After the First Day: Free Agency Thoughts

Market, via  Merriam-Webster:

d : the area of economic activity in which buyers and sellers come together and the forces of supply and demand affect prices <producing goods for market rather than for consumption>

I think a lot of hockey fans forget what a market really is when it comes time for free agency.  The market is defined by the supply and demand of the moment.  It may reflect the past and the future of the market a bit, but it’s really defined as what the needs of the moment are and what is available to fill those holes.

My shining example is Mike Smith, Tim Thomas and the goalie market.  Smith signed a five year extension, for $5.666… million.  At the time, it seemed like a lot of money for Smith (it is a lot of money in general, but the scope of that kind of money isn’t the real question here).  My immediate thought was, this isn’t a bad deal for either side.

A few days later, and look at what the market is for goalies.  Ray Emery is in Philadelphia, a bunch of backups shuffled around, but every other team is set with goaltending.  And who is left out there?  Ilya Bryzgolov and Tim Thomas.  There isn’t room for them right now in the league.  Bryz might look to the KHL if things don’t open up in the NHL, while Thomas will be sitting in NORAD waiting for someone to get hurt.

That’s the market Smith was signed in.  If this was next year, where the goalie market is much more open, he might not have gotten this much money.  And I fully expect that market to shrink considerably.  No way are that many good goalies going to free agency.  Most will be resigned.

Smith was able to work a deal in this market that was favorable to him, because the Coyotes were low on options.  Unless they brought back Bryz for another stint, they were going to be looking for another Labarbera / Garon dual backup “solution.”

And if you weren’t convinced of the state of goalie market, Nikolai Khabibulin went back to Chicago.  Yeah. Locked. Up. Tight.

That was what the free agent market was this year.  Lots of needs and not a lot of players to fill those slots.  It was a market that was going to be overpaid, but not by gigantic Kovalbucks.  There was talent out there, but not enough to go around.  Most teams had locked up and resigned the more attractive options before UFA day came (Letang, Ellis, Bickell, etc).  When Briere and Lecavalier are the biggest players involved, and everyone knows where they are going before signing day, it’s going to be a strange day.

There was plenty of action.  The Tyler Seguin move was a bit surprising. I look forward to seeing him in the West.  And the Ducks finally trade Bobby Ryan, which I think they will regret.  I like the way the Senators are building.  It isn’t a great team yet, but they are getting better and better all the time.

Some thoughts on the first day of free agency:

- Nathan Horton goes to Columbus and David Clarkson goes to the Leafs, both for similar money. Yet for Columbus it’s a good signing with risk (will Horton stay healthy) versus Toronto overpaying and making a huge error, according to the experts.  Despite similar numbers last season and Clarkson being a more physical and healthier player.  I wonder if the feeling that the Leafs are screwing this up simply comes from their long history of screwing things up.  I get the impression the media just likes that storyline.  Neither is a bad signing.  Too long of terms?  Maybe, but not bad deals.

- I was surprised we didn’t see more seven-year deals, the longest term allowed under the new CBA.  Only two seven-year deals, followed by 5 five-year deals.  Perhaps it’s the lowering of the salary cap, but I would think that would work towards the advantage of the team.  The cap comes down, they have to fit a player under that cap, then keep the deal / average cap hit rolling to maximize value.  Or the market didn’t hold enough players worth seven years.  I’m guessing it’s the latter.

- Jarome Iginla goes to Boston.  Shades of Marian Hossa?  Should we expect Chicago and Boston in the finals again?  I doubt it, but it makes for an interesting parallel.  Six million seems like a lot for a player on the decline and a team that is close enough to the cap ceiling that they can touch it without stretching too hard.  But considering the skill level (and toughness) Iginla started from, that decline could take a long time to effectively manifest itself.  Iginla has to perform for his new team quickly.  The fans wanted him before, were left at the alter at the trade deadline, and were not thrilled about it.  Since we live in the salary cap, Team NHL era, they may forgive quickly if he shows that he was worth the bother.  Otherwise, I hope he brought some ear plugs.  He’s going to hear about it.

- The three sites I have been going to over and over for UFA info have been TSN’s excellent trade tracker, Capgeek.com, and Spector’s Hockey from Lyle Richardson. The trade tracker is great because it’s a simple spreadsheet that’s sortable.  I’ve sung the praises of Capgeek before, and I hope whomever runs that site makes some serious bank.  They deserve it. As for Lyle Richardson, I love his work.  Enough said there.

- The Red Wings have done nothing to reduce their reputation as being the Detroit Old Folks Home.  Daniel Alfredsson leaving Ottawa to sign there only reinforces that perception.  It isn’t a bad move for either one, and while Alfredsson was the franchise player in Ottawa, he didn’t seem too happy with the team in their last round of the playoffs this year, effectively sounding the alarm that he was quitting the series.  When it’s time for you to go, it’s time to go, and for Alfie, it was time to go.  Whether it works out for Detroit is anyone’s guess.  It could be the veteran they need, or it could be another Mats Sundin situation.  Please recall, that didn’t work out.

- Everyone wanted Andrew Ference.  I don’t blame them, he was pivotal in the Bruins run at the Cup. But considering where he went, for that term and that money (4 years / $13mil), less teams were in the running than the fans thought.  He took less money to go to Edmonton than he could have gotten elsewhere, making it a personal decision for him, and that’s great.  Edmonton is finally getting out of the draft-for-everything mode and starting to build a team.  Whether this set of components works out remains to be seen, but at least they are finally trying.

- As for the Colorado Avalanche, I’m fine with what they did in free agency.  Sure, it would have been great to see them land that perfect piece of the puzzle, but I have bad news for everyone looking to solve every problem with free agent signings.  It doesn’t work that way.  If your team solved all it’s issues in free agency this season, they didn’t have that may issues to begin with.  The sins of the past have not been forgotten in Colorado.  Scott Hannan, Greg Zanon, Jan Hejda, shall I go on?  That’s just the free agent defensemen signed that didn’t work out well.  Shane O’Brien? Oh, you want me to stop now?  OK, so those signings didn’t work out, there weren’t many defensemen on the market that would fit in a 1-2 role, and still, fans wanted to see the Avs make a splash?  Instead, the Avs signed a few depth players to stock up the horrid Lake Erie Monsters, which has been an issue for years.  I hope this means they are going to take the minors seriously.  There is still plenty of time for the Avalanche to make trades to shore up the defense, but this is not a problem that will be fixed overnight.  They are doing something, which is more than could have been said before the new regime was put in place.  That’s a good step forward.  There was no splash to be made this year. Perhaps only a slight ripple to be had.  Good enough.

Go Ahead, Poke the Bear

Conventional wisdom usually says that you should let sleeping dogs lie.  Don’t poke the bear, you might make him angry.  Have you noticed that making a bear angry, when it comes to hockey, seems to work out sometimes? 

It can be one thing to be respectful of your opponent.  All the compliments paid, the standard declarations of how good the other team is.  But the Blackhawks are taking a page out of their opponent’s playbook from 2011, and aren’t pumping tires any more.  

Watch Zdeno Chara protect his reputation against the accusations that he is soft.  See Lucic protect his teammate Zdeno Chara.  Look at the Bruins run around playing to the Blackhawks tune in game 5, until they finally realize there is a hockey game at stake in the third period.  

Last night, I said that Chara was playing the Blackhawks game, and it didn’t really hurt him in the end.  But then I look at a number on the scoresheet and I am rethinking this: -2.  I’m not a big proponent of plus / minus.  It’s a flawed system.  You should be able to throw out about half the games accounted for in this stat, the question is which games.  

But three things stand out when I look at this number: 

- He scored the Bruins only goal, so that means he was on ice for all three goals against.

- He wasn’t playing his game, as previously mentioned. 

- Claude Julien changed up the defensive pairings. 

The third point is the one that makes me wonder.  Why do this if you are only down two goals?  What is the issue that would make you do this.  So let’s look at the goals and Chara.

Goal one:

 

 Watch Chara glide around his net.  He’s playing pretty soft for a guy who has been pounding the hell out of the Blackhawks every chance he gets.  Long shift?  Not sure where to go?  At the very least, he watches Patrick Kane glide around the net with almost no pressure.  Perhaps he was focused too much on sparing partner Brian Bickell to play the guy with the puck. 

Goal two:

 

This one I don’t blame Chara so much on as Nathan Horton.  As soon as Horton skates towards the puck carrier, who is half the ice away with defenders on them, it leaves Kane uncovered.  Chara has to focus on the guy with the puck going around the back of the cage, leaving two guys to the far side of the net covering one Blackhawk.  Kane was in a good position to get the puck on his stick and backhand it in, but it was Horton’s choice to go puck chasing that led to Kane standing alone in front of the net. 

Goal Three:

 

You can just see Chara in the first second of the video.  He’s in front of the net, but that was by design.  He lined up as a winger to put a big body in front of the net, so that’s a coaching decision.  He might have been helpful when the puck came outside the blue line, but that wasn’t his side of the ice, so he might not have been as close as the winger, instead waiting for an outlet pass to enter the zone with.  I don’t blame him at all for this one (and I do think it should have been a tripping call to negate the empty net goal).

But watch Chara sparring with Brian Bickell next to the net at the beginning of this video.  This is where Chara lost the war while trying to win the battle.

What isn’t Chara doing?  Engaging in the play.  He isn’t even paying attention to the play.  He’s proving that he won’t be manhandled by Bickell, while taking himself out of the game to do so.  Does this seem like a sound strategy to you?  Is this what you want your top defenseman to do?  It’s one thing to send a message, but this is no way to do so.  Send it quickly and get back to work.  Instead the message delivered was the wrong one. 

Poking the bear works, if you do it right. 

SCF Game 5 Notes

I don’t know if I have enough for a real blog post, so here are some casual observations and thoughts on game five:

- Jonathan Toews or Patrice Bergeron: who would you miss more? While I think it’s mostly a wash, I think the Bruins will miss Bergeron a little more.  They need his speed and skill while everyone else is beating the crap out of the Blackhawks.  There is other talent on the Bruins, but not enough that they won’t miss him.  Toews has been lost on the ice before and Chicago charged on.  Mostly a wash, but I go with the Bruins on this one.

- That said, the Bruins came back hard without him.  I wouldn’t have been surprised to see Boston tie it up.  That there was a missed tripping call that led to the empty net goal by Bolland, which was a little fitting.  The Bruins didn’t’ get any power plays, and aside from a lot of coincidental minors, I didn’t’ see a lot to send the ‘Hawks to the box for.  But that trip should have been called.  If the puck had been played first, then it would have been fine.  See below.

- Chara was basically called softer than LeBron James before this game, and he was out to prove that he wasn’t.  He hit and jabbed and poked and shoved anything wearing a red jersey tonight, and it wasn’t the smartest thing he could have done.  He sent his message in the first period, and he could have gone back to playing his game.  Playing hard isn’t a bad thing.  Good hits aren’t a bad thing.  But someone needed to calm him down at some point, to tell him he made his case and go back to playing defense.  It didn’t hurt him as much as I thought it would.  I thought he was going to take himself out of the play more often than he did.  But he was mad, played like it, and I wasn’t as impressed as I think I was supposed to be.

- Jen, aka @NHLHistoryGirl sent these tweets tonight:

“I don’t get the prejudice towards “bandwagon” fans. Ever think that it’s maybe the gateway fandom?”

“They’re watching hockey and enjoying it. Let’s embrace that.”

“Someftimes, people act like they know more than they do because they’re insecure and want to be accepted. Applies to bandwagon fans too.”

“All I’m asking is treat other fans (no matter how new, or where they come from) with a little respect. To quote @wilw: don’t be a dick.”

I wrote about ‘bandwagon fans five years ago, and I still agree.  Along the way, I have become a bigger hockey fan, lost a little interest in a few parts of the game, and at times been more than a little burned out.  But I’m a hockey fan, and at some point, I was a bandwagon fan as well.  I cheered for the 1996 Stanley Cup without being immersed in the game yet.  I didn’t go to my first NHL game until 2002.

So if you are a ‘bandwagon’ fan, welcome.  I’m happy you are here.  Enjoy the sport and ask questions if you want.  And if someone treats you like crap because they don’t think you are fan enough, tell them to shove it.  Hockey is too awesome to ignore.

Thin Air: Blackhawks Down

Some thoughts after game three:

- Hey, remember when Gregory Campbell was getting favorable treatment because his dad was part of the NHL office?  Good times, good times.  Now he’s a hero.  Perhaps, just perhaps, he is the same player he was then, and those accusations were totally unfounded?  

- Joel Quenneville can’t help being Joel Quenneville.  He has an MO, and it’s really simple: juggle the lines.  He may have a system, he may have strategy, he may have a reason for everything he does.  But he will juggle the lines when things aren’t working.  Last night, with Marion Hossa out, he has no choice but to juggle lines, and it wasn’t working.  Then he juggled again.  And again.  And it still didn’t work.  Let’s be honest: if putting Toews and Kane together generated goals in such a short time when they need them at the end of a game, why wouldn’t you put them together all the time?  Yes, I know, spread the wealth over a 60 minute game, but this is the default ‘we need a goal right now’ line combo, and it isn’t successful right now.  Justin Bourne talked about the way Quenneville used Toews last night, and I agree with just about everything he said.  

But this is a Joel Quenneville team. He changes lines almost as much as John Tortorella blows off the media.  It’s in his nature to change the lines.  He’s going to do it when he feels he has to, and right now, he has to.  Nothing was working for the Blackhawks last night.  If you have a strong system, some line shuffling might help, but it hasn’t yet.  You might avoid a matchup or two, but show me a weak defenseman on the Bruins right now, and I will show you an eye chart. You might be mistaking Oduya for a Bruin. 

- Last night, on twitter, I asked if Johnny Oduya had won a single battle.  I got one response that he was good in game one.  I don’t think he was, but maybe he’s just the new Brett Clark for me – that guy who always seems like he’s in the wrong place when the puck goes in.  Let’s just say that I’m not impressed.

- Watching Jonathan Toews take face-offs, especially from an overhead camera, reminded me of one thing: Rod Brind’Amour and the 2006 Cup finals.  Remember how he was accused of cheating in the face-off circles? He would turn his body into the opposing center to gain a physical advantage, then play the puck.  It’s the same thing Toews is doing.  But it isn’t working out for him.  Toews has a few more tools in his bag than just one face-off move, but still, eerily similar.  I guess it isn’t cheating after all. 

- If Marion Hossa is such a big piece of the puzzle that they can’t lose him for a game or two and be even moderately successful, they have some real issues.  There is enough talent in the Blackhawks’ forward corps that one man should not destroy an entire team, but that’s what it looked like last night.  

- Remember when the Bruins won a Cup with a horrendous power play?  The reason they were so successful without it was they had their bruising five on five game.  With Brian Bickell being dogged my Bruins defenders, the even strength play isn’t getting the opportunities they were, which means the power play is more important than ever.  It should be back to basics for Chicago, because it isn’t that they aren’t fancy enough.  The Bruins are just that good at killing penalties.  

- The Hjalmarsson penalty last night.  Eddie O. and @realjackedwards were right, Hjalmarsson turned the wrong way when defending Daniel Paille.  Always turn to face the play.  But take a look at the play, and watch the other issues. 

<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/I-_X-t5juUA” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>

Horton has the puck and two guys (Keith and Toews, two very good skaters) backchecking and catching up to him.  Hjalmarsson is fronting the play, and has room to go to either side, but with two teammates coming up on Horton, it should be obvious who he should take: Paille.  Paille had a step and speed on Hjalmarsson, and rather than the defender forcing the forward to make a move, Paille forced Hjalmarsson, who chose to turn the wrong way.  Not how you want things to go down.  I’m not even sure Hjalmarsson knew how the play was developing, considering how he was facing at the start of that Bruins breakout. Face the play anytime you can. 

- Hey, rec hockey players, want to make the TV timeouts go by faster? Work on your stick handling.  Grab a golfball and a stick and spend the next 1:45 doing stick handling exercises.  If you’ve been watching the playoffs for any amount of time, you aren’t missing any new commercials. Trust me.  You know, I like you. I like you to. That’s great. That is great. THANK YOU! HAHAHA!!!!

Tim Thomas Knows A Snub When He Dishes One

Oh Timmy. Timmy, Timmy, Timmy.

I’ve expressed my love for Tim Thomas in the past.  Any goalie who is willing to check a player to the ice rather than make a conventional save is aces in my book.  Just look at this check he laid on Jason Blake.  I like Thomas’ attitude in the game.  Which I thought this photo summed up perfectly:

NewImage

Well, all good things come to an end, don’t they?

Today, the Boston Bruins were at the White House to be honored by President Barack Obama.  Better late than never, I guess.  At least, most of the Boston Bruins were at the White House.  One conspicuous absentee was American born goaltender Tim Thomas.

When it was announced that Tim Thomas was playing for Team USA at the Winter Olympics in 2010, Thomas was interviewed on the ice at the Winter Classic.  He was given a United States flag that flew in a combat mission in Iraq with the US Rangers, and told that every player would be adopted by a Wounded Warrior.  Darren Pang said that it must mean a lot to him.  Thomas responded:

“Yeah, it does. I mean, I’m American to the bone.”

Yep, American to the bone.  But doesn’t go to the White House.  Because of politics.  What’s more American than snubbing the President over politics?

When Thomas accepted the honor (and he was the one who pointed out over and over that he this was a dream come true for him), he didn’t mention that he would only be honored to play for the part of America he agreed with.  He didn’t say he was only playing for the red states or the blue states of America.  He was playing for the United States.  Did he let his politics get in the way when his opportunity came along?  Did he say that he didn’t care for our nation’s leadership and therefore couldn’t represent our country in the Olympics?  No, he didn’t.  He honored America by showing up and doing his job.

The issue here isn’t that Thomas wanted to express himself by not showing up to the White House, it’s that he did it in a stupid way.  He did it with a short-sited action that hurt his teammates, and upset plenty of fans of hockey.  And the only impact he made was on the world of hockey.  The people who agree with him will still be his fans, the people who don’t might not like him as much, and people who don’t like the Bruins will continue to not like them.

It should go without saying that Thomas has every right to do what he did.  That we have to qualify his rights says how ridiculous the rhetoric has gotten.  He wasn’t required by the team to be there, and it’s a credit to GM Peter Chiarelli that he didn’t make the appearance at the capitol mandatory.  He didn’t make it mandatory even though he knew Thomas didn’t want to go.  Of course he has the right to express himself, even if it is in a stupid way that winds up backfiring.

At the game, we all shut up for the national anthem, whether we think it should be played before sporting events or not.  When a soldier is singled out to be honored at a game, you applaud them, whether you agree with the war they fought in or not.  You pay your bills, even if you think they are too high.  You drive with car insurance.  You do the right thing, because that is the society that we collectively chose to live in.

And you show up at the White House when your team is asked, because it is an honor to be invited.  Whether you like the President or not.  You do the right thing.  Because doing the right thing is supposed to be American as well.

So how do I feel about Thomas?  Disappointed.  It could be pointed out that he has always been a conservative, and an active one at that.  But being conservative or liberal doesn’t give me a reason to like or dislike you.  Members of my own family are politically 180 degrees from me, and I still love them.  It’s how you act that matters.  And this was an act that I don’t respect.

_________________________

After I wrote this, NHL.com posted this statement from Thomas:

“I believe the Federal government has grown out of control, threatening the Rights, Liberties, and Property of the People.

This is being done at the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial level. This is in direct opposition to the Constitution and the Founding Fathers vision for the Federal government.

Because I believe this, today I exercised my right as a Free Citizen, and did not visit the White House. This was not about politics or party, as in my opinion both parties are responsible for the situation we are in as a country. This was about a choice I had to make as an INDIVIDUAL.

This is the only public statement I will be making on this topic. TT”

I think it’s fine he feels this way, but he is either in denial or naive if he feels this isn’t about politics.  His beliefs he acted on were political. But it isn’t his job to think, it’s his job to stop the puck.  Maybe he will start thinking later.  And somehow, I doubt this is the last public statement he will make about this.  Wait and see.

Update: I like Jason Cohen’s take on Thomas calling this a statement “not about politics or party” :

[blackbirdpie url="https://twitter.com/jason___cohen/status/161601587859570689"]

My apologies if my grammar wasn’t perfect in this update. :)

The CBC Is Not Impressed With Thomas

Oh, CBC.  How cute you are:

Less Then Perfect

Less than perfect?  Sure, that is certainly the case, with any goalie.  Goalies let in pucks, they get scored on.  Tim Thomas only set a record for regular season save percentage.  I mean, that’s it?  He didn’t stop a speeding train?

If you read the article on the CBC site, there is no mention of what “less-than-perfect” means to them.  It’s a fluff piece mostly, and a poorly written one at that.  Considering the headline, I was expecting some reason, or some kind of slam to Thomas’ season, anything that would tell us why the CBC went with this headline.  It suggests that there is someone more deserving, someone more perfect that would be right for the award.  Which part was “less-than-perfect?”

I leave it to you.  Was this a childish retort, or am I reading too much into it?

 

Game 7: Over and Out

My feelings about game 7 are a little bit tempered by the rioting that went on in Vancouver.  I will put up a separate post about that later.  For now, my thoughts are with my friends in Vancouver, like @ryanclassic, @alixiswright, and @alanah1.  I feel bad that they can’t celebrate a Cup win, and that they have to endure the aftermath on the streets.

___________________________

[blackbirdpie url="https://twitter.com/#!/Tapeleg/status/76069193568624640"]

I tweeted that June 1st.  Hey, they don’t call it blind faith for nothing.  And that’s all I really had, faith.  It wasn’t knowledge, it wasn’t expertise, it was faith in the face of the evidence against, and defiance.  I knew the Canucks could win it, but I never believed the Bruins would lose it.

I’ve told this story before, but I’ll do it again, because it fits.  I was in Boston a little over a year ago, during the Olympics and regular season, and the talk of Bruins fans kept to leaning toward how the Bs had made a huge mistake signing Tim Thomas for as long as they had.  The consensus seemed to be that he was washed up, and the contract was a huge burden.  I told those fans to wait.  I told them you didn’t go from being a Vezina winner to washed up in one year.  Something was wrong, and it was obvious.  Thomas had hip surgery in the offseason, and came back.  A career year, and no real end in sight.

Smilling Tim Thomas

I was a sort of bandwagon fan for the Bruins throughout the playoffs.  I’d been looking for an Eastern Conference team for a long time, and kept coming back to the Bruins.  I tried to make it the Capitals, but that never really fit.  I spent eight months in Boston during the lockout, and learned to love that city (I really like Vancouver, but for all it’s beauty, it loves to take all my money).  Since the Avalanche never had a remote shot at the playoffs (when you hear fans bragging about having the second overall draft pick…), I was free to pick and choose who I wanted to win each round.   I have my own biases (as does every fan of the game), so there were a few teams that would never make it into my favorites, most notably Detroit and Vancouver.  My choices round-by-round were:

Round 1
Bruins
Capitals
Tampa Bay
Buffalo

Chicago
Nashville
Phoenix
San Jose

Round 2
Bruins
Tampa Bay

San Jose
Nashville

Round 3
Bruins
San Jose

Finals
Bruins

In the end, the thing I really wanted to see was Tim Thomas raise the Cup.  If there was a guy in the playoffs who deserved it most, it was Thomas.  While Roberto Luongo won a game or two for his team, he also was the reason they lost at times.  Thomas never lost a game for his team.  You could argue the wrap around goal scored on him eleven seconds into overtime in game two was his fault, as he was way out of position, but there were several things that went wrong on that play.  And in their losses, Thomas deserved more than he got from his teammates.  He got it in games six and seven.

Thomas was the clear Conn Smythe winner even before game seven.  I remember being at game seven in 2003 as the New Jersey Devils beat the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim to win the Stanley Cup – which was where I learned to dislike the Devils – and watching losing goalie JS Giguere collect the Conn Smythe.  You could see how sad he was as he took his shinny trophy back to the room where his teammates sat in defeat.  It’s a great honor, but nothing like the trophy your entire team worked so hard for.  It affected Giguere and his game the next season.  He was a goalie that has always brought his emotions to the game, both positive and negative.  I didn’t want to see the same thing happen to Thomas.  Thomas always seems like calm and collected guy, until you piss him off.  I have been a huge fan of Thomas for a while, and want to see his continued success.  And even though it will never happen, he sure would look good in an Avalanche jersey. :)

Quick hits:

- Roberto Luongo is going to get blamed and called a choker.  He will, again, be called overrated.  Luongo was a great goalie through most of the playoffs.  He has a few bad games every so often, but he always springs back.  That he got scored on three times in the final game doesn’t make him a choker, it makes him human.  He has his faults, not the least of which is hubris, but he is still a good goalie.  If it weren’t for him, the Canucks would never have gotten as far as they did.  He won them games, and he lost them games.  But he won them a lot more than he lost.

- I took in the game last night at SoBo 151, Denver’s Czech hockey bar, and had a blast.  Wearing my Bruins colored Johnstown Cheifs jersey brought a few fans over to talk hockey and hang out.  Brian Engblom was there, fans of both teams were represented, and the mood was generally jovial.  The Canucks fan next to me was tense for most of the game, but wound up chatting more as the game wore down.  When the Canucks raised their sticks to the fans, the crowd, including the Bruins fans, applauded the team.  I shook a few hands and offered condolences to the Canucks fans in attendance.  The only indication of any animosity was the bottom line on the NBC broadcast, saying that rioting had started in Vancouver.  It’s what hockey should be like.

- Good for Coach Vigneault pulling Luongo near the end down by three goals.  Even if it looked like the game was over, he didn’t give up.  You have to give him credit for that.

- The handshake that happened on the ice was great, and is a wonderful tradition in hockey.  But the handshake on social media sites like twitter was just a good.  Fans that had been thrust together on opposite sides of the game were patting each other on the backs, congratulating and sympathizing, burying hatchets, and generally getting along for the first time in two weeks.

- The Canucks oscillated between looking beaten and being on the verge of taking over the game.  There were several times the Bruins let them back into the game, and they made some good plays along the way.  What took the Canucks back out of the game, over and over?  I really don’t know.

At the end of the season, it’s almost like there should be poetry.  Maybe I’ll try a crack at that tomorrow.  For the moment, wow, what a season.  October can’t come soon enough.

I am still collecting my thoughts on the rioting.  I’ll probably post about it later.

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The Stanley Cup Dead Blog Challenge rolls on for some of us, while others have completed the first part that they committed to.  To those who made it to June 15th, congratulations. You should be proud of your work, and hopefully will continue to write, if not post, daily.  You have a good block of work that you can build on, and keeping with it is the best thing you can do for your writing and your blog.  Thanks for coming along for the ride.

Me, and several others, are continuing on until at least July 1st.

Up Here

On this flight, there is no sign of the tension below. Thousands of feet above the world, the only sports represented here are the University of Wyoming wrestling team, and my lacrosse jersey. You wouldn’t know that the greatest trophy in sports was going to be handed out tonight. I’m on an Air Canada flight to America. How fitting. But here, there is nothing.

There was always this promise of air travel, that it would take you from your life at home, and transport you somewhere else, away from your troubles and concerns. I’ve taken a lot of flights over the last decade and more, to places across the United States and Canada. The travel, it was a function, and most of it was fun. Now, it’s a burden. But today, it feels serene. It feels different.

I don’t fly as often as a hockey player must. Every away game means at least one flight. I used to fly at least every other week. I remember a few years ago walking up to the Au Bon Pain in the Atlanta airport, and finding the familiarity comforting. That’s a sign, isn’t it?

But here, on this flight, the tension is washed away. I can watch Johnny Depp play a ridiculous lizard on a small screen in the seat back in front of me. I can type away at my little tablet, and listen to the radio. And game seven? It doesn’t exist. For a moment, I had forgotten that it was even going to be played.

Tonight, after the Cup is handed out, as one set of fans become insufferable for one reason, and the other set of fans become insufferable for another, we will go on. Lebron James was kind enough to remind us that after the games, we common folk will still have our personal problems, and we can go back to our small lives. Which I think we will all be a little better off for.

I’m leaving behind, in Toronto, a temporary home. I never got the feeling I had the last time I was there. I never felt like I could make room in my life for that city. Much has changed there, and the direction it’s gone, either positive or negative, is arguable. It’s a matter of taste. As great as parts of the city are, there are parts I can do without. Every city is like that, but Toronto wore both on it’s sleeve this time.

I’m happy to be watching the game in Denver tonight. I talked about the new Canucks jerseys you saw everywhere in Toronto. It’s a different kind of bandwagon fan in Canada right now. I hate the term bandwagon, but I’m struggling to come up with a different term. The fans who just want to see Vancouver win to see the Cup in Canada. And really, am I any different, hoping for a Bruins win? I have more invested in being against Vancouver, but I’ve liked the Bruins for a while now, and Tim Thomas is…. well, he’s Tim Thomas.

Up here, 35,000 feet above Colorado, it doesn’t feel like game seven. It doesn’t register that fans – and friends – in distant places don’t like each other because of things they are wildly out of their control. Up here, you wouldn’t even know that the hopes and dreams of the players, things they have worked for their entire lives, will be summed up in one game, only a few hours long, and only a few hours away.

I can’t wait until we touch down.

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I wrote this post on my flight to Denver, and edited and posted it from Denver International Airport.

Game 6: Can I Get a Hey Now

My plans for the night were initially to watch game six with an aquaintance here in Toronto.  I wasn’t looking forward to watching the game in Canada, as I figured it would be fraught with the classic signs of the Canucks fans already tasting silver: the call of the Lou for every save made, complaining that the refs were against the Canucks (which is a suckers argument), and hockey entitlement like you wouldn’t believe.  I put the call out to twitter, asking where I should watch the game, and was invited out by Thomas Drance.  He warned me that he was a major Canucks homer, and he was right.  But it was I cheering him up later on, as the game turned against the Canucks.  Still, I had a great time, and would hang out with him again.  Thanks, Tom!

NOTES FROM THE GAME:

- The media kept asking the players before the game what it was like to have the Cup in the building.  And all of the players blew it off, saying it didn’t matter.  Still, the media pressed.  And you have to wonder, what are they looking for?  I’m guessing a better story than the one they have.  It’s more exciting to write about the players having the jitters.  The classic storyline of the childhood dream of winning it all in game seven will be the next one pressed on the players.  But if they aren’t buying what the media is selling, then quit trying to force an answer out of them.  I’m convinced that half of the reason for some of the jerky quotes is just to give the media something so they will leave the players alone.

-Yesterday, I said this:

I thought about what I would do in the situation the refs are in, and concluded that I would put the first pair of over-actors in the box for two each, and warn the benches that there will be no tolerance for diving or post-whistle antics.

And I didn’t see the refs go to the benches, but this happened:

Penalty

After this, I saw one fake head-snap.  The diving went down, the douche factor went down, and the play was clean enough.  I didn’t really think Henrik Sedin warranted a diving penalty, but the message was sent.

- Yes, I said the douche factor went down.  But man, Johnny Boychuk, what were you thinking?  I don’t for a moment think that Boychuck meant to injure Mason Raymond, and the check he finished (which he didn’t have to finish, nor make in the first place) didn’t look that hard.  Still, that is no excuse for taking a guy into the boards in an awkward position, and putting more into the check than the simple collision.  That’s how it looked to me, that he shoved harder than he needed to, and Raymond was in a vulnerable position.  It happened fast, and there wasn’t much Raymond could do, after being taken off balance by Boychuk putting his stick between Raymond’s legs and spinning him around.  The fault on this one, even though the outcome didn’t seem like it would be as bad as it is (compression fracture in a vertebrae), is completely on Johnny Boychuk.  The speed of the game, the hitting, all of it adds to the risk of these kinds of injuries.  But Boychuk should be more responsible.

- The Bruins fans were taken to task for chanting at Raymond that he was faking his injury.

[blackbirdpie url="http://twitter.com/bruce_arthur/status/80617394623619072"]

Considering the way the rest of this series played out, and that the play itself didn’t look terribly destructive, I don’t think this was maliciously taunting a player with an obvious injury.  And when you think about how most people watch hockey, they were probably focusing on the puck, which wasn’t near the hit.  Many of the people at the Garden didn’t even see the hit happen in real time.  I doubt it’s anything more than unfortunate circumstances combined with the poor taste of a few.

- What a drop pass by Peverly on the Lucic goal.  It surprised me was how fast it happened.  I don’t think I was the only one.

- Ference scores a goal? Ference?  If that doesn’t tell you the Canucks were snakebitten tonight, nothing does.

- Cory Schneider didn’t have a chance on the goal scored against him in the first.  I’m not sure anyone was going to pick up Ryder in front of the net.  There was nothing Schneider could do on the deflection, though he probably would have stopped the shot if it hadn’t been tipped..

- Hanson celebrating before the whistle was bad enough.  But the puck went past him on the rebound.  That has to be embarrassing for him.  This is why you play to the whistle.

- Everyone got their free penalties tonight.  Neither team got all the calls they probably could have gotten, or even deserved.  They both got their chances, and the calls that were made were valid.

- I didn’t know that Patrick Roy has the best save percentage of a finals series.  Thanks, TSN.  Tim Thomas, third.  The things you get from the broadcast networks when they treat hockey fans as though they understand what’s going on.

- Alain Vigneault has the easiest decision with who to start in goal for game seven, even though that decision could hang him out to dry.  You have to go with Luongo, in my opinion.  He is the guy who got you to this place, on both sides of the coin.  He has lost games for you (and no one else has contributed to those losses as much as he), and he has won games for you.  This isn’t a coin flip.  This is what you do.  Schneider looked great in goal in this series when he has come in, but it isn’t his net right now.

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Game 7.  I can’t tell you how excited I am for this.  I fly home in the morning on Wednesday, unless there are more problems with Air Canada than just a simple strike, and then plan on watching the game at SoBo 151.  See you there.

Why Milbury Has A Job

Last night, I got home from work and turned on the Tony Awards. Yes, that’s right. I rarely watch the Tonys, but there was no hockey on, basketball holds no interest for me, and I am a theater person. It also helped that Neil Patrick Harris was hosting, and Sutton Foster was nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical (and won!). I was privileged to tour with her 11 years ago, and she is an incredible person. You can find all the Tony award winners here.

But this is a hockey blog, and a deal is a deal. One a day. Here is what I was thinking about.

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Larry Brooks almost completely nails it in his write-up of Mike Milbury’s taunts towards Daniel and Henrik Sedin. Almost 100%.

Listen, we’ve all heard this sad song before from Mike Milbury, the ugly American who apparently thinks it is insightful hockey commentary to mock the manhood and masculinity of Henrik and Daniel Sedin.

Of course, Milbury was once coached by Don Cherry, the jingoistic Canadian who has spent decades polluting the air by defaming athletes whose first language is something other than English.

Dead on. It’s the Milbury way, and it has it’s roots in what Don Cherry spews every week on the CBC. Remember he works for NESN, the network Bruins games are broadcast on in Boston. He knows who his audience usually is, and who cuts the checks. He was just doing what he always does, playing to the usual audience.

This is the part that Brooks gets wrong:

So the question is, what on earth is wrong with the North American television network executives who make the decisions to hire these people to spew their ignorance?

Brooks should know where it comes from, and he probably does. It comes from the audience, and it comes from the ratings.

Think back to the regular season, and the intermission reports on NBC. On one side of the table, Mike Milbury. On the other side, America’s other hockey talking head, Pierre McGuire. And the excitement of the day was seeing what one person – usually Milbury – was going to call the other. There wasn’t much analysis that you couldn’t get elsewhere, but it was a grudge match. Two people who deserved the barbs and anger they leveled at each other.

Audiences couldn’t wait. They were practically in ecstasy when the first intermission rolled around. After the back and forth dullness of a Versus intermission, NBC was showing flair and guts by putting on this spectacle. NBC knew exactly what they were doing. They were hiring two people who didn’t mind slinging a little mud while tossing in a little hockey.

Like I said, you could get the same kind of analysis online, from a number of sources. If you’re reading my little blog, you probably already find it on other blogs. What you don’t get is the theatrics. It’s the theatrics that people would tune in for, and it’s the theatrics that people want. They want to see the blowhard talk to the jerk, and on a weekly basis, you got exactly that. Read a blog, listen to a podcast, and you will get many different angles on the topic, many of them more considered, more informed, and more interesting that the few minutes you would get from an NBC intermission report.

But it might not be as titillating. It might not have the drama. And NBC, or any sports broadcasting network, wants you to have a reason to stick around for the few minutes of content they are going to show you between commercials at the breaks. If titillation and drama do the job, hire two guys who kick each other in the groin. It works for America’s Funniest Home Videos, and it will work between periods of an NHL game.

Present that argument to Larry Brooks, and I bet he would agree. People tune in to the Brooks / Tortorella show for the exact same reason.

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For those of you doing the Dead Blog Challenge, a quick note: The important part of the challenge isn’t that you write your best stuff ever. It’s that you write, and that you post. Take pride in the fact that you are posting. That’s something worth crowing about. You guys inspire me to keep going. Thanks.