Saturday, May 28, 2011
Canadian's have a Canadian-centric view of the hockey world but the sport is huge in Scandinavia. Nothing is bigger in that part of the world when Finland or Sweden beat each other. So when Finland demolished Sweden 6-1 to win the Championship it was huge. To commemorate the event a stamp has been issued with Granlund's goal. Now the stamp is sold out.
Though I'm not quite sure why Reebok got its name so prominently placed on the stamp.
So I was 1-1 in the third round of the playoffs which leaves me at a mediocre 9-5 overall for 2011. I had Bolts in seven and was right about that series- it was a toss up right to the final buzzer. Both goalies were outstanding but the Bruins' physical game finally won out.
The line of David Krejci - Nathan Horton - Milan Lucic finally got rolling in round two and dominated in round three. They will be a challenge for the Vancouver defense. The Bruins also dominated Tampa Bay in critical faceoff wins. Fortunately for the Canucks it appears that Manny Malhotra will be returning from his eye surgeries. He is likely the game's best faceoff centre.
The Canucks have proven one thing in the 2011 playoffs, they are durable. At times it appeared that they would begin to fold under the pressure and physical grind but they spring back to life. This resiliency is critical to winning a Cup. You no longer need to question the toughness of the Sedins. They are ready to battle.
The Bruins are a flawed team and their appearance in the finals is a little bit surprising. However, they do have perhaps the best goalie (Tim Thomas) and defenseman (Zdeno Chara) in the game and both players have not disappointed. Remember the early losses to the Canadiens were when Chara was out of the line up. But the Canucks have incredible depth so matching up Chara with the Sedins might not totally stop the Vancouver offense. Ryan Kessler has been on a mission and has been the best forward in the 3011 playoffs. The Canucks have also gotten a fair amount of offense from their defenseman with Kevin Bieksa scoring some huge goals. As well, the Canucks have been deadly on the powerplay and finished off the Sharks in 5 games because San Jose could not kill off penalties.
I've been wrong many times before but even with Thomas and Chara I do not see this as an evenly matched series.
Canucks in five.
He hasn't a chance but he deserves serious Conn Smythe consideration.
The Leafs were leading the series 3-2, and were a win away from meeting the Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup final. Wendel Clark was a dominant force in the series. In that 6th game he had a hat trick including the tying goal in the 3rd period with the goalie pulled.
Then came the infamous non-call. The Leafs might have very well beaten the Canadiens but for Kerry Fraser. It may very well have been the only Maple Leaf Stanley Cup win I would have witnessed as an adult. I was just a kid when the Leafs won in the 1960s. I have the sick feeling that the Leafs will not get to a Cup final in my remaining life. I still feel robbed to this very day.
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
The soon to be Winnipeg owner, billionaire David Thomson, may end being the richest NHL franchise holder when the league approves the sale of the Atlanta Thrashers. It makes you wonder why it took so long to sell a team to Thomson with his deep pockets. A little red ink isn’t going panic this guy. Meanwhile Vancouver businessman Tom Gaglardi is the leading suitor for the Dallas Stars. There are potential owners in Southern Ontario and Quebec City hoping to land a franchise.
It has taken Gary Bettman a long time to get around to sizing up potential Canadian owners. His track record in locating stable owners in the U.S. is far from stellar with the likes of John Rigas, Bruce McNall, Boots del Biaggio, and John Spano. During Bettman’s tenure as Commissioner the NHL expanded from 24 to 30 teams.
In the 1993-4 season The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and Florida Panthers are added, while the Minnesota franchise is moved to Dallas, and renamed the Stars. In 1995-6 season the Quebec franchise is transferred to Colorado, renamed the Avalanche and the following year the Jets are moved from Winnipeg to Phoenix and renamed the Coyotes. In 1997-8 the Hartford franchise is transferred to Raleigh and renamed the Carolina Hurricane. The addition of the Nashville Predator franchise in 1998-9 brought the league to 27 teams and a major realignment of divisions took place for the addition of the Atlanta Thrashers franchise in 1999-2000 season and the addition of the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Bluejackets franchises for the 2000-1 season.
Really most of these moves have not produced teams that have been successful on the ice or at the box office. The Ducks and Avalanche have been successful. The Stars were a strong franchise until the owner ran into financial difficulty. The Lightning and Hurricane have won Cups but have also had financial problems when they don’t win. The rest have been swimming in red ink with losses as high as $30 million per season.
For those that couldn't stay up that late, the winning goal after about 90 minutes was not a beauty. It was a knuckleball from the point off the stick of Kevin Bieksa that took a couple of bounces before finding its way into the corner of the Sharks' net. The win gives Canada a shot of winning a Stanley Cup for the first time in 18 years.
Monday, May 23, 2011
This late game save on Steve Downie is spectacular but not a surprise. Thomas has been doing it all season. In an early season game against the Maple Leafs he robbed Francois Beauchemin in overtime in similar fashion. Coming from the other side of the net to rob the shooter who was just seconds before staring at an empty net.
Friday, May 20, 2011
Too many of these teams as well as other smaller market American teams are on life support. Partly due to poor management, insufficient corporate sponsorship and a weak fan base. Meanwhile a 30 team league has also watered down the product. We don't know how many teams are actually for sale. We do know that Phoenix has been on the market for the past 2 years and the Atlanta team has had a for sale sign out for 5 years with no local interest prepared to step forward. Buffalo recently changed hands after being on the market for some time. Supposedly Columbus, St. Louis, Dallas, Nashville and the Islanders are on the market too. It seems the True North group in Winnipeg are the only buyers out there.
Winnipeg has a committed ownership group and fan base but it will still be a small market team that might need to dip into the league's equalization payment scheme. At least it won't be a desert based team where hockey is more of a novelty than a passion. Which raises the question what is the NHL going to do about the Coyotes? Glendale has agreed to cover losses for another season which provides some more time to locate a potential owner that is willing use their own money to keep the team local. The likelihood of finding such a person is on par with Jim Balsillie being awarded an NHL franchise - zilch. But 12 months from now relocating to Winnipeg will no longer be an option for the Coyotes. It seems the next most viable option is Quebec but what if in the interim another desperate owner pursues Quebec? The NHL will really be stuck. Will it look to the Southern Ontario market despite strong objections from the Toronto Maple Leafs? Is the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan looking to unload its share of the Leafs because of possible encroachment into their territory which would reduce the value of their equity in the team?
Thursday, May 19, 2011
Vancouver's Green Men were tapped out of cash after the Nashville series so they have been watching the round three series from home. Instead an interesting young woman showed up to entertain the visitor's penalty box.
When San Jose Sharks agitator Ben Eager went to the penalty box with 2:33 left in the third period woman on the penalty box glass was trying to convey something to him when she flashed her bare breasts at him.
Certainly this is beyond the repertoire of Scully and the Force. They may need to return later in the series to top the woman's six seconds of titillation.
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Maple Leafs defenceman Matt Lashoff has launched a second career, a new collection of songs which can be sampled over at his website. You can download the songs on iTune but you might want to first sample it on his website. Doesn't do any thimg for me but you might like it.
Yes, folks he would look good in a Leaf uniform. But so does Phil Kessel who has scored 62 goals in a Leafs jersey with the likes of Matt Stajan and Tyler Bozak as his centre. Sure Seguin and great game - but one game does not make a career. He will have to be real good on a consistent basis to begin question the value of the trade with me.
So stop worrying about the trade. The only thing that matters is that the Leafs compete for the Cup real soon.
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Just look around at how many teams are for sale - Phoenix, St. Louis, Dallas, Columbus, the Islanders and Atlanta, maybe more. Some have quietly been on the market for years. Several have been bankrupt and this is all post-lockout and under the new CBA. The guys in True North must be the most popular guys in the room when the NHL owners get together. Meanwhile the big market teams are even more profitable. Payrolls are stable but in some cases they can raise ticket prices faster than salaries because of demand for tickets in their market.
So what went wrong? How come the CBA hasn't provided financial parity?
Well look at how much the salary cap has increased (see below) under the CBA. On average about 10% per year. So why is this a problem if league revenues have increased by 10% per year as well? All league revenue is reported in American dollars but the Canadian teams collect revenue in Canadian dollars. Since the Canadian dollar has been rising, revenue from Canadian teams have been skewed by the strength of the Canadian currency. To make matters worse the highest ticket prices in the league are in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. So when these team raise their ticket prices the salary cap goes up for Phoenix and Florida.
Cap ($ million)
* 2011-12 salary cap is an estimate
When the salary cap goes up, so does the salary minimum. So over the past 6 seasons the teams who are trying to keep their salaries down must still spend on average 10% more each season although their revenue might not be going up at all. At least before the lockout, these teams could choose to keep salaries flat or even lower them in order to reduce losses. That might not be an option in some cases. The CBA forces them to lose money.
And if you think the salary cap has brought parity to the league - think again. When you divide the 30 NHL teams in 10 big market team, 10 mid market teams and 10 small market teams you will find that their success on the ice is partly determined by the size of the market. In the post-lockout era big market teams made the playoffs 70% of the time. If not for the incompetent Maple Leafs, the rate would be even higher. Mid market teams have a playoff success rate of 60%. The small market teams only make the playoffs 30% of the time.
What better way to illustrate how the NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement is not working well then by looking at the plight of a growing group of NHL players banished to the AHL. They aren’t playing in the AHL because their hockey skills have diminished to the point they can no longer play in the NHL. These players have been demoted to create cap space so their team can acquire better players for the same money. All these players would be playing in the NHL if they were earning less money.
Here are just some of ex-NHL millionaires that have been riding the buses in the minors: ex-Blue Jacket Mike Commodore ($3.73 million), ex-Oiler Sheldon Souray ($5.5 million), ex-Ranger Wade Redden ($6.5 million), ex-Leaf Jeff Finger ($3.5 million), ex-Flame Ales Kotalik ($3.0 million) and ex-Flyer Michael Leighton ($3.1 million) who re-appeared for the playoffs.
So what do these players have in common besides being overpaid? Except for Commodore, they played for big market teams. Big market teams can afford to bury their mistakes in the minors to free up cap space to spend some more. They still have to pay the player’s salary but it doesn’t count against the cap. Smaller market teams could do the same but don’t have the money to spend on a replacement, so their mistakes remain on the NHL roster.
This is just another loophole that big market teams use to their advantage. The other well publicized loophole is the front-end loaded contract like the one New Jersey had worked out with Ilya Kovalchuk over the summer. The trick is to extend the length of the contract to beyond a point where the player will still be playing and then pay the bulk of the salary in the first few years. This reduces the average salary and the cap hit which increases the amount available to spend on salaries. Again, this strategy is not really viable for small market teams since they don’t bother to spend right up to the cap limit. These loopholes allow some teams to spend around $65 million per season on salaries when the limit is $59 million.
Though no one is feeling sorry for the poor guy banished to the AHL for getting too rich of a contract, it really unfair. They signed a contract in good faith expecting a job in the NHL and end up in the minors. There is no escape for them unless another NHL team agrees to take on their salary. The NHL's waiver system makes it unlikely any of these players will be back in the big league anytime soon. If a player is picked up on waivers, both his new team and his old team must add half the player's salary to their salary cap total.
They aren’t complaining because afterall they are earning big time money. But they would love to be playing in the NHL just the same.
Roloson's eight straight playoff victories tie him with Hall of Famer Jacques Plante, who did it in 1969 with the Blues, for most by a goalie 40 or older. Roloson needs two more wins, not necessarily in a row, to tie former Red Wings goalie Dominik Hasek for most in a playoff season by those goalies of a certain age.
Roloson who is 41 can pass Plante when he plays against the Bruins in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference final. You wonder in amazement how he does it.
Sunday, May 15, 2011
They defended themselves on the CBC on Friday. They believe that there is no reason to make things comfortable for the opposition and don't see their antics as offensive. They also have over 14,000 Twitter followers.
Well there was a bit of payback tonight for the Cherry remark. Stay tuned for more.
Saturday, May 14, 2011
During the first round the home team was only winning 42.4% of games which is well below historical averages. That has improved slightly but home teams are still only winning 45.8% o games. No explanation other than there may be some additional pressure in the playoffs when playing at home. Or perhaps its a reflection of the parity in the league under the salary. Meanwhile in the NBA playoffs the home team has won 70% of games.
The playoffs this season has had a number of other oddities. For example, the higher seed team has won only 52% of games. The low percentage is partly due to the two top seeds in the East having been eliminated in just 4 games in the second round.
And no lead, no matter how large, seems safe: In the first 71 years of the modern NHL playoffs, only five teams managed to erase a 3-0 series deficit to force a Game 7. I has already happened twice this year and the playoffs aren't over yet.
Well I was 2-2 in the second round and 8-4 overall in 2011. The second round was clearly not as exciting as round one.
In the East there were two sweeps where both the first and second seeds couldn't put up much of a fight in their series. Every team hits a wall in the playoffs where the toll of the regular season, tough physical playoff games, and overtime sucks the life out of your lineup. Combine inconsistent goaltending and you have your self an early summer break.
Every team has some elite players but successful teams have deeper lineups with role players who can also produce offense when the key match ups neutralize your top scoring line. That was clearly evident in the West where the series were much tighter.
Eastern Conference (3) Boston Bruins vs. (5) Tampa Bay Lightning
It took some time to get rolling but the line of David Krejci - Nathan Horton - Milan Lucic finally began to get rolling in round two. However, the Bruin offense has sputtered at times which is no different than the regular season. The powerplay has been scoring at a dismal rate of 5.4% which is an improvement over the 0% after round one. This team is clearly being carried by Tim Thomas who could do it again in round three. On the other end of the rink is another oldtimer Dwayne Roloson who is carrying a goals against average and save percentage slightly better than Thomas. But at 41 will he run out of gas? No goalie this age has ever started in games this late in the playoffs. But Tampa Bay isn't relying on just goaltending. They gave 3 premier forwards in Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier and Steve Stamkos. They have excellent secondary scorers in Sean Bergenheim (leads the team in goals scored), Steve Downie and Ryan Malone. The defense has been solidified with the trade for Eric Brewer. Finally Guy Boucher has done an incredible job in his first year as an NHL coach.
Prediction: Bolts in 7
Western Conference (1) Vancouver Canucks vs. (2) San Jose Sharks
No upsets in the West where round two had the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th seeds and here we are in the third round with the top two seeds. Both teams have struggled to get this far in the past so they have gotten that monkey off their back. The challenge is getting to the final where they both have a great shot at winning the Cup. Both teams have deep lineups, solid and at times spectacular goaltending, lots of grit, and excellent special teams. This should be one of the better match ups in the playoffs. When star players like the Sedins, Patrick Marleau or Dany Heatley don't score, you have players like Ryane Clowe or Ryan Kessler step up. These are truly team efforts. Both teams are loaded with veterans who have a lot to prove this season.
Prediction: Canucks in 7
Sunday, May 8, 2011
The Phoenix Coyotes situation just continues to get more and more complicated. It had appeared as if it was the end of the road for the Coyotes in Glendale. The Goldwater Institute has threatened a court challenge if Glendale tries to raise money through a bond issue to fund Matthew Hulsizer's purchase of the Coyotes. Hulsizer has refused to put in more of his own money for the purchase which to me suggests he lacks a strong commitment to buying the team. Meanwhile, the NHL refuses to drop the purchase price for the Coyotes because the other owners do not intend on losing any of their own money on the transaction. Call it a stalemate.
With time ticking away as the NHL begins to prepare a schedule it seemed like a move to Winnipeg was a sure thing. The City of Glendale has apparently decided to reset the clock, have the Coyotes remain in the desert for another season and see if they can make a deal with Hulsizer (or someone else) to keep the team local.
To keep the team in Glendale for another season, the city is looking to kick in another $25 million to cover operating expenses which would allow the NHL to continue the search for an owner willing to keep the team in Glendale. Now you would think that after searching for 2 years it would be apparent that no such person exists under these circumstances. It appears the NHL is buying into this plan.
This would allow for a few possible scenarios including further negotiations with the Goldwater Institute. Hulsizer seems to be on board as long as the plan doesn't have him sweetening the pot.
So what about Winnipeg? Well the Atlanta Thrashers have been on the market for several years but they too cannot find someone to keep the team local. So a franchise move may be possible.
Saturday, May 7, 2011
I was totally into the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Great rivalries with lots of seventh game series and overtime. But this round has been a total dud. Blow outs with two series sweeps. The Vancouver - Nashville series has been the worst. Nashville has a great goalie and defense with a minor league offense. Watching their forward stumble around with the puck is painful. Even their most famous fan, Carrie Underwood, looks totally bored.
Maybe its fatigue from the highly competitive first round setting in.
Hope round three is better.
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
Further proof that the NHL has no clue how to keep get fans to come out to games. Recently it was revealed that the NHL has been at war with patrons of Detroit Red Wing playoff games who might want to throw an octopus or two on the ice. This has been a tradition for almost 60 years - before Gary Bettman was born.
Now the NHL is at war with Vancouver's Green Men. The Green Men are silly pranksters who mock opposing players as they sit in the penalty box with props, pantomimes and acrobatic taunts. Like waffles when the Leafs came to town. Totally harmless.
The league has informed Force and Sully (their pseudonyms) that they're no longer allowed to touch the penalty box glass or perform handstands to distract the visiting team's players. It's a liability issue they are told. Seems the same excuse was used in Detroit.
When will booing be outlawed?
Monday, May 2, 2011
I was just 12 years old and on cloud 9. The Leafs has just won their 4th Stanley Cup in 6 years and I thought the Cups would just keep coming. The Leafs had just gone 2 seasons without a championship and I thought it was a painful long time. I rushed downtown a couple of days later for the parade so that I could savour the victory and watch my heroes ride by.
Sunday, May 1, 2011
Pekka Rinne is a Vezina Trophy finalist for a good reason. He has become one of the best goalies in the game. Like many Western Conference players I don't get to see him play very much. I do know that Nashville would not have advanced to the second round without his sparking goaltending. The best I've seen by him was the save late in the first overtime period in game 2. This save allowed his team to hang around long enough to score the game winner in the second overtime period.