Dec 192010
 

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

Oilers Octane Cheerleaders

Photo credit: oilers.nhl.com

I never knew Santa was a hockey fan.

And yet, when I sat on his lap at the mall this week, and asked him who he thought had been naughty and nice this year, he was quick to hand me the following list.

Surprisingly, I agree with everything he wrote.

Naughty – That Charles Wang continues to own and operate the New York Islanders franchise like it’s the Cleveland Indians from the film “Major League”. It’s a travesty a team with this kind of history, in the biggest media market in North America, seems doomed.

Nice – HBO’s 24/7 Penguins-Capitals series. So it’s aired one episode. So what? It’s the most interesting idea to come from the NHL since the shoot-out, and might be the best TV show ever produced about NHL hockey. It is the antithesis of bland, and would never come from Canada, where everyone wants to be an NHL players’ best pal. Right Pierre Maguire?

Naughty – Vancouver’s downtown bike lanes and City Hall in general. Let’s see. Winters on the West Coast feature roughly 700 days of cold, windy rainstorms and the Lower Mainland’s public transportation system is about as convenient as a gas station that’s only open during an eclipse. So naturally, it makes sense to punish people for driving by turning downtown car lanes into bike lanes. What’s next, passing a law that let’s us all keep chickens in our backyards? Wait a minute…

Nice – Colorado Avalanche hockey. Sure the names are no longer Sakic or Forsberg, but Avs hockey remains up-tempo, high-scoring and fun-to-watch. Pretty much exactly what Bruce Boudreau is trying to stop the Washington Capitals from playing these days.

Naughty – The Edmonton Oiler cheerleaders. Because it’s probably more fun than thinking they’re “nice.”

Nice – That the Steven Stamkos hype has quieted down. Is he an elite shooter? Yes. Is Martin St. Louis a better and more valuable player right now? Yes.

Naughty – That some games are still being decided by goals that result from plays involving a broken one-piece hockey stick.

Nice – The Rangers team Glen Sather’s put together this year.

Naughty – Lou Lamoriello’s fiddling while the Devils continue to burn. He’s either retiring at the end of the year, or choosing to tank the season to score a high draft pick. Either way, it’s not really John Maclean’s fault the team’s this bad.

Nice – The entire Larry Sanders Show has finally come to DVD. Hey now!

Naughty – Natalie Portman in The Black Swan. Go see it, if for no other reason than to watch her exorcize those crappy Star Wars prequels from her body.

Nice – Opposing teams on the Buffalo Sabres. They’ve faced 15 backup goalies so far this year. Their record in these match-ups? 10-3-2.

Naughty – Eugene Melnyk, for not facing up to reality, and seeing the door has closed on this core of Senators.

Nice – Ryan Whitney, who has become the best Edmonton Oilers defenceman since Chris Pronger left town.

Naughty – That “Little Fockers” even exists.

Nice – Ryan Clowe at even strength. Quietly he sits third in the league at 5-on-5 scoring, behind only Sidney Crosby and Pavel Datsyuk.

Naughty – Cam Neely, for blaming the Bruins struggles recently on Claude Julien’s defensive-first system. Way to stir up trouble Cam. That being said, it does seem like this has been a bit of a wasted year in Tyler Seguin’s development, doesn’t it?

Nice – That Al Pacino, Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro are teaming up for a crime flick called “The Irishman”.

Naughty – Steve Mason, whose play in goal for the Columbus Blue Jackets this year seems to confirm his Calder Trophy season was a fluke.

Nice – Chris Pronger’s foot surgery. It saves the Flyers from some cap issues in the short-term, and in the long-term should ensure Pronger’s rested for a long post-season run.

Naughty – VANOC, not for failing to host a carbon neutral 2010 Olympics, but for blaming this failure on “sponsors and suppliers”.

Nice – Linus Omark, for reminding us that playing hockey, even professional hockey, should involve a little imagination.

Naughty – The alleged “real ending” to Yogi Bear.

Nice – Canadians I guess, according to the Family Guy’s “Road to the North Pole” Christmas special.

Naughty – Sean Avery. Because you can’t call the league’s penalty minute leader “nice”.

Nice – Gotta love that the nickname “Neon Dion” Phaneuf found its way into the mainstream media this week. Sadly, it’s the flashiest thing about him these days.

Naughty – Only learning after the fact that a condition of marriage includes writing personal messages in a seemingly infinite number of Christmas Cards.

Nice – Secretariat. Because it’s the best laugh in Late Night television right now.

Naughty – Wives who cut back on their husbands’ Egg Nog intake to prevent seasonal weight gain. Is nothing sacred?

Happy Holidays!

Oct 152010
 

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

Lou Lamoriello, New Jersey Devils

Photo credit: nj.com

Steve Simmons wrote earlier this week that the salary cap was hurting the league’s best players by forcing them play with AHL-level grinders.

Noting how the cap has forced the New Jersey Devils to play with 15, 16 players, Dave Hodge argues in his latest Hodgemail that the salary cap should be abolished.

Even before the season started, hockey writers were using the salary cap to suggest dynasties aren’t possible in today’s era.

Just so we’re clear, this salary cap criticism? It’s pure hogwash.

The problem isn’t the salary cap. The problem is the league’s General Managers.

Since almost the beginning of its existence, NHL front offices have been littered with ex-players who “understood the code” or “had respect for the game’s institutions.” These were individuals who could identify talent and knew what it took to play professional hockey. It’s been an old boys club – a fraternity – of likeminded, proud men for a long time.

These men also generally share the following traits: little education, business background or financial experience. Up until the 1980s, the absence of these qualities really didn’t matter, since the NHLPA was powerless, and NHL salaries were controlled. But the salary escalation of the 1990s, and now the salary cap, has made managing the “money game” an increasingly vital part of the GMs portfolio.

Today’s GMs have to be smart. They have to creatively work the salary numbers, follow two-, three- and five-year salary plans, and identify players who can provide greater value than they’re being compensated for.

Thanks to the cap, any mistakes are magnified. (Granted, teams have “capologists,” but with all due respect, they’re not the ones making the final say on any player transaction or contract signings.) The days of trading Player A straight up for Player B have passed. And this is why, in the modern NHL, former “horse-traders” like Darryl Sutter and Glen Sather seem so out-to-lunch. It’s why Lou Lamoriello didn’t address his cap situation through trade or waivers (because, most accurately, it would weaken his club on-ice). It’s also why Kevin Lowe and Bobby Clarke moved up the corporate ladders. The job had passed them by.

There’s a new breed of GM required to navigate NHL waters. Unfortunately, for fans of some teams, league culture is not one that so easily embraces change.

THOUGHTS ON THE FLY

  • Three games into the season, and Oiler Coach Tom Renney and Captain Shawn Horcoff have both already publicly criticized the length of Taylor Hall’s 50-second shifts. You know what other young star averaged 50-second shifts last year? Patrick Kane. If you’ve got the horses, you’ve got to let them run a bit. Just ask those who coached Gretzky, Lemieux, Crosby, and a host of other extremely talented offensive players. And what does it say about Taylor Hall that both his coach and captain felt the need to talk about this to the press so early in the season?
  • The loss of John Tavares had most people burying the New York Islanders mere days into the regular season. However, Blake Comeau and Josh Bailey have picked up the slack, with Bailey in particular looking at times like a younger version of captain Doug Weight. The Islanders may not be very good, but they’re building something there.
  • All props to John Tortorella for stressing an up-tempo, pressure style for the Rangers. However, the Rangers can’t be taken seriously in the East until their young defense stops playing giveaway with the opposition.
  • Why should Flames and Wild fans worry just three games into the season? Because each team has only scored one goal at even-strength. Remember, teams that can’t score rarely play meaningful games in April and May.
  • Speaking of worried fan bases, there are troubling signs in Ottawa. There’s an APB out for pointless Alex Kovalev, Pascal Leclaire left his last game – surprise, surprise – hurt, and none of their young players have made any sort of impact yet. Corey Clouston is a solid coach, but this team looks more and more in need of a rebuild.
  • Why is Pittsburgh winless at home? It might have something to do with terrible ice. It looks like Crosby and Malkin are stick handling with a tennis ball on grass out there. Shouldn’t the NHL, in efforts to improve its on-ice product, be investing more into technology that keeps ice firm and hard? Call it the Cialis project.
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