#CupcakeStrong

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

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

And the Avalanche scored.  And then they scored again.

And then they won it in overtime.

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Thin Air: 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?

Thin Air: Tort Reform

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who knew? Not me.

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

Thin Air: Opening Night Thoughts

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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.

Free Agency: Buyer Beware

Free agency is a sexy thing.  Lots of interesting players available to anyone if they have the money and the right pitch.  Fans love it, teams love it, and players and agents most certainly love it.  If teams didn’t have success last year, they are looking for parts to make themselves better.  If they did have success, chances are they lost a few good players to free agency or cap-related issues, and need to plug new holes.  Everyone is looking for someone.

There are a few problems:

- Everyone overpays on the first day of free agency.  Why do you think players love it?

- Memories are fairly short on previous free agency blunders, and if you forget history yadda yadda yadda.

- Fans want the world and they want it now, but the teams who need the most help either can’t afford it or aren’t attractive to the players (rebuilding a team is like announcing in the media they have an STD).

The Colorado Avalanche could use some help on defensive (and if you say “why didn’t they draft Seth Jones then?” I would ask you to read this).  The best options are to trade away an asset, or go buy some defensemen. At this point, there aren’t many players they would want to trade, with the ghost of Paul Stastny the one exception.

That means buying defense on the free agent market.  And I’m here to tell you, tread cautiously.  Here are a few names to give you pause:

Jan Hejda

Scott Hannon

Greg Zanon

All of them brought to the Avalanche in free agency.  All of them the new solution to the defensive issues of the team (yes, even Zanon), all of them disappointments.  Jan Hejda is still around, and with the compliance buyout option available, the Avs hanging on to him says they still think he is an asset, either on the ice or as trade bait.

But if it’s D you want, the free agency market may not actually have it for you.  From Capgeek.com, here are some of the ‘top’ defensemen available:

Marek Zidlicky
Joe Corvo
Ryan Whitney
Andrew Ference
Tom Gilbert
Ron Hainsey
Rob Scuderi
Michal Rozsival
Andre Benoit
Filip Kuba
M. Bergeron
Mike Kostka
Wade Redden
Jonathon Blum
B. Sanguinetti
Ryan O’Byrne
Douglas Murray
Mark Fistric
Toni Lydman
Greg Zanon
Kurtis Foster
Alexander Sulzer
Ian White
Adam Pardy
Adrian Aucoin
Tyson Strachan
Radek Martinek

Hey, look, a few former Avalanche on the list. How fun.

Aside from Andrew Ference, who do you want to see in an Avalanche uniform?  Wait, let’s do this a little more realistically.  Who do you want to OVERPAY to be in an Avalanche uniform?  Because other teams have needs on defense as well, they will be bidding for the same talent, sending the price higher and higher.  And the salary cap may have come down for this season, but that doesn’t mean the player’s asking price has.  You are seeing a wider gap between the haves and have-nots, a squeezing out of the NHL middle class.

Is Kurtis Foster still worth it?  A few years for Rozsival?  I wouldn’t mind Ron Hainsey for a year or two.  Corvo?

The interesting thing to me was which teams were buying out players, which ones were speculated to be buying out, and who didn’t.  The big money clubs were the ones doing the buying out, with the Flyers leading the way.  The Rangers were rumored to, as well as the Canucks.  But they held tight, with their coaching changes perhaps being enough to clean up the problems.  The only team that bought out a big contract that isn’t a wildly spending team was the Islanders, removing the mistake of the Rick DiPietro contract.  And why they chose to use the compliance buyout instead of a regular buyout and keep the cap hit (for a bargain basement spending team, they covet that cap hit) is beyond me.

The teams that didn’t buy players out, and haven’t been shuffling their mistakes around are the teams that have a budget and stick to it.  And by budget, I mean they pick a number below the cap.  For teams like the Flyers, Penguins and Canadiens, they seem to pick a budget within a few dollars of the cap ceiling.  How’s that working out?  Not so well, unless you consider the Penguins a success (which they arguably are).

If you need a reminder, look at the list of signings for last season.  Scroll down and look at the July 1st signings.  With just that list in mind, does your value of the free agent market change?

This is all to say one thing: free agency is sexy, it’s alluring, but it is a marriage, and it needs to work after the first date.  Fans want to see a splash in the free agent market, but those don’t work out as often as the storyline says they will.  Tread carefully, GMs, and fans, keep your pants on.

Thin Air: Post-Draft, Pre-Free Agency Notes

A few notes on a Tuesday - 

- I feel bad for Rick DiPietro.  He was defined by a bad contract decision by the NY Islander, and his history of injuries that were beyond his control.  He never lived up to the billing, but much of that had nothing to do with his ability.  He’s gone down as a footnote and a joke, and that isn’t his fault.  Sure, he could have turned down the overwhelming contract and done something more reasonable, but come on.  Would you turn it down?  Probably not.  Thus ends a strange saga in the NHL.  

- Speaking of the Islanders and goalies, I can’t understand why the Islanders didn’t toll Tim Thomas’ contract after not playing for them for a year.  They did it with Nabokov’s contract and got the free cap hit they desperately needed to get to the salary cap floor.  By tolling his contract, they get the same hit if Thomas stays away from the league, and if he comes back, they either get a decent goalie or a trade asset.  Unless the new CBA doesn’t allow for this, I’m baffled.

- Speaking of the new CBA, I haven’t dug into this one nearly as much as the last one.  Perhaps it’s a lack of interest, or maybe I don’t want to burn more brain cells trying to wrap my head around the intricacies of the deal.  The ink is barely dry and we are already seeing fallout from the damned thing.  I’m going to remain somewhat ignorant to it for now.  

- Vincent Lecavalier, if my feed reader is to be believed, is an old, washed out player who is a bad fit for every team.  Except for Montreal.  For some reason, the consensus is he would work out there.  I think it’s mostly how people want to see him.  They have been talking about Lecalvier being a Canadien for years, they have completely bought the narrative.  If he were to stay with the Lightning until he was fifty, fans would still ask that he become a Hab just to see what that would look like.

- The Avalanche have a problem with their recent history.  Since the lockout, they have been on the decline as a franchise, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see players shy away from the team in free agency.  Even with the recent changes in coaching and management, the Avs have a lot to prove.  They have to show that they are a franchise worth coming to.  Money isn’t everything, especially to elite players who have already been paid a lot previously.  A chance to win the Cup is a big motivation, and if you aren’t in the hunt, then you aren’t as attractive to players.  The market may reflect this.  It could take a few years until the Avs dig themselves out.  

- Speaking of the market (OK, I’ll stop now), there was plenty of head scratching over the amount of money Mike Smith got in his extension with Phoenix.  It looks like a lot for a guy of his caliber, but take a look at the market only a few days later.  The Islanders are looking for a solution, the Flyers are looking for someone to help Steve Mason, and Tampa Bay may only have two backup goalies.  And UI’m stunned, STUNNED, that we haven’t heard Florida mentioned in goalie talks.  You have to play the market, and Mike Smith certainly did.  He was able to negotiate from a place of power and got a good deal.  Considering the options on the market, Phoenix may have gotten off cheap. 

- The Avalanche put Greg Zanon and Matt Hunwick on waivers today, clearing the way for them to be bought out.  That leaves Jan Hejda, Eric Johnson and Ryan Wilson from the starting roster of last season.  Please recall that Ryan O’Byrne was traded to Toronto at the trading deadline last season and Shane O’Brien was traded to Calgary recently.  With the addition of Cory Sarich, that leaves them with the call ups of Tyson Barrie and Stefan Elliott to round out the defense, with no one left to sit in the press box.  Either the Avalanche have a lot of faith in Barrie and Elliott, or they have someone in mind in free agency, and are confident they will get them.  When it was pointed out to me at the end of last season on The Avs Hockey Podcast that Matt Hunwick was the most consistent defenseman the Avalanche had, my head nearly exploded.  But will I actually miss him?  No, not really. In my opinion, he’s a good defenseman from the knees down.  My concern is that the Avs will wind up short on defense starting the season, but perhaps they actually have a plan, unlike the past administration where they had a used dartboard.

- Why exactly is Greg Sherman still around?  If Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic are driving this boat, what is he still doing with the team?  I understand it’s good to have someone around who knows how to work the fax machine (just ask Chicago), but come on.  I don’t understand what the point is.  So far, they have cleared out his coach, one of his free agent signings from the previous season, and lost many of his mistakes to trades and waivers.  It’s like a boyfriend eviction, throwing out all the stuff they had in your apartment, but somehow still keeping the boyfriend. 

- There were two times when I said “Holy S#!+” during the draft.  Once when Cory Schneider was traded to New Jersey, and the other when Dave Bolland was traded to Toronto.  The Devils made a very smart move, finally securing the future of their goaltending, and Vancouver fixed part of it’s goaltending issues.  I’m not sure I buy the statement that they were looking to groom and trade Schneider three years ago, but good for them for dealing with it.  In regards to the Devils, if the hockey world was looking for them to find their next franchise goaltender, they may have found it.  He is just as secure as a starter as many of the teams out there have.  Mostly, the hockey world first asked itself if this was the next Marty Brodeur.  No, but who is?  Marty is the (second) best goaltender ever.  Schneider might be a damn good goaltender.  But to expect him to be Brodeur is to ask way too much.

- I wonder about the Luongo situation.  You have to expect that Luongo has been sat down by management at some point and asked what his problem with staying is, and how they can fix it.  If a new coach isn’t the solution, if getting rid of the challenge to his throne isn’t the answer, then the issue must be with either management, the players, or the media.  Overall, they have fixed enough for him at this point.  It’s time for him to play.  

Your Draft Rumors And Speculation Have One Day Left

There’s plenty of people of all types – insiders, basement dwellers, the average Joe – who will tell you exactly what will and will not happen at the draft.  They will tell you what teams are thinking, and who is going to go where.  And as soon as they are wrong, you won’t hear from them until the next prediction is ready.  I’ve been asked who certain teams will take, and to tell you the truth, I have no idea. 

With the Avalanche, they have stated they with take Nathan MacKinnon first overall, and the best I can do is analyze that.  The next question is will they or won’t they, and I can only look towards the trust in their statement. I can’t predict the future.  

In the end, it doesn’t matter.  Tomorrow, we will find out what has happened, and all the wasted time and ink guessing what will happen will become even more useless than it already was.  We will find know what direction the teams have gone, and we can analyze, praise, grouse, or whatever we feel like. 

Predictions of this sort are fools gold.  If someone tells you they know what a team is going to do, they are full of it.  I quoted Elliotte Friedman earlier this week.  It’s worth doing again. From his excellent 30 Thoughts column:

9. Back when I first started as a radio reporter covering the Toronto Raptors, then-GM Isiah Thomas warned me, “Never believe anything anyone tells you about the draft. At draft time, everyone lies.” One year later, Thomas gave me the scoop he was going to take Marcus Camby. I didn’t believe him. He did take Camby and laughed, “This time, I was telling the truth.” I couldn’t help but remember that conversation upon hearing the Colorado Avalanche’s newfound openness. Joe Sakic picking up the phone to tell a reporter his team’s plans “certainly goes against ‘The [Pierre] Lacroix Principle,’” an opposing executive said.

If a smart and experienced guy like Friedman doesn’t know, chances are very few people know. 

And it really doesn’t matter in the end.  Right, wrong, win or lose, we are waiting for the future.  Let the waiting be fun. 

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: Oh Captain, You’re Captain

Hockey thoughts. And yes, I did mean the ‘you’re” in the title.  Freaky, I know.

- Let’s say that Ryan O’Reilly really is butt hurt about not having the captaincy of the Avalanche.  Let’s just say that he really does factor that into his contract demands (negotiations is too nice a word for what he and the team have been engaged in).  If you are the Avalanche, do you want to sign a guy who is jealous of his line mate, and make for a bad situation?  For five years locked in?  Would you want to pay a guy that much money with a chip on his shoulder about not being captain?  Perhaps O’Reilly was looking for a way out of Denver before his UFA years came due.  Maybe not.  I doubt we will ever know the story.

- That said, if O’Reilly really was butt hurt about not being named captain, after hearing about it in the media, don’t you think he would find the whole thing silly?  It sounds silly.  You love this team so much, you’re mad you didn’t get the captain’s C, and now you don’t want to play there.  At some point, you listen to the words you are saying, you listen to what is being said about you, and you make a choice as to whether you want to stay on that path.  Guess he does.

- I feel really out of touch with the Eastern Conference.  Maybe there are too many hockey games in a day to keep track of, and this is my way of filtering.  I truly don’t know how people like the writers at Puck Daddy, NBC PHT, and some of the other  “cover the entire NHL” blogs do it.  It seems like a… what’s that word I’m looking for… job.  Yeah, a job.  …. Oh….

- But seriously, if you try to keep track of all 30 teams and all the games, how do you do it?  Do you have a pattern?  Do you mostly track highlights?  Bounce from game to game?  The comments are open, and your insights would be appreciated.

- I feel a little weird saying this, but the best thing that could happen to Vancouver and San Jose is to miss the playoffs completely.  San Jose especially.  They are both teams that have trudged on being almost good enough for a long time.  Vancouver is a strange one, considering how close they came to winning a Cup a few years back, but when the expectation is Cup or bust, there is a lot of room to be disappointed.  I feel like if there are two teams that could use a perspective slap to the face, it’s these two.

- I get to the rink a few times a week for some stick and puck time, just to work on skills, but mostly to fart around with a puck.  I work, but come on, I don’t do drills.  I sweat, I work, but I don’t kill myself.  I have a job, you know?  But there is this kid I see most times I go, mornings at nine AM.  So you know, home schooled, obviously.  And the other day, his dad is in there helping him get suited up, and they are running a little behind, and his dad is on him a bit about it.  Nothing bad, just your usual “come on, we have to hurry up, let’s go” kind of thing.  Normal parent stuff.  Then his day says something about how this isn’t how a first overall pick acts.  Whoa.  This kid is probably 11 or 12 years old, and that might be generous.  I’ve seen this kid and his dad plenty of times before, and I knew the pressure was on this kid, but I didn’t know it was that bad.

I’ve been around plenty of stage parents.  I’ve seen the good and the bad, and I’ve seen how the well-adjusted kids line up with well-adjusted parents, and visa versa.  I’ve also met parents who expect their kids to have careers that sustain the parent’s lifestyle, and parents who have come out and said that the kids were their financial investments.  As in, the kids are working so mom and dad don’t have to.  And it made me sick.

So what happens when this kid isn’t a first overall pick?  What does his life look like?  What if he winds up hating hockey?  What if he already does?  And what do you say to one of those parents, who are setting their expectations so high, they are ruining things for their kid when they fail?  I don’t have any answers.  Perhaps that kid responds well to that sort of motivation.  But not from what I saw.

And maybe I’m wrong about it all.  I sure hope I am.

- Hey, lighter note.  I went back and watched the end of the 24/7 Rangers / Flyers series, because reasons.  So here it is for you as well, because hockey should be epic sometimes.