Thursday, March 31, 2011

Reim Minister of Defense delivers again

The scrappy Maple Leafs battled back from a 3-2 deficit to grab another two points in a shootout win against Boston. I'm not saying the win keeps their playoff hopes alive. Although they have not been mathematically eliminated I don't see Buffalo or New York losing 4 out of their remaining 5 games. Still it's good to seem some exciting and gritty hockey.

Speaking of gritty, the heavyweight bout between Jay Rosehill and Milan Lucic in the second period was an incredible battle:

It looked like the Leafs were toast until Joffrey Lupul struck in the third period for his second of the game and to even up the score.

Nazem Kadfri got the nod from Coach Wilson during the shootout and it turned out to be the only goal scored during shootout.

Ryan Geflatz tires to keep a straight face while telling a fib

Bring back the Pakistani death stare to pysch out the Bruins tonight

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Maple Leafs on life support but not dead yet

The Leafs pulled out another big win against Buffalo last night and thereby maintain a weak pulse as far as the playoffs are concerned. In addition, a Dion Phaneuf shot knocks all-star goalie Ryan Miller out of the Sabres lineup. So what does backup Jhonas Enroth do in just his 10 NHL start? He beats the Rangers 1-0 and earns his first career shutout. Yup the Leafs cannot buy a break.

So the Leafs and Sabres have 5 remaining games with the Leafs trailing by 7 points. So a combination of two Toronto loses or Sabre wins will finally end this dream. That's all it really is. The Leafs really eliminated themselves in early March with three consecutive losses to
Chicago, the Islanders and Philadelphia.

The optimism surrounding this team hasn't been seen in some time. Yes they have had strong finishes in the past but this everyone seems to agree is different. They are winning riding their youth and strong goaltending. Neither have existed in Toronto in some time. Fans have stopped screaming for the heads of Brian Burke and Ron Wilson. Neither appear to be as stupid as they did in November. Fans are no longer booing Dion Phaneuf. They have stopped obsessing about the TRADE. It's a little early to be dusting off the parade route. But you might want to be in town next April and May when the 2011-12 regular season comes to an end,

Saturday, March 26, 2011

History of eye injuries in hockey

Of course Manny Malhotra is not the first player to suffer a serious eye injury playing. One of the best known cases was Greg Neeld. He was a promising junior defenseman with the Toronto Marlboros which happened to have been managed by my father-in-law, Frank Bonello. His career took a major turn on February 17th, 1974 when he lost his left eye as a result of a high stick by Kitchener's Dave Maloney.

But he tried to play on and was even drafted by both the NHL and the WHA. The WHA let him play (just 17 games with the Toronto Toros in 1975-76) but the NHL would not, despite Neeld's protective helmet featuring a visor then dubbed as "the Neeld Shield."

Neeld even took the NHL to court to try to play. The NHL refused to let a one-eyed player in the league, because if Neeld were to injure his good eye, the insurance costs of having a player to go blind due to injuries would be insane not to mention the bad publicity.

Bylaw 12:6 of the National Hockey League forbids players who are sightless in one eye from playing in the NHL. It states that players with one eye, or 3/60ths of normal vision, shall not be eligible to play for a member club. Loss of 75 percent of sight in an eye is required for insurance to take effect.

The regulation was introduced after a major leaguer named Frank "Snoozer" Trushinski who played for the Kitchener Greenshirts lost sight in one eye due to a high stick in 1921. He came back and lost most of the sight in his other eye after fracturing his skull in another accident. The NHL didn't want that to risk having its players lose their eye sight and they didn't want to pay the high insurance costs, so they created Bylaw 12:6.

In March 1939 Toronto Maple Leafs left winger George Parsons lost his left eye in an injury during an NHL game at Maple Leaf Gardens against the Chicago Black Hawks. The NHL forced Parsons to retire.

Others have lost their careers to eye injuries. Players such as Al MacInnis, Pierre Mondou, Jeff Libby, Ryan McGill, Mark Deyell, Hector Marini, Jamie Hislop, Jean Hamel, and Glen Sharpley.

Thee Trushinski Bylaw still exists, but it has been successfully challenged. The NHL changed its policy and allowed Bryan Berard to play. The difference here is advances in medical technology. Berard had been fitted with a special contact lens that gave him more sight than Neeld had.


One of the best fluke goals this year

There is nothing unusual about a puck deflecting off a defenseman's skate into the net. Except in this instance the defenseman was standing just insude the blueline and about 50 feet from the net.

This is a Swedish Elite League playoff game between Luleå and Skellefteå. Joonas Vihko attempted to dump the puck into the corner but it accidentally deflected off the skate of Skellefteå defenseman Petter Granberg (who happens to be the #116 pick overall by the Maple Leafs in 2010).

Brothers Dube "Ban Head Shots" song

There is a story in the Globe and Mail about three brothers who have formed rock band and wrote a song an anti-head shot song.

The playoff race at a glance

All indications are that the final standings will not change in the final two weeks of the season. Based on team records over the past 10 games, I'm projecting that New York and Buffalo will pull away from the teams chasing them. In fact, if the Sabres finish with 93 points, then the Leafs are already mathematically out.

However, if you ignore the numbers and suspend reality for a couple of weeks, then you will be able to enjoy what has become an exciting playoff race. When was the last time the Maple Leafs have played "meaningful games"?


Proj Final
Pos Team Games Pts Last 10 Pts Pos
7 Rangers 7
85 7-2-1 95
8 Buffalo 8
6-3-1 93 8
9 Carolina 8
5-4-1 89 9
10 Toronto 7
78 5-4-1 86 10
11 Atlanta 8
74 5-4-1 82 11
12 New Jersey 8
73 5-4-1 81 12

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Year of the Concussion continues

Mike Komisarek gets into the act. Stay tuned for a possible suspension.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Jonathan Quick uses the "Force" to make a save

Late in the first period of Monday night's game between the Los Angeles Kings and Calgary Flames, Kings goalie Jonathan Quick made a strange save that will certainly make hockey fans scratching their heads.

Calgary's Jarome Iginla took a shot from the left side on a power play. Quick made the save, but the puck still managed to get by him and looked as if it was heading into the net.

All of a sudden, the puck took a right turn before reaching the red line and moved away from the goal.

James Reimer has saved Ron Wilson's job

The second half surge by the Maple Leafs has ensured that Ron Wilson will survive to at least complete the last year of his 4 year contract. Sure the team is winning on the back of their rookie goalie James Reimer. But if it’s the coach’s fault when a team loses then doesn’t the coach get credit when they win? Obviously it’s not all black and white.

Coaches can accomplish only so much with weak rosters and even less if the weak roster includes bad goaltending. When has Wilson had good goaltending since coming to Toronto? I think we all agree just the last 2 or 3 months. In a rebuild you are going to get some really bad players because your roster tends to be filled with young players not ready for the NHL and a bunch of marginal players who best suited for third and fourth lines.

Wilson’s resume suggests he is a good coach even if he has never won a Stanley Cup. I had some concerns earlier this season that players were not responding to him. Losing the dressing room is a coach killer. Other than Nikolia Kulemin and Luke Schenn, I just didn’t see any players really improving under Wilson. He was prone to publicly chastising players which certainly must have created some animosity in the dressing room.

But things seemed to change this year. You began noticing improvement in many players. Quite a number have had their best season in their young career. Wilson was not calling out players to the media. Perhaps because the veterans he was ripping were all shipped out. Instead he was more often defending his young team. He appears very calm standing behind the bench. The team chemistry has clearly improved. Games are more entertaining.

Yet as a fan, I’m tired of Ron Wilson. He is arrogant and abrasive. Wilson treats every question from the media as stupid. I miss the charm and openness of Paul Maurice. One day he will be the ex-coach or the Leafs and I’m pretty sure I’m not going to miss him.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Reimer steals another one

The Maple Leafs actually laid an egg in Minnesota but were bailed out by the latest goalie sensation. The Leafs were outshot 29-17 but Reimer stopped everything directed at him. That includes three breakways, two while the Leafs were on the powerplay. Yeah who misses Kaberle?

Hallelujah Matt Cooke has seen the light!

“I realize and understand, more so now than ever, that I need to change,” Cooke told Pittsburgh reporters Monday night. “That’s what I wanted my message to be.” Matt Cooke

What a pile of bullshit neatly wrapped in paper with a bow.

Cooke is 32 years old and been in the NHL for 13 years and it took this long to figure out he was playing the game wrong? As he was walking into the NHL offices for his hearing he must have had an epiphany. Next he will give up swearing and drinking bear.

Players like Matt Cooke have understood their role very well. He can chip in for 10 to 15 goals per season and is good at killing penalties. But his real value to a team is as an agitator. His extended NHL career is directly related to his ability to injury and intimidate. The weak enforcement of rules allowed him to earn the reputation as the dirtiest player in the league. He relished the notoriety because it earned him a good income. His announcement that he plans to change his approach has nothing to do with a concern for the game or his opponents. He understands where in the past blindsiding players kept him employed; now he has to stop to ensure the pay cheques keep coming. Players have no respect for each other. They will do whatever it takes to play in the NHL. No NHL fighter enjoys taking bare knuckle punches to his face or skull but if that’s what his coach expects him to do then he will.

“I’m fortunate that Ryan McDonagh wasn’t hurt,” said Cooke. “I don’t want to hurt anybody. That’s not my intention. I know that I can be better. ... I made a mistake, and I’m the one who’s accountable for that. And I take full responsibility for it.” Matt Cooke

Matt Cooke never intended to hurt anyone? That’s what is really infuriating about players like Cooke. They would jeopardize an opponent’s career to promote their own. He may have ended Marc Savard’s career. What was he trying to do when he came across the ice to blindside him? Who is he trying kid?

Ironically Cooke had a role what was one of the most brutal attacks the NHL has ever seen. On March 8, 2007, Canuck coach Marc Crawford sent Matt Cooke out on the ice to take on Avalanche forward Steve Moore who had in a previous meeting injured Canuck star Markus Naslund. Moore held his own against Cooke that night but it didn't end there. An upset Crawford then instructed Todd Bertuzzi to teach Moore a lesson. The rest is history.

Intelligent fans understand the hitting is part of the game. Body checks are intended to separate a puck carrier from the puck and nothing more. That’s the way the game was played for decades. Of course injuries can result from contact but hits were never intended to take a person’s head off. But that is exactly the attitude that has crept into the game.

The reaction to the Cooke suspension has been positive. But if the worst offender in the league only gets 10 games and one round of playoffs then what happens the next time Dany Heatley targets someone head. Another slap on the wrist? Maybe. I’m not convinced that the NHL is ready to clean up their game rather than responding to external pressure. We shall see what the future brings.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Leafs dip into the NCAA pool again

The Toronto Maple Leafs signed U.S. college prospect Tyler Brenner to a two-year contract on Monday.

The 22-year-old forward spent the past three years with the NCAA's Rochester Institute of Technology Tigers, registering 26 goals and 41 points in 37 games this season.

Brenner will report to the AHL's Toronto Marlies for the remainder of the year.

The native of Linwood, Ont., finished his college career with 102 points (55-47)—making him just the fifth player in RIT history to reach the century mark.

Brian Burke has now signed 5 U.S. College free agents since coming to Toronto. The only one playing at the NHL level is Tyler Bozak. The success of U.S. collegians at the NHL level is poor. So may initial reaction to this signing is that Burke is that Brenner is likely destined to be another young player living the dream with the Marlies.

NHL gives Matt Cooke a shot to the head

The cheer you hear across Canada tonight is from hockey fans who finally have some confidence that the NHL may be taking a hard stance against hits to the head. Earlier today Pittsburgh Pnguin forward Matt Cooke was suspended for the rest of the season (10 games) as well as the first round of the playoffs. This is not an incredibly harsh penalty but it is also not a slap on the wrist.

If Matt Cooke with his rap sheet doesn't deserve over 10 games then who in the NHL would? This was in fact an easy decision for the league. A repeat offender that was not one of his team's top player. Had the offense been committed by Chris Pronger there is no question the penalty would have been considerably lighter despite the fact that Pronger's rap sheet is much longer. Dany Heatley's head shot last week was much more serious and it earned just a 2 game suspension so don't be sending out congratulatory letters to the NHL just yet. Let's see if the NHL can follow this up with another message-sending suspension the next time it happens (likely later this week the way the game is being played).

In a way Cooke does get off easy. He will forfeit just over $200,000 in salary for the 10 regular season game suspension but nothing for the playoff games missed because players are fully paid up at the end of the regular season and do not get paid in the playoffs.

Probably the best sign was the response from Penguin GM Ray Shero.

“The suspension is warranted because that’s exactly the kind of hit we’re trying to get out of the game. Head shots have no place in hockey. We’ve told Matt in no uncertain terms that this kind of action on the ice is unacceptable and cannot happen. Head shots must be dealt with severely, and the Pittsburgh Penguins support the NHL in sending this very strong message.”

For once the game itself takes precedent over team solidarity.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Nothing like watching the Bruins get crushed

It was a good game for Leaf Nation as the fleet footed Maple Leafs blew by the Bruins for an easy 5-2 win. The Leaf game is best demonstrated by the rush by Luke Schenn who blew by the stationary Adam McQuaid who made Schenn look like Bobby Orr on the play.

Ironically McQuaid scored the next goal and then had a hand in the Leaf's next goal by having Nazem Kadri's wrist shot go off his arm for Kadri's first NHL goal.

Of course as is the case with almost every Leaf win, James Reimer was brilliant. Reimer stopped 35 shots and was the game's first star.

There was a lovely tribute to Tomas Kaberle who indicated that the game was much more emotional for him than he had anticipated. He was largely invisible during the game.

The final two spots in the East will likely go to the Rangers and Sabres

This is how I am predicting the final two playoff spots in the East will play out.


Proj Final
Pos Team Games Pts Last 10 Pts Pos
7 Rangers 9 82 6-4-0 95
8 Buffalo 11 78 6-3-1 91 8
9 Carolina 10 76 4-5-1 85 11
10 Toronto 9 74 5-4-1 86 10
11 Atlanta 10 72 5-4-1 83 12
12 New Jersey 11 70 7-3-0 86 9

The NHL has to run Matt Cooke out of the game

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Time to jump off the Leaf bandwagon

The thud you hear are Leaf fans once again jumping off the bandwagon after that pathetic loss to the Florida Panthers Rochester Americans. Between injuries and trades the Florida lineup in essential call ups from the AHL yet the easily shut out the Leafs.

Thus the unlikely quest for a playoff spot is essentially over. With 10 games remaining and a minimum of 90 points needed for a playoff berth, the Leafs would have to win 9 out 10 remaining games to have a shot. Yet they have only won 4 out of the last 10.

The true diehards will not give up until they are mathematically out. Since they trail Buffalo by only 4 points, there is still hope.

I'm not disappointed though. This is the first season over past 7 where you can actually see an improvement. There is actually a core of good players again and none are even close to 30 years of age. There is even a small stock of actual prospects. Despite the opinion of some big mouthed fans who think Brian Burke is an idiot, he is really doing a fine job. Not every trade, signing and draft is going to work out. I'm sure Burke regrets signing Mike Komisarek just like all the fans. But the franchise is in good hands.

Reimer bounces back!

Are these players getting the message?

This was just from Tuesday night!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

NHL moving slowly on concussions is not so bad

The NHL announced action plan to reduce concussions has received a pretty negative response from fans. Maybe not all fans but certainly a good number expect a total ban on hits to the head. I think that it is inevitable but I can understand why the NHL is not ready to go there quite yet. Changes to the game always have unexpected consequences. In fact the increase in concussions can be directly linked to the crack down on obstruction. Despite the publicity around a small number of dumb acts of violence, most had injuries in hockey are occurring as a result of accidental collisions which increased as the game got faster.

I like what the NHL is doing and I believe there will be more changes coming. Action is certainly needed after over 10% of NHL players have suffered some type of concussion this season. Everyone can see there is a problem but I work in policy development and analysis and have seen the impact of knee jerk reaction to events. Unless you are going to totally ban hits to the head, then rule changes aren’t needed. I work in a regulatory environment and the knee jerk reaction to a compliance issues seems to always be adding more rules. But if you were to carefully examine the problem you might find that enforcement was weak or there was an information gap requiring some additional education. The NHL added penalties for staged accidents but they still occur and no one is penalized. If you were to review the rule book you will find many infractions that are not being called properly including charging and boarding. Though I would like to see the no touch icing introduced to make the game safer.

Here is my take on the 5 initiatives announced by the NHL this week.

1. Equipment Changes

The NHL says they are committed to making equipment safer. I’ve commented in the past how shoulder pads and elbow pads are like armour. Their construction goes beyond protecting the player and can easily be used as a weapon when hitting opponents. Softer pads would still protect and injure fewer people. We shall see if the league can actually bring about real change. Their battle to make goalie equipment smaller has not been an overwhelming success. Perhaps in this case there will be less resistance.

2. New Concussion Protocol

The NHL wants team physicians examining players with suspected head injuries in the dressing room instead of by a trainer on the bench with a coach standing over them. This is a big step forward in preventing players from doing further damage by playing after being concussed. No more Mikhail Grabovski waiving off the trainer and going back after taking two shots to the head. But don’t expect managers and coaches to quietly go along. Wait until a key player gets dinged in the head in the third period of a close game in March. If he seems to be alright team officials will begin questioning pulling players out of important games as a precaution. Fans who today are demanding that the NHL do something about concussions will do an about face when their team loses with a star sitting it out. I would also like to see players who have been punched in the head during a fight examined as well. Maybe the NHL’s stats might look different (ie, only 8% of concussion occur as a result of fights) if fighters were examined by doctors instead of being sent to the penalty box.

3. Make Rinks Safer

The NHL will be hiring a safety engineer to make rinks safer. There is no easier change for the NHL. It does not require a change in human behaviour. It just takes money. But this may just be a half measure if they only look at the glass and provide extra padding on stanchions. You need to consider the boards, the ice surface, lighting etc.

4. Tougher Penalties

The NHL will look at more disciplinary action for repeat offenders. This is the one initiative that is destined to create the most controversy. People will continue to criticize the league for being too soft, for being inconsistent, for discriminating in favour or against certain players, etc. I find the GMs are trying to have it both ways on irresponsible players. They know who they are; they offer them contracts and then complain about their behaviour. Most people immediately saw the hypocrisy of Mario Lemieux when he criticized the violence in the game at the same he had Matt Cooke on his payroll. When suspensions hit 10 games some players will take notice. When they hit 20 games many more will notice. At 40 games you will get everyone’s attention.

5. Study the Problem Further

The NHL announced that were forming a committee made up of Steve Yzerman, Rob Blake, Joe Nieuwendyk and Brendan Shanahan to work with the Players Association and report back the board. I think some people see this aspect as an attempt to sweep the issue under the carpet. I think that 30 GMs sitting around a room for a day is not the proper structure for problem solving. I am pleased to see that the committee is made up of young, bright executives and not the older crowd (Brian Burke, Glen Sather) who may be too entrenched in the status quo. The game has changed so much you need to involve individuals who have played in the post-lockout NHL. I would have liked to have seen someone selected for the committee who lost considerable time to a head injury. I don’t recall any of these four falling into that category. I hope they speak to current and former players who have had serious concussions. Their recommendations need to balance what is good for the game with how these injuries impact on quality of life away from the rink and post-hockey careers.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What happened to James Reimer?

A couple of weeks ago I posted about how many goalies have spectacular numbers when they are first called up to the NHL only to drop off shortly after. I speculated that it will likely happen to James Reimer. It appears that this is the case based on the numbers below. His stats looked real good in January and February but have tailed off considerably in March.

January 4-3-0, 2.31 GAA, .932 SV%
February 6-1-3, 2.36 GAA, .926 SV%
March 3-3-1, 3.67 GAA, .892 SV%

So why does this happen? In most cases it’s quite simple; it takes a certain amount of time for the shooters to figure out a new goalie. Is he weak on the blocker side? Does he over commit? Is he too far back in the crease? How is he in handling the puck outside the goal crease? The same process takes place in major league baseball. A young pitcher comes to the majors for the first time and seems to be unhittable. But after a month everyone starts hitting him. We are all predictable and your opponents start to figure you out. So to compensate you need to adjust to your opponent’s adjustments and so on and so on. For instance I noticed Lightning shooters were going high on Reimer. Maybe they noticed something while reviewing game tapes?

Although in Reimer’s case there are additional factors in play. He has played in 14 straight games so when his coach suggests he looked tired, he may be right. He wasn’t even playing this much on the Marlies. Another reason for his drop off in March has to do with the Leaf defense. At the trading deadline Brian Burke shipped out two pretty good defensemen who were both playing over 20 minute per game. Those minutes are being eaten up by the remaining defensemen with mixed results. As a result, in many games this month the Leafs are being outshot. Weak defense means more turnovers, more shots against, more scoring chances for opponents and more goals against. Burke will need to address what to do about Brett Lebda and Mike Komisarek over the summer.

So which is Reimer – the January/February stud or the very ordinary March goalie? We will need to wait until next season to find out for sure.

Monday, March 14, 2011

43 Years of Maple Leaf Frustration: 2006-07 Season

Coming off their disappointing season the Maple Leafs once retooled by dipping into the free agent market. They added Pavel Kubina, Michael Peca, and Hal Gill to go along with new Goalie Andrew Raycroft. The trade has to be one of the worst in Maple Leaf history and put GM John Ferguson Jr. into a hole that he was never able to dig himself out of. Raycroft set a team record with 37 wins but had a mediocre 2.99 GAA and .894 SAV%.

For most of the first three months the Maple Leafs played mediocre hockey, as they headed into the New Year with a 17-17-6 record. In January the Leafs started playing better despite losing Peca for the season with a knee injury. The Leafs actually stayed in playoff contention until the very end of the season as they held destiny in their own hands in the final week playing the New York Islanders and Montreal Canadiens in the final two games. However, a 5-2 loss to the Islanders put the Leafs on the brink as they needed a win over the Habs and an Islanders loss to get in. Led by three assists from Mats Sundin the Leafs would do their part beating the Canadiens 6-5 to knock their long time rivals out of contention. However, the Islanders would win their final game of the season against the Devils. New Jersey who had started Martin Brodeur in 18 straight games sat him out in the final game of the season. The Islanders took the last playoff spot form the Leafs who finished 40-31-11 out of the playoffs by one point.

Ironically, as the Leafs stumbled from one goalie to another, the 2006-07 season saw they draft an unknown goalie from Manitoba in the 3rd round. He was James Reimer.

Maple Leafs are for sale

Maple Leaf fans are likely pleased to hear that Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan is putting its share of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment up for sale. The expected price is $1.3 - $1.6 billion will mean that the next owner will more likely be a corporate entity than an individual.

The Maple Leafs have had a history of weak ownership though in the sports franchise marketplace there are likely more bad owners than good ones. In the case of the Leafs, over the past 40 years we have seen the eccentric Harold Ballard who essentially destroyed the brand with his inept interference. He was succeeded by Steve Stavros who tried to right the organization but developed personal financial problems that forced him to abandon the rebuild.

Then along came OTPP which took control of the Leafs in 2003. The OTPP have been neither a good or bad owner although many fans have vilified OTPP and accused them of not spending money to produce a winner. Certainly MLSE was purchased as an investment and not because the OTPP was interested in sports team ownership so the bottom line has been paramount. But they also understand that success in the playoffs also generates profits. After all, players are fully paid at the end of the season so playoff revenue becomes highly profitable. So the OTPP understands the value of playoff revenue from a business perspective if not from a fan’s perspective.

However, the value of the OTPP portfolio is about $100 billion so the Leafs represent only 1% of their investments. Plan executives have shown little interest in investing time in running this asset. Richard Peddie was hired to manage the business and act as a buffer for ownership. OTPP executives have rarely been seen in public. There are no media interviews, no meet and greet with fans and season ticket-holders and players do not hang out with the owners.

This is the reality of sports ownership today. Often you have a wealthy kook interfering with management or a passionless corporate owner looking at the bottom line. Take the example the new Buffalo Sabre owner Terry Pegula who is a passionate Sabre fan. Will he be able to step back from being a fan and allow management to make proper hockey and business decisions? We shall soon see.

So while Leaf and Raptor fans look forward to new ownership, that doesn’t mean a turn for the better. The asking price and the potential profits of MLSE will attract a certain type of owner. There is a good chance that the new owner will be similar to the existing one. The sports conglomerate might attract potential owners willing to overpay slightly because the sports franchises can be aligned to enhance existing business. That would include Rogers Communications and Bell Globemedia. The track record of Rogers as owner of the Blue Jays has not been that encouraging. In the case of the Jays they have indicated that they would spend money to support a winner but have not spent money to create a winner.

So I am also pleased to see Teachers sell their share of MLSE but I don’t see any reason to be optimistic quite yet.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Maple Leaf playoff prospects are razor thin

The Leafs remain 6 points behind both Buffalo and the New York Rangers who hold 7th and 8th place in the East. Six points doesn't seem like such a big spread except if you only have 13 games remaining in your schedule. If the magic number remains 90 points to secure 8th place (it may be more) then the Leafs need a whopping winning percentage of 76.9%. In contrast the Sabres only need to win 53.8% of the games and the Rangers 58.3%.

The Leaf schedule for the remainder of the season includes: Tampa Bay, @Carolina, @Florida, Boston, @Minnesota, @Colorado, @Detroit, Buffalo, @Boston, @Ottawa, Washington, @New Jersey, Montreal. That works out to 7 teams in a playoff spot and 6 outside the playoffs.

Buffalo plays 5 teams in a playoff spot and 8 teams currently out of the playoffs. The Rangers Will play 6 teams in a playoff spot and 6 teams out of the playoffs. Ninth place Carolina has the toughest schedule with 8 teams to play in the playoffs and only 5 out of the playoffs. Atlanta who are tied with the Leafs also face 8 playoff teams and 5 non-playoff teams. The super hot Devils are also on a playoff bubble and will face 9 playoff teams and 5 non-playoff teams.

Do you find Pierre McGuire annoying?

There’s something about Pierre McGuire that people just find grating. This is unfortunate because he clearly knows a lot about hockey and has plenty of insight into the game. But when people are hoping that errant pucks go flying into your general area, it’s a pretty clear sign you aren’t well-liked.

If you share this opinion of Pierre McGuire but aren't sure what it is that you dislike about him then read this article.

Banning head shots will protect players with their head down

Here is Kyle Wellwood skating with his head down. He takes a shoulder to shoulder hit and get knocked over but isn't injured. This is classic example of how the NHL might look after a ban on hits to the head. If Wellwood had been targeted by one of the league's many headhunters, it would have been just another statistic in the Year of the Concussion.

Kyle keep your head up!

Rick Martin dead at 59

Shocking news this morning as former Buffalo Sabres star Rick Martin has passed away. Reports suggest the 59 year old suffered a heart attack while driving a car.

Martin was a famed member of the Sabres' French Connection line in the 1970s, along side Gilbert Perreault and Rene Robert.

Martin was a prolific scoring winger for the team, registering eight seasons of 32 goals or more, including back-to-back 52-goal campaigns. A seven-time All-Star and two-time 1st Team NHLer, Martin had his No. 7 retired to the rafters in Buffalo in 1995 and is flanked by the retired numbers of his former linemates.

t was just two weeks ago at the press conference introducing Terry Pegula as the new owner of the Sabres that the "French Connection" was reunited. Pegula, a lifelong Sabres fan, became emotional when he learned that Perreault, Martin and Robert were in attendance.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Worst head injuries in NHL history

10. Pat Quinn elbows Bobby Orr (April 2, 1969)

9. Francois Leroux elbows Pat Lafontaine (October 17, 1996)

8. Scott Stevens hits Eric Lindros (May 26, 2000)

7. Wayne Maki hits Ted Green in the head with his stick (September 21, 1969)

6. Marty McSorely hits Donald Brashear with his stick in the head (February 21, 2000)

5. Nixk Kypreos knocked out by Ryan Vandenbussche (September 15, 1997)

4. Lou Fontinato hit into boards (March 9, 1963)

3. Todd Bertuzzi attacks Steve Moore (March 7, 2004)

2. Ace Bailey tripped from behind by Eddie Shore (December 12, 1933)

1. Bill Masterton dies from a fall onto his head (January 13, 1968)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

NHL Power Ranking - Week 23

It looks like the Maple Leafs are cooling down which means they are going to be stalled at about 23rd in in the NHL power ranking with time running out.

Sportsnet: 21 (+5)
Sports Illustrated: 22 (+2)
ESPN: 23 (0)
CBS Sports: 23 (-1)
National Post: 23 (+1)
The Hockey News: 23 (0)
La Times: 23 (+1)
TSN: 25 (-1)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Year of the Concussion continues

The latest victim to be maimed is Max Pacioretty who suffered a concussion and fractured vertebrae (no dislocation) at the hands of Zdeno Chara. He too is gone for the rest of the season if not longer.

I admit the circumstances here are different. The two players interacted in a location of the rinks which clearly is recognized to be more hazardous. The hit from Chara caused Pacioretty's head to crash into the stanchion between the benches. Had this hit occurred elsewhere on the ice the results would have been different.

The reaction by the on ice officials and the league head office is what leaves me puzzled. Mike Murphy ruled that no suspension was warranted because it was a "hockey play", Charo didn't leave his feet when he made the hit, Charo didn't aim for his head, and Charo has a clean 13 year record. This was a simple interference penalty that unfortunately had a bad outcome because of the stanchion Pacioretty hit.

Then why did the on ice official hand Charo a match penalty and a game misconduct if it was just interference? How does Murphy know for sure there was no malice on the part of Chara? The previous Bruin-Canadiens game was a 60 minute brawl and at one point Pacioretty had crosschecked Chara who then went after the Canadiens forward. How do we know for sure this hit wasn't at least part payback? And at 6'9" if Chara had left his feet to make the hit he would have landed in the 5th row behind the benches.

Chara is always used an example of why you can't ban head hits because it would be unfair to larger players. So why is it not considered unfair to shorter players who have to take hits to the head from larger opponents? My view is that every player has an obligation to avoid hits to the head. It might be more difficult for Chara but so be it.

As far as whether Chara deserved a fine or suspension, I'm ambivalent at this point. These penalties are not deterrents. They aren't even slaps on the wrist. Each week the number of players out of the lineup with concussions grows. The league has failed its players and fans on this front. A 4 game suspension to Chara isn't going to make a difference. Meanwhile a player is in Montreal General Hospital with his career and his health at risk.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Leafs let a valuable point slip away

This is not a put down of the Islanders but for the Leafs to finish in the top 8, they cannot afford to give up points to teams below them in the standings. Especially considering there are twice as many teams ahead of them compared to those behind the Leafs.

The Leafs came back from one goal deficits three times but could never take the lead before losing in overtime 4-3.

This game had a little bit of everything including Keith Aulie's first NHL goal. James Reimer made a terrific save on a Matt Martin breakaway and followed that up on a penalty shot save when Dion Phaneuf was called for hooking on the play. Oh and one of reasons this game even made it to overtime was because the Islanders hit 3 posts and a crossbar.

The Leafs were outshot 40-27 and out hit 30-20. The Islanders even had an edge on blocked shots 17-14. Once again their futile powerplay failed to score. I think it's been 5 games now.

Why the Phoenix Coyotes won't die

A last-ditch plan could be in the works to salvage the sale of the Phoenix Coyotes to prospective buyer Matthew Hulsizer. If that plan fails, the hockey franchise could then be sold to a Canadian group who will move the Coyotes back to Winnipeg. Gary Bettman tried to arrange a meeting the Goldwater Institute but was unsuccessful.

So why won't this thing die? Well for one thing the NHL is attempting to negotiate a TV contract with NBC. Phoenix is the 12th largest market in the U.S. and as it is the NHL doesn't have a team in 2 of the top 20 TV markets. Adding another to the list isn't going to assist in those negotiations.

Matthew Hulsizer has suggested he loves the Phoenix area and is committed to making this work. He indicated that he has been approached by several other NHL franchises eager to sell and turned them down because he wants the Coyotes. And he Coyotes need a committed and stable owner.

I think the NHL actually feels bad for the City of Glendale which has put up a lot of money to support this franchise. The NHL would therefore like to go to the wall to make this sale happen. That is why no deadline has been give to complete the deal.

That being said there are a few possible scenarios:

• Reducing the amount of City of Glendale bonds for Hulsizer and the Coyotes from $100 million down to $70 million. That might still not satisfy Goldwater.

• Having the NHL discount its estimated $170 million asking price for the team, plus this year’s $25 million to $30 million in losses it wants covered by Glendale or Hulsizer. I can't see that happening because the other owners never agreed that they would lose money over the Coyotes. In fact they have been promised it would cost them nothing if they cooperated.

• Asking Hulsizer to contribute more than the current estimated $70 million he is putting into the transaction. He might if he can get some other concessions from the league.
• Possibly leveraging $25 million Glendale previously allocated to help cover the Coyotes losses this season.

• Hoping the reduced bonds amount and financial changes lessen legal opposition to the deal from the Goldwater Institute watchdog group. It doesn't sound like they will back off but you never know.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Jacques Lemaire should be Coach of the Year Decade

Jacques Lemaire had won 588 regular season games and one Stanley as a NHL coach prior to this season. That placed in 7th in career coaching wins.

Lemaire announced his retirement as a head coach in the NHL on April 26, 2010. However, on December 23, 2010, after New Jersey Devils Head Coach John MacLean was fired after only 33 games, Lemaire came out of retirement to coach once again for the New Jersey Devils.

The Devils were 9-22-2 under MacLean - dead last in the NHL. A perennial contender in the Eastern Conference, the Devils were expected to be among the leaders again this season after re signing all-star forward Ilya Kovalchuk to a 15-year, $100-million US contract in the off-season.

The desperate Devils turned once again to Lemaire. He spent three weeks tinkering with this wreck of a team. On January 8 they were just 10-29-2 and 27 points out of the playoffs. Then suddenly the Devils went on a 20-2-2 streak that caught just about everyone by surprise. In fact New Jersey is now just 3 points behind the Maple Leafs, 8 points out of the playoffs and coming on strong. Now the Devils won't make the playoffs but no one could have predicted at Christmas that they could return from the dead altogether.

Over the past 24 games, the Devils have given up more than two goals just twice. Kovalchuk had eight goals when Lemaire took over December 23. Now he has 24 goals, including nine goals in his last 13. Classic Lemaire defensive-style hockey. And he has done it without top forward Zach Parise and future Hall of Fame goalie Martin Brodeur.

For those who never want to give credit to coaches when teams win (anyone could have won with that lineup) try to explain this run of success. Coaches make a difference. Lemaire has to be Coach of the Year. When he finally retires after this season, he shouldn't have to wait too long to get his ticket to the Hall of Fame. He serves it.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Glendale may sue Goldwater

The City of Glendale is planning to launch a lawsuit on Monday against the Goldwater Institute, a public watchdog board, over the potential sale of the Phoenix Coyotes, according to The City is trying to sell a municipal bond issue to raise money which would be part of a transaction critical to keeping the Phoenix Coyotes in Glendale.The $100 million in bonds is intended to be used to purchase from potential owner Matthew Hulsizer the parking rights to arena where the Coyotes play. Hulsizer will put the Glendale money towards the purchase of the Coyotes from the NHL who are looking for about $170 million. Without the Glendale money Hulsizer walks and the NHL relocates the team to Winnipeg. The Arizona constitution prohibits governments from providing the private sector with gifts, loans, subsidies, etc. The Goldwater Institute is a conservative public policy research organization established in 1988 that advances public policies with emphasis on lower taxes and limited government spending. They have threatened the City with lawsuits if it goes ahead with the bond issue which has scared off already scarce investors.

Glendale contends that it could lose over $500 million in taxes, revenues and lost jobs in the Coyotes leave. That might not that much of a stretch as they are on the hook for the $180 million spent on the arena. They arena isn't going to provide much in the way of taxes and other revenue if it's vacant and someone who have to spend money to maintain it.

So the moving vans to Winnipeg may have to wait a little longer.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Only 10-game suspension for Tevor Gillies? NHL needs some smelling salts and wake up!

Islanders’ GM Garth Snow does not agree with the 10-game suspension that NHL handed down to Trevor Gillies on Friday. As a matter of fact, he doesn’t even necessarily think the hit Gillies put on the Wild’s Cal Clutterbuck during Wednesday’s 4-1 win was a penalty.

Really doesn't that just sum up what is wrong with today's NHL. GMs and coaches will go to the wall to defend their enforcers but doing so is being so short-sighted. Because tomorrow night some goon could knock out your star player for the remainder of the season. Do you think if that hit was delivered to John Tavares or Matt Mouslon he would feel the same way? I doubt it. Gillies claims he was finishing his check but you can clearly see he also punched Clutterbuck in the head.

NHL Power Ranking - Week 22

The Maple Leaf surge is beginning to get noticed. Most of the season the Leafs have languished at about 28th in the weekly power ranking by online sports websites and bloggers. However slowly they have begun to rise in the rankings to about 5 spots above where before the All-Star break.

Sports Illustrated: 22nd (+2)
CBS Sports: 22nd (+1)
Toronto Sun: 22nd (0)
ESPN: 23rd (+4)
Hockey News: 23rd (+4)
USA Today: 23rd (+4)
Sporting News: 23rd (+2)
TSN: 24th (+2)
FoxSports: 24th (+2)
Sportsnet: 26th (+1)

Friday, March 4, 2011

First hockey game took place 136 years ago

The first organized game of ice hockey took place on March 3, 1875 at the Victoria Skating Rink in Montreal, based on a set of rules proposed by a group of McGill University students. The game also featured a number of those students.

James G. A. Creighton, who went on to become a McGill law student, was believed to have played a role in the established the first set of formal rules.

Two nine-man groups, one of which was captained by Creighton, opposed each other in the world's first-ever indoor public display of an ice hockey game. The event was played at the Victoria Skating Rink.

By moving ice hockey game indoors, the smaller dimensions of the rink initiated a major change from the outdoor version of the game, limiting organized contests to a nine-man limit per team. Until that time, outdoor games had no prescribed number of players, the number being more or less the number that could fit on a frozen pond or river and often ranged in the dozens. The nine-man per side rule would last until the 1880s, when it was reduced during the Montreal Winter Carnival Hockey Tournament.

The key innovation was the substitution of a square, wooden disk (puck), which offered the players far more control than they had over a ball.


Nice hit Phaneuf, but the other team is wearing dark jerseys tonight

Isn't it time for hockey to begin looking after its players?

The recent revelation that retired NHL players have suffered brain damage comes as no surprise to me. It is consistent in what has been observed in former NFL players and boxers. I love the sport of hockey. I enjoy playing the game, coaching children and just being a fan. To be honest the growing awareness that players are sacrificing their health, their family and social relations and their future quality of life bothers me.

Brain injuries aren’t like physical injuries. A retired athlete with a bad knee or hip can be helped. Bobby Orr has had knee replacement surgery and leads a relatively normal life. He works, plays golf and interacts with his family. You can’t fix or replace a damaged brain. It can create a barrier to employment, enjoying the company of others, and basic recreational activities like reading, watching tv or playing cards. Overtime your disability will worsen and your life expectancy is shortened. Do you think anyone willing signs up for this type of future?

There are a number of reasons why there is an epidemic of concussions in hockey. There is marked increase in awareness of the concussions in sports. No one talks about having their bell rung anymore. Yet in a recent game, Maple Leaf Mikhail Grabovski took two hard hits to the head from 6’9” Zdeno Chara without missing a shift. The rationale was that the team was following the league concussion protocol and he showed no signs of a concussion. Shouldn’t the team have considered the players health and safety over all other considerations and pulled him from the game as a precaution? It’s not like he underwent a thorough examination by a physician. A trainer took a look at him on the bench.

We need to recognize how much the game has changed. Players are bigger, weigh more, and wear protection equipment and pads that can also hurt opponents. What hasn’t changed is the anatomy of the skull and brain. A blow to the head causes your brain hit the inside of your skull. A good analogy is a big hunk of jello flopping around inside a bucket. What you get is a big mess. Better helmets aren’t the answer either. Helmets won’t prevent you brain from banging against the inside of your skull.

There is only one way to prevent brain injuries in hockey. Change the way the game is played. You can’t entirely eliminate these types of injuries because some are the result of unintended collisions. I’ve coached players who suffered concussions from incidents like running into a teammate during the warm up, losing a skate edge and falling head first into the boards, and toppling out of the rink when a gate was accidentally left open. But there are two important changes that can drastically reduce brain injuries:

  1. Ban fighting
  2. Ban any hit to the head

Opponents will tell you this will ruin the game. They will refer to it as pussification. They will accuse the league of giving into pinkos, commies and…OMG…the international lobby. Sounds like a conspiracy. There is no question that the game will change considerably. So will the makeup of the league. In fact big players might become more of a liability because they are more likely to hit someone in the head. The two hits that Grabovski took from Chara were not aimed at his head but the Bruins defenseman is about a foot taller than the Leaf forward. Someone players will not be able to adapt. Smaller players will become more effective. Fighters who cannot contribute to a team without dropping their gloves will disappear. The game will likely become less physical but other skills will likely dominate. But who says the games won’t be as entertaining. Maybe they will be more entertaining.

If you have compared today’s game with the NHL of the 1940s, 1960s and 1980s you will notice that hockey has been constantly evolving. These changes would just contribute to that ongoing evolution. We all will adjust.

Even if the game is worse off, it is still unconscionable to allow players to risk their health for the entertainment of others. There needs to be a balance between the risks for players and the needs of fans. Remember what goes on at the NHL level filters down to youth hockey. What are the long term impacts of a concussion on a child who is still developing physically, emotionally and intellectually?