Friday, May 10, 2013

New Blog

I have changed my blog and will now be posting a new site.  You can continue to read my thoughts on the hockey world, as well as other sports at:

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Hockey in the Women's World

I have had the privilege of covering the IIHF Women’s World Championships in Ottawa during my internship at the Ottawa Citizen. It has been an amazing opportunity and experience. I’m covering Group B which includes the Czech Republic, Germany, Russia and Sweden. The games between these teams are competitive, close and fun to watch.The intensity on the ice is electric.

The same can’t be said for the games in Group A which sees Canada and the United States play teams that are far below their calibre.   On Wednesday night Canada steam-rolled the Swiss 13-0.  Canadian coach Dan Church even tried to stop the bleeding by having his defenders playing forward and vice versa, but that hardly helped. 

And that’s the problem with the tournament – the divide between the North American teams and the European teams only appears to be growing bigger.  It’s hard to picture a little girl watching her national team in Switzerland get flattened and think she wants to go play hockey now.  These women are the best in their country and, frankly, they’re no match for the Canadian women. Even the International Olympic Committee has caught on to the inevitability in the sport and is threatening to take women’s hockey out of the Olympics, which would only de-legitimize the sport even further and create a bigger gap between the continents.

There are a few theories on why this gap persists. The best female athletes in Europe don’t play hockey, there isn’t a female hockey culture in Europe. Some compare the geographically-limited talent pool to having American football become an international sport.  The US would dominate, Canada would compete, and then who?

So what’s the solution?

It’s a hard question to answer.  But I think the IIHF could put some basic changes in place to start limiting the damage.  First, the round-robin goal differential needs to go.  There has to be a better way to settle ties.  This will prevent teams from blowing out opponents, or running up the score to keep others at bay.  Specifically this refers to Canada and the US.  Essentially, every time they play against a given team, they compete with each other to see who scores the most goals against that opponent.

A small mitigating step, but it seems like an important one.

On a larger scale, there’s an opportunity here for women’s hockey as a whole to consider some new ideas, and here’s mine: I’ve often thought that it would be interesting to see a regional North American tournament made up of 5-6 teams. For example, Team Ontario, Quebec, Atlantic, Prairies, Rockies, Northeast US and Mid-West US among others could all have teams.  The hockey could be very competitive as a structure similar to this would draw the best players from the continent.  It might even develop a similar following as the Brier or Scotties in curling, which thrives on pitting regions against each other.

At the same time, the IIHF World Champs should be made an ‘every second year’ tournament, much like the IAAF Championships in Track & Field. It not only makes that track meet more special, but it allows athletes to plan for two-year training cycles.

Then in off-championship years, Europe could have a Women’s European Championship that would undoubtedly be competitive, without the 13-0 blowouts vs. Canada.  European teams could compete for something they have a legitimate shot at winning. Winning often leads to building and improvement.  In North America you could have the aforementioned regional championship run simultaneously. Then after the two-year cycle, hold the traditional World Championships after teams on both sides of the ocean have had two years to build. My two cents.

Women’s hockey has a lot of potential.  And it would be great to see it grow outside of North America.  The competitiveness of this tournament is felt when Canada plays the US, and everyone else doesn’t play these two.  It’s not really fair, and the IIHF should find a way to promote a great game for women rather than have 13-0 blowouts.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Let the Gardin(er) Grow

I've been thinking about the fact that Jake Gardiner's agent felt the need to tweet #freeJakeGardiner last night, and decided to air my thoughts.

I think it's really unwise for the agent to be stirring the pot like that. Despite losing 3 games this week, there's a lot of good feelings surrounding the Leafs and the progress they've made - WITH guys who have bided their time in the AHL, not been banished to it. Injecting some unneeded controversy into the generally good vibes around the team at this point is selfish and runs completely against the example set by two other Leaf D-men, Komisarek and Liles, who by all accounts have conducted themselves with class and maturity and without the slightest ounce of negativity.

Hankinson (the agent) fails to realize that this new culture around the Maple Leafs, especially in light of the extremely high regard in which Marlies coach Dallas Eakins is held, places a value on time spent working with one of the best young coaches in hockey and someone who seemingly has a hand in the development of all future Leafs. As Eakins said, Gardiner is being developed, he's not locked away in a cage in some far off hockey wasteland. Ask Kadri or Frattin or Scrivens or Fraser or Kostka if Eakins has helped prepare them for the roles they've assumed with Carlyle's Leafs.

And maybe that's just the point the agent misses. Randy Carlyle clearly has little interest in how things were run under Ron Wilson. Anyone who has watched a Carlyle team play understands that this coach stresses sound positional defensive play and no small amount of physicality from his defencemen - precisely what Gardiner lacks. While it's easy to remember the incredibly smooth skating and handful of flashy highlights, the fact of the matter is that Gardiner and his 30 points, even at the AHL level, is on the ice for more goals against than goals for. He has struggled in both the NHL and AHL to learn even basic defensive schemes and, chiefly, to learn when to "go" and when to make a safe play, (sound a bit like Kadri's learning curve?). Go watch a Marlies game and be honest with yourself.

As a Leaf (and sometimes Marlie)-watcher I don't doubt that Gardiner will be called up soon (relax, Nation) and continue his upward trajectory. However, if Gardiner's agent is going to be stirring the pot amidst an otherwise positive situation, I'd be tempted to turn his client into my much-needed 1st-line centre while patiently developing my *cough* no. 1 D prospect, Morgan Rielly.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Not if I lock you out first

I really didn’t want to write on the lockout.  I do not find it interesting, it makes me angry, and I don’t think either side should be afforded many of my thoughts.  However, as this lockout progresses into October, I decided to address it.

At first I wasn’t too upset about the lockout.  Yes I was disappointed that it was happening all over again, but I started school in September and thought that this would be great since there wouldn’t be Sens and Leaf games to distract me.  I wouldn’t have to worry about a night being taken away from me by making the trek to Scotiabank Place to take in a game live (woe is me). 

I am currently enrolled in the post-grad Journalism program at Algonquin College so I can attempt to break into the sports journalism world.  My passion is hockey.  I love watching it, talking about it, and analyzing it.  Covering the NHL would be my dream job. 

As an aspiring journalist, I want to cover the NHL.  I want to be someone that people turn to for analysis and what’s happening in the game.  But as this lockout continues, I become more turned off the idea of covering this organization.  Both sides have stubbornly assumed a stance whereby they expect the other to blink first. For the time being, the owners can use revenues to offset the loss from this year, and many of the players can find other leagues.  Basically, the stakes are not high enough for either side because they can both tolerate the other’s worst threat. And that threat is mirrored:  “Cave or we’ll lose the season”.  “Go ahead, we’re fine with that”.

With this latest lockout settling in, and with substantive talk petered out, I am resigned to the fact that this season is pretty much lost.  Pierre Mcguire recently said on The Team 1200 that at this time eight years ago, both sides were much more actively working towards a resolution.  The mass exodus of players taking off to Europe didn’t happen until after American Thanksgiving when it was increasingly clear that the season wasn’t going to be saved, for example.

Now in 2012 players are wasting little time in signing contracts to the leagues throughout Europe.  They’re not staying to fight for their season here in North America.  And as an aside, I don’t agree with the argument that NHL players are taking jobs away from players over in Europe.  European players have been paying in North America for decades and have taken jobs away from North American hockey players.  If a resolution appeared imminent, players would stay rather than bother adjusting to a new continent, and new team.

This lockout is hugely damaging to the NHL, more so than the last one.  More than previous editions, this one is just about money and egos. Millionaires vs billionaires, arguing over how to split a 50% increase in revenue over the short seven year life of the last CBA. Fans cannot and will not relate to this.  The NHL better be careful because they can, and will, lose fans and momentum that they gained in the past seven years.  And there is the serious risk of losing people who love the sport, but cannot stand the way both owners and players are recklessly disregarding the sole source of that lucrative revenue. With another work stoppage dragging on, the NHL’s worst case scenario may now be playing out. Rather than anger, the league’s loyal fan base is dangerously teetering on the edge of indifferent accustomization.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Never Go Shopping While Truculent

Brian Burke has done some really great things to turn the Toronto Maple Leafs organization around since the John Ferguson Jr. days. Somehow he continually convinces Anaheim and Calgary to trade with him when they always come out on the losing end of the deal.  However, while Burke has come out as the undisputed winner in several key trades (the Phaneuf, Lupul, and Kaberle deals come to mind), those successes have been undermined by some costly over payments on some severely underperforming UFAs.  The signing of Komisarek, Armstrong, Connolly, Lebda and Orr were met with some scepticism at the time, and the production from these players has not lived up to even the limited expectations they were given.

Mike Komisarek was signed as a feature of Burke truculence revolution after an “All-Star” season in 2009 to a 5 year $22.5 million contract. Three seasons later, he remains the 17th highest paid defensemen in the league, and yet he's been a healthy scratch 6 of the 10 games since his return from injury.  Expectations on Komisarek were, at best, to be a shut-down, impact defensemen and, at worst, a top 4 physical presence. Instead he’s a $4.5million healthy scratch/injury replacement who, when he plays, is less effective than Jeff Finger was. Yeah, I went there.

Colby Armstrong has contributed nothing other than increasing Ron Wilson's tweet count. He’s universally regarded as a good guy and a good teammate, but he’s paid $3million a year to play hockey well, not be everyone’s BFF.  Recently, he’s come back from injury only to take up a seat next to Komisarek in the press box. How many people predicted Darryl Boyce and Joey Crabb playing ahead of him?  Armstrong is said to be upset by this decision, but what does he expect?  He has a 3 year $9million contract, and has produced only 8 goals so far in his career as a Leaf, and none this season.

Another key figure of Burke’s 2009 truculent fetish is Colton Orr. Burke pulled out all the theatrics in a “tie optional” press conference/rant when he sent Orr down to the Marlies, as if it was the league's fault and not Burke’s own for Orr suddenly being made obsolete. Orr’s $1million per year contract isn’t crippling, and he certainly provided some great entertainment value (cough, Carkner, cough). But nobody can argue that a million dollar 4th-line Marlie is money well spent.  

When Brett Lebda was traded last year, Leafs Nation practically had a parade to see him out of town. Our friends over at PPP had “No More Brett Lebda” as their banner for months after. I get it. Lebda was a liability when on the ice and it wasn’t until Matt Lashoff was called up that the Leafs had a respectable bottom pairing. Give Burke credit for committing grand larceny in acquiring an asset like Cody Franson and the overpaid but useful Matt Lombardi for a liability. Lebda’s 2 year $2.9million contract was bought out by cash-strapped Nashville halfway through the deal. A minor UFA signing by Burke, but again, results were wildly different from expectations.

Finally, Tim Connolly. He was picked up in the 2011 offseason to be a first line centre to play with Phil Kessel. Fair enough. His 2 year $9.5 million signing was a bit surprising only due to his injury prone past. But at $4.75/yr, it could be argued that if Connolly was able to replicate his post-lockout 0.82 point per game percentage and contribute to a rejuvenated top-six, he’d be worth the money. Unfortunately, no such thing has happened. Connolly, when healthy, hasn't lived up to anyone's expectations, and is probably the league’s most expensive 3rd line centre.  Some may say he hasn't been healthy scratched because they're worried he might end his career tripping on his way into the press box. Conjecture aside, rack this one up in the “disappointing so far” category.

Imagine what the Leafs would look like if two or three of these signings had worked out as hoped. Leaf fans have mostly ignored these UFA misses because with the cap rising all the way to $64million, difficult decisions haven’t had to be made. But with key players like Grabovski, Kulemin and Franson due for raises this coming offseason, endless cap-space won’t always be such a luxury. With Toronto losing 6 of 7 while key UFA signings rotate in and out of the press box, Burke’s shortcomings have become more obvious. As the Leafs cling to 8th place in the East, fans certainly hope Burke’s got another lop-sided deadline deal up his sleeve.

**Update: after a Thursday loss to San Jose, the Leafs now cling to 9th place. Once again, Komisarek and Armstrong were scratched.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

TIm Thomas

Social media is public domain.  Once something is said on Facebook, Twitter, etc., it is now public domain and cannot be taken back.  You can delete it, but it's been seen by people, and if you're a public figure, it has probably been re-posted by others.  Parents are continually warning their children to be careful what you put on the Internet because it could come back to haunt you.

So it surprises me that Tim Thomas has apparently never received this message.  Or if he has, he hasn't adhered to it.  His snub of the President was explained by him on his Facebook page, and then recently he made a political comments in support of the Catholic Church.  Now, Thomas has been making political commentary for a while on his Facebook page and no one has taken notice, but it was the White House snub that brought all of this into the limelight.

Thomas is refusing to answer interview questions in regards to his most recent political comments. Watching his interview on Thursday in which he eventually storms off due to a reasonable and expected line of questioning made him look arrogant and unprofessional.  First of all, no members of the media condemned what he wrote, they're merely asking for clarification.  Rather than explain his comments that he posted in a public forum, Thomas states that it's his "personal life and has nothing to do with hockey or the Boston Bruins".  If anyone posts political commentary on their social media pages, they generally get questions for why they believe this, or attacked by those who disagree.  So why Tim Thomas is surprised by the fact he is being questioned about his comments is beyond me.

As for his White House snub, this is unacceptable.  It is fine Thomas disagrees with the government and the way they are in his words "out of control", but he doesn't represent Tim Thomas at the White House.  He is  a representative of the Boston Bruins organization.  I realize that the Bruins could have, and probably should have, made him go, but I don't believe that Thomas should have turned a routine White House visit into a controversy.  It's fine for athletes to have their political beliefs, but his behaviour has been very hypocritical.  Thomas plays in a building that is named after a financial institution, and the current economic situation was created by financial institutions being "out of control" and mismanaging their organizations.  But Thomas doesn't have a problem playing in this building, or earning a 5 million dollar salary while do so. 

It makes me wonder, if the Boston Bruins were scheduled to visit sick children in a hospital, and that hospital was performing stem cell research on a separate floor, and Thomas was against stem cell research, would he boycott visiting?  I highly doubt it.  Like it or not Thomas' political views are amplified by his public status as a member of a professional sports team.  And by that same token, he cannot expect to make political statement as a high profile member of a professional sports team without garnering media attention. 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Daily Quickie

When I read this article , my first thought was well if THE Damian Cox doesn’t like the Winter Classic and doesn’t want to cover it, then the NHL has no choice but to do away with it.  Forget the revenues and viewers it brings in.  Forget the fun that the fans get watching a game outside with thousands of others.  Damian Cox sees through your shallow attempt to say you’re going back to the game being played out on the pond, NHL, so just stop it now.  

You know, Cox probably doesn’t like the All-Star game either, because of ballot stuffing, no hitting, and no points being awarded.  Only children like it, and since when do adults pander to what children want?  We’re the grown ups!  

The Big House will have over 100,000 plus people at it to watch the Leafs/Red Wings game, with thousands more who will have wanted to get tickets to it.  It will draw record numbers of viewers due to two Original Six teams playing.  But Damien Cox doesn’t want to cover it or like it, so scrap it.