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Two Game Sevens In the City

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It’s an interesting day today, as the two hockey teams I enjoy watching both have game sevens tonight: the Barrie Colts have game seven of the OHL Finals in London while the Toronto Maple Leafs play game seven of their first round series in Boston. Both games are at the same time, so it’s going to take some creative remote-work to fit them both in, but it’ll be worth the effort.

It’s been a while since I felt so invested in a hockey game. Long enough that I don’t have anything in my archive here I can easily compare it to. I suppose there’s this 2006 post and another from 2007, but both were about the regular season. I’ve written here since 2005, which is just enough time to cover the Leafs postseason gap. So this is new and uncharted territory for this organ.

The first round’s been a mix of rad James Reimer goaltending and Tuukka Rask looking either impregnable  or soft. The series opened with four games with the winning team scored at least four goals, including an overtime game that I regrettably fell asleep watching (because I’m an old man). But in the last two games, it’s  tightened up considerably: games five and six were 2-1 affairs, each won by the Leafs.

They’ve been nerve-wrecking affairs, especially last night when Toronto didn’t score until the second and Phil Kessel put in the eventual game-winner on what looked like a giant fluke: a rebound that bounced to a rushing Kessel, who flipped it into an open net. As I might have said back in my sportswriting days, he took advantage of an opportunity. And truth be told, I didn’t think there was a great many of them; Boston’s defence has been pretty strong through six games and mostly kept Toronto’s scorers in check. For example, through six games, Kadri’s picked up just two assists and hasn’t scored on any of his 13 shots on net; this season, he scored on nearly 17 per cent, fourth-highest on the team.

At the same time, Reimer’s had a bunch of good games. His save percentage is tied with Rask at .932, despite having more goals allowed. This comes from how Reimer’s been peppered with shots through every game: the 237 shots he’s faced is most of any goalie so far. He’s had four games where he faced at least 40 shots and the 43-save performance in game five was one of the best Leaf goaltending performances in recent memory. It’s an easy thing to say about goalies, but he’s been the best Leaf on the ice for nearly every game so far. Watching him this spring has been a blast.

About an hour north of Toronto, the Barrie Colts have also gone through a tear this postseason. They  made quick work of both Kingston and Oshawa, but the series against Belleville was wild, with games swinging back and forth and both Malcolm Subban and Mathias Niederberger making big saves. Two of those games went to overtime and Barrie nearly blew a 3-1 series lead, including a third-period collapse in game six. But they won game seven on the road and moved to the OHL Finals, facing the London Knights.

You may remember how good the Knights were this season. Earlier this year, they went on a tear through the OHL, winning 24 games in a row. They’d finish the regular season with 50 wins, most in the league. Until the finals, they’d lost just two games in the postseason (one of them in double OT) and had two of the league’s best scorers in Max Domi and Bo Horvat, who have combined for 25 goals in 20 games. That’s a pretty good pace.

But Barrie’s has its own scoring monster: Mark Scheifele. Through this postseason he’s come into his own, scoring 41 points in 21 games. The other night, he scored four times in the third period as the Colts came from behind to win. He’s been a beast all season, especially after he returned from a short stint with the Winnipeg Jets. More than anyone else in the series, he’s stood out on the ice: number 19 is usually the guy with the puck and almost always the tallest guy on the ice. Even if Barrie loses tonight, he deserves serious consideration for series MVP.

In all, it’s a blast for as fair-weather a hockey as myself. I mentioned it earlier this season, but this year I’ve really dived into the OHL and this Colts team has been a blast. For one, Scheifele’s one of those players who’s bigger than everyone else and can just dominate on the ice. But there’s also Niederberger, who’s been a standout in net (.927 save percentage and two shutouts) and Zach Hall, who’s picked up 20 points in 18 games. There’s also Anthony Camara, who’s hitting is questionable at best.

These Colts have been a great team to get into junior hockey through; I certainly hope they advance to the Memorial Cup, but I’d be satisfied no matter tonight’s result.

Same thing for the Leafs. It’s been so long since they’ve played a playoff game that I’m just happy they’re even in the postseason at all. That Reimer’s been so much to watch and extended this series to seven games is a bonus. I’m nervous about the games, but it’s a nice feeling. I haven’t felt this way about hockey in a long time.

Written by M.

May 13, 2013 at 1:15 pm

Going Over the Brian Burke Era: Do We Have To Do This All Over Again?

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Over at Leafs Nation, Cam Charron recently asked an interesting question: how long does Brian Burke have?

Its interesting in the usual off-season, GTA-centric sense of questioning whoever’s in charge of the Leafs and asking when they’ll get better (or if you’re trying to sell books, if that’ll ever happen), but it’s interesting in the more immediate context, too. One might remember how MLSE has new owners, which means the people running the Leafs aren’t in it for the money, so to speak: Rogers and Bell have more important things to worry about than getting the highest possible return on their investment here.

And with new owners, one wonders if they’ll want to bring in their own people to run the various wings of MLSE: the hapless FC, the somehow second-best team in the GTA Raptors and the Leafs, who ESPN recently called the worst team in all sports, of all time, forever and ever, etc.

Brian Burke has been GM of the Maple Leafs since the end of November 2008. If my math is right, this would be his fourth season with Toronto. And as Bill Veeck once wrote, when you run a team, you’ve got four years to turn them around before you lose the fans.

In his four years with the Leafs, Burke hasn’t improved the team. He inherited a team that finished with 83 points and 36 wins in 2007-08. This wasn’t a strong team: Vesa Toskala was the starting goalie, Andrew Raycroft backing him up and the leading scorer was Mats Sundin: 32 goals and 78 points. Let’s break down what happened next, year by year.

2008-09 Maple Leafs: 34-35-13 (81 points, finished 12th in Eastern Conference)

The offseason before Burke was a memorably awful one in retrospect. Just look at this crop of free agent signings: Curtis Joseph (one year, $700,000), Niklas Hagman (four years, $12 million) and, my favorite of all, Jeff Finger (four years, $14 million). At the time, CBC spun the signing by saying Finger “impressed in his first full season in the NHL.” More about his impressing later.

Just days before Burke was hired by the Leafs, the team traded away Alex Steen and Carlo Colaiacovo to St. Louis for Lee Stempniak. In Steen, they gave up a 23-year old forward coming off his third-straight 15-goal (or more) season while I remember Colaiacovo being an okay defensemen, when he could get on the ice. As for Stempniak, he scored 11 goals in 08-09. Maybe a better way to measure his impact is by Point Shares: Toronto traded away Steen’s 3.5 and Coliaicovo’s 0.9 for Stempniak’s 2.1.

Part of this drop in offence can be attributed to Mats Sundin’s absence: on July 1, Sundin signed as a free agent with Vancouver; Toronto lost one of it’s best players ever and didn’t get anything in return for him. Great work, Cliff. As noted above, Sundin was the team’s leading scorer the year before. After him came Nik Antropov, who moved to the wing and scored 28 goals. He too would be traded: on March 4, Burke flipped him to New York for a second round pick. He also traded Dominic Moore to Buffalo for a second round pick. Hey, nice rebuilding moves!

Some of Burke’s moves were a little more curious: he traded for Brad May at a time when the league was starting to move away from brawling. Later, he flipped a career minor leaguer (Richard Petiot) for an injured (and soon to retire) Olaf Kolzig, someone named Andy Rogers (who isn’t even on Hockey-Reference) and an aging Jamie Howard. None of them ever played a second for Toronto.

As the for the Leafs? They finished with 34 wins, enough for fifth in their division, and allowed the most goals of any team in the league.

2009-10 Maple Leafs: 30-38-14 (74 points, finished 15th in the Eastern Conference)

During the offseason, Burke made his biggest splash yet: he traded two first round picks – 2010 and 11 – plus a second round pick to Boston for Phil Kessel. Just for a second, try to remember the context of this trade: Toronto had no real prospects in it’s system. They were far out of the playoffs the year before and allowed the most goals of any team in the NHL. So they traded for a young scorer: Kessel was 21, just coming off a 36-goal season with a 15.5 goal percentage. I don’t think it’s unfair to say in 2010, Kessel was a hot player.

The problem was, and still is, a scorer like Kessel is not the player Toronto needed. And certainly not at that price: Toronto would bottom out in 2010, finishing last in their conference and would have drafted second overall. But wait, there’s more stellar movemaking by Burke!

He re-signed Grabovski to a three-year deal. Grabovski, you might recall, scored 10 goals that season and posted a dismal 7 per cent scoring percentage. He signed Francois Beauchemin to a three-year deal. Beauchemin finished the year -13 and was on the ice for 45 powerplay goals against, still a career high. He traded for JS Giguere, who in 15 games was actually the best Leafs goalie (.916 Save Percentage, 2.49 GAA), gaving up Toskala and Jason Blake. And, biggest of all, he traded Matt Stajan, Jamal Mayers, Ian White and Hagman to Calgary for Dion Phaneuf.

I suppose one can be divided about how successful this move was: White and Mayers aren’t especially notable players and Hagman was past his peak but Stajan was a capable center and a good paring for Kessel, too. Is Phaneuf worth it? On one hand, his scoring is down (he’ll probably never score as many as he did as a rookie) and his +/- is steadily falling. On the other, his point shares have rebounded – 7.0 last year, his highest as a Leaf – and he eats minutes, averaging well over 20 minutes of icetime per game. According to Hockey-Reference’s Similarity Scores, which compares Point Shares to other players, he best resembles Doug Wilson and Steve Dushesne. Neither were amazing players, but Dushesne played 16 seasons and starred on a very fun 92-93 Nordiques team while Wilson was a key part of a decent Blackhawks team (three conference finals in four years and five in the 1980s), picked up a Norris and was named to the All-NHL Team a few times. Wilson is perhaps a best-case senario for Phaneuf, but he’s a lot closer to that than, say, Kessel is to a second-overall pick, plus another first-rounder.

The problem with this Leafs team, as with most of the recent Leaf teams, comes from the net out: they either lead the league in goals allowed or are close to it. When put as a number one starter, Toskala flailed and only once finished with a .900+ save percentage. Jonas Gustavsson has never proven to be much more than a solid backup in three seasons. And trading for an aging Giguere was stopgap at best. This was a major hole Burke never managed to fill. And he could have with some of the assets he swapped away.

As for the season itself, it even started awful: Toronto lost its first eight games. It never really got much better.

2010-11 Maple Leafs: 37-34-11 (85 Points, 10th in Eastern Conference)

Could it be? The Leafs in a playoff chase? Indeed, they were as the 2011 season wound down: they weren’t officially eliminated until April. What happened between this season and the last? Short answer: they got lucky.

James Reimer entered his first game as a Leaf in late December, replacing Gustavsson in a 4-0 loss to Atlanta. He started his first game January 1, a 5-1 win over Ottawa. In all, he’d appear in 37 games and post some of the best goaltending numbers of the Burke era: .921 Save Percentage, a 2.60 GAA, 7.8 Goalie Point Shares (highest since Toskala’s 2007-08 season). He was taken late in the 2006 draft, 99th overall and was way down the depth chart for the Leafs: even Jussi Rynnas was higher on the list (Rynnas has appeared in exactly two games as a Leaf and mostly backs up the Marlies). Him catching on was not part of any plan.

Aside from him, there wasn’t really much to be excited over. Only two Leafs scored more than 30 goals (Kessel and Kulemin, natch) on a team that struggled to put points on the board: their 218 goals was 23rd in the league. At the same time, they still allowed a ton of goals (251, 25th in the NHL) as neither Gustavsson or Giguere impressed. If Reimer doesn’t come from nowhere with 11th-in-the-NHL save percentage, they might have been even worse than the year before.

Who were the year’s planned additions? They signed free agent forwards Clarke MacArthur and Colby Armstrong and picked up Chicago’s Kris Versteeg for Viktor Stalberg, Chris DiDomenico and Philippe Paradis. Of the three, Armstrong was the biggest bust: his scoring dropped to eight goals in 2010-11 and only appeared in 50 games. He’d go on to miss most of the next season with ankle injuries and as a healthy scratch. However, MacArthur was a surprise for the Leafs: 21 goals, 63 points (second on the team!), 6.6 Point Shares and for just $1.1 million (Armstrong? $3 million over three years!).

And Versteeg? Kind of in the middle: he scored 14 goals and 35 points and was flipped to Philadelphia for their first and third round picks. If you weren’t keeping track, those picks were 25th overall (Stuart Percy) and 86th (Josh Leivo). Neither have played for the Leafs yet, but both are still pretty young (19, I think). Okay, so maybe Burke’s doing a little building for the future, but his bacon was definitely saved by Reimer.

Oh, and don’t forget about Jeff Lupul: picked up in a trade for Beauchemin, Lupul didn’t do much off the bat, scoring just nine goals and 18 points in the last 24 games, but his shooting percentage and point shares were slightly up. Oh, and some defenceman named Jake Gardiner came in on the trade, too.

2011-12 Toronto Maple Leafs: 35-37-10 (80 points, 13th in the Eastern Conference)

This season started pretty good the Leafs: three wins to open the season, 18 by Christmas and at the beginning of February, they were 28-19-6. Could everything be coming together?

Right from training camp, Gardiner looked like the first really good young player Toronto’s had in years. While he doesn’t score much – nine goals, 30 points – he put up some good stats for a rookie d-man: -2 on a team that allowed the second-most goals in the league, 5.6 point shares (seventh on the league) and was named to the All-Rookie Team, the first Leaf to get there since Luke Schenn.

Meanwhile, Lupul, the other addition in that trade, had a great start, too: paired with Kessel at the start of the season, they scored 70 points in their first 30 games. And Gustavsson, pushed into a starters role after Reimer suffered a concussion in October, looked decent.

But in February, the wheels fell off for the Leafs: first it was four losses in a row, then 10 in 11 games. They’d win just four games that month and only one after the sixth of the month. March was no better: seven losses in nine games and they dropped out of the playoff picture amid a shoulder injury to Lupul and a shakeup on the bench, when Ron Wilson was replaced with Randy Caryle amid boos and catcalls in the usually-reserved-even-in-times-of-crisis ACC. They finished the season in the cellar, but for once had a high pick to show for it: defenceman Morgan Rielly, taken fifth overall.

So, where does that leave the Leafs? Both MacArthur and Reimer surprised in their first seasons with the club and hopefully they’ll keep it up. They’ve got young talent in Gardiner and in Kessel someone who could probably be a 40-goal scorer if he has the talent around him. But there’s still holes: they’ve continually allowed a ton of goals, barely have anything to show for years in the cellar (only three players from the 2008 draft on have any NHL experience: Nazem Kadri, looking more and more like a bust every season;  Schenn, coming off a rough 2011-12; Jimmy Hayes, now playing for Chicago). And tons of money tied up in two players: Kessel and Phaneuf, who, if I understand right, have a combined cap hit of $11.9 million this season.

It’s not a pretty sight. When Burke came to Toronto, he called it the opportunity of a lifetime. He pledged to rebuild his way. But in five years he hasn’t built much: a couple moments where everything was working, against all odds, and many moments where things weren’t, in line with all the odds. Five years on, the Leafs don’t seem to be much better. With new owners, wouldn’t this season be the time of times to move on from Burke? Because, as a wise band once sang, how many times are they going to make this climb?

Written by M.

September 17, 2012 at 10:41 pm

Stanley Cup Final prediction

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That was a hell of a layoff, wasn’t it? The New Jersey Devils haven’t played since last Friday and the LA Kings haven’t since last Tuesday, a nine-day break. If one’s the kind of person who believes in things like momentum or they’re on a roll or whatever, you better not bust those phrases out after game one since you can’t have momentum when you haven’t moved in almost a week.

Still, these playoff have been all sorts of fun and I’m not really looking forward to them ending. The last round was somewhat anticlimactic, with series that didn’t feel especially close, but there was still some great moments. To wit: game six of the Rangers/Devils series, where the Rangers had chances in overtime but just couldn’t get it to happen. I hate to break everything to a simple line like this, but it genuinely feels like New York just ran out of gas: this was a great regular season team who admittedly did struggle in the first two rounds. It took them seven games to get past both the Capitols and Senators and those were two teams way below them statistically. Like the OT in game six showed, they just didn’t have the horses to keep pace with (let alone pass) a team like the Devils. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by M.

May 30, 2012 at 5:39 pm

NHL Round Three Predictions

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There’s a few things I’m going to wake away from the second round of the NHL playoffs

  • Dale Hunter did a pretty alright job and his exit isn’t a good thing for the Capitols. They went into the playoffs as a low seed and upset Boston in the opening round, in a pretty good seven game series. And then they took the Rangers – arguably the best team still in the playoffs – to seven games, including a gutty win in game six. They played a wildly different style of hockey than they had under Bruce Boudreau, a much slower game that kept Alex Ovechkin on the bench. An article I read over the weekend asked if this was the start of a new style of hockey: keeping the scorer on the bench until you need a goal. I’m leaning towards no, but I wonder of Ovechkin’s name will be tied to Hunter’s abrupt leave. Were there problems behind closed doors? Did Ovechkin pull a Dwight Howard – it’s either him or me, chief? I have no idea. But I’m curious to see what happens next for the Caps, and if they’ll go back to what worked for them in the regular season, if not the postseason.
  • The Devils continue to surprise me. Not just in a “now they play fast” sense, but in a “who saw this coming?” kind of way. And this is from someone who picked them to roar past the Flyers. Marty Brodeur is ancient at this point, but is putting up some of his best postseason numbers. His GAA of 2.04 is the lowest it’s been since before the lockout (and since the Devils championship run of 2003, actually) while his Save Percentage of .920 is better than it’s been in a while. Meanwhile Ilya Kovalchuk’s 12 points is second-best among all active playoff scorers. This isn’t a team to sleep on.
  • Speaking of goalies, Kings netminder Jonathan Quick is putting together one hell of a Conn Smythe resume: he leads all goalies with a 1.59 GAA, a .947 Save Percentage (not to mention nine wins, a product of me not posting this in time). These Kings are in interesting team to watch: they’ve blown away two very good teams in St. Louis and Vancouver, lead Phoenix one game to zip and remind me a lot of the 2006 Oilers, a team all but carried by Dwayne Roloson and Fernando Pisani to the seventh game of the finals (and would have won, I think, if Roloson didn’t get hurt).
There’s more I could write about: Phoenix looking really good against Nashville (does this mean Chicago was much better than I thought?; the Blues folding like a cheap card table; the Rangers were lucky to gut out a tough series; etc. It’s a testament to how good these playoffs have been that I could write more words than you’d want to read. I’ve certainly been enjoying them. Picks follow the jump.Eastern Conference Finals
(1) New York Rangers v. (6) New Jersey Devils
One thing I like about this series is how at least two games will be played in Madison Square Garden and tight playoffs games seem like they mean more there, maybe because New York is such a big media market stage. Other than that, there’s not a lot I like. The Rangers have not been an especially overpowering first seed, having gone seven games against both the Capitols and Senators. In the first round, they won two win-or-go-home games and their last round came with lucky OT wins (the three OT game three and the much-shorter OT game five), not to mention dropping a chance to close the series out in game six. Their goal differential of +3 isn’t inspiring, especially considering their opposition. 
But, as I wrote above, the Devils have looked very good. They’ve upset two teams, seen Brodeur play better than he has in years and have in Kovalchuk a top-notch scorer for the first time in a long time. I don’t think this series will be over in a hurry, but I don’t see the Devils slowing down, either. New Jersey in six.

Western Conference Finals
(3) Phoenix Coyotes v. (8) Los Angeles Kings
The Coyotes feel like two teams this postseason. They were a shaky and lucky team in the first round: late goals by the Blackhawks sent a few of their games to overtime, but Phoenix won three of their five OT matches. In the second round, they settled down, overpowering the Predators in five games. Only one overtime here, a game one win, but this was also a close series. Three of the five games were decided by a single goal and the remaining two were decided by two goals. As a team, they’ve scored just as many playoff goals as the Kings (31) but the difference lies in their goaltending: their differential is +6. The Kings is +15, by a wide margin the best among all playoff teams.
Part of that is from Quick’s goaltending, part is from timely scoring by Dustin Brown: his seven goals and 13 points are best among still-active players. Another part comes from collapses by teams that sank like a lead balloon: the Canucks fell apart pretty quickly (suddenly enough that Luongo seems like he’ll be traded) while the Blues just couldn’t score: six goals across all four games. The Kings, meanwhile, dropped five in game two alone. Is it asking a lot to assume Quick will continue playing at this pace? Maybe, but I’ve got this feeling in my gut that the Kings are just the better of the two teams here. Los Angeles in five

Written by M.

May 14, 2012 at 6:02 pm

NHL Playoff Second Round Picks

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Given how insane and unpredictable the first round was, I feel pretty confident in my picks. I nailed one of the series – Blues over Sharks in five – and picked the right team in a few others: the Rangers, Devils and Coyotes all moved on. And I’ll admit, I was completely, 100 per cent wrong in my Canucks-in-four pick. Although did anyone see the Kings just obliterating the team with the NHL’s best record?

What’s interesting to me is how close the first round was. 16 games went into overtime, with three of those going to a second OT. Altogether, 32 games were decided by one goal! I don’t remember there ever being a first round this exciting, this close and this much fun to watch. And yes, I’m including 1993, the best NHL postseason ever. It sets a high bar for the second round. Picks follow the jump.
Eastern Conference
(1) New York Rangers v. (7) Washington Capitols
Both of these teams are coming off of gruelling series, with the Caps coming off one where all seven games were decided by one goal. The Caps are playing way better than I thought they were capable of and rookie goalie Braden Holtby has both played the most minutes (449) and faced the most shots (248) of any goalie thus far in the playoffs. Sometimes rookie goalies really catch on in the playoffs: see Cam Ward, Felix Potvin or, most legendarily of all, Ken Dryden. Another stat to look at: how little the Rangers are scoring. They made it through the seven-game series with a goal differential of +1 and scored the fewest of the four teams left in the East. If they’re having trouble scoring before facing the playoffs hottest goalie, what happens when they do? Capitols in six.

Philadelphia goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, warming up before
game six of the Philly/Pittsburgh series

(5) Philadelphia Flyers v. (6) New Jersey Devils 
If the Rangers can’t score, the Flyers sure can: their 30 goals is the most any team has thus far in the playoffs. And don’t look now, but Claude Giroux leads the league in goals and assists. But there’s troubling signs: they also allow a lot of goals (26), by far the most among active playoff teams. And they take a lot of penalties, too: three of the 10 most penalized players thus far are Flyers. And they allowed nine power play goals in their six game series, too. How are the Devils? They scored five power play goals and 18 total, most of any team not in the Pittsburgh/Philadelphia shootout. Now, the Penguins offense is much better than the Devils, but Marty Brodeur has played better than Marc-Andre Fleury and I don’t trust either of Philadelphia’s goalies. Devils in five.

Western Conference
(2) St. Louis Blues v. (8) Los Angeles Kings
This could be a low-scoring series. Both of these teams are coming into this series with hot goalies: Jonathan Quick has a 1.59 GAA and a .953 save percentage, while Brian Elliot has a GAA of 1.37 and a .949 save percentage (not to mention Jaroslav Halak’s 1.73 and .935 stats). And together, each team allowed just eight goals – although the Blues played one game less. On the other hand, the Blues can score. Andy McDonald has eight points through five games and the playoffs best shooting percentage (and 3.2 goals created). The Kings are a nice story and they beat up on a good, if flawed, Canucks team but I don’t see two upsets in a row. Blues in six.

They’re having a fun time, but remember how lucky
 the Coyotes are this postseason!

(3) Phoenix Coyotes v. (4) Nashville Predators
Not exactly a traditional series, eh? The Coyotes got here the tough way, after beating Chicago in a series where five of six went to overtime. And while it’s nice to get the bounces in the extra frame, it’s hard to look past how the games got there: Phoenix coughed up late leads in four games. Yes, Mike Smith has looked good (1.81 GAA, .950 save percentage) and has better stats than Pikka Rinne, but he’s not the problem. The problem lies with Phoenix’s defence, with it feeling like every game was mostly spent in front of Smith, especially in crunch time. The Coyotes feel especially flawed and especially lucky; after manhandling Detroit, Nashville just feels good, man (also they have some stellar crowds). Nashville in five.

Written by M.

April 27, 2012 at 6:55 pm

Flashfact: The Insane, amazing and dirty-as-hell first round

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My latest for Flashfact is on the first week of NHL Playoff action, which ranged from the amazing to the insane to the dirty-as-fuck.

One thing I didn’t mention for space reasons is the Blues/Sharks series. It’s been close, with some fun and exciting finishes but I’m digging CBC trying to find a fully-bearded Jon Hamm in the private boxes. It’s been a while since the Blues seemed this noteworthy.

But that’s hardly the only thing. From my piece:

What the hell am I supposed to make of the NHL playoffs thus far? On one hand, we have some of the dirtiest series in years, some of the worst hits I can remember and at least a couple good games that went completely off the rails.
But on the other hand, the hockey has been ridiculously exciting, especially with regards to the amount of overtime, and ratings are up across the board. All of these series have been exciting to watch. So why is everyone calling them the dirtiest playoffs ever?
They led with hockey on Pardon the Interruption the other day, which almost never happens, even during the Stanley Cup Finals. But Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon didn’t talk about the overtimes, high-scoring offences or Backstrom’s laser-guided wrister against Boston. They talked about Sidney Crosby playing with a glove, about a basket full of dirty hits and brawling and wondered if the league is out of control.

Click here to read the whole thing! 

Written by M.

April 21, 2012 at 12:17 pm

Tim Thomas’ politics are a load of puck

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We’re living in strange times. The 24 hour news cycle has been shortened to a half-hour wheel, the Internet demands 140 characters content now, now, now and there’s always, always a news hole to fill.

It means that even the most mundane becomes newsworthy.

Take the flap in Montreal, where Canadiens head coach Randy Cunneyworth takes flak for not speaking one language in a city that speaks two. Does it really matter? The team speaks English, the league conducts business in English but a wing of the local media and a large segment of the city’s population doesn’t. Never mind that the coach doesn’t actually talk to fans and that Cunneyworth could always bring a translator to media scrums. The Montreal media pounded that story and soon, it was drawing international attention.

And even now, weeks later, it’s still in the news cycles, thanks to some comments by Jaroslav Spacek. In Quebec, hockey has always had a strain of politics to it. And now, politics has met the puck head-on.

That’s why a White House visit by the Boston Bruins is both news-worthy and nothing at all. On Monday, the team visited President Obama, sans Tim Thomas, who backed out for political reasons. He expounded why on his Facebook page:

I believe the Federal government has grown out of control, threatening the Rights, Liberties, and Property of the People.This is being done at the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial level. This is in direct opposition to the Constitution and the Founding Fathers vision for the Federal government.Because I believe this, today I exercised my right as a Free Citizen, and did not visit the White House. This was not about politics or party, as in my opinion both parties are responsible for the situation we are in as a country. This was about a choice I had to make as an INDIVIDUAL.

I know you’re shocked: an athlete has conservative views? That’s never happened before.

One doubts that Thomas is politically savvy. He’s expressed support for Glenn Beck, donated to far-right causes and been called a Tea Party Patriot. That alone should be enough for his views to be considered ill-guided, if well-intentioned. The Tea Party is astroturf, a billionaire-funded movement to keep the rich from paying taxes while slashing away safety nets. It goes to the lowest common denominators, focusing on banal catchphrases that represent various levels of truth: Obamacare, teleprompter, death panel. Should we judge him on his political stances?

That’s a loaded question. He’s a goalie, geting paid vast sums of money for people to shoot frozen pieces of rubber at his body. Politics doesn’t really have anything to do with the puck.

But we live in highly politicized times. Luke Scott went from just another outfielder to national headlines after he smarted off about Obama’s birth certificate. He’s hardly the only far-right person in the history of baseball, but that’s not the point. What matters is the way the media reacted to him.

Another way to look at it is to look at the behavior of people like Josh Lueke, Donte Stallworth, Danny Heatley and Ben Roethlisberger, and how the public treats them. Is Thomas really that much worse?

Not seeing Obama wasn’t a problem, although his flimsy excuse – “This was not about politics” – is disingenuous. If he doesn’t want to go to the White House, that’s his business. If he allies himself with the party of tea,  expresses fandom for somebody who bashed Obama on a daily basis, or donates money to political causes, he’s opening the door. Everything he says now is political.

But that’s not the problem. The problem is the media sound chamber, echoing this story into somethingness. Columns that say he’s “not a patriot” are banal. Wishy-washy columns saying he’s showing bad manners (and don’t really get the free speech thing) aren’t adding anything to the conversation. And doesn’t the Boston Globe’s editorial board have better things to write about?

The thing is, maybe not. Sports media can be vacuous sometimes; just read any column saying Jack Morris belongs in the hall of fame. It draws hits, feeds on itself and repeats. Like politics, it’s fun to argue about if you’re not taking yourself too seriously. And like politics, it’s all too easy to start taking it too seriously, too.

Written by M.

January 24, 2012 at 11:54 pm