Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Inside Gary Bettman's annual Halloween party

Well then next time, tell your friend
not to get lippy with Ben Eager.

Scene: An opulent mansion. The home is decked out with Halloween decorations, and various guests are milling around in costume. The doorbell rings, and is answered by a man dressed as a giant padlock.

Gary Bettman: Come on in!

Bill Daly enters, dressed as a giant crow with an "S" painted on his chest.

Daly: How's the annual Halloween party going, Gary?

Bettman: I'll be honest. I'm picking up on kind of a negative vibe this year.

He looks over to the other side of the room, where Donald Fehr and several players wearing cattle costumes are glaring back at them.

Daly: Understandable. Nice decorations, though.

He motions at a row of tombstones featuring a Thrashers logo, tickets to an Islanders game, the 2004-05 season, and the phrase "actual credibility".

Bettman: Thanks. I just wish Katz would stop trying to sneak an Edmonton Oilers one in there. But the costumes are cool. Ryan Suter went as a spinning weather vane, and the Sedins were great in that two-piece horse costume right up until David Booth showed up and started shooting at them.

Daly: And what about the guy in the straightjacket outside howling at the moon?

Bettman: Oh, that's just a hockey blogger trying to figure out how to put a fresh spin on his 27th consecutive lockout post.

Daly: Poor guy.

Bettman: Yeah. Sad, really.

Friday, October 26, 2012

New at Grantland: What sport should hockey fans start following instead of the locked out NHL? A DGB flowchart

If you're like me, you're rapidly getting sick of the NHL and its perpetual lockouts. Maybe you've even considered dumping the league altogether and finding something else to watch. But what? Where should a former diehard hockey fan turn for their next obsession?

Well, it depends. But luckily I'm here to help. So head on over to Grantland to check out my latest flowchart: What sport should hockey fans start following instead of the locked out NHL?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Good signs and bad signs in the ongoing CBA talks

After realizing that Fehr's "counter-proposal"
would consist entirely of crotch-chopping,
Gary Bettman gave up and went home.
Last week brought a flurry of CBA news, including an unexpected offer from the owners and several counter-proposals from the players. And while that lead to a brief burst of optimism, the week ended without a deal in place and with the two sides seeming as far apart as ever.

The whole process has felt like one long case of one step forward and two steps back, with every positive sign immediately followed by a negative one. Here's a look back at the ups and down of the current state of negotiations.

Good sign: Two sides have essentially agreed on the definition of hockey-related revenue, with a few exceptions.
Bad sign: One of those exceptions is the service charge on season ticket cancellations, which currently projects to be the league's top revenue source this year.

Good sign: The owners have wisely suggested that the best way to move forward is to ensure that both sides are speaking the same language.
Bad sign: The players still selfishly insist on speaking one of those languages where the phrase "signed contract" has meaning.

Good sign: While the owners were widely criticized for their use of an expensive public relations firm, at least we know that the NHLPA would never waste time on annoyingly transparent PR spin.
Bad sign: We know this because, in an odd coincidence, every player in the league tweeted about it at the exact same time.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A brief history of Dominik Hasek

Not saying he was unorthodox, but this photo
was taken during the national anthem.

One of the most colorful careers in hockey history came to an end last week when 47-year-old goaltending legend Dominik Hasek finally hung up his pads for good. Hasek had expressed interest in an NHL comeback during the offseason, but the lockout and a lack of interest spelled the end of his hopes for playing one final year.

Hasek will no doubt be a first-ballot hall of famer, and he's earned a place in the discussion for the greatest goaltender of his generation. Here's a look back at one of the sport's most memorable legends.

April 14, 1984 - Disappointed by the fading prominence of the local Czechoslovakian breakdancing scene, a teenaged Hasek asks his guidance counselor if there are any other careers where he can spend all his time randomly spinning around on his back for no reason.

August 7, 1992 – The Blackhawks trade Hasek to the Sabres for Stephane Beauregard, reasoning that they couldn't turn down the chance to acquire a player so good that he was once actually traded for future Hall-of-Famer Dominik Hasek.

February 11, 1995 – In yet another example of the sort of unbelievable rumors that can plague professional athletes, Hasek hears a crazy story that somebody somewhere may have come up with a new goalie mask design since 1983.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The time Islanders coach Mike Milbury decided it would be a good idea to try to intimidate Wendel Clark: An excerpt from "The Best Seat In The House"

As some of you know, Sportsnet’s Ian Mendes and I are old friends going back to our days in journalism school. In a neat coincidence, we both had our first books come out within days of each other in September.

"The Best Seat in the House: Stories from the NHL Inside the Room, on the Ice and on the Bench", Ian and Jamie McLennan share some of the inside stories from McLennan’s career as a backup to some of the NHL’s most legendary goalies. It’s a great book and I hope you check it out.

I thought the excerpt below would be of particular interest to DGB readers.


Wendel Clark Shows Off His Toughness and Leadership

When people think about Wendel Clark's career, they automatically picture him wearing a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey. After all, for almost a decade, Wendel had blue and white coursing through his veins and he was one of the most popular sports figures in the history of Toronto.

I was fortunate enough to play one season with Wendel with the New York Islanders in 1995-96. We had a very odd mix of players on that team and we were like a franchise with no clear direction. We had some really good young players like Ziggy Palffy, Todd Bertuzzi and Bryan McCabe. But we also had a collection of veterans, including Wendel, Pat Flatley and Derek King, who wanted to win right away. We had Mike Milbury running our team as the head coach and we finished in last place with just 54 points.

Having Mike as a head coach was a unique experience because he often had some very strange ideas about how to play the game and how he should motivate his players. And that would sometimes clash directly with a guy like Wendel, who was a no-nonsense person both on and off the ice.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Welcome to NHL replacement player training camp

Well, he's still better than Racicot.

OK everyone, skate over here to center ice and take a knee. We have a lot to cover, so let’s get started. Welcome to NHL Replacement Player Training Camp.

As you know, reports surfaced this week that the NHL might consider using the threat of replacement players as leverage in this ongoing labor dispute. And while nobody really seems to think it will happen, we have to be prepared. So thanks to all of you for answering the ad we posted in dressing rooms in midnight beer leagues around the continent. Let’s get you ready to be NHL players!

OK, so we need to make sure that you’ll be able to play an NHL-style game. So let’s work on some drills. What’s that? Skating, passing and shooting? Hey rookie, does this look like 1993 to you? No, we’re going to spend the morning on shot-blocking, clogging the neutral zone, and an obsessive focus on positional play. Hey, who’s ready for some dump and chase drills?

Great work, everyone. Well, except for the one guy over there signalling that the dump-ins to the corner should count as a goal. I think you’re looking for the replacement referee camp for the NFL, sir. It used to be next door.

So how do the rest of you think things are going so far?

Hmm… OK, that was actually a test. I just wanted to see what you’d do when asked a simple question, and unfortunately several of you gave answers that were thoughtful and interesting. That won’t do. You guys will need stay behind tonight to take the remedial “How to never say anything interesting ever” course. Those of you who just stared at the floor while mumbling cliches, good job.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The discarded out-takes from the NHLPA's message to fans

Hey, remember that NHLPA video from a few weeks ago? You know the one: various star players looking into the camera, earnestly describing their love for the game and their frustration over the ongoing lockout? Let's be honest -- it was pretty darn effective.

Of course, not every player who auditioned made the cut. And a few of them took more than one take to get their message just right. The NHLPA kept the good stuff for the final product, and tossed the rest in the trash.

Luckily, Bloge and I happened to be hiding out nearby and were able to grab the out-take reel.

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Lemieux: Was deceptively fast going from center ice to the goal, often arriving before the opponent's defence was ready for him.
Roy: Was deceptively fast going from the goal to center ice, often arriving before the Avalanche's goaltender was ready for him.

From An in-depth comparison: Mario Lemieux vs. Patrick Roy, one of 24 chapters of brand new material available exclusively in The Best of Down Goes Brown.
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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

This is non-core: The agenda at the latest round of CBA negotiations

"Seriously, thanks for taking some of the heat off."

The two sides in the ongoing NHL lockout spent most of the weekend holding face-to-face meetings in New York. That sounds like good news, until you find out that the talks focused exclusively on what the participants refer to as "non-core" issues.

Yes, despite a lockout that's already cancelled the entire pre-season and could begin wiping out regular season games as early as this week, the two sides apparently decided not to bother discussing critical issues like the division of revenue, free agency or limits on contract length. You could forgive hockey-deprived fans for wondering what the point was. After all, if you're not going to cover the important issues that are standing in the way of an agreement, what's left to even talk about?

Plenty, as it turns out. Despite a strict code of silence surrounding the proceedings, my spies were able to get a hold of the agenda for one day's worth of meetings. Here's what a day of "non-core" negotiations between NHL owners and players looks like.

9:00 a.m. - A relieved Gary Bettman announces that now that the NFL replacement refs have been removed due to their unprecedented incompetence, they've all gone back to their regular full-time jobs of managing the owners' public relations strategy.

9:30 a.m. - The owners and players engage in an extended argument over whether the coins that Flyer fans repeatedly pelt their families with during the first game back should count as hockey related revenue.

9:55 a.m. - The owners reassure a furious Donald Fehr that Jim Devellano's recent comments about an unwritten rule against using offer sheets was completely false, in the sense that they're pretty sure they actually did write it down at some point.

10:15 a.m. - A sheepish Darryl Katz apologizes for his earlier outburst in which he threatened to move the meeting to the boiler room unless everyone agreed to pitch in and buy him a pony.