Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Handicapping the NHL awards race

This year's Hart favourite
and/or last year's winner.
With the season winding down, it's a good time to look ahead to award season. Which players will be collecting hardware when the league hands out its traditional trophies for regular season excellence?

Here's a look at the current favourites for the major awards.


Hart Trophy
Awarded to the same player who wins the Art Ross trophy for leading the league in scoring, but that won't stop us all from arguing about it for two months.

Daniel Sedin - Would win the award for the second straight year, insists the old guy who takes the photos of the winners standing next to the trophy.

Steven Stamkos - Scores most of his goals on identical one-timers from the exact same spot, which is what happens when kids who grew up playing the EA Sports NHL video game series start entering league.

Corey Perry - This underrated player would be one of the league's biggest stars if he played in a market like New York or Toronto according to the west coast hockey media, we think, although to be honest we pretty much tuned them out as soon as they started talking.


Vezina Trophy
Awarded for excellence in goaltending, as voted on by the same general mangers who give multimillion dollar contracts to guys like Michael Leighton and Nikolai Khabibulin.

Carey Price - Is going to have been totally robbed if he doesn't win, according to thousands of Montreal 911 callers.

Pekka Rinne - When you see the sort of numbers he's putting up, you can't help but make a mental note to yourself to look up which team it is that he plays for.

Tim Thomas - Has a fantastic goals against average thanks to not actually facing a shot on net ever since Zdeno Chara started standing at the blue line during pregame warm ups, pointing to the stanchion and cracking his knuckles.


Jack Adams Award
Awarded to the coach of the team that most outperformed the preseason media consensus, since how else could media predictions ever turn out wrong?

Dan Bylsma - The popular wacky neighbour character from HBO's 24/7 series has now been spun off into his very own show.

Guy Boucher - Rookie head coach quickly figured out which skills would be most important behind the Lightning bench; namely, making annoyed eye contact with the backup goalie.

Jacques Lemaire - Would be an unlikely choice, given that the team barely listened to a word he said until December.


Calder Trophy
Awarded to that really good rookie who your team totally would have drafted if they had only listened to you.

Jeff Skinner - It would be fun to see him sprint to the stage in Vegas to accept the award while a group of security guards chased after him yelling about how preteens aren't allowed on casino grounds.

Corey Crawford - Managed to win the starter's job away from Marty Turco, which is something most rookies wouldn't be able to do in the sense that most rookies aren't goalies.

Logan Couture - Will probably win, given that he was drafted by the Sharks thanks to the Vesa Toskala trade and the hockey gods haven't given Maple Leaf fans a good solid kick in the solar plexus in almost a whole month.


Norris Trophy
Awarded annually to the defenceman adjudged to be Nicklas Lidstrom.

Kris Letang - Stepped up to fill an important void in Pittsburgh by being willing to not be injured for half the season.

Keith Yandle - Has the disadvantage of playing for the Phoenix Coyotes, meaning the only way most hockey fans will ever hear his name is if Paul Bissonnette tweets about him.

Nicklas Lidstrom - Is actually on pace to be a minus player for the first time in his career, although he'd be +35 if you don't count that one game where the Red Wings let Chris Osgood play.


Selke Trophy
Awarded to the best offensive forward who has ever been within 30 feet of his own goaltender.

Jonathan Toews - Should probably win, since if he doesn't he'll just stare at the trophy until it spontaneously combusts.

Pavel Datsyuk - Has won the award three years straight, thanks largely to the unfair advantage of being the only player nominated who never has to try to shut down Pavel Datsyuk.

Ryan Kesler - He may not win the award, but you can bet he'll be lurking somewhere on the stage when it's handed out.

Friday, March 25, 2011

A brief history of NHL suspensions

In hindsight, it was the wrong time to
try to start a round of limbo.
The big news this week was Matt Cooke's elbow to the head of Ryan McDonagh and the NHL's swift and significant response. With most fans and observers calling for a lengthy ban, league disciplinarian Colin Campbell suspended the Penguin winger for the remainder of the season and the first round of the playoffs.

But while Cooke's extended vacation may mark the longest suspension of the year, it's far from the biggest in NHL history. As long-time fans know, the league has compiled a long list of lengthy and often controversial disciplinary decisions. Cooke is the latest player to stride well past the league's constantly moving line in the sand, but he's in good company.

So for those of us with time on our hands - hi Matt! - let's take a walk through the record books and look back at some of the most famous suspensions in recent NHL history.

February, 2000 - Marty McSorley learns that while yes, you never want to make the same mistake twice and yes, it does seem to be perfectly smooth and just the right radius, it's still not appropriate to use the side of Donald Brashear's head to test the legality of the curve on your stick blade.

December, 2008 - Gary Bettman suspends Sean Avery for six games for comments that the commissioner describes as "disgusting", "offensive" and "wrong", shortly after Avery wonders aloud whether the league might want to try promoting somebody other than Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin for a change.

March, 2011 - Islanders' forward Trevor Gillies is suspended for 10 games or 15 minutes of actual ice-time, whichever comes first.

May, 1993 - Dale Hunter receives a 21-game suspension for viciously body checking Islanders' center Pierre Turgeon in mid-celebration. While the suspension seems harsh, it's worth pointing out that Turgeon's celebration was taking place in a quiet corner of a romantic restaurant and was for his wedding anniversary.

June, 2007 - The Montreal Canadiens hire a local stunt man to spend four years playing the role of "doomed forward Max Pacioretty" in an elaborate but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to get Zdeno Chara suspended for a few games, thinks Mark Recchi.

October, 1995 - Tie Domi is suspended eight games for sucker punching Ulf Samuelsson, after his attempt to argue that the incident was a momentary and unplanned lapse in judgment is undermined when league officials point out that he had to drag a stepladder onto the ice to do it.

January, 2005 - By claiming that an extended lockout and the cancellation of an entire season is necessary in order to keep ticket prices low, Gary Bettman calls for a record-setting suspension of fans' disbelief.

December, 2007 - After intentionally stomping on the leg of Pittsburgh's Jarkko Ruutu, Islanders enforcer Chris Simon receives a record-setting 30-game suspension when a careful examination of the replay indicates that Ruutu was not injured.

November, 2009 - The league suspends defenceman Chris Pronger for six games after announcing that, according to a league spokesman, "we haven't heard from him in a while and he must have done something". An outraged Pronger maintains his innocence to reporters gathered in the dressing room, before awkwardly refusing to answer questions about the human femur poking out from his locker.

August, 2004 - An unprecedented lifetime ban is imposed on whichever Ottawa Senator scout is in charge of watching goaltenders, presumably.

May, 1989 - Ron Hextall is suspended for 12 games after attacking Chris Chelios at the end of a playoff series. While horrified onlookers originally fear that Hextall's vicious assault may have killed Chelios, the defenceman eventually rises to his feet, mumbles something about brains, and then slowly shuffles off to play for another 21 seasons.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A hall of famer, a neurosurgeon, a journalist and a blogger walk into a studio...

Dryden listened intently as the random blogger
explained the finer points of hockey to him.
As those of you who follow on twitter or facebook may know, I had the opportunity last week to appear on TVO's The Agenda With Steve Paikin as part of a panel discussing hockey violence and concussions. Also appearing were Hall Of Fame goalie and former Maple Leafs' GM Ken Dryden; Professor of Neurosurgery at U of T Dr. Charles Tator; and longtime Toronto Star sportswriter Mary Ormsby.

I think it went really well, which is to say that I didn't piddle myself, drop any accidental f-bombs, or interrupt Dryden to demand an explanation for the Jason Smith trade, except for that one time and they were able to edit my outburst and subsequent tasing out of the final broadcast.

The show is now available online:

(Viewing this in an RSS feed? Click here.)

A few thoughts:
  • If you're wondering how a lowly blogger winds up on a show like this with three well-respected professionals, consider that the taping coincided with both March break and St. Patrick's Day. On that note, be sure to check out the episode page (click the "Concussions" tab) for the guest descriptions. I really think TVO should have gone all the way and just put "Sean McIndoe was available".

  • Speaking of which, if I told you that a former NHL enforcer was invited to appear on the show but declined because they had committed to playing the bag pipes at a St. Patty's event even though they're not Irish, who would you think it was? Not that I am telling you this. I'm just curious.

  • Pro tip: If you're ever invited to be on TV, figure out what to do with your hands when you're not talking before they start filming you. Just trust me on this one.

  • Actual conversation that took place after filming:

    Me (feeling very proud of myself for handling the whole thing very professionally): Well, excellent show everyone, this has been a great experience. I have a flight to catch so I'm going to head out now.

    (Strides confidently towards door.)

    Producer: Yeah, you're probably going to want to have your makeup removed before you get on the Toronto subway.

  • I ended up having the chance to spend a solid ten minutes in conversation with Dryden in the green room before the show. Did I spend most of that time engaging in a detailed discussion of the intricacies of the Rob Brown vs. Sylvain Lefevbre fight from 1992? Yes. Yes I did. I regret nothing.

  • Finally, and in all seriousness, a sincere thanks to the other guests and to the nice people at TVO for making an obvious rookie feel comfortable. The entire experience was a lot of fun, mostly thanks to their patience.

    And again, sorry about all the tasing.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Matt Cooke's suspension hearing: The top secret transcript

Hey Matt, I've lost count, how
many suspensions is that now?
Scene: The NHL's head office, inside a window-lined boardroom with "Department of Supplemental Discipline" written on the door. Colin Campbell, Mike Murphy and Gary Bettman sit at one end of a large table, with Matt Cooke and Mario Lemieux at the other.

Colin Campbell: Hi Matt. Welcome to the hearing. Did you have any trouble finding a parking spot?

Matt Cooke: Nah, I just parked out front in the "Reserved for Matt Cooke" space.

Campbell: Great. So I've watched the replay of this Ryan McDonagh hit a dozen times. It sure looks like you're intentionally targeting a defenceless opponent with a flagrant elbow to the head. How can you possibly defend your actions?

Cooke: Um... it was an accident?

Campbell: An accident.

Cooke (hesitantly): ... Yes?

A long pause. Campbell stares at Cooke intently before finally breaking the silence.

Campbell: Great, well thanks for clearing that up. Zero games. Sorry for troubling you.

Campbell and Murphy begin gathering up their papers and prepare to leave the room. Cooke looks around in confusion.

Gary Bettman: Uh, everyone? Could we hold on just a second? Maybe we could talk about this one a little more?

Campbell and Murphy stop in the doorway.

Campbell: Well, sure, I guess. If you want to.

Bettman: You know, just since we have the room booked and all.

Campbell (returning to his seat): OK. Well, since I've already subjected Matt to in-depth questioning... Mario, do you have anything to say?

Mario Lemieux: Do I have to?

Campbell: Yes.

Lemieux (sighing): Fine. Look, he's on my team. He's one of my players, technically. So... you know... don't suspend him, I guess.

Campbell: That's very helpful, thanks.

Lemieux: I need to leave now.

Lemieux bolts out the door.

Campbell: Thanks Mario. Our next witness is scheduled to be... hmm, what does it say on my sheet here... "a world-renowned and completely impartial hockey expert, named... Dr. Wario Mellieux".

A man who looks oddly like Mario Lemieux wearing a moustache made out of duct tape walks into the room.

Campbell: Dr. Mellieux, your thoughts?

Mellieux: Matt Cooke is an abomination, a scumbag, an embarrassment, everything that's wrong with the game. I hate him. He should be banned for life.

Cooke: Dude...

Mellieux: And also, he shouldn't count against the salary cap while he's suspended.

They're interrupted by a figure poking his head in the door.

Trevor Gillies: You wanted to see me, Colin?

Campbell: Uh... no.

Gillies (looking down at a newspaper with headline reading "Hockey's biggest cheapshot artist facing suspension yet again"): Oh. Oops, my mistake.

Campbell: No problem Trevor. Talk to you in a few weeks.

Gillies: Sure thing. By the way, whoever's driving the Mercedes Benz with the "MARIO66" vanity plates, I smashed into it from behind. Sorry.

Mellieux: Son of a...

Delivery guy (entering room): OK, who ordered the large pizza with extra cheese and...

Matt Cooke leaps to his feet and begins elbowing the delivery guy repeatedly in the head.

Bettman: Matt...

Cooke: Oops... my bad. Sorry everyone. Force of habit.

Bettman: Don't worry about it. Hey, at least you didn't slam his face into a stanchion!

Zdeno Chara (poking his head through a window): I heard that!

Cooke: Aren't we on the third floor?

Bettman: Never mind that. Look Matt, your hit was very dangerous, but you're here to defend yourself. So go ahead, tell us why we shouldn't throw the book at you.

Cooke: Look, I know I've made mistakes. I'm a physical player and yes, I step over the line sometimes. But so do lots of players, and most of them don't get big suspensions.

Campbell: Exactly. I went easy on Dany Heatley and Brad Marchand, and I didn't suspend Chara at all...

Mellieux (under his breath): Or that jerk who took out Marc Savard.

Campbell: Shush. The point is, plenty of players do dirty things without getting suspended. Why start getting tough now, right?

Cooke: Exactly! I mean, honestly, is hitting one guy in the head really any more dirty that smashing a guy in the face repeatedly with your elbow pad, the way Gregory Campbell did against Montreal...

The room immediately goes silent.

Cooke: Uh... I mean...

Everyone is too horrified to speak.

Campbell (calmly): I'm sorry, Matt, could you repeat that? Any more dirty than who?

Cooke (deer in headlights): Uh... uh...

Campbell (nonchalantly rolling up his sleeves): Everyone leave the room please.

Murphy sprints for the door. Dr. Mellieux leaves his chair spinning, while Bettman leaps over the table. The pizza delivery guy struggles to commando-crawl out the door, which is then quickly slammed and padlocked shut. The group huddles fearfully in the hallway for several moments.

Campbell (from inside the room): Incoming!

An airborne Matt Cooke smashes through the window and lands in the hallway. Campbell steps through the broken glass and pauses over Cook's dazed body.

Campbell (dusting himself off): When he comes to, tell him he's done until the second round of the playoffs. After all, we have to send a message that there are certain lines that just can't be crossed.


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Friday, March 18, 2011

The road to the playoffs: Scouting the bubble teams

"You know what would look good here?
A playoff beard..."
It's crunch time in the NHL, as teams fight desperately to qualify for the post-season. These days it seems like every game matters, and every point is crucial. And with mere weeks left in the season, the races for a spot in the post-season are closer than ever.

Who'll be left standing? Here's a scouting report for seven teams involved in fierce battles for their conference's eighth and final playoff spot.

New Jersey Devils
The good news: New coach Jacques Lemaire's "neutral zone trap" defensive system has so far proven more effective than previous coach John MacLean's version, the "neutral zone high-five the opposing forward on the way by while telling him where Brodeur's weak spot is today".
The bad news: Thanks to poor start, were actually mathematically eliminated from the 2012 playoffs in early December.
Player to watch: After recently hiring a Russian translator for Ilya Kovalchuk, the team discovered he'd been trying for months to tell them that the sticks they kept giving him were for the wrong hand.

Calgary Flames
The good news: The players are strongly motivated to make the playoffs, if only to distract Jarome Iginla from making more terrible bank commercials.
The bad news: Every time coach Brent Sutter tries to give an inspirational "Let's get out there and make the playoffs" speech, he's interrupted by Jay Bouwmeester asking "get out there and make the who what now?"
Player to watch: Matt Stajan, preferably while wearing a Dion Phaneuf jersey and laughing hysterically (Leaf fans only).

Carolina Hurricanes
The good news: Have wisely arranged to play most of their remaining games against teams from the Eastern Conference, who are all terrible.
The bad news: None of the players can remember if the franchise tradition is to contend for the Stanley Cup in odd-numbered years and finish dead last in even-numbered years, or vice versa.
Player to watch: Eric Staal, assuming you're looking for somebody to draft a terrible team in next year's office fantasy league.

Buffalo Sabres
The good news: New billionaire owner Terry Pegula has energized fans by announcing many new promotions for the remainder of the season, such as "leave a duffel bag stuffed with hundreds in the referees' locker room night".
The bad news: The city has had so much good sports luck over the years, they're probably due for some sort of bad break.
Player to watch: Ryan Miller is struggling through an off-year, in the sense that he occasionally allows the other team to score this season.

Nashville Predators
The good news: Headed into last night's action one point out of the final playoff spot, which in the Western Conference means they're also one-and-a-half points out of first place.
The bad news: Haven't looked good recently, according to that one guy you know who accidentally watched one of their games.
Player to watch: Mike Fisher, says your wife, creepily.

Anaheim Ducks
The good news: Many observers consider them one of the five best teams in the Pacific division.
The bad news: Disturbed teammates report that an aging Teeme Selanne now throws a glove into the air and pretends to shoot it down every time he successfully passes a kidney stone.
Player to watch: Ray Emery, who has plenty of experience helping the Ducks win in the postseason.

Toronto Maple Leafs
The good news: The struggling power play has been improved by the recent realization that you're actually allowed to put an extra guy out there.
The bad news: Teams have begun to exploit James Reimer's weakness: skating towards him while yelling "Hey, don't forget that you are James Reimer".
Player to watch: Tomas Kaberle, as he watches the playoff run from afar with his face pressed sadly against his bedroom window.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

More angry letters to Gary Bettman

"Hate mail. Hate mail. Monthly kickback
cheque from David Stern... Hate mail."
Last week was a rough one for Gary Bettman. The commisioner had to fight fires on two fronts, with a deteriorating ownership situation in Phoenix overlapping with Zdeno Chara's controversial hit on Max Pacioretty.

As if that wasn't enough, Bettman now seems to be facing a rebellion from his corporate partners. Air Canada fired the first shot on Wednesday when they released a letter expressing concern about the league's perceived violence problem. Via Rail followed up with a similar letter on Friday.

Fan reaction to the letters was split. Some argued that they were a cynical attempt to score public relations points, while others felt that it was about time a league partner stood up for player safety. But whichever side you're on, there was an important point that almost all fans missed: Angry letters to the league from corporate sponsors aren't remotely unusual.

In fact, Bettman receives correspondence from his partners all the time, and most of them are complaining about something. To prove the point, inside sources raided Bettman's inbound mailbox over the weekend and supplied me some of his most recent feedback from corporate sponsors. As you'll see, it's not pretty.


Dear Gary,

We're always looking for new ideas, and we certainly appreciate you taking the time to send us your suggestions. But with all due respect, we're pretty sure that "Roll Up The Rim To Lose, But Still Get a Point For Reasons Nobody Quite Understands" would be a disaster.

Thanks anyways,
Tim Hortons


Dear Gary,

Are you serious? It's bad enough that part of our sponsorship agreement says we need to have half our fleet circling the arena in Phoenix at all times, but now you expect us to deploy to Atlanta too?

Acme Moving Vans Inc.


Dear Gary,

Is there anything you can do about the Leafs' recent run at a playoff spot? We've made billions in profits since the lockout thanks to Toronto-based anti-depressant sales, and now we're all on the verge of bankruptcy.

The Association of Canadian Pharmaceutical Companies


Dear Gary,

This is to inform you that I am seriously considering terminating my sponsorship agreement with the NHL. Given some of the recent on-ice events, I'm concerned that a continued association with your league could negatively affect my image.

Your pal,
Hosni Mubarak


Dear Gary,

This is out of control. We just spent two years and almost $200M on the filming of Transformers 3, and when we went to edit it we found Ryan Kesler lurking in the background of every single shot.

Please do something,
Paramount Pictures


Dear Gary,

We're writing to express our deep concern over how exactly we're supposed to include this year's Colorado Avalanche in our upcoming release of our NHL 2012 game. As you know, our current ratings systems isn't designed to accept negative numbers.

EA Sports


Dear Gary,

Thank you for your recent correspondence, in which you complained about certain elements of NBC's coverage of the NHL. I am writing to assure you that all senior management here were completely appalled by your note and are treating it extremely seriously, as they were completely unaware that NBC has been broadcasting NHL hockey. Needless to say, we'll be rectifying this situation as soon as possible.

Thanks again,
NBC Sports


Dear Gary,

Any chance you could ask the networks to stop showing so many close ups of the press box? Every time they do, refund requests on our high-definition TVs go through the roof.

Your friends,
Sony Corporation


Hi Gary,

In answer to your questions: Yes, we've had tremendous success selling touch-based games on our app store. Yes, we're aware that certain Canadian teams are very popular. No, we're still not interested in your proposal for "Angry Burkes".

Thanks anyway,


Dear Gary,

I know that you're hearing plenty of complaints this week. I just wanted to reach out to you in this difficult time and urge you to ignore the criticism. Your administration is, as always, doing a fantastic job for your corporate partners. Heck, I for one know that our business has never been better, thanks to you.

All the best,
Ernie's Emporium of Stretchers, Neck Braces and Wheelchairs

Friday, March 11, 2011

The NHL's application form for new owners

The "Everyone who thinks hockey can
work in Phoenix" club: 2011 group photo
Welcome to the latest round of NHL ownership roulette. While the Buffalo Sabres seem to have found a saviour in Terry Pegula, other teams haven't been so lucky. The Dallas Stars' ownership situation could impact their ability to resign players like Brad Richards, while the Atlanta Thrashers have been mentioned as a team that could be on the move as early as next season.

And then, of course, there's the never-ending saga of the Phoenix Coyotes. Ongoing wrangling with the city of Glendale has many predicting that the team will have no choice but to move, perhaps back to Winnipeg.

It's all very frustrating, and as a fan you'd be forgiven if you were tempted to take matters into your own hands and just buy a team for yourself. And if so then you're in luck, because I've obtained a copy of the league's application form for new owners. Simply fill out the form below and send it to Gary Bettman, and soon you too could be the proud owner of your very own team.


Thank you for your interest in purchasing an NHL team. As you can imagine, the process of being accepted as an NHL owner is an arduous one that involves an exhaustive examination of your background and qualifications.

In that spirit, please complete the following one-page application form:

Are you interested in buying an NHL team?
( ) Yes
( ) No

If you indicated "Yes" to the question above… uh, seriously?
( ) Ha ha… No
( ) Yes!

Wow. OK, next question: Do you have any money?
( ) Yes
( ) No
( ) No, but I am willing to pretend that I do until it's too late.

If you are applying to purchase a team in a large market with a rich history, please indicate the name of the billion-dollar company you are associated with:

If you are applying to purchase a team in a medium-sized market with a small but loyal fan base, please indicate how many loans you will require to complete this transaction:

If you are applying to purchase a team in the southern United States, please indicate how much loose change you have in your pocket right now:

If you are applying to purchase a team in the southern US or other non-traditional market, please indicate the reason for your interest (check all that apply):
( ) Have not read an article on the economics of hockey since the 1993 Stanley Cup final.
( ) Have succeeded at everything I've ever tried; want to see what this whole "failure" thing I've heard so much about is like.
( ) Want someplace I can go a few evenings a week during the winter when I need to be alone.
( ) A judge has recently ordered me to pay half my net worth to my ex-wife; my lawyer tells me that this will be slightly less obvious than just setting a giant pile of money on fire.

Please describe your level of familiarity with the sport of hockey:
( ) Have been a die-hard fan ever since the sport was invented, back on the day Mark Messier was traded to the Rangers.
( ) Have seen most of the Mighty Duck movies.
( ) Once got a blister playing the arcade version of "Blades of Steel" with the rolly ball thing.
( ) Hockey's the one with pigskin and cleats and the billion-dollar TV contract, right?

Do you have an in-depth plan in place for financing a state-of-the-art arena for your team?
( ) Yes
( ) No

Can that in-depth plan be summarized in its entirety as "Get the city to pay for it"?
( ) Yes
( ) Yes

What is your ultimate goal in purchasing an NHL franchise?
( ) Winning a Stanley Cup championship
( ) Fostering a sense of civic pride within my community
( ) Fostering a sense of civic pride within whichever community I'm threatening to move the team to in a few months
( ) Have several enemies; would like to work in an industry in which I can break their necks without consequences

Hey, you're not planning to be one of those owners who writes open letters, are you?
( ) What?
( ) No sir!

Finally, if you're reading this application form on a smart phone, what kind is it?
( ) iPhone
( ) Droid
( ) Blackberry
( ) Unreleased Blackberry prototype, since it's my company and … uh, I mean, iPhone.

Nice try, Jim.
( ) Dammit!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The pros and cons of fighting in the NHL

Kill him! But, uh, you know, don't hurt him.
The debate over fighting has returned to NHL circles. And if you're a fan of the occasional scrap, you probably didn't have a very good week.

Players like Rick DiPietro, Colton Orr and Derek Boogaard are still on the sidelines due to serious injuries suffered in fights. Then word came last week that the late Bob Probert was suffering from a degenerative brain disease believed to be caused by repeated head trauma. Before fans could fully absorb that news, Edmonton Oilers' number one overall draft pick Taylor Hall had his rookie season ended by an ankle injury suffered in his first career fight.

So here we go again. It seems that the fighting debate has been raging for decades. And while it's lead to hours of heated rhetoric, there's little evidence of anyone ever actually changing their mind.

But maybe that can change. I've spoken to experts on both sides of the issue, and I've captured their best arguments below. For the first time, here are both sides of hockey's greatest debate presented side-by-side. Maybe, just maybe, we can settle this once and for all.

Pro-fighting: Banning fighting would eliminate the chance of a fight between Matt Cooke and Sean Avery that the linesmen could just "forget" to break up.

Anti-fighting: Fights are nothing more than quasi-exciting but ultimately demeaning sideshows that don't showcase any actual hockey skills and have no place in the game, and these days we have the shootout for that.

Pro-fighting: Without the threat of fighting, noble enforcers like Jody Shelley and Trevor Gillies would be unable to protect their teammates from despicable cheap-shot artists like Jody Shelley and Trevor Gillies.

Anti-fighting: Let's face it, nobody really likes having fighting in the game except for ignorant know-nothings like fans, most general managers and coaches, and virtually every single player.

Pro-fighting: Getting rid of fighting would just result in every episode of Coach's Corner being nothing more than a seven-minute diatribe about no-touch icing,

Anti-fighting: If punching somebody in the face at a hockey game is outlawed, only outlaws will punch somebody in the face at a hockey game. And Flyer fans. Actually, mostly Flyer fans.

Pro-fighting: If we just hold off on doing anything to address the rapidly growing list of players lost to concussions for another year or two, all of us will eventually get to play in the NHL for a few games.

Anti-fighting: Mike Milbury has historically been pro-fighting.

Pro-fighting: Wait, Mike Milbury is now apparently anti-fighting.

Anti-fighting: Fighting is an outdated concept that may have made sense for previous generations but has no place in the modern game, like goalies playing without masks or an NHL team in Winnipeg.

Pro-fighting: The inability to regularly write simplistic and condescending anti-fighting columns could spell the end of the already struggling newspaper industry.

Anti-fighting: Studies have shown that a total ban on fighting would increase hockey viewership by 20% in the southern United States, because Tom says he's pretty sure he'd start watching.

Pro-fighting: Hey, remember when they had fighting in NHL 93 and then they took it out for NHL 94? Which one did you like better? Exactly.

Anti-fighting: In addition to being overpaid and overrated based on last year's Cup run, Niemi is known to snore loudly on team flights and often plays bad Finnish pop music on the Sharks' team stereo. (Editor's note: Wait, sorry, this should have been listed as an "Antti fighting" argument.)

Pro-fighting: Players engaging in fights face the possibility of devastating injury and even long-term disability, which is a risk that I as a fan sitting in my easy chair have decided I am willing to accept.

Anti-fighting: Eliminating fighting would send a strong message to impressionable children that settling a dispute by knocking somebody unconscious with your fists is unacceptable; instead, use your rock solid shoulder pad like a gentleman would.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Take the Quiz: Did you make a good trade?

What do Brian Burke's neckties have in
common with NHL games? There hasn't
been a tied one since 2004.
So the trade deadline has come and gone, meaning that after more than 40 deals in February alone the NHL has seen its last trade for the next few months.

That's bad news if you're a fan, but it's probably great news if you're a general manager. After all, pulling the trigger on a trade must be one of the most stressful parts of any GM's job. And not just the countless hours of scouting, strategizing and negotiation - once the trade is done, you have to deal with all the second-guessing about whether you made a mistake.

While I can't do anything about the first part, I think I may be able to help with the second. If you're an NHL general manager who recently made a major trade - and studies of my readership say that you probably are - then you can end the suspense right now. By taking this simple quiz and tallying your results, you can determine whether or not you made the right move.

When you made your initial offer, the other general manager responded:
a.) "I can see you're going to be driving a hard bargain."
b.) "That seems like a fair proposal, let's discuss it some more."
c.) "That's adorable, now can you please put a grownup on the phone?"
d.) "That's a reasonable offer, but we're not really interested in acquiring Carmello Anthony."

Whenever the negotiations presented you with a difficult decision, you sought guidance from:
a.) Your lifelong study of the philosophies of legendary hockey executives like Sam Pollock and Conn Smythe
b.) Your keen understanding of modern game theory and advanced statistical analysis
c.) Your paid consultant and personal mentor, Charlie Sheen.
d.) Your "What Would Milbury Do?" bracelet.

At one point, negotiations hit a standstill because:
a.) The other general manager became concerned that he'd be giving up too much.
b.) You had to go to your owner to make sure he was OK with increasing the payroll.
c.) You started to try to understand the logic behind the NHL's policy on headshots and blacked out for three days.
d.) Your Xbox broke, so you couldn't run the trade through NHL 11 to find out if it was fair.

The other general manager said the words "Yes, I will make that trade"…
a.) Immediately after uttering the words "I can't believe you're talking me into this, but..."
b.) After many intense negotiating sessions over the course of several weeks.
c.) After fifteen minutes of hysterical laughter followed by the phrase "Oh, you were being serious?"
d.) As soon as he picked up the phone, thanks to seeing your name on call display.

Your trade involves a conditional draft pick. The condition is…
a.) An additional pick if your team wins multiple Stanley Cups instead of just one.
b.) A sixth round pick if the other team wins one playoff round.
c.) A first round pick if the other team wins six playoff rounds.
d.) A bonus draft pick to whichever team is employing you as an assistant scout by late April.

Columns in the local newspapers most frequently described the trade using the phrase…
a.) "Outright larceny for the home team"
b.) "A fair deal for both sides"
c.) "Presumably some sort of elaborate practical joke"
d.) "Sutter-iffic!"

When you called the player you were acquiring to inform him of the trade, he said…
a.) "I'm shocked to hear how little you had to give up to get me."
b.) "You paid a steep price, but I'll work hard to make it worth it for you."
c.) "I already heard about the trade, because some loser on Twitter got 500 people to send me messages about it."
d.) "Uh, you do know that I retired six years ago, right?"

After the trade was formally announced, the next phone call you received was from…
a.) The team owner, asking what size you want your Stanley Cup ring to be.
b.) A fellow general manager, congratulating you on making a solid deal.
c.) Joe Nieuwendyk, thanking you for taking some of the heat off.
d.) John Ferguson Jr., you think, although it was hard to understand him since he was talking into the wrong end of the telephone.

Scoring: Tally up your answers, then check below to find out how you did.

Mostly a.) Enjoy that General Manager Of The Year trophy.
Mostly b.) You deserve credit for taking a risk to improve your team.
Mostly c.) Ah, don't worry about it. Winning is overrated.
Mostly d.) But seriously, any chance you want to join my fantasy league?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Winners and losers at the 2011 trade deadline

Not pictured: Joe Nieuwendyk
The 2011 NHL trade deadline was yesterday, a fact of which you may be dimly aware if you happened to turn on a television at any point during the day.

Now that the dust has settled, fans want to know who came out ahead, and who may have set back their cause. Since most of the deals involved assets like draft picks or prospects, knowledgeable observers know that they can't possibly be accurately evaluated for years to come. But that won't stop the rest of use from passing judgement immediately.

So let's take a look back at the moves made on deadline day and in the weeks leading up to it, and start slapping arbitrary "winner" and "loser" labels on everyone involved.

Winner: Pittsburgh Penguins - In James Neal, managed to acquire an elite winger to play with Sidney Crosby who's young enough to still be halfway decent when Crosby returns from his concussion in 2016.

Loser: Vancouver Canucks - Despite a handful of minor moves, still completely failed to address the team's most obvious flaw, a distinct lack of depth on the sixth line.

Winner: St. Louis Blues - Acquired a player named Brock Beukeboom, which will come in handy if the NHL ever decides to becomes a 1980s arcade game or high school football movie.

Loser: Wade Redden - The bad news: The Rangers filled a need for a veteran defenceman by trading assets for Bryan McCabe rather than bring up Redden from the minors for nothing. The worse news: Their second choice was a bag of wet leaves with a plastic hockey stick nailed to it.

Winner: Anton Khudobin - Exists, apparently.

Winner: Nashville Predators - Acquired Mike Fisher, helping a young roster lacking in playoff experience by bringing in a long-time Ottawa Senator who can describe in detail what not to do.

Loser: Calgary Flames - Foolishly failed to trade any veterans for prospects or draft picks, even though everyone has been saying all season long that as a last place team they need to rebuild by … wait, they're in what place now? Let me see those standings. Wow, has Darryl Sutter been told about this?

Winner: Pierre Gauthier - Made several aggressive moves to bolster his fantasy team, presumably, since he must have been doing something all day.

Winner: Craig Anderson - The latest Ottawa goalie has so far resisted attempts by coaches to teach him the Senators' traditional "Hey, get out of the way of that puck, that would totally hurt if it hit you!" technique.

Loser: Colorado Avalanche - Have you ever made an impulse decision to adopt a stray dog that's been raised in an abusive environment because you hope things will be different if it's given a loving home, but then when you get it back to your place it just poops all the over your floor and rolls around in it? Trading for an Ottawa goaltender is pretty much the same thing.

Winner: Jason Arnott - By escaping the 27th place Devils to join the Washington Capitals, the veteran center will get a chance to return to the postseason for up to six or seven games.

Loser: Tomas Kaberle - Has struggled to adjust to the concept of clearing a rebound after allowing a shot on goal with the Bruins, instead of just automatically skating to center ice for the faceoff like he always did in Toronto.

Winner: That guy at work who made fun of you for using a vacation day to stay home and watch the deadline coverage - Yeah, he was right.

Loser: Dustin Penner - Will have to spend time booking movers and making travel arrangements from Edmonton to Los Angeles, instead of just picking up all his stuff and sprinting there like he probably wants to.