Saturday, December 19, 2015

Please Move The Red Wings Back West

Maybe it's just me but have the Detroit Red Wings lost more than they think they've gained by switching to the Eastern Conference? We're now in the third season since the switchover, and do the Wings have any rivalries with any teams in the East at all?

Gordie Howe does not have Lou Fontinato to destroy even if the Habs are now decent again. Maybe the Wings will develop a 1950s-like rivalry, but the Habs-Bruins rivalry is still going to trump that no matter what.

Even vs. Boston, the Wings went out meekly in five games in the 1st round in 2014. 

The Wings went seven with the Tampa Bay Lightning in round one in 
last season's playoffs. Did any of the games jump out and stick with you as classics? Do you feel a Stamkos vs. Datsyuk rivalry building?

Then there's their old Snorris Division rivals--the team from the Centre of the Universe.

Sure, they played the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Winter Classic in 2014--the  first season the Wings were in the East. Yet did that conjure up any of those old Western Conference matchups of yore such as this?:

Or this?

Maybe it's going to take until the Leafs actually get half decent to fuel a Mike Babcock vs. his old team feud, but even so, Babs, left the Wings on good terms. Jeff Blashill, the current Wings' coach, was an assistant also under Babcock and has nothing but praise for the man who took the money over, ya know, maybe coaching another Cup contending team.

West Is Best

The Wings' most-storied rivalries, when they got good again from the mid-'90s, were against the Colorado Avalanche and the Chicago Blackhawks. Now, obviously, the Avs' rivalry began to fade once Patrick Roy retired and the one with the current Toews-Kane-Keith et al Blackhawks era took center stage.

So again I ask: Was the switch of conferences to have more games played in their own Eastern Time Zone for television's sake really worth sucking the life out of these rivalries?

The NHL On NBC has Rivalry Night every Wednesday. The league itself recently had "rival" teams playing back-to-back since the last lockout to build up interest.

Detroit's other teams in football, basketball and baseball are all in divisions with teams mainly from the Midwest. The NFL's Lions have been in NFC Central since 1970 with the Chicago Bears, Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers.
The Lions have been in the same freakin' division with the Bears and Packers since 1934!

The NBA's Detroit Pistons were the Chicago Bulls' main rivals during the Michael Jordan era and that carries over at least when both teams get good at the same time. The Pistons are also now in a revamped Central Division with the very same Bulls, Indiana Pacers and Milwaukee Bucks with only the Cleveland Cavaliers in their time zone. OK, the NBA has a far better geographical balance than the NHL such that the Pistons play in the Eastern Conference meaning the 11 of the other 14 teams are in the Eastern Time Zone, but even so, if you named the Pistons' biggest rival, it's the team in the City Of Broad Shoulders.

Baseball's Detroit Tigers, much like the Pistons, are in, yes, a Central Division. Their American League division mates bar the Cleveland Indians are in the central Time Zone (the Kansas City Royals, Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins).

Throw in the history of Detroit as Motown both musically and with the Big Three automakers, the Motor City on the whole has a lot more in common with the industrial cities of the Midwest than the Eastern Seaboard.

Since there is much handwringing about the NHL's expansion plans and this seemingly endless wait for Seattle to get its arena act together and hope they find some rich person who wants to put an NHL team there, why not just entice (monetarily. if need be) the Red Wings back to the West? Then you can put a team in Las Vegas now rather than later.

You'd then have your 16 teams in the West. Add an expansion team in Quebec City to the East to replace Detroit. Then forget about Seattle until another day as, let's face facts, the city really prefers to get an NBA team first and foremost to bring back the glory days of the SuperSonics.

The Red Wings would slot in well in (here it is again) the Central Division and we can look forward to more Game 7 craziness vs. the Blackhawks like this:

Or Game 7 Stevie Y vs. the St. Louis Blues flashbacks


Then there's Shea Weber cozying up to Henrik Zetterberg

Finally, there's the Avs with Patrick Roy as coach. All the Avs would need to ratchet this up to Defcon Draper is hiring Claude Lemieux as an assistant coach.
Who wouldn't want to see what Avs' beat writer Adrian Dater turned into a book appropriately titled Blood Feud begin anew?

After all, the dumb staged fights between designated goons is going the way of the "Jon Scott leading the All-Star vote" dinosaur, but who doesn't love the looney tunes' aspect of a full-on line brawl involving goalies (and I might add two terrific 6-5 hockey regular season [yep, not even playoff] games as well)?

  Round One--1997
Round Two--1998

Let's just give you the Top 10

I rest my case. Move the Detroit Red Wings back to the West, Mr. Bettman.

Friday, July 24, 2015

A Real Lou-Lou Of A Move

I admit I'm an ageist. I don't think people in their 80s should be driving around in most vehicles on the road. If you live somewhere where public transit is virtually non-existent, please let (or make!) your kids be your chauffeurs. Beats the alternative, I say, such as this.

So, obviously, the Toronto Maple Leafs hiring Grandpa Lou Lamoriello baffles me even if he's a spry 72. The Make Beliefs do realize they are getting Lou Version 2015 not Lou Version 1990s, right? They also I hope realize that the GM of the now three-time in this era Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks is Stan Bowman and not his dad Scotty? Sure, Scotty is a paid consultant to the Hawks' management committee but he's not scouting, drafting, trading or signing players because, well, he's 81 years old and . . . semi-retired.

This Leaf move almost eerily parallels the NFL's "let's hire Bill Parcells well past his sell-by date" nonsense. You remember that era, don't you?

Parcells, after his stint with the New York Jets as coach/GM ended in 2000 at age 58, three years later he ended up as Dallas Cowboys' coach. Now this was 13 years since Parcells last won a Super Bowl with the team that made his rep--the New York Giants of Lawrence Taylor and THAT defence. It was also seven years removed from taking the pre-Tom Brady New England Patriots to the Super Bowl (where they lost to the Brett Favre era Green Bay Packers).

Now it all started well as Parcells' Cowboys went 10-6 and made the playoffs in 2003. By 2004, 40-year-old Vinny Testaverde ended up as their starting QB and they went 6-10. Bouncing back with two consecutive 9-7 seasons was better but Parcells' final season featured, well, Tony Romo.

Oh snap!

Parcells retired for the third time in his career after that fiasco and left having not won a single playoff game (0W-2L) in his Cowboys' career.

Then at age 66 in 2007 he joins the Miami Dolphins as Executive VP Of Football Operations. In three seasons there the Marine Mammals went a Chad Pennington 11-5 and, of course, proceeded to lose their playoff game then followed that up with two straight 7-9 seasons.

Now since turning 72 Parcells has been a consultant for the Cleveland Browns.

I rest my case.

Maybe at one time Lou Lamoriello was great at making trades back in 1989 (Tom Kurvers from the [that's right] Leafs for the draft pick that became Scott Niedermayer) or having the Blues mess up their chances of a Stanley Cup ever in their history by signing...(wait for it)...restricted free agent Brendan Shanahan off the New Jersey Devils in 1990. This cost the Blues a defenceman by the name of Scott Stevens.

 Ouch! No, seriously--ouch!

Five years later the Devils trapped a Cup with two of the greatest defencemen named Scott in NHL history. That twosome helped the Devils to another two Cups and once Niedermayer left for Anaheim, the Devils have not win another Cup.

The problem with the old-boy NHL network and its reliance on relationships and signing "names" is it ignores the obvious. Everyone is less effective at a certain age. How much energy does anyone have in their 60s let alone their 70s to do the things they did so well in their 40s and 50s?

So, as I said, I'm a total ageist because there's a time and a place for everything. Sorry, I was never interested in seeing Mick Jagger on stage after the '70s and now he's IN his 70s still up there.

I'll stick with Mick in his 20s

Well, good luck then with the Leafs' choice. After all just have a look at this treading water litany of trades Lou ran through from 2005 until the Ilya Kovalchuk deal.

Now the Kovalchuk deal depending how Lou looks at it could be considered a decent one given it showed the league that New Jersey was still alive and the team actually went after a scorer. It also could be said it messed up the Devils cap-wise for those years despite Kovalchuk contributing 19 points in the 23 games to the 2012 Final.

So was the Kovy signing worth it though? Two years earlier from that 2012 Final, the Devils re-signed free agent Ilya Kovalchuk to that 17-year deal designed to circumvent the salary cap. The NHL rejected that contract length and then the deal was adjusted down to "just" 15 years costing the team $3 million in fines, two draft picks (including a 1st rounder) as the NHL penalized Lou and the Devils for this attempt at cap circumvention.

Oh, there's a beautiful postscript as well. After all that when Kovalchuk jumped to the KHL during the 2012/13 lockout, the NHL decided that the Devils could get their $3 million back as well as that first round draft pick although Lou had to pick at number 30 in the 2014 Entry Draft. So Sweet Lou came up smelling roses to some degree.

Now if you look at the trades since the original Kovalchuk trade, Lou has again messed around the edges of the Devils' team but really other than getting goalie Cory Schneider for a first round pick (Bo Horvat), which may end up a wash given Horvat's promising rookie season, I guess offloading 90-year-old Jaromir Jagr to Florida for a 2nd and 3rd round pick was the only other laudable move Lou has done over the past few seasons.

So has anything Lou done since the Cup years warrant him being a GM at age 72 of an NHL team? (Insert your own Laffs' joke here about them even being an NHL team.)

Time to review Lou's New Jersey Devils' career:
The Scotts' Era (12 seasons give-or-take of Niedermayer and Stevens)
3 Cups
1 other Final
1 Eastern Conference Final loss
1 Eastern Conference Semi-Final loss
5 times out in the first rd.
1 time missed the playoffs

The Post-Scotts Era (10 seasons)
1 Final
2 other times in the Eastern Conference Semi-finals
2 times out in the first rd.
4 times missed the playoffs (out of the last five seasons)

Well, at least the Maple Leafs have Mike Babcock's last five seasons to draw on, right? I mean, who wouldn't want a coach whose teams lost twice in the first round the past two seasons and hasn't been gotten a very talented team to a Conference Final since he last took the Red Wings to the Final in 2009?

After all, isn't that Carey Price in the Leafs net behind a defence that includes Duncan Keith, Shea Weber and Drew Doughty? I'm sure Babcock will be back to the Final with that lineup in no time with Lou right by his side.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Whoa Canada Woe

It's the annual handwringing time of the playoffs by Canadian (and even American!) media. "Our" (hack! cough!) last Canadian-based NHL team has been knocked out. Another year without the Stanley Cup coming to Canada. Cry me a Fraser River.

I'm confused. I live in Canada. I have a local NHL team that has "Canadian" rivals even within the Vancouver Canucks' own division. Why would any Canuck fan ever cheer on their divisional rivals just because of some border? Would I ever want the Calgary Flames or Edmonton Oilers, let alone any other Canadian team, to win a Cup?

I think I can count on no hands the number of times I wanted the cocky Oilers and Glen Sather's smirk to win a Cup. Every single Final they've been in, I've been cheering for the other team be it the Isles, Flyers, Bruins or even the Canes (sorry, Ryan Smyth).

Calgary, as much as they have frequently knocked the Canucks out, I'd have to say in the '86, '89 and '04 Finals I did pull for the Flames.
Albeit prior to the Final, I sure wasn't hoping to see the Lames anywhere near Cup glory. Let's just say in '86 and '89 it was cheering for the lesser of two evils given the Habs were their opponents. In '04, how could you not pull for  Jarome Iginla over . . . oh, wait, I like Vincent Lecavlier, Martin St. Louis and Brad Richards. Well, let's just say I was happy either way with that Final as it was a battle to the finish.

Sure beats Mayweather vs. Pacquiao

So which Canadians exactly are these media types writing and talking about who apparently go all apoplectic as another year without a Cup residing in the Great White North slips by?

Let's start with casual fans. Maybe casual fans who only tune into the NHL playoffs are the ones but other than the deluded here who may cheer for the Toronto Blue Jays in baseball, does anyone out here with no Ontario connection at all ever want to see the Maple Leafs ever lift a Cup?

Sure, there are plenty of Hab fans all over the Lower Mainland. Heck, I grew up surrounded by so many at school and some are even some of my best friends. Even so, I still dislike (downgraded from the Mike McPhee loathing hatred of the '80s) the Habs with a passion despite my lapsed Boston Bruins' fandom (sorry, after 35+ years I fired you guys after the Ray Bourque trade and became a free agent fan).

The Sens are just plain boring. Does anyone even remember a single game or goal from the '07 Final where they lost to the Anaheim Ducks? They just exist and barely are given a thought out here. All sympathy for Krusty the Alfredsson's long career spent in our nation's capital but the team with the Trojan condom guy as its logo (or is that a Roman Centurion?) spent too many years dulling us with Jacques Martin hockey, we never even were remotely interested whether Alexandre Daigle liked to dress up as a nurse.

No, that's not Darnell Nurse

The Jets fans at least are wired and fun but their style of play is not exactly WHA Hull-Nilsson-Hedberg-esque let alone Hawerchuk-ish enough to get me revved up especially when the Whiteout...uh, doesn't work. Looks great. Less filling the net as the goalie on the opposing team can now easily pick up a black puck against a snow white backdrop so...maybe go with a Blackout next season, if the Kings and Sharks falter again and your Jets can squeeze in again to the playoffs. It can't hurt to try a Blackout and maybe change that 1st round playoff luck.

Anyway, just once I'd like to see journalists actually get in depth and tell us about the players and teams in ways we've never heard before rather than churning out the same articles every single playoff year on Canada's inability to produce an actual team good enough to win it all.

So maybe that's it. It's Canadian journalists who've created this myth based on talking to other Canadian journalists because please show me where all these so-called hockey fans are that want a Canadian team (other than their own fave team, if it's even based in Canada) to win a Cup.

After all, if the Angels, Giants, Red and White Sox (sorry, Cubs) can win World Series in the new millennium and the Patriots (yes, the Pats) can become a dynasty in the NFL then Saints (hey, New Orleans!) preserve us, eventually odds are a Canadian-based team will win a Cup again in this century.

If that team is entertaining a la this era's Chicago Blackhawks have been, then maybe the vast majority of Canadians will get behind them. So, sorry, but unless you're bringing me a steady diet of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith, you're not getting me cheering for your team these days whatever side of the border you put your home rink in.

Well, even if you are as entertaining as the current Blackhawks are, I could never bring myself to cheer for the Taranna Make Beliefs. Should the Leafs win a Cup and break the 1967 kinescope era curse, you may as well just convert all your Canadian dollars to American ones immediately because it'll be sheer hell living in a nation where we're already inundated with Laffs' news 365 days a year.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Let The Real Hockey Begin!

Finally, yet another slog of a regular season is done. The LA Kings and Boston Bruins are out of the playoffs. What more can Canucks fans ask for?

OK, let's get started. We have another season the likes of which we haven't seen since six "new" teams made the playoffs back in 2010. Seven teams this season made it in after not being in the playoffs last year (or in the Calgary Flames' case for six years...or for fans in Winnipeg since 1996 their team has not been thrashed in the playoffs!).

Anyway, it might be sexy to jump on the Alfred E. Hamburglar bandwagon and pick the Sens. Or ride the "it never worked" White-Out in Winnipeg and think the Jets are going deep.

Well, you're fighting history. Sure playoff experience is useful, but who knew that since 2010 of 23 teams that made the playoffs that had missed at least the year previous, only three actually managed to make it past the first round.

The 2011 Tampa Bay Rolosons got all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals riding that Guy Boucher 1-3-1 defensive system. They lucked out in rd. 1 that season as their opponent, the Pittsburgh Penguins, had a certain Sidney Crosby out with a concussion courtesy of Victor Hedman of the 'Ning with an assist to David Steckel in the Winter Classic. And, oh yeah, Evgeni Malkin tore his ACL and MCL that season.

Then in rd. 2 the 'Ning swept the perennial choker Washington Capitals and pushed the Bruins to seven in the Conference Finals which included that very bizarre Game 7 1-0 win by the B's with all of no penalties called in the game.

One other team to break this odd trend was the 2012 New Jersey Devils. In the first rd. they played the Florida Panthers (who were also newcomers to the playoffs so some "rookie" team was going to finally win a round anyway). The Devils then beat the Philadelphia Flyers 4 games to 1 in a series where the team that scored first lost every game. The Cloven Helmeted Ones then beat the New York Rangers and made it all the way to the Final where in Martin Brodeur's "Final" swansong lost to the LA KIngs in a battle of the two most boring teams in the NHL.

Oh, yeah, and the perennially mediocre St. Louis Blues managed to win their first rd. series vs. the Western Conference version of the Caps, the San Jose Sharks, and then got swept by the El Lay Sutters.

So, buyer beware of going with the Sens, Preds or Jets. For at least two 1st rd. series you can take your pick as the Flames vs. Canucks and Caps vs. Islanders series have all four teams returning to the playoffs after being on the outside last season.

Which brings us back to the good news for Canucks' fans. Just like the 2012 Devils rode that matchup against a Florida team that had not made the playoffs the previous ten seasons, the Canucks are facing a Flames' team that, as stated before, had missed the playoffs for six straight seasons. They're also playing a team without their best defenceman in injured Mark Giordano so are the Sedin stars aligned for a rebound from 2011 disappointment for a 2015 deep playoff run?

Or, if you're a cup half-empty person, the last time the Flames broke a long missing the playoffs drought (seven seasons of no Red Mile at the time) was back in 2004. Now what happened back then? I seemed to have erased that from my Martin Gelinas memory bank.

Ah, the Alex Auld years