Monday, 22 April 2019

Updated Survivor Pool

As you may be aware if you tune into The Hockey Show, Canada's only campus-produced radio show that strictly talks hockey, Canada's Best Hockey Radio Contest™ is currently in the midst of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs as the Survivor: NHL Playoffs contest continues to run on The Hockey Show on UMFM. While we await a few series to conclude, I have been tardy in posting the who-versus-who image as the contest participants, so I figured that might be a good idea tonight with Nashville being voted off the island.

Ladies and gentlemen, here is the Survivor board current after tonight's results that saw Dallas advance and Carolina force Game 7.
If you click the image, you can make it bigger to see who is still in and who is on their way back from the island. Names in black are still alive while names in red have been, unfortunately, eliminated from winning the grand prize and all the glory that comes with it as the faded logos are representative of the faded dreams of winning this contest.

May 2 is when Beans and I will run through the first eight exit interviews for the teams dismissed in the opening round. That means that Elliot, Jason, Ethan, Tom, and Tyler will be joined by three other individuals on that day as we block off the May 2 episode of The Hockey Show for exit interviews. I'm already excited to hear what Jason and Elliot have to say after their teams were swept off the island, and I suspect that Tyler and Tom will have some thoughts on the Flames and Jets making very early exits compared to where people thought they may end their series. Nevertheless, it should be a fun show on May 2 if you want to hear some hockey fans rip into specific teams!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday, 21 April 2019

The 2019 Leaderboard

As with any competition that keeps scores for people to check, the HBIC Playoff Pool also has itself a leaderboard where names and corresponding scores are posted. This is that page, so if you're in the pool you may want to bookmark this page as it will be updated at the conclusion of every round with the new scores. I have to admit that in scoring the pool entries so far, there are some impressive totals in the first round of play, and then there are some people who are at the bottom of the scoring list because they didn't follow the instructions very well. I can't fix that, so those who find themselves at the bottom of the scoring table should have paid attention a little more closely.

The leaderboard is posted alphabetically by first name with last initial for clarity, although this appears to be the first time in the pool's history that we don't have same names for any of the entrants. Next to the name is the team each person chose for the tie-breaker. Following that, the number listed is how many of the four players each person picked to help their scoring have left in the playoffs. As you can see, until the scoring is posted, everyone is still showing four scorers except those who decided that they didn't want any help. That's on those two entrants as they'll be forced to win this thing with predictions alone.

With a handful of series to be decided, there likely will still be movement in the scoring, so make sure you check back midweek for the new pool spreadsheet and the the updated scoring totals!

Scores

  1. Andy S. (TBL/4)
  2. Chris L. (TBL/4)
  3. Darin S. (WAS/4)
  4. Jared R. (CGY/4)
  5. LJ S. (PIT/4)
  6. Loralea R. (WAS/4)
  7. Matt H. (SJS/4)
  8. Michael J. (WPG/4)
  9. Neal L. (BOS/4)
  10. Peter S. (TBL/4)
  11. Richard D. (NAS/4)
  12. Teri D. (BOS/4)
  13. Tomas L. (WPG/0)
  14. Travis T.(TBL/0)
  15. Tyler D. (WAS/4)
  16. Zeke P. (NAS/4)

You're reading that correctly in that just 16 people have entered the pool. That means that this year's pool has the best odds of any of the names above winning, and it helps me immensely because I don't have to spend hours marking pool entries. My complaining aside, all entrants have a 1-in-16shot at winning the pool right now and the great prizes at the end!

What are the prizes, you ask? Those will be revealed at a later date, but I assure you that the top prize is an NHL jersey. That won't change from previous years. I'm still waiting on a couple of places to ante up for the contest, so all shall be revealed shortly.

Make sure you check back here to see your point totals once all the Round One series are done, and then head to the summary page to get the next spreadsheet for Round Two!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday, 20 April 2019

Another Summer Of Blues

In hypothetical terms, the question of who would win between the immovable object and the unstoppable force has never truly been answered since we have yet to discover either in our galaxy. Somewhere out there, those two things may exist and perhaps the question has already been answered, but it's not within our reach yet. However, the Winnipeg Jets and St. Louis Blues may have been those two things as they battled through six games before a winner was found, and the end result was one that fans of the Winnipeg Jets won't like after the Blues, as unstoppable as they were through the second-half of the season, will continue into the next round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

This series was brought back to a best-of-three after the road teams won both games in the other team's rink. It wasn't a given that either team had any advantage following Game Four, but there was some belief that the Jets might have figured out the Blues following two-straight wins at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis and the Jets coming home for Game Five. Perhaps they found a hitch in Binnington or a weakness in St. Louis' system, but whatever belief fans and experts may have had evaporated in the third period of Game Five as Winnipeg coughed up a final period lead for the eleventh time this season in a loss.

Down 3-2 and heading back to St. Louis, the Jets faced elimination far earlier than they might have expected, so one had to believe they'd come out and blow the doors off the Enterprise Center like they had done in Game Three. One would think that the big guns would be firing lasers, the physicality would be ramped up, and the intensity would be at a high for this season.

And the Jets managed just six shots through the first two periods. Six total. SIX. Yikes.

This Jets team was supposed to be bigger, stronger, hungrier, and whatever other adjectives you want to pin on them following their dismissal in the Western Conference Final last season at the hands of the Vegas Golden Knights. We heard all about how in that series the Jets simply ran out of steam after a tough seven-game battle against Nashville, and how next season would be their season as they learned what it takes to win in the spring.

When asked at his post-game press conference about the Jets' health in this series, head coach Paul Maurice warned, "Be careful with excuses. We got beat. I didn't think we had that sustainable gas for the whole series. I didn't feel we had it coming into it."

Um, hold on a second, Paul. If the team doesn't have the "sustainable gas for the whole series," wouldn't that be a direct answer to the question about the team's health? And, on top of that, wouldn't that be the exact same problem that this team had last season in the Western Conference Final? In fact, following the Game Five loss to Vegas last season, Maurice said, "[S]ome of it was mental, but it was the physical fatigue caused by having to spend as much as we spent to get here."

If fatigue crept into the room, it seems to have hit the team sometime in February when the Jets began their two-month stretch of .500 hockey leading into the playoffs. The Jets had players available in the press box at that time to help alleviate some of that fatigue, but Maurice chose to run his horses into the ground, it seems, by constantly playing them and asking them to carry the load. If he isn't willing to give guys rest when he knows they're tired, this six-game dismissal falls directly on his shoulders as much as it does the players. There's no excuse not to rest guys when he knows they're tired.

This team gave up leads in the third period in both Game One and Game Four when it appeared they had played the first 40 minutes in each game with some purpose. This team looked spent in the third period of Game Five when St. Louis rallied for three goals in the last 20 minutes to crush any home-ice advantage the Jets thought they had entering the period. And tonight, it seemed that exhausted team was rolled out again by Maurice as the Jets simply didn't have the legs to break through the St. Louis defence.

For all the talent the Jets had in the press box at times this season - Nic Petan, Sami Niku, Nathan Beaulieu, Bogdan Kiselevich, and Joe Morrow - none of these players saw the ice for any extended periods of time outside of injury relief. Even with the likes of Mason Appleton, Cameron Schilling, Par Lindholm, and Kristian Vesalainen at his disposal for the playoffs, injury relief was all the time that Paul Maurice was willing to give to these players. Does exhaustion count as an injury? Because I'm quite certain that seeing the likes of Wheeler, Scheifele, Little, and Ehlers sputter in the playoffs should have prompted a few nights off for these stars.

With as many as 15 players to make decisions on, Paul Maurice hasn't made the job for Kevin Cheveldayoff any easier with this playoff performance. There are major pieces that need to be addressed - Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor, Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers, and Kevin Hayes, notably - but some of the role players who played entirely better than the role they were given in the playoffs - Brandon Tanev, Andrew Copp, Par Lindholm, and Laurent Brossoit - will need some significant thought when it comes to how important they are in this team's makeup. For those wondering at home, they were vital parts of this Jets team throughout the season, and all four likely deserve raises and more ice-time.

While the Jets' window for winning isn't fully closed, the opportunity this season seemed to escape their grasp some time in February when things began to spiral out of control. The Blues played .667 hockey down the stretch as they tied the Jets in points, and they won two-thirds of the games they played this spring against the Jets. That's consistency that the Jets simply didn't have in the final two months of the season, and it cost them dearly when they needed wins most.

Change is coming to the Winnipeg Jets. The big question as they enter the 2019-20 season will be how different will this team look compared to this year's squad? My guess is that possibly two major players listed above likely won't be back, and a handful of the role players will move on to teams that will either give them the ice-time they seek or the pay they feel they deserve. That's the reality of the new NHL, and it's a harsh reality the Jets will face following a disappointing finish to this season.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday, 19 April 2019

Down In Flames

If you're a Canadian hockey fan, your dreams of seeing a Stanley Cup parade north of the border just got reduced by one-third. The Colorado Avalanche used blazing speed, solid defence, timely scoring, and some key goaltending to eliminate the top seed in the Western Conference as the Calgary Flames were doused in five games. Say what you want about these playoffs being wacky or insane, but the eighth seeds in each conference have proven that they belong as both Columbus and Colorado await their opponents for the second round. With Calgary on the outs, the Western Conference just got a lot more wide-open than it was one week ago.

One could have pointed to Calgary's goaltending as possibly being a weak point as the Flames entered the playoffs, but Mike Smith was anything but awful. Yes, he got beat soundly by an Avalanche offence that looked virtually unstoppable, but Smith made 188 saves in five games - an average of 37.6 stops per game - while his save percentage was a solid .917 in those five contests. If anything, Mike Smith's goaltending might have been the only reason why Colorado was held to single-digit scores in a few of those five games.

What has to worry you is that if Smith was good in these five games, what happened to the Flames' defence? This was a team that surrendered a league-low 28.1 shots against per game, but got blown up by the Avalanche. The league's ninth-best defensive team found itself in a world of hurt when it came to the final four games, unable to move the puck quickly enough or effectively enough, and most times they found themselves fishing it out of the net behind Smith.

We saw a handful of players from the Colorado Avalanche elevate their games to heights not many have seen before. Nathan MacKinnon will haunt the nightmares of the Flames for a while, Mikko Rantanen lit the lamp like he was testing the light bulb, and Tyson Barrie led a defence who simply wasn't content in letting any of the Flames set up shop on the Colorado zone. In short, this was another dominating eighth-seed performance against a team who was thought by most experts to significantly better in all aspects of the game.

Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog put on an offensive display tonight, accounting for three goals and seven points in the Game Five elimination of the Flames. They totaled nine goals and 21 points in the series compared to Calgary's top guns of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Elias Lindholm who recorded just a pair of goals and five points in the series. Needless to say, Colorado's best players not only showed up, but they stole the show and laid waste to the Flames as they won four-straight games against the West's best team.

"For anyone who doesn’t think MacKinnon is one of the best, if not the best, they might want to look at this series because he can really turn it on up to another level," Flames captain Mark Giordano told reporters after the game. And the 37 year-old is right regarding MacKinnon, but the Avalanche got so much more as Colin Wilson and Matt Nieto each had two goals and two assists, fresh-out-of-college Cale Makar had a game-winning goal and an assist in three games, and veteran Ian Cole had three helpers. The Avalanche got scoring out of everywhere. The Flames, unfortunately, did not.

Calgary ranked second in goal scoring in the regular season behind the Lightning and tied with San Jose, but couldn't manage more than two goals in any game following the 4-0 win in Game One. One of the guys brought in to Calgary to help with a playoff push in James Neal was scratched in Game Five, basically signalling that his time in Calgary was assuredly over. No matter what changes were made and what line combinations were rolled out, the Avalanche had an answer for it. And it's why Calgary is going home.

A large part of the Colorado success came from the unmatched speed the Avalanche showed as the Flames often lost races to pucks and were forced to chase the game as the Avalanche seemed to transition seamlessly from offence to defence with that speed. When Calgary advanced the puck, the backchecking speed of the Avalanche allowed them to get all five players back in their own zone before Calgary could set up their offence. Like the Penguins of 2015, the Avalanche dare teams to outskate them, and the Flames simply weren't up to that task.

That speed also helped the Avalanche draw an insane amount of penalties on the Flames after Colorado entered the playoffs as the most penalized team this season. Instead, it was the Flames who found themselves shorthanded 25 times in five games - even with the rule book mostly erased for the playoffs - and it hurt the Flames at inopportune times. Game Three saw MacKinnon net back-to-back power-play goals in the 3-2 win. Game Four saw Rantanen tie the game on the power-play late in that one before he scored the winner in overtime. Game Fine saw the Avalanche ice the game and series with two power-play goals that made it 4-1 and 5-1. Speed kills, and it killed the Flames.

Finally, let's not forget Philipp Grubauer in all this either. Acquired on June 22 as a salary dump for the Washington Capitals, Grubauer was instrumental in helping the Avalanche make the playoffs down the stretch. His excellent play carried into these playoffs where he's now 4-1, has stopped 153 of 163 shots for a .939 save percentage, and is sporting a minuscule 1.90 GAA through the five games. Take away the four goals he allowed in Game One, and the final four games of this series saw Grubauer go bananas in stopping 125 of 132 shots. Even when Calgary got chances to score, Philipp Grubauer wasn't having any of it.

Like what Columbus did to Tampa Bay, Colorado was better than Calgary in all facets of the game, and that will undoubtedly result in wins. As we've seen with both eight seeds thus far, it's take nine games to eliminate the top-two teams in the NHL this season - true parity in the NHL as it seems anyone can beat anyone on any given night. Or, in the case of Columbus and Colorado, on four-straight nights.

The Flames were doused by the Avalanche. Who's next?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday, 18 April 2019

The Hockey Show - Episode 343

The Hockey Show, Canada's only campus-produced radio show that strictly talks hockey, is back tonight with all sorts of guests and interviews to do thanks to the Stanley Cup Playoffs! If you liked the pizza giveaway last week, it seems we'll do another one tonight as we welcome a very special guest to the studio to talk pie, playoffs, and the Winnipeg Jets before turning the show over to two people whose lives on Playoff Island have come to an end on the Survivor: NHL Playoffs contest. Beans and I will also discuss the epic failure of the Tampa Bay Lightning - previewed two weeks ago on The Hockey Show! - and get everyone set up for Game Five between the St. Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets as the Whiteout parties continue in the Manitoba capital!

Beans and I are honoured and pleased to welcome Arneil Navarro, store owner of the Portage Avenue Pizza Pizza franchise, to the studio where we're talkiing everything that Pizza Pizza is doing in Winnipeg while the Jets and the Whiteouts have gripped the city in playoff madness! As you can see in the image, his store front has been "whited out" in support of the Jets, changing the familiar orange sign to white in support of the Jets along with whiting out the windows! We'll get the scoop on everything happening with specials and deals on Pizza Pizza pies, talk to Arneil about his love of the Jets, and more before we turn our attention to Elliot and Jason who have exit interviews to do for the Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins, respectively, as part of the Survivor: NHL Playoffs contest. From there, we'll likely dissect the Lightning's historic collapse, the Avs on the verge of dismissing the West's best team, San Jose's inability to keep the puck out of their net against the executioners known as Stone, Stastny, and Pacioretty, and more! All of that tonight on The Hockey Show at 5:30pm CT on 101.5 UMFM!

The new UMFM website's online streaming player is pretty awesome. If you're using an Apple device, the player doesn't seem to like Safari yet, but we highly recommend you use the TuneIn app found on the App Store or perhaps another browser. If you do use the TuneIn app, you won't be disappointed. It's a solid app.

Having lost faith in Facebook, I spend far less time on that site for good reasons. In saying that, you can still email all show questions and comments to hockeyshow@umfm.com! Tweet me anytime with questions you may have by hitting me up at @TeebzHBIC on Twitter! We're here to listen to you, so make your voice heard!

Tonight, Teebz and Beans chat with Arneil Navarro about changing Pizza Pizza's look for the playoffs and the deals they're offering Jets fans before the gents get Elliot and Jason to close out their Survivor runs, discussing the playoffs in-depth, and much more only on The Hockey Show found exclusively on 101.5 UMFM, on the UMFM app, on the UMFM.com web stream!

PODCAST: April 18, 2019: Episode 343

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Gone With No Return Date

I was excitedly tweeting about the Jets defeating the Blues in Game Four in overtime on the strength of a Kyle Connor goal when I heard it a sound. It wasn't a familiar sound, but I'm pretty sure it was audible for most to hear. It wasn't picked up by any major news outlets nor did it make any local reports outside of Mike Sawatzky's article in the Winnipeg Free Press so I'm not surprised that very few actually heard it, but it stopped me cold in my tracks. What sound did I hear, you ask? There was a crack in the planet, and it shook my world pretty significantly.

Let me explain this. For the last number of years, you're aware that I've been part of the radio and webcast broadcast team for the University of Manitoba Bisons women's hockey team. We've established some pretty great relationships with the players and the team, and we're always pulling for them to ascend to bigger, better, and greater heights. Venla Hovi's success following her career at the university is something I've followed very closely, and I'm extremely happy for all her success. My hope is that we'd see more players from the Bisons have successes on the bigger hockey stage in the future, and one of those women whose future seemed brightest was goaltender Lauren Taraschuk.

Until this happened.
Record scratch, double-take, jaw drop. In that order.

Lauren's reasons for the decision to leave with no timetable for a return nor a commitment to returning at all, as per Sawatzky's article, were personality conflicts and the coaching changes over the last few seasons which, admittedly, would take its toll on any young athlete. She wouldn't elaborate much further, but she doesn't have to based on those reasons. I'm quite comfortable without Lauren throwing anyone under the bus, but that's not her personality as it is.

It should be noted that Lauren did say she's doing well when I asked her if she was ok considering that there will likely be some surprise over this announcement that made its way into the print edition of the Winnipeg Free Press today. I want to be clear that I could care less about hockey or who did what or anything of that nature when it comes to the well-being of a 19 year-old woman who I consider a friend. She's always been honest and open in our conversations, and I have no reason to believe she'd be covering something up when I spoke with her today. Her well-bring is of the utmost importance beyond everything else, and she said she's doing well. That's good and brings me some relief.

What did bother me, however, was that, according to the article, she was prepared to leave the team in December. She instead played through the problems she was having, helping Manitoba to a second-straight U SPORTS National Championship appearance where they were one goal short of knocking off the eventual champions in the Guelph Gryphons in the opening game before rebounding with a pair of strong efforts against UPEI and Toronto. If she was bothered by everything that was happening in December, it's rather shocking that the coaching staff were blind to what was happening on their team, particularly their star netminder. Lauren isn't one to complain or sulk - she's a warrior and will suck it up for the team - but there had to be signs that this coaching staff either missed or ignored.

On top of that, the leadership in the room should have picked up on whatever was going on as well. It's hard for me to write these words, but how do the captains of the defending national champions not notice significant personality conflicts on the team and try to either resolve them or find an acceptable solution with the parties? And this isn't to say that Lauren was one of those parties. She's a pretty well-adjusted young lady, in my experiences with her, and her personality seems adaptable to most, if not all, situations. However, if there were significant conflicts between the ladies in the room, where was the leadership?

Regardless of my questions that will largely go unanswered, there's no doubt that Lauren was overplayed this season as she was on the ice in 31 of 35 games for the Bisons. That's an enormous workload when one considers the course work she's required to also put in to remain academically-eligible to play, but it was almost like the Bisons rested their season on her shoulders with little regard for the abilities of backup netminders Erin Fargey and Devan Johnson. No one was likely to usurp the crease from Taraschuk, but would it have killed the coaching staff to have given Lauren a lighter workload on the ice over the course of the season? As a result of the mismanagement of the netminders, the Bisons will now enter 2019-20 with two goaltenders who have six appearance combined in their careers. Not ideal at all.

Let me be clear here: whatever happens in this upcoming season will not be pinned on Lauren Taraschuk's decision to step away from the team. Fargey and Johnson are extremely capable and talented netminders who will suit up being a lineup that features ten new faces next season. It's not ideal, but it is what it is. Again, this likely could have been better than what it seems, but there's no denying that last season's overplaying of Taraschuk has come back to bite the Bisons in the rear. C'est la vie, and, hopefully, lesson learned for the coaching staff.

At this point, my only concern is Lauren's well-being, and she has stated that she's doing well. When it comes to university athletics, U SPORTS has never shied away from the fact that student-athletes are students first and athletes second. In following that belief, Lauren stepping away to better herself will ensure her long-term success rather than going through another season where she's unhappy. That should be the goal of all university hockey programs: ensuring that their student-athletes will have long-term success whether that's in the classroom, on the ice, or both.

While it won't be the same in not seeing her familiar wink and big smile as she skates by my spot between the benches next season, Lauren Taraschuk will always be a champion at life in my eyes. Glory and championships on the ice will come and go, and they won't define who this young woman is to me. She's an incredible person who deserves to be happy and healthy - mentally, emotionally, and physically - and I will never question her decision to do what's right for her.

That's what Lauren did, and she will always have my unwavering support no matter where her next steps take her.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Free Broom With Purchase

Ladies and gentlemen, the Columbus Blue Jackets have swept the President's Trophy-winning, most wins ever in a season-tying, entirely-dominant-during-the-regular-season Tampa Bay Lightning out of the playoffs in what is one of the most stunning defeats ever, and likely the biggest defeat in the salary-cap era of parity in the NHL. They were forechecked into submission. They were outcoached over four-straight losses. They were out-goalied in the duel. And, at the end of the day, the Columbus Blue Jackets now await the winner of the Boston-Toronto series while the Lightning head back to Tampa to clean out their lockers after falling stunningly short once more.

WOW

Let's give credit where credit is due as the big players for Columbus stepped up and contributed in a big way. Matt Duchene, Cam Atkinson, Seth Jones, and Artemi Panarin were all over the scoresheets for the four games while Sergei Bobrovsky and the swarming Blue Jackets defence neutralized the Tampa Bay offence like no one has done this season. Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Brayden Point were made to look human by the Blue Jackets while they exposed a Tampa Bay defence who simply couldn't handle the waves of pressure as Andrei Vaskilevskiy was often left out on his own while the Blue Jackets peppered him with shots, often finding the back of the net. It was a debacle from the Tampa Bay view, but a glorious exercise in preparation and execution by the Columbus Blue Jackets as they executed with surgical precision in carving out the hearts of the Lightning fans.

Of course, if you're a Tampa Bay Lightning fan, it felt more like you were the guy in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom who had his heart ripped out by high priest Mola Ram. Your team, which piled up the wins all season by simply steamrolling teams early and often, had no answer for a basic 1-2-2 neutral zone formation. Yes, some will say it's a modified version of the trap, but it's an effective way of neutralizing the Lightning's speed through the neutral zone on which the Lightning attack was entirely based. Let the skilled players rip through the neutral zone, take a pass in full flight, and terrorize opposing goalies. Sound familiar? That's precisely how Jon Cooper had coached his system all season long.

Of course, it didn't help that Columbus got all sorts of secondary scoring from the likes of David Savard, Oliver Bjorkstrand, and Alexandre Texier whereas the likes of Tyler Johnson, Anthony Cirelli, and Yanni Gourde couldn't replicate the same production for Tampa Bay. Seeing Bjorkstrand continue his magic with game-winning goals in his professional career is rather remarkable as he had both game-winning goals in Games Three and Four to go along with his 2016 AHL record-tying six game-winners in 17 games as he helped the Lake Erie Monsters win the Calder Cup. If the puck is on his stick in a playoff game, there's a good chance someone is fishing it out of a net based on his production in his career.

Regardless of who produced and who didn't, history will show that the Blue Jackets won their first franchise playoff series by becoming the first team to eliminate the President's Trophy winner in a sweep. At the end of the day, it's all about sixteen wins. Columbus is one-quarter of the way there while Tampa Bay will reset and look to 2019-20 as explanations for this epic destruction will be sought. With the sweep by Columbus, the Eastern Conference is now wide-open for any team to win, but one would think that one would want to avoid running into the Blue Jackets. No team has ever won the Stanley Cup by going 16-0, but the Blue Jackets look dialled in right now to pull off that feat after this dismantling of the Lightning.

Maybe they'll start handing out free brooms with season ticket renewals for next season?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday, 15 April 2019

Philly Turns To Vigneault

The Philadelphia Flyers, having gone with the US college coach experiment and failed, decided to go back to the NHL ranks to hire their next coach as they introduced former New York Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault as their 21st head coach in franchise history today. The 57 year-old will be responsible for guiding the Flyers back to the playoffs and further after last winning the Stanley Cup in 1975. Scott Gordon, who took over the interim head coach role, was not let by the club, so there is some speculation that Gordon will either stay on with Vigneault as an assistant coach or possibly return to Lehigh Valley where he was having some solid success at the AHL level before being promoted after Hakstol's dismissal.

It was reported, but unconfirmed, that the contract for Vigneault's services clocked in at five years and $25 million which seems steep for a guy who has never won a Stanley Cup after playing in the big dance twice. Vigneault will likely have some weapons at his disposal with the likes of Voracek, Giroux, Couturier, Provorov, and Gostisbehere already signed and the Flyers having some $30 million in cap space to spend this summer, but this is a squad that hasn't been to the second round of the playoffs since 2012. In short, Vigneault will have some work to do.

"The history they have established and the passionate fan base has made this a first-class franchise. I am excited to work with Chuck, the talented group of players, and the prospects coming up through the system in order to return Philadelphia to the top of the NHL landscape," Vigneault told reporters at his introduction.

Where the Flyers should see some improvement with the defensively-minded Vigneault behind the bench is on the goals-against totals that were escalating under Hakstol. Philly gave up 280 goals this season - third-most in the NHL - which was a massive increase from the 236 goals-against they posted in 2017-18 and the 231 goals they surrendered in 2016-17. With the right personnel, Vigneault's systems work as he's shown at the AHL level with the Manitoba Moose and at the NHL level in guiding the Canucks and Rangers to the Stanley Cup Final.

One could argue that having nine 40-win seasons in 15 seasons of NHL head coaching is something to justify that massive amount of money that the Flyers are paying him, and the fact that he's only missed the playoffs four times in fifteen seasons behind NHL benches could be another. I caution that while these results can be repeatable, Vigneault's first season as a head coach in his three NHL stops saw his teams advance to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs or better. Perhaps Chuck Fletcher is betting big on Vigneault's influence, knowledge, and systems with the money he committed to the coach.

If there is one concern that the Flyers could have, it's that Vigneault has relied heavily on veteran talent at all his stops. While he'll have that talent base to work with in Philadelphia, there will likely be some youth injected into the lineup alongside young players such as Nolan Patrick and Travis Konecny. Both players will need to factor into Vigneault's system, and I assume there will be much work done by Vigneault to continue to make them into effective 200-foot players.

Regardless of what I think, the Flyers have their man and will go into the off-season with a renewed confidence. They'll pick up a solid player with the eleventh pick in June's NHL Entry Draft, and then Fletcher will consult Vigneault on the players he can drop $30 million on that fit into his new coach's systems.

It's a new era in Philadelphia with Fletcher and Vigneault.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday, 14 April 2019

Robbed

The image to the left should have been the lede photo for most of the stories being published about the 2019 IIHF Women's World Hockey Championship, but Petra Nieminen's goal in overtime was overturned by the IIHF in one of the most unbelievable video reviews that has ever occurred in any league. To say that the off-ice officials have zero knowledge of the rule book they're supposed to know would be unfair. It's fairly clear that they have a concept of the rules, but the application of those rules seems to be the difficult part for these officials. Whatever the case, the IIHF proved to be the world's greatest crime organization as they straight-up robbed Finland of the gold medals they rightly deserve.

Before we get too deep into this rant of the clown show known as the IIHF, let's take a look at the goal in question. Remember that this goal was ruled a good goal on the ice by the officials.


That's simply baffling. First, how does it take that long to determine that there was interference if interference actually occurred? Secondly, did the on-ice official have a chance to review the video evidence that justified the call of interference? If not, how does the off-ice video official who made the decision justify the call of interference? Finally, on what rule is this call being overturned if this truly is interference?

The IIHF offered no explanation today, but I assume there will be some sort of flimsy, ridiculous justification for this call that makes no sense, but here are the IIHF rules that define goaltender interference.
Note the rule highlighted above because, in my view, that's the rule that should be applied in this situation based on the video evidence. There is no way that that Jenni Hiirikoski's effort on the puck was anything but incidental as the puck was loose in front of Alex Rigsby and she went to make a play on it as both players attempted to gain possession of the puck. As per the rule, the goal should count.

Instead, the players are subjected to an eternity of time while the review is going on. Why does it take so long for this to be decided? I'll give the official in the image to the right the benefit of the doubt if she is making a case for no interference as the call on the ice, by the letter of the rule, was correct. I wouldn't want my call overturned at that point without there being some sort of conclusive, undeniable proof that Hiirikoski committed some sort of interference outside of trying to play a loose puck. Instead, the official allowed this to happen, and the celebration by Team Finland and the Finnish fans was short-lived.

What a load of crap.

Look, I don't hold any ill will towards the Americans. Head coach Bob Corkum did what any coach would do on that play and challenged it for goaltender interference. I get that, and I respect that Corkum was looking out for his team and for Alex Rigsby. The fact that they were able to regroup, get to the shootout, and win the tournament in the skills competition proves that Corkum's call was the right one even if the decision by the IIHF was egregiously wrong.

What bothers me is that the IIHF will never admit that it got this call wrong by any means despite all the evidence suggesting otherwise. It cost Finland their greatest victory and the corresponding celebration of that achievement, and it was hard to watch the Finnish women crying after the game after they thought they had conquered the world just minutes prior. And as much as people want to blame the two on-ice officials in Nicole Hertrich and Lacey Senuk, this decision to call Hiirikoski's attempt to play the loose puck as interference is entirely on the off-ice video official whose name will never be released by the IIHF.

There are lists of the greatest robberies in history. They include the Gardner Museum Robbery, Stéphane Breitwieser's list of robberies, and the Leviev diamond heist. I'm going to go ahead and add the IIHF's robbery of Finland's gold medals today to the list because that heist is one that will never see justice.

Congratulations to Finland on a heckuva tournament. While I know the sting of today's results won't go away quickly, the world saw that the Naisleijonat are indeed champions on this Sunday in April.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday, 13 April 2019

Steps Forward

For years, we've been hearing about the disparity in women's hockey. Yes, the Canadians and Americans have been the world's best for some time, and there's always been some promise of a team rising up and knocking off one of these two common foes. We saw Sweden do it at the 2006 Torino Olympics when they shocked the Americans with a 3-2 victory in the semifinals, but the Swedes have fallen from grace quickly as funding was cut and players opted to retire. As it stands, Finland was the next challenger, and we got to see what it looks like when the Finns execute their systems perfectly as they took down the Canadians in the semifinal at the 2019 Women's World Hockey Championship.

I've written about how upsets are good for the sport. I mention it time and again when one of the "underdogs" rises up to beat Canada or the USA, but it remains true to this day that seeing these other countries win against the two powerhouses is good for the sport.

We can sit here and make excuses for what happened today, but that's not going to happen. I'm very aware that Canada was without Marie-Philip Poulin and that Blayre Turnbull left the game midway through the action. There are all sorts of footnotes that one can put on this game, but Canada's roster on paper has all sorts of talent that should allow it to rise above a Finnish team that, on paper, isn't close to being comparatively talented.

Finland won because they executed their game plan, they capitalized on chances, they got amazing goaltending, and they had 19 players who went over the boards with one singular goal. That's not to say that Canada didn't have the same goal from their 19 players, but the fact that Finland accomplished said goal means that they were better on this day. If this game is played 100 other times, Canada likely wins more often than not. But today, the Finns were the better team and deserved to advance to the gold medal game.

Winning today is the culmination of years of heartbreak, disappointment, and back-to-the-drawing-board for Finland. It's years of tinkering, trying, failing, trying again, finding things that work, replicating those successes, and putting it all together in sixty minutes. Finland downed Canada in the preliminaries at the 2017 Women's World Championship for their first-ever win against Canada, but had yet to replicate that success until today when they pulled off a 4-2 win in the semifinals.

The stats will show 43 saves by Noora Raty and a Canadian power-play that went 0-for-4 as being large reasons for the Finnish win today, but the stats won't show a coordinated team effort on defence to thwart the Canadians time and again while the Canadians failed to give the same effort in their defensive zone. The results now speak for themselves as Canada will face Russia for an unfamiliar bronze medal while Finland will look to thrill their home crowd as they have a date with the Americans and the potential for another monster upset.

And while I celebrate this major victory for Finland, the reality of the situation also rears itself in that outside of Finland, there really isn't any other country who presents itself as a legitimate threat to Canada and the US on the world stage. The fact that Finland is the only country to even move the needle at this World Championship is once again a problem for every country not named "Canada" or the "USA" based on the results at this tournament. With Finland having a number of women on its squad who possibly will be retiring following tomorrow's gold medal game or soon thereafter, the pipeline of talent on the world stage has never been more pressing for all teams who hope to replicate Finland's success.

The problem that the world faces is that there simply isn't a program at this point who has invested in its program as well as Finland has. This is a double-edged sword as Finland is on the verge of joining Canada and the US as powerhouses, but will likely see significant player turnover in the next few years. With no other country even on the radar of an upset win at this point, can Finland maintain this current level of success if the players who have worked tirelessly to put Finland at this point decide to retire? On top of that, will we ever see Russia or Switzerland or another country or countries join Finland in being legitimate threats to the long-time reigns of Canada and the US at the top of the hockey world?

Finland's win over Canada is monstrous for the Finnish program for a number of reasons, but one has to be aware that there could be a potential void on the world stage if a number of the current Finnish women decide to move on following this tournament. For now, no one will give that problem much thought as Finland prepares to compete for its first gold medal in women's hockey at any level, and that accomplishment cannot be understated when highlighting the importance of today's win. Beyond tomorrow, there may be bigger issues in women's hockey once again, but I'm quite content to allow Finland to celebrate this victory over Canada today on home soil. They earned this celebration after the biggest win in their program's history before playing the most meaningful game in their country's women's hockey history tomorrow.

Hyvä Suomi!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday, 12 April 2019

Reasons For Concern

While it wasn't written about sports and the relationship fans have with their teams, Alice In Chains' 1993 song "Down in a Hole" seems particularly relevant right now for the fanbases in Winnipeg. The lyrics of the chorus read, "Down in a hole, feelin' so small/Down in a hole, losin' my soul/I'd like to fly, but my wings have been so denied," and this team has legitimately been denied by St. Louis from taking flight. While we knew it was going to a tight-checking series, with Winnipeg heading to St. Louis in a 2-0 hole there are a number of reasons to be concerned about the Jets' chances of coming back to Winnipeg with the series tied.

We'll hear Paul Maurice talk about breaking the game into five-minute segments. We'll hear players talk about winning periods and winning shifts before they mention anything about winning the games. How much truth is there to this for the Jets as they visit the Enterprise Center in St. Louis basically playing must-win hockey?

Here's a quick table of how the teams played this season in periods thanks to Hockey Reference.
If we look at the data presented, the first thing that jumps out at me is the goal differential that the Blues have at home in the first period. They're +16 at home in terms of goals scored and +25 in first periods overall. We always hear of how important that first goal is, and there's no doubt that St. Louis has used their first period scoring to their advantage, particularly over this impressive 32-10-5 run in their last 47 games.

Comparatively, the Jets were an impressive +19 at home in first-period goal differential, but a -5 on the road. While the Jets are a +1 in these playoffs at home, a slow start against St. Louis while being down a couple of games in the series is literally flirting with disaster based on the numbers above. The Jets have to find a way to set the pace early in these next two games if they hope to have a prayer in this series, and getting an early goal or two will go a long way in helping their cause of returning to Winnipeg in a best-of-three series as St. Louis actually has a -6 goal differential for the season over the final 40 minutes of play.

The second thing that Paul Maurice should be doing is stressing discipline to his players. We saw Mark Scheifele take a couple of rather unnecessary penalties early in Game Two, but it was the Jets' power-play who scored on two of three chances. St. Louis is 0-for-7 with the man-advantage compared to Winnipeg who is 2-for-4. The Jets need to play to their strengths by drawing penalties as power-play goals have accounted for two of the four goals they've scored in the series thus far.

The third thing that the Jets need is Connor Hellebuyck to rebound in a big way. There's no denying that Jordan Binnington has outplayed the Jets' netminder thus far, but at least two of the goals that were scored tonight were pucks that Hellebuyck should have had. He misplayed the dump-in prior to the Patrick Maroon goal where he should have easily trapped that puck against his chest, and Oskar Sundqvist's goal that went right between the wickets is one he has to have. His current .897 save percentage simply isn't good enough to win a series by any means, so Hellebuyck needs to have himself a couple of big games with key stops if he wants to help Winnipeg come back home with this series squared.

In his post-game press conference tonight, Maurice said there would be roster changes for Game Three. In scanning player usage tonight, one has to wonder if Dmitry Kulikov is one of those changes as he played just 13:44 tonight on the blue line. Jack Roslovic played just a mere 6:43 and I assume that Roslovic will be shown the door to the press box once again.

Maurice isn't going to avoid the sword here, though, as Kevin Hayes played just 8:32 and has yet to look like he's even engaged in this series. He was a woeful 20% at the face-off dot tonight. Whatever is plaguing the big man needs to be solved quickly because he was an integral part of the Jets' lineup down the stretch. The Jets need him to show up and play like the game-changer he has shown if they want to go further than Missouri in these playoffs.

Maurice also needs to figure out how to deploy Nikolaj Ehlers more effectively as Ehlers didn't see a second of time on special teams and played just 9:08. Ehlers is a possession zone entry player whose speed through the neutral zone could cause fits for the Blues, but it seems that Maurice is more content to sit him on the bench than having him on the ice. If he's playing less than the likes of Par Lindholm (10:13 of even-strength time), something is wrong with the team's player management. That's directly on the coach.

At the end of the day, the Jets lost two games by one goal each. The coughed up a lead in Game One, and they were unable to score in Game Two. To me, there are small adjustments that need to be made by the Jets if they hope to climb back into this series. Doing it on Enterprise Center ice won't be easy, but a few small changes with some attention to details in the game could change this team's fortunes in a hurry.

The Jets may be "down in a hole" and "feelin' so small," but no team has ever won a seven-game series in two games. It's not going to be easy to dig out of this hole they've made for themselves, but the Jets have start winning shifts and periods before they ever start talking about winning series at this point.

See you Sunday, St. Louis.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday, 11 April 2019

The Hockey Show - Episode 342

The Hockey Show, Canada's only campus-produced radio show that strictly talks hockey, is back tonight with a ton of stuff to discuss as Beans and Teebz will settle in with a quick interview off the top, a giveaway (FREE STUFF!), and then work into the hockey news. As you may have heard, the Stanley Cup Playoffs began yesterday, there's been some news about professional women's hockey, the IIHF Women's World Championships are underway, and a pile of other stuff as your two hosts do a worldwide tour of the hockey world. It's another busy show, so make sure you tune in at 5:30pm CT!

Seen on the right in the picture next to server Caitlyn Fecyk is Andrew Shefchyk, the Director of Marketing for Boston Pizza and the Enright Group, and we'll talk to Andrew about all the great things Boston Pizza is offering Jets fans during this playoff run for our NHL team. If we can, we'll get Andrew to toss us a free pie that we'll pass on to our listeners, so make sure you tune in for that! After the chat with Andrew, we'll get into the playoff results from last night, the demise of the CWHL and what the next steps seem to be for professional women's hockey, how Canada is doing at the IIHF Women's World Championship, the KHL's Gagarin Cup Final is set, and whatever else we can squeeze into the hour tonight! It's a jam-packed show, so get your radio tuned to 101.5 FM!

The new UMFM website's online streaming player is pretty awesome. If you're using an Apple device, the player doesn't seem to like Safari yet, but we highly recommend you use the TuneIn app found on the App Store or perhaps another browser. If you do use the TuneIn app, you won't be disappointed. It's a solid app.

Having lost faith in Facebook, I spend far less time on that site for good reasons. In saying that, you can still email all show questions and comments to hockeyshow@umfm.com! Tweet me anytime with questions you may have by hitting me up at @TeebzHBIC on Twitter! We're here to listen to you, so make your voice heard!

Tonight, Teebz and Beans chat with Andrew Shefchyk about all the great things Boston Pizza is doing before the gents discuss the first night of the playoffs, the future of pro women's hockey, how the women are doing on the international stage, the KHL's final two teams, and much more only on The Hockey Show found exclusively on 101.5 UMFM, on the UMFM app, on the UMFM.com web stream!

PODCAST: April 11, 2019: Episode 342

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

The Demons Still Lurk

The Winnipeg Jets played Game 83 tonight as they opened the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and it had an all-too-familiar ending that Jets fans likely are tied of seeing and dumbfounded in how it happens so often. For the tenth time this season, the Winnipeg Jets blew a third-period lead and ended up losing when it seemed that all was well after 40 minutes of play. For a team that was expected to take a serious run at the Stanley Cup, holding a lead over the final 20 minutes of play is something they must do. For this current edition of the Winnipeg Jets, the demons that haunted them in the regular season have followed them into the postseason.

While I'm not here to suggest an exorcism of any kind, these are some concerning numbers when you consider the scores, the comebacks, and the collapses shown. Here are the ten times this season that the Jets have blown third-period leads when it seemed they were in control of the game with some notes about each collapse. This was a team that went 42-1-1 last season when holding a lead after 40 minutes, but has struggled with not only holding leads in the third period this season, but building on them as well.

October 16 vs Edmonton with Winnipeg leading 4-1 entering the final period. Ty Rattie cut the deficit to two goals just 18 seconds into the period. Connor McDavid scored at 2:28 to make it a 4-3 game. Jesse Puljujarvi scored at 13:39 to tie the game. In overtime, the Oilers would prevail with their fourth-straight goal as Darnell Nurse ended this one with a goal 1:25 into the free period of hockey for the 5-4 OT win.

October 27 at Toronto with Winnipeg leading 2-0 entering the final period. Nazem Kadri put the Leafs on the board six minutes into the frame before Jake Gardiner scored with 3:11 to play to tie the game. The back-breaking goal came 26 seconds later when Kasperi Kapanen scored to give the Maple Leafs the 3-2 victory.

November 16 vs Buffalo with Winnipeg leading 1-0 entering the final period. Jeff Skinner scores 53 seconds into the third to tie the game at 1-1. Jets and Sabres would need a shootout to settle this, and Conor Sheary beat Laurent Brossoit to give Buffalo the 2-1 shootout win.

November 23 at Minnesota with Winnipeg leading 2-0 entering the final period. Nino Niederreiter scored three minutes in to give Minnesota life. Eric Fehr tied the game at 11:47. Eric Staal scored at 17:29 to put the Wild ahead and Zach Parise iced it 1:21 later to give Minnesota the 4-2 win.

November 27 vs Pittsburgh with Winnipeg leading 3-2 entering the final period. Derek Grant scored five minutes into the period to tie the game, and Zach Aston-Reese scored the winner with 5:12 to play as Pittsburgh won 4-3.

February 5 vs San Jose with Winnipeg leading 2-1 entering the final period. Marcus Sorensen scored 2:35 into the third period to tie the game, and Joe Pavelski would end this one in overtime at 2:49 with a shorthanded goal as San Jose wins 3-2.

February 26 vs Minnesota with Winnipeg leading 2-1 entering the final period. Jason Zucker scored at 18:33 to tie the game before Joel Eriksson Ek put Minnesota up 26 seconds later as Minnesota earned the 3-2 victory.

March 28 vs New York Islanders with Winnipeg leading 3-2 entering the final period. Mark Scheifele made it a 4-2 game with a power-play goal at 6:46 before Jordan Eberle cut the lead to one goal at 7:49. Casey Cizikas scored at 18:14 to tie the game before Jordan Eberle scored the game-winner just 33 seconds later as New York took the 5-4 win.

April 4 at Colorado with Winnipeg leading 2-1 entering the final period. Carl Soderberg scored at 10:35 to tie the game before Erik Johnson scored at 1:49 of overtime to give the Avalanche the 3-2 OT win. It should be noted that had Winnipeg won this game in regulation, there was a chance that Colorado could have missed the playoffs.

April 10 vs St. Louis with Winnipeg leading Game 1 by a 1-0 score entering the final period. David Perron scored at 4:05 to tie the game, and Tyler Bozak scored the game-winner at 17:55 as the Blues took Game 1 by a 2-1 score.

There were some things that jumped out at me when looking at this collection of ten games.

First, four of these losses came on Tuesdays. The Jets have Game Four scheduled in St. Louis on Tuesday, April 16, so let's throw some stats out here about Tuesdays. They played 15 games on Tuesdays - including the four above - and amassed a 7-6-2 record on Tuesdays throughout this season. Among those teams they played on Tuesday, they were 4-4-2 against the West and 3-2-0 against the East, 4-3-1 against playoff teams while being 3-3-1 against non-playoff teams, and were 2-2-0 against the Central while going 2-2-2 against the Pacific Division, 2-1-0 against the Metropolitan Division, and 0-1-1 against the Atlantic Division. And while Tuesday saw four losses happen, Thursdays and Fridays had two losses each with Saturdays and Wednesdays had one loss each.

Second, four of those losses came against non-playoff teams. That simply can't happen if one is an "elite team". The Jets struggled mightily this year against lower-ranked opponents as they seemed to play down to their competition, and this could be a glaring problem as the playoffs push onward.

Third, you might look at the dates where these losses occurred and say, "It's ten games in 83, Teebz - no big deal." The problem is that three of these losses happened from November 16 to 27 - an 11-day span - and three more occurred March 28 to April 10 - a 13-day span. That's two two-week spans in this season where the Jets gave up ten points - they got two charity points in those six games - and a playoff win. That's first-place in the Central with even two more of those lost ten points, and they find themselves down 1-0 to the hottest team in the second-half of the 2018-19 NHL season. This is a glaring problem that the Jets need to address immediately.

The good news? After correcting the problem following the Pittsburgh collapse, the Jets won 11 of their next 13 games. But again, there's an asterisk as only four of those games were played against teams that made the playoffs this season. The Jets should have beaten a pile of those teams, and they did. St. Louis is not one of those pushovers that they played in December, although it should be noted that St. Louis was one of the teams to beat the Jets in December and they were downright awful at that time. Read into that what you will.

So what does it all mean? Well, the Jets need to protect leads much, much better going into the third periods of games moving forward if they even have a prayer of playing in the second round or longer. It also means that whatever is plaguing the Jets this season when it comes to locking down games needs to be corrected for next season. If I was Paul Maurice, I'd shorten the bench if I had a lead with five minutes to play. As much as he needed the full roster all season, the playoffs are a different animal.

We heard Jon Cooper talk about it in Tampa Bay after their Game One collapse when he said, "Our mentality has to be, when we get into these situations, to shut a team down, not to pad the lead." The Jets had the slimmest of leads entering that third period, and the demons from this season reared their ugly heads once more. Let's hope that the day off tomorrow will allow the Jets to exorcise these collapse demons for good and go on a serious run like they did in December.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Setting The Record Straight

Since the CWHL closed its doors over a week ago, there have been many who have demanded that the NHL "do the right thing", step up, and fund women's hockey. Long before the CWHL closed its doors, the NHL and Gary Bettman have maintained they would not and will not get involved in the operations of either or any women's hockey league unless there were no other options available for women to play professional hockey. Including today, Bettman has held firm on his stance regarding women's hockey despite all the cries for them to help "grow the game" and whatever other catchphrases and colloquialisms fans use in their pleas for assistance. Deaf ears is all they're finding.

Today, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman appeared on Sportsnet 590 and Rogers Sportsnet on a program called Prime Time Sports with Bob McCown, Stephen Brunt, and Richard Deitsch to discuss a number of issues including that of the status of women's hockey currently. Before we get to the interview, it's imperative that one be very aware that professional hockey is a business with the NHL being a very lucrative and profit-driving business. And like any other business, the NHL is not into giving out handouts or investing its hard-earned dollars into something it neither owns nor controls. This is how it remains profitable, and the NHL continues to invest in its own brand in order to ensure that year-over-year profitability.

I have isolated the 7:20 of Gary Bettman speaking about women's hockey, and it is posted below. I'll let you listen as you read through the rest of this article. Before grabbing your keyboard and going full "online warrior" mode, you may want to slow your roll to gain a better perspective. Here's the interview.


I'll paraphrase a few comments here, but here are Gary's main quotations regarding women's hockey.

1. "We don't have a responsibility to fund the business of other leagues. They have investors. They have a business plan."
Gary is entirely correct here. This would be like asking McDonald's to fund your local mom-and-pop burger joint just because they both sell burgers. McDonald's, like the NHL, has zero obligation to put money into a business they neither own nor control, so they have zero responsibility to ensure its long-term success. The NHL has zero obligation to ensure the CWHL, NWHL, or any other women's league remains in business just as they have zero interest in ensuring the KHL, the SPHL, or any other non-affiliated league stays afloat. The business is NHL hockey which is owned in part by the owners of the NHL franchises, and that is to whom Gary reports and on behalf of whom Gary conducts NHL business.
2. "I don't want to be presumptuous or bully-like and say 'We're gonna start a league and put them out of business.' I don't think that's appropriate."
The NHL could likely crush the CWHL and NWHL like bugs on a floor if they wanted, but that's not going to win the NHL any fans nor would it be good for their brand. No-brainer here.
3. "If the NWHL is successful, great. That's terrific. I understand from Dani Rylan that we're their largest sponsor. I have told her that if she is successful, we will not interfere."
Again, the NHL isn't looking for trouble. They're simply staying out of the way. If Rylan makes it work, the NHL will continue to invest its annual $100,000 into the business. They're not looking to get into women's hockey to compete with anyone.
4. When asked if the NHL being the largest sponsor at $100,000 is concerning, Gary replied, "Draw your own conclusions."
To me, this answer reinforces Gary's statement that he believes the business models of the leagues were unsustainable. He's passively conveying that message by allowing Bob McCown and the listeners to draw their own conclusions regarding that amount of money. I think he made his point.
5. "I'm not here to kibosh that league. If they wanna make a go of it, great. If that suits the players' needs and feasibility-wise, ok. In the final analysis, I believe a sustainable model probably will require the resources and the platforms that the NHL has."
Again, Gary is allowing Rylan to make a go of this, but ultimately he feels that the NHL can give women's hockey the exposure and the resources - money, promotion, media - that it requires to become a self-sustaining model where ad revenue and network broadcast contracts keep the league afloat. He's likely right thanks to the partners and sponsors the NHL already has.
6. When asked about the WNBA-NBA model, Gary replied, "It's not self-sustaining without the NBA's support, and if we get involved we will not have the option of letting it fail. If that's our responsibility, there's a level of control we would have to assume."
Basically, if the NHL does get involved with women's hockey, it's going to work even if they lose money. That's the kind of dedication that one wants to hear with regard to the long-term future of women's professional hockey.
7. When asked about the NWHL's sustainability, Gary replied, "I don't want to cast dispersions on the NWHL. If they can succeed, they should. If they can't, we'll look at our options."
Gary wisely directs the focus off the sustainability by framing the answer as "we hope they are successful". This is smart bit of politicking here by Bettman.
8. "The highest profile the women's game has received in the last few years is because we were involved."
Of all the things Gary said over the last seven minutes, this might be the worst bit of gaslighting I've heard.

His claim of not having the NHLers at the Olympics resulting in the women's game getting more exposure has nothing to do with the NHL being involved. In fact, there were a ton of other sports who directly benefitted with more viewers thanks to the NHL preventing their players from going. This is patently the opposite of involvement, Gary, so strike this one from the record.

Second, the involvement in the All-Star weekend was never supposed to happen as per the NHL's mandate. Yes, the women were invited to demonstrate the events, but they were not supposed to be on-camera at any point in the evening's festivities. Had it not been for Nathan MacKinnon reaching out to Kendall Coyne to replace him in the Fastest Skater event, the women who participated would have been nothing more than a footnote on that weekend. Strike this one from the record as well because what Gary is saying had nothing to do with the NHL and everything to do with Nathan MacKinnon.

Lastly, his claim of helping to get the Rivalry Series up and running has zero evidence at this time so there could be some validity to this contribution, but there's no definitive proof of how the NHL's involvement made these three games happen. At the very best, this one is unproven, so we'll have to take Gary at his word for now.

In any case, he's one-for-three at most on his league's involvement in helping the women's game gain a higher profile.
The inevitable truths that one needs to take away from this are as follows:

  • The NHL is a business first, a business second, and a business third. The sport part makes them money, but the business side is what keeps the sport on the ice. Bettman's comments today leave little doubt that the NHL is all-business when it comes to the sport.
  • The NHL will not venture into women's professional hockey until there is no other option for the women. That means that as long as the NWHL is operating, if Graeme Roustan gets his league off the ground, and if anyone else decides to compete against one or both of these leagues, we're further from having the NHL and its vast resources available to help women's professional hockey than we are closer.
  • Asking, begging, demanding, and any other request sent to or made in reference to the NHL for any sort of financial support will be ignored. Stop demanding that they toss in money to "grow the game" because that's not their mandate. They grow their brand, they market their brand, and they protect their brand. Women's hockey, at this point in time, is not their brand.
The last thing that needs to be said is that Gary Bettman shouldn't be vilified for his comments. He's a businessman looking out for his business that has 31 governors on the Board of Directors who have made it clear that Gary's primary focus is NHL business. Professional women's hockey is not NHL business. As a result, Gary Bettman's statements about staying out of women's hockey until there are no other options falls directly in line with the NHL's view on the subject.

Sorry, women's hockey fans, but help in any form from the NHL simply isn't coming until the NHL controls all aspects of the women's professional league. That's just good business.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday, 8 April 2019

Revenge Of The Kachina

While the Arizona Coyotes missed the playoffs this year, they certainly made it interesting until the end. For a short time, they held one of the wild card spots in the Western Conference, and they were in the mix with Colorado right up until Game #81. For a team that was picked to finish near the bottom of the Western Conference, it seems there may be a bright future for the first time in a long time in the Arizona desert. But we found out yesterday that there's another reason to like the Coyotes next season!

I'll let Ahron Cohen, President & CEO of the Arizona Coyotes, take the lead on this one.
The Kachina will be back next season! And while Mr. Cohen wouldn't commit to the green alternates that the team once wore, the fact that we're getting the psychedelic coyotes back for another season makes me very happy!

If there's one change I'd like to see, it's the introduction of the white Kachina jersey so they can wear them on the road. While I realize that this is highly unlikely, I actually own a white Kachina jersey customized with Numminen like the one to left, and I'd love to break that jersey out for a Coyotes-Jets game. Regardless of my wants for what the Coyotes should wear, the fact that the Coyotes are going to continue to run with the Kachina next season is fantastic news!

Tip of the cap to the Arizona Coyotes. They'll look sharp once more next season!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday, 7 April 2019

It Has Returned

It may not be summer yet, but the annual contest has returned and the bracket is now open! The 2019 HBIC Playoff Pool gets underway today with the brackets set, the schedule planned, and the prizes awaiting to be claimed! If you've played before, you know there are some decent prizes to be had for those who qualify, and this year will be no different. And if you've entered before, you know that the annual HBIC Playoff Pool is 100% free of charge for any and all participants! Ready to have fun? Then let's make some waves!

After taking last year off in discovering that virtually every site now offers a variation of a bracket challenge, I am back to offer an absolutely-free bracket challenge-type hockey pool for my readers. There are prizes for those who perform well, and I am happy to do this for those of you who stop by here when you can. This year will be no exception as the pool will be free again, and there will be some great prizing available for those that rise above the rest. Prizes are currently being sorted out, and I will post a prize list as we make our way deeper into the playoffs. In other words, you have a shot at prizes right now, and there will be more coming based on availability.

RULES

These are pretty straight-forward and cut-and-dry.
  • Entrants will be required to pick the winner of each game for each series. In doing so, one will also choose the number of games played by the two teams in each series.
  • Entrants will be required to pick the game-winning goal scorer for each game.
Sounds pretty easy, right? No real strategy as to which team will go further, who is playing whom, and all that jazz. Points will be based upon your predictions in each game and series.
  • For each correctly-predicted team that wins the game, one point will be awarded.
  • For correctly predicting the series length, two points will be awarded.
  • For correctly predicting the series length AND winning team, five points will be awarded. If one correctly predicts the series length and winning team, the two-point option is overridden by the higher-scoring option.
  • For predicting the player who scores the game-winning goal per game, that entrant will receive an additional two points per game per correctly-chosen player.
The following example should help you weed through the rules:
For the Washington-Carolina series, I predict that Washington will win Games 1, 3, 4, and 6. The Rangers will win Games 2 and 5. I predict Tom Wilson will score the winner in Game 1, Alex Ovechkin in Game 3, Lars Eller in Game 5, and Ovechkin again in Game 6. Andrei Svechnikov will score Carolina's game-winner in Game 1 while Justin Williams will notch the winner in Game 4.
If I correctly predicted the entire series (highly improbable with my record of prognostications) of Washinton winning in six games with all my game-winner scoring choices being right, I would earn 23 points (6 for each correct game + 5 for correctly predicting length and series winner + 12 for each game-winning goal scorer).

The catch to this whole thing is that no one will be eliminated until the Stanley Cup is handed out. With each new round beginning, each entrant will be required to send in their picks just as they did in the previous round. This way, everyone has a chance at some free shwag. And everyone loves free shwag.

TIE-BREAKER

I would hazard a guess at there possibly being a tie between two or more people, so your tie-breaker, required at the start of the first round, is to name the team who will accumulate THE MOST PENALTY MINUTES THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRE PLAYOFFS. Those who are tied will have their answers reviewed, and the entrant who picked the team with the closest PIM total to the team's actual total for the playoffs will be crowned as the winner.

A NEW WRINKLE

So I used an all-or-nothing gamble in previous pools, but it seems that there was very little chance of anyone ever getting winning the gamble. I had suggested that calling a perfect series was likely the toughest thing that one can do, and that generally held true as zero people successfully won a "Risk It" option. In order to up the gamesmanship, I'm removing this option and adding another.

You will be asked to choose one player per division, and those four players will add their individual point totals to your overall score throughout the playoffs! You will be asked for these four players at the start, and those four players will continue to earn you points as long as they keep playing. If a player's team is eliminated, that player cannot be replaced. Like a traditional fantasy points playoff pool, once you submit your players, those are your players for the playoffs. Choose wisely, and you could find yourself overtaking entrants very quickly!

COST TO ENTER

The best part of the HBIC Playoff Pool? It's FREE! Always has been, always will be. You guys support me all year, so I feel I should give back when I can, and this pool allows me to do so.

You can enter at no cost, and the shwag is up for grabs. The only thing I ask, to be fair, is that you only enter once, please. Also, if you happen to miss a round, that's fine. Things happen, people get busy, no big deal. Just remember that you may find yourself in a very difficult spot if you miss any of the rounds because the point totals available in each round decrease with the lower total number of series being played. I won't be babysitting, so it's your job to enter as the Playoff Pool continues.

HOW DO I ENTER?

I will continue to use the email account specifically for the HBIC Playoff Pool simply because my normal email is ridiculously cluttered and I need some time to go through it. That being said, you MUST send all picks to this new email address: hbicplayoffpool-at-gmail-dot-com. Entries sent to any other email address that you have for me will be categorically deleted so that I can keep all of the HBIC Playoff Pool entries in one place. Clear? Nod your head. You don't want your Poolie Picks to go missing in my disorganized mailbox, do you?

Now to expedite the marking, I have created a pretty little Excel document that can be opened in both Microsoft Excel and OpenOffice Calc. Fill this out and send it back to me WITH YOUR NAME AS THE NAME OF THE EXCEL DOCUMENT (ie. Teebz.xls).

I want to be clear about something: I have an iPad and I use it regularly. I understand that some people want to use .numbers format from the Apple world, but it's a pain in the rear for me when scoring and updating. If you are going to use the .numbers format, please see if you can save the document in .pdf or some sort of common format between the Apple and Windows platforms. That's my only request from all participants!

Click here to download if you missed the link above.

And I think that about does it. If you have any questions, fire me an email here. DO NOT SEND YOUR PICKS TO THAT EMAIL! Get your picks in by the puck drop in Game One of the first series on Wednesday to enter the pool! If you have some sort of issue with this deadline, please email ASAP so we can make arrangements!

May the best prognosticator win, and may the odds be ever in your favor!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday, 6 April 2019

Brackets Are Set

The dust has settled. The games have been played. The brackets are set. The NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs begin on Wednesday night, and the sixteen teams that qualified for the playoffs now know who each will be playing in the opening round on their path to the Stanley Cup.

There is some intrigue as the Winnipeg Jets fell out of first-place in the Central Division and find themselves looking up at Nashville for the second season in a row. The difference, however, is they will face a much superior opponent this season in the opening round, matching up with St. Louis as opposed to Minnesota last season. Nashville, who defeated Chicago to secure first-place in the division, will now get the pleasure of dealing with the Dallas Stars, a team that seemingly no one really wants to play thanks Ben Bishop's recent renaissance in the crease. Both of those series will start on Wednesday.

The Columbus Blue Jackets grabbed the second wild card position in the Eastern Conference, setting them up for a series with the Tampa Bay Lightning that I'm not entirely sure they wanted. That being said, if there was ever a time for the Blue Jackets to live up to their potential, this would be the series to do so. Bobrovsky, Panarin, Duchene, and Dzingel will need to each have a big series to match the potency of Vasilevskiy, Kucherov, Stamkos, and Point, but Tampa Bay's depth may be the difference in this series.

Officially, if there was a sweep in the first round, the first team who could do it based on games and schedule is the aforementioned Tampa Bay Lightning as they will play Game Four against Columbus in the Ohio city on Tuesday, April 16 at 7pm. The deepest this round will go into April is Wednesday, April 24 as both the Washington-Carolina and Nashville-Dallas series would conclude their respective Game Sevens on that night.

In the Eastern Conference, both the Boston-Toronto and New York Islanders-Pittsburgh series will be played every second night while the Winnipeg-St. Louis, Calgary-Colorado, and San Jose-Vegas series will all fit their schedules into 12-day formats. Without any long distances to be traveled by any team, it seems these first-round series will completed efficiently.

In knowing the schedule, that also means that the HBIC Playoff Pool will return this weekend! I'll post the rules and spreadsheet tomorrow, but there will be a new wrinkle to this year's pool after it took a one-year hiatus in needing something to spice up the competition. I believe I have found said spice, so look for that tomorrow!

The playoffs are back, and it feel so good!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!