Dec 232012
 

For this special edition of Clay’s Canucks Commentary, I pull a few friends together for the 3rd annual Canucks Christmas Carol.

Once again I am joined by my friends Joe, Oggy, Jason, Pat and the foreign exchange student Kevin.  Kevin came all the way from overseas to watch some hockey but he gets something else instead.

Last year we put together the Bieber-inspired “Under the Minne(so)” and in 2011 we did the “12 Days of Christmas”.

For this year, we do our version of the classic “This Christmas”.

Merry Christmas from all of us at CHB!

Nov 162012
 

According to many sources, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has suggested that the NHL and NHLPA take a two-week moratorium from negotiating – apparently after NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr said he didn’t know how the two sides would proceed to break the stalemate.

Understandably, the reaction to Bettman’s request has been overwhelmingly negative: from the Fehrs, from players, and from fans.  A two-week break doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense at such a critical time in the negotiation process.  I know that if I suggested a two-week moratorium to my lovely wife Gail the next time we had a disagreement, I’d be looking for a new place to live.

So I took it upon myself to delve into the Commissioner’s mind as to why he would request the break.  Thus, here are the Top 10 Reasons Why Gary Bettman Requested the 2-Week Moratorium:

10.  To undergo plastic surgery to make himself look less like the Count from Sesame Street.

9.  To watch reruns of 24/7 and the Winter Classic.

8.  To buy new needles for his “Donald and Steve Fehr” voodoo set.

7.  To go hunting with David Booth.

6.  To hunt down Bill Simmons and hurt him.

5.  To help investigate the affair of former CIA Director David Petraeus.

4.  To find out who really is behind the @strombone1 Twitter account.

3.  To concentrate fully on the CFL’s Divisional Final games and Grey Cup.

2.  To obtain a personality, sense of humour, and shred of likability.

1.  To get together with his negotiating team to craft out a thoughtful, fair and workable proposal to the NHLPA.

Well, we can all dream can’t we?

 

Nov 042011
 

Dear Gary (aka Bettman-in-da-house, aka Mr. Commish, aka Saviour-of-Winnipeg),

Not to go all Peaches and Herb (or Jeremy Roenick), but “realignment and it feels so good!”

NHL realignment is the hot talk around the league right now, and I know reviews are mixed concerning your latest plan to re-shape the NHL.

Personally, I like what you’ve reportedly done:

Eastern Conference
Division 1Division 2
PhiladelphiaDet/CBJ
WashingtonMontreal
New York RangersOttawa
New York IslandersBoston
New JerseyBuffalo
CarolinaToronto
Tampa BayPittsburgh
Florida
Western Conference
Division 1Division 2
Det/CBJVancouver
WinnipegEdmonton
ChicagoCalgary
DallasColorado
NashvillePhoenix
St. LouisLos Angeles
MinnesotaAnaheim
San Jose

The first round of the playoffs features divisional play (1 vs 4, 2 vs 3).

After the first round, the remaining teams are seeded 1-4, with 1 playing 4, 2 vs 3, etc.

Now, the Penguins and Flyers hate this proposal, because they’ve got a good rivalry going that fills their rinks, and playing in different divisions will hurt that.  

Teams in the proposed eight-team divisions also have a gripe, because mathematically they have a smaller chance of making the playoffs than teams in a seven-team division.

But you know what Gar (can I call you Gar, as in Danny Gare?), I think you should tell these complainers to stuff it. Your proposed plan reduces travel, solves most (but not all) of the league’s geographic issues, and doesn’t do too much to upset most of the NHL’s current/historic rivalries.

Listen. I’m in a charitable mood. I like what you’ve done for hockey in Edmonton and Winnipeg. I like the salary cap era.

Here are two tweaks that take your plan to the next level.

Tweak #1 – Level the playing field

The biggest gripe I’ve seen outside of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia involves the notion of 8-team divisions and 7-team divisions competing for the same number of playoff spots (4).

That’s easy to fix: make both divisions in each conference the same size. The Eastern Conference gets 16 teams, the Western Conference 14 teams: 

Eastern Conference
Division 1Division 2
PhiladelphiaDetroit
WashingtonMontreal
New York RangersOttawa
New York IslandersBoston
New JerseyBuffalo
CarolinaToronto
Tampa BayPittsburgh
FloridaColumbus
Western Conference
Division 1Division 2
ColoradoVancouver
WinnipegEdmonton
ChicagoCalgary
DallasPhoenix
NashvilleLos Angeles
St. LouisAnaheim
MinnesotaSan Jose

The first round of the playoffs still features divisional play (1 vs 4, 2 vs 3). After the first round, the remaining teams are seeded 1-4, with 1 playing 4, 2 vs 3, etc.

With this small tweak, every team in each Conference has the same odds of making the playoffs. Columbus joins Detroit moving to the East, where both teams geographically should be and want to be. Colorado moves to the “Central-esque” division, where it probably could be if you ever looked at a map of all NHL teams.

Sure, someone may suggest that there’s a greater chance of making the playoffs in the Western Conference than the Eastern Conference. You know what I say to them, Gar? That’s the price you pay for saving thousands of dollars on travel costs, you cheap bastards.

Actually, there’s only one issue with this tweak.

What the heck happens if you have to move the Coyotes out of Phoenix?

Yes Gar, I know that will never happen. I know you’ve been spending the last few years trying to decide which of the 100s of potential owners you want to give the Coyotes to so that the team can stay in Phoenix.

But if, god forbid, you have to move Phoenix, you’ll probably have to move them East (to say, Quebec City? Quelle surprise!). This means you have to, right now, keep Columbus in the West. (Why Columbus? Because they’re still one of the newbie franchises around the board table.)

So, here’s how you solve the 8-team/7-team disparity, while revolutionizing your sport.

 Tweak #2 – Let Teams Pick Their Playoff Opponent 

Eastern Conference
Division 1Division 2
PhiladelphiaDetroit
WashingtonMontreal
New York RangersOttawa
New York IslandersBoston
New JerseyBuffalo
CarolinaToronto
Tampa BayPittsburgh
Florida
Western Conference
Division 1Division 2
ColumbusVancouver
WinnipegEdmonton
ChicagoCalgary
DallasColorado
NashvillePhoenix
St. LouisLos Angeles
MinnesotaAnaheim
San Jose

The four Conference teams with the next best records get the final four playoff spots and the top four teams select their first round opponent. Division winner with the best record picks first. Then the other Division winner. Then the second-place team with the best record. Then the other second-place team gets whoever’s left.  

In the second round, teams are reseeded 1-4 based on regular season performance, with 1 vs 4, 2 vs 3.

Think about the possibilities that result from having teams choose their playoff opponent.

First of all, winning a division or conference would suddenly matter quite a bit. The NHL would reward the best regular season teams by giving them some control – whether it be reduced travel or a weaker opponent. The 11 remaining conference teams would also have equal odds of becoming one of the final four playoff teams – eliminating the eight-team, seven-team divisional bias.

There would be added buzz in April and March as fans talk about potential matchups and seeding races. Instantly, rivalries would be created or renewed once selections are made. Pittsburgh and Philadelphia are mad because they don’t play each other as often? Well, problem solved – one can choose to play the other in the first round if they have a good regular season.

Gar, you could take this idea and create another television event, one that would be unique to the North American team sporting market. It would be a professional sports version of the NCAA’s Selection Sunday event. It would be just like the MMA or WWE, where opponents choose one another all the time because it always delivers a compelling storyline.

Mr. Commish, I offer this idea free of charge…although I wouldn’t mind having a division named after me. Or maybe I’ll just take a lifetime invite to the Winter Classic. It’s something we can negotiate later.

You’re welcome.

 THOUGHTS ON THE FLY

  • Isn’t this about the time that the Oilers start falling back to earth? And yet, they played a terrific road game against the Kings, giving up only 19 shots.
  • Same thing can be said about the Toronto Maple Leafs, who are amazingly in first place in the Eastern Conference right now. Then again, it’s been a long time since the Maple Leafs had two scoring lines going like they do right now (Joffrey Lupul-Tim Connolly-Phil Kessel; Clarke MacArthur-Mikael Grabovski-Nik Kulemin).
  • Watching the Blue Jackets-Leafs game, it looked like Leaf shooters were targeting Steve Mason’s blocker-side with great success (4 goals on 11 shots).
  • Speaking of Columbus, this is the earliest they’ve ever gotten to 10 losses. A coaching change is on the way, but Ken Hitchcock isn’t the solution. The Blue Jackets are not strong enough in goal or on defense to play the conservative style Hitchcock demands. At the same time, he hasn’t shown much success coaching younger players, and future of this team is in its prospects.
  • At the same time, anyone who is suggesting Craig Button is a viable candidate for the Blue Jackets front office should give their head a shake. He was a league-worst level GM in Calgary. Lest we forget the trading of J-S Giguere and Marc Savard for bags of pucks, the release of Martin St. Louis and the signing of Roman Turek to a mega-contract.
  • I wonder how folks are feeling about the Erik Johnson for Chris Stewart/Kevin Shattenkirk trade these days? Johnson looks a lot like Bryan McCabe – a big shooter, decent skater with poor defensive instincts. At least McCabe was physical – Johnson plays a Jay Boumeester-like soft defense. Things aren’t puppy dogs and ice cream in St. Louis though either where Chris Stewart has gotten off to a very slow start (2 goals and 3 points in 11 games). In fact, right now the best player might just be Kevin Shattenkirk, who has taken another step, evolving into an intelligent, two-way defenseman playing alongside Alex Pieterangelo.
  • CBC is counting suspensions and concussions this year so you don’t have to.
  • Colorado’s Paul Stastny has yet to score a point at home this year.
  • Mike Smith has been very good for the Coyotes thus far. Makes you wonder what went wrong in Tampa?
  • Speaking of Phoenix, another factor in their early season success is the play of defensemen David Schlemko and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Ekman-Larsson is becoming a factor at both ends of the ice, and looks more and more like a player you build a team around. Schlemko is strong skater who doesn’t make mistakes with the puck.
  • Kudos to the Predators for inking Pekka Rinne to a 7-year/$49-million contract. Rinne is an elite goaltender, and having him signed long-term means Nashville has an important cornerstone in place. This probably means that one of Shea Weber or Ryan Suter is gone, especially since the Predators have some young depth at defense. It also wouldn’t surprise if Rinne’s $7 million annual salary becomes the defacto ceiling for Predator player contracts.
  • One last Predators note – while the media (particularly in Canada) portray Nashville as hockey backwater, it’s nice to see the team showing it’s willing to spend to build a contender. Predator fans have more trust in the franchise today than they did yesterday.
  • Chicago may just be the best team in the league right now. They’re scoring goals despite a terrible powerplay (8.7%, second-last in the league).
  • Yes, the Minnesota Wild are getting strong goaltending. No, they are not getting the production they’d like out of Marek Zidlicky. Zidlicky wasn’t very good last year either, and certainly doesn’t seem like a top-line defenseman anymore. That no-movement, modified no-trade clause in his last contract is starting to look like a big, heavy anchor around GM Chuck Fletcher’s neck.
Mar 132011
 

[Every weekend, Canucks Hockey Blog goes out of town as Tom Wakefield (@tomwakefield88) posts his thoughts on what's happening around the NHL.]

Gary Bettman, NHL

Photo credit: Barry Melrose Rocks

Between the Zdeno Chara hit, the Phoenix Coyotes drama and the ongoing hits-to-the-head debate, it’s been a bad week for the NHL.

Might as well pile on:

  • Scoring is down from last year, to 5.6 goals per game. The first season after the lockout, the average goals per game was 6.17.
  • This season will likely feature the fewest number of 100-point scorers, and fewest number of 50-goal scorers, since the lockout.
  • Analyzing numbers available on ESPN, it looks like attendance is down slightly. Let’s assume the NHL and teams fudge attendance figures. The fact that the figures show a loss probably means attendance is down far more than anyone’s willing to admit.
  • Like jilted lovers, the game’s greatest ambassador, Wayne Gretzky, and the NHL are currently not speaking to each other.
  • The game’s current ambassador, Sidney Crosby, seems to be in hiding, thanks to a severe concussion received during the NHL’s marquee regular season game (the Winter Classic).

Oh, and Gary Bettman has quietly signed a 5-year contract extension.

So where do we go from here?

Bob McKenzie has done some yeoman’s work asking the league’s GMs what was on their minds heading into their meetings next week in Florida.

The thing is, as a conservative enterprise, change will not come quickly to the NHL. Especially when the kinds of change necessary, and most effective, are unclear.

A smart place to start would be examining the boards and other structures that surround the playing surface.

Smartly (albeit too quietly), the NHLPA has indicated this is their focus.

We’ve clearly reached a point where the NHL product needs to evolve.

This could be a watershed moment for the NHL – a moment that clearly defines how a generation plays this game at its highest level.

If only there was a history of innovation and dynamic, progressive thinking to give one confidence the game is in good hands.

THOUGHTS ON THE FLY

It’s not like there aren’t positive developments in the NHL.

  • The Sedin Twins are giving the NHL the rarest of storylines: a brother act competing not only for the league’s scoring title, but a place amongst the game’s best players.
  • Alex Ovechkin’s play has really improved, to the point that he was either: a) hurt earlier in the year, or b) saving himself for the stretch run. Or, with Jason Arnott and Marco Sturm back, the Capitals have a legitimate second line to take the heat of OV and company.
  • If the playoffs started today the NHL would be pretty happy with the footprint. Toronto would be the only Original Six team not in the playoffs. Minnesota the only major US hockey-watching market not represented.
  • Oh, by the way, intriguing first-round matchups as of this (Saturday) morning: Philly-New York Rangers (Flyers knocked New York from playoffs on final day of the regular season last year), Montreal-Boston (they may need police on each blueline for every game, the way this rivalry’s peaked this year), Vancouver-Los Angeles (repeat of last year’s first-round matchup), San Jose-Calgary (fourth time they’ve played against each other in the playoffs).
  • That being said, it’s looking more and more like the final day of the regular season will decide who does, and does not, make the playoffs.
  • Ilya Kovalchuk is showing he might be the best player (outside of Martin Brodeur) to play in the New York area since the hay days of Mark Messier and Brian Leetch.
  • If he keeps scoring at his current pace (12 points in his past 14 games) and keeps making plays like this, it won’t be long before David Desharnais is a fan favourite in Montreal. Wonder if he has to stand to see over the boards?
  • Kudos to Willie Mitchell for donating his brain to science.
  • Hey look, a Scotty Bowman sighting behind Barack Obama!
  • An interesting Abbotsford Times piece on the Canucks AHL affiliate potentially coming home to the Lower Mainland.
  • Record-watch – Tim Thomas’s save-percentage: .938. The record: Dominik Hasek’s .937 in 1998-99.
Dec 042010
 

[Every weekend, Canucks Hockey Blog goes out of town as Tom Wakefield (@tomwakefield88) posts his thoughts on what's happening around the NHL.]

Daryl Katz, Edmonton Oilers and Gary Bettman

Photo credit: rds.ca

The more things change, the more they stay the same for the Edmonton Oilers.

After almost two decades of uncertain ownership, Daryl Katz’s purchase of the team in 2008 was supposed to solidify their roots for a generation, if not longer.

In Katz, Oiler fans saw the embodiment of their dream owner – a life-long fan with the deep pockets to keep the team in Edmonton, and with the desire to ice a perennial winner. Katz, to his credit, said all the things Oiler fans wanted to hear. So invested in Edmonton was Katz that he was willing to put up $100 million of his own money into a new $450 million downtown area.

Yet, two years later, rumours of the Oilers moving have already sprung up twice – once in the summer (to Hamilton), and then this week (to Quebec City).

In each case, the threat seems to have originated from the inner circle around Katz himself.

Granted, negotiations with the City of Edmonton to build a new arena are not going as planned. The team’s 2014 deadline for a new arena is unlikely to be met. And granted, the relocation talk in each instance was quickly quashed by Oilers brass. But Katz’s cavalier willingness to drop the “relocation” word is an insult to Oiler fans who have already been through so much.

One also has to wonder, if this bully negotiating tactic does not work, what Oilers ownership has in mind for a Plan B.

Just a guess, but given that Quebec City officials met with Oilers ownership this week, perhaps coordinated East-West lobbying at the federal level is that intended next step.

*****

Forbes magazine came out this week with their list of NHL franchise values.

While the research methods and findings are certainly being questioned by NHL owners, it remains a fascinating read.

According to Forbes, 14 of 30 NHL teams have decreased in value over last year. Furthermore, the magazine claims seven NHL franchises (Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Rangers, Montreal Canadiens, Detroit Red Wings, Philadelphia Flyers, Chicago Blackhawks and Vancouver Canucks) are propping up the rest of the league financially.

All this does is raise questions once again about the league’s direction.

Hand in hand with that should be questions about Gary Bettman, and specifically his future.

Gary Bettman was hired with to sell the game in the U.S., end labour unrest, expand and modernize the league. Whether he has succeeded or failed at each of these objectives is a topic for another day. What is certain though is that the NHL is poised to sign a new, lucrative US television deal at the end of this season.

The league’s collective bargaining agreement ends after the 2011-12 season. Owners, having instituted a salary cap last time around, are eager to gain even further concessions from the players this time. No-trade clauses, a cap on contract lengths and even the notion of guaranteed contracts are rumoured owner targets.

Finally, with Canadian franchises fuelling NHL profits like never-before, there is at least one legitimate opportunity to strengthen the league’s bottom line by returning a team to Canada.

Bettman isn’t quite a greybeard, but he’ll turn 50 in 2012. The following season, 2013, would be Bettman’s 20th year in the thankless role of Commissioner. Only Clarence Campbell (1946-77) and Frank Calder (1917-43) would have led the league longer. If Bettman can secure a good TV deal, “win” the next CBA for the owners and return a team to Canada – all of which seem possible, if not likely, in the near future – it’s easy to see him hanging up his skates before 2015.

THOUGHTS ON THE FLY

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