Archive for the 'NHL At Large' Category

Peace Out, NHL

I haven’t posted here in over two years, so it was probably pretty obvious to anyone who cared to notice that this blog is closed. I never officially closed it, though, and this lockout situation seems like a good time to do so.

I was inspired to post by NHLer Krys Barch’s interesting stream of tweets last night, in which Barch, one of the NHL’s non-star players, outlined the frustrations of the league’s low-paid slave class. His tweets are a good read, certainly more literary than one might expect.

But his argument? Yeah, not so much.

Barch points out that not every player makes the same kind of salary as Sidney Crosby or Ilya Kovalchuk. Of course, this is true. As I understand it, however, part of the players’ argument for why they should receive what they perceive as their fair share of hockey-related revenues is that people pay to see them, not the owners. Well, I’m pretty sure more people pay to see Kovalchuk than Barch. No doubt Krys Barch would agree with this assessment.

Another complaint relates to injuries: this too has been a constant refrain from the players. “I wonder how many bones Gary Bettman has broken in his job,” they say. Well, probably not many, likely because Gary Bettman did not decide to become a pro-athlete in a dangerous sport. As Brent Sopel might point out, the players chose this profession with full knowledge of the risks they were taking. I’m not saying I have no sympathy for Barch’s aches and pains; I’ve dealt with chronic health issues and it’s not fun. Nor am I saying the league shouldn’t look at ways to reduce head injuries and the like (though I also think the players may have a role to play in this, for example by not hitting each other in the head as much). But it seems to me, wear and tear on the body is part of what these guys signed up for.

Now. Let’s take a look at the numbers which are the crux of Barch’s argument. Krys Barch’s current contract with New Jersey would pay him $750,000 for the 2012-2013 season (should it be played) and the same amount for 2013-2014. Last season, he made $850,000. The seasons before that: $850,000, $575,000, and $575,000. (Numbers from CapGeek.) That means, over the course of these six years, his average salary is $725,000. I am not an accountant and I have no idea how much of that he would pay in taxes, but for argument’s sake, let’s say he pays 35% (the rate for people making more than about $375,000) in US federal taxes, and 8.97% (the rate for people making over $500,000 in New Jersey) in state taxes. That leaves him with about $406,217.50 after taxes. Call it $400,000.

For comparison, the median after-tax household income for a Canadian family in 2010 was $65,500. Household, not individual. So even if Barch’s wife is unemployed, their family still takes in, on average, 610% of what the median Canadian family does. Six hundred percent. Oh horrors! However do they survive on this pittance!?

Looked at another way, it would take many Canadian families about six years to make what Krys Barch might take home in a year. Of course, how much money, if any, Barch makes this season or next is still up in the air. But we know that in the last four years, he’s pulled in about 24 years’ worth of a median Canadian family’s income. His claim that he and his fellow below the NHL poverty line players “will have to work for the next 50 years of their lives” post-retirement thus rings a little hollow. And even if they did have to face the indignity of taking on regular jobs after retiring from the NHL at the ripe old age of 35, how is that different from my life or yours or anyone else’s?

In other words, boo frickin’ hoo.

So my message to NHL players is this: stop bitching about the owners’ five houses and cigars. In a war of rich guy vs. richer guy, YOU ALL LOOK LIKE ASSHOLES.


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April Madness: 2010 Edition

Once again, it’s that most excellent time of year: playoff time. With it comes playoff prediction time, when we all try to guess who will win what and how despite the fact that predicting the NHL is a very slippery business.

My post takes the same format as it did last year: my own predictions, followed by the predictions of my trusty psychic iPod, via one of my favourite musicians. (If you doubt my iPod’s powers, by the way, I would note that it accurately predicted Jarome Iginla’s two-goal performance against Germany at the Olympics as well as Canada’s win over Russia.) Last year, my iPod spoke to me through the songs of Radiohead. This year, I decided to use Tori Amos, whose often cryptic lyrics proved a bit challenging to interpret.

Eastern Conference

(1) Washington Capitals vs. (8) Montreal Canadiens: Oh look, the Habs are the hopelessly overmatched eighth seed. Just like last year! Jaroslav Halak may be able to keep Montreal in this thing to a certain extent, but let’s be realistic. The Caps were the highest scoring team in the league this year. The Habs were 26th. The Caps had the best power play in the league by a fairly wide margin (25.2% — second place was, in fact, Montreal with 21.8%). There’s only so much one goaltender can do. Washington has a better recent record (6-1-3) than Montreal (3-4-3) does, so momentum is on the Caps’ side too. It just doesn’t look good for the Habs.

My Prediction: Caps in 4. Ovie will destroy you.

iPod Prediction: “She’s Your Cocaine,” which is about a person so overwhelmed by another person that he has basically no control over his own actions, with the lyric “we all like to watch, so shimmy once and do it again” being the song’s equivalent of shooting at someone’s feet and telling them to dance. “Bring your sister if you can’t handle it,” the song’s narrator says mockingly; I presume this is a cruel taunt Alex Ovechkin and co. might throw at the Habs as they make them their whipping boys. This one forecasts a rout.

(2) New Jersey Devils vs. (7) Philadelphia Flyers: Although the offensive numbers favour the Flyers here and Philly collected 10 points to New Jersey’s three in the season series between these two teams, the  Devils finished first in the NHL in goals against this season (surprise, surprise) and they’ve been the better team since the Olympic break. Then there’s the goaltending matchup: it’s (arguably — and your argument would be pretty strong) the greatest goaltender in the history of the game against … some guy who isn’t even Ray Emery or Michael Leighton. Okay, okay, Brian Boucher did win 11 playoff games 10 years ago, which is pretty good, but the fact remains that he’s taking on Martin Brodeur. And yes, fine, Marty wasn’t so great at the Olympics, and he didn’t exactly look like himself when he and the Devils were melting down against the Canes last season. But he’s still Marty. If I have to choose between Marty and Brian Boucher in a seven-game series, I choose Marty.

My Prediction: Devils in 6. I was tempted to say Devils in 5, but the memory of that Devils-Canes series last year is still too fresh and the Flyers actually do have a good team in there somewhere. Remember, people were picking them to win the Cup at the beginning of the season.

iPod Prediction: Tori comes up with one of her most well-known songs in “Cornflake Girl.” The songs has perhaps some of her more incomprehensible lyrics, but also features one of her most epic piano solos. A great demonstration of seemingly effortless virtuosity from a mistress of her craft? We’ll take this as a tip of the hat to Marty. The dismissive end of song refrain — “And the man with the golden gun thinks he knows so much, thinks he knows so much” — could be Marty thumbing his nose at the Flyers’ offensive players. (Come on, it’s obvious she’s talking about Jeff Carter.) “Rabbit, where’d you put the keys girl?” is about … clearly points to … I got nothing.

(3) Buffalo Sabres vs. (6) Boston Bruins: The Bruins finished second in the NHL in goals against this season. Unhappily for them, that’s not much of an advantage in this series as Sabres were fourth in that category. To me, the key number for this series is 2.39. That’s the average number of goals the Bruins scored per game this season. Which brings me to the other key number in this series: 30. 30 is not only the rank of the Bruins’ offence in the NHL this season, but also the number worn by Ryan Miller, who, in case you missed it, has had a pretty good year.

My Prediction: Sabres in 6.

iPod Prediction: Coincidentally, “Pretty Good Year” is another Tori song; however, it’s not the one the iPod sent me for this series. Instead I got “Mrs. Jesus,” and who could this refer to but Ryan Miller, the American hockey messiah? “There’s someone always paging my Mrs. Jesus” — whether it’s Team USA or the Sabres, someone is always counting on Miller’s incredibly slight shoulders to carry all their weighty expectations. Instead of just focusing on the current series against Boston, this song appears to me to predict a second round loss to New Jersey: Miller will perform his “walking on the water bit, by far my favourite one” against Boston and lead the Sabres “up the stairs” to “heaven,” but there they’ll find only the “empty arms that come with the morning star,” a clear reference to Lucifer and by extension of course the New Jersey Devils.

(4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (5) Ottawa Senators: The only series I really care about, and I’ve given my complete thoughts on it here. Don Cherry said he thinks it’ll be a great one, and I hope he’s right. If the Good Sens show up — a big if — then this might end up being one of the more interesting first round matchups.

My Prediction: Penguins in 7. Sorry, Sens. If this comes to pass, I will be crushed. Any time your team loses in game 7 is obviously crushing. Still, I would be extremely happy with the Sens for the season they put together.

iPod Prediction: “Talula,” which includes the line “What you want is in the blood, Senators.” Repeated twice. Okay, yes, it’s a reference to the crucifixion, but whatever. SHE SAID SENATORS, and she said it in a way that, to me anyway, suggests they have the level of desire needed to win this thing. That has to be a good sign! The song also mentions Russians dying on the ice. Since Alex Kovalev already “died,” this must indicate a possible injury to Evgeni Malkin, Sergei Gonchar, or Anton Volchenkov (yeesh, I hope not). Other than that, the song is about having something precious you don’t want to lose, like maybe the title of Stanley Cup Champions … or an outstanding shot-blocking defenceman. (Nooooooooo!) The song also references the executioner who cut off Anne Boleyn’s head, Big Bird, and Mary Magdalene. Make of this what you will, but since the song says Senators and not Penguins, I’m saying the iPod likes the Sens.

Western Conference

(1) San Jose Sharks vs. (8) Colorado Avalanche: There just isn’t much to favour the Avs in this one. After a great start to the season they faded away, playing sub-.500 hockey after the Olympics. The Sharks, meanwhile, won eight of their last 10 games. I was scoreboard watching yesterday, hoping the Blackhawks and Kings would both win so the Sharks would end up having to play the Wings, which I’m sure would have brought on another chokefest. Alas, the Blackhawks couldn’t quite pull it off. The Coyotes get Detroit, and the Sharks get what should be an easy win even for them. Then again, I also predicted that Colorado would finish dead last in the West this year.

My Prediction: Sharks in 4. Don’t worry, fellow Heater haters, I’m sure they’ll blow it in round 2.

iPod Prediction: “Wednesday,” a happy-go-lucky little song about meandering about not doing much of anything. Then suddenly you get this nagging sense that there’s something you should be focused on. Hmm. What could it be? What could it be. I can’t quite put my finger … OH RIGHT, THE PLAYOFFS! Oh crap, you mean we’ve been eliminated already? Hi, Sharks. This one’s for you. iPod likes the Avs.

(2) Chicago Blackhawks vs. (7) Nashville Predators: To be fair, I should note that I think I only watched one Predators game this season (when they played the Sens, naturally) so I’m not at all familiar with them. Just looking at the numbers, though, the Blackhawks are significantly better than the Preds in offence, defence, and special teams. Nashville has put together a very solid run since the Olympic break, but then so has Chicago. The Hawks also have last year’s experience of making it to the conference final under their belts.

My Prediction: Blackhawks in 6, because 6 is my default prediction when I truly have no clue.

iPod Prediction: “Northern Lad,” quite a sad song about a lost love with a northern lad who doesn’t come around much anymore. It’s one of my favourite Tori tunes, but I’m not sure how it applies here. Both teams have a few “northern lads” on their rosters, especially if you assume any Canadian boy could be considered a northern lad. In the end, I think I have to take this as a vote for Nashville. Chicago is further north than Nashville, plus the song mentions sugar cane, which leads to Patrick Kane. So there you go.

(3) Vancouver Canucks vs. (6) Los Angeles Kings: The Canucks, featuring Art Ross Trophy winner Henrik Sedin, have the second most potent offence in the NHL this season after Washington. Not too shabby. They also have Roberto Luongo, who has been somewhat inconsistent since coming back from the Olympics. One of his worst performances, when he gave up 8 goals on 29 shots on a night when the Canucks could have clinched a playoff spot with a win, happened against none other than the Kings. Still, I think Vancouver has some big expectations this season and I just can’t see them blowing it in the first round. Vancouver’s bad night aside, LA seems to have been struggling to win games for the last little while, plus they’re a young team that hasn’t been in the playoffs since 2002.

My Prediction: Canucks in 6. Just a gut feeling.

iPod Prediction: “Riot Poof.” More appropriate for Montreal. Rimshot! Well actually, this song is about a person who “breaks the terror or the urban spell” and makes a primal discovery about himself which allows him to “blossom.” Do either the Canucks or the Kings seem prepared to do this? I don’t know, but perhaps Roberto Luongo can be said to have crossed some kind of barrier at the Olympics, when he was able to succeed in an extremely high pressure situation. Maybe the reason he’s been so inconsistent ever since is that he just wants to get back to that place. Maybe the playoffs are the arena he needs. The end of the song references a desert and the warming sun, no doubt meaning that Los Angeles is where Roberto must go to rediscover this higher plane of existence.

And that is probably my best song interpretation ever.

(4) Phoenix Coyotes vs. (5) Detroit Red Wings: I think it’s fair to say not many people thought the Coyotes would do as well as they have this season. Their record post-Olympics is 13-4-2 and they have a lot of momentum right now. Unfortunately for them, as hot as they’ve been lately, the Red Wings have been even hotter (16-3-2 since the Olympics, 8-1-1 in their last 10 games). There’s also the fact that the Red Wings are, like, the Red Wings? It’s one of those annoying, inescapable facts, like death and taxes.

My Prediction: Red Wings in 6. Much like the Sens, the Coyotes can count even making the playoffs as a big success.

iPod Prediction: “Sweet Dreams,” a song which begins by asking the question: who’s your daddy? It’s an anti-George W. Bush  tune from back when Bush was relevant (“Land of Liberty, we’re run by a constipated man”). Since we’re talking about the Coyotes, however — a team “owned by Gary Bettman,” as Puck Daddy says — I think a different interpretation is appropriate. “Go on, go on, go on and dream” of playoff success in the sunbelt, Mr. Bettman, but whether you want to admit it or not, “your house is on fire.” And your tenant has to play the Red Wings.

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Happy Hockey Eve

‘Twas the night before hockey, and all through the land
Hockey fans were stirring and feeling just grand;
Year previews were posted on blogs with great care,
In hopes that this season would be something rare.
Some teams’ fans were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of Stanley Cups danced in their heads;
But I in my Sens shirt, my jersey, and cap
Had settled for hoping for better than crap.

I’m not going to attempt a full season preview or prediction post. Why? Because it’s pointless. Some wildcard scenario no one anticipated always comes into play during the season. Players get hurt. Teams collapse or overperform for no apparent reason. This year, the Olympics will act as a major x-factor: some teams may suffer from Olympic fatigue, while other teams could benefit greatly from it.

So, instead of doing predictions, I’ll point out what I think are the most interesting stories going into the season.

Western Conference

Yawn: The Avalanche will be utterly terrible. The Red Wings will overcome obstacles such as Chris Osgood sucking and team-wide Olympic fatigue to win the Central Division for the 600th straight year. The Sharks will act out the same old story — regular season dominance, playoff choke — but this time with 100% more douchebag on their roster.

No Comment: Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, Phoenix Coyotes, St. Louis Blues. A lack of knowledge prevents me from saying anything useful.

Interesting Stories

Calgary Flames – Miikka Kiprusoff hasn’t played fewer than 74 games in a season since before the lockout. If he starts for Finland in the Olympics, which seems very possible, he’ll risk burnout come playoff time. Unfortunately, the Flames always play terribly in front of backup Curtis McElhinney, who had a 1-6 record last season. They may want to work on that. More questions: is Dion Phaneuf really any good? Is Olli Jokinen actually a locker room cancer? Can Darryl Sutter do a better job of cap management so the team isn’t left having to play with a short bench in crucial late season games? Early indications on the last thing would suggest not.

Edmonton Oilers – It will be interesting to see if new head coach Pat Quinn can get this team on track. He and goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin are the biggest unknowns here. Khabibulin shocked many in 2008-2009 with his great performance for the Blackhawks, who put him on waivers early in the season only to watch him step in and save their bacon after Cristobal Huet flamed out later on. But Khabibulin isn’t getting any younger.

Vancouver Canucks – The Canucks are my pick to win the Northwest; however, no other team will be as affected by the Olympics as they are. With the tournament taking place in their home building, the Canucks will be banished from Vancouver for all of February and half of March, embarking on an epic six-week, 14-game road trip to accommodate the games. There’s also the question of what kind of impact the Olympics will have on Roberto Luongo. If Luongo is named Canada’s starting goaltender, he will face a ton of pressure as well as some extra wear and tear. If he is not named Canada’s starter, that could have a psychological impact (either crushing or motivating) on him as well.

Chicago Blackhawks – The Blackhawks can be summed up in a few talking points: promising young team; questionable goaltending (and there’s no bacon-saving Khabibulin waiting in the wings this season); injuries to Marian Hossa and Adam Burish; Patrick Kane beat up a cab driver; Patrick Sharp is hot; cap issues next offseason. They should make it interesting for the Red Wings this season, but I’m not sure they have enough to catch them.

Columbus Blue Jackets – My other men will, I am sure, continue to impress in 09-10. Steve Mason will suffer no sophomore slump. Derick Brassard will definitely not get injured again. Nikita Filatov will score 30 goals and win the Calder Trophy (unless Erik Karlsson does). Rick Nash will tear it up at the Olympics but, because he eats such healthy food, will never feel even remotely tired. Everything will be perfect, and the team will not only make the playoffs again, but this time actually win a game — nay, a round! In all seriousness: the Jackets haven’t made major changes this offseason but if Brassard makes a strong comeback and Antoine Vermette continues to click with his not-so-new team, then the best additions to the team might come from within. A lot depends on whether Mason keeps up the form he showed last season. If he does, and if no major disasters occur, the Jackets could do very well.

Anaheim Ducks – The Ducks’ first line of Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Bobby Ryan is exciting to watch and Randy Carlyle is an excellent coach, but there are several areas of uncertainty for the team going foward. They’ll have an intriguing goaltending battle between highly-paid veteran Jean-Sebastien Giguere and youthful playoff sensation Jonas Hiller. I’m also interested to see if/how Ryan Whitney and/or James Wisniewski will step up to fill the departed Chris Pronger’s freakishly big shoes. Other question marks include Getzlaf’s recovery from offseason surgery; the advancing age of Teemu Selanne and Scott Niedermayer; and the chance that Ryan goes through some kind of second year jinx. Several Ducks (including Niedermayer, Getzlaf, Selanne, Saku Koivu, and possibly Whitney, Perry, and Ryan) also seem likely to go to the Olympics, which may prevent them from duplicating their awesome finish to last season. Still, I think this should be another good year in Anaheim.

Dallas Stars – The Stars’ total failure last season was definitely the most shocking underachievement of the year to my mind. They looked so impressive in the 2008 playoffs, but then Brenden Morrow got hurt, Marty Turco sucked, and Sean Avery apparently messed up their chemistry so badly that they never recovered. Avery is gone, Morrow is back, and they’ve got a capable backup for Turco in the form of Alex Auld, which, according to my Stars fan friend, is all Turco really needed. My feeling is that they should rebound.

Eastern Conference

Yawn: Even if the Bruins don’t perform up to last year’s standard, they will win the Northeast due to a lack of competition. The Islanders will suck. The Devils and the Penguins will make the playoffs. The Rangers will finish near the middle of the pack.

No Comment: Atlanta Thrashers, Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning. Sorry Southeast Division, I just don’t know you that well.

Interesting Stories

Washington Capitals – The Caps are always interesting if only because of Alex Ovechkin. This year, the development of young goalie Semyon Varlamov (and the fate of Jose Theodore) will also be something to keep an eye on.

Philadelphia Flyers – The Broad Street Bullies trading for Chris Pronger this offseason seemed like fate: at last, Pronger and his flying elbows are with the team he was always meant to play for. Watch your heads, Penguins. Also watch your backs, because on paper this is an excellent team. I think they’ll win the Atlantic Division, partly because the Penguins will be tired thanks to two long playoff runs and Olympic appearances for some of their important players, and partly because the Flyers should just be that good. They may even finish first in the East. Goaltending is a question mark: will Ray Emery’s return to the NHL be triumphant or disastrous? Philly’s defense is so solid that it may not matter that much.

The Northeast Division other than the Bruins – Boston is the clear alpha wolf in this pack; everyone else is pretty much a complete wildcard. The Habs have undergone a coaching change (welcome back to the Northeast, Jacques Martin) and a massive amount of roster change. The Leafs, in case you haven’t heard, are now very truculent and expect to compensate for a lack of goalscoring by doing violence to their opponents. The Sabres are still the Sabres, which means they could finish anywhere from 4th to 14th depending on injuries, Ryan Miller, and luck.

Which brings me to those confounding Ottawa Senators. We’ve watched them play on an extreme rollercoaster-esque cycle for the last few years: down in 2006, up in 2007, down in 2008. (It’s unfortunate that this pattern seems to follow the calendar year rather than the hockey season, but that’s the Sens for you.) They were on a definite upswing after Cory Clouston took over in early 2009. A major question now is: can Clouston keep it going — and will the team be able to pull off a full season of good play? There are, of course, many other questions. Will Alex Kovalev perform well? Will Jonathan Cheechoo actually produce 20 goals? How will Kovalev, Cheechoo, and Milan Michalek fit into the lineup? Peter Regin, Erik Karlsson, and Matt Carkner have all made the team: will they continue the play that got them there? Will Mike Fisher be productive on the wing? Is the defense any good? Can Pascal Leclaire stay healthy?

That’s a lot of questions. It seems too much to hope that everything will work out, so I’m not expecting much from this team. That said, I don’t know that the Sens are as bad as many people would have us believe. Certainly, the team’s depth at forward is much improved over last year. I also think Clouston was doing something right, and I see no reason to think he’ll suddenly become an awful coach. A full season playing under his system should benefit the team. The bottom line for me is that the Sens are no more or less of an unknown quantity than either of their fellow eastern Canadian teams, yet it seems more prognosticators are forecasting positive things for Toronto and/or Montreal than for Ottawa. In Puck Daddy’s staff prediction post this morning, for example, no one had the Sens placing higher than the Habs and only two of five posters guessed they’d finish ahead of the Leafs. Personally, I wouldn’t be too surprised if Ottawa did better than both Montreal and Toronto. I also wouldn’t die of shock if this team happened to squeak into the playoffs.

It’s the NHL: anything can happen.

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Crosby drinks from the Cup
Photo taken moments before the Stanley Cup crushed a ravenous Sidney Crosby.

With the Pittsburgh Penguins’ victory in game seven last night, the 2008-2009 NHL season has come to a close. It seems appropriate at this time to look back at the highlights of the year.

There was the Blue Jackets getting their first ever playoff berth. That was nice. They immediately got stomped on by the Red Wings, but still.

From a Sens perspective, there was the hiring of Cory Clouston. Of course, to get to that point we had to live through the crapitude of the Hartsburg era, and in getting a coach who can apparently make our team win we lost the source of about 20% of our offense. But hey, I’m sure it’ll be worth it. Another plus: we no longer have a Swiss goaltender. We now have a (gimpy) French Canadian waiting in the wings instead. That seems like an improvement. Other than that, let’s see … well … I guess … the team … won some games?

Take heart, Sens fans. The season from hell is done. It’s finally over. And the future looks … um.

Maybe don’t think about hockey for a while.

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Oh Right, Hockey

I was thinking of making another post about this whole stupid Heatley situation, but then I remembered that there’s still hockey going on. In fact, there’s a rather important game tonight: a game which represents the culmination of the season, and is ultimately pretty much the reason we all watch hockey. The Penguins and the Red Wings have probably worked hard to get to this point, and I think it behooves me to take notice of their accomplishment. So, despite the fact that I hate both teams with a fiery passion and haven’t watched a full game during the Final, I will now focus on them and save the rest of my bitching till the offseason (tomorrow).

I have a feeling the Penguins might pull off the first away win of the series this evening. I encountered the number 87 at work today and spotted a post about some cute baby penguins headed for a zoo exhibit called the “Power Play Zone” while I was reading blogs this morning. Those seem like omens to me.

I’ve been wrong before, though, so I thought I’d consult my trusty psychic iPod for the last time this season and see if it could give me any insight on who might win game seven. Since Tori Amos provided me with my musical message for Mr. I Totally Know How to Quit You in a previous post, I looked to her library for the answer to this important question. The song I was given was “i i e e e.” Unless one team has been committing human sacrifice, I’m not sure the lyrics are relevant. I’ve therefore concluded that this means whichever team’s players have more E’s and I’s in their names will win the game. I looked at the rosters from game six and by my count the Pens take it by 34-32. Evgeni Malkin is truly this team’s MVP.

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