Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Black Aces Hockey Pool - 6 Spots Open

Yo. I'm looking for 6 more people to be part of the Black Aces league this year. It's a Yahoo rotisserie-style pool with a 10 team max. Live draft is Tuesday September 27th at 8 PM. I really want folks who won't drop out halfway and not start their players which was a bit of a problem last year. So I figure I would open up a few spots to some of my readers.

The categories are Goals, Assists, PP Points, SH Points, PIMs, Wins, SP% and Shutouts. No money league.

I ran a league for the first time last year and it was a lot of fun but all I ask is that you commit to the whole season, even if you're "sucking dirty pond water" at the bottom of the standings. The SH points and the PIMs category are great ways to move up the ranks if you can't score goals.

Basically, the first six people who send me an email at will get an invite to the live draft (it would help if you were familiar with the live draft process - if not it's easy to learn). If I get a ton of requests I may expand the league to 12 teams. I will try to send out the invites by Friday night. If I don't get back to you it's just because the slots filled up. Don't be sore.

Sens Roundtable Question 3

Below is the third segment of a round table discussion I was asked to take part in by Tony Mendes of Senshot blog, who wrote and put together this post.


With the 2011-2012 NHL season quickly approaching, the minds behind a few of the best Ottawa Senators Blogs on the interweb have gotten together to answer the five major questions going into this season.

Having taken a look thus far at the future of Daniel Alfredsson and the future of a few others, today we turn our attention to what will be the highlight of the season for Sens fans, the 2012 All-Star Game. This year, Ottawa will be host to the All-Star festivities and will showcase Ottawa to the rest of the league. With that in mind, here is question number three of our Sens blog round table.

With the All-Star festivities being held in Ottawa this year, what are you excited for? What suggestions would you make? Do you have an All-Star weekend tradition?

Here are the thoughts from the best Sens blogs on the net:

Here’s Nichols from The 6th Sens and you can follow him on Twitter here.

I have to admit, I’m not really one for the All-Star Game festivities. (Ducks.) Like finding out that Santa Claus wasn’t real, the experience was tarnished for me at a young age when I realized that players don’t take the event very seriously. Case in point, Brad Marsh scoring in the 1993 game. Even in recent years, the skills competition just doesn’t do it for me anymore. I don’t care if Geno is puts a hat and sunglasses on Ovechkin and gives him a squirt of Gatorade. I miss the days that had Al Iafrate’s skullett blowing as he skated into the puck during the hardest shot competitions.

If I had to make a suggestion for the game? Hmmm. Maybe start an Ottawa-based campaign to get Dany Heatley voted into the AS Game? That could be interesting...

Here’s Dave from SensChirp and you can follow him on Twitter here.

I'm mostly excited about the chance for league's spotlight to shine on the city of Ottawa. Hockey is absolutely huge in the Nation's Capital and that All Star Weekend will be a great chance to put that passion on display for the rest of the league. Health permitting, I think Sens Captain Daniel Alfredsson will play a huge part in the festivities and could have a chance to be a Team Captain, assuming the league follows the same format. The game itself always takes a lot of heat but to have all the biggest stars in the league in our city for that weekend will be pretty special. Oh ya, and our new scoreboard that had better be in place in time for that weekend!

Here’s Peter from Silver Seven and you can follow him on Twitter here.

I'm excited to go, really, and I'll find a way to get there. I'm also excited to see a few of the Sens' top players going, because I'm sure that we'll get at least a couple selected to play in the game. That should be nice. My All-Star Weekend tradition has historically been to go to work, but hopefully that doesn't happen this year.

Here’s Stephen from SensTown and you can follow him on Twitter here.

I'm just excited for the energy the city will have and the buzz SBP will have atmosphere wise. Like many events that only come to your city every 15+ years like the Draft for example, they usually fall below your expectations and I imagine the NHL ASG is in the same boat. I will go and have fun because I've never been to an ASG and it's in my own backyard, but I doubt I will be blown away by the experience.

As far as suggestions go, I'd def bring back the rookie/sophomore game and pull the plug on the legends/old timer's game if it's in the works again. Nothing more boring than watching guys who were the best of the best be slow, grey haired and 50lbs overweight playing horrible hockey. I just don't get that appeal on that event. I do have an interest however in watching the young up and coming stars of the league put on a show for everyone and get a bit of shine.

As for ASG traditions, I don't really have any. It's not a must see event for me, although I usually end up catching some of it just because of the time it's on on a Sunday. It's hard to watch a game that is usually so physical be turned into a game on no contact pond hockey, but there's always a few great plays from each game, so I will hopefully have a good time since I plan on going to the game in person.

Here’s Jeremy from Black Aces and you can follow him on Twitter here.

I've been a fan of the All-Star game since I was kid, and that makes sense because the game seems to be solely for kids, sponsors and NHL business partners. The All-Star game gets criticised way, way too much. There are hundreds of other meaningful games during the year. What's wrong with a little exhibition shinny one weekend of the year? If I had to make any suggestions to make it better, I would quickly do away with the player draft that saw Phil Kessel singled out by being picked last. I don't agree with Brendan Shanahan that it's all in good fun. The kid was embarrassed, people were embarrassed for him and his critics had more ammunition. If you want to keep the draft, find a way to make sure no one gets picked last. It's completely unnecessary and it overshadowed the whole weekend in my opinion. The breakaway contest was brutal last year because nobody can do anything exciting with the puck that actually works. And lastly, the Senators need to get a new scoreboard in time for the game, if only because this story has grown so big that it's the elephant in the room. It's bizarre that this hasn't been planned well in advance. The Senators sound like they have no idea when they'll have one. That's a strange way to conduct business.

Here's Tony from SenShot and you can follow him on Twitter here.

I'm excited to see what the Sens organization can come up with to entertain us. I'm not putting too much stock in their abilities as they have disappointed me on a number of occasions these past few seasons, mainly to do with celebrating (of lack thereof) of major Alfie achievements. But I think last year's edition of the All-Star Game was great and hopefully Ottawa can take away from it the best features and improve on them. I really liked the draft last year and the story lines that can go into it, and the mish-mash of players that end up making up each team. I'm also definitely excited for the Fan Expo that will be going on at the new convention center in Ottawa and see what the hockey world has to offer.

As far as suggestions go, I think the NHL should adopt the style of the NBA All-Star festivities. They make a grand show of everything as they know its just a glorified skills competition. Adding in the glitz and the glamour just makes the show that much better. Here are my two suggestions to spice up the ASG in Ottawa. First, for the break-a-way challenge, make it based on the move they try to pull rather then if the puck goes in the net. This way, players will think of crazy s#%t to do instead of the same moves we have seen the last few years. And then have a panel that will award scores after each shot. The panel would have to be a charismatic bunch of ex-players and NHL personalities like Jeremy Roenick. And you could also give the fans signs that they can use to vote too.

And my second suggestion is to have a host for the event. To be a host, you need to be able to get the crowd excited and be able to joke around with players without going too far. The host would also have to be very knowledgeable about hockey and probably already have a relationship with some of the players. And I know the perfect man for the job - Cabral Richards - aka CABBIE!!! Known from his Score days and Cabbie on the Street pieces, Cabbie now works for TSN doing weekly pieces on a number of things. He also works as a correspondent for the Marilyn Denis Show. If you have every seen any of his pieces, you know his style is awesome and he would be the perfect host for the All-Star festivities.

As far as traditions go, I might start one this year by actually watching the game.

Join us next week as the round table question will discuss the stache behind the bench, Paul MacLean.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Sens Roundtable Question 2

Below is the second segment of a round table discussion I was asked to take part in by Tony Mendes of Senshot blog, who wrote and put together this post.


With the 2011-2012 NHL season quickly approaching, the minds behind a few of the best Ottawa Senators Blogs on the interweb have gotten together to answer the five major questions going into this season.

Last week, we took a look at the future of Daniel Alfredsson and if it was time for him to be moved. This week, we take a look at the future of a few current Sens and if their time in a Sens jersey should come to an end for the betterment of the team going forward. So without further ado, here is question number two of our Sens blog round table.

With the rebuild still in process, it’s to be expected that more bodies will be shipped out of town. Who will (or should) be traded first: Milan Michalek, Peter Regin or Nick Foligno?

Here are the thoughts from the best Sens blogs on the net:

Here's Stephen from SensTown and you can follow him on Twitter here.

To me this one is a no brainer, it's Nick Foligno. You have to look at the potential each player has and where they will top out at. MilanMichalek has proved that when healthy, he's one of the fastest players in the league and can pot 20-30 goals and is very valuable on the PK as well. Plus you can't discount that he was the valuable piece we got from the Heatley deal and trading him so quickly would make it look like they're admitting it was a failure.

Peter Jensen, I mean Regin is a bit of a head scratcher. I'm still not quite sure what happened last year. How did a guy with such potential put out so little? It looked like he was going to be a breakthrough player for us and it just never happened for some reason. Still at his age and with his super cheap contract, I'm definitely not ready to give up on him yet. I still think he can be a top 6 guy, perhaps he just caved under the weight of expectations last year. I look for a much more productive season from the Dane.

And on to Nicky boy. I feel bad for wanting to ship him out of town, but it's the reality of the NHL. To me he doesn't have a role on the team or even in the league really. I'd much rather have his brother Marcus, who will be tearing us up for years to come as a member of the Sabres. Nick doesn't really do anything well and he's endearing because he clearly tries so hard, but he's clumsy, very slow and not particularly good at any role. He's not talented enough to play top 6, but he isn't a fast enough skater or rough enough to really make an impact in the bottom 6 either, which makes him expendable to me. Hopefully we're able to unload him before the rest of the league realizes he shouldn't even be a full time NHLer probably.

It's too bad because he seems like a great guy and he definitely works very hard, he just doesn't have it.

Here's Peter from Silversevensens and you can follow him on Twitter here.

I don't think any of these players "should" be traded at all. But if a deal comes along that contributes to the rebuild more than the player in question would, then we make that trade. It depends on which one is sought after, and what we're offered in return.

Here's Nichols from The 6th Sens and you can follow him on Twitter here.

Well, if one of the three have to go in the name of the rebuild, Milan Michalek would probably net the highest return out of those three names.  Mind you, like Nick Foligno, he’ll enter the season with a lot of job security. He’s a relatively productive top six forward who’s finally healthy and the organization will need his cap hit to stay above the NHL’s cap floor. Unlike the other two players, Regin’s role on this team hasn’t been set in stone and as such, he’s the likeliest of the three to be moved first. He’ll enter camp vying for the second line center role with Stephane Da Costa and possibly Mika Zibanejad. Regin has teased fans with some offensive promise but unfortunately,  he just hasn’t done anything consistently enough to warrant much of a return on his own. It’s for this reason that I’ve written about how prudent it would be for the organization to afford Regin every opportunity to be the second line center and succeed. If Regin can put together a moderately successful campaign, he’s the perfect candidate to be packaged in a deal (with perhaps a Nick Foligno type player) to fetch someone with a higher ceiling.

Here's Dave from SensChirp and you can follow him on Twitter here.

I think there is a market, albeit a small one, for each of the three guys you have listed. All three are young and still have their best years ahead of them but are coming off sub-par seasons. Of that group though, I would have to say Regin is the most likely to be shopped.Regin will have a shot to take that second line centre role in camp this year but if he can't fill that void on a consistent basis, you have to wonder exactly where he fits in moving forward. With Zibanejad poised to assume the roster spot on line two (perhaps as early as this season), Regin seems to be the most expendable. With that said, I expect Regin to be one of the guys that has a big bounce back year. He never really seemed to see eye to eye with Clouston and a fresh start under Paul MacLean could be exactly what he needs.

Here's Jeremy from Black Aces  and you can follow him on Twitter here.

I think Regin and Michalek are safe for now but Foligno is an interesting case because this will be his fourth full season (he split his first season between Ottawa and Bingo) and, according to the cliché, it should be his breakout year. If he doesn’t produce early on, he could be in trouble. You get the sense that the organization expected him to challenge for a top-six spot but he’s already been surpassed by a guy like Bobby Butler and they also brought in Nikita Filatov for that same reason. The first thing they should tell Foligno is to stop trying to stickhandle over the other team’s blueline every shift. He’s a giveaway machine when he does that. That stick should be on “auto-dump” so he can use that rangy physique to cruise the front of the net like a shark looking for garbage goals. Instead of trying to play like Spezza, he should look to a guy like Brad Marchand in Boston. Get meaner, go to the net and show up big in the playoffs if you get the chance. Foligno has great character but he needs to find a proper role under the new coach if he’s going to stick around for the long haul.

Here's Tony from SenShot and you can follow him on Twitter here.

I think this year will most certainly see one of these players shipped out for either a young prospect with potential or for draft picks to help with the rebuild. Out of the three players, Milan Michalek is a name that is recognizable around the league and would garner the biggest return. Now entering his seventh NHL season, Michalek has yet to break through and dominant on the ice. With all the tools to be a speedy, power forward in the league, Michalek just hasn't been able to put it all together, especially here in Ottawa..

What Ottawa needs in this rebuild is some more high draft selections to be able to stock the prospect cupboards. With Michalek's reputation around the league and the package that he has, Michalek could easily nab a first round draft pick from a team in need. Just like the Mike Fisher deal last season, Michalek is a good player, but just not on a rebuilding team.

Michalek has never fit in on a line with Jason Spezza. Expect for the first 20 games in a Sens uniform, Michalek has never been able to perform consistently. I think if the Sens get off to a good start, and if Michalek is rolling, I say sell as high as you can on him and get the biggest return possible.

As for Peter Regin and Nick Foligno, I think the organization has more options with these two. Regin could also be used as a winger if he can't cut it as a centerman this season. And Foligno could be used as a centerman and is still a good bottom six winger. These two are also easier to control as they won't command high salaries next off-season.

Tune in next Wednesday for Question Number Three where we discuss the Sens hoisting this year's All-Star festivities.

Monday, August 22, 2011

A quick housecleaning update: Black Aces has a new domain name at, but you will still be directed to the new address if you are using the old route. (There may be some temporary issues with the new domain name in the first few days as everything switches over.)

Other than that, I look forward to another year of blogging about the Senators and the NHL, and getting called an "a-hole" by certain people for some of my views on the topic du jour (ie; fighting, hitting, Gary Bettman, and my love of the shootout).

And I don't care what the new Winnipeg jerseys will look like. They can't possibly be nicer than that ol' beaut above.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Just An Idea

Love the idea of changing the power-play rules which currently allows short-handed teams to ice the puck without a stoppage in play, but I totally understand concerns that blowing the whistle for a face-off every time this happens could really slow things down.
Just to throw something out of left field that I think no one has mentioned yet:
What about adding 20 seconds to the power-play every time the short-handed team ices the puck, but instead of blowing the whistle, the power-play team goes back to retrieve the puck, but that 20 seconds is automatically added to the power-play on the score clock as soon as the referee indicates it has crossed the line? Now, I have no idea if that is technically possible to do on the score clock, but what it would do is penalize the short-handed team while still keeping the play alive.
If a team insists on icing the puck while short-handed, a two minute minor could carry on for four minutes which would inevitably lead to a goal in a lot of cases. Presto. More goals, the flow of the game is maintained and short-handed teams are no longer allowed to ice the puck which has stuck in the craw of many observers for decades.
Call me Gary.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Sens Roundtable Question 1

Below is the first segment of a round table discussion I was asked to take part in by Tony Mendes of Senshot blog, who wrote and put together this post.


With the 2011-2012 NHL season quickly approaching, the minds behind a few of the best Ottawa Senators Blogs on the interweb have gotten together to answer the five major questions going into this season.

With the storied career of our captain coming to an end this season or the next, should Ottawa trade DanielAlfredsson this year to a Cup favourite and give him a chance to have his name on Lord Stanley?

Here's what the best Senators blogs got to say:

Jeremy from Black Aces,

"I don't think the player himself, the management or the fans have any appetite to say goodbye to Alfredsson. Too many people are already writing his hockey obituary but Alfie could play another three seasons if the team starts to win again and it remains fun for him to stick around. If Mark Recchi can do it, a guy like Alfie with a similar stocky physique and drive to compete can do it too. His value to this team far outweighs any kind of compensation they would get from another team that wouldn't be able to guarantee a Cup to Alfie anyways. Those types of moves never seem to feel right anyways. Ray Bourque may be the one example where it truly worked but that was more like a fairy tale than any kind of template for other stars in the waning years of their career. I bet Mike Modano wishes he retired a Dallas Star instead of being an odd fit in Detroit this past season."

You can follow Black Aces on Twitter here.

Stephen from SensTown,

"This is a tough one to answer. It really depends on what perspective you want to take. He only has a few years left and clearly we will not be winning the cup in the time remaining in his career and I think many of us would like to see him have another shot at winning the ultimate prize, because lord knows he deserves it. But on the other hand, it would be awfully tough to see the captain in any uniform but ours wouldn't it? And really he's one of the only reasons to come out to watch a game at the moment for many (not myself). He's one of the few "stars" along with Spezza and Karlsson that people instantly recognize and want to lay down their money to see.

I suppose it would also depend on what the return of an alleged trade would bring in. I imagine we would be quite shocked at what we'd get in return for someone his age. In my opinion it wouldn't be worth it and we keep him here to finish his career as a Senator. The only way you consider really moving him is if you're getting a top end young player in return (won't happen) or if Alfredsson goes to management and asks out for one final shot at Lord Stanley.

I'd REALLY like to see him remain a career Senator but I feel he's earned the right to finish his career how he wants and would wish him well if he wanted out, no matter how hard it would be to see him in another jersey."

You can follow SensTown on Twitter here.

Nichols from The 6th Sens,

"Speaking strictly from an asset management perspective, it would probably be the most logical course. Ottawa’s a rebuilding organization that probably won’t be in contention by the time that Alfie hangs ‘em up. With two seasons left on a relatively cap friendly contract and assuming he’s healthy and contributing, this would be the season when he’ll have the highest trade value. (As opposed to trading him next season.) Oh, if only it was this simple... but it’s not. Alfredsson is a selfless captain who is the face of the franchise and a staple within this community who seems destined to take on some organizational role once his playing days are over.

Will they trade Daniel Alfredsson?

Regardless of how often the TO media advocates the benefits of moving Alfie, probably not. Unless, barring some change of heart, the captain privately approaches management and requests to be dealt. Ownership has already gone to great lengths to indicate that he won’t be moved and it’d be a PR disaster if they were the ones to ask him if he’d be interested in moving on."

You can follow The 6th Sens on Twitter here.

Dave from SensChirp,

"This is a question that I plan to dodge until the moment I am given no other choice but to consider it. As I'm sure is the case for many Sens fans, the thought of Daniel Alfredsson in another team's uniform just doesn't register for me. He has been the face of this franchise for so long and his #11 will one day hang in the rafters at SBP. Alfie has a spot with this franchise as long as he wants it and that includes his career after hockey. With all that said, if the Sens were out of the playoff picture, Alfie was healthy, the return was there AND most importantly, Alfredsson asked to go elsewhere, then I guess Murray has to consider it. For all Alfie has done for this city and franchise, he has earned the right to call his shot. Gut feeling says he wouldn't ask for a trade though."

You can follow SensChirp on Twitter here.

Peter from Silversevensens,

"I'm not sure we can say for sure Alfie's career will end before two seasons are up, but I'd agree with the general consensus that if it's up to the captain if he wants to get dealt. I don't think he's got any desire to, though, so I don't think he's going anywhere."

You can follow Silversevensens on Twitter here.

Tony from SenShot,

"With only two more years left on Alfie's current contract, and with injuries beginning to pile up, Sens Army needs to come to the realization that we are witnessing the end of our beloved captain's career. Alfie is still an impact forward and can still produce at this level, and it's safe to say that he is not hanging on too long, a la Rob Brind'amour.

But with Ottawa in the midst of a rebuild, Ottawa is a few years away from even thinking about contending. If Ottawa were to consider trading their captain, I think it is done as a favor to Alfie. He will never ask for a trade, and I think it may be on the organization to approach Alfie about joining a new team. I don't think any Senators fan will think anything less of Alfie if he is shipped to a contender to have a greater chance to get his name on the Cup.

The other issue at hand here is the fact there could be a lockout at the end of this upcoming season. With the CBA set to expire next summer, this may be Alfie's last chance to play in the league, as well as for the Cup. If there is a lockout, I see Alfie and a number of other older players retiring instead of sitting on the sidelines training until the lockout is over.

With all this in mind, I don't believe Alfie will be traded this year. However, if he were to be traded, I would not feel any ill will toward him or the organization. It would be hard, but I would cheer for whatever team Alfie suits up for as he pursues his first Stanley Cup."

You can follow SenShot on Twitter here.

Tune in next Wednesday for Question Number two where we discuss the future of a number of players.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

It's Still Okay To Be A Fight Fan

"We've reached a crisis of faith for some fans that have admittedly enjoyed fights for the entirety of their hockey lives, but who now are having second thoughts.  

But for other fans — and I count myself among them — the brain injury epidemic is a product of an inherently violent game.

I'll never apologize for being pro-fighting. It's the game I grew up with, and I've always felt that players enter the NHL accepting that it's part of the gig"
- Greg Wyshynski, Puck Daddy Blog

The above quote from Puck Daddy today was somewhat of a revelation to me, in light of the spirited but civil back and forth I had with Peter Raaymakers of Silver Seven yesterday after I wrote a piece defending fighting in the NHL as a sort of response to an earlier piece he posted on his Silver Seven blog about the human toll that fighting can take on the players who bravely fill that unenviable role.

Much like the rest of the hockey community, a debate about fighting never really seems to change people's minds on either side, and I remain convinced that fighting is not only a vital part of the entertainment package the game provides, but that it's an essential function in hockey, an often brutally physical sport where star players need protection and room to ply their skill in a league full of fourth liners looking hack and whack their way to the next paycheque.

Yet to take that view today is somewhat of a humbling experience, with the latest press crusades against violence in hockey creating an atmosphere where admitting that you enjoy that aspect of the game is perhaps something that you should either hide or be ashamed of.

As Wyshynski said above, you should never have to apologize to anyone or hide the fact that you enjoy fighting in the NHL. It's okay to hold the view that the NHL is about entertainment and not about reflecting the strict moral standards we have to live by in our regular everyday working life. It's okay to cheer for two grown men who are heavily compensated financially for what they do, to fight for their teammates, their team and their fans. Even if a player gets hurt in a fight, that's no reason to hang your head in shame for your supposedly "barbaric" tastes. Players know the risks. They don't have to do it. Many don't and get by just fine. Others thrive in the role. Some are affected negatively. They buy the ticket and take the ride.

On the other hand, there is no reason not to be civil on either side of the fighting debate. For as long as there's been fighting in hockey, there have been people opposed to it and they have a valid point to make as well. In the next few seasons, I predict this issue will be at a fever pitch and there will be plenty of pressure on the league to reduce injuries from fighting, even if that means banning it outright.

That's an issue for another day. But while it exists in the NHL, there is no reason not to enjoy it if that's a part of the game you like. Listen to the arguments from both sides, but never hang your head in shame over it.

I certainly won't.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Fighting Should Remain Part Of The Game

For well over a century, violence in hockey has been debated hotly by all participants in the game – the players, the owners, the media and the fans. For most of that time, the debate has centred on the fighting aspect of hockey but in the last ten years, and in particular the last two or three, most of the debate has been about "head-shots" and the concussions that have plagued the sport.
For those of us that follow the game closely, there's no need to get into another discussion about concussions in particular. They're bad for the player's health. They're bad for the game. Unfortunately, in a contact sport, they're here to stay, if somewhat lessened by new rules that are too recent to properly gauge the overall effect.
To me, the interesting phenomenon is how quickly the quest to "clean up the game" has gained traction amongst the game's most rabid fans (from bloggers to Twits to phone callers on radio shows), while that same sentiment has largely received a luke-warm response from those directly involved in the sport, ie; the players and the owners.
For years, the press, led by The Hockey News (who have been beating the drums about reducing fighting and concussions in hockey since at least the 80's under several different managing editors) seemed to be on an island of public opinion, ignored by fans who flocked to the rinks to see teams like Broad Street Bullies and the Big Bad Bruins, and ignored by the players who grew up thinking there was no other way to play the game.
Now that has changed somewhat. The mainstream press is almost uniformly appalled at on-ice violence despite accusations that an "old-boys network" at mainstays like the CBC relies on violence for ratings. The "Don Cherry mentality" basically survives with the namesake alone in the mainstream punditry, with odd exceptions like Mike Milbury, who was known to wield a pretty good shoe when beating the crap out of fans at Madison Square Garden. It seems the press has done a good job selling their message because a clear majority of interactive fans also feel that hits to the head during what was once a normal function of the game – bodychecking – can no longer be tolerated and there are now some respected voices strongly advocating a blanket ban on hits to the head, which will ultimately mean fighting will be disallowed in hockey. That's not a conspiracy theory. That's just logic.
For years the "anti-fighting forces" (for lack of a better term) in the press were getting nowhere by simply advocating a ban on fighting in the NHL. Fans loved it, the players felt it was integral to the game and the board of governors were completely silent on the subject.
But now instead of opposing fighting outright, opponents have found a back door into public opinion, and that's hits to the head. With medical research finally catching up to what was once the black-hole of information on concussions, the harmful of effects are there for everyone to read ad-nauseum during the hockey season.  Like anything else, once the negative effects of something are shown clearly to the public, the public will demand that something be done about it.
It's hard to find an opinion now in the "hockeysphere" that prefers the NHL maintain the status quo on hits to the head, and over the next few years you'll begin to see that in regards to fighting as well.
Now on the other side of the game where the owners and the players reside, opinion is not as movable.
The NHL was essentially forced to institute the head-shot rule simply because the press and the fans were in a frenzy that was beginning to overshadow the game itself.  Don't mistake that for a change of heart. It was a move made out of necessity to try and put the focus back on the ice, not with just the players well-being in mind. There have been some strong voices within the NHLPA clamoring for heavy penalties on dangerous hits but not as many as you would expect if you read the first page of the Globe and Mail sports section everyday which was transformed into a de-facto medical journal for all of 2010-2011.
Now if you bring up the subject of fighting in the NHL, you'll find even fewer players advocating the end of it. In fact, you'll find many more voices arguing for the abolishment of the instigator penalty and an increase in fighting. That's likely because they feel the instigator penalty protects the "super pest" type of player who can go around delivering dangerous hits without fear of facing the consequences from his fellow players.  We've heard it all a million times.
Clearly, the appetite for reducing violence in hockey, whether we are talking hits or fights, is at a near maximum level in the press and amongst the fans (to a slightly lesser degree), but it is only starting to  gain traction amongst the people actually involved in the game on the ice and in the boardrooms.
Which brings me to my ultimate point here.
Where does this need to scrub clean a traditionally rough and tumble sport come from? Are the motives purely a desire to protect the well-being of the athletes? I often doubt that motive. Most fans were on the side of the owners during the last lockout and were clearly not concerned with the well-being of the players when the subject came to money or their work conditions. In the current climate, NHL players are more often despised for the money they make than they are celebrated for the entertainment they provide. You can't be concerned about the players one minute and not give a crap if they have guaranteed contracts the next. Yet many do. I find that absurd.
Is the impulse to make the game cleaner stem from people not liking real violence in their entertainment? I think that's legitimate and I can see how that can be a concern, especially in a family environment. Hockey has always been violent and occasionally players will step outside the boundaries of what is considered acceptable, creating an impression that the next Marty McSorley incident is just around the corner, despite the fact that these acts are extremely rare. Some people like the artistry of the game and not its counterpart physical aspect. Fair enough.
But how far does the NHL have to bend to please this demographic? Depends on who you ask. If the majority of fans want fighting out of the league, you can be sure that fighting will eventually be banished because, like all things, it comes down to money. The day the NHL can't make money off their current product is the day they change the product.
Yet that day hasn't come. In fact, that day will probably never come. The NHL is raking in record revenues and just signed the biggest television contract in its existence. And that is with the heavy stigma it already carries - that stigma being that the fans and the press constantly bad mouth the product to the point where it has become an obsession. No other major sport has so many people calling for constant change to the very fabric of the game. Yet the NHL survives and thrives in a hostile environment created by what should be their biggest supporters. That's a significant achievement. Most governments can't do that.
Clearly, with the advent of blogs and other social forums, there are more voices than ever expressing their opinions on the game, both educated and ignorant. Yet each voice believes they are right. Who should we be listening to? The people who actually play the game or the people that pay to watch it (99.9% of whom have never played at the NHL level or even close to it).
There is a sentiment out there that somehow the fans should have more say in the game because they are the ones that shell out the money. How many times have you heard people say "We pay their salaries"?
For one, that's faulty logic. The owners pay the players. Fans simply buy the product, just like they buy Coca-Cola or dog food at the grocery store. You don't hear consumers saying they should have a say in the policies of Coca-Cola. It's ridiculous to think it's any different with the NHL. The fans, despite their comforting allusions, have no ownership over the business of hockey.
However, the basic principles of capitalism still apply here. If you don't like the product, don't buy the product. The result will be that the business changes its product or it goes out of business.
Ultimately, fans will decide if fighting stays in the game or not when they vote with their wallets. So far, the verdict is that the game stays pretty much the same because it's making money hand over fist.
Here's a humble suggestion from this scribe: Enjoy the game for how it is today. There are ample amounts of both skill and physicality that make the game completely unique amongst the other major leagues. Fighting will always be debatable but is it really worth getting rid of completely, especially the spontaneous bouts that come from passionate competition?  There is such a thing as protecting the heritage and fabric of a game that has existed in an exciting form with both skill and fighting longer than any of us have been alive.
Times change and so do attitudes, but we are, after all, talking about entertainment here. Nobody is putting a gun to someone's head and saying they have to go on the ice and fight. Players take on this career of their own free will and they are heavily compensated for the risks they take, even fighters. There will always be a human toll in a contact sport. There's a human toll just by going to Dairy Queen on a Sunday afternoon. These are the risks that athletes take when they want to be paid by a professional team. It's not like someone gets to the NHL and says "Whoa, I could get punched in the head? Nobody told me about this!"
Why do we feel the need to regulate the game to such a degree that we take nearly all the danger away from the sport? Isn't that part of its appeal in the first place?
I for one do not look forward to the day when the NHL is so spit polished that Gordie Howe wouldn't be able to recognize it.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Yearbook Time Machine

Within the next couple of weeks the newsstands will be filled with all the various NHL poolie and yearbook magazines, and info-starved hockey fans will drop 10 bucks per magazine without a second thought, myself included. In fact, I've collected a sickening amount of these mags over the years and I took a quick peek at a few of them tonight and pulled this 97-98 version of the Sports Forecaster, featuring, then as now, a Toronto Maple Leaf on the cover for the Ontario version - Felix Potvin was just beginning to play out the string of his Leaf career, soon to be replaced by Curtis Joseph. The Sports Forecaster was a mag ahead its time simply because they gave scouting reports on most regular players on an NHL roster, something the Hockey News and the official NHL Yearbook didn't do back then.

Seeing that this is largely a Sens-centric blog, here's a look at the Senators section. You might see a few familiar names, as well as a few that you've either never heard of or completely forgotten about. Of course, the 97-98 season would end with the Senators winning their first ever playoff series (against Martin Brodeur and the Devils, causing coach Jacques Lemaire to resign from the team for the first, but not the last time.) and then go on to lose to the Washington Capitals in the second round. The Caps would go on to lose to the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Final. (Click on photos to enlarge)

There's a lot of great stuff in this book, such as the debate over who was the NHL's best player at the time, between what they called "The Fab Four" - Jaromir Jagr, Paul Kariya, Eric Lindros and Peter Forsberg. Only Jagr will play in the NHL this year. The other three were forced to retire from injury (that season, Kariya would take that all-time cheap shot crosscheck to the face by Gary Suter).

But the highlight here is the "Dirty Dozen Awards" which celebrate the worst in the NHL for the previous 96-97 season. It's interesting to note the tone here. This kind of ultra-sarcastic writing is really a pre-cursor to the hockey blog boom that would happen in the next decade, in particular the tone of the very successful blog Puck Daddy. It seems commonplace now, but you didn't really read stuff like this back then. The climate was a bit more stuffy in 1997 with all the hockey writing done by tenured hockey journalists who tended to save their best jokes for the bar after deadlines had been met. Now this style has pretty much become the norm as NHL personalities get roasted every day by the snarkiest minds you can imagine across thousands of blogs mostly trying to write in the same sort of modern hip style.

Of note here is the "Mel Bridgman Award" for worst general manager. This was named, of course, after the Senators first GM whose most famous quote will always be "Ottawa apologizes". This is great stuff if you remember the players and situations these awards refer to.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Wayne Gretzky's Rocket Hockey

Forgot all about this old beauty that's been collecting dust in my closet. When you get that metal puck going, it's insanely fast and crazy, as can be seen about 20 seconds into this You Tube clip.

The 80's ad. "Batteries not included because they're NOT NEEDED".

Monday, August 8, 2011

Hockey Hair Heaven

Every year when I get the new NHL Official Guide and Record Book, one of the first sections I turn to is the back of the huge tome where they have the index of retired players. The reason? Hockey hair heaven.

On every page of the index are a handful of old black and white player photos that were obviously picked by someone with an eye for classic hockey hair and in particular, 1970's era sideburns, moustaches and portraint shots where the player is just downright drunk, or at least heavily hungover, which was probably common in those years (see Vic Teal and Mike Amodeo below).

With the new guide coming out sometime in the early fall, my battered and well-read 2010-2011 version is soon to be put to pasture. But I've always wanted to do a post on these amazing old-school portraits and I finally got out the scissors and cut out a few strong highlights from this year's book (not as strong as years past but there are still a handful of classics). Among the notable names here are recent Cup winning Bruins coach Claude Julien with a wicked middle-part, Hawks coach Joel Quennville who looks exactly the same as he does now, Scot Kleinendorst, the older brother of Bingo Sens coach Kurt K., Oilers GM Steve Tambellini with a perfect feather and stache combo, as well as legendary Senators player Frank Finnigan with an even more legendary side-part and wave. My favourite though has to be ex-Wings goalie Vincent Riendeau with a haircut that looks like it was moulded in a sheet metal factory. Here they are, in all their faded black and white glory (click on images for bigger viewing size).


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Kovalev - Pure Gold

"My opinion of Ottawa journalists is that they don't watch hockey at all. When they fly with the team and go through the [metal detector] at an airport, their bags are filled with beer."
-     Alexei Kovalev speaking to Sovetsky Sport via Puck Daddy
That is truly one of the funniest things I've ever heard a hockey player say to the press, regardless if it's true or not.
Love him or hate him (and it seems this guy is almost universally loathed in Ottawa – but not by me), you have to give Kovalev some respect for being his own man, no matter what the situation, in a hockey world that generally frowns upon athletes with strong, stubborn personalities.
Seriously, this guy is incredible. His nickname in Montreal was "L'artiste", but some of the players in Ottawa liked to call him "The Most Interesting Man In The World" in tribute to that guy from the Dos Equis beer commercials.
Kovalev flies planes, he moonwalks for the fans, he used to collect Troll dolls, he throws coaches under the bus like they were nothing more than shoeshine boys, he tells the media and the fans to "get out of my head" and now he lays down an "Ottawa reporters are too busy drinking beer to watch the actual game" crack, which is sure to become legendary amongst the pub crawling, wing eating, beer guzzling world of NHL journalists who love nothing more than swapping these kinds of stories during long lonely nights in Buffalo.
On top of that, after telling the Ottawa press he wanted to retire a Montreal Canadien two summers ago, moments after signing with the Senators, he was at it again telling the Russian press that he wants to retire an NHL'er after just signing a two-year deal in the KHL.
Simply amazing.
You know, apropos of nothing, maybe the real problem with Alexei Yashin is that although he was a pretty good villain in this town, he was always boring. He always said the right thing in the minimum amount of words. In short, he was a robot. An evil, greedy robot who sucked everyones will to live within a 200 km radius of the Ottawa Valley.
But Kovalev isn't a robot. He's got that "too cool for school" vibe thing happening but when he's of the mind, he'll let it all hang out with some of the things he's willing to say. That's what villains are supposed to be like. They need to be more like the Joker, less like the "sweater-vest and smile" Stephen Harper.
It's probably no surprise that Kovalev wasn't shy about putting a few more knives in Cory Clouston's back, but perhaps the biggest reveal of the article on Puck Daddy was the Sovetsky Sport interviewer bringing up Sergei Gonchar by saying "I asked Sergei Gonchar what game model Ottawa had. The defenseman could only throw his hands up."

To which Kovalev responds "In two seasons I still couldn't understand the ideas of our coach Cory Clouston."

If it's any consolation to Kovalev and Gonchar, nobody else could either.


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