an interesting puck you found, hit me up in the contact form, and / or put it on twitter with #puckmarks.

Odd pucks seem to find a way into my hockey bag..  I once marked my pucks with a silver sharpie when I saw someone else do it, but I quickly learned that a puck is a puck, and if you care too much about a certain puck, you will lose it to the hockey gods, or the puck bag of some coach.  To me, a puck is a puck when I’m practicing with it.  If it’s really special, I will save it, but a puck from the hockey shop is a puck.

I once saw someone at a stick and puck session with an NHL logo puck (and I’m being vague here for a reason) shooting it and retrieving it over and over.  If it flipped over so he couldn’t see the team logo and he lost track of it, he would start scouring the pucks on his hands and knees, flipping them over until he found his puck.  Even if he was in the middle of the net and other people were waiting for him to get out of the way.  One special puck.  Why not put it on your bookcase, then?

So I bring a bunch of pucks, and I try to leave with the same number I came with.  I sometimes come away with a puck that someone has marked up.  So this is a place to show you some of those.

I got this puck at the Stephen C. West Ice Arena in Breckenridge, CO.  It’s one of my favorite places to skate, and they have outdoor stick and puck times.  When the snow is coming down lightly and there are only a few people out, it’s almost like hockey heaven.

Puckmarks001001

And it’s marked that way on both sides.

Puckmarks001002

 

Got an interesting puck?  Do you mark yours up?  Let me know.

The Value Question

I’ve been thinking about what I am going to do with the NHL and hockey in general when the current lockout ends.  Will I be back?  Will I stay home and watch games?  What will my reaction be?  So far, I don’t know.  I just know how I feel now.  

I’m a hockey fan, through and through.  I love the sport, and now that I’m on an actual (low level rec league) team, I love playing it more and more.  I am less obsessed about it than I was five or six years ago, but it isn’t the lockout making that happen, that’s just life and moving on.  I don’t care about any other sport, just hockey.  

I know how I feel now.  I skip over most of the hockey blog posts in my RSS reader, because they say the same thing.  No news is no news.  People are mad, they aren’t shy of expressing it, and I don’t want to keep feeding my own anger and disappointment in the NHL any more than I already have.  

The lockout started on September 15th, with plenty of time before to watch the slow lurch towards nothing that we have now.  The only moments of joy we have seen from the process has been the rise to stardom of the NHL Podium (I think it has earned a proper name, don’t you?).  

And lets face it, that should be the point of being a hockey fan: the joy from watching the games, of being included in the celebrations, of the fun of the sport.  If you are in it for the anger, then this is your shining moment of glory.  I watch hockey for the fun and excitement, not to learn about salary caps and make whole and other business that may or may not be of consequence.  

I’m not ignorant to the fact that money makes the puck go in the net.  It always will, and there is little to be done about it.  Even at my pitiful level of play, money drives what you can and can not do.  My season, 22 games plus two guaranteed playoff games cost me $500.  That doesn’t include skate sharpening, any new equipment needed (a new helmet set me back $129, due to a slight concussion earned at stick and puck time (which is $10 a session)), and I might be taking a hockey 101 class which will set me back around $150.  Money drives hockey.  It isn’t the “pick up the skates and head down to the frozen pond” of the early last century.  Zombonis, freezing the ice, ice time, everything costs money, and is driven by it.  

The NHL is a business and it’s driven by money on a scale that I can’t really comprehend, but does not understanding, nor wanting to, make me a bad fan?  I like to be well informed, but I prefer my knowledge and information be about hockey, not capology (which is one letter added to apology) and contract issues.  And certainly not tabloid fodder like making phone calls on stacks of cash (which I thought was funny) or who is dating who or any of the slow news day TMZ garbage we see touted as a hockey story.  

Right now, the information is all about bad business decisions.  It isn’t about hockey.  It’s about who is more angry at the time, and who we should or should not be blaming.  Everything is geared away from the sport of hockey.  According to NHL.com, there were 894 players to take the ice in the NHL last season (and if this is wrong, please correct me in the comments).  There are more than 585,000 members of USA Hockey alone (who is happy to post it’s financials online, unlike certain for profit leagues we could mention).  But for some reason, I’m supposed to care and follow what’s happening in the NHL right now?

No thanks.  It’s just making me more bitter and sad.  It isn’t enhancing my life in the way that hockey should.  It isn’t making me happy in the way the sport can and should.  And it doesn’t feel like it’s adding any value to my life in the way actually playing hockey does.  The big question is, will it do so once the season starts again?  I don’t think I will know until then.

My hockey gear is lying on the floor waiting to go back in it’s bag after a hard skate the other day.  I got danced around by two young players who had wheels and skills, and I worked hard to keep up and get the few good plays in that I could.  I was invited onto a team for the summer that is three levels up from the one I am on now, which would destroy me (I’m 40, out of shape, and an ex-smoker).  It was flattering.  The hockey was hard but fun.  That’s the way it should be.  The value should be obvious.  This lockout doesn’t provide me any value.  

Imminent Road Trip

I’m looking to take a hockey road trip from January 1st to the 7th. Any suggestions? I’m starting in Denver, and probably heading east, but right now, I have no solid plans. I want to go places I haven’t been yet, so Omaha is on the radar. Where do I need to go?

Gary Bettman’s Original Media Update

In an amazing coincidence, Jerseys and Hockey Love has obtained a copy of the original speech Gary Bettman was going to address the media with, before opting for the shortened version delivered.  As a public service, we reprint it in it’s entirety. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, members of the media, Damien - 

The Board of Governors meeting has just concluded, and I wanted to make a brief statement about the negotiations between the owners and players that was held earlier.

As there was more progress and optimism generated in one meeting that excluded myself and Donald Fehr than in all the meetings attended by the two of us, I don’t wish to make any comments out of respect for the process.  This may be considered the first respectful thing I have done since the process began, but that is not for me to say.  I do want to update you on a few other things surrounding the CBA negotiations.

The NHL PR department is busy preparing a media campaign for a shortened NHL season.  They are hard at work adapting the 2013-14 season campaign, as the cancelled season we had expected since last June may come into being.  We are also preparing an invoice for these modifications to be sent to the NHLPA and Molson Coors.  We don’t anticipate this being an impediment to our ongoing talks, which seem to be going well.  I wouldn’t know, I’m not there.

We are also announcing the following fines: Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle will each be fined $100,000 for being in contact with an NHL player during an ongoing lockout, John Davidson of the Columbus Blue Jackets will be fined $50,000 for being in contact with the media in direct violation of rules allowing any member of the Blue Jackets from saying anything to the media, and Detroit Red Wings owner Mike Illitch will be fined $2,500 for watching the movie Contact, which was just a horrible film.  Am I right? Trust me, he can afford it.

With all the possible progress made yesterday – I wouldn’t know, I wasn’t there – I want to remind the media not to become overly optimistic with the possibility of hockey being played before the start of the next season.  There are no games scheduled to be played as of yet, and our schedule maker is still on vacation, and we don’t wish to bug him while visiting the Cayman Islands.  There is plenty of work to do, and with an office staff that is working only four days a week for 80% of their paycheck while I still get the entirety of my salary, there is only so much the NHL is able to do in a short span of time.

On a final note, I wish to remind the media that I will still be paid my full contract no matter what happens after this CBA is signed.

That’s all for now.  Thank you for attending this media update, sponsored by Bridgestone Tires, the only sponsor still talking to us.

CBA Chatter

I want to write about hockey, but I’m out of practice.  And it seems like everything has already been said about the current struggles in the NHL.

Yes, the finer points have been hit.  Greed, millionaires and billionaires, the poor people who won’t be working the gates and concession stands (as though the people who write about them as much as they purport to), and how the fans are screwed, have no voice, must rise up as one, and not be so quick to return to the game.

I don’t think there has been a side of the issue that hasn’t been explored, and nearly every complaint has been lodged about the lockout that has barely started.  Still, I think I should get my side out for a moment.  It could be cathartic.

-  I know it’s hard to look at the players and feel bad for them.  They make a ton of cash compared to the regular, working class person.  I try to think of them of not only being paid for what they do, but also all the time it took to become the elite players they are.  We see the time the players spend on the ice, interspersed with clips of their latest trip to the local burger joint or hospital and think they have it easy.  To me, it’s they years before that which justify their salary.

-  The other thing that justifies their salary is our willingness to pay sky-high prices for the tickets, keeping hockey-related revenue climbing higher and higher.  We are as culpable as anyone.  But if we want our live hockey fix, we have to pony up.  That’s how it is, as ticket prices for anything are based on what the market will bear, and minimum costs factoring in as well.  It’s nothing new.  Hit broadway shows charge a lot more than soon-to-be flops, even if they cost the same amount to produce. The reason is demand.  As we demand our hockey, and willingly shell out larger amounts of cash to sit in the “cheap” seats, those prices will go up.  That’s the gate-reciept business model.

-  And the fans will be back.  There aren’t any real alternatives.  We will be jonesing for hockey when it comes back.  We will show up, buy the concessions, cheer on the team, and still hate how much we pay for it.  The fans aren’t going to make the owners pay.  Even if we don’t like the owners, we love the game.  There is nowhere else to find the best players in the world.  We’ll be back.

-  This is going to seem like an unfair comparison, but stay with me here.  If you went to work tomorrow, and the boss told you that your pay was going to be cut 24%, but you were going to be doing the same job, you’d be pissed, right?  The difference between the players and ourselves is scale.  We can’t fathom losing one million dollars and still getting three million.  It doesn’t seem like a big deal, because we would still be getting a lot of money.  If we were only going to get that kind of money for a few years, you can see how that might change your perspective.  So you agreed to a deal at work, and now it’s getting cut by 24%.  Wouldn’t you fight if you had the chance?

-  The notion that the owners will win no matter what, and the players should give in, is ridiculous.  You don’t back down from a fight just because it seems inevitable.  The players used up their silly gamesmanship like going to the Quebec Labor Board to try and get the lockout nullified.  Now it’s time to dig in, man up, and do the job.  The players caved the last time, mostly because the fight at the time wasn’t a winning battle, and somewhat because the NHLPA executives gave up.  But this is a fight worth fighting.  And yes, even if it costs the season.

-  Do you remember when the US had their credit rating slashed thanks to infighting over raising the debt ceiling?  I think the NHL is wading into similar territory.  How many CBAs in a row need to end in a lockout before confidence in the NHL plummets?  At this point, the CBA is just a window where hockey is played, until the next lockout.

-  Also in the way back machine, remember when hockey fans were poking NBA fans about their lockout?  Yeah, about that….

-  Lyle Richardson said something interesting on The Faceoff Hockey Show.  He said that ownership was incredibly short-sighted and that the NHLPA need to capitalize on this.  He referred to the last CBA, and all the loopholes that were left and exploited by the players.  I think he has a point, but not that broad a point.  The last CBA was an experiment, and probably should have been shorter.  Even with a year to work on it (mostly not working on it, though), accountants and lawyers crunching numbers, and the world thinking that the announced partnership between the players and management was nothing more than the players rolling over and playing dead, the CBA wound up with the players getting a lot more money than previously thought possible.  You aren’t going to nail your first salary cap, or any CBA, for any long stretch of time.  That’s why they get renegotiated after a few years.  I don’t believe it was short-sighted of the owners, just that the numbers need to be reexamined.  Mind you, not in the dramatic fashion rolled out by the owners, but they will always need adjusting.  Markets change, economies change, lots of things change.  The CBA has to change with it.

-  I should write a post on this point, but the owners aren’t all working towards the same goals.  They might all want the players to get less of the take, but do you think the smaller market teams have the same ideas of how revenue sharing should work?  Or contract length?  Or any number of similar issues?  I doubt it.  If you’re losing money, you probably have a different view on how business should work than the people making it hand over fist.

 

Looks like I did have a few things to say after all.  More later? You bet.  Including going from optimistic about there not being a lockout to the realities of being in the middle of one.

Robertson Cup Finals: Someone Always Left Behind

Tonight was the final game of the NAHL Robertson Cup, between the host team Texas Tornado, and the St. Louis Bandits.  The weird thing about this particular game was, no matter the outcome, the Bandits were over.  The team is folding, but I don’t have a lot of information beyond that.

I would like to tell you that St. Louis skated off victorious, but – spoiler alert that I’ve already spoiled – they did not.  Texas scored on a weird rebound and broken coverage in overtime, making the local fans ecstatic, and leaving the Bandits empty.

I’ll let the photos tell the tale.  First, the mustaches.

  

Don’t let the Stars player fool you.  He’s still a junior.  Yeah, right.

ACTION!

Again, do they need the body suits?

My favorite part of this is the kid behind the mascot whaling away.  So much carnage. So much fluffy carnage.

Back to the game.

The guy on the ice is number 8, Lucas Whelan.  He blocked a shot in the last seconds of the final period, and had to be helped off the ice.  He couldn’t put any weight on his leg after that.  I was surprised that he came back for overtime.  Yes, hockey players are tough, but this was a brutal block.  I was surprised he didn’t break his ankle.

As I said, the game went to overtime, and the Tornado took advantage of a rebound that didn’t go the way the goalie expected, and some blown coverage.  Here is your game winner.

That was it for the Bandits.  So here is what I would call the agony and ecstasy of a finals.

The winning coaches consoling the losing goalie.

There are no white gloves with this trophy.

Handshakes.

This might surprise you, but in the NAHL, they don’t boo the commissioner like he committed a crime against humanity.

  

Think that’s rough?  How about watching the winning team hoist the cup?

Most of the Bandits left the ice at this point.  Most of them.

To me, this picture just says it all.

The captain of the Tornado came over to talk with that last player, the captain for the Bandits.

And that does it for the NAHL season.

And that does it for me for live hockey games this year.  It was a great time, seeing so many places, and some new teams.  It’s one of the best parts of hockey for me.  Next season, as things in my life change, I probably won’t get to see as many games on the road.  But you never know, maybe something will make that happen.