The New Conferences, Perhaps a New Lease on Life

How Many Teams?

After plenty of hand wringing and consternation, after so much fan speculation and more plots than the end of the movie Clue, more promises made than in the Godfather, and more… well, you get the point… the NHL has finally voted on a scheme for realigning the league.

I’m usually not one for the instant analysis these days, which is part of why the blog has been so slow (by the time I feel like I have a solid, well thought out opinion, the moment has passed), but this time, I’m excited enough to jump into the fray.  Here are the conferences (copied from Kukla’s Korner):

The Conference format:

Conference A

Anaheim
Calgary
Colorado
Edmonton
Los Angeles
Phoenix
San Jose
Vancouver

Conference B

Chicago
Columbus
Dallas
Detroit
Minnesota
Nashville
St. Louis
Winnipeg

Conference C

Boston
Buffalo
Florida
Montreal
Ottawa
Tampa Bay
Toronto
_

Conference D

Carolina
New Jersey Devils
New York Islanders
New York Rangers
Philadelphia
Pittsburgh
Washington
_

 

First off, the conference I am most concerned with, the one the Avalanche will play in.  This is looking like a truly competitive conference, with the Sharks (who have become a bit of a playoff rival) usually fielding a solid team, and LA always right on the doorstep.  The Ducks have their ups and downs, but the solid core  on their first line make them an interesting competitor.  The wild card here is Phoenix, with their ownership issues meaning that they could move within the next season or two.  If they were to move east, they could be integrated easily into either of the seven team conferences without any fuss.  That, of course, would help every team in this conference (more on that in a moment).

In Conference B, the Jets, Stars and Wild join the central division teams.  This helps the eastern time zone teams thanks to a new schedule format that sees each team play an away game outside of their conference only once per season, while playing conference rivals six times (three at home, three away).  This seems to keep things reasonable and more balanced as far as travel is concerned.

The Southeast division is split down the middle  Winnipeg moved to a more geographically obvious conference), with Washington and Carolina joining the Atlantic, and Florida and Tampa Bay joining the Northeast.  Both conferences are made up of seven teams, and this is going to be significant in playoff implications, as the top four teams from each conference make the playoffs.  This means that there is a better odds-on chance of making the playoffs in the two eastern conferences than the western two.  But the Southeast split sent a perennially weaker team and stronger team to separate conferences (even if the Capitals haven’t won a Cup while the Hurricanes have).

The initial reaction could be that this doesn’t seem like a fair distribution of teams from a competitive viewpoint, but the point of realignment shouldn’t be about making things more competitively even.  That is supposed to be the promise of the salary cap, designed to bring the almighty parity to the league.  And while that hasn’t necessarily been the case, to base realignment off current rosters would be foolish indeed.  Creating rivalries is as much about geography and chance as it is the players involved.  Rivalries in the NHL rarely follow the player as much as the logo these days (Todd Bertuzzi being the obvious exception).

My initial thoughts on this scheme are generally positive.  I like what I am seeing in the two extreme coastal conferences (A and D above), but see a few issues with the B and C.

If I were to pick a winner and loser for this realignment, I would say the Red Wings, Ducks and Kings are winners (easier travel, and a few weaker opponents to pad their points), while the main loser is the Blue Jackets.  What is adding a few boring teams like the Wild and Jets to the schedule going to do for ticket sales?  Nothing fast.  It would be better to just cancel the home games against Minnesota, and bring in a Celine Dion impersonator.  It would be more interesting.

I’m sure I will have more thoughts later.  I can’t wait to see how this looks when the final point totals from this season are inevitably compared with this season’s point totals (even if they are misguided thanks to schedule adjustments).  But overall, I give this a solid ‘not bad.’

I Guess Hockey Started

Today, someone at work told me, the hockey season began. Except:

It started before noon where I am.
It started in Europe.
No one really played a home game.
No teams play a home opener until Thursday. And…

They are still playing preseason games.

You know, when there is preseason hockey, that should mean the season hasn’t started yet. And yet, the season has started. This makes no sense. It’s pure logic.

Am I missing something here? Am I just not understanding what the NHL market is like? I realize that there are plenty of players from all over the world in the NHL, but in a gate receipt driven business, why would you drive your interest somewhere else? Shouldn’t you do everything in your power to make the NHL season opener special to the people who are buying the tickets, the jerseys, the television packages, the beer, and paying for the league to exist?

And hey, shouldn’t you broadcast it in America, where three of the four teams playing are located? Shouldn’t that be a priority?!?!?

When I was driving to Kansas City this past week, I stopped in Lake St. Louis, MO to see the old United Hockey League office, and what had become of it (stay with me here, there is a point). It’s now just some nondescript office, something a bean counter or small tech startup would call home. I knew where it was because I stopped by in 2005 when I took an extended road trip through the entire UHL (14 teams at the time). They treated me great, sat and talked with me for a while, and even gave me a little swag (totally unnecessary, but still). The last I knew, the PR guy I talked with is working with the Pittsburgh Penguins now.

The minors know about keeping fans happy. They know that loyalty is earned, that giving back something is important, and that keeping the attention of the local hockey fan is a full time job. They don’t let opportunities pass them by, and they don’t wait for those opportunities to present themselves, they create them. The minor leagues make mistakes, but they don’t repeat them too often, or else they will be gone.

Does it ever feel like the NHL just doesn’t care about keeping it’s fans happy?

Free Agency Day, 2008

It’s always amuses me that Canada Day and Free Agency Day occur simultaneously. While it may make sense to some, Canada being a hockey mad country, I think the pain associated with losing a player in the free agent market would make many Canadians wish the two were separated (Ryan Smyth anyone?). Also, with phones that have data plans, I hope those of you keeping a constant vigil keep your eyes on the road, and don’t ignore the kids too much.

Twelve noon, every July 1st since starting this blog, a little buzzer goes off in my head. I get excited, and watch the screen. At 12:02 PM, I start pacing, and about a minute later, I start to realize that this is going to be a long day. A feeding frenzy doesn’t look like a frenzy until it’s well under way.

Last year, I had to get on a plane, and found out when I landed that Ryan Smyth had signed a five year deal with the Avalanche. As exciting as it was to get one of the big four free agents, I am yet to be seriously impressed with his output (55 game, 37 points, yee-haa).

The year before, I was salivating over my keyboard, and all I got for it was Tyler Arnason, and watching Rob Blake go to the Kings, and Dan Hinote go to the Blues. Disappointed? Sure. Could I see the writing on the wall, that the Avs would miss the playoffs? No.

This year, the Avs need goaltending help. The market is thin, and while conventional wisdom says that Jose Theodore is the best one out there, which should tell you about the market. The Avs still have Tyler Weiman in the system, but he needs a little more time down there before being a solid choice for the big club. Aside from that, what does the team need?

Defense? Sure, you can never have too much, but with Liles locked up, and Adam Foote signed, show me the holes?

Forwards? A few wouldn’t hurt, but until the decision of Joe Sakic is made (and for all we know, the decision will be made to be a free agent), there aren’t going to be any big splashes.

Check back later for updates.

1:39 PM EST: Andrew Brunette is back with the Minnesota Wild. Three disappointing things here. 1) He is no longer an Av. 2) He is back with the Wild. 3) TSN’s free agent tracker is so lame, this news hasn’t popped up yet. My reputable sources right now are Alanah at Kukla’s Korner and James Mirtle. Bloggers win again.

2:51 PM EST: I thought this was old news, but I guess not. From the Colorado Avalanche:

The Colorado Avalanche Hockey Club announced today that it has signed forward Per Ledin to a one-year contract.

Ledin, 29, spent this past season with HV 71 Jonkoping of the Swedish Elite League, where he tallied 33 points (16g/17a) and 137 penalty minutes in 52 games. The left winger finished third on the team in penalty minutes, fifth in goals and sixth in points. He also appeared in all 17 playoff games for Jonkoping, which captured the league title.

Um… OK. I have no idea what to make of this. Are the Avs still looking to make up fro the sins of Hlinka?

BIG UPDATE: 3:00 PM EST: Things are starting to pick up, with some Avalanche related signings. Jose Theodore is going to be with the Capitals for the next two years, and Kurt Sauer got signed by the Phoenix Coyotes for four years, continuing a tradition of Avalanche defensemen going directly to the ‘Yotes.

The Theodore signing is big for the Capitals, and could tip the team in either direction, depending on which Theo shoes up that night. I haven’t seen a dollar figure yet, but I can’t wait to see how it lines up with his previous contract. I’m guessing that a one year deal was all the Avs wanted to offer, and Theo was looking for two. But that’s only a guess. Now, if the Avs signed Huet….

3:12 PM EST: This was one deal I thought may happen, and puts the fear back in my heart. Andrew Raycroft signed a one year deal with the Avalanche. Seriously. One bad goalie for another? Peter Budaj had better be ready, or this could be a wild ride. This had better be a two way deal, meaning they can send him down to the minors if need be.

3:22 PM EST: The day is getting worse and worse. From Jori at Colorado Avalanche Prospects:

According to NHL.com, it is now confirmed that Mitch Love, Dan DaSilva and Tyler Weiman were not extended qualifying offers. All three are unrestricted free agents as of 10:00 AM MST today.

I like Mitch Love, and I think the world of Tyler Weiman. This sucks. Nuff said.

3:26 PM EST: It seems like as soon as I update, something else happens. Jeff Finger was just signed as a free agent by the Toronto Maple Leafs, for 4 years at 3.5 million a season. There was no way the Avs were going to sign him for that long, with the signings of Liles and Foote. I think the Leafs are overpaying for someone who isn’t as proven as other defensemen out there, but good for Finger. The debate will last around four years as to who the Avs should have signed, Liles or Finger, but I feel the right choice was made. Leafs fans, pray he doesn’t drop his stick.

3:32 PM EST: I’m reading that the Theodore deal was for 2 years at $4.5 million a year. And with that, you can forget about feeling bad about Jose moving on. Overpaid? Sure, but he’s able to play a market where goalies are a little harder to come by, and number one goalies are in short supply. I don’t feel much of a loss here, other than a few blogging stories about how bad he’s playing. I’m sure Raycroft will more than make up for things.

4:19 PM EST: I go to the grocery store, and the Avs sign Darcy Tucker. The Avs got him for 2 years at $4.5 million total. I guess this isn’t a bad deal, but we’ll wait and see.

NHL Awards Ceremony: Well, That was Crap.

The NHL Awards ceremony shown – eventually – on Versus, went off without a hitch without Stompin’ Tom Connors showing America what he does best. I was pretty upset, his performance being the single reason I tuned in at all. OK, that isn’t completely true. I tuned in because there is no hockey action, other than Playstation and what I am playing on Monday nights here in Tampa (breaking news: I suck, but I have a wicked backhand). While I’m looking forward to having a little downtime and recharging the blogging batteries, if there is something hockey realated on – other than another half hour special about Sidney Crosby – I’m going to watch it.

Frankly, the NHL should recognize that by putting on a show that doesn’t blow. I know, it’s an awards show, and it isn’t what these guys are good at. They aren’t actors, and they shouldn’t be expected to be exciting and entertaining in this forum. But damn it, how many of these things are we going to watch if they keep turning out to be crap like this? Want to see what an awards show really looks like? Tune in to the Tony Awards Sunday. They know how to put on a show. Watch as they showcase the Musicals that are up for awards, without being dull, unfunny, or over-wrought with what doesn’t matter. Oh, and for an industry that is firmly planted in “flash and trash” entertainment, they can show you the highlights without ruining them with overused effects and crappy video editing.

Fine, let’s put our money where out mouth is. Let’s improve the NHL Awards.

First, what to cut:

The Kids: Look, if you want to keep the kids who are giving the awards to the players, fine, they are kind of fun. And by kind of, I mean that they are great for the atmosphere, but nothing else. I don’t care what they have to say, I don’t need to see them read a teleprompter (painful), and I certainly don’t need to see them struggle through a highlight reel introduction. And by the way, whoever wrote those introductions should be shot. Either that, or sent to Upper Deck to write the ass kissing that you find on the back of a hockey card. Back to the kids, we do not need to talk to them. Remember the old adage, children should be seen not heard at awards shows? Exactly. If I need to find out anything interesting about the kids, I’ll know when they are elegeble for the draft.

Comedy: If you want to be funny, then be funny. I am all for some comedy at the awards, but please, have a professional do it. Not Ron McLean, who is only funny when Don Cherry is ripping on him. Rules of the trade, do not make the straight man do the job of the funny guy. The obvious choice here is Stephen Colbert, and after that, find some comedians who love hockey. American Hockey Fan could help in this regard. Hell, I wrote a few zingers for last years awards ceremony, and with the endless silliness that NHL players provide each season, there should be plenty to riff on, or make skits out of. The “jokes” were atrocious, and I think I deserve better.

Presenters: Just make it simple. Players, former players, current and former coaches, and broadcasters. People we can all recognize. Don’t put television actors that half you audience don’t know. And either have some dignity, or go completely the other way. Want to generate buzz? Make Sean Avery hand out the Vezina. There, I just doubled the ratings. And by the way, if you want to have Cammi Granato present an award, I am all for it. I think she absolutely rocks. But spend a couple of bucks and get her a nice dress. She deserves better.

Lifetime Achievement Award: This was a nice touch, and really, is there a more deserving guy than Gordie Howe? But the presentation was garbage. The whole thing took about two minutes longer than it should have, and everyone was talking to Gordie, telling him about his accomplishments. Don’t tell him, he knows what he did. Tell us. You can tell him how much you appreciate his career and accomplishments, but tell us about why he is getting the award. It’s semantics, but it’s important. Hey, while you are at it, you don’t make Gordie Howe wait to address the hockey nation. You just plain don’t. It’s disrespectful to a guy that you are honoring. He should be allowed to sit in his seat and bask in the glory, then after you go through the rundown and congratulations, he comes up to the stage and gives his speech. This was an uncomfortable way of doing things.

Great, now with what to add:

Skits: Look, a short skit or two, done well, wouldn’t kill anyone. Live humor may not go over well (case in point, tonight), but a few well produced gags could go a long way to lighten things up, and make for a more entertaining evening.

Take it outside the theater: Did anything look more claustrophobic than that stuffy theater? It looked cold, small, and uncomfortable. How about a few interviews with hockey personalities or stars about hockey? If the NHL is going to pimp stars writing blogs, why not talk to them about their favorite awards nominee? See, simple, entertaining, and gets us away from the theater while still celebrating the game and the players. Hey, Mike Myers is handing the NHL all the promotion it can stand right now. Where is the capitalization?

Award Descriptions: This isn’t a show for the casual fan, but if any were tuning in, they probably don’t know what the awards are, and after that show, they probably still don’t. Just say what the award is for, as in:

The Lady Byng award for the player least like Sean Avery.

or

The Norris Award, for the defenseman with the most points.

or

The Vezina, for Martin Brodeur, whether he deserves it or not.

Something.

Spell Check: Lindstrom? Really? The NHL misspells the name of an award recipient on the back of a jersey? There is no excuse. It’s an embarrassment, and someone should get their asses handed to them. How many people saw and handled that jersey before it made it to the stage? I’ve seen breakdowns like that in theater before, but this is really pushing it. Want to see what I mean? Check out this post from the HLOG for the photo evidence.

This was just off the top of my head. These guys have had months to plan this thing, and this was all they did.

Perhaps you think I am being a little harsh. After all, this isn’t an organization that is used to producing televised entertainment on a regular basis. Wait, they aren’t a group who has ever done an awards show before. Oh, never mind.

NHL, do a better job next year. Versus, put it on the air on time. That is all.

Bettman Snubs the Penguins (Revised for More Accuracy)

Last night, I knew there was something missing in the presentation of the Stanley Cup. Traditionally, Gary Bettman congratulates the losing team for a great playoff run, but not last night. The most Bettman said was “It takes two great teams to compete for this marvelous trophy.” Then he moved on to the Red Wings, not mentioning the Penguins by name. And on their home ice, no less.

Mr. Bettman loves to act out in subtile ways on his feelings, so you have to wonder if this was a passive aggressive way at taking a shot at Pittsburgh. To not even congratulate the team when their fans are staying around for the opposing team to skate with the Cup is pretty crude. Even if he just forgot, that’s a pretty big snub.

You can find the video of the post game presentation here. I am not embedding it, for obvious reasons.

Edit:Puck Daddy Greg Wyshynski has by back here, because he informs me that the Penguins were given props in post game celebration, before the Conn Smythe trophy was handed out.  If I recall correctly, that isn’t the place he normally does it.  The sequence in the past was Smythe, congrats losers, Cup presentation.  I still think it’s a snub, but it isn’t as egregious as I thought.  I stand corrected though.

Stanley Cup: Bummer

First off, congratulation to the Detroit Red Wings. After winning the Presidents Trophy enough times, they have certainly earned it. They fought hard, played well, and all that.

After that—–

Crap.

Look, I don’t care what the Red Wings fans think about my choice of teams, and I do not care what the classless fans have to say. There are some decent people who are Red Wings fans, and I welcome their input, but after that, I do not care. It’s the jerks that get all the airtime, and they should find a venue that let’s them be jerks as much as they feel like. Start a blog, I did.

I am finding out something about myself in this moment. It isn’t so much the players, and it isn’t even the uniform, that I hate to see win the Cup. They actually earned it. It’s the fans who act like jackasses I hate to see get to bask in it’s glory. They behave like they were on the ice, and they use the term “we” way too often. I don’t think that bad behavior should be rewarded, and too often, it is. Fans who waive their fingers in other fans faces deserve to have them bitten off.

I would remind the Red Wings fans that they hold a very classy individual, Steve Yzerman, in a very high regard, they should emulate him. Don’t act like a jerk. Parity means nothing is forever.

As for the game itself, the Penguins, as much as they own the victory of Game 5, they own the defeat of Game 6. They were owned much of the third period, Fleury knocked in the game winning goal with his own ass, and the chances the Pens had were never used.

For the wings. Osgood stole a goal from Gary Roberts, who played 7:14 and had one of the best scoring chances of the game.

That’s it, the season is over. The cup is handed out, and nothing is going to be the same starting tomorrow. The Wings team that won, the Penguins team that lost, none of the 30 teams are going to be the same. As of this moment, thirty teams are in the mix.

Go.

Pens Crap the Bed: SCF Game 4

Man, what a crap ass game of hockey, FOR THE PENGUINS!!!!

I’m mired in the postgame coverage on ESPNews (seriously, they have hockey coverage, must mean there’s no NBA tonight), and these coach interviews remind me of why I don’t want to be a “professional” sportswriter. Actually, listening to the post game interviews by Crosby and Fleury after game 3 really drove it home. Crosby may be billed the most exciting player in the NHL (or at least shoved down our throats as the most exciting), but he could put you to sleep in the postgame. BORING!!!

Speaking of Fleury, he looked like ass all night. He could make initial saves, but even saves that were directly in his glove seemed to magically bounce out into danger zones. I really think he should have had both of the goals the Wings scored, and he had a one second delay every time he came out to play the puck. Mostly, he looked unfocused, and that affected the game greatly.

Not that he was the reason for the loss, but he certainly was one of the reasons. Let’s list the others, shall we?

Malkin can’t score. The only thing he put in the net was himself. I think he had a few good chances, but chances don’t win cups.

If you can’t score on a 5 on 3, that’s one thing. But the Penguins couldn’t even gain the zone, and the last minute was ridiculous.

Crosby was the only one with any energy in the third. He was the only one chasing the puck, and the only one trying to work outside his little bubble. I don’t give Sidney props much, but he deserves some credit.

In the third, the Penguins weren’t taking any chances on defense, and not only gave up one zone, they were giving the Wings the entire damn rink. I can’t think of a time in the third (or the rest of the game, come to think of it) that a defenseman pinched in the offensive zone. If you are down by one, take a chance once in a while.

Hossa was certainly the best player the Penguins had tonight, but he wasn’t enough, and shouldn’t have to be. There should be enough talent around him to make a difference. Remember earlier in the year when Hossa was the dog of the league? The man was doing everything tonight. In fact, he did the only thing.

You will notice that I am saying nothing of the Wings. That’s right. I’ll leave it at that.

I spent the night online at the live blog of Puck Daddy Greg Wyshynski, It was a great time, with plenty of the funny. See you there for game 5.

Theo Wants to Return

With the Stanley Cup Finals going on, it’s a slow news month for the Avs right now. Other than the signing of Tony Granato, everything else is speculation and “want to” right now.

In the want to category, Theodore wants to come back to the Avalanche. From the Rocky Mountain News:

Jose Theodore wants to continue his career resurgence in Colorado, and it appears the feeling is mutual.

Theodore’s agent said Wednesday he expects to talk with Avalanche general manager Francois Giguere soon about a new contract for the 31-year- old goalie, who can become an unrestricted free agent July 1.

“We’re looking forward to seeing Francois and having discussions with him,” agent Don Meehan said. “Jose’s priority would be to be back in Denver. We’ve expressed that to Francois, and they’ve indicated they would like to have him back.”

Indicated? Perhaps at a serious discount. This sounds like Agent Speak 101 to me. Frankly, I think Jose just wants a job next season, and they are going to be few and far between. Remember Robert Esche, anyone?

Though Theodore and the Avalanche are eager to work out a deal, it might not be that easy. Theodore just completed a three-year, $16 million contract and could test the open market to gauge his value in what could be the final long- term contract of his career.

I would love to see Theo test the open market. If he truly had any off ice value, then the Avs are going to be the on;y ones who know about it, and the only ones who might pay him for it. Other than that, I hope Jose was able to save some of that paycheck from the last few years. He won’t be getting another one that big. Ever.

Before focusing on Theodore, Giguere still wants to find out whether captain Joe Sakic and forward Peter Forsberg will return for another season or retire.

It’s good to have your priorities straight.

Nah-Nah-Nah, Hey-Hey-Hey, Goodbye

And as they said in forth grade, don’t let the door hit you.

Coach Q got the axe listened to the fans grew a brain and the Avalanche mutually agreed that it was freaking obvious was past time to be losing wasn’t a damn stand up comedy special was just best if we all moved on and started winning games maybe had a shot in hell could maybe get a clue sell a few tickets start to score goals on the power play have a strategy when star players are injured adapt to the new NHL stop trying to play arena football parted ways.

Can you tell how I feel about this?

I don’t feel the need to recount how little I liked Coach Q, but I will say that I am not surprised. Missing the playoffs for the first time in franchise history was enough for me, but then to continue down the same path, expecting different results, was the perfect indicator that things were never going to be a good fit.

I wonder if this is part of what is factoring into Joe Sakic’s decision to return to the team. Would you want to just go through more of the same? I always felt that this was a team with the elements to do well, to succeed, but was always in search of an identity on the ice. FG gave the players all the confidence in the world, but losing a few obvious choices, signing a few free agents, but leaving the team mostly intact. I think that is still a good idea (minus one body in net), and the right person behind the bench could bring that out in the team.

Who’s it going to be?

What’s This Then? With Updates!

Hey, how about this:

“This team that everyone said wouldn’t go anywhere made it to the second round of the playoffs and I think we should be really proud of them,” said one woman.

“I’m feeling pretty bad, pretty disappointed. But next year … we’re gonna get our cup!” said another fan.

No, that isn’t about the Avalanche, it’s about the Canadiens. From the CBC, the word is that the streets of Montreal are calm tonight, following the Habs elimination from the playoffs. Which is strange, that a first round win over the Bruins, whom the Canadiens traditionally own, draws fools rioting, and this draws flies. And people wonder why the world doesn’t understand French-Canada. It takes so few…

But I love those quotes. It reminds me that the Habs and Avalanche are linked in many strange ways (mostly by their goalies). I know that they are miles apart in many ways, but tonight, I know how those fans feel.

Let’s Go Update:

Last post, I mentioned what I was looking forward to now that the Avs are out of the playoffs. Saturday, the Colorado Mammoth were eliminated by the Calgary Roughnecks 15-13 in the first round (lacrosse playoffs are only one game per round). Also, the Colorado Eagles lost 5-1 to the Arizona Sundogs. It was not a night to be a team that I root for.

Quick note: The Avalanche were swept from the playoffs, as were the Denver Nuggets, and the Colorado Rockies (in the world series, mind you). The Mammoth got eliminated in one game, which isn’t much of a stretch to say that they were swept. I doubt the Broncos are even going to make it to the playoffs, so I think they are safe from what seems to be a Denver curse. Since the Eagles play outside of Fort Collins (40 miles North of Denver), I’m hoping they are safe. In the CHL, anything can happen, and usually does.