Sunday, December 7, 2008

Sunday Notes

For all the doubts that still exist about this Ottawa team, there is a palpable feeling right now that things are somehow different from the confused and unconfident group we saw at the start of the year.

Just listening to Daniel Alfredsson's post-game interview on the Team 1200 would have allayed the fears of even the most hardened pessimist.

He seemed almost jubilant at times but it wasn't just the afterglow of a single good game. You could hear the relief in his words as he traced back over the past 7 or so games and pointed out that there had only been one average effort in the whole lot and that was the loss against the Islanders last week.

When the captain is happy, the rest of the team must be too. For a change, they look like they are having fun again.

Despite everyone's brave words, it was clear that the negative atmosphere from the second half of last year was still weighing on the core players and that the new additions were too busy trying to adjust to a new team and city to do anything about it right away. But slowly, a hardened team is starting to emerge.

I really like how Craig Hartsburg is not too proud to change his mind, altering some concepts he brought in from the start.

The first was the idea that Martin Gerber was the number one goalie and that all he needed was a vote of confidence and a stretch of games to prove himself. Hartsburg let Gerber play himself out of the spot and that was that. Alex Auld has taken over and Hartsburg hasn't played around since. The rumours of trading for the expensive Nikolai Khabibulin seem almost absurd at this point.

Hartsburg also paid lip service to the notion of having to break up the top line to spread the offense around. Even when they were losing, he kept them apart to try and see if the team could come through it. When it became clear that this team needed some offense, he changed his course and now the Senators are inching their way up the standings.

Hartsburg could have extended the misery of this team if he was too hard-headed but he's shown that he's of the modern variety of coaches - adaptable and capable of motivating his players without resorting to the bag skates and the media call-outs (his early mistake of putting public heat on Spezza aside).

I said after the Atlanta win that the contest against the Penguins would be real test for this team and they came through with top marks. Now with some careful moves by Bryan Murray to bring in a little more skill, this team has the potential to do some damage down the line.


Eric Duhatschek has a good quote from Buffalo Sabres president Larry Quinn on how the NHL can break through into the American television market:

“I talked to the NFL guys last year,” said Quinn, “and I asked them: How did you change your game from the off-tackle, three-yard running play and scores that were 13-10 to what you have right now? And a wise old guy said to me: It's very simple. Roone Arledge walked down the street and said to Pete Rozelle one day: Listen, I have this idea. It's called Monday Night Football. I can make you lots and lots of money, but here's what I can sell: I can sell quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers. That's what I can sell to the American public.

“Well, if you look at what we do, we sell goaltenders. I think it's fair to say, both Canadians and Americans, that's not what they love about the game. They love Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky, Guy LaFleur and Jean Beliveau.”

According to Kelly, if the NHL could get goal-scoring up in the seven-per-game range, that might be enough to make the long-awaited breakthrough on television in the United States."

He's right. The goalie worship, which started around the time Patrick Roy won his first Stanley Cup with Montreal in 1986, is way overboard. How else can you explain Roberto Luongo, despite winning zilch in his NHL career, being more of a star than any single player on the Detroit Red Wings roster?


More goals might help the ratings, but is it too late for the Phoenix Coyotes? According to the Globe and Mail, the franchise is on the brink of bankruptcy. ... Jim Lang of Sportsnet actually hissed and booed at the Senators third jersey's when showing highlights of the Pens-Sens game this morning. Then again, this is the guy who thinks "slobberknocker" is a catchy phrase which must be repeated every time a home-run has to be described during the baseball season. ... Ron Maclean and company probably want their first-intermission commentary back as they went on and on about Jason Spezza using an all-composite stick and said it was the reason he was having trouble controlling the puck. Except Spezza uses a wooden blade jammed into a composite shaft and ended up with a hat-trick by the end of the afternoon. Whoops......While he had another great game, Spezza might have the ugliest moustache on the team. That thing is brutal.....If you ever feel the need to torture yourself, just listen to the post-game show on the Team 1200. It is the worst collection of phone callers outside of the weekday Over The Edge show. Unbelievably, people still found opportunities to vent their Spezza hate, saying that his latest scoring exploits only increases his trade value. .... How many of you at home for the game were contemplating making an irate phone call to CBC when 2:00 rolled around and they were still showing a curling match? Only a play or two was missed but you can bet that the Toronto Maple Leafs would never have to endure a similar problem. .... The Penguins are good now but wait until they get Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney back from injury. At that point, they may become Eastern Conference favourites.


Anonymous said...

In all seriousness, the post game on Team 1200 is horrible, the only people willing to call in are drunk, or have no sense of hockey.

Anonymous said...

The best was the replay of the guy who wanted the SENS to get Scott Stevens and Ed Belfour! HE WAS DEAD SERIOUS! He was actually shocked to find out Stevens was a free agent!!

Anonymous said...

Is it such a surprise that Zetterberg isnt popular in the united states or Canada?
Luongo on the other hand is deserving of a hart trophy every year he's been in Vancouver and is clearly a more interesting personality-not to mention hes from canada not sweden. Detroit cant fill a stadium, Vancouver can, etc etc.
IMO, you can talk about increasing scoring to appease american viewers but is this really what they want? You can see the effectiveness in marketing of Milan Lucic thats happening in boston. I'm not saying that goons and enforcers should be marketed but the prototypical power forward is really the only player that will make an impact. However, all of that doesnt really make a big difference. The fact is that its not a traditional sport, it is not dominated by american athletes and it has to compete with college sports, the NFL, NBA and MLB is really what makes it just plain unlikely. I think that the way to grow the sport is through grass roots, not marketing.

Anonymous said...

Good post. Marketing hockey in the States is a tough proposition. Fewer people here have ever played the sport, many people are sure that it's the most violent activity in the world, and others think that it's as boring as watching soccer.

There are also plenty of other sports viewing options available, and frankly even with more scoring - which is absolutely required... cut those damn goalie pads in half already! - there would have to be very slick broadcasts (and on ESPN, not Versus) in order to have any chance of making significant inroads.

A one night a week package would be a start... rather than diluting things with mediocre games several times a week (save that for the local broadcasts). I'm just scared when I see things like "Rinkside View" being used for Kings games... a dizzying, rinkside (duh) camera angle that takes away from any true vision of the dynamics on the ice.

Anonymous said...

Yea, having games on espn would be a major boost for hockey, I think that its important to get attention on sports shows such as Pardon the Interuption and Around the Horn to really make any kind of headway into the american sports market. It just needs to be on the consciousness of the "prestigious sportswritters" who are normally stuck on college football or the condition of Tom Brady's foot. I totally agree that most of the American hockey coverage is a joke compared to TSN or Hockey night in Canada. The play by play and colour people are mostly pathetic and really push the sport in a way that isnt acceptable to a hardcore fan or someone with a passing interest. I just think that changing the game to increase scoring under the assumption that more americans will watch is kind of silly. Sports marketing in the united states is more about hype than the product on the field or rink.

Anonymous said...

Cudos to all the Can. CFO's who bought American dollars to pay salary, but about 2 or even 3 seasons of a 75cent dollar will relegate the NHL to 2nd rate status through revenue alone in the US of A. The only positive might be to shed a couple of bad American franchises. Ottawa would become the Silver Seven again or play some games in the Fru and be called the Millionaires. Seriously, the last depression cost us, first the King & then the Senators. LHN(lets hope not).

Anonymous said...

The whole "he's canadian" thing is so pathetic. Everytime I hear it, I just write the person off as another Don Cherryite. Probably the same guys who constantly bitch about Spezza, one of the top ten centres in the league, but love fisher, the over-priced checking line centre. I have to admit though, Fisher's at least in the top... 70 centres in the league. But he is a good god-fearing canadian.

Anonymous said...

If your'e refering to how i said "hes canadian" I think it was a case of hes more popular because hes canadian not hes a better player because hes a canadian. For the record, Don Cherry, as ignorant as he may be loves spezza and was actually accused of having being too supportive of spezza by some members of the media. Take it easy...

Anonymous said...

Speaking for myself, as a Canadian, I do not like a player any more or less, regardless of their nationality. I know that the friends that I've grown up playing hockey with, feel the same way.

I love watching Crosby, Ovechkin, Spezza, Malkin, Hossa, Havlat, Iginla, Forsberg, Kovalchuk, Kane, Jagr. Who cares where they are from?

When I hear any hockey pundit bring up nationality during any serious hockey debate, I just sense a big time generation gap. If a younger person brings up nationality, I chalk it up to ignorance or stupidity.

That being said, in some markets, fans get attached to certain kinds of players. Milan Lucic plays a style that harkens back to Cam Neeley. I don't think it has anything to do with nationaity.

Anonymous said...

I was talking about it purely from a marketing standpoint, not skill or heart. It has nothing to do with who is better and who isnt. If a player is Canadian he will be more marketable to Canadians. If hes American he will be more marketable to Americans. Regardless of whether the stereotype is accurate,it still exists and has to be taken into consideration particularily when choosing which players to focus on from a marketing standpoint. Alot of people- especially americans, do care where a player is from. they may be idiots to think this way but thats just the way it is.

Anonymous said...

Maybe, maybe not. I bet Alfie sells more jerseys than Heatley. In general, though gotta agree that all other things being equal, the canuck will like the canuck more.

Anonymous said...

Ovechkin sells more than Chris Clark, Sundin more than Tucker, Koivu more than Latendresse.

I agree that if all things are equal, the canuck will choose the canuck. The problem is that players are rarely equal.