Saturday, April 28, 2012

What went wrong? Excuses from the NHL's losers

"Wait... please tell me we didn't just
lose to that terrible guy from the Leafs..."
And then there were eight. With the conclusion of an eventful first round of the NHL playoffs, we’re now down to just eight teams still standing. Eight teams with a shot at the Stanley Cup. Eight teams who deserve a ton of credit for overcoming all obstacles to keep their championship hopes alive.

But forget those guys. Because if my math is right, eight teams left also means 22 teams that are done. That’s almost three-quarters of the league who managed to combine for a grand total of zero playoff series victories. What a bunch of losers.

What’s their excuse? Well, we asked them. And it turns out that every one of the teams that now finds itself on the sidelines has a reasonable explanation.

Vancouver Canucks – Were once again done in by Roberto Luongo’s complete inability to win the big one, since “win the big one” is our team nickname for scoring goals and “Roberto Luongo” is our team nickname for “the forwards and defencemen”.

Colorado Avalanche – In hindsight, when our head scout ran into the GM’s office yelling “You have to trade for this young Capitals’ goalie, he might be even better than Tim Thomas!” we probably should have taken the time to ask which one he meant.

Minnesota Wild – According to the know-it-all stats nerds, we didn’t do well enough in their advanced metrics like “Corsi” and “QualComp” and “wins” and “having good players”.

Calgary Flames - Jay Feaster has been trying to implement the same strategy he used to win a Stanley Cup with the Lightning in 2004, but it turns out that strategy is just “make sure you play against the Calgary Flames”.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Behind the scenes at the Raffi Torres suspension hearing

The first round of the NHL playoffs are drawing to a close. But despite several stunning upsets and breathtaking individual performances, it seems like all anyone in the hockey world wants to talk about is Raffi Torres.

Torres, of course, received a 25-game suspension from chief disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan for his devastating open-ice check on Chicago Blackhawks' star Marian Hossa. That sentence ranks among the most severe ever announced by the NHL, and was significantly higher than what most observers had been predicting.

While most NHL suspensions are handed down following a brief conference call between the league and the player involved, Torres's fate was decided at a lengthy in-person hearing due to the severity of the incident and the expected punishment. These sort of hearings are rare, and it goes without saying that what happens during one is highly confidential.

At least, it's supposed to be. But thanks to some well-placed moles at NHL headquarters, I was able to obtain a detailed transcript of the day's events. Here's a timeline of how the hearing unfolded.

Friday, April 20, 10:00 a.m. - The discipline hearing officially begins.

10:01 a.m. - As always, Raffi Torres arrives just a little bit late.

10:23 a.m. - NHLPA head Donald Fehr peppers Brendan Shanahan with questions like "What precedents have been set in similar cases?" and "What is the appeals process?" and "Wait, I've been the head of the NHLPA for almost two years, why didn't anyone tell me?"

10:34 a.m. - Every time representatives of the Chicago Blackhawks begin to complain about how unfair it is to lose a superstar player to injury on a blatantly dirty hit, Daniel Sedin pokes his head in the door and say "Tell me about it".

Saturday, April 21, 2012

A brief history of playoff violence

"I sure hope Tucker was suspended for
that high hit!" said Brad Marchand.
The first round of the 2012 playoffs has been marked by wild brawls, questionable hits and an unprecedented string of suspensions. From Raffi Torres to Matt Carkner to Shea Weber to virtually the entire Penguins roster, it seems like each night of action brings another embarrassing incident to keep the referees and Brendan Shanahan busy.

But despite what some recent coverage might lead you to believe, playoff violence is hardly a new phenomenon in the NHL. In fact, the league has a long history of regrettable incidents in the postseason, many of which would put this year's displays to shame.

Let's take a look back through the history books at some of the other black eyes, literal and figurative, that the NHL playoffs have provided over the years.

May 16, 1987 - Montreal and Philadelphia engage in a wild pre-game brawl that all starts over the sight of opposing players shooting a puck into an open net, which come to think of it may also explain all the bad blood in this year's Flyers/Penguins series.

April 26, 2002 - New York Islanders star Michael Peca suffers significant ligament damage after being hit in the knee by Darcy Tucker. A defiant Tucker will later strenuously deny that the hit was low, while awkwardly refusing to answer reporters' questions about the shovel and mining helmet he's holding behind his back.

June 6, 2011 - Aaron Rome knocks Nathan Horton out of the Stanley Cup Finals with a late hit that the media at the time refers to as "vicious" and "an unprecedented act of horrific violence", and which the league head office now refers to as "the good old days".

May 22, 1997 - The Red Wings and Avalanche engage in a series of fights that only end when everyone gets sick of Detroit's Brendan Shanahan constantly skating around and telling everyone that they owe him $2,500.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Brendan Shanahan's latest suspension video seems different somehow

Hockey fans know the drill by now. Some NHL player does something terrible, chief disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan reviews the footage, and then he releases a video explaining his decision. And with the number of flagrant infractions over the first few weeks of the playoffs, you'd be forgiven if all the recent suspension videos are just starting to blend together.

But the most recent video just seems... different, somehow. I hate to second-guess Shanahan, but I can't help but think that the stress may be getting to the poor guy.

For more Bloge Salming and other great hockey content, visit our friends at Backhand Shelf.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Inside Gary Bettman's playoff pool draft

"What do you mean we need extra
chairs for your 18 assistants?"
Scene: Last Wednesday, hours before the start of the first playoff games. Gary Bettman and Brendan Shanahan are in a boardroom at the NHL head office, preparing for the league's annual office playoff pool draft.

They're joined by the GMs of several teams whose teams didn't make the postseason. Deputy commissioner Bill Daly is finishing up an explanation of the pool's rules.

Daly: And finally, you need to pick at least one goaltender. Or, if they've already all been taken, Marc-Andre Fleury.

Bettman: OK, time to pick the draft order. Bill, will you do the honors?

Daly shuffles through a baseball cap full of scraps of paper and pulls one out.

Daly: And the first draft pick goes to… the Edmonton Oilers!

Everyone stares at him.

Daly: Sorry, force of habit. The first pick goes to Gary Bettman.

Bettman: Oh goody! Let's see, who should I pick. There are ever so many choices, I have no idea who I'm going to…

He looks up and realizes that everyone has already crossed Sidney Crosby off their draft sheets.

Bettman (sheepishly): I pick Crosby.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Round one Western Conference playoff preview

Eventually, a disappointed Luongo realized
the other players were too busy with the
game to join his rendition of "YMCA".
The playoffs begin tonight, which means it's time to wrap up our mandatory first round predictions. We covered the Eastern Conference yesterday, so today we'll take a look at the Western Conference matchups.

#1 Vancouver Canucks vs. #8 Los Angeles Kings

The matchup: The series will feature two forwards who are completely inseparable and spend virtually every waking moment of their lives together, and in addition to Mike Richards and Jeff Carter the Canucks probably have some good players too.
The view from Vancouver: The Canucks must find an answer for the Kings' best defensive player, goaltender Jonathan Quick, and their best offensive player, a frustrated Jonathan Quick taking slapshots from the point while yelling "Seriously, the rest of you don't even want to maybe give this a try?"
The view from Los Angeles: Kings players can't help but wonder if team meetings would be more effective if coach Darryl Sutter didn't continually interrupt to ask if anyone knows who the Flames are playing in the first round, then laugh hysterically for twenty minutes.
Player to watch: Cory Schneider, to see if he's taking his ball cap off, assuming you're Roberto Luongo and just gave up a goal.
Prediction: The Canucks win, celebrate their victory together as a team, then pause and ask each other whether anyone else just heard the faint sound of "Chelsea Dagger" coming from round two.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Round one Eastern Conference playoff preview

"Um, should I keep going?" asked the anthem singer.
It's playoff time, which means it's time for everyone to who writes about hockey to prepare their predictions for the eight opening series. Don't fight it, it's the law.

Today we'll take a look at the Eastern Conference matchups, with the Western Conference following tomorrow. Remember, as per the official rules of playoff predictions, we all agree to never speak of these again once the first round is over.

#1 New York Rangers vs. #8 Ottawa Senators

The matchup: In a nice change of pace, the Senators have decided it might be fun to suffer a crushing playoff defeat to a different original six team.
The view from New York: Henrik Lundqvist says his injured forearm has healed enough for him to play, he supposes, since every time the team doctor shows him an "x-ray" it's actually just a picture of Martin Biron inside a circle with a line through it.
The view from Ottawa: The Senators have to be considered spoilers, assuming we're talking about all the great Senators vs. Bruins jokes I had written for this preview a week ago.
Player to watch: Erik Karlsson will try to continue racking up the points with his impressive offensive instincts despite being a squishy wet stain on the end boards after Brian Boyle's first shift.
Prediction: Two straight weeks of facing John Tortorella in the playoffs has Senator fans longing for the calm, even-tempered days of Pat Quinn.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Canucks or Senators: Who should be Canada's Team?

The NHL season wraps up tonight, but we already know the 16 teams that will be advancing to the playoffs. That’s bad news for Canada, because the Vancouver Canucks and the Ottawa Senators will be the only two teams from north of the border taking part in this year’s post-season.

And you know what that means. Yes, it’s time for the annual blitz of stories about who gets to be “Canada’s Team”, the one NHL team that will carry the flag into battle and represent the hopes and dreams of a nation that hasn’t seen one of its teams capture a Stanley Cup since 1993. Diehard fans of the Canadiens, Maple Leafs and the country’s other teams will abandon their squads en masse to unite behind one remaining contender.

Has any actual hockey fan ever switched allegiances at this time of year? No, of course not. But with four days off between the end of the season and the start of the playoffs, we need something to fill air time and newspaper space.

So if you find yourself being chased down by a media member holding a microphone and frantically demanding to know which “Canada’s team” bandwagon you’ll be jumping on, you should at least be prepared to make an informed decision. Here are some of the points in favor of each of the two candidates.

Canucks – The entire roster shares a team-wide commitment to finding ways to lift the spirits of society’s least fortunate, we assume, since it would explain this week’s loss to the Calgary Flames.

Senators – Jason Spezza would probably really enjoy having the whole country cheering him on, and if we make him happy then maybe we can get him to do that creepy giggling thing again.

Canucks – If you decide to become a fan you can get up to speed on team history really quickly, without getting bogged down trying to memorize a bunch of Stanley Cup winners or Hall of Famers.

Senators – They’ve earned a reputation as a team that’s capable of doing the impossible during the postseason, in the sense that they have a history of losing to the Maple Leafs.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Montreal Canadiens' application form for the vacant GM job

Please please please please
The Montreal Canadiens have started the process of finding a replacement for fired general manager Pierre Gauthier. Plenty of candidates have already been rumored as favorites, but the team has promised that they'll consider anyone.

Apparently they're not kidding. A source in Montreal has informed me that anyone can apply for the job by filling out a simple application form. I've received a copy of the form and reproduced it below, just in case any readers are interested in throwing their hat into the ring.


Thank you for your interest in applying for the vacant position of General Manager of the Montreal Canadiens. Please note that this application form is available in both French and English.

Why do you want to be the next general manager of the Montreal Canadiens?
( ) In current front office job, am getting tired of constantly being called an idiot by the media in only one language.
( ) Have a rare form of amnesia where I constantly forget how many Stanley Cups my team has won; would like work someplace where I'll be reminded every few minutes.
( ) Have reviewed the current roster and prospect pool, and enjoy the idea of having the next four or five springs off.
( ) Without revealing my current job, let's just say I get a little tired of being stuck in between two coaches pretending to want to fight each other.

Ideally, the successful candidate would be bilingual. Do you speak French?
( ) I speak fluent French.
( ) I speak high-school level French.
( ) I speak Randy Cunneyworth-level French.
( ) I didn't think I knew how to swear in French, but then I read the details of Scott Gomez's contract and found out I was wrong.