Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Dear Daniel and Henrik,

Now as much as I think it's great for you both to address Vancouver Canucks fans with an open letter in The Players Tribune, I'm sorry I've always found it very hard to be a fan of your style of play. Hey, nothing against you as people. You do the whole Trevor "good in the community" Linden thing so kudos to you both. Then again it's not like I need my fave athletes to be saints off the ice. That's just a bonus, if they are nice guys.

Look, my idea of a hockey player is a bit more like this:

 Now THAT'S a hockey player. 

Given that Cam Neely to me is the prototype of what a forward should be in the NHL, I don't need ALL my forwards to play the same style. That would just be as dumb as thinking Jonathan Toews is a better player than John Tavares because Toews has been on three Stanley Cup winning teams and Tavares none so far.

I truly do love all types of players even ones who are not super physical but have those slick moves. Be it the super underrated Jean Ratelle in the '70s 
to the recent stylings of Pavel Datsyuk, it's great to see silky hands in action. No, my issue with both of you is slowness in various forms.

I get you were never going to be Swedish Rockets a la the Russian one--Pavel Bure.  

I want excitement though. I want to be lifted out of my seat. To put it in terms maybe you can both relate to, I'm not European, and I don't understand how watching the Tour de France on TV is entertaining at all. I appreciate the athleticism it takes to cycle up mountains, but it's not something I particularly want to watch for hours on end. So I'm hardly going to fall in love with two players cycling the puck down low no matter what the results are. 

It's simply aesthetics. I want Guy Lafleur flying down the wing. I want Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane doing this:


Getting started early

It's not like I don't enjoy Swedish hockey players either. Give me a Henrik Zetterberg or a Peter Forsberg and I'm onboard. Your buddy, Markus Naslund and you two--not so much. Again, it's a style-of-play choice. 

The other main problem related to slowness is your development into "stars." Who knows why but both of you took far too long to get really good. By the time you got to that "elite" level any chance of actually doing consistent damage and leading the Canucks deep into the playoffs on a yearly basis was gone. You may ask, "Well, what about the 2011 Final?"

We'll get to that later, but here's a comparison of what I was talking about as far as your career arcs. Let's have a look at some contemporaries that overlap your era and seeing how long it took them to break the arbitrary 82-pt. mark in an 82-game season and, as well, go on a deep playoff run to at least a Conference Final.

Joe Sakic age 20, 102 pts.; age 26, Stanley Cup champion
Peter Forsberg age 22, 116 pts. and Stanley Cup champion

Mike Modano age 22, 93 pts; age 21, Stanley Cup Final


Jarome Iginla age 24, 96 pts; age 26, Stanley Cup Final

Brendan Shanahan age 24, 94 pts; age 28, Stanley Cup champion
Sergei Fedorov age 22, 86 pts; age 25, Stanley Cup Final

Eric Lindros age 20, 97 pts; age 23, Stanley Cup Final
Claude Giroux age 24, 93 pts; age 22, Stanley Cup Final

Paul Kariya age 21, 108 pts; age 28, Stanley Cup Final
Teemu Selanne age 22, 132 pts; age 35, Conference Final

Marian Hossa age 24, 80 pts; age 24, Conference Final

Vincent Lecavlier age 26, 108 pts; age 23, Stanley Cup champion
Brad Richards age 25, 91 pts; age 23, Stanley Cup champion
Martin St. Louis age 28, 94 pts and Stanley Cup champion

Ilya Kovalchuk age 20, 87 pts; age 28 Stanley Cup Final 

Sidney Crosby age 18, 102 pts; age 20, Conference Final

Eric Staal age 21, 100 pts and Stanley Cup champion

Jason Spezza age 22, 90 pts; age 23, Stanley Cup Final

Pavel Datsyuk age 27, 87 pts; age 23, Stanley Cup champion
Henrik Zetterberg age 25, 85 pts; age 26, Conference Final

Patrick Kane age 21, 88 pts; age 20, Conference Final

Sure this is a subjective group (I mean, Datsyuk, for example, was a rookie on his first Cup not the leader he became by age 29 of his second Cup), but these are all mainly guys who at least started to do SOMETHING at an elite level by their mid-20s at the latest. 

Yes, Alexander Ovechkin (106 pts as a 20 y/o) has yet to get to a Conference Final let alone a Cup Final. Sure, a Sedin by another name due to his slow skating, Adam Oates (102 pts as a 27 y/o), took until age 35 to get to a Stanley Cup Final (with the Washington Capitals). Joe Pavelski or Toews have yet to record 82-pt seasons, but again these are two players I would rather watch because of HOW they play.

Hey, it's not like I'm asking for much, if you are future Hall Of Famers. If Steve Yzerman can go from a player had 87 pts as a 20 y/o and six 100+-pt seasons including a whopping 155 pts in the Air Hockey era and transform his game as he aged, you could have by now as well. Even if you consider the '80s Snorris Division made it easier for every team in that weak division to get into a Conference Final (Stevie Y at age 21), Yzerman from ages 29 to 32 captained the Detroit Red Wings to a Stanley Cup Final, Conference Final and then two straight Stanley Cups in those four seasons! 

Then there's your career arcs:

Henrik Sedin age 28, 82 pts; age 30, Stanley Cup Final
Daniel Sedin age 26, 84 pts; age 30, Stanley Cup Final

And at age 30, that is the ONLY deep playoff run your teams have ever had in 17 seasons in the NHL. 

So, I'm sorry, if I'm not onboard the Sedin Train. Then again I'm still trying to figure out how Linden went from looking like the next Cam Neely to virtually losing his scoring touch at age 26. Would someone please explain how he never cracked 30 goals again after six 30-goal seasons in his first eight years in the NHL?

You both do represent what I think the less delusional Canucks fans see in this franchise--year-upon-year frustration. Other than the Pavel Bure years when have the Vancouver Canucks not been as frustrating a franchise in any sport?

To me, this incident every Canuck fan knows pretty much sums up why neither of you will ever win my heart and, if that makes me heartless, . . . so be it: 

Definitely a TKO for Canucks' Cup hopes

Where was the fight back? Look, I get you're tough but just are not fighters and maybe some other Canuck should have jumped in, but how many punches to the face does it take to wake the ____ up?

You guys had been playing in the NHL up to that point for 11 seasons and what that showed me was not "discipline" and not taking stupid penalties. It showed me the Boston Bruins were going to clean your clocks.


Even gentlemanly Jean Beliveau would not take that abuse...or at least John Ferguson would have stepped in and clocked Brad Marchand. Sadly, Gino Odjick was not on the 2011 team. You win some; you lose a Stanley Cup.

As it was, we all know the story. The now obviously soft Canucks came back home after that Game 6 loss and did not score a single goal (Tim Thomas again outplays Roberto Luongo) in Game 7. Done . . . like . . . dinner.

To be honest, yes, you two could have won me over if you had led the Canucks to the Cup in 2011 (although having lost Games 3 & 4 by  a combined 12-1 score, I could not see a Stanley Cup materializing after Aaron Rome decided to wake up the Bruins with that dumb hit on Nathan Horton), but you were already on as thin ice thanks to the previous nine seasons of no deep playoff runs starting even back in the Markus Naslund era (yet another Swedish forward the Canucks "lucked out" with not named Zetterberg or Forsberg).

I could go on but be that as it may, you guys, to borrow from John McEnroe, cannot be serious if you think the Vancouver Canucks' signings of Dave Gagner, Thomas Vanek, Michael Del Zotto and the NHL's 2016/17 83rd leading scorer (Bo Horvat) to a six-year (six years!?) deal is going to result in a deep playoff run UNLESS Thatcher Demko makes the team and turns into 1986 rookie Patrick Roy . . .  or that other guy in the '80s. 


Don't you forget about me













Monday, May 15, 2017

Oh No, Canada!



Dear Justin Trudeau,

I hear you wanted all Canadians to cheer for the Ottawa Senators in the NHL playoffs because, well, I'm not sure why really. With all due respect, I do cheer for Canadian national teams in hockey at all levels. I always want Team Canada to do well internationally from the Olympics to Miss Universe. 

Always a bridesmaid


What I don't understand is how the leader of our nation can fall for this media-induced annual push to cheer on a so-called "Canada's team" when there is one Canadian-based NHL team left in the Stanley Cup chase. If you are this gullible to fall for this ruse, I worry about what the Orange Man down south may try to put past you. 

Hey, Justin, how'd like them oranges?


In 2017, for this Canadian based in your former teaching grounds my cheering order among the Final Four goes Penguins, then Ducks, and Predators if they end up vs. the Sens (sorry, I like the fans in Honkytonk Central over Boucher 1-3-1 hockey). So "all" Canadians minus at least this one will not be heeding your call to cheer for the team who seem to think a Roman Centurion is a Senator. 


Stronger and sexier than a Trojan

The border has never really played into what team I want to win. In fact, it probably does the opposite given the Canadian-based teams tend to be super annoying to the rest of us outside the Centre Of The Universe (i.e., the Maple Leafs), have smug fans who live on past Cup glory (i.e., Habs fans), have been rivals in playoffs past (i.e., the Flames), have had horseshoes in lucking into superstars (i.e., the Oilers) or been as non-descript a boring franchise as the NHL has had (i.e., the Senators especially in the Jacques Martin era). 

Probably the only other Canadian-based team I'd ever cheer for other than the hometown Canucks (which, trust me, is harder than you think given the GMs employed here over the decades) are the Winnipeg Jets because that team usually has had similar hard luck and its fans are truly the best in Canada (sorry, Habs fans). Plus who doesn't love the team of Hull, Nilsson and Hedberg, Hawerchuk and Selanne, Pokey and the Bandit!

Fleury and Murray Lite


No, Mr. Trudeau Version 2.0, I choose the teams I cheer for as the playoffs move on based on how they play and if they have interesting players. Also, although upsets are fun and exciting, when it comes to the eventual Stanley Cup champion, I prefer my championship teams to be, ya know, actually good. 

Enough with the "low seed, treat the regular season like it means nothing" teams sneaking in a Cup. Yes, I'm talking to you the 2012 Los Angeles Kings who won less than half of their games in the '11/12 regular season. THAT'S championship pedigree? Grabbing the eighth seed thanks to overtime and shootout loser points then riding a hot Quick goalie to glory?

If that's the criteria to "building" a championship team, sign the rest of us up, will ya? Change the name of the sport to GOALIE then!

So, I honestly do not want the 12th overall Ottawa Senators nor 16th overall Nashville Predators stumbling into a Cup. Isn't the Canadian way about fairness? You taught school. You know floundering in mediocrity the whole school year and then acing the final exam really is not what it should be about. 

Nothing against Erik Karlsson or Bobby Ryan nor P.K. Subban or Pekka Rinne but c'mon now!

I want to see greatness. I grew up in an era of dynasties. Call me crazy but seeing the Carolina Hurricanes win a Cup in 2006 and then proceed to miss the playoffs ten times in the next 11 seasons just doesn't seem right to me.

I mean, if it's Canadian glory you seek, do not shun the Canadians who do great ambassadorial work for our nation such as Marc-Andre Fleury or Ryan Getzlaf just because they ply their Canadian-trained skills outside our borders.

If anything, you should dial it back on "Canada's team" all together as you might actually be seeing the Edmonton McDonuts vs. the Taranna Mike Babcocks in a Stanley Cup Final sooner than you can book another vacation on a government jet.

So, my advice is stick to politics, Captain Canada, and let us hockey fans choose whatever team gets us out of our seats with excitement in the next few weeks.  

 Hey, I'm Captain Canada!


Monday, November 28, 2016

The new Lou in South Florida

Look, I have three generations of military service in my family tree to this day. I think people with military backgrounds can be extremely successful in sports (see Air Force veteran Gregg Popovich's record as coach of the NBA's San Antonio Spurs) but to run an entire sports organization along military lines is bizarre in 2016. After all, militaries can be very good at winning wars but the aftermath and being able to reorganize a society well itself went out the door once the Marshall Plan days were over. To wit Iraq and Afghanistan. Does anyone with half a brain think the various military invasions from various nations over the years have left either nation in a more stable state headed towards peaceful democracies? 

You! Yeah, you! You're going places.

That's why I'm confused as to what billionaire Florida Panthers owner Vincent Viola is up to in South Florida. Look, I don't get the whole American obsession with one's alma mater. I do get wanting to work with friends and likeminded people although that can cut both ways. You don't want a bunch of yes men and women around you when you have to make the hard decisions.

Anyway, Viola has decide to surround himself with West Point graduates. That's his prerogative. Not sure how that equates with managing a hockey team but at least it's out-of-the-box thinking which is to be lauded in hockey. On the other hand, the '60s showed us athletes and a large part of Western society do not want the military involved in our daily lives at work. Although the U.S. military has modernized it is still a very hierarchical structure. Not that hockey isn't, but a buck private is not earning millions either. The NHL  is a totally different kettle bomb of fish.

Throw in the whole obsession with analytics the Panthers' owner loves because he made his billions using numbers to his advantage on Wall Street, and you have a great story developing, win or lose, in Sunrise, Florida. It certainly has not made the Cats as boring as their new Ottawa Senators lookalike uniforms are. 


Stick a white band under the crest, no one will notice the difference


But here's the rub after today's firing of coach Gerard Gallant--numbers are not people. It's fine to use "advanced" stats as a tool to shape your team. They just can't be the end-all and be-all just as the eye test can't be either. One of the key factors in finding the right player and coach for any team is character. I'm sure the Panthers say all the right things that they don't just rely on analytics, but Gallant's firing sure suggests otherwise.

According to the Panthers' PDO this season they are kind of smack dab in the middle of the pack. Their luck is neither good nor bad. They are pretty much where you'd expect them to be given the number of man games lost for their key players (Jussi Jokinen 12 GP, Nick Bjugstad 3 GP, and Jonathan Huberdeau hasn't even played this season). So changing coaches is trying to change that luck, I suppose. Or did management think the Panthers were the second coming of last season's Pittsburgh Penguins?

What the firing of Gallant shows most of the hockey world, and putting its rookie GM into the coaching seat, is Viola seems to be following another model. That would be one he saw maybe across the river from his Manhattan Wall Street offices--the Lou Lamoriello era in New Jersey

The Devils were notorious for changing coaches at will and at bizarre points in the season even just prior to the playoffs. Sometimes it worked . Sometimes it didn't. Sometimes Lou came down from his GM chair and stepped behind the bench. Sometimes he didn't. 

The New Jersey Devils won three Stanley Cups during Lou's GM reign. They also had the two Scotts (Stevens and Niedermayer) on defence. The Devils also never won a cup after Niedermayer left for Anaheim in 2004. Great players often make GMs look pretty great.

The Panthers do have a gem on defence in Aaron Ekblad so thank old-school Dale Tallon for that draft pick under his GM's watch. (Speaking of which, wouldn't it be sad and ironic should the Panthers win a Cup with the core of the team players Tallon brought in. He did the same for the 2010 Chicago Blackhawks yet was fired before he could get his name on the Cup despite having his stamp all over that team.) Ekblad is a key building block, but to summarily fire Gallant 22 games into a season with no class or honor (I do believe that's a tenet of West Point, isn't it?) shows me more of a Wall Street than a West Point mentality. Let's call it Wall Point, shall we?

How does one make billions on Wall Street? Certainly not with a long-term buy-and-hold policy. No, all those trading algorithms are put to use making thousands of trades in microseconds daily. This firing smacks of the same. It's short-term thinking. We'll see if it works in the NHL.

So Tom Rowe is the new Lou--a GM who steps down to coach. Although Rowe was a head coach for six seasons in the AHL and two in the KHL, he has a horrendous playoff record--four times his teams lost in the first round and only in his first season with the Carolina Hurricanes' farm team, the Lowell Lock Monsters, did his team win a playoff round. In the KHL his Lokomotiv Yaroslavl also lost in the first round.

Then again Lou Lamoriello's coaching record in "pro" hockey was not all that great. Twice he took over the Devils' coaching reigns. The first time in the 2006 playoffs he got them past round one then they were out in round two. The second time in 2015 they missed the playoffs.

So if it's the new Lou the Panthers' owner wants, maybe it's the new Lou he gets.