Monday, June 30, 2008

Can Lightning Strike Twice. . .?

In all my rambling about the Rangers, I forgot to comment on the Tampa Bay Lightning. Quite a few weeks they've had in Southern Florida, no?

First John Tortorella is all but fired, but yet it's not official for weeks. Then Barry Melrose - in what was the worst kept secret in ages - finally takes the helm. Torts or The Mullet Man? Hard to tell who will give a more interesting post game interview. I cannot wait to see this!

Then there's a new ownership group. A new nine year contract signing franchise player Vinny Lecavalier for a pretty penny.

And as of last night, Ryan Malone, Gary Roberts, two stray Penguins, found a home. The other Vinny (Prospal) was shored up again too.

Things are looking sunny in the Sunshine State. I don't want to say that these changes will make all the difference. Certainly it is too early to assume and I rarely if ever make good pre-season predictions. But the team looks good. With Lecavalier (despite his goal scoring droughts at times this past season), perpetual and steady Martin St. Louis, and Vinny Prospal (who had a great year for Tampa before moving onto Philly at trade deadline), this team will not lack for scoring.

And perhaps Malone will help shore up the defense, with Dan Boyle leading the way. And if the Bolts can pick up Brian Rolston, they'd be flying high. (Everyone knows Jacques Lemaire's boys play both ends of the ice, and Rolston has put up pretty decent numbers in Minnesota over the last few years).

The only question - the every year it's the same question - remains in goal. Marc Denis - bye, bye, buyout. Johan Holmqvist - the other way in the deal with Dallas that said farewell to Brad Richards. Will Mike Smith and Karri Ramo play tandem, or will one steal the show? Can a goalie steal the show in Tampa Bay since Nikolai KHa-ha-ha-bi-bulin left town? ;)

All this and more - TBD. But to watch Melrose behind the bench, Vinny L in general, and the rest of the bunch - it'll be. . . interesting.

The Day Before Free Agent Frenzy 2008. . .

All weekend (okay, heck, since the Rangers departure from the Stanley Cup playoffs in early May), I’ve been looking forward to Free Agent Frenzy day. July 1st. Tomorrow. But somewhere over the weekend, I started feeling sick to my stomach. Anticipation and excitement turned into worry and dread.

I ask myself - is this what it’s like to be a Maple Leaf fan?


I’ve been reading a random blog here and there, and keeping up with most of what’s been happening in the NY area press over the last few weeks, even though I haven’t commented upon it. Speculations arose. Nothing was answered. Opinions clashed. But yet I read.

And it wasn’t until yesterday that I really found myself feeling nauseated. While sitting down to breakfast, I read the following in the New York Post:

And before everyone jumps at me, I’m not saying the world will end if the Rangers do not keep Sean Avery. But, I am saying the whole landscape of the New York Rangers team and any success it has shown in the last three post lockout seasons can potentially drastically change come tomorrow, and Avery is certainly a part of that whole.

A few things strike me in particular about this article – and I love this article. Larry Brooks often gets the criticism of fans and others because he says the unpopular thing. The thing people don’t want to hear. I used to feel the same way, until I realized that as he said the thing people didn’t want to hear, he was very often just saying the truth. So often he is spot on. And this is another one of those times.

But back to the article and the best points:

-To ignore what Avery has done in the playoffs is to ignore his value. He is more than just a nuisance. He really is. But…it was his play - both in goal scoring and in agitation – that helped the Rangers win not just this year’s opening round series versus the Devils but last year’s opening round series versus Atlanta. And sure, it ended in a sweep. But take Avery out of that mix. Remember what he did to Ilya Kovalchuk that series? Kovalchuk was skating all over the ice trying to rip Avery’s head off. He lost his edge; he lost his focus. And the Rangers benefited. I’m not saying Atlanta would have won the series. But if Kovalchuk played to his potential and became the game breaker that Avery was – anything could have happened. Johan Hedberg played terrific in game 2, a game in which one goal was scored on a weird accidental bank play off the boards (by Avery, if you are curious). I seriously feel it was Bob Hartley’s error (and I love Bob Hartley) in playing a young and already rattled Kari Lehtonen over a steady veteran in Hedberg, to come back for game 3. The Rangers only beat Hedberg by the slimmest of margins in game 2. Game 3 was the blowout at the Garden. But after Kovalchuck lost his head, the series was all but over. Kudos Sean Avery.

-4 million per year is not completely unreasonable. I think all year people referenced Scott Hartnell’s 4 million per year contract. And Avery, I’m sure just like they were, were saying, I’m worth more than Scottie Hartnell. Avery is worth more than a lot of players who are getting bigger bucks than he is. Is he totally worth 4 million? Probably not. Is Chris Drury worth over $7 million? He’s a good guy, but I never thought so. We could go on and on, but we can agree it’s all relative. The point is that Glen Sather was willing to pay Scott Gomez and Drury each $7 million before they ever even stepped onto the ice to play for the Rangers. But he hesitates to play Avery $4 million and we’ve all seen the impact he makes!

-Which brings me to the fact that not everyone works out in NY. Some players fit in perfectly, like they were made in the NY mold. They never caved under the pressure. They didn’t fall to the temptation the City had to offer. Some became legends. Those that do – that really fit in and really make a difference – should be respected. Take Sean Avery. He may be a wild card, but he’s not a complete unknown. He’s proved he can play here AND that he can contribute here. The fans love him! I’ve seen more Avery jerseys and shirts in the stands (throw in a lot of Prucha’s as well) than I’ve seen for most of the rest of his teammates. To me that is a very telling sign. The people of the Garden Faithful admire Avery and want him on their team. And they admire the fact that he’s able to be more than just a pain in the butt. He can play hockey. He really can. And he will, if the Rangers would only let him. Larry Brooks said,

“The Rangers can pay Avery now . . . or they can pay for the next four years for not signing him. The choice is theirs. They have approximately 48 hours to make it.”

-And I agree. I agree, I agree, I agree. But what truly worries me more – not having Sean on the Rangers next year? Or. . . having to watch the Rangers play Sean and his new team? Both options started the run of nausea I have been experiencing.

But Sean Avery is not the sole reason for my headaches and nausea (yes there are headaches now!) Once I got over that, I started thinking about Jaromir Jagr, Martin Straka, Brendan Shanahan, Michal Rozsival, Marek Malik, Jason Strudwick, Paul Mara, and Steve Valliquette. (Did I miss someone?)

I am not saying I want all these players to return. I want maybe three or four of the above at most. But…what I do not want is to have a completely new team next season. Torn from the seams where suddenly it’s all new players, or all young players, without a vision or veteran leadership of guys who have been there before. (And I don’t just mean been there as in been in the league, but I also mean been there as in been a Ranger. So don’t tell me that Gomez and Drury in all their year’s experience fully know what it is like to Be a Ranger!) So while I don’t think they all should stay, I don’t think they should all go either. And, unfortunately, I personally wouldn’t know where to start.

I’m not going to sit here and try to figure out what most makes sense. If I told you I’d keep Jagr at the right price, you might disagree. But I must wonder what the landscape will look like without at least one proven superstar. And yes, he is both. Proven and a superstar. The Rangers didn’t work when it was all superstars fighting for the spotlight. But I’ve always felt the Rangers need at least one, and I think that one is Jaromir Jagr. At least for two more years. Jagr set the Rangers all-time single season scoring record just three seasons ago. Think about that. A team that has been in existence for 80 years, and it was Jaromir Jagr of all people that did it. Was that lightning in a beer bottle? Maybe. But a guy who did that, a guy who carried the team into the stretch this year and into the playoffs, a guy who a year before rehabbed and played hard despite his shoulder not being even close to 100% - that’s the kind of guy I want to have on my team. Take one look at the smile on his face when the team is doing well - not Jagr himself, but the team – and you realize just how happy he truly is to Be a Ranger!

I don’t know what the Rangers are going to do about their defense. I really don’t. My headaches come from not knowing how it’s possible to keep any semblance of last year’s team together and yet still address those concerns in a financially balanced way. I want to trust in Satherland, but it is a nearly impossible concept. I can’t trust in something I haven’t seen all the way through.

In short, I’ve been there for the bad, playoff-less years. And I’ve watched the good (or the good by Rangers standards) of slowly and carefully climbing out of the basement and becoming respectable in these last three years. The Rangers made the playoffs for three years post-lockout (which only the Devils and Ottawa from the Eastern Conference did in that same time frame). Heck, people were picking the Rangers to win the Stanley Cup this year! After picking them to be worst in the league a year before! There were believers. They saw something. And, honestly, while this year’s playoffs were more disappointing than last years, I saw something too. And I just hope this wasn’t a temporary blip we were seeing. I honestly hope we’re not looking at more years of futility and frustration. And I really, really hope it doesn’t start tomorrow.

Til then, I wait. With Tums and Tylenol in hand. ;)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Sean Avery Rules. . .!

The article below provides quite a few wonderful laughs of enjoyment. Here is one of my favorites:

“And while my stick-handling on the ice keeps getting better and better, my tray-handling
leaves a bit to be desired.” – Sean Avery

Love him, hate him, like him, loathe him -- and for the record, I really think he is one person that certainly falls on the platform of must love or must hate, with no middle ground -- Sean Avery is a character. A character I happen to like. But, we’ll build on that later. First I’d like to comment on a few things from Sean’s article.

-I would think most people would want to have more passion in their lives. Passion for their jobs. Passion for their family. Passion for the sake of passion. Sean, in every avenue, apparently has that. He has passion for his job, while he’s playing it. And he has passion for fashion, which while many may not understand it, is still a passion. I’m a big fan of passion. Only mildly ironically, my one biggest passion in life is hockey. I don’t get to play hockey for a living like Sean does. Like the rest of us, I can only imagine how cool that must really be. But I’m passionate about the game, the sport, the people who play it, and those who talk about it. If Sean is passionate about fashion, let him be. Passion is passion. I think we can all agree there should be more of it.

-Sean believes that a designer’s creativity and success in the fashion world (ie: their Vogue cover on newsstands) might mirror a hockey players success on the ice and the joy of the fans who watch it (ie: round 1 this year when New York beat New Jersey). That type of comparison completely escapes my realm of comprehension. But quite honestly, I can’t argue what I can’t understand, so I’ll give it to him. For the record, Sean and I would never be able to have a conversation about fashion. Ever. Unless he was tearing me apart in critique. Today I’m wearing a shirt that I know for a fact is five years old (not seasons, which I’m taking are important in the fashion world, but years), and shoes which are probably at least three. Neither of which I’d assume were particularly fashionable in the first place. But I have never and will never care about such things. It’s comfortable, it looks nice, I wear it. I am not a slob, but I am not going to pretend that I either know or care about whether I am wearing something that is in fashion or in season. Or even color coordinated. I’d rather spend my money on hockey tickets. I’d rather spend my time watching hockey. It’s that simple. We all have our priorities. Being fashion conscious falls somewhere between keeping my checkbook balanced (for which I have no time) and playing Tiddlywinks (in which I have no interest).

-Hockey players are the best dressed athletes. No question. I remember even in high school our team wore suits on game days. If there is a way to make sixteen-year-old boys gain respectability and maturity in one single step – have them wear a suit. Hockey players, whether extremely good-looking or not, look a hell of a lot better in suits. It’s just one of the many givens in life. I’ve had the opportunity to see hockey players wearing street clothes, and while many of them are still very attractive in jeans and T-shirts, that unmistakable allure is gone. Someone once said, the suit makes the man. I don’t know if the suit can make any man, but…it is decided so that a hockey player looks damn fine in a suit.

- Is Sean Avery proof that you don’t have be to interested in what you do for a living to be good at it? Or is he the exception to the rule? I almost think it’s hilarious that as a professional athlete, Sean has no time for or interest in sports. He’s from Canada, but he’s made it perfectly clear on numerous occasions that he hates hockey obsessed Canadians. That he doesn’t pay attention to what the TV says. Won’t watch ESPN or TSN. Won’t pick up the local sports section or the most recent edition of The Hockey News. And I believe him. I don’t understand it, but I believe him. Think it’s strange? I do. Think he’s rude to make fun of those that are hockey obsessive (or a whole nation that is so)? I do too. Note to Sean: if we agree to let you love and embrace fashion (which I have already admitted that I do not understand), you should extend the same courtesy to those of us who love and embrace hockey. A sport you play. A sport we pay to watch you and others like you play. Got it? Good boy. Class dismissed.

-Sean’s story of beef stroganoff seriously cracked me up. Because I can see it, and, again, I believe it. For the record, when I read that, I thought of hockey camp and/or the college cafeteria where the glasses were too small and I had to carry like four to get a normal, grown-up sized amount of whatever I was drinking, and the act of trying to balance the tray, to find people to sit with, to maneuver between chairs and backpacks - it was just too much. I never had a Sean incident personally, but there was always that guy or girl who did, no?

-Now I’ve walked a fine line in this recap of Sean’s online article in not treading too much on Sean, the hockey player. And I’ll try my best to keep it so. But Sean mentioned the incident, yes the incident, which occurred in Game 3 of the Rangers/Devils opening round series of the NHL playoffs this year. He called his actions an “innovative technique.” And he’s completely, utterly, without doubt in a million years, right. It was innovative. It was creative. It was, I’ll admit, slightly moronic, but it was rather genius in its idiocy. Sean might have acted like an idiot, but don’t be mistaken - he is no idiot. And that’s really all I’m going to say about that. At least for now.

- I started off with saying I like Sean. I’m not even talking about Sean the hockey player - who I do like -, but Sean the hockey personality - who I definitely like. The players in the league sometimes (and I’ll stress sometimes) appear to outside world to be too cookie cutter. Too without passion. Too without personality. Too without a spark that differentiates them from the other 20-some athletes on their team, and from those others throughout the league. (Remember, this is a sport where players wear helmets and to those who don’t know their numbers, how they skate, how they shoot, and how they operate, they are nameless AND faceless players). Alex Ovechkin throws himself up into the glass after scoring. Some people look at him with distaste because why? Because it’s not a typical North American reaction to scoring? Because some people think it’s showing up the opponent? (And in an a blog about Sean Avery I’d be wrong to not admit that Sean, of all people, certainly knows what it means to show up an opponent after scoring. Most of the times he’s fine. Sometimes there is a line and sometimes he has indeed crossed it). Ovechkin, on the other hand, is not showing up an opponent. He’s showing he has a pulse!

**On a side note, I had never liked Jeremy Roenick. I thought he talked too much, which I guess he won’t deny. But I gained so much respect for him in the last few years, especially this past year. He stood up for not only Sean, but for hockey players in general and encouraged them to be more personable. To smile and laugh in their post game interviews. To show that they are fun individuals with something unique to give besides a love for the same game. Roenick has been that. And I might have mistaken his actions and intentions earlier in his career. But he is EXACTLY what the league needed and still does need.**

-Back to Ovechkin for a moment. That’s why I said the NHL should be all over the guy. For his unique personality. For his humble greatness. Sean Avery is not Alex Ovechkin, not in person and not in talent. He will never be. But, he is a personality. He is a character to write all characters. And the NHL -- instead of taking him and saying, ‘ha, this guy, this guy is something else. Something different, something fresh’ – they said, no. No! There is no place for uniqueness in this game. No place for personality. No place for creativity. Save that for the Super Skills Breakaway Competition! (ha, ha….ha?).

-Love him, hate him, like him, loathe him, Sean Avery is a character. He has ideas. He has creativity. He has a backbone and he has guts. I’m not saying the NHL should create a marketing campaign around him (although some other than me have indeed suggested it), but they shouldn’t go out of their way to squash his personality either.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Post Draft Thoughts. . .

Well it took me three days to get back to writing about Friday’s NHL Entry Draft, so granted, things are not as fresh in my mind as they were those three long days ago, but I’ll try my best. My random thoughts:

These kids, and certainly the majority of the top five -- and thus those that reporters are going to be clamoring to get interviews with in the coming year -- are pretty eloquent. I loved hearing them speak. Some were nervous, sure, and, of course, many of their answers were of the “I am going to work hard this summer to try to make the team this fall,” “I hope to do whatever I can to improve the team,” and “I’m excited to be drafted by the [insert team name here]” variety. But that’s okay. They’re young and fresh and will hopefully grow into being the great players those teams and the league expects them to be.

Which brings me to why I think I am going to grow to love Draft Day. As a background, living in the States, we didn’t always get Draft Day coverage (or at least not at times when I was old enough to be aware). And, as I was out of the state at a wedding for last year’s draft weekend, this year became the first year where I could and actually did watch (Friday, not Saturday’s coverage). I think what I immediately liked was the hope and expectations surrounding it all. These kids train their whole lives for this. Such nerves surround their waiting. Such excitement when their name is finally called. For some, it’s their beginning of greatness. For others, their days in hockey will never get better than this. I guess it’s much like the reason that I love Opening Night. There is so much hope. Your team can win and that hope stays alive for another night. It might be a great year. The year. Your team could lose and you start to question. Here we go again? But for that entire day and up until that first puck drop, the whole season is still unwritten. It’s a great feeling. Much the same way it is on Draft Day.

I didn’t hear about the David Carle story until I was driving into work this morning, (Thank you Home Ice XM 204), but I’m glad I did. It is moments like this that make me happy and proud to be a sports fan. Read this article:

I dare you not to get tears in your eyes. I have read it a few times, and I can’t help but tear up each time. Again, as touched on above, there is so much hope that comes with the experience of Draft Day. There is so much that goes into the dream of being a professional athlete. Many times, the journey is tough; you get to be drafted, but it’s the staying in the league and being successful that is the hard part. For David Carle, a dream was cut short before it ever got to be truly realized. But he still had the journey. And the Tampa Bay organization recognized that. Recognized that a kid worked so hard for the chance to have his name called on Draft Day. And they let him have his moment. Truly such a classy thing to do. Nothing less than utter class.

As for David Carle, his story reminds us of where the line between hockey player and human being gets written. He is, I would imagine, devastated he won’t get to play hockey. But I know, without a doubt, he’s happy he gets to live. The hardest news he had to hear was the best news in disguise. He’s aware now. He’s not in the dark. He can live a full life. He can even keep his scholarship to the University of Denver. And whether or not he’ll be involved in hockey (coaching, scouting, managing, or the like) in his future, he’ll be attached to the game through his brother, Matt, and through one really great memory of being drafted on Draft Day. There is more to life than hockey, as we all hear and are all reminded of from time to time. David’s story is just another reminder, but one of the most touching and classiest I’ve seen.

Quick shots:

-Calgary drafting Windsor Spitfire Greg Nemisz, perhaps not in memory of, but with the memory of Mickey Renaud in mind.

-It’s pretty cool that Drew Doughty actually likes the idea of going to the LA Kings, as he was a fan growing up. That might help him smile through the rebuilding process that still awaits those in Southern California. But in seriousness, I always love when players get the chance to play for their “favorite” team. (See Edmonton’s first pick, Jordan Eberle, for another example).

-Think Alex Tanguay is thinking he’ll have a great year for Montreal in 08-09, a bad year in 09-10, and wondering where he’ll be traded to on Draft Day 2010? I thought when he was sent to Calgary that he and Jarome Iginla would light it up. It was a slow start, but Tanguay came around in 06-07, before having a lackluster year in 07-08. Hope he finds success as a Hab. I always liked the guy.

-My father did funny voice-overs for Toronto’s Cliff Fletcher while he was on screen at the draft. (For the record, my father had no idea who he was and just thought he was an old man on the verge of collapse. If only he knew!) To draftee Luke Schenn: “Who are you?” To everyone: “We have a hockey team?” To TSN’s James Duthie: “Where am I?”

-Speaking of, here’s hoping Luke Schenn’s smile and enthusiasm can last beyond Opening Night in Toronto. He seems like a spunky kid who’s happy to have the chance to turn the Maple Leafs around. Oh so much easier said than done, I’m afraid.

-The TSN folks joked about how a guy named Chet Pickard would fit in really well in Nashville with a guy named Vernon Fiddler. What about Jed Ortmeyer? Chet, Fiddler, and a guy named Jed!

-The Phoenix Coyotes won the Jared Staal competition. But was it a competition?

-Nikita Filatov (what a great hockey name that is!) – his Mom is an English teacher and taught him English. Really? Honestly, it must have been nerves, because he did not appear to know English very well. Now will Nikolai Zherdev be on the way out of Columbus before the two Russian Niks can bond?

-Lastly, the Rangers nabbed a guy named Michael Del Zotto with the 20th pick. I really know nothing about him and will, as always, reserve all rights to wait until he actually plays a game with the Rangers to decide how I feel about him. But does he or does he not look like former Rangers draft pick Al Montoya? If you glance quickly? Really quickly? While squinting and tilting your head? Oh never mind.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Draft Upcoming...

I am not sure what to expect from tonight's draft. Trying to figure out what the heck the Rangers are going to do is just not worth the brain power. Ever. I'll just wait and see like I usually do.

But...I have had a weird feeling all week that something "interesting" will happen at the draft this year. Not necessarily with the Rangers, but in general. So I'm going to tune in with more enthusiasm tonight than I normally would. And make a night out of it.

I'll update with thoughts later or tomorrow.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Have the NHL Awards been . . .Americanized?

I won’t sugar coat it. I didn’t LOVE the NHL Awards last night. Usually a night I greatly look forward to – and I just wasn’t overly thrilled with the program last night. I can tell you what I liked, and what I didn’t, but overall, I just get the sense that it wasn’t like years past. Which brings me to the thought that they “Americanized” the awards show. Americanized a thing that was always so Canadian, and that I had always appreciated for being so.

Maybe I feel it more right now because I’ve been extra supportive of HNIC this year and Ron MacLean became someone I saw on a weekly basis and not a casual here and there basis. Maybe I wanted more obvious Canadianisms. Instead it all felt very “Bettman-friendly.” Sure they had Stompin’ Tom Connors, and I sang happily along in the car to the radio broadcast on the way home from work. And Ron was there, but maybe not in all his glory. (Sean Avery! J ) It seemed there were less jokes, less time for jokes in fact. I’d have to go back and check my tapes, but weren’t these awards shows always 2 hours? With time for more music acts, which I admit, I think they were good to cut back on. But I liked the Will Sasso interaction of the past. The interaction with the players in the audience in a joking manner. The interview with Jarome Iginla was nice (he does get an “I’m eloquent” award from me and I always like hearing him speak), but there wasn’t a sense of ribbing – good natured of course. I liked having more time for clips. For it’s not just a celebration of the winners of those individual awards, it is a celebration of what was a great season of hockey. Isn’t it?

Now for the good. I loved having the kids do the announcements for the award nominees. What a great touch. And they sounded so professional! I liked having the kids hand the awards to the players, but it would have been nice to let the players know in advance, no? How many walked right by the kid on the side of the stage and to the podium, saying, hmm, now where did I put my award . . . ah!

I love Alex Ovechkin. Why can’t the NHL just embrace that they have not only one (Sidney Crosby) and not only two (Crosby and Ovechkin) but a great multitude of young players who make great ambassadors for the game we all love. I love Ovechkin. I always did. The guy has embraced everything that is great about hockey and about being an NHL player. He’s good, but he’s humble. He’s nervous, but he’s funny. I just listened to him give his speech (speeches) in, what I must admit, an English that must make Evgeni Malkin very jealous, and manage to be both self-depreciating and humorous. Seriously NHL, I said to myself, box him! Put him in national commercials! He’s your guy. A guy who is unbelievably dripping with talent, but has not once let it get beyond his being a genuine and thankful person. His parents deserve credit, his coaches deserve credit, and he deserves credit. AO8 is quite simply great! We all knew he’d win the Hart, but he is just so incredible!

Patrick Kane. The more I hear the kid speak, the more I like him. Another one comfortable enough in his own skin to make jokes. To realize, yes I’m good, but yes, I am not the only one, and I have a great team, and a great chance, and everything is great in Chicago right now. I love him. I think overall most people think that Jonathan Toews will be the better player in the long run, and that may be right, but I think I’ve got a soft spot for Kane. Doesn’t hurt that he’s going to be playing for USA hockey. I don’t pick my favorite players on what country they come from. I like who I like. But anytime the future of Team USA has a player like that, I’m going to smile and I’m going to appreciate them.

Overall, the NHL had three incredible Calder trophy candidates. Again, embrace it! Washington has great young talent in Nicklas Backstrom. Chicago is stacked with the same. They are hopefully going to both be good teams for years to come now. And it’s exciting for two franchises that need it and deserve it.

Some random musings on the rest of the winners/awards:

Pavel Datsyuk – he had his funny moments. “Hello, again.” Gotta love that.

I really thought that Evgeni Nabokov had the Vezina won. And I was not alone. But I’m not going to criticize a goalie who will go down as one of the, if not the-, greatest goalies of all time, in Marty Brodeur. I didn’t think he had his best year. But…in fairness, back in the early 2000s, I was saying, when is Brodeur going to win a Vezina (while all the Devils fans I mentioned this to said, who is this Vezina?). And it still took him a few years after that to be nominated and then to finally win. Overall, they are giving him his due for a great career. Hank Lundqvist being nominated three years in a row is an accomplishment in and of itself. And 10 shutouts to boot. But Nabokov had my vote.

I love any time any player speaks French. Yes, that means you Brodeur! (In fact, I would so love it if he spoke French all the time – seriously!) And Vinny Lecavalier can pretty much say anything he wants, but let him speak French, oooo la la!

Vinny was very deserving for the King Clancy Memorial. He is a guy that while any team would love to have him, you have to be happy for him that he is where he is. He is not only great for the Lightning; he is great for the city of Tampa and the state of Florida. The impact people like him have on not only teams, but communities, is truly fantastic.

Bruce Boudreau is a happy guy. Let a happy guy in Bruce, coach a happy player in Alex, and the team will be happy and successful in Washington.

Adam Graves, “I always wanted to do this,” while opening up the winner envelope. Can there be a better guy?

As a Rangers fan, Jason Blake never registered on my top list. And he still doesn’t. But a guy getting diagnosed with leukemia and playing all 82 games while he not only digests that mentally, but deals with the fact physically, is remarkable. I respect him. (Although I’d be hard pressed to try to get that image of Mark Messier choking him red out of my head).

Mr. Hockey Gordie Howe said it best, "The game is in great hands. Not good hands, but great hands."

Yes it is! I’m really looking forward to watching this new generation of young guys become the next generation of marquee players.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Recipe for Success. . . ?

Great article by Lynn Zinser (NY Times) that I only wish they placed smack dab on the center of Glen Sather and James Dolan’s desk. Oh wait – they do.

I only wish these men were literate. *sigh*

What is written in this article is not NEW news. But it is written in a simple way with a nice, fun, recipe analogy (and even a supermarket reference!) that even the layman can understand.

To add one particular example to make Lynn’s story have color, despite nauseating color, here you go.

When I was in grammar school, and either hosted or attended a sleepover, somehow a game of Truth or Dare was always suggested, played, and then regretted. And I don’t just mean regretted for the Truth part. It was so often the Dares that caused more of the regret.

I can just think of how many times the dares (we were not the most creative bunch) involved opening up the refrigerator, throwing everything edible (and not so edible) in a bowl, mixing it up, and thus creating a concoction that someone must eat. Imagine for a moment that all these things were yummy (although some not so much so) and were thrown together with the intention of making something equally yummy.

Yeah we all know it doesn’t work like that. So in the world of hockey, the Rangers are this concoction. There is the mustard, the ketchup, the relish, the soda, the milk, the orange juice, the butter, the eggs, the sour cream, the yogurt, the Velveeta slices, the carrots, the broccoli, the cucumbers, the lettuce, the salad dressing….uh, you get the drift.

Now the mustard, ketchup and relish might get along great, if you pair them together, even more so with either a hot dog or a hamburger. But why do I get the feeling the Rangers lines this year more resembled the soda, the milk, and the orange juice. Seriously I’ll give you a minute to stop being ill.

Note to Rangers: food groups make people happy. Compatible hockey players make fans happy. Heck, and even coaches, owners, and the players themselves are happy when they are compatible.

What this article only scratched the surface on was the supermarket reference and the idea of buying everything yummy whether or not it worked. Yummy. Big fancy free agents are yummy. The Rangers for oh so long were very hungry (re: greedy) and went after each and every one of these yummy players. Like a collection of rich dessert and not a well balanced meal representing each of the food groups.

And to think they were expected to win! And thought they had a chance!!

In short, I watched the Rangers do it for years. The Pavel Bure/Eric Lindros/ Alexei Kovalev (part 2)/Bobby Holik/Darius Kasparaitis years of getting the yummiest free-agents with the $9 million dollar paychecks (or $5 in Kaspar’s case). Then, ironically, I watched the New York Yankees try to copy that style (that never worked for the Rangers in the first place) with the Jason Giambi/Hideki Matsui/Alex Rodriguez/Johnny Damon/Randy Johnson/Carl Pavano experiments, which unfortunately are still going on. I will never understand because it NEVER worked for the Rangers when they did it. The Yankees had this great example right in the same city of what NOT to do, and yet they played the “oooo yummy, we must have them,” game. The game of we need to collect yummy players who do not earn their paychecks rather than keep the heart and soul type of guys we all loved, like Tino Martinez, Scott Brosius, Paul O’Neill, etc. And think what you want that O’Neill and Brosius would have retired anyway. The Yankees were within one bloop-single of winning that World Series. If they hadn’t made it so incredibly and nauseatingly obvious that they were going to go in a new direction and that Martinez was going to be shuttled out for Giambi, I think that those guys would have stuck around and maybe it would have been 5 championships in 7 years for the Yankees. Rather, the era ended that night, that cold Sunday November night.

Okay – apologies for the tangent of baseball. That will rarely happen, but it’s still one of the few things that drive me crazy even after all these years. (for the record, not them losing, but the end of that era so abruptly, and the fact that as that ball hit the round and Gonzo fell to his knees that I knew his best friend Tino would be a Yankee no more).

Back to reality. My point in bringing that up though, was that I watched what the Rangers did back in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I watched what the Yankees have done since 2002. And then I somehow ended up watching whatever good the Rangers had done in the two years post lockout, dissipate with the singings of Scott Gomez and Chris Drury. In the words of Zinser, the two yummiest players on the market. While I like both players (and for the record I did not like Gomez at all, but about halfway through the season I realized his sense of humor was growing on me), but neither of them are worth $7 million. Get two yummy players, neither of which fit on your team. (Where have you gone Michael Nylander? Even his 4 years at $4 million dollar plee doesn’t sound so bad now, does it?) Your star player, Jaromir Jagr gets lost in a fog for 2/3rds of the season and your young rookie Brandon Dubinsky is the only one Jagr works with as his centerman. Jagr played better when he was on a line two years ago with Brad Isbister. He liked Brad Isbiter. I think (in fact I kinda even know) Jagr likes Colton Orr. But he does not mesh well with Drury or Gomez. Money well spent. Riiiiiiight.

So the Rangers lack of defense (oh boy do they need some help!) and lack of power play production (seriously, at certain points, I’d pray they’d refuse the extra man and just continue to play 5 on 5 to reduce the chance of an embarrassing two minutes where no shots are taken and the puck is turned over a multude of times) suffers because Sather and co. wanted yummy players once again. Or didn’t want other teams to get those yummy players.

Gomez or Drury? Fine. Gomez and Drury. I felt it was 2002 all over again. *sigh* And if the Rangers thing Marian Hossa, in all his $7+ million dollar glory is the solution, without addressing ANY of the DEFENSIVE concerns, goodness help me to make it through the season. The free agent market is paltry at best this year. The Rangers would do good to skip the scorers or at least the ones that will cost more than a few million (and pray someone from the AHL is ready to take the plunge), and focus almost entirely on getting defensemen. A stay at home guy and a power play set up guy if possible. If not, one of the two. But if the Rangers pay $7 million on one player and do not address their other needs, it will be a LONG season.

Oh and for the record, I am not saying I know the perfect recipe for hockey success. I don’t. But…if a power play doesn’t work all year, don’t expect it to magically transform come playoff time. I really don’t care if it was Nigel Dawes, Blair Betts, Colton Orr, Petr Prucha, and Chris Drury on that top power play unit. As long as they score once in a while! If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. If it is broke, switch it up!!

Friday, June 6, 2008

To Be or Not to Be - an Athlete. . .

What is an athlete. . . ?

A great topic for conversation came up today on The Stock Exchange. (Team 990- MTL). What is an athlete? PJ Stock feels that a race car driver is not an athlete. I tend to agree. It was also mentioned that baseball players might not be athletes. To which I said…WHAT?

I think in order to make any clearer a question to which there probably is NO DISTINCT answer, you need to have a measuring tool. A list of if this, then this, yes then, no then, questions that can help you figure out which side of the line a particular event falls on. Of course in doing so, you are probably going to have to determine or at least think/argue about what a “sport” is.

But first some definitions and clarifications. . .

An athlete, according to me is:
Someone that participates in a sport.
Someone that does something athletic.
Someone that requires being either physically fit or having physical skill (physical skill can be the ability to hit a curveball, the ability to throw a ball, shoot a puck, dunk a basket, etc).

Athletic (from –
1: physically active and strong; good at athletics or sports
2: of, like, or befitting an athlete
3. of or pertaining to athletes; involving the use of physical skills or capabilities, as strength, agility, or stamina.
1. Characterized by or involving physical activity or exertion
2. Physically strong and well-development; muscular

A Sport, according to me is:
One of the big four (hockey, baseball, basketball, football), soccer, lacrosse, field hockey, rugby, hurling, Aussie rules, cross country, track and field, wrestling, etc.

Sport (from - an athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess and often of a competitive nature, as racing, baseball, tennis, golf, bowling, wrestling, boxing, hunting, fishing, etc.

To me, ideally sports should combine physical fitness and physical skill. I think hockey is certainly both. You might not have to be the most physically fit specimen or even the most skilled, but you have to have some combination of both, or else I don’t think you stand up on the ice, let alone play the game.

Hunting. They listed hunting. I don’t see how that is a sport. It takes skill (and a different mind set than I could ever possess) but I’m not sure if it’s physical skill. And it certainly does not take physical fitness. Unless you consider crouching in the bushes for hours pointing a gun physical?

As a side story, I ran into a big problem getting into arguments with people when I was in high school over what was and wasn’t a sport. I did not think cheerleading was a sport and quite honestly, I still don’t. Many disagreed with me because they were like, “you have no idea how hard we work.” But I never said it wasn’t hard. I never said that you didn’t have to be athletic to do it. But according to the state sports guidelines for high school athletics, to be a “sport” you have a certain training season and you cannot train (with your team coach and teammates in organized settings) all year round. Our cheerleaders did that. Therefore, by guidelines, it was not viewed as a sport. Field hockey, for example, was only allowed to train with their coach in season (August-November). If we went to summer camp, the coach could not participate. And if we trained in summer, it was with our captains, and the coach was not allowed. If we had a spring league, it was run separately. (Please see Rick Reilly’s Sports Illustrated article as I agree with almost every point he makes.)

We’re narrowing down our yes and nos/if this and if thens.

It is a sport if:
There is a specific season where it is typically played and the sport is usually clarified by that season. (more for high school and professional than recreational).
There is competition with the end determining either a clear team or individual winner. (a TEAM sport or a RACE).
There are no judges.
The person/team possesses both physical skill and physical fitness.

It is an athletic competition:
If the participants are athletic.
The events are judged. (ice skating/dancing, synchronized swimming, diving, cheerleading)
The person/team possesses physical skill and physical fitness.

It is a sporting event:
If the participants do not have to be athletic.
If there is competition, with a clear winner and loser.
If there is hype, similar to that which would surround a “sport.”

One is an athlete if:
They participate in a sport (as defined above).
They participate in an athletic competition (as defined above).
They do an athletic activity (running, jogging, swimming, basketball, soccer, etc) recreationally.
They possess physical fitness or physical skill.

We’re getting closer (and this is harder than I thought).

The verdicts:
Race car driver – not an athlete. (unless someone can convince me you have to be physically fit and physically skilled rather than just incredibly quick thinking and mentally smart).
Race car driving – a sport? By the fact that I can’t say there is physical skill and physical fitness, I have to rule no. But I think for this type of event we must call it a SPORTING EVENT, and certainly one of the most difficult and dangerous ones that exist. (Ie: I think world series of poker may be considered a sporting event as well, as per the above).

Baseball player – an athlete. Don’t tell me it doesn’t take an extreme amount of skill to hit a ball at that speed or to pitch across a plate at 90+MPH. Are they the most athletic of athletes? No. But athletes nonetheless.
Baseball – a sport? There is competition with both a winner and a loser. It is not judged. It’s participants have skill.

Cheerleading - not a sport.
Cheerleaders - are athletes. (And they are incredibly athletic in what they do).

Ice Skating (think Olympics): not a sport. Because we have to consider that these events are judged. And that does change the view a little. While a competition such as ice skating in the Olympics involves extreme athleticism, it’s really more of an athletic competition, than an actual sport. Ice Skating and ice dancing, although incredibly athletic and done by athletes, are not sports.
Ice Skaters: athletes – yes.

Speed skating - a sport? Yes. Speed skating differs in that it is not judged, it is a race. As is bike racing, track racing – both of which I’d argue are sports.
Speed skaters: athletes? Yes.

Running – a sport? No.
Runners – athletic – Yes!

**Please feel free to challenge me on the above. I know there will be very different opinions and that’s okay. There are some I'm defintiely not sure about. And on another note, I am not going to begin to explain what those Iron Man competitions are doing on ESPN, however. I’m still not sure. ;)

**below is editted in: 7/21/08 - 4:59pm** This is old. Even older than when I found the back issue of Sports Illustrated at the eye doctor’s office in early June. But what can you do. I jotted down some facts on the back of a piece of paper, which I just now found, that support some of my claims above. So here you go:

-The NCAA does not view cheerleading as a sport. It views it as an “activity.” Cheerleaders are not tested for drugs and banned substances. It does not fall under the NCAA testing umbrella. Therefore, I’d say by that definition it’s not a sport. As per the article, many male cheerleaders (hehe, sorry!) admitted to using steroids to bulk up knowing they would not be tested.

-In the last 23 years, 107 female athletes were killed or paralyzed in college or high school athletics. 60 of those were cheerleaders. During the same time frame 25,000 cheerleaders were sent to the ER for injuries sustained while cheering. Take that as you will. Porcupine tossing people, porcupine tossing.

-Credit the above information to Sports Illustrated, March 31st issue, and Kate Torgovnick’s article “Pom-poms and Circumstance.”

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Random Ramblings on the Stanley Cup Final. . .

*Before the series began, if I had to pick who would win and when, I would have said Detroit in 6. But I claim no acknowledgement for this thought, because I did not bet and therefore no one really knows that I was thinking it (even though I was). That also coupled with the fact that I really had my doubts after game five that this series would be over in six. Trust me, I deserve no bragging rights.

*I am glad Detroit won. And that’s a weird feeling. I usually do not root for Detroit (and the other teams that have had so much success over the last decade plus). Not because they aren’t good. They’re great. But because I get tired of seeing the same teams win all the time. But, I am glad Detroit won. They have the better storylines this time around - Lidstrom, Drake, McCarty, Osgood - and, if every predictor is right, this is just the beginning of the road to success for the Penguins. So I’m not going to feel badly for them. They had a good run and I’m sure their time will come, sooner rather than later.

*If the first player of European decent to captain his team to the Stanley Cup was not going to be Jaromir Jagr, I’m glad it was Nicklas Lidstrom. I can’t say anything bad about him. In fact, I’ve not heard anyone EVER say anything bad about him.

*I’m thankful for what turned out to be a very good Final. I was so disappointed last year, because for whatever reason (their own doing or the extreme strength of Anaheim) Ottawa was practically invisible. And even though it wasn’t a sweep (barely), it was a rather boring series. This year, I was enthused. It was a good matchup. The first two games were strongly in Detroit’s favor, but the action was end to end. The pace, I thought, for pretty much every game except maybe game four, was very good. And most of the games were pretty evenly matched, at least after the first two. Last night’s game was not like last year’s elimination game. Game five last year wasn’t close. But last night, with the clock literally ticking down to seconds, Pittsburgh still had a chance to tie the game. And they almost did. That’s all you can ask for. A fight to the end. An ending that is not written ahead of time. This Final brought that. And that’s something I’m grateful for.

*Is this the end of an era? Do Chelios (not my favorite player, I’ll be honest) and Hasek (certainly not my favorite player, I’ll be blunt) retire? I will have a harder time disliking Detroit if these two have skated in their last games. And before I get criticized, Chelios has had an incredible career and did great things for American hockey. I thank him for that. Hasek has been a goalie with a pretty fantastic career himself, but he is, was, and always will be, the flopping fish to me. No disrespect to him, but it’s just a case of personal preference. I’d be pretty short-sided to just say I loved every player on every team, just because they were good players on good teams. I’ve liked hockey long enough to earn an opinion. The above are just two of my many.

*Speaking of Chelios. I see he has no problem coming out of the locker room to shake the hands of the Penguins after Detroit won. (According to radio, he didn’t watch the game, but talked in the locker room with the equipment? guy instead). I’m not going to criticize him for his past actions, but it’s a little funny to me. Last year, big reaction when he did not congratulate the Ducks (later stories of him being physically ill and unable to do so surfaced), but this year, he’s good to go when the story ends better. Is this even more of an indication that he’s done? (Remember, he did not play a game in the Final this year).

*Am I the only one that actually likes teams winning on the road, for the sole reason, that the family members of the players cannot rush the ice and join in for photos, clogging up a celebration that should be for the players, their coaches, and staff only in the same way they'd do if it was at a home arena? (Images of camera guys dodging players, camera wire, staff, coaches, reporters, AND half a dozen children and weeping wives are playing through my mind). Probably. I love hockey players and their families love and support is a big reason they are able to get to be where they are. I know that and I respect that. But, to me, that moment on the ice when players win the Cup should be about their team. Those other 20-some guys who’ve been in the fire with them. A player can think about whatever and whomever they want when they are lifting the Cup. They can hug and kiss and celebrate with their family to their hearts content as soon as they get off the ice, and for the months to come. (The summer after, I think, is when it really becomes a celebration more for the family, for the player’s home town, etc). Am I the only one that wants the immediate celebration on the ice to just be about the team? (And if it’s what the players want, then I respect that, surely. I just don’t remember it always being that way. More and more, I miss the simplicity of it all).

*I like Marc-Andre Fleury. I think he’s quite calm and composed for his young age. I haven’t seen him have huge emotional reactions. He’s kind of quiet and just does his thing – and as of recently, does it well. I appreciate that. I think these playoffs proved to the Penguins that they did get the goalie they bargained for.

*I love hockey, but I’m kinda relieved the year is over. I’m sure in a week I’ll be longing for hockey again, but there is always that immediate sense of relief. I can go to bed earlier. I can try to focus on other things. (Which sadly always makes me realize how little else I have to focus on). I can make plans without having to worry if I’ll miss a game that I want to see. But I’ll miss hockey of course. And as always there will be an exciting summer of free agency to keep me busy. Looking forward to that.

*Okay, I tried. But I take the above statement back. Is it October 4th yet? ;)

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Tiger Woods Has an Opinion . . .?

I am not going to go on some insanely long rant about why I think what he said is absurd and untrue.

Because of course it is absurd and of course it is untrue. Plenty of people watch hockey. Plenty.

As many people as watch the big two of the NFL and MLB? No. As many as watch golf? No.

Personally though, and I’ve felt this way for as long as I can remember:

I don’t care if the NHL is the fourth big sport (behind NFL, MLB, NBA), or even the fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth (behind NASCAR, horse racing, gymnastics, aquatics, bird catching, Frisbee tossing – or whatever other sport gets better ratings than hockey).

Should I care? Maybe. But I don’t.

I personally would rather have plenty of people (across the border in Canada, here in the States, and over the ocean in Europe) call hockey their number one sport and love it for all that is great about it, without worrying about what other people think.

Because face it, hockey is a love it or hate it sport. I’ve tried making my arguments to people who hate it, to no avail. They don’t say, “I don’t follow the game.” They say, “Oh I hate hockey,” or “I despise hockey.” (Which is absurd in its own right – even I won’t say I hate/despise some sport that I have no knowledge about.) In my personal experiences, there is often not a middle of the road here.

I realize the NHL is a business and it needs to have more fans to make more money and more TV exposure in order to do that, etc. I’m not na├»ve.

But when people say they hate hockey, I recommend you just close your ears and ignore them. I’ve learned to. Because really, really, really, when it comes down to it, I don’t want them being a fan of my sport. My sport.

Because hockey is my sport. I am proud that I love hockey. And honestly, that is good enough for me. We know who we are. We have our plenty.

I’d chalk what Tiger said not to stupidity, but to pure ignorance. He should have been more diplomatic and said “I don’t follow hockey, “or “I’m not following the playoffs.” Or even an attempt to be funny with an, “I’m not sure. What team’s better?”

Instead, by his words, we have to assume in a world of love it or hate it, Tiger hates it. And all I have to say to him is – hockey doesn’t need a fan like you.

**Note: No disrespect was intended to fans of the NFL, MLB, NBA, NASCAR, horse racing, gymnastics, aquatics, bird catching, and/or Frisbee tossing.**

The Power of a Goalie's Pads. . .

First of all, random time to start a hockey blog, I know. There are – at most - two games left in the hockey season. I get it. I mean, sure, I could wait til July 1st to talk about free agent movement. But then I’d miss getting the chance to give a young goalie some much deserved credit for his game last night. Thus. . .

I wouldn’t have called myself one of Marc-Andre Fleury’s haters. But I certainly wasn’t much of a supporter either. I felt that he, like so many other highly touted first round draft picks (in his case #1 overall 2003) before him, had merely fizzled before they ever really got the chance to fire up. (Which, given he's really not had a chance to establish himself in the league yet, was probably pretty unfair anyway).

However, two things make me re-think that position.

One – The theory that a goaltender’s pads can hold some mystical power over them and their confidence. After Marc-Andre Fleury came back to the Penguins in February, he had switched from his trademark and – quite frankly slightly ugly – bright yellow pads, to more subdued white ones. Well, his numbers after returning did not lie. His strong play in goal helped keep pace with Montreal for 1st in the East until the very end. (Montreal came away with the #1 seed - by 2 points - but I’ll keep the conversation on the team actually playing in the Final. Although I say that with all due respect to the storied Habs). Did his pads really make the difference? We might never be sure. But…don’t ever discount how a random act can have extreme consequences. If nothing else a more confident Marc-Andre Fleury stepped in.

Two – Last night’s game. Game 5. A game which, before it, I was all about ready to pack up and mourn the four month loss of hockey that is the off-season. Detroit going home for game 5. Very good record at home. And Pittsburgh hadn’t scored a goal in the other two games played at The Joe (shut-out 4-0 and 3-0 respectively) to start the Final. It seemed pretty open and shut. I figured, like so many others, the Stanley Cup would be awarded around 10:45 last night and I’d be in bed by 11:30. I never miss the handshakes, if I can help it. And a Cup celebration. Never. But collectively Pittsburgh’s players came into Detroit last night not prepared to close out the season. And they were led, in no small part, by their goalie.

Was it the greatest playoff performance by a goalie ever? Not even close. Was it the flashiest goalie show ever? I wouldn’t say so. But it got the job done. And it’s about getting the job done when winning is the only thing keeping you and your team from summer vacation. Fleury made some very impressive saves. Ones that back before the pad switch and the confidence boost, I didn’t think he had it in him to make. He kept his team not only in the game, but in control of the game. A big save can do that to you. Allow your team to force an overtime on a goal with 35 seconds to go in the game, in your season. And he did that. Marc-Andre did that. For that alone, when I’m asked to choose a side of hater or supporter for Marc-Andre (if anyone hypothetically were to pose this question that is), I’d have to say that last night played a large part in making me choose supporter.

He is young. He will not be perfect. But Marc-Andre Fleury had his night last night. And I applaud him for that.

For the record, I have picked Detroit and I am rooting for Detroit. But more than that, I wanted a long series, six or seven games. Thanks to last night, we have at least one more. I also wanted a competitive Final. Thanks again to last night, I think we have that as well.

Game 6 rolls tomorrow from the Steel City. I can’t wait. :)