Saturday, July 26, 2008

Vancouver and the MLS: Multiple Lawsuits Soon?

Now that Vancouver soccer fans (oops, "supporters") are all tingly about Canadian NBA god Steve Nash's involvement in the Whitecaps' bid for a Major League Soccer franchise comes news that Canucks' owner Francesco Aquilini may submit a competing bid.

Never mind the fact that the Whitecaps currently don't even play in Vancouver and at best draw 5,000 to bland Swanguard Stadium in Burnaby, now the USL (Useless Soccer League) team known as the Whitecaps FC (FC = we want to openly ape all things "British" even though we are in North America and play in a "soccer" league) has competition in their attempt to join the big league of soccer here in North America known as the MLS (does Major League Soccer have to pay a fee to the real estate venture, Multiple Listings Service, it shares its acronym with?) .

The Burnaby mayor Derek "Hizzoner Bling Daddy" Corrigan obviously sees the Whitecaps as a decent revenue stream for the city and wants to keep them in Burn-A-Bee. Then again this "Vancouver" team really never embraced the whole "Burnaby" concept despite also having two team training grounds in the city given the Whitecaps' head office remained in Vancouver's Gastown throughout.

Aquilini sees the success of the MLS's Toronto FC and also sees dollar signs, too. He has suggested he'd expand Swanguard to a capacity of 20,000 to accommodate an MLS team. Given Caps' now co-owner Greg Kerfoot's troubles in getting a downtown Vancouver waterfront soccer stadium built, this is now definitely going to get interesting, if the stadium becomes THE issue.

The Whitecaps are set to move into BC Place Stadium in 2011 once the retractable roof is put in. Obviously, a 60,000-seat capacity stadium is way too large for any MLS franchise today but the Caps, like the Canadian Football League's B.C. Lions who currently use the facility, will "hide" seats in the upper deck behind a magic curtain to create a more intimate (and sexy?) soccer atmosphere.

It's curtains for the upper deck

Now it may not be ideal but it sure beats Swanguard, especially for location. Yes, the upper deck will be empty and much of the lower bowl, too, on most nights even with MLS soccer being an upgrade. Yet, you have to wonder if soccer fans (the hardcore 3,000 to 5,000 that have hung on after the glory days of the NASL and the original Vancouver Whitecaps) aren't in for a harrowing few years. Also, part of getting an MLS expansion team absolutely depends on building a soccer-specific stadium, as clearly stated in the past by MLS commissioner Don Garber, so BC Place can only be seen as a temporary home.

Remember, Vancouver may have the NASL history, the current strong ownership group and a the grassroots' support but this city is no lock for an expansion franchise given the MLS rocky expansion plans just four years ago where Cleveland seemed set to join the MLS with Chivas USA (the LA-based Hispanic/Mexican franchise). Cleveland is still on the outside and is not even being considered for this round of expansion.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Road Warriors . . . or Road Kill?

Amid the euphoria of one less Minnesota Mild visit in '07/08 comes a grim reality. The NHL may have returned sanity to the schedule (translation: every team plays every team at least once), but they sure did not do the Canucks any favours.

A quick look at the 2008/09 schedule sees at least four brutal road trips.
After opening the season Oct. 9 at home vs. Calgary, the team is off on a tasty six-game road trip in which they fly to Calgary (Oct. 11), then east to Washington (Oct. 13), Detroit (Oct. 16), Buffalo (Oct. 17)...over to the Central Time Zone to Chicago (Oct. 19)...then back east to Columbus (Oct. 21). In fact, eight of the first 11 games are on the road. The season could be over in month #1.

It gets worse, though. There's a four-game road trip in November with a crazy trip first to New York to play the Isles (Nov. 17) and Rangers (Nov. 19) and then they head across a time zone with no day off to play Minnesota (Nov. 20)...and, you guessed it, back east to play Pittsburgh (Nov. 22) and, as an added bonus, it's a 1 pm start at the Igloo.

A week later they embark on a seven-game trip. Again it starts off in Calgary (Nov. 29) after playing the Lames at home two nights previous. Then it's ping-ponging across time zones as the Nux hit Columbus (Dec. 1), Detroit (Dec. 4), Minnesota again with no day of rest (Dec. 5), Colorado (Dec. 7), Nashville (Dec. 9) and Edmonton (Dec. 13).

In more "Back to the '70s" type road trips continue as February sees a stretch of seven of eight on the road--St. Louis (Feb. 10), Phoenix (Feb. 12), Dallas (Feb. 13) then back home to play what will be virtually a road game given all the Habnot fans who come out of the closet as Montreal is in town (Feb. 15) for the first time since, I think, Rick Chartraw laced 'em up. Then off again to do the Canadian tour of Calgary (Feb. 17), Ottawa (Feb. 19), Toronto (Feb. 21) and Montreal (Feb. 24).

It's not over yet. March brings a six-game set: Phoenix (Mar. 21), Dallas (Mar. 24), St. Louis (Mar. 26), Colorado (Mar. 27), Chicago (Mar. 29) and Minnesota (Mar. 31).

The longest road trip in the previous three seasons was four games. Last season saw a four-gamer in October, a seven-out-of-eight trip bracketed around that Penguins' visit in December and the eight of ten in March trip that did in the Canucks' season. Those three trips ended up in a 7-10-3 record. Given the Nux missed the playoffs by three whole points, you can see where 2008/09 may be a long season given these wicked road trips the benevolent NHL has given the league's westernmost team.

Then again 2006/07 saw the Canucks manage a 12-7-2 record over four "longish" road trips (another four-gamer in October, nine of 11 in November, six of seven in December and also in February).

So enjoy those Make Belief, Hab, Flyer and Lightning visits this season all you who whined about the schedule. The tradeoff seems to be that the Canucks are this season's fodder for some retro experiment in NHL scheduling. (FYI, the number of road trips five games or longer for Calgary and Edmonton--one seven-game trip each!)

Thursday, July 10, 2008


Around and around the players go, what will happen next season? Nobody knows. So for an extra $1.25 million the Canucks basically replaced Brendan Morrison with Pavol Demitra (so the whole Naslund-Demitra Summit in June at a local watering hole was about Pavol taking over Markus's house for a couple of seasons?).

Obviously, Demitra finds it hard to stay healthy averaging 66 GP over the past three seasons but at least when he's in the lineup he averages close to a point per game. How much of that is playing with Marian Gaborik, we'll soon find out here, but he'll get his powerplay chances for sure being a right-handed shot.

Keeping Morrison was never on the cards even if he was cheaper. There is a reason he's a bargain. He did not produce the goods offensively (basically he's a 56-point guy over 82 GP) as in his West Coast Express prime. Add to that his nagging injuries finally caught up with him and he only got into 39 games in '97/08 after two straight 82 GP seasons.

The strange thing in all this is the Burkster is proving a perfect fit for the make Beliefs and really the soap opera in T.O. needs the Artist Formerly Known as Lardass and now known as simple "The Moron" (and I am quoting Kevin Lowe). The genius in his own mind somehow has parlayed Andy McDonald into Doug Weight and now Brendan Morrison just to save a few bucks. Given McDonald is only two years younger than Morrison and had 163 pts in his last two seasons with the Ducks, what's a few million more for McDonald?

Sure, it was all done to re-sign Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne, but was it really worth re-signing Selanne without keeping the center he had great chemistry with?

On that note, all the best, Brendan...except vs. the Pavolian one.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Markus Flavius of New York

So much for that "Mats Sundin can be on a line with Markus Naslund" idea. Unless, of course, the Make Belief who fiddles while Gillis burns is actually headed to Manhattan, also. Hey, who wouldn't want to live in New York, let alone get paid to do so?

Just a quick look at how other recent big-name centers did at Mats's age, 37, for the start of this season:
Joe Sakic
82 GP 100 pts
Wayne Gretzky
70 GP 62 pts
Mike Modano
82 GP 57 pts
Steve Yzerman
16 GP 8 pts

So more Sakic than Yzerman one hopes for Mats in '08/09. Then again, all four had those Stanley Cup rings already so you gotta ask yourself, Mats, do ya feel lucky...and what team is it gonna be?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Does Gillis Have Too Many Enemies Out There?

To those who may not have read the Mike Gillis excerpt from Bruce Dowbiggin's book on the world of NHL player agents, it's a great inside look into Gillis's life before the Canuck job.

A few things do stand out:
--Gillis apparently orchestrated Pavel Bure's departure from Vancouver to Florida.
--He's obviously made a few enemies of GMs who are still working in the NHL, but
I guess that goes with the agent's territory.
--Although he orchestrated monster deals for many of his clients, he is a frugal guy
for better or worse.

Take all these together and draw your own conclusions. All I know is offering $10
million per year to any player this side of 35, let alone turning 38 in early '09, is
clearly a huge risk. Even so, we all know Mats Sundin is not coming here to improve
his Cup chances unless you believe all you need is a New Jersey West system to beat
the Red Wings or the Ducks for the Western crown.