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.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Slaying The Dragons

Did you hear? The San Jose Sharks Are Finally True Contenders? The St. Louis Blues finally won a playoff series? The Nashville Predators finally slayed the Dragons...uh, Ducks?
Nothing to see here, folks

Yes, the San Jose Sharks defeated the team (the LA Kings) that beat them in 2013 and 2014. They've avenged the blowing of a 3-0 lead in games in that infamous 2014 first round series. They must be going all the way after defeating a two-time Cup winner after so many playoff frustrations.

So, the 11th-overall Sharks with the .910 save percentage of Martin Jones is our next Cup winner?

It's only one round. The Sharks beat a team, although rated by many as maybe good enough to get back to the Final, actually MISSED THE PLAYOFFS last season. This is also a Kings' team that blew a huge lead in their own division creating this bad matchup vs. the Sharks. Also, it's an LA team without no-longer-here Slava Voynov or injured early Alec Martinez meaning Drew "I finally got a lone point in the series" Doughty had to play an insane average of 30:53 a game (a full five minutes per game over the next guy, Jake Muzzin, on the LA D) and, wow, it really didn't work out for the Kings. That's a shocker, huh!

Yes, it was such true fan pain for the Sharks to not beat a team two series in a row after beating the Kings way back in 2011. Nothing like the Boston Bruins losing 18 (yes, Ed Westfall, you read that right) series in a row to the Montreal Canadiens. But what do I know being a lapsed B's fan? I curse you still, Mike McPhee!

 Hey, is this an Islanders' broadcast?

Also, this notion that the Sharks are somehow playoff failures is based on what exactly? Since the team actually got good in 2001/02 (finishing 5th overall) the Sharks have played in 22 playoff series and thrice (thrice, I say!) made the Conference Finals. Other than when the Detroit Red Wings were in the West, no other team has played more series out West than the Sharks over this time period.

You don't think most fans would take that? Sure, it's frustrating not to make a Final or win a Cup but the Sharks in those 11 playoff seasons from '02 to now the San Hosers only went out in rd. 1 three times. It's not like they don't give their fans something to cheer for.

Beats being a Nashville Predators' fan and seeing your team lose six out of eight times in the first round over the same time period. Luckily, this season is different...or the same as 2011 and 2012, if the Preds lose to the aforementioned Sharks.

Yes, the team which played its first Game 7 in history has been in the rare air of the second rd. before so again let me wait on Pekka Rinne's scintillating .915 save percentage vs. the Ducks in rd. 1 being a sign that all their dragons were slain.

Finally, the woe begotten St. Louis Blues. Now they do have a legit reason to celebrate as the team has lost three seasons in a row in the first round. The Blues have only won two playoff rounds since 2002 prior to beating the DEFENDING STANLEY CUP CHAMPION Chicago Blackhawks.

What an accomplishment! That's never been done in round one be-....Oh, wait, there was the 2012 Bruins losing to the Washington Capitals, the 2011 cap-stripped Hawks (what? no way!) losing to the Vancouver Canucks...the 2008 Ducks losing to the Dallas Stars, the 2004 New Jersey Devils losing to the Philadelphia Flyers...and technically, although there was a lockout in between, the 2006 Tampa Bay Lightning losing to the Ottawa Senators.

Now usually, the defending Cup champs that do flop badly have had a poor followup season such as when Tampa went from 2nd to 16th overall or Chicago in '11 dropping from 3rd to 13th. The '16 Hawks actually went from 7th in 2015 to 5th. So that really was quite the accomplishment by the Blues and it's not like the Hawks played poorly at all. Six of the seven games were one-goal games including two overtime ones. The goals all tolled were Hawks 20-St. Loo 19.

The shots, though, overwhelming favored the Hawks 256 to 205 so...let's just say Brian Elliott, because he hasn't done all that well in the playoffs up till now so he gets overlooked in the whole Henrik Lundqvist meets Jonathan Quick to this year's Braden Holtby discussion, basically stole this series despite turning back into his old self in Games 5 and 6 of this series. Elliott was outstanding in Games 3 and 4 in Chicago to help the Blues go up 3-1 which was most likely key to winning in seven--the Hawks ran out of gas climbing back into the series and Brent Seabrook hit both posts on one shot. I guess Keith awoke the Kraken...uh, Backes.

Anyway, three teams out West apparently slayed their dragons and one at least will be in the Conference Finals so let the media hype begin.

Just wake me when St. Louis or San Jose actually make the Final. Then we'll see what exactly is what with both of these teams. Smashville, on the other hand, it's all gravy really if the Preds can get past the Sharkies.

Watch over us, Frank

However it turns out, we have a slew of interesting teams finally in the last eight. All of which would make worthy champions. So enough with the two days off between every game in the first four you're playing 'Ning and Islanders and let's get the second rd. rolling.