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.