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

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!!!!

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.

Thin Air Sunday: Where’s Hejda?

Some Sunday morning hockey thoughts - 

- I got home from work last night in time to see the Colorado Avalanche melt down in the third period, to the fans in Edmonton’s delight.  The worst, for me, came from Jan Hejda on the Oilers game winning goal.  I would embed the video of it here form NHL.com, but I can’t find the embed code. Help here?

(stick tap to Jay Vean of The Avs Hockey Podcast for the embed location)

 

Oilers break out and it’s 3 on 3.  Ryan Smyth has the puck.  You know, old, slow, tired Ryan Smyth.  The one everyone seems to be beating up for having the audacity to age.  That guy.  And Jan Hejda has Smyth.  You know, free agent acquisition with three more years on his contract (including this one) Jan Hejda.  And as Smyth centers the puck, Hejda chases said puck.  That puts two guys on Eric Belanger in the center and no one on Smyth.  Belanger taps the puck back to Smyth, who puts it across the front of the crease to Magnus Paajarvi who taps it in.  Tap, tap, tap.  If Hejda had stayed on his man, the pass from Belanger to Smyth would never have been an option.  

It highlight’s an issue the Avalanche defense seem to have.  They have no chemistry, they have no trust, and they don’t know where each other are going to be.  When you watch Eric Johnson, who sometimes outthinks his own feet, he has a keen eye for the play.  He directs traffic well, he knows where he should be and where his teammates should be.  But he is out with an injury, and the rest of the Avalanche D needs that direction.  They don’t know where to go.  And it’s painful to watch.

- Homer announcers are one thing.  But right now, the corporate line from the Avalanche is way beyond homerism.  The message is that things are not the team’s fault, that it’s bad bounces and bad luck that lose the games for them.  Over the course of a game, or a period, that may be true.  Luck and bounces can factor in, but when you have control of a game, or a period, or even a shift, you have the opportunity to make or change your own luck.  You can move forward.  If the message is to be believed, the Oilers last night skated the puck so well, it wasn’t the Avalanche’s fault they lost, were out played in the third period, and gave up five straight goals (the last one being an empty netter).  The only one to actually call the Avs out so far has been studio analyst Mark Rycroft.  A former (and more recent than color commentator Peter McNab) player, Rycroft knows what he is talking about, and doesn’t mind saying what the thinks, which is a rarity in today’s controlled media world.  (with apologies to radio announcer Marc Moser, who I don’t hear often enough, so I can’t speak for his performance in this respect)

I think I may have more to say about this later.  But the fans aren’t fooled.  We know a bad team when we see one. 

- No coach firings yet.  Huh.  

- This was the first time I’ve had any time away from work for Hockey Day in America.  I didn’t do anything hockey related, unless you consider last night’s cringe-inducing third period of the Avs game.  Why?  Because I’m busy, damn it.  I had things to do.  I also didn’t know of anything going on in my neck of the woods.  And while this may not be Avalanche country as much as it used to be, we still have a ton of hockey, like Denver University, Colorado College, the Denver Cutthroats and Air Force, not to mention the USA Hockey headquarters in Colorado Springs, and plenty of great rinks all over the state.  Does it say how ignorable hockey can be when a hockey fan doesn’t know what’s going on in his neck of the woods?  

- I haven’t heard much about the Dallas Stars lately.  Other than Jagr and Kari Lehtonen, where’s the stories?  What is going on in Texas?

- We are only 15 games into the short season, but there is only one southern conference team in a playoff position, with Tampa knocking on the door.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.  

- 33: Difference between the goal differentials of Chicago and Columbus.  15: Points difference between Chicago and Columbus.  6: Number of teams in the Western Conference with a positive goal differential (as of Sunday morning).  Where are those goals going? Chicago.  

- I read somewhere that New York Islanders head coach Jack Capuano could be on the hot seat if the team doesn’t turn things around.  For the life of me, I can’t figure out why.  When you acquire a goalie exclusively for a free cap hit to get to the salary cap floor, rather than actually spending that cap money on an actual player that could help your team, where does winning factor into the plan?  The Islanders are in a holding pattern that makes the Phoenix Coyotes search for ownership look like a blitzkrieg.  They are just waiting to move to Brooklyn, and then we will see if anything happens.  And if reports that Charles Wang is looking to sell the team are correct, they can expect to hold for a while longer.  

Thin Air: Panic in Panictown

Thin Air is just a collection of hockey thoughts. Short, to the point, and out there. Comments are open for discussion.

- The Colorado Avalanche are terrible right now, losing to San Jose, Edmonton and Vancouver with a combined total of one goal for and eleven goals against. The penalty kill is awful, the power play is ineffective, and their five on five play is a wreck. I don’t think this is a team that has any chemistry, and it’s a top down problem. I hate to agree with Adrian Dater, but in a blog post that was as populist as pro-air rally, he is correct that the shiny happy attitude of the organization is not helping matters. The team is burying it’s head in the sand, and keeps it’s one sterling example of hope locked away in a closet: Joe Sakic. They are more interested in presenting a good corporate image than actually being honest with the fans.

If the Avalanche were to say that they have been in a rebuilding mode, it would probably have the opposite effect from the mass exodus of fans that has been happening in recent years. It would give the fans hope that something was going to happen. It would tell the fans that there is a reason to stick around. The head-buried-in-the-sand approach has been played out. The same message over and over, year after year – that these hard working boys are victims of circumstance – only reveals itself to be less true as those words are presented every game, much like the in arena presentation that hasn’t changed since Jose Theodore stole back his starting goalie position. Folks, that’s been a while. If there was a single phrase that Avalanche fans are tired of, it has to be “good hard work down low,” the Peter McNab-ism that finds its way into every broadcast. Spare me. Hard work isn’t everything. You have to point that work in the right direction, in the right way. And the fans see that it isn’t happening.

- You may notice that I linked to Dater’s blog post. It feel a little dirty. I don’t think I should have to link to a site that routinely leaves out source links and plays games with attribution. But you have to do the right thing, even if the big boys don’t. Give credit and links. It only makes the internet better.

- At what point, in a 48 game season, do you push the panic button? Where is the line? We are only 6-8 games into the season, and it feels like there should already be coaches fired, players traded, and Brian Burke denying anything and everything (kind of miss that, to be honest). If you fail in a 48 game season, does it matter? It certainly matters if you succeed. Just ask the New Jersey Devils. Their Cup win in 1995 was the start of something big for them. What kind of sacrifices do you make in a season that almost halves your gate revenue potential?

- O’Reilly: Trade him or sign him. This is tantamount to when the Avs started the season without a Captain. It’s more important to the fans that he is there, especially as the Avs continue to lose games. The quiet determination of management to be in absolute control, to make offers that aren’t negotiable, and to treat the salary cap era as though it were the pre-NHLPA, pre-Alan Eagleson era is ridiculous. Times are changing, so change with the times, you can’t move forward if you’re looking behind. ( < ---- Possibly misquoted Warlock Pinchers lyric)

- If you read the name Alan Eagleson, and you don’t know who that is, look him up. It’s fascinating.

- In fact, if you want to see the how the current NHL business model and it’s silly dealing with money (which seems to be a drug that turns the league into a bunch of meth addicts) haven’t changed much over the years, I recommend reading Road Games by Roy MacGregor and Game Misconduct: Alan Eagleson and the Corruption of Hockey by Russ Conway. These are interesting reads in light of the recent lockout, and the disfunction of the NHL and NHLPA that led to it. All of this has happened before, and it will all happen again (correctly quoted Battlestar Galactica reference).

- So the Blackhawks finally lost a game. In the ultimate game-of-inches allegory, Patrick Sharp hit the crossbar as the last shooter in the shootout, which could have kept their hope alive for perfection. An inch or two lower, that’s all it would have taken. That said, perfection in hockey, and in life, is overrated. It leads to disappointment when it inevitably falls short. So the Blackhawks are human. Imagine that. Now they can go back to being hockey players.

- Don’t get me wrong. Winning hockey games is awesome. I love winning hockey games as much as the next person. But if a major winning streak is so important, tell me who, since the Canadiens of yore, has that made a major difference to in the regular season? If the last Stanley Cup winner was an eight seed in the West, anything can happen.

- Have you been to an NHL game this season? How did you feel about it? Did you feel like you got your money’s worth? Comments are open.

- The Avalanche broadcast team was talking about how the media was all over Alain Vigneault about whether or not Roberto Luongo was his number one goalie or not. AV was not going to say yes or no, and he is right to do so. The media wants a nice tidy story, but a nice tidy story isn’t going to win you hockey games. Every other coach in the league gets to pick his starters based on what wins hockey games, or potentially wins them. Not AV. Not that I have any real sympathy for his position. It might even be his fault that Luongo wants to leave the Canucks, but that isn’t the point. That he has to manage a team, and the expectations of the media can’t make things any easier. It’s time for the media to drop it. If he isn’t biting, they should stop fishing.

- Nail Yakupov is getting way too much scrutiny for having a personality and showing it. It doesn’t fit into the strict narratives the media and fans expect from their hockey players. Not only is Yakupov expected to fit the mold of the quiet humble hockey player, he is also breaking the stereotype of the cold Russian enigma. It’s asinine to expect every player to behave the way we want them to. It’s leading to a more dull NHL, and the last thing an over-coached, over-priced sport that’s trying to make itself less violent needs is spiral even further down the drain pipe of boring rhetoric. Players with personalities can save this league more than another lockout. You can’t make the fans care about a beige wall.

- Kari Lehtonen: who knew?

Thin Air: Sunday Morning Hockey Thoughts

Some hockey thoughts for you on a Sunday morning:

- I don’t think I need to watch NHL Tonight with the sound on.  The highlights from the previous seasons on the NHL Network were simple: use the local broadcaster audio, and roll the tape back a bit more than your average ESPN highlight.  The best part was that we got not only the goal, but also what led to the goal, something hockey fans want to see.

Instead, we get short clips that the talking heads don’t have enough time to banter over, which they have to yell to be heard over the squealing guitars that every sports highlight producer seems to think enhance the sports highlight watching experience.  All in an effort to quickly get back to the talking heads.  And the talking heads are doing a decent job when they aren’t trying to get a word in over a highlight, but I don’t tune in for them.  I’m here for the hockey.

Were I able to take a screen shot of my TV, I would show you what GameCenter Live looks like on my Apple TV.  I get the games, but I also get about five minutes of game recap for every game.  Perfect for someone who isn’t making a living off being a hockey person, and has a job to attend to.  Local broadcasters, more than just the goals, and a little extra time to digest the action.  What more could I want?  So NHL Network, take it down a notch.  Until then, I’ll keep the mute on.

- Cam Fowler: I can’t decide if he is any good.  Opinions?

- The Brad Stuart hit on Gabriel Landeskog.  I didn’t like it.  His elbow came up to the head and he wound up leaving his feet.  Give Stuart a game or two and call it done.

- The Blackhawks are scary good.  Their creativity shines though night after night.  And to think Joel Quenneville was on the hot seat a week ago, whispers of a possible firing if the Blackhawks didn’t produce.  Are they ever producing.  This is what you get when good players are allowed to do what they do best in the offensive zone.  OK, the Blue Jackets goal waved off in their 3-2 defeat by the Blackhawks was a load of crap, but it was the creativity when Chicago skated to the net that made the real difference.  They have a lot of tools, and show no fear in using them.

- Alex Ovechkin has made a lot of threats.  He might stay in Russia, he will go to the Olympics no matter what the NHL decides it’s participation is going to be.  How about becoming a scoring threat again?  No goals and one assist on the season, his steady decline is remarkable.  You can’t blame three coaches in a row for this, it’s all on him.  There is no reason he should be this far behind at this point.  He played in Russia during the lockout, so his legs should be ready for this season.  I wonder what is holding him back.

- PK Subban and Ryan O’Reilly: sign a contract already.  Your stock is going down quickly.  How much more time are you going to miss out there?  I ask them directly because, of course, they read this blog. 

- Rec League hockey is going well, when I can get there.  I’ve missed a few games lately, thanks to work.  I hate missing games so much, it makes me see paisley.  That’s pretty mad.  I have one goal, one assist, and one penalty on the season, which is more points than Alex Ovechkin.  Just saying. 

Two Sets of Eyes, Not Four

I keep hearing about how four sets of eyes missed the Torres check last night, but this is a misstatement.  Two sets of eyes missed the play, and two had no influence on it.  Like it or not, the job of the linesman is to call the lines, not penalties like this.

Coming out of the lockout, the director of officiating at the time, Stephen Walkom, and the league told the linesmen to stick to calling the lines, and a few other penalties, like too many men on the ice.  They can stop the play for a premature substitution (like a skater getting on the ice before the goalie is off the ice), or consult on the delay of game puck over the glass, but other than that, they don’t have a voice on these penalties.

Part of this is because of the increased speed of the game.  You have to get the lines right, or else you have situations like the Briere goal in game one of the Penguins – Flyers game.  And yes, they don’t always get it right, but they are not being pulled away from the lines by other things that the refs are supposed to be covering.  To err is human, but to be doing someone else’s job is unprofessional.  The linesmen have their job, so they do it.

You may not like it, and I understand that.  I mostly of like it, but in situations like this, some consultation would be helpful.  The linesman next to the Torres hit saw it, and was protecting himself from getting blown into (although he doesn’t seem to be looking right at the hit, like the snapshot from the video above shows).  It would have been good if he could have gotten the ref to call the penalty.  I’m sure they discussed what had happened while Hossa was being attended to.

But a ref can’t call a penalty that they didn’t see with their own two eyes.  They can’t have someone else’s judgement be their influencing factor on this stuff.  So the questions are, where were the refs?  Were they in the right position?  Were they too far away from the play?  The speed of playoff hockey and the way turnovers in the neutral zone have been happening and transitioning may have pushed the refs further back into the ends of the rink than they want to – or should – be.  So where were they?  If I could zoom an image of the rink out to see where they were, I would be able to say if they had the best shot at making the right call.

But just so you know, don’t blame the linesmen.  They have their duties.  The league asked them to stick to those duties.  They are doing their job.  As for the other two guys, it’s hard to say.  They certainly missed this one.

 

Free Agency Afternoon Thoughts

Just some general thoughts on day one of free agency:

Florida Panthers – Dale Talon has a lot of people scratching their heads today, but I’m not one of them.  Talon knows how to build a team, and the team he’s building looks a lot like the 2010 Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks.  They don’t have the younger draftees, and they don’t seem to have a rookie goalie in the wings to scoop the team up, but he looks like he could be a few years away from just that.  I don’t doubt the man, so long as he stays comforably away from the upper limit of the salary cap.  And considering he is in Florida, that shouldn’t be an issue.  Jose Theodore is the new Christibol Huet, Scotty Upshall is the new Dustin Byfuglien, and Brian Campbell is still Brian Campbell.  I don’t know where Jovanovski fits in yet.  The big difference here is that Florida got better.  That’s been a long time coming.

Vokoun – I don’t think we will hear much from Vokoun until later, but his options are waining.  It’s been suggested that the Panthers should have given him one more year, but I couldn’t imagine how that would help Vokoun.  His market value is as high as it’s going to get, even as his options for locations are shrinking.

Jagr – AH HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!! But seriously, it’s probably Jagr’s last year in the NHL ever.  He needed to follow the money.  Heart has never been his strongest suit, but it was kind of a dick move for Ray Shero to try and tug at those heartstrings.  Manipulative? Maybe.  But Jagr made them pay.  Hockey hate in Pittsburgh is going to be at an all time high.

Christian Ehrhoff – What a joke of a contract.  Two signing bonuses? A signing bonus 4 times the amount of the salary for the year it’s handed out? Just a freaking joke.  Contracts like this give the owners more ammo for the next CBA.  This is the bastard child contract of Brian Campbell and Ilya Kovalchuk.

Colorado Avalanche – I’ll do more on the Avalanche later, but for now, the best I can say is that they got better.  They worked towards filling holes on the club with the available market.  I’ll go deeper later.

Carcillo to the Blackhawks – AH HAHAHAHAAH!!!!! Oh, how the Canucks are going to hate the Hawks twice as much next year.

Erik Cole – I would have liked to have seen him in an Avs jersey.  He’s quietly good, the kind of player the fans like here in Colorado.

 

Overall, lots of teams got better today.  I think the overall sentiment online has been, “why can’t I be a GM?”  In this market, there are more role players than difference makers.  If you had a hole to fill, this is the market to do it in.  If you need big stud, you have few options, and you will pay for them.

More later….