Wednesday, January 24, 2007

NHL Lacks Skills Against TV Competition

Last night was the 2007 NHL Youngstars Game and the Skills Competition, the first of two broadcast nights for the All-Star game festivities. Tomorrow night will be the actual All-Star game. Now I'm not that excited over the game itself, especially since only one of my Panthers, Jay Bouwmeester, will be represented. But the NHL is going to have to quickly realize that what they did last night was a huge faux pas.

Case in point, for the first time in a long time, the All-Star festivities are on during the week, Tuesday and Wednesday. This stuff usually takes place on Friday/Saturday. Now granted TV ratings aren't very good on the weekend and are better during the week, and that might matter if this was being shown on network TV, but it's not. The NHL is partnered up with VS., the cable channel that most people don't get without ordering it (usually not on standard/basic cable) and even less actually watch. It wasn't until last year that they joined forces with VS. (then OLN) to have a new post-lockout network after ESPN dropped them like a bad habit. It's safe to say ESPN was done with hockey and we've been through that before, it's both good and bad.

Since the season started, VS. has gotten slightly better at their coverage but are of course nothing compared to the Canadian stations or probably even as good as NBC. But if there were any questions if things had progressed at all on VS. and with the NHL's TV smarts, it was made extremely clear last night that they had taken at least two steps back if not more. So the Skills Competition was on last night, but against what? Every major network had the U.S. Presidential State of the Union Address last night. While not the most riveting television, it is still going to pull in the ratings every single year without a doubt, especially when it's on all the major channels and news networks. Tomorrow night, the All-Star game, gets to go up against the likes of American Idol. Now granted those who like AI are not those who follow the NHL usually but clearly the ratings will be shot to hell on that game.

So does the NHL have a good reason for doing this? There is at least one good reason. That the NHL GMs didn't want to lose a weekend of home games for their clubs. This is very rational at least, as weekend games bring the most revenue per team and this weekend all games will resume without missing a beat. But then you have to remember that the ASG itself would have gone up against no other major sports (Saturday ASG is usually during the day), not even the NFL.

What really sent me over the edge last night was the VS. production of the Skills Comp. It was incredibly deplorable. Coming back from breaks, they would do interviews or talk over things while an event had already started. Some camera angles made it impossible to see the action, especially during the accuracy shooting event. Other times, the announcers themselves were totally lost. Either they didn't know how the event really worked or they forgot how to call the game entirely. Mike Emrick, I am so sick of hearing you on my TV on this channel.

But the real moment I knew this thing was a joke? During the fastest skater event, each skater is to go around the rink once with their stick as fast as they can. They are clocked with a speedometer/speed gun or some such device for the best possible accuracy. Except, this device wasn't working at all last night. So they used a human element by having someone hit a stop watch. A stop watch, are you kidding me? This is not soccer people, this one of the oldest sports leagues in North America and this is what we get?

I think it's safe to say the NHL didn't win over any fans last night if they were even trying. Everything that could go wrong did. Even the interaction from some of the more interesting players fell flat, maybe only Ovechkin's interview held my true interest. But even the crowd in Dallas had little to yell about. I will likely give the ASG a chance tonight, but my hopes are very down. The players will likely not go all out and it is not the honor it may once have been to be selected. Frankly I can't wait to get back to the real hockey, the stuff that everyone should be watching to see the spirit of the sport, not this lame excuse for an exhibition of how NOT to display and play the game.

There's no Smash Mouth to be found at this red line.

Monday, January 15, 2007

All-Star Reserves: Big Names MIA

Here's part two of the coverage of the 2007 NHL All-Star game, the first one in 3 years no less. On Saturday, the NHL released the rest of the All-Star rosters, as were chosen by the respective coaches of each side. We've got a lot of players to get to so let's jump in shall we?

EAST RESERVES - As selected by coach Lindy Ruff

  1. Jason Blake - Having a great year on the Island, understandable pick
  2. Simon Gagne - Terribly underachieving on an awful team, makes little sense
  3. Dany Heatley - Has his team going strong again with 58 points
  4. Marian Hossa - Very deserving, outplaying superstar Kovalchuk
  5. Vincent Lecavalier - Hate his guts but have to admit he deserves it
  6. Martin St. Louis - Has just as many crazy points as Lecavalier, only in miniature form
  7. Brendan Shanahan - Way outdoing himself in the late 30's
  8. Eric Staal - Not truly deserving compared to teammate Whitney, having a slumped year
  9. Justin Williams - Not quite as good as Brind'Amour thus far but good player (read: diver) in his own right
  1. Jay Bouwmeester - Great choice (yes biased sorry) but still one of the best young defensemen in the league and possibly the best skating one there is
  2. Zdeno Chara - Not quite lighting the world on fire but keeping his Bruins in there and as the captain no less
  3. Tomas Kaberle - Nice to see them pick the much better Toronto defenseman
  4. Brian Rafalski - I'm not overly impressed by him but the East's defense is left wanting anyway
  1. Martin Brodeur - Total no-brainer, should have been the starter
  2. Cristobal Huet - Many might be confused by this pick but he is quietly making an amazing season for himself
WEST RESERVES - As selected by coach Randy Carlyle

  1. Bill Guerin - Having a pretty good season but not so sure if he's worthy
  2. Martin Havlat - Though oft-injured he certainly does have point per game potential
  3. Patrick Marleau - Nice to see him recognized in the shadow of Thornton
  4. Rick Nash - Seriously? I know what he's done before but he's SUPER underachieving, for a guy who won the Rocket Richard trophy not so long ago
  5. Yannic Perreault - This one really reeks of desperation. I know he's done great stuff since signing a month into the season but is he really an All-Star?
  6. Brian Rolston - Yes, thank you for not ignoring the Wild's real star (ahem Mr. Gaborik)
  7. Teemu Selanne - What can I say, having a ridiculously good season, he's still got it
  8. Ryan Smyth - Numbers aren't amazing except that he's missed at least 10 or more games with almost a point per game pace himself
  9. Henrik Zetterberg - No offense to him and his talent, but his awful start to the year has made him only above average
  1. Phillipe Boucher - Hell of a season and virtually outdueling Sergei Zubov
  2. Dion Phaneuf - The first of many, a force to be reckoned with
  3. Kimmo Timonen - A captain now and rising above partner Zidlicky
  4. Lubomir Visnovsky - Once again let's the new NHL flourish with him
  1. Miikka Kiprusoff - Pretty good season, Vezina winner, finally gets here
  2. Marty Turco - A good season but nothing like Giguere or Hasek
Well there you have the rosters completed. What's ultimately shocking is that players like Jagr, Kovalchuk, Pronger, Iginla, Hasek, Giguere, Afinogenov, Jokinen and more were not invited, and some especially in the West are very questionable choices. To say the least many of these are puzzling although to be fair some of those that would be chosen will be injured like Pronger. The game should be very interesting and I also look forward to the skills competition. I hope to have my thoughts on the game's result after next week.

See you at the red line, questionable All-Star choices.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Rory Fitzpatrick, The All-Star: Methinks Not

The spectacle of hockey is coming up soon and all shall rejoice for the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs! Oh wait, no, that's the best of hockey. The spectacle of hockey is the NHL All Star Weekend! What's that? It's not on the weekend anymore you say? Ludicrous! No competing with the NBA All Star Game? What's to compete with anyway? Well on January 24th, a Wednesday no less, the 2007 NHL All Star Game will in fact be played, live from Dallas, Texas.

There was a large campaign this year to vote in one Rory Fitzpatrick, an everyman of the NHL, who has 1 point all season and is generally a useless player, on the Vancouver Canucks. This started as a joke from a website but became a battle cry for those wanting to both represent anyone they choose in the game and messing with the incredibly flawed voting system the NHL used this year. Voting was completely electronic (hey if it half-ass works for the U.S. government, why not right?) but it was also unconditional; vote as much as you want, whenever you want, online, anonymous if you like. Hell, forwards weren't even chosen by position, just 3 forwards, 2 defensemen, and 1 goalie per conference (East VS. West) and one write-in allowed per conference. Now Fitzpatrick got a lot of press for the craziness and was fairly embarassed by it. What's even funnier is how Wayne Gretzky and Don Cherry got up in arms over this stupidity, as if the All Star game really means that much.

Well the other day, the NHL announced who would be starting for the All Star game rosters. Again, Rory didn't make it, he was 3rd in defensive voting and only the first 2 make it, how sad. Before anyone cries "rigged" at the NHL, let's take a look at who got chosen to start the first All Star game for the NHL in 3 years:

  1. Joe Sakic - Unequivocally one of the best in the game, probably the best captain there is right now. Burnaby Joe still makes magic on the ice for the Avalanche each night and makes his 12th All Star appearance. Kudos on this one.
  2. Joe Thornton - The man who was overpressured in Boston was traded to San Jose and immediately won himself the Art Ross trophy for most points last season. The trade still stings for Boston and yet another Joe is quite deserving of starting the game.
  3. Jonathan Cheechoo - Here's where I have issue. Cheechoo made big noise last year for using Thornton to get the Rocket Richard trophy for most goals. Yes he did an excellent job but this year has only 13 goals and 14 assists. That's hardly what you call an All Star starter and San Jose fans stuffed the ballot well here.
  1. Niklas Lidstrom - In my mind, the best defenseman in the NHL. How else do you explain a Detroit team that averages around 20 shots allowed a game, that's phenomenal. Oh and he's great in the offensive zone too.
  2. Scott Niedermayer - Another no brainer, I'm no fan of his but he still deserves this spot. Incredibly consistent and hard to play against.
  1. Roberto Luongo - My issues with him aside, Luongo is still not quite good enough to start this game. Why? The West is home to some of the best goalies in the league. This year, Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Dominik Hasek have made career resurgances that have been far more impressive. Do they have better teams? Yes, but Luongo's numbers don't even rival Vezina-winner Kiprusoff, except in wins.
  1. Sidney Crosby - No brainer, at 19 years old he leads the entire NHL with over 60 points. That's just nuts and he could do what Gretzky couldn't, winning the Art Ross trophy before hitting 20.
  2. Alexander Ovechkin - Yet another no brainer. These two will dominate for years to come. Like Pavel Bure combined with a power forward, Ovechkin has to be seen to be believed.
  3. Daniel Briere - This is a fairly sketchy pick here. I like Briere because many of the Sabres are strong players, but I don't know if he's a starter or not. He's certainly made himself worthy of that $5 million contract, but my money would have gone to Rod Brind'Amour, who at his age after winning the cup is playing ridiculously good hockey. Either him, or Hossa or Shanahan.
  1. Sheldon Souray - Here's where the East can't compete much with the West. That's no fault of Souray's, who leads all defensemen with 14 goals at the halfway mark, very impressive. He might not be great in his own end but there are few offensive defensemen doing what he is doing.
  2. Brian Campbell - Some may be skeptical of this one. Campbell is an excellent defensemen, though, and shines on a Sabres team full of some good D. My pick here, however, would either have gone to Bouwmeester or Tomas Kaberle. Either way, Campbell should get in.
  1. Ryan Miller - As much as I like Miller as a goalie, I can't agree at all with this pick. Miller should be in the game, but not the starter. There's no way he can supplant Martin Brodeur at this time, if he ever will. Brodeur is hands down the best the East has in goalies and Miller must bow down to that fact.
Some interesting picks, and the rest will be revealed next week. I'll be chiming in on those as well, hoping against hope that at least one of my Panthers is chosen. The All Star game may be a bit superfluous and I may enjoy the Skills Competition the night before more than I do the actual game, but at least it's an excuse to let some injured players heal for an extra week. Plus, at least the NHL All Star game doesnt decide who gets home ice advantage in the Stanley Cup Finals.

See you at the red line, All Stars.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Time To Hang Them Up: Current/Former Flyers And Mr. Sieve

Here in the new year, that thing they call 2007, one thing is constant, everyone will get a little older. Age can mean a lot of things, but it doesn't really creep up as quickly as we think. For hockey players though, there are some who are getting just a little too long in the tooth. This segment is devoted to the players that, whether good or bad in the past, need to realize their time has come and gone, and they know who they are...

Peter Forsberg
I hate to say it, I admired him a lot on Colorado, though it was really me admiring how when he got injured, the clutch Joe Sakic would pick up his slack. Sakic is still reeling in the points, but Forsberg, not so much. What separates him from the older guys in this list will be the sad fact that he's still got it. He's still one of the premier centers in the league when healthy and on his game, incredibly strong (took out 2 Panthers with just his shoulder while holding the puck, back to back) and a knack for the right play. So it's harsh to say but very true, his time has come. Like the Flyers captain before him, Keith Primeau, his injuries have done nothing but hurt his team. I've never seen someone come back from injury and get immediately injured in that game so much...the best analogy would be to wrestler Kevin Nash. He hasn't been able to get a skate to fit him almost all year, and with bad foot problems comes groin problems, etc. At the age of 33, for someone who is a true winner, his health can no longer seem to sustain him. Every game he misses, he destroys what fragile a Flyers team there is already.

Jeremy Roenick
I was already sick enough of this guy every single time he opened his mouth, but that was also back when he backed up his play. He rocked in Phoenix and Philly, and when he got sent out west to LA, the wheels fell off in the new NHL. Hmm, not unlike the rest of the Flyers themselves. Things looked grim, but then he claimed he only wanted to play for a Canadian team. So of course, he chose Phoenix, because it's Jeremy Roenick, apparently to him up is down and black is white. But seriously folks, Gretzky was dumb enough to bring him back home to roost and he has done all but stink it up. Sure he had a hat trick in that totally abnormal 8-0 game over the Sharks, but he's been a huge disappointment ever since he crossed back over the Rockies. His greatest career moment was him getting his jaw broken, and thus rendering him unable to make the NHL look stupid for another night verbally. He and Mike Ricci can go swap beauty tips in Flagstaff for all I care, time to get off the ice, Jeremy. And for the love of Bobby Orr, STAY AWAY FROM THE BROADCAST BOOTH.

John Leclair
Wow, what's up with the former Flyers being on this list? Well anyway, Leclair was indeed part of one of the most dangerous Philly teams since the Broadstreet Bullies. After he left, he became a free agent for the Pittsburgh Penguins, who began building a doomed team out of Ziggy Palffy(retired), Jocelyn Thibault(shadow of his former self backing up a kid), Mario Lemieux(retired, again), and Sergei "I take the defense out of defenseman" Gonchar. What's funny is that this year is so drastically different from last year for the Pens. With the additions of Malkin and Staal and the flourishing of Marc-Andre Fleury in goal, they're much better than the bottom dwellers they were. That's not to mention Sidney Crosby leading them and the NHL with 60 points thus far, yes a 19 year old with 60 points. But after Leclair made arguably the dumbest move of his career, blindly missing a pass from superstar-to-be Evgeni Malkin and actually injuring his own teammate I'm not sure where you go from there. Oh wait yes I do, to the minors. See Leclair has done so horrible this year, he was sent through waivers a few times and still not claimed. He of course refuses to retire and refuses to go to the minors. Thankfully, this enacted a clause that let the Penguins release him and save money, as he would not report to Wilkes-Barre.

Dan Cloutier
I have to start by asking, what the HELL is wrong with Marc Crawford? After Cloutier had put in many poor performances in Vancouver, got injured for most of the year and got outplayed by Alex Auld, why in god's name would you acquire him when you move on to LA? Moreso, how could you sign him to a contract extension when he has yet to prove anything? Actually, he has proved something, that he is without a doubt the worst "starting" goalie in the NHL today. It's not as if his defense does not exist, you have the well travelled Rob Blake and the new NHL succeeding Lubomir Visnovsky. But every puck is like a beach ball that he runs away from. Need more proof this loser needs to go? Stats don't lie: Goals Against Average - 3.98, Save Percentage - .860. So according to this and more importantly to the GAA, the more reliable stat, he lets in on average about 4 goals a game. That defies explanation of just how horrible that is. Cloutier, fake an injury or something, but stop dragging down the Kings with you, after all they've been through, they don't deserve this.

Well that's enough for this edition of Time To Hang Them Up. Next time, I hope to touch on the infamous Eric Lindros, the slowest defenseman in the NHL Derian Hatcher and some other lucky hopefuls. Seriously though, what is up with all these former Flyers? Philly just ages a man, I'm sure.

All you retirees-to-be, I don't want to see you at the red line.