Friday, December 31, 2010

2010: An NHL year in review

Hey guys, how many of these can you
win before salary cap incompetence
forces you to tear the team apart?
As we prepare to ring in the New Year tonight, I thought I'd try something unique and spend some time taking a look back at the past 12 months.

What's that? It's not unique? Every blog in the world is doing the same thing today? Hmm. OK, let's try this again.

As we prepare to ring in the New Year tonight, let's engage in the rich and greatly beloved tradition of taking a look back at the past 12 months. Here are some of 2010's most memorable moments in the NHL.

January 31 - The Maple Leafs acquire defenceman Dion Phaneuf from the Calgary Flames, filling a critical void that came to light when it was apparently discovered that nobody on the current roster knew how to work the volume knob on the dressing room stereo.

February 28 - Sidney Crosby scores the dramatic winning goal in overtime of the Olympic final, then puts his gold medal in his trophy case next to his Stanley Cup ring. Meanwhile, Alex Ovechkin scores the dramatic winning goal in overtime of the Olympic final, then puts his copy of NHL 11 back on the shelf next to Guitar Hero.

April 21 - Trailing the heavily favoured Washington Capitals three games to one in their opening round playoff series, Montreal Canadiens' coach Jacques Martin makes the controversial decision to bench starting goaltender Jaroslav Halak and replace him with a 6-by-4 brick wall with a picture of Jaroslav Halak painted on it.

June 9 - Moments after Patrick Kane's overtime winner ends the Flyers' championship hopes, a disappointed Chris Pronger concedes that Chicago was the better team, offers his sincere congratulations to the Blackhawks' players, and then turns and walks slowly to his car while dragging a Stanley Cup-shaped duffel bag behind him.

June 22 - In the biggest trade of draft weekend, the Bruins send Dennis Wideman and two draft picks to the Florida Panthers in exchange for Nathan Horton and the right to not have any of their players get suspended anymore.

July 20 - While being announced as the new coach of the New Jersey Devils, John MacLean declines to offer detailed thoughts on his new team. "I believe you can't truly evaluate a team until they have ten wins," he tells reporters. "So check back with me some time in early November."

July 31 - While spending his day with the Stanley Cup, Antti Niemi wonders if it's a bad sign that his named is engraved as "miscellaneous replaceable starting goaltender".

August 9 - An arbitrator rules that the New Jersey Devils' front-loaded contract offer to Ilya Kovalchuk is in violation of the league's collective bargaining agreement. In a punishment that many feel is overly harsh, the team is forced to indefinitely employ Ilya Kovalchuk.

October 7 - The season kicks off in Helsinki with the Minnesota Wild hosting the Carolina Hurricanes as part of the NHL's comprehensive program to get Finland to stop bugging them about getting an expansion team.

October 31 - After their unsuccessful attempt to playfully frighten him, Brian Burke lectures the group of children on his doorstep that trick-or-treaters never yelled "boo" when he was in Vancouver.

December 7 -After his introduction of new mayor Rob Ford at his first council meeting creates controversy, Don Cherry explains his conservative views by saying he's been in Toronto for years without ever meeting a single decent left winger. "Tell me about it," says Mats Sundin.

December 28 - Calgary General Manager Darryl Sutter makes the difficult choice to resign his position. He later explains that he reached his decision based on the Flames' lacklustre record, a desire to spend more time with his family, and the fact that team president Ken King was dumping the contents of his office onto the front lawn and setting fire to it.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Scouting the World Junior Championships

Rare recent footage of a hockey player
wearing a maple leaf celebrating something.
The eyes of the hockey world are focused on Buffalo this week as the annual World Junior Championships gets underway. Ten nations from around globe are represented at the tournament, each hoping to be the last team standing when the gold medal is awarded on January 5.

Of course, that's a more realistic goal for some teams than for others. Here's a look at the strengths and weaknesses of all ten teams participating in this year's tournament.

The good: As tournament host, will be bombarded with "Go Canada Go" chants that are slightly less deafening than in other years.
The bad: A United States team made up mostly of young college kids has never won a
major hockey tournament on home ice, presumably, since that seems like the sort of thing American sports fans would probably bring up every once in a while.

The good: After checking and rechecking the tournament roster rules, team officials have confirmed that Evgeni Nabokov is not eligible to participate.
The bad: Many players have spent their entire lives in places like Siberia, and may have a difficult time adjusting to the harsher living conditions of Buffalo.

The good: Have made good progress in their quest to earn a World Junior medal, thanks to a national program called "Operation Convince Them To Start Giving Out a Medal For Sixth Place".
The bad: As always, you can distract them during the game by yelling "Hey Teemu!" and waiting for half the players to turn around and say "Yes?"

The good: Are unlikely to get blown out more than four or five times.
The bad: Due to a linguistic misunderstanding over the term "World Junior Championships", have sent a team consisting entirely of small children who have the same names as their fathers.

Czech Republic
The good: The team seems fired up thanks to a passionate pre-tournament motivational speech from the country's best-known hockey ambassador, Jaromir Jagr's 1991 mullet.
The bad: The national program is so badly underfunded that they often can't afford to supply star players with basic necessities, such as vowels.

The good: Goaltender Robin Lehner is a Senators prospects but has not spent much time in Ottawa yet, so he may still have some vague clue how to make an occasional save.
The bad: Not to be nitpicky, but they maybe should have hired a head coach who speaks Swedish.

The good: Virtually the entire roster is able to focus exclusively on this tournament, without the distraction of thinking about future professional careers.
The bad: In hindsight, it may have been a mistake to stop producing decent hockey players in 2000.

The good: Islander draft pick Nino Niederreiter will be extra motivated to do well since he knows it's his last chance to win anything until he reaches unrestricted free agency.
The bad: Everything the nation knows about hockey comes from a single smuggled in copy of NHL '93, so their entire offensive strategy consists of lobbing weak wrist shots at the goaltender and hoping he slides all the way across the crease for no reason.

The good: Starting goalie Lars Volden is a Maple Leafs prospect, and will be gaining invaluable experience on how to get completely shelled in Buffalo.
The bad: They'll find it nearly impossible to field a competitive team thanks to an obscure tournament rule that stipulates that their roster must consist entirely of Norwegians.

The good: Will be one of the hungriest teams at the tournament, since as per Canadian law they won't be given any food or water until they've won the gold medal.
The bad: Will be under more pressure from home fans than any other team in the tournament, given that they're the only team from a country where fans are aware this tournament is taking place.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Behind the scenes at the NHL's Christmas pageant

Youngest player on the team.
Scene: A stage in a school gymnasium. An audience slowly files in to take their seats in rows of folding chairs. Behind the curtain it's chaos, as cast and crew work on last minute preparations. In the center of it all, a man hops off of a director's chair and tries to address the group.

Gary Bettman: Attention! Everyone, can I have your attention?

Nobody notices him amid the noise and chaos. Bill Daly, wearing a "Santa's Little Helper" hat, hands Bettman a director's megaphone.

Bettman (shouting into megaphone): Attention everyone!

No luck. Nobody can hear him.

Bettman (sighing): Pierre, a little help please?

Pierre McGuire: HELP WITH WHAT?

Immediate silence.

Bettman: Thanks Pierre. OK everyone, listen up. This is a very big night for all of us. The NHL's annual holiday pageant is one of the league's most important events, and our friends and family want to see a good show.

Bettman peeks his head out between the curtains and surveys the audience. Colin Campbell is standing on a chair in the front row, holding a video camera and waving furiously.

Bettman (closing curtain): Yikes. Alright everyone, this gym holds hundreds of people, so for you Thrashers and Islanders this will be the biggest crowd you perform in front of all year. Let's make it count. OK, where's my Santa Claus?

Bruce Boudreau: Ho, ho, [expletive deleted] ho.

Bettman: And where are Santa's elves?

The Montreal Canadiens' top two lines: We're here.

Bettman: Great. And what about Scrooge?

Daly: Uh, he said he had something to take care of.

Daly motions offstage, where Lou Lamoriello is handing pink slips to all the stagehands.

Bettman: Good ol' Lou. Hey, did we ever end up getting any volunteers to play the Three Wise Men?

Ron Wilson, Brian Burke and Richard Peddie: Sure did!

Daly and Bettman stare in horror.

Daly: Um… maybe we can write their scene out.

Bettman: Good idea. OK, has anyone seen Tiny Tim? Adorable little guy, looks so grownup in his big boy suit and his scrunched up angry wittle face…. Oh, there he is!

Cory Clouston: This is degrading and I'm not doing it.

Bettman: Oh, you're doing it, junior. Now you're supposed to be disabled. Do you know where we could get some crutches?

Clouston: I'll go ask Pascal Leclaire, he carries a few spares with him at all times.

Bettman: Good idea. OK everyone, let's run through the big dramatic scene with the three ghosts. Is the Ghost of Hockey Future here?

Sidney Crosby appears, wearing a white Penguins road jersey with the number 87 on the back.

Crosby: I'm here, boss.

Bettman: Great. And what about the Ghost of Hockey Present?

Crosby changes into a #87 black Penguins home jersey.

Crosby: Right here.

Bettman: Wonderful! And what about the Ghost of Hockey Past?

Mario Lemieux: I'm here.

Bettman: Hey, where's your costume?

Lemieux: Please tell me your weren't actually serious about making me wear that.

Bettman: Of course!

Lemieux sighs heavily, then pulls on a #87 Penguins third jersey.

Bettman: Perfect!

Lemieux (storming off): Learn some history.

Bettman: Wow, who's the cranky old guy?

Daly: I have no idea. Sid said he knew him. I think maybe it's his grandfather.

Bettman: I don't like him. Scrooge, take care of him.

Lamoriello (pulling a pink slip out of his pocket): With pleasure.

Daly: Um, sir, we may have a problem.

Bettman turns around to find Pascal Leclaire slumped on the ground, bleeding heavily, with shards of jagged bones jutting out of all four limbs.

Bettman: Dammit Pronger!

Daly: Uh, actually, Chris Pronger's not here this time. He's on the IR with a broken foot, remember?

Bettman: Oh. Then who…

Clouston: Actually, don't worry about it. This happens to him three or four times a week.

Leclaire (barely conscious): Butterfly... landed… on me….

Clouston: Get up, Pascal. Even without functioning limbs you're still better than Elliott.

Bettman: OK everyone, it's almost show time. I think the crowd is getting restless.

(From the crowd, a lone voice can be heard shouting "We want Greg! We want Greg!")

Bettman: Bill, what's the status? Are we ready to go?

Daly: Well, Pascal Leclaire just wandered by the decorative candles and caught himself on fire. Pierre McGuire is refusing to perform his Silent Night solo because he doesn't understand what the word "silent" means. And Bruce Boudreau just taught the little children an alternate version of Rudolph where all the reindeer are from Nantucket.

Bettman: I see.

Daly: Oh, and Lou Lamoriello just had security escort the Baby Jesus out of the building.

Bettman: So basically the whole thing is a disaster.

Daly: An unmitigated, unprecedented, unsalvageable disaster, yes.

Bettman: Well then, you know what we have to do.

Daly: Call Matthew Hulsizer and see if he wants to buy it?

Bettman: Good job, old friend. And Happy Holidays to all!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

NHL letters to Santa

Santa began to find the letters from
Maple Leaf fans increasingly disturbing.
With Christmas just a few days away, children around the world have been busy writing their personal letters to Santa Claus. But in the hockey world, everyone is still a kid at heart. So during the occasional break from the rink, various grownups around the NHL have been working on their letters.

Thanks to some spies at the post office, I've intercepted a few examples. Here's what's on the minds of some of your favourite hockey personalities as the holidays approach.

Dear Santa,

What's this I hear about my son Gregory being on your naughty list? Look, pal, I'm not trying to tell you how to do your job, but if Gregory doesn't have a shiny new Xbox under the tree on Christmas morning then [name redacted to protect privacy] might just get his little red reindeer nose torn off.

Just a hockey dad venting,
Colin Campbell

P.S. Please run this letter through the shredder once you're done reading it. Long story.

Dear Santa,

Some of the Maple Leafs players were trying to tell me that you're not real. They said you were a work of fiction, nothing but a pleasant fairy tale for small children to believe in but not something that any respectable grownup should take seriously.

Is that true? Because if so, I'd like to invite you to the MLSE Christmas party. I think you'd get along great with all our constant talk about making the playoffs.

All the best,
Ron Wilson

Dear Santa,

You may have seen my recent comments to the media, in which I complained about my ice time and hinted that I'd like to be traded to a team where I could play on the first line. To help make that happen, my Christmas wish is for a list of NHL teams that haven't employed a pro scouting staff since 2006.

Alexei Kovalev

Dear Santa,

Do you allow your reindeer to take part-time jobs once Christmas is over? Because if so, we'd like to hire Rudolph to stand directly behind Roberto Luongo every time we play the Blackhawks.

Mike Gillis

Dear Santa,

I'm writing to apologize for my previous letter to you, where I thanked you for my $100 million contract and made reference to "our little agreement" that was signed in the summer and came due in October.

I'm sure that was really confusing for you, since you had no idea what I was referring to. My bad. I accidentally switched a couple of letters when I was addressing the letter.

Ilya Kovalchuk

Dear Santa,

For Christmas, please bring me an expensive high-definition big screen television. Please also leave the receipt, since I'll be immediately taking it back to the store to exchange it straight up for a broken VCR.

All my best,
Mike Milbury

Dear Santa,

Just wondering, but do you send out change of address card? Let's just say I'm pretty sure I won't still be living in this city next year.

Darryl Sutter

P.S. Come to think if it, better send one for my brother too.

Dear Santa,

When you're done with it, any chance I could borrow your bright red velour coat with the big fur collar and cuffs? The bosses at Hockey Night in Canada are telling me I need to tone it down with the wardrobe, so I'm looking for outfits that will make me look a little bit less ridiculous.

Don Cherry

Dear Santa,

This year please bring me one pair of dress socks, a ball of string, and one slice of plain whole wheat toast. I wouldn't want to open anything more exciting than that at the team Christmas party, since I might accidentally show some genuine emotion and then coach Snorey McPaint'n'Dry will send me back to the pressbox.

Your pal,
P.K. Subban

Dear Santa,

For Christmas this year, I'd like to ask for a [expletive deleted] toy train, a [expletive deleted] toboggan, and most important of all [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted] peace on [expletive deleted] earth.

Bruce [expletive deleted] Boudreau

P.S. Time to grab your sack.

Friday, December 17, 2010

What we learned from the premiere of 24/7 Penguins/Capitals:

The show was named after the cumulative
score in a typical seven game series
Wednesday night marked the debut episode of 24/7 Penguins/Capitals: Road to the NHL Winter Classic, the league's latest and perhaps most ambitious attempt to gain traction with casual sports fans south of the border.

The series, part of HBO's successful franchise of sports-based reality shows, will chronicle the Capitals and Penguins in the weeks leading up to their January 1 outdoor showdown at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. The producers have been given unprecedented access to both teams, and the result is a stunning look inside the inner workings of two of hockey's most popular organizations.

In this week's hour long debut, fans learned plenty about each team and about the league's behind-the-scenes planning for the Winter Classic. While it's difficult to narrow down all the memorable moments we were treated to, here's a list of some of the most stunning revelations from the show so far.
  • Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau is apparently a big fan of South Atlantic archipelagos, because every second thing out of his mouth is "Falkland this" and "Falkland that".

  • In an attempt to boost ratings in the all-important youth demographic, the role of Chris Kunitz is being played by Robert Pattinson.

  • Every episode of the series will begin with a moment of silence in memory of the victims of the Jaromir Jagr trade.

  • Winter Classic organizers are being constantly harassed by phone calls from Ty Conklin asking which team he's supposed to be playing for.

  • According to a recent survey, a majority of Washington Capital fans believe that their current losing streak is the absolute worst thing that's happened to the franchise since its inaugural season in 2006.

  • While organizing the traditional pre-Classic alumni game, a bitter dispute over which team should get former star defenceman Sergei Gonchar was interrupted when he sheepishly explained that technically, he's actually still playing in the NHL.

  • The league initially wanted to hold the Winter Classic game in Washington, but could find no evidence that FedEx Field is capable of hosting professional sporting events in January.

  • Sidney Crosby travels with an entourage of three people with tasers who's only job is to immediately shock him if he starts to do or say anything interesting.

  • The NHL's top secret contingency plan in case of a rain storm involves just making all the players skate around holding umbrellas.

  • Washington owner Ted Leonsis is convinced that the Capitals' current losing streak is his fault for not blogging hard enough, and has tearfully vowed to blog harder than ever before.

  • Gary Bettman has already met privately with the game's officials to instruct them to call a tight game, avoid any questionable calls, and make sure the game comes down to a shootout between Ovechkin and Crosby if they ever want to see their missing families again.

  • ESPN has committed to devoting more coverage to the Winter Classic than they have for any other NHL game of the post-lockout era, thanks to the presence of an intern in the third deck recording video clips on his iPhone.

  • So yeah, it turns out Mike Green is actually like that in real life.

  • Your expensive new television's warranty doesn't cover damage sustained when you instinctively leap off the couch and roundhouse punch the screen, as you recently found out thanks to an unexpected closeup shot of Matt Cooke.

  • A frustrated Boudreau has had to repeatedly remind his players that yes, they're on a reality show, and yes, the vote may very well have been unanimous, but he still doesn't have to bring anyone his damn torch.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Great moments in shootout history

Some day, you punk kids will learn to have
some respect for terrible, whiny goalies.
The shootout has long been a topic that divides hockey fans. Many feel that it's an overly long and drawn out skills competition, a cheap gimmick that diminishes the emphasis on team play and tarnishes the integrity of the game. Others disagree, pointing out that it's actually not all that long.

The shootout was back in the spotlight yet again in recent days, along with a debate over what constitutes proper shootout etiquette. From Flames' goalie Henrik Karlsson's fist-pumping save celebrations to Oiler rookie Linus Omark's premature spinorama, it seems like we may be faced with a sudden need to establish a shootout code of conduct.

But while the shootout may cause its share of headaches, there's no disputing that it has also created some unique hockey memories. Here's a sampling of some of some of the most indelible moments from the brief history of the NHL shootout.

December 10, 2010 - A disappointed Linus Omark is forced to switch to Plan B after officials refuse to allow him to bring his ladder and bucket of confetti onto the ice.

November 2, 2009 - Continuing his impressive streak as the only player in NHL history to be successful on every career shootout attempt, Gregory Campbell scores on his patented move of skating directly at the goaltender while yelling "get out of the way or my dad will suspend you!"

October 21, 2008 - In an effort to improve their chances of taking home two points, Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson pulls Vesa Toskala before the shootout begins and replaces him with an old shoelace dangling from the crossbar.

November 27, 2010 - Olli Jokinen streaks in across the blueline, kicks the puck up to his skates and executes a breathtaking spinorama before being stopped by an arena worker who explains that game is already over and the Flames lost 7-1 in regulation.

January 1, 2008 - After giving up the game-winning shootout goal to Sidney Crosby to end the first ever outdoor Winter Classic, the Sabres' Ryan Miller comforts himself by telling reporters "Oh well, at least I know that's the worst game-ending five hole goal I'll ever give up to that guy on national television".

March 24, 2010 - Despite scoring on his first career attempt, Canadiens' defenceman P.K. Subban receives near-unanimous criticism from within the hockey community after he briefly cracks a facial expression.

October 25, 2005 - Amid echoes of shots and clouds of gun smoke, the first shootout in Dallas Stars history resumes after the public address announcer sternly admonishes the Texas crowd that that's not the kind of "shootout" they meant and they know it.

November 10, 2010 - Crafty veteran sniper Ilya Kovalchuk takes full advantage of an advanced scouting report that Sabres' goalie Jhonas Enroth has trouble with slow rollers towards the side boards.

April 11, 2010 - The Flyers eliminate the Rangers from playoff contention on the season's final day when Chris Pronger scores the winner on a move he calls "glue the puck to the front of a stolen zamboni and then run over Henrik Lundqvist while he's taking a drink from his water bottle".

March 11, 2009 - The Vancouver Canucks lose a heartbreaker when Alex Burrows is denied on a brilliant goalmouth kick save by Stephane Auger.

November 3, 2009 - Players begin to realize that the best way to score on Ottawa's Pascal Leclaire is by coming in as slowly as possible, since given enough time he'll eventually keel over from some random injury and you can just tap it into the open net.

February 13, 2008 - After being given a rare shootout opportunity, a confused and frightened Tomas Kaberle spends the next 45 minutes circling the offensive zone in an desperate attempt to find someone to pass to.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Signs your players have quit on you

Maybe I should start a blog so that
they'll ban me from the building.
We're well into the season's second quarter, and that means we can finally stop with the caveats about how it's too early to make any firm judgements and get down to reckless speculation about which coaches are about to be fired.

The season has already seen one coach lose his job, with the Islanders relieving Scott Gordon of his duties in November. There's also been plenty of early-season speculation around Toronto's Ron Wilson and New Jersey's John Maclean, and the circling vultures have also been spotted in cities like Calgary, Buffalo and Ottawa.

As soon as a coach's job seems to be in jeopardy, attention inevitably turns to the players. How are they reacting? Do they seem to be working harder to save his job? Or have they committed the ultimate sin and quit on their coach in an effort to speed his exit?

Accusing players of giving less than their best can be a touchy subject, but there are some telltale signs that it could be happening. So if you happen to be an NHL coach of a struggling team, you'll want to keep an eye out for these subtle sign that your players want you out.
  • The chants for you to be fired are getting louder and louder, which seems like a bad sign since you're sitting on the team bus on the way to the game.

  • Every time you try to address the team during a timeout, you can't help but notice the players all looking at their "What Would Ken Hitchcock Do?" bracelets.

  • Star players are occasionally deviating from their assignments during the crucial final minutes of close games; for example, instead of your first line winger being one stick length from the top of the faceoff circle with backside coverage of the point man and an active stick clogging the passing lane, he's in the dressing room playing Xbox with the starting goaltender.

  • In addition to "Jim from High River" and "Bill from Strathmore", the post-game radio show has started getting calls demanding your firing from "Jarome from the first line".

  • When the team captain says "We're all doing our best to win for our coach" during a post-game interview, he makes those finger quotes for the words "best", "win" and "coach".

  • When you angrily tell your lazy star player that he can either do things your way or pack his bags, he just looks up from the pages of his 15-year $100 million contract and asks "Sorry, do I know you?".

  • During the team Christmas party, all the players' children keep climbing up on Santa's lap, pointing in your direction, and making a throat slash gesture.

  • After you call a player into your office to discuss a mistake they made in the previous period, he replies "Gosh, I hope you're not that critical of me next game when you're on the TSN intermission panel."

  • During practice, Jason Spezza and Alexei Kovalev aren't trying as hard as usual during the "commit a lazy neutral zone turnover then nonchalantly circle back without bothering to cover anyone" drills, although come to think of it why do we even have those in the first place?

  • While you realize that an occasional accidental puck shot into the bench is an occupational hazard that you just have to deal with, it still seems excessive to have it happen thirty or forty times during the pregame warm-up.

  • Nobody has come right out and told you that you're about to be replaced by some unqualified rookie who talks a big game but is in way over his head, but they've already arranged for Don Cherry to introduce him.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A hockey fan's guide to modern TV technology

This 2010-11 Tyler Bozak highlight video sucks.
Hockey Night in Canada will break new ground on Saturday when the game between the Maple Leafs and Canadiens marks their first broadcast available in 3D.

That's great news if you have a 3D-ready television. But most hockey fans don't. And in fact, many hockey fans are still watching the game on old-fashioned sets without any of the bells and whistles that so many others now take for granted.

My guess is that many of those late adopters might consider upgrading to a more modern system in time for this weekend's game. And if you're one them, I'm here to help with this handy guide to help a hockey fan get up and running with the latest television technology.

Getting Started
First step: Go buy an expensive television and home entertainment system, bring it home, and hook it up. Go ahead, I'll wait here.

Are you back? Great. Let's make sure you're ready for some hockey. First, press the power button on one of the seven remote controls you now own. No, not that one. The one that's kind of greyish. No, the other one that's kind of greyish. You know what, just hit the power buttons on all of them. Good, we're ready to get started.

High-Definition Television
A top quality high-definition television can produce up to 17 million colors, which is enough to display almost half of the colors present in one of Don Cherry's jackets. To hook up your high-def TV, follow these steps:
  • First, tune your television to your favourite sports channel so you can see what the anchors look like in standard definition.
  • Next, locate the HDMI cable and plug it into the back of your TV.
  • Now check the screen and see what the anchors look like in high-definition.
  • Finally, yank the HDMI cable out of the television and throw it out of the window before collapsing on the ground, clawing at your eyes in horror.
Watching Television in 3D
If you've purchased a 3D set, put on your special glasses and wait for something to be projected directly towards the screen. If you're watching a made-for-3D movie, this will happen every few seconds. If you're watching anything else, this will happen never.

Helpful hint: When watching hockey in 3D, it's probably a good idea to look away from the screen any time James Wisniewski starts getting angry.

Stereo Sound
Your new entertainment system will feature stereo sound that delivers a much richer experience. Set up the various speakers in strategic locations around the room, and soon you'll be enjoying the sound of your friends telling you that you didn't put them in the right place.

You'll also be able to hear enhanced audio during hockey games, such as hits rattling off the glass, players calling for passes, and enhanced crowd noise. (Please note: Crowd noise not available for games broadcast from the Air Canada Centre.)

The Personal Vide Recorder
A personal video recorder (or PVR) is a device that allows you to pause, record, fast forward and rewind live television. While it can be used for any type of programming, it's especially useful for sports fans who want to record games to watch later.

Your system will come with a handy onscreen guide that will make the process easy. Scroll through the menu to find the game you want to record. Notice that the guide is helpfully set to record the game from 7:00 to 9:30, which is fine since nobody really wants to watch the end of the third period anyway.

When it's time to watch the game you've recorded, you can fast forward until you see something interesting happening. Then you can fast forward past that while you try to remember where the rewind button is. Then you can rewind too far and miss it again. Then you can accidentally press the "live" button, skip directly to the end of the game, see the final score, and throw your remote control out the window. Don't worry, you still have six more.

Helpful hint: Remember to feel slightly guilty about fast forwarding through the national anthem.

The Blu-ray player
A Blu-ray player is a device that allows Calgary Flames fans to watch movies during the playoffs.

Still having problems? Try some of these fixes to common issues.

Problem: I recorded my favourite team's game and decided to watch all their goals, fights and big hits, but I ended up just fast forwarding and fast forwarding until the game was over.
Solution: Stop cheering for the Ottawa Senators.

Problem: My TV is stuck on an image of Sidney Crosby, and the Penguins aren't even playing in this game.
Solution: You have accidentally switched over to an NBC broadcast.

Problem: I'm pressing my remote control's "mute" button, but the announcer just keeps getting louder.
Solution: You are attempting to mute Pierre McGuire. Nobody can mute Pierre McGuire.

Problem: The picture starts out sharp and clear for the opening faceoff, but becomes increasingly blurry as the game goes on until it is almost impossible to tell what's happening.
Solution: You're a Leaf fan. Try not to drink so much during the game.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Come on down: A history of the NHL's game show appearances

He later became a Leaf fan and
changed his name to Guy Frowny.
The NHL made an unexpected pop culture appearance this week when the Maple Leafs were the subject of a question on the game show Jeopardy!.

The question ("In action since 1917, this sports franchise is now largely owned by the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan") may have been somewhat ironic given recent news of a potential sale to Rogers, but it wasn't especially difficult. Two of the three contestants knew the correct answer, including Tom, the eventual champion. Hey, plan the parade, right?

But while it was certainly fun to see the Leafs make a cameo on one of the world's most popular game shows, it wasn't an especially rare sight. It may surprise younger fans to learn that the NHL actually has a long and distinguished history of showing up on some of television's most beloved games shows, albeit with mixed results.

Here's a few of the more memorable examples.

2008 - After multiple attempts to explain the rules of the bidding portion of the game, exasperated producers for The Price Is Right are forced to disqualify Glen Sather after he is unable to grasp the concept of "without going over".

1994 - While trying to figure out a way to get the blood and shards of teeth out of his hair, Family Feud host Richard Dawson vows to never again get lippy with the Sutter brothers.

1999 - Despite following the proven formula of using a bland former lawyer as host, the NHL Network is disappointed by the negative critical reception and record low ratings for their production of Win Gil Stein's Money.

2004 - During an uncomfortable episode of Wheel of Fortune, Gary Bettman spends 20 minutes squinting at a board reading "NOBODY IN PHOENIX ENJOYS WATCHING HOC-EY" without being able to solve the puzzle.

1995 - The Hollywood Squares becomes incredibly dull and begins to plummet in the ratings during the years after special guests Jacques Lemaire and Lou Lamoreillo develop a strategy that involves never doing anything except going for the block.

2005 - An outraged Kyle Wellwood storms off the set off Tic Tac Dough after learning that he is playing for an assortment of cash and prizes, and not for actual tic tacs and dough.

2009 - In a short-lived effort to appeal to hockey fans, NBC launches a show called Deal or No Deal or To Be Honest I'd Love To Make a Deal But I Can't Do Anything Until The Trade Deadline Because of This Stupid Salary Cap.

2010 - Lightning goaltender Dan Ellis declines an invitation to appear on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? on the grounds that it would just end up creating more problems.

2007 - A special "Enforcers of the NHL" edition of The Weakest Link unexpectedly turns out to be the series' final episode, although it does teach viewers a valuable lesson about what happens when you accidentally call Link Gaetz "weak".

1984 - Frustrated Press Your Luck host Peter Tomarken stops the show to explain to a St. Louis Blues fan contestant that while inconsistent goaltending is certainly an issue for any hockey team, there's still no need to punctuate every spin with cries of "No Wamsleys!"

2006 - "NHL Arena Music Director" week on Name That Tune ends up being a disaster when it turns out that none of them are able to name any tune that isn't Welcome To The Jungle, Cotton-Eyed Joe, or that one where they just keep saying "Woo-hoo".

1986 - A young John Ferguson Jr. appears on Let's Make A Deal, trades a brand new car for a goat, and then immediately gives the goat a no-trade clause.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Homecoming week: Dany Heatley vs. Lebron James

Eventually, the "point to a douchebag"
contest was declared a draw.
Thursday will mark a homecoming night in two sports, as a pair of former franchise players make their heavily anticipated returns to the cities they abandoned.

In Cleveland, Lebron James and his Miami Heat will visit the Cavaliers for the first time since the NBA star memorably announced that he would take his talents to South Beach. North of the border, meanwhile, Dany Heatley and the Sharks will make their first appearance in Ottawa since the sniper demanded a trade last summer.

While there's certainly some overlap between the two situations and it will tempting to lump them together, they're far from identical. Here's a primer on some of the similarities as well as the subtle differences between the highly anticipated returns of Lebron James and Dany Heatley.

Lebron James: His decision to leave may have been influenced by Cleveland's reputation as "mind-numbingly boring" and "soul-crushingly dull" and "completely and utterly devoid of anything even slightly resembling a pulse".
Dany Heatley: His decision to leave may have been influenced by Ottawa's reputation as "a great option for people who can't handle the excitement of Cleveland".

Lebron James: Once it was apparent he would be leaving, Cleveland was forced to reconsider the massive "We Are All Witness" banner that had dominated the downtown skyline since 2005.
Dany Heatley: Once it was apparent he would be leaving, Ottawa was forced to reconsider the "Stanley Cup Champion" banners Daniel Alfredsson has been pre-ordering prior to every season since 1999.

Lebron James: By moving to Miami to play second fiddle to Dwyane Wade, revealed himself to be an athlete so lacking in competitive fire that he'd be willing to passively ride another player's coattails to a championship.
Dany Heatley: By moving to San Jose to play second fiddle to Joe Thornton, revealed himself to be no such thing.

Lebron James: Diehard Cavalier fans are expected to boo him mercilessly as soon as he steps onto the court.
Dany Heatley: Diehard Senator fans are expected to boo him mercilessly as soon as he accidentally blocks their view of Spartacat's hot dog gun.

Lebron James: Explained his decision during an hour-long special broadcast on national television, outraging fans and media and doing significant damage to his well-crafted reputation.
Dany Heatley: Wisely avoided that scenario by never explaining his decision, to anyone, ever.

Lebron James: Has recently attempted to rehabilitate his image in commercials for the league's biggest corporate sponsor, Nike.
Dany Heatley: Has recently attempted to rehabilitate his image in commercials for the league's biggest corporate sponsor, Frankie's Used Car Emporium in Skokie, Illinois.

Lebron James: Apparently based his preferred destination on such considerations as "How will this effect my endorsement opportunities?" and "How will the local tax laws impact my earnings?"
Dany Heatley: Apparently based his preferred destination on such considerations as "This place isn't Edmonton, right?" and "No seriously, you're absolutely positive it's not Edmonton?"

Lebron James: Would famously make a handful of chalk disappear into thin air before every home game.
Dany Heatley: Would famously make $4 million of Eugene Melnyk's money disappear into thin air every Canada Day.

Lebron James: Was recently embroiled in further controversy after he appeared to lower his shoulder and initiate physical contact with his own coach.
Dany Heatley: Has never been accused of initiating physical contact with anybody.

Lebron James: Left as an unrestricted free agent, meaning his former team received absolutely nothing as compensation for his departure.
Dany Heatley: Was traded for Milan Michalek and Jonathan Cheechoo, meaning his former team received absolutely nothing as compensation for his departure.

Lebron James: Helped lead Cleveland to the franchise's first and only appearance in the finals in 2007.
Dany Heatley: Helped lead Ottawa to the franchise's first and only appearance in the finals in 2007, although if you're talking to a Senators fan it's easier to just pretend that you think accomplishments by a different team with the same name from 100 years ago still somehow count.

Lebron James: Along with Wade, made it a top priority to ensure that former Raptor power forward Chris Bosh would also sign a free agent deal in Miami.
Dany Heatley: Prefers to pick up his own coffee and dry-cleaning.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Democracy doesn't work: All-star voting through the years

Did we say all-stars? Maybe we
should have said "mostly stars".
This week saw the release of the first batch of results of fan voting for the 2011 all-star game. With this year's game featuring a creative new format that will see players divided up with a schoolyard-style draft, fans are paying close attention to the voting results as they come in.

The numbers so far have certainly given us plenty to talk about. Fans have organized write-in campaigns for players ranging from Paul Bissonnette to Sean Avery to Carey Price. Meanwhile, so-called star players such as Ilya Kovalchuk and Vincent Lecavalier trail far behind.

Debating the all-star votes has become an annual tradition that dates back to the inception of fan-chosen teams in 1986. Here's a look back at some of the more memorable moments in fan voting over the years.

November, 2008 - Montreal Canadien fans launch a ballot-stuffing campaign they discretely refer to as "Operation let's get a mediocre defenceman elected to the all-star team and then see if the Maple Leafs will massively overpay him in free agency".

December, 2006 - The NHL scoffs at accusations that they've tampered with the results of the balloting after announcing that a record 100% of fans have cast their vote for Gregory Campbell.

January, 1987 - Despite your careful efforts to punch the ballot just right and then hand it to the patiently waiting usher, you are devastated to learn that your childhood hero has not been selected for the game. Years later you will pinpoint the experience as the exact moment you learned the lifelong lesson that voting for things that are important to you is a complete waste of time.

February, 2009 - Three weeks after the all-star game is played, mailed-in ballots from Blackhawks general manager Dale Tallon begin arriving at league headquarters.

January, 1997 - Claude Lemieux is flattered to learn that he has been named a starter on the Western Conference team thanks to a write-in campaign organized by Detroit Red Wing fans, although that feeling fades somewhat when he realizes that the same campaign has also elected Eastern Conference starters Rob Ray, Tie Domi, and an angry Doberman.

December, 2008 - Rick DiPietro casts a vote for himself, then spends six months on injured reserve due to the resulting paper cut.

January, 2001 - Defenceman Mark Eaton is the runaway vote leader in fan balloting, causing the league to rethink that season's heavily criticized "Delaware vs. The World" format.

December, 2009 - Attempts by Calgary ownership to encourage fans to flood the league office with write-in votes for Flames players goes awry when the players mistakenly assume the slogan "This Year, Let's All Mail It In!" is the team's new mission statement.

January, 2004 - A concerted write-in campaign by Ottawa Senator fans results in the entire Eastern Conference starting lineup consisting of variations of the phrase "Leafs suck".

January, 1993 - The league's efforts to encourage grade school children to vote backfires when the two starting goaltending spots are won in a landslide by Ron Tugnutt and Daren Puppa.

October, 1998 - The NHL's first attempt at online voting proves unpopular with fans, mainly due to its requirement that fans log in to the web site, click on their favourite player's name, and then mail their computer to the league's head office.

January, 1991 - Chris Nilan is named to the Wales Conference all-star team by head coach Mike Milbury, which would be the funniest joke in this entire piece except that it actually happened.

December, 2008 - Sidney Crosby attempts to cast his vote, but is thwarted in his efforts to punch the ballot after being unable to locate its crotch.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Gary Bettman's flowchart for dealing with NHL scandals

The NHL is coming off yet another tough week on the PR front. The Colin Campbell email controversy continues to rage, despite the league's best efforts to assure everyone that it's no big deal.

Of course, the Campbell story is only the latest in a growing list of controversies that Gary Bettman's administration has had to deal with recently. We saw the messy accusations of bias against referee Stephane Auger earlier this year. The Phoenix Coyotes saga continues to drag on with no end in sight. And let's not even get into the seemingly endless parade of owners who find themselves embroiled in various financial conflicts.

But to his credit, Bettman doesn't let those close to him off the hook. Just like players and coaches, league officials are held to high standards and can face serious repercussions for stepping out of line. The league has a strict policy in place for ensuring accountability and they follow it to the letter. Last week's Campbell situation was only the latest example.

Here, thanks to my spies at the NHL head office, is the league's official document for handling high-level scandals and controversies.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Code: Hockey's unwritten rules revealed

Wait, I think one of us might be
doing it wrong.
Hockey fans often hear about the infamous "unwritten code" that governs fighting in the NHL. Any time there's an incident involving punches being thrown, you can count on someone making reference to The Code and whether a particular player's actions have violated it.

Unfortunately, it's a myth.

No, not the existence of The Code itself. It's the "unwritten" part that everyone has wrong. In reality, The Code has been written down in detail and passed on from one generation of NHL tough guys to the next. Every enforcer in the league has a copy; they just don't let us see it.

Until now, that is. I've obtained a tattered copy of The Code, and transcribed it below. It's time that hockey fans knew the truth.


Dear enforcer,

Welcome to the league. In your role as an NHL tough guy, you will be expected to conduct yourself according to a traditional set of rules and procedures. We call them The Code, and they are the rules we live by.

Please read The Code carefully and thoroughly, and follow it at all times.

Weight classes
All players shall be divided into the following weight classes, listed in descending order of toughness:
  • Heavyweight
  • Cruiserweight
  • Middleweight
  • Lightweight
  • Doug Weight
Choosing an opponent
The Code dictates that players should stay within their weight class whenever possible. For example, a heavyweight may only fight:
  • Another heavyweight
  • A cruiserweight who has instigated the confrontation
  • A lightweight who has attempted to injure a teammate
  • An overweight Flyers fan who has fallen into the penalty box.
  • The nagging feeling that your job will no longer exist in three years.
Rules of engagement
Any of the following phrases, when spoken directly to an opponent, shall be taken as a invitation to fight:
  • "Let's go."
  • "Wanna drop the gloves?"
  • "Would you like hear a detailed rundown of my fantasy draft?"
  • "Whoa oh oh, this is Canada's team!"
  • "I don't know, Paul, to be honest I find your twitter account sort of juvenile and repetitive."
When to fight
It is considered appropriate to initiate a fight when:
  • Your team has lost momentum at home, and you want to wake up the crowd
  • An opponent has committed a serious offence for which immediate retribution is required
  • You suddenly realize that you haven't been mentioned on Coach's Corner in almost three weeks
  • Colin Campbell e-mailed you and told you to. (Note: It's probably a good idea to delete the e-mail afterwards)
When not to fight
Avoid fighting under inappropriate circumstances, such as when:
  • The coach has given you specific instructions not to
  • Late in a close game, when an instigator penalty could result in a crucial powerplay goal
  • Your opponent is not expecting it, since he's busy listening to the national anthem
  • Some other completely inappropriate time, such as the playoffs
Punishable acts
Any of the following acts shall be deemed in violation of The Code, and deserving of an immediate punch in the face:
  • Shooting a puck towards the net after a whistle
  • Spraying snow on a goalie who has covered the puck
  • Revealing the ending to "The Wire" to someone who hasn't finished watching the DVDs yet
  • Attempting that cheap breakaway move from NHL 94
  • Being Sean Avery
Removal of equipment
If, in the moments immediately preceding a fight, an opposing player:
  • Removes his gloves: You must do the same
  • Removes his helmet and visor: You should do the same
  • Removes his elbow pad: You may do the same if you choose to
  • Removes his shirt and pants: You should consider the possibility that you are not actually in a fight and have instead accidentally wandered into Patrick Kane's limousine
When the fight is over
An altercation is considered over as soon as any of the following occur:
  • The linesmen make their first effort to intervene
  • One or both players goes to the ice
  • The opponent's trainer asks if you could hold off hitting him for a few seconds while they get him on to the stretcher
  • The Minnesota Wild fan gets a hand free and starts dialling his lawyer on his cell phone
  • Pretty much as soon as it begins, if you are Matt Carkner and the other guy is Colton Orr
This concludes The Code. Remember, memorize its rules and follow them at all times.

(Unless, you know, somebody makes you really mad. Then just go ahead and do whatever you want.)

Friday, November 19, 2010

A look inside Colin Campbell's inbox

"Wait, these e-mails seem fake. I didn't
know Marc Savard had a blog..."
The NHL was plunged into controversy this week after three-year-old internal emails between director of hockey operations Colin Campbell and former director of officiating Stephen Walkom were exposed by Toronto blogger Tyler Dellow.

At worst, the emails indicate that Campbell could be biased. At best, they paint him as a hands-on boss who was sending Walkom a steady stream of frank feedback on how games should be called.

Campbell may not have learned from past mistakes, as explosive new emails between Campbell and his staff have emerged today.

From: Colin Campbell
To: Stephen Walkom

Hey Stephen, did you happen to catch the Bruins game? I have several pages of feedback on the officiating I'd like to discuss with you.

From: Stephen Walkom
To: Colin Campbell

Colin, we've been over this. I quit as the director of officiating in 2009 and went back to refereeing. You need to email my replacement, Terry Gregson.

From: Colin Campbell
To: Stephen Walkom

Right, right, I forgot. Say, refresh my memory, why did you quit again?

From: Stephen Walkom
To: Colin Campbell

Oh, no reason.

From: Colin Campbell
To: Terry Gregson


From: Terry Gregson
To: Colin Campbell

Oh bloody hell. Um, I mean…. Vacation alert! I will be out of the office, returning in … uh… May.

From: Colin Campbell
To: Terry Gregson

Nice try Terry! Look, I want to chat about last night's Bruins game. I've started watching every single one of their games this year, for no particular reason, and I'm not crazy about how some of them are being called.

From: Terry Gregson
To: Colin Campbell

OK. Just remember, no names. We don't need some blogger digging around again. Keep it generic.

From: Colin Campbell
To: Terry Gregson

Of course, Terry. I think I know the rules. So anyway, did you see that one play involving the 6-foot-9 Slovak defenceman?

From: Terry Gregson
To: Colin Campbell

OK. See, right there Colie, this is the sort of thing we're talking about.

From: Colin Campbell
To: Terry Gregson

What? That could be anybody!

From: Terry Gregson
To: Stephen Walkom

Have I told you lately that I hate you?

From: Stephen Walkom
To: Terry Gregson

You're on your own, buddy.

From: Colin Campbell
To: Terry Gregson

What's the matter Terry, did you decide to stop replying to my emails? Ha ha!

From: Colin Campbell
To: Terry Gregson

(Seriously, though, if you decided to stop replying to my emails then you're fired.)

From: Terry Gregson
To: Colin Campbell

Sorry, were you emailing me? Strangest thing, I haven't been getting them. They must go straight into my spam filter or something.

From: Terry Gregson
To: Stephen Walkom

By the way, thanks for your help with setting up that spam filter.

From: Stephen Walkom
To: Terry Gregson

It was the least I could do.

From: Colin Campbell
To: Terry Gregson

Really? I swear, everybody I try to email ends up telling me that. There must be some kind of problem with my computer. I'm going to contact tech support and see what's going on.

From: Colin Campbell
To: Tech support

Hi there. I bought a laptop from you guys this year and I'm having email problems.

From: Dean Warren
To: Colin Campbell

Hello sir, my name is Dean. How can I assist you today?

From: Colin Campbell
To: Dean Warren

… Dean?

From: Dean Warren
To: Colin Campbell

Oh. Um. Hmm. This is awkward.

From: Colin Campbell
To: Dean Warren

Hey, look, at least you landed on your feet. No hard feelings, right?

From: Dean Warren
To: Colin Campbell

[Your email was undeliverable, as it triggered the recipient's spam filter.]

From: Colin Campbell
To: Dean Warren

Oh come on!

From: Colin Campbell
To: All NHL referees and alumni

OK everyone, listen up. I've been emailing all of you with detailed feedback about calls against Gregory Cam-uh, against a mysterious unnamed NHL player. But nobody ever replies! Kerry, what's the matter, can't take five minutes from your precious book tour to chat with an old friend?

From: Kerry Fraser
To: Colin Campbell

What? Sorry, I didn't see your email.

From: Colin Campbell
To: Kerry Fraser

Let me guess… spam filter?

From: Kerry Fraser
To: Colin Campbell

Spam what? No, I just have this bad habit of not seeing really important things for no particular reason.

From: Terry Gregson
To: Colin Campbell

So anyway, I've got to go and, um, set my computer on fire.

From: Dean Warren
To: Colin Campbell

Why am I even still on this list?

From: Stephen Walkom
To: Colin Campbell


From: Colin Campbell
To: All NHL referees and alumni

Fine, jerks. I'll find something else to do.

From: Facebook
To: Gregory Campbell

Colin Campbell just tagged you in the photo album "Squeaky clean hits that should never have been penalties".

From: Gregory Campbell
To: Colin Campbell


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

So You've Made the NHL: Do's and Don'ts for New Call Ups

The minute he saw the one-legged kid
flailing all over the ice, Brian Burke
knew he'd found his first-line center.
The Toronto Maple Leafs embarked on a youth movement of sorts last week, calling up top prospect Nazem Kadri along with fellow rookie Keith Aulie. The transactions dominated hockey headlines as soon as they were announced, with fans and experts debating the decision well into the weekend.

With all the attention paid to the move, you'd think Kadri was the first prospect ever called up to the NHL. That's nonsense, of course, as call-ups are a common part of the game. So common, in fact, that the league has prepared a little known set of guidelines that all new call-ups are required to review before playing their first game.

A copy of those guidelines was recently leaked to me, and I've reproduced them below.


Dear miscellaneous rookie,

Congratulations on your recent call-up, and welcome to the National Hockey League!

While you're no doubt excited about this opportunity, you're probably wondering how to behave now that you've reached the game's highest level. To assist you in this important career step, we suggest you carefully review the following tips on what you should and shouldn't be doing in the big leagues.

Do: Take the opportunity to say goodbye to your teammates before leaving the minor league affiliate.
Do not: Do so by bursting out of the coach's office shouting "so long, scrubs" while throwing wadded up dollar bills around the dressing room.

Do: Be prepared to do interviews with members of the media.
Do not: Violate official NHL policy by accidentally saying something that could be construed as vaguely interesting.

Do: Ask the referee for the puck after you score your first goal against an NHL goaltender.
Do not: Ask the referee for the puck after you score your first goal against Pascal Leclaire.

Do: Look forward to the fun and excitement of visiting various exciting cities around the continent.
Do not: Look too disappointed when you find out your first game is in Edmonton instead.

Do: Take the opportunity to politely greet any NHL players that you've admired since your youth.
Do not: Prepare for a friendly handshake by quickly discarding your gloves the first time you meet Zdeno Chara.

Do: Expect that now that you're making an NHL salary, you'll be tempted to try to purchase the first expensive vehicle you see.
Do not: Ask the zamboni driver if you can take it for a test drive.

Do: Look forward to being mentioned by Don Cherry on Coach's Corner.
Do not: Be surprised when he mispronounces your name, even if it's something seemingly simple like "Smith" or "Jones" or "Cherry".

Do: If you have family in Toronto, splurge on front row tickets for the first time your team comes to play at the ACC.
Do not: Score your first career goal during the opening ten minutes of a period, since they won't be there to see it.

Do: Tell your girlfriend before you leave that while it will be difficult living in separate cities, you hope that you can find a way to continue the relationship.
Do not: Become distracted during this important conversation by the supermodels waving champagne glasses and honking the horn of the running convertible in your driveway.

Do: Be prepared to feel as if you don't quite fit in at first among the guys in the dressing room.
Do not: Make the situation worse by insisting on showering in your bathing suit.

Do: Continue to play the same sort of tough, physical game that helped you get called up in the first place.
Do not: Play that way against Gregory Campbell. Um, you're just going to have to trust us on that one.

Do: Take the opportunity to ask questions during practice if there is something you don't understand.
Do not: Ask "Hey, Coach Wilson, will we still be using this same system next month once the new head coach has started?"

Friday, November 12, 2010

Differences between the NHL all-star fantasy draft and your fantasy draft

Um, kid, don't turn around, but there's a
terrible player staring at you right now.
The NHL showed its creative side this week with the announcement of a bold new format for the annual all-star game. Instead of featuring the East vs. West or North America vs. the World formats used in previous seasons, this year's game will see teams captained by two of the league's star players.

But the real selling point is the way the teams will be chosen. The two captains will be given a list of eligible players, and will take turns filling their rosters in a televised draft on the Friday of all-star weekend.

The league is trying to sell the idea to fans as a "fantasy draft". But is it? Most NHL fans have experienced a fantasy draft or two in their day. And they'll probably realize that, inspired as it may be, this all-star draft will differ from a typical fantasy draft in several important ways.

Your fantasy draft: The owner of the first pick is determined by drawing names out of a hat.
NHL all-star draft: The owner of the first pick is determined by drawing names out of a hat, all of which have been rigged to say "Sidney Crosby".

NHL all-star draft: The entire draft is broadcast to fans on national television in the US and Canada.
Your fantasy draft: The entire draft is broadcast to the guy with the cubicle next to the boardroom who keeps mumbling about having actual work to do.

Your fantasy draft: The league is managed by a commissioner who's usually some loud-mouthed, annoying, self-professed hockey expert who everyone barely tolerates but secretly despises.
NHL all-star draft: Gary Bettman has never claimed to be a hockey expert.

NHL all-star draft: Anyone who doesn't draft Chris Pronger risks making him angry, leading to the possibility of getting elbowed in the throat during a subsequent game.
Your fantasy draft: The odds of Chris Pronger actually taking the time to personally hunt you down and injure you are probably less than 80%.

Your fantasy draft: The proceedings inevitably grind to a halt because of some guy who has never actually participated in a draft before and doesn't know what he's supposed to do.
NHL all-star draft: To prevent that from happening, the league will avoid inviting any Maple Leaf scouts.

Your fantasy draft: You can find out how your team did by checking your league's web site.
NHL all-star draft: You can find out how your team did by checking the last four seconds of an ESPN SportsCenter broadcast.

Your fantasy draft: It can be a little bit frustrating when somebody drafts a good player one pick before you were planning to.
NHL all-star draft: It can be more than a little bit frustrating when somebody drafts your identical twin brother one pick before you were planning to.

Your fantasy draft: You're basically drafting players who can score as many points as possible, with virtually no regard to defensive abilities.
NHL all-star draft: Wait, sorry, what are "defensive abilities"?

Your fantasy draft: Before drafting a player, it's a good idea to make sure he's healthy by quickly checking the internet.
NHL all-star draft: Before drafting a player, it's a good idea to make sure he's healthy by checking him headfirst into the end boards and seeing whether he can still get up.

NHL all-star draft: A Bruins goaltender is selected early, when Tim Thomas hears his name called.
Your fantasy draft: A Bruins goaltender is selected early, when you draft Tuuka Rask in the third round because that's what the "experts" told you to do and then you watch him lose his starting job on the season's opening weekend and basically ruin your chances of ever winning anything and making you want to smash your computer monitor over your own head every time you check your league standings, not that this happened to me.

Your fantasy draft: Nobody drafts any New York Islanders.
NHL all-star draft: Same.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A look at the agenda for today's NHL general managers meeting

Hello, complaints hotline?
This breadstick tastes terrible!
All 30 NHL general managers will be in Toronto today for their annual discussion on the state of the game. And while that may sound like just another boring business meeting, there could be some fireworks this year.

The meeting has become an important part of the league calendar, as it gives each GM an opportunity to let his colleagues know what's on his mind. And this year, many of the league's highest profile general managers appear to have plenty that they want to get off their chests.

According to sources, every general manager was given the opportunity to submit one agenda item for discussion. Here's a sampling of what's been bothering several of the league's biggest front office names:

Don Maloney, Phoenix Coyotes - The use of social media by players like Paul Bissonnette violates our league marketing policy by allowing fans to become aware of the existence of players other than Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin.

Doug Wilson, San Jose Sharks - We'd like to rescind our previous support for the league's new policy on headshots, as we were not told that those rules might be enforced against players on our roster.

Dale Tallon, Florida Panthers - We must institute a detailed coach's review system for initiating replays on all goals scored by Colton Orr, because man, you just know that guy did something.

Glen Sather, New York Rangers - We should definitely renew that league bylaw that prevents teams from firing general managers. Wait, we don't have that rule? Seriously? Wow.

Lou Lamoriello, New Jersey Devils - Hey guys, remember in the summer when you said you'd veto the Ilya Kovalchuk contract if there was any evidence of collusion? Well, craziest thing, but guess what I found behind the filing cabinet this morning?

Steve Tambellini, Edmonton Oilers - That whole thing with the jersey number was bad enough, but now Taylor Hall is obsessed with getting Kevin Lowe's executive parking spot too.

George McPhee, Washington Capitals - Hey, what if just to mix it up this year we gave the President's Trophy to the team that won four playoff rounds and the Stanley Cup to whoever wound up with the most regular season points?

Ken Holland, Detroit Red Wings - In an attempt to reduce the role of the shootout, maybe we could try a radical new system in which tie games would be settled by playing actual hockey.

Dean Lombardi, Los Angeles Kings - We must move quickly to institute a limit on the length and value of contract extensions for third year players, or at least convince Drew Doughty's agent that we did.

Greg Sherman, Colorado Avalanche - Look, I know I'm not exactly a veteran here, but I've been on the job for over a year now so it would be cool if I could sit at the big table with you guys instead of at this little folding table off to the side and … no? OK, just checking, I guess I'll be over here if anyone needs me.

Brian Burke, Toronto Maple Leafs - We must find a way to prevent fans from doing disgraceful things like booing Dion Phaneuf, and get them to start doing more reasonable things like booing the entire team, coaching staff, and front office.

Chuck Fletcher, Minnesota Wild - You know that whole thing about the sins of the father being visited upon the son? That doesn't apply to Jeff Finger, right?

Joe Nieuwendyk, Dallas Stars - Just spitballing here, but maybe we could spend a few minutes trying to figure out what the Hall of Fame selection committee's problem is.

Darcy Regier, Buffalo Sabres - Instead of waiting until the first week of November, we should consider having the season start in early October. Wait, what do you mean we already do that? But we told our players that… Uh oh.

Friday, November 5, 2010

An NHL fan's guide to booing

I have no idea who this kid is, but I
guarantee that by now he has a blog.
Brian Burke made headlines in Toronto this week with a verbal attack aimed at Maple Leaf fans. After new captain Dion Phaneuf appeared to be booed by a small group of fans during Saturday's game, Burke held court with media to blast the response as "disgraceful".

Burke highlights a classic dilemma. Is it ever OK for a fan to boo? If so, when? And at who? It's a confusing issue, with different standards depending on who you talk to.

I think it's time to start working towards some guidelines. I can't claim to have all the answers, but here are some suggestions to get the discussion started.

Current players
Booing of a current player is controversial. On the one hand, you've just paid hundreds of dollars to watch a multi-millionaire play a game and you may feel like you have a right to express your opinion. On the other hand, booing can make players feel sad, and sad players are less likely to do fun things like crosscheck each other in the larynx.

Here are some do's and don't to help you decide who to boo.

DO: Boo the player at an appropriate time, such as when they have possession of the puck.
DO NOT: Boo the player at an inappropriate time, such as when they're dropping their children off at daycare.

DO NOT: Boo your new captain who has only had the "C" for ten games.
DO: Wait until he's played a more reasonable number, like 11.

DO: Boo players who may be struggling due to a lack of conditioning.
DO NOT: Suffer any cognitive dissonance over doing so while face-mashing your fourth hot dog of the period.

Opposing players
While booing a home team player may be frowned upon, it goes without saying that opposing players are held to a different standard. That said, you can't just boo every player who comes into your building. Standards are important.

In general, players targeted for booing should be star players who have committed an unforgivable sin against your favourite team, such as throwing a body check or scoring a goal or playing reasonably well. In addition, the following players can be booed at all times:
  • Sean Avery
  • Daniel Carcillo
  • Daniel Alfredsson, but only when playing in a building packed with Leaf fans, such as in Toronto or Ottawa
  • Chris Pronger
  • Any player who has caused the game to be delayed by paramedics after angering Chris Pronger
  • Any player who does that "point into the stands and look for a referee after the puck goes over the glass" thing.
  • Rick Rypien, assuming you have your lawyer on speed dial.

Finally, hockey fans should boo center Mattias Ritola of the Tampa Bay Lightning every time he touches the puck. This isn't really a rule; I just think it would be funny if we all started doing it at once for no reason. If he gets confused and asks what's going on, just yell "You know what you did!" and then boo even louder. Let's make this happen.

Former players
Deciding whether or not to boo a returning former player can be tricky. While there is often lingering resentment over a player's departure, it can seem hypocritical to boo a player who you've spent the last several years cheering for.

Based on my observations of fans around the league, it would appear that booing a returning player is allowed if and only if:
  • The player left the team in a trade
  • The player left the team as a free agent
  • The player left the team as part of an expansion draft
  • They refused to waive a no-trade clause
  • They agreed to waive a no-trade clause
  • They played well for your team
  • They played poorly for your team
  • They are a carbon-based life form

But except for those very specific circumstances, booing a returning former player is never allowed.

Of course, players aren't the only participants in an NHL game. Anyone who appears in front of fans is a potential booing target. But should they be?
  • Referees and linesmen should not be booed unless they have done something to deserve it, such as step on to the ice.

  • Booing of a national anthem is never acceptable. However, it is appropriate to boo the anthem singer if they are eight minutes into their reinterpretation of The Star Spangled Banner and still haven't got to the part about the rockets and bombs.

  • Finally, it should go without saying that it is never OK to boo the small children who take part in the exhibition games during intermission. Instead, just stick to chanting "Fight! Fight! Fight!"

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Inside Gary Bettman's Halloween party

In hindsight, it may have been a mistake to
let John MacLean carve the pumpkin.
NHL fans likely noticed an odd schedule quirk over the weekend. After a Saturday that featured 28 teams in action for the busiest night of the year, there wasn't so much as a single game played on Sunday.

Coincidence? Maybe not. Sources tell me that the league-wide night off was the result of a direct order from commissioner Gary Bettman, who wanted to make sure everyone would be available to attend his annual Halloween party.

In fact, those same sources were there that night and provided me with a complete transcript of how the evening unfolded.

Scene: An opulent home in Manhattan. The party is just getting underway, and various NHL personalities are helping to put the finishing touches on the decorations. Colin Campbell is hanging black and orange streamers, Ken Holland is carving a pumpkin, and John Ferguson Jr. is hanging stockings over the fireplace.

There's a knock at the door, which is answered by a man in a Napoleon costume.

Gary Bettman: Hi! Come on in!

Deputy commissioner Bill Daly enters, wearing a banana costume with the number two painted on the back..

Daly: Hi Gary. How's the party going this year?

Bettman: So far, so good. It's a decent turnout, and everyone seems to be having fun.

Daly: What about the costumes?

Bettman: Hit and miss. The Sedins just switched jerseys and came as each other. But Mark Recchi's zombie outfit is getting more realistic every year, and Jarome Iginla looks great walking around with a Kings jersey and a calendar turned to March, 2011.

Daly: Who's the guy sitting on your couch in the elaborate Grim Reaper costume?

Bettman: Oh, that's Donald Fehr.

Daly: I see. And that necklace made of skulls is…

Bettman: Various MLB owners, apparently.

Daly: Wow. I'm surprised you even invited him.

Bettman: I didn't. He's been sitting there like that since August.

Fehr points a bony finger at Bettman, then takes a bite out of one of the skulls.

Bettman and Daly: (shudder)

They're interrupted by Peter Chiarelli, wearing a black toque and bandit's mask.

Chiarelli: Um, did you guys know that John Ferguson Jr. is hiding eggs in your front yard?

Daly: Yeah, don't worry about it. What's with the burglar's outfit?

Chiarelli: Hold on a second.

Chiarelli reaches over and grabs a handful of candy from the bag of an unsuspecting Brian Burke.

Chiarelli: Sorry, you were saying?

Daly: Never mind. That reminds me, Gary, how's the rest of the candy distribution going?

Bettman: Not so good. Ted Leonsis keeps telling everyone they're doing it wrong. Glenn Sather gave the first kid who showed up twice as much candy as he deserved. And Lou Lamoriello gave all his candy to Ilya Kovalchuk and now doesn't have any left over for anyone else.

Daly: Ouch.

Bettman: Also, let's just say that giving out lollipops to James Wisniewski was a bad idea.

They're interrupted by Brian Burke, dressed as mad scientist.

Bettman: Hi Brian. Enjoying the party?

Burke: Well, I just found out the Peter Chiarelli stole all my candy. But I'm just going to pretend that I'm OK with that, and that everything went according to plan. You all believe me, don't you?

Bettman: Of course we do.

Burke: By the way, great job on the decorations out front. The blood-splattered walls, the bodies sprawled every where, the anguished shrieks that echo out from all corners…

Bettman: Uh, we didn't decorate the front of the house.

Burke: Oh. Then that would mean…

Bettman: Oh no…

A figure riding a motorcycle smashes through Bettman's plate-glass window and skids to a stop in his living room.

Chris Pronger: Boo-yah!

Bettman stares at Pronger's outfit: a torn straightjacket, dented welder's mask, and spiked leather shoulder pads with what appear to be eyeballs stuck on the tips.

Bettman: Hi Chris. Nice costume.

Pronger: Costume?

Bettman: Never mind. Help yourself to the buffet.

Pronger: Ooh, crab cakes!

Daly: Rough night, eh Gary?

Bettman: Well, put it this way. Nobody seems to have enough candy. Half the guest list is currently being loaded into ambulances thanks to Chris Pronger. Donald Fehr just managed to convince the paramedics to go on strike. And John Ferguson Jr. appears to be handing out homemade Valentine's cards.

Daly: Hmm.

Bettman: You know what this means, don't you Bill?

Daly: I sure do, Gary.

Bettman: Tonight's party has been easily the most successful thing I've accomplished in my 17 years as commissioner!

Daly: And they said these parties can't be scary.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Shocking revelations from Kerry Fraser's new book

We need someone to crush DGB's teenage
dreams, raise your hand if you volunteer.
Despite his officiating career ending in April, former NHL referee Kerry Fraser has been back in the public eye lately. Fraser has been making the publicity rounds for his new book The Final Call, which details his 30 years as an official.

As the league's all-time leader in games worked, Fraser has a treasure trove of stories and insights to share with fans. And while some fans still insist on focusing on a small handful of controversial moments in his career, the book goes well beyond those few isolated incidents. Fraser pulls no punches in describing the life of an official both on and off the ice, including several details that have never been discussed publicly.

While my advanced copy of the book has mysteriously failed to arrive yet, various sources within the publishing industry have confirmed several explosive revelations.

  • Apparently there was some sort of controversial call involving the Leafs and Kings a few years back, and it's sort of surprising that nobody ever brings that up anymore.

  • Despite the paranoid fantasies of your childhood Fraser did not actually "hate" your favourite team or player, but instead hated you, personally.

  • All NHL referees dread running into commissioner Gary Bettman, since they inevitably end up having to spend an hour explaining why they don't call travelling more often.

  • According to an emotional passage on the first page, the entire book is dedicated to Bill McCreary's moustache.

  • Contrary to popular belief, the phrase "Screw the Vancouver Canucks" does not appear anywhere within main body of the NHL rule book, and only three times in the appendix.

  • In one of those quirky sports coincidences, every one of the 2,165 games Fraser ever officiated ended in a tie.

  • Whenever you call in for a video review they always tell you that they're "experiencing unusually high call volumes", as if you don't know that they're just too cheap to hire more customer service reps.

  • He owns a share of the all-time record for "most all-star game penalties called", with zero.

  • He was steered into refereeing by a high school guidance counsellor who thought he might enjoy having every single decision he made for the rest of his life second-guessed by angry drunk people.

  • The book contains 50 full color photographs, 47 of which are shots of small children in Maple Leaf jerseys crying.

  • Prior to working the Nagano Olympics in 1998, he jokingly told Team Canada coach Marc Crawford that international rules barred players with jersey numbers higher than 90 from taking part in the shootout.

  • During the 1986 playoffs, he once gave Al Secord a game misconduct penalty for humming "We Built This City" during the pregame warmup.

  • When he called the infamous illegal stick penalty on Marty McSorley in the 1993 Cup finals, the Kings' enforcer told him "Wow, this is the worst thing that's ever happened to me that didn't involve Wendel Clark's fist turning my orbital bone into a pulpy shard-filled paste".

  • Up until 1982, the entire NHL rulebook was written on the back of a matchbook from a pub in Raymore, Saskatchewan.

  • He could never understand why fans in all 30 NHL cities always chanted “Bruuuuce” at him from the moment he stepped on the ice every night, because duh, his name isn’t Bruce.

  • During instant replay reviews in the Toronto war room, NHL vice-president of hockey operations Mike Murphy refuses to rule on any disputed goal until he's been able to recreate it exactly using the bubble hockey game he keeps in his office.

  • The book's foreword by Wayne Gretzky contains a bunch of really obvious typos and grammatical errors, but somehow Fraser failed to see them.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Other NHL superstars who wound up in the doghouse

The press box is way up there, huh?
After dominating headlines during the offseason, Ilya Kovalchuk was back in the news over the weekend. In a shocking move, rookie Devils' coach John MacLean made his $100 million winger a healthy scratch for the team's game against the Sabres.

The move has been debated heavily in recent days, with many observers questioning the strategy's effectiveness. General manager Lou Lamoriello has offered his support for MacLean's decision, although he refused to say whether he'd consider a similar move next week once he's head coach.

But while Kovalchuk may be the highest paid healthy scratch of all-time, he's far from the first elite player to be singled out by management. Below are a few examples of other NHL superstars who found themselves in their team's doghouse at some point in their careers.

January, 1996 - In an effort to get him to take on more of a leadership role, Bruins head coach Steve Kasper humiliates Cam Neely by benching him during a nationally televised game. To his credit, Neely responds positively the very next day by delivering a moving eulogy at the funeral of Steve Kasper.

March, 1998 - Canucks coach Mike Keenan calls captain Mark Messier into his office to explain that, while the league's policy on gambling may be open to interpretation, he still needs to stop constantly trying to bet his teammates that they can't eat just one.

January, 2004 - Enraged by Jason Spezza's inability to adhere to his defensive system, Jacques Martin is quickly restrained by his assistants after briefly displaying a facial expression.

February, 2009 - After becoming upset that his team isn't listening to him in practice, Mike Babcock's attempt at sarcasm fails when the team responds to his taunt of "maybe you all need to turn up your hearing aids" by agreeing that that's a pretty good idea and turning up their hearing aids.

December, 1987 - After chewing out franchise player Wayne Gretzky during a practice, Oilers' coach Glen Sather is accused by local media of doing the dumbest thing he could possibly do. He immediately vows to spend the rest of his managerial career proving them wrong.

January, 2006 - Penguins coach Michel Therrien grows frustrated when star player Mario Lemieux repeatedly responds to criticism by saying "Hey, good point, maybe you should call up the owner and let him know."

March, 1993 - Pat Burns shows that he doesn't play favourites when he briefly removes a slumping Doug Gilmour from the team's first line, although Gilmour does remain on the second, third, and fourth lines, both power play units, and the penalty kill.

September, 2010 - Outraged by his off-ice behaviour, Edmonton Oiler management informs a devastated Nikolai Khabibulin that effective immediately he will be forced to be their starting goaltender.

April, 1988 - Tired of his young franchise player's constant complaints about the quality of the roster, Red Wings general manager Jim Devellano angrily informs Steve Yzerman that being an NHL general manager isn't easy since it's not like other teams just call up and offer you star players for nothing.

July, 1995 - In an effort to "send a message" to the rest of the team, you briefly demote Jeremy Roenick from the first line during a game of NHL 95 even though it makes your big brother call you a spaz while punching you in the shoulder.

October, 2010 - The Islanders attempts to emulate the Devils by scratching their highest paid player prove fruitless when they are unable to figure out how to bench Alexei Yashin's buyout.

December, 1995 - In a strong statement that still resonates to this day, the Montreal Canadiens make it clear to Patrick Roy that the franchise will simply not tolerate championship-calibre goaltending.