Saturday, March 12, 2011

Weekend Notes

Hockey violence is apparently “hurting the game” and the NHL’s image, according to everyone with access to a microphone and a word processor, yet the NHL has never been so popular in both Canada and America. Ever. 
The ratings are breaking new records on both sides of the border. The salary cap has gone up every year since it was instituted because revenues keep going up. Everyone involved is getting rich, with the exception of a few southern-based organizations having ownership problems. Both the owners and the players have a CBA that dictates exactly how much money each side makes and the playoff races are the most exciting among all 4 major leagues, not to mention the playoffs themselves. Yet, there is no league in the world which goes through so much needless and boring self-analysis than the NHL. The game is better than it's been for the last 25 years but people can't help focusing on what's wrong with it, rather than what makes it such a great sport.
The fact that the NHL is fast, physical and somewhat dangerous is what makes it great in the first place. The masses clamoring for a "culture change" seem to forget that they already won the biggest battle, and that was to get the league to install Rule 48 banning blindside hits to the head. It's only been in place for less than a full season and already people pretend like it's always been there, and that the NHL has done nothing to curb concussions. Nothing could be further from the truth. That was a landmark rule change and it's impact can not yet be properly assessed.
Any further legislation made in a panic is not the right way to conduct business. But if the pressure becomes unrelenting, change will become inevitable and everyone will have to live with the consequences, even if it means the game itself becomes worse. It's too bad. Suddenly, hockey has turned into an intellectual and moral debate and nothing could be more boring. Have you listened to the Team 1200 lately in Ottawa? The Senators don't even exist anymore. It's 24/7 headshots and how the NHL is a "bush league". We hear interviews with lawyers and doctors. Journalists who have never written a hockey article in their life are suddenly experts on the NHL and have no qualms telling Gary Bettman how to run the league. NHL hockey used to be an escape from politics and other serious issues, a way to unwind and enjoy a Saturday night. Nothing wrong with that. Now it's just a huge drag like everything else. What a shame …..
.....Bettman easily delivered the most cutthroat line of the year when he subtly threatened Air Canada that NHL clubs could, at any time, stop using their charter services in response to the Montreal-based company sending out a ridiculous letter to the commissioner threatening to pull their sponsorship dollars. I’m guessing the executives will now crawl back to their desks with their tail between their legs as most opponents end up doing when going against Bettman. Love him or hate him, he never loses. He crushed the NHLPA so badly that its very existence was in doubt only a few years ago. You think he’s going to blink when a sponsor, who is apparently getting a sweetheart deal on the naming rights for the Maple Leafs rink, sends a reactionary letter trying to tell the league how to conduct their business? I’m sure they had a good laugh about that one in New York. That’s why it’s no surprise Bettman received a five year extension back in November. He's not going anywhere folks.....
..... Oh no. Poor Brian Elliott. The Avalanche got destroyed by the Ducks last night and Elliott let in six goals. His save percentage on the night was .818. Since joining the Avs, Elliott is sporting a bloated 4.40 GAA, an .875 save percentage and an 0-4 record in 5 games (he was yanked in one game which gave him a no-decision). What happened to this kid anyways? Both Cory Clouston and Bryan Murray mentioned that Elliott was under a lot of "pressure" when he was forced to carry the load in Ottawa, but it looks like that pressure has only increased in Denver. If you think about it, how tough would it be to get traded to a team where the only thing anybody knows about you is that you couldn't get the job done for your last team and now you have to go in and save the day for your new team. To make things worse, the goalie you got traded for has turned into the China wall and people are saying the Senators stole Craig Anderson from the Avs. There is a very real possibility the Avs don't offer Elliott a qualifying offer this summer to retain his rights. Where Elliott could go from there would be anybody's guess.....
..... Incredible debut for new Senators goalie Curtis McElhinney (say that 5 times fast) against the Lightning last night to give the Sens four straight road wins. I've wasted a bit of virtual ink saying the Senators need to go after an experienced back-up to Anderson next season, like Johan Hedberg or Mathieu Garon, but maybe McElhinney could make a good case for himself down the stretch. If the Senators could get goaltending like this next season, the playoffs are definitely possible..... Don't look now but Marek Svatos had 5 shots on net last night. He's starting to look better but needs to start getting on the scoresheet. If he could ever get comfortable, this guy could be a steal for Murray..... I know, I know, Brian Lee is playing well. Now let's see him do it from the start of training camp to the end of a season. I'm still skeptical..... Chris Campoli is +5 since joining the Blackhawks and has 2 assists in 5 games..... Jarkko Ruutu has 27 hits in 9 games for the Ducks since the trade but only 8 PIMs. I'm thinking he's enjoying life under Randy Carlyle a lot more than Cory Clouston....
....Speaking of Clouston, interesting piece from the Sun's Don Brennan today where he criticises Clouston for not giving Erik Condra and Erik Karlsson a chance to complete hat-tricks against the Devils and the Panthers this week by keeping them nailed to the bench with the opposition net empty. He even got a league executive saying, “(Clouston) just has blinders on,” said a league executive...“He just doesn’t notice.” It's a good point, but Clouston insulates himself from criticism by winning lately, and he deserves credit for that. You can get away with being "unliked" by your players if you win, but the act gets very old when the losses pile up. The odds caught up to coaches like Mike Keenan and Ken Hitchcock eventually. At the same time, nice coaches don't last long if they don't win either. Craig Ramsay in Atlanta is having a tough go at the moment and may not be back if the Thrashers miss the playoffs. Maybe you need to be somewhere in the middle to have lasting power, like Barry Trotz in Nashville and Lindy Ruff in Buffalo. Then again, neither of those guys have Cup rings. I guess it helps to have good players, no?....Not that he would have been available anyways, but Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma's new contract extension snuffed out the 0.01 percent chance he could have ended up behind the bench in Ottawa next season. Everybody I know who watched HBO's 24/7 series immediately recognized how good of a coach he really is. The Pens have hardly missed a beat after losing both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Probably doesn't hurt that they absolutely stole James Neal and Matt Niskanen from Dallas for Alex Goligoski.....

....I have a guest article up at Local Tourist Ottawa, a great site you should check out if interested in all things Ottawa. The piece is a general history of the Senators and geared towards maybe a more casual fan than may normally check out Black Aces (meaning I don't expect any emails telling me what an a-hole I am from their readers, like I get from time to time with mine!). Thanks for the invite, Jessey.....

....And lastly, how fun is it to watch this group of young Senators night in and night out? And don't tell me these guys are only playing good because there's no pressure. Guys like Bobby Butler and Erik Condra are trying to make this team for next season. There's no bigger pressure than trying to establish yourself in the NHL. The way they are performing is exceptional and should be giving guys like Nick Foligno and Peter Regin a few incentives to come into camp next year ready to fight for their jobs.


Anonymous said...

I love your blog but your defense of Bettman is a bit upsetting. Yes, he's done a few good things but in any of those cases he was simply doing his job and looking out after the league's interests. Otherwise he is a walking PR disaster. His flippant remarks to Air Canada were another example of his obvious contempt for this country. Regardless of what you think of AC's statement you would still expect him to publicly respect their comments ... especially in the middle of such a PR mess. Do you think for one second he would have responded the same way if NBC expressed the same concern?

This past week has just shown how hopelessly he's lost touch with the fans. More and more he just reminds me of Martin Short's old nervous lawyer satire. "Is it me? It's him, right?"

Jeremy Milks said...

Anonymous, I'm not sure I was defending Bettman, but just pointing out that he's a powerful figure who's not to be taken lightly. His remarks about Air Canada were not flippant, they were a threat. Personally, I like some things Bettman has done, others not so much. I do not think he has an anti-Canadian bias whatsoever. He fought to keep the Senators in Ottawa. His mandate was to grow the game in the U.S. and he has achieved that goal for the most part.

Les Habitants said...

Saw this posted on a lesser site. Montreal sucks.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like you're defending bettman. The fact that the league is "more popular than ever" is debatable to say the least. Hockey enrollment numbers are at an all-time low per capita, and the fact that ratings are "high" is incidental. It's due to the fact that people watch twice as much tv now than they did 25 years ago.

Of course Bettman isn't "anti-canadian" 20% of the teams produce a staggering 45% of the revenue, and over 60% of the players. Yet hockey enrollment per capita is at an all-time low, with the forecast even more grim.

Why such low numbers for the greatest sport going? Seriously, why?

Bettman may have "fought" to keep the Sens here, but he sure as shit didn't fight to keep the Nordiques or the Jets in their respective markets. Both of whose attendance and profitablitlity were higher 20 years ago than they are now. And yet he allowed them to be hijacked in the middle of the night to (to this day) very uninterested markets. Although I must say, giving away 2 hockey tickets with the purchase of a 26oz of vodka in phoenix was a stroke of genius a couple years ago. And they got 12000 large at the game.

Nope. No anti-canadian bias. Just a pro-american one.

Interesting 5 year 45 million (reports have it coming in between
40 and 50) dollar deal Bettman just signed. He was making 800 000k when he was hired, for the record.


PvR said...

800000k is pretty good money.

Jon Sim After Hal Gill said...

Yo, Anon (pg)... Maybe enrollment is down because it's so fucking expensive to play Hockey. Just a thought. What are the numbers like at the free local outdoor rinks? Every time I go I have to hit 3 or 4 before I can find one that's not jam packed.

You could honestly argue that High School is as dangerous a place as a hockey rink. Guns, drugs, gangs... It's so exhausting hearing about how Hockey is everything wrong with our society. Enough already!

As per Bettman, I guess those that employ him think he's doing a good job. What do you get paid to anonymously shit on the NHL from your basement? I don't get squat.

As per the videos above... I don't remember any criminal investigations being required for any of those hits. Funny.

Anonymous said...

If you think having Sidney Crosby out in any way benefits the league Jeremy, then I don't even know what to say to you.

When the biggest draw in your league suffers a concussion, you have to talk about how to prevent concussions. Any other response is self-defeating.

Jeremy Milks said...

Anonymous, when did I say having Sidney Crosby out benefited the league? And when did I say we are not supposed to take measures to prevent concussions? Can you cite me an example of where I've said any of those things?

You seem to be insinuating that a defense of physical play in the NHL is the same as not wanting to do anything about concussions.

That's a very easy conclusion to jump to and it requires little thought to do so.

There are other ways to reduce concussions without banning all incidental contact to the head. And I've also said before that concussions are always going to be present in a physical sport. That does not mean I don't want to do anything about them. It's merely stating fact.

If you have a better argument to present than implying that I don't support measures to stop concussions, I'd be happy to hear it.

Anonymous said...

For someone who spends as much time bitching and moaning in their blog about grown-ups having conversations about reducing head-shots and concussions, you sure give off the impression of someone who doesn't give a shit about the issues.

How many times have we heard these rants in Black Aces - about how you're tired of hearing about concussions on Team 1200, or you don't understand why Pierre McGuire can't just talk about hockey?

That's the impression you give off - of someone who doesn't care, and doesn't want to participate at the adult table.

Jeremy Milks said...

Anonymous, what are you talking about? I'm a big fan of Pierre McGuire. When did I ever criticise him or tell him what to talk about?

As for the "adult table", it sounds like this fictional table you are sitting at has room for only one opinion. I'll be over in the other room called "reality". Care to join me?