Wednesday 31 August 2011

TBC: Colour Commentary

This is the last of the HBIC Summer Literacy Project titles that I'll be covering since school starts next week for the vast majority of kids and teachers alike. I've covered a lot of books this summer that mostly deal with the CBC or the Boston Bruins, and today's entry will finish off that trend nicely. Teebz's Book Club is proud to present Colour Commentary: My Great Hockey Journey, written by Brian McFarlane and published by Key Porter Books Limited. Mr. McFarlane goes over his 27 years in hockey and hockey broadcasting in this interesting book that has a vast number of great photographs. The information contained is interesting and very personal to Mr. McFarlane, making the stories much more endearing that just some second-hand retelling of his experiences. It is this realism and honesty that makes Colour Commentary: My Great Hockey Journey a great read and an excellent coffee table book.

From the dust jacket, "Brian McFarlane is a media member of the Hockey Hall of Fame and is one of North America's best and most prolific hockey writers. He is the author of more than fifty books, including Stanley Cup Fever, The Best of It Happened in Hockey, Hockey's Glory Days: Stories from the Original Six Era, and the books is his two successful series True Hockey Stories and Brian McFarlane's Original Six. As a broadcaster, Brian spent twenty-seven years with CBC's Hockey Night in Canada, and has also been a commentator with NBC, CBS, and ESPN."

There are some very interesting bits of information about Mr. McFarlane's life from how the spark for the passion of hockey was lit right up to the publication date. Perhaps more interesting are the photographs he has included. There are pictures of all sorts of historical figures alongside Mr. McFarlane: boxer Joe Louis, crooner Bing Crosby, radio play-by-play men Foster and Bill Hewitt, fashion icon and HNiC icon Don Cherry, and Canadian singer Anne Murray. There are also some amazing photos of all sorts of old-time hockey players, and the stories that accompany them are absolutely amazing.

One of the most interesting photos was of Alex, Ann, and Bill Barilko. Ann Barilko gave Mr. McFarlane a gripping story of Bill's unfortunate death in June of 1992 while the two were in Timmins, Ontario. Bill and Ann's mother was very unhappy about Bill going to fish in a lake so far away with a friend, Dr. Henry Hudson. She refused to speak to Bill before he left due to how upset she was that he was taking this trip. Ann told Brian,

"He peeked into her bedroom the morning he left and said, 'Goodbye, Mom, I'm leaving now.' She pretended she was asleep and didn't answer him because she was so upset. I believe she had a premonition something bad would happen and she didn't want him to go. She never forgave herself for that."
How awful is that? Bill Barilko and Dr. Hudson were found over a decade later after they didn't return from that fishing trip, a mere thirty air miles from home. The skeletal remains of both men could still be seen inside the wreckage. I really feel bad about Mrs. Barilko not having spoken to her son before he left. I couldn't imagine living with that kind of remorse.

These kinds of stories are what makes Colour Commentary: My Great Hockey Journey so interesting. It's absolutely amazing to hear some of the anecdotes that Mr. McFarlane relates, and his work in the hockey world may be unparalleled when you look at how many fascinating people he has met and befriended. While being an autobiographical account of his own life, Mr. McFarlane has written an enthralling book that takes you through three decades of hockey broadcasting as well as a number of additional years of hockey history.

Colour Commentary: My Great Hockey Journey deserves a spot on any hockey fan's bookshelf because of the amazing stories and history contained on its 240 pages. The photos themselves would be well worth the price of the book alone, but getting Mr. McFarlane's insights and stories to go along with them makes the players whose faces appear in the book come to life. There are a couple of instances of PG-rated language in the book, so I would recommend it for teenage readers and up. Colour Commentary: My Great Hockey Journey is a shoo-in for the Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval due to the rich history and amazing stories that Mr. McFarlane put on paper in this book. Highly recommended!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday 30 August 2011

Some Quick Jets Updates

That looks pretty good, doesn't it? Round logos are entirely perfect for center ice treatments, and that Jets logo looks incredible! Things are heating up around Winnipeg as hockey fever returns! I think the only improvement the franchise could have made is to include the little jets in the red line like they used to have during the previous Jets era. Regardless, the roundel looks awesome, and I'm pumped for opening night against the Montreal Canadiens! Who else is looking forward to seeing hockey in Winnipeg once again?

Alright, here are a couple of updates on some hockey stuff. This is just a quick update on what's happening in and around Winnipeg with regards to the Jets. If you're not interested in the Winnipeg NHL franchise, carry on. But if you want some insight as to what this city is going through, read on.

Let's start with the NHL FaceOff proposal. Rumour has it that Canadian rockers Nickelback were going to take part as the featured band at NHL FaceOff. If you're like most Canadian music fans (or music fans in general), Nickelback doesn't rank highly on many rock fans' music playlists. Some attribute this to their songs sounding a lot like other songs they've written or others have written. Others feel they don't have a lot of musical range. Whatever the case may be, it appears Winnipeggers are amongst those who don't really want Nickelback to kick off the new NHL season in their city.

Current Winnipeg Free Press music critic Rob Murphy and former music critic Bartley Kives have penned an open letter to the NHL and Commissioner Gary Bettman requesting, in fact begging, for Nickelback not to appear in Winnipeg for the opening weekend of the 2011-12 NHL season. According to the two Free Press writers, after waiting fifteen years for the Jets to return, the appearance of Nickelback will only "sully the celebration with the presence of a band whose existence is antithetical to the very concept of celebration." Ouch.

While nothing has been finalized for the opening weekend celebration yet - meaning Nickelback hasn't been finalized - it seems that the Alberta-based band isn't going to be welcomed with open arms in Winnipeg.

If the NHL were smart about this celebration, Lynn-Lake-Manitoba-born Tom Cochrane would be the headliner. Not only is he an Honorary Colonel in the Canadian Air Force, he's a born-and-bred Manitoban. Cochrane was appointed as an Honorary Colonel by the Canadian Air Force's 409 "Nighthawks" Tactical Fighter Squadron in November 2007, leading to his second flight in a CF-18. Could you imagine how much of a rousing ovation "Big League" would get on opening night against the Canadiens?

In other Jets' news, there will be some competition in training camp for roster spots as a couple of forgotten NHL players will be in Winnipeg on tryouts.

First, Chris Mason and Ondrej Pavelec will be competing against former NHL goaltender David Aebischer for a roster spot. Aebischer spent the last four years in his native Switzerland tending to nets for Lugano. While he is still under contract with Lugano, his window of opportunity is small, meaning this could be his last chance to grab an NHL job if he so wants it.

Aebischer is a decent goaltender who should able to push Mason for the back-up job, but I don't think the Jets are going to allow either Mason or Pavelec to go through the waiver wire. Aebischer might be a solid pick-up for the St. John's IceCaps in the AHL in that the Jets will have an NHL-calibre goaltender available to them if the need arises.

Secondly, former AHL Penguins standout Janne Pesonen will attend camp for the Jets as well. Pesonen played the last two seasons with Ak Bars Kazan in the KHL. His 2008-09 season in the AHL saw him light up the league as he posted 32 goals and 50 assists in the junior league, and there's hope he can contribute that kind of point production in the NHL after getting some seasoning in the KHL.

Thirdly, the Jets invited defenceman Brad Wall to tryout with the St. John's IceCaps. The former Quebec Remparts defenceman posted some impressive numbers in the QMJHL. Wall is an intriguing prospect as he could bring creativity and skill to the blueline. While he doesn't have a lot of professional hockey experience yet, he will attend the University of Prince Edward Island if he can't crack the IceCaps' lineup.

So there are a few updates in regards to the newest old team in the NHL. I'm getting excited for training camp to break just to see the team in action again. Win or lose, I'm convinced that opening night is an absolute blast based upon the excitement from the perspective of a fan!

Even if it does include Nickelback.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday 29 August 2011

Training Camp Is Coming

It always happens around this time of year, and it truly is one of the first signs that we're just weeks away from training camps. The Hockey News publishes its annual yearbook, and the this year's features Jarome Iginla of the Calgary Flames on the edition I receive. I would have preferred Manitoba's James Reimer on the front for autograph purposes, but whatever. I always look forward to seeing how the analysts at The Hockey News rank the teams in terms of who they think has the best chance at capturing the Stanley Cup, and the stories they file for the annual yearbook are interesting reads. Needless to say, I look forward to THN's annual publication that is essentially a measuring stick from one of hockey's most trusted sources.

The very first article is an interesting one where they compare Sidney Crosby's point production from last season to Ovechkin's decreased point total last season. The premise is that both players saw significant reductions in their point totals last season despite the reasons being vastly different. The examination is a very rudimentary, but writer Adam Proteau does a good job in asking if both of the NHL's most marketable players can bounce back after a decline.

What I found interesting, however, were the statistical analyses of both players. Crosby averages more points-per-game in his NHL career and has more points than Ovechkin when playing head-to-head, but Ovechkin has a huge advantage in goals-scored over the same time. That may not be surprising, but were you aware that Ovechkin has nine major awards to his name already? I thought it was close to that, but I truly didn't think it was that high already.

Ryan Kennedy picks a few Ottawa Senators rookies to make impacts this season. Defencemen David Rundblad looks like a lock for the Senators in my view, but I think that Colorado's Gabriel Landeskog could upstage his Swedish counterpart. Landeskog looks like he could get a lot of minutes much like Tyler Myers did a couple of years ago, and that should pay off for Landeskog and the Avalanche.

There are a couple of pages with some interesting stats. Do you know which team logged the most fights last year? I would have guessed the New York Islanders, but another team actually out-fought everyone else. Details at the bottom of this article on which team was the most pugilistic.

For those of you who like the extracurricular portions of hockey, nearly one-quarter (24%) of all NHL games went to the extra frame last season. Of those games, almost half reached the shootout (12%). Home teams fared extremely bad in shootouts with a record of 58-91! That seems odd when the crowd is pulling for you, right? Teams that shot first were also below .500 as they went 67-82 in the shootout. So you should choose to shoot second while on the road for an almost-guaranteed extra point! The player with most shootout goals last season? Calgary's Alex Tanguay who was successful on ten of sixteen attempts. However, Los Angeles' Jarret Stoll was the most efficient shooter, scoring on nine of his ten attempts.

There are also some good player interviews and examinations in this article, with stories written about Corey Perry, Zdeno Chara, Marc Staal, Hal Gill and PK Subban, Kevin Bieksa, Douglas Murray, Bruce Boudreau, James Reimer, and Jay Feaster. There's a quick examination of the new Winnipeg Jets and their progress, a good story on concussions, and there's some CBA chatter as well. All in all, the stories are pretty solid in this year's version of The Hockey News Yearbook.

All of this, of course, leads to The Hockey News' previews and predictions of each team, the conferences, and the league. While it may be starting to sound like a broken record, THN has once again selected the Washington Capitals as their Stanley Cup winners based on a few factors such as better goaltending, a more rounded defence corps, and the offensive punch they have always had. I have to agree with their factors, but THN points out that the Capitals have a winning percentage in the playoffs of .459 over the last four years. Could this finally be the year that Washington celebrates its biggest hockey achievement?

  • The division winners should be easy to guess in the Eastern Conference, and THN likes three Atlantic teams, three Northeast teams, and two Southeast teams in the playoffs.
  • If you're a Jets fan, you're probably looking at a lottery pick again this season. THN has them finishing ahead of two teams, but I think that might be overly generous. Winnipeg has little to boast about in the way of scoring threats - something the two teams below them have.
  • If you're a Maple Leafs fan, you're moving up the standings, but you're still out of the playoffs. I don't disagree with THN's assessment of the Leafs, but I think there's a very real chance they could end up lower than the predicted 10th spot in the East.
  • The Western Conference's division winners for the Pacific and Northwest Divisions should be easy to call, but the prediction for the Central Division will anger a lot of fans in one city.
  • The Chicago Blackhawks will rebound from a loss to their playoff arch-rivals in the Canucks to be the Stanley Cup Finalist from the West. Personally, I don't see this happening.
  • The biggest surprise might be a return to the playoffs for the St. Louis Blues. St. Louis has the talent needed to compete in the youthful Western Conference, but injuries always seem to hamper this squad. If they do make the playoffs, who did they bump out?
All in all, the predictions are interesting and the assessments for each team have merits for a debate within them. My advice? Pick up the magazine at your local newsstand or bookstore and find out where your team stands in the eyes of the writers for The Hockey News!

And the team with the most fights last season? The St. Louis Blues.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday 28 August 2011

Featured Elsewhere

We'll get to the softball results in a few minutes, but I was honoured and thrilled to be featured on a site that I consider one of the "must-reads" of the hockey blogging world. I had been contacted by Puck Daddy's Greg Wyshynski some time ago about putting together an email interview for a regular feature on the Yahoo site called "Hockey's Guilty Pleasures".

Today, Greg featured me on the Puck Daddy blog in that feature, and I am very honoured to be included with the rest of the hockey greats on that site. You can read my answers on Greg's site or catch them below. Either way, I want to thank Greg Wyshynski for including me on his site and including me in this great feature. Thank you, Puck Daddy!

1. The Player You Most Love To Hate

I'm not a Vancouver fan by any means, but I think that Dan Carcillo's latest comments come off as completely idiotic. I understand he's trying to stoke the fire that burns in Chicago against the Canucks, but he has zero history as a member of that rivalry. Worse yet, he named Raffi Torres and Tanner Glass as two members of the Canucks he wants to square off with, but apparently missed the memos that Torres is with the Coyotes and Glass is now with the Winnipeg Jets. He may want to check his facts before running his mouth.

Also, I'm not a Capitals fan, but the suckerpunch he threw on Matt Bradley in 2009 still irks me. To me, this guy is a circus sideshow most of the time he's on the ice.

2. Other Than Your Own, The Team You Can’t Help Rooting For

I'm pulling for the newest old team this season. With the Jets coming back to my hometown, I'll get a chance to watch a lot of NHL hockey at MTS Centre, and I'm pumped for the action. While I think they don't have the firepower to earn a playoff spot this year, I'm rooting for them simply because it will be a party in downtown Winnipeg every single time the Jets play. Being a member of the Eastern Conference also means we get to see Ovechkin, Crosby, Malkin, Lecavalier, Lundqvist, Richards, and Tortorella a few times this season, and that's something not a lot of Western-based cities can boast!

3. Favorite Fight or Brawl of All-Time

Any fight featuring Link Gaetz holds a special place on my fight card, but I always laugh my butt off watching Rob Ray pummel the fan in Quebec City. April 14, 1992 saw a Nordiques fan come to the table hungry, and Rob Ray served him a buffet of knuckle sandwiches. It truly remains one of my favorite, albeit one-sided, fights of all-time.

4. The Hideous-Looking Hockey Jersey You Secretly Love The Most

If you're a reader of HBIC, you already know that the Fisherman holds a special place in this fan's heart. Players such as Zdeno Chara, Wendel Clark, Mathieu Schneider, Zigmund Palffy, and Darius Kasparaitis wore the Fisherman "proudly" during their stays on Long Island! Of course, there is this black mark on the franchise during that time. Such a bad time. And yes, I do own one myself!

5. Your Favorite Hockey Cliché (terminology, traditions, announcer-speak, etc.)

Actually, I'm gonna go with my most hated cliché: "The Quiet Room". This really irritates me because it's not a padded cell or a sound-proof booth or anything. The fifteen minutes needed inside the "Quiet Room" is the amount of time needed to do a thorough examination after a player has had his bell rung. The "Quiet Room" is simply a room away from distractions on the bench and ice where the team physician can do the thorough examination with a series of tests and questions. So just call it what it is: an examination room.

6. The Injury You Couldn’t Stop Staring At (Non-Skate Lacerations Only)

When Zdeno Chara made David Koci's face explode, I honestly couldn't stop watching that fight on highlight reels. Koci may have needed a blood transfusion in the locker room when he went for repairs. Love the play-by-play guy's comment: "Koci looks like he's making a donation to the Red Cross!"

7. Your Favorite Cheesy Hockey Reference in Popular Culture

Oh man, my hatred for the Mighty Ducks cartoon can finally be given its proper respect. The entire series was based on superhero Ducks who could play hockey... which is an entirely terrible concept. Personally, I have nothing against Disney the company, but this entire cartoon series reeked of blue cheese. Whoever came up with this idea should have been handed his pink slip immediately.

8. Your Favorite Terrible Hockey Card Or Hockey Action Figure

McFarlane's Series 3 figurine of Chris Osgood... as a New York Islander. I also own one of these simply because I laugh every time I look at it. He may have played 103 games as an Islander, but how many people actually will remember Osgood as an Islander a decade from now? Osgood will always be associated with the Red Wings in most fans' minds. Even if he did suit up with St. Louis for a short period of time.

9. Finally, What’s The Thing You Secretly Respect Gary Bettman For The Most?

Allowing his likeness to be used as the basis for The Count on Sesame Street. Imitation is the sincerest form of flatter... wha? The Count wasn't modeled after Bettman? Could have fooled me. And almost did.

In all seriousness, I think Mr. Bettman should be commended and respected for getting the game into more homes in the US. He knows hockey in Canada is close to be a religion, so there was really only one country that needed more exposure to the game. The Winter Classic, games on NBC and Versus, young stars like Crosby and Ovechkin, and getting a little lucky with teams like Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Boston - four teams in major US hockey markets - win Stanley Cups have all been major boosts for the NHL's marketing department. While he still admittedly has a long way to go, the inroads have been made in the non-traditional markets, and that growth needs to continue for the NHL to thrive.

Once again, I want to thank Greg Wyshynski for this opportunity. I really had a good time answering these questions. As for softball, we rallied to beat a lot of good teams, and bowed out in the finals against another very good time. Nothing wrong with a 4-1 record in the playoffs, and I'm proud of the men and women I played with to end up as one of the best teams out there!

Until next time keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday 27 August 2011

It Has To Be Said

With all the hullabaloo surrounding texting, Facebooking, tweeting, MySpace, FourSquare, and any other social media application, there's no doubt that the personal touch of speaking to someone may be lost on future generations. "Happy Birthday" is a lot better received when someone says it to you with enthusiasm than just receiving a text message saying the same thing. When it comes to apologies, there should always be some effort made to make contact with the person you're apologizing to, especially if there's a chance that you might have ended his career.

Aaron Rome laid out Nathan Horton something fierce in the Stanley Cup Finals, and it was the last we saw of Horton this past season on the ice. Diagnosed with a concussion, Horton wasn't able to take part in any further games past Game Three while Rome was told by the NHL to take the rest of the season off. Needless to say, I'm sure that neither player was thrilled, but Horton had extra reason to be peeved as he never got to realize a lifelong dream of doing the victory lap around the rink with the Stanley Cup hoisted above his head.

Horton will get his Stanley Cup ring and his day with the Stanley Cup, but it's understandable why Horton might have been a little upset with Rome's hit. His career could have hung in the balance, but, thankfully, he'll make a return to the NHL to continue his career.

I found it strange that Rome, a concussion sufferer himself, decided to make contact with Horton via text messaging to wish him well and apologize for his hit. Apology done via text message? Seriously? Horton wasn't very impressed with Rome's choice of reaching out to him, and I don't blame him.

At "Milan Lucic's charity softball game in Lowell, Horton stated, 'If it was me, I wouldn't have thrown a text message someone's way. I'd have a little bit more respect to actually make a phone call.'"

Again, knowing Rome has himself dealt concussions, you'd think he'd take a more active approach to seeing if Horton was alright. If he can pull the phone out to text Horton, can he not dial the number? The apology, when spoken, means a heckuva lot more than just some impersonal text message. While I have no doubt that Rome was entirely sincere in sending the message with the best intentions, it just means a lot more to add that personal touch.

I'm not in charge of the NHLPA or anything, but it might be a good idea to mandate that text messaging apologies to players you've injured be discouraged. If the players are truly looking out for one another as part of the NHLPA, you would think that they would make a better effort to ensure that one man's livelihood is alright with something better than "You ok, dude?"

Horton has a point when he says he feels disrespected - one I totally agree with and think the NHLPA needs to embrace. If the players don't respect one another, possible career-ending hits like Horton took will never stop.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday 26 August 2011

Friday's Mixed Bag

The thing pictured to the left is apparently a "kiddie catch-all" for car seats. I'm not sure about you, but as a kid, I liked everything out. Toys were never in the toy box, shoes were left where ever they came off my feet, and clothes had a home on my floor rather than on hangers and in drawers. Apparently, this catch-all hangs on a car seat's armrest and your child can put all of his or her worldly possessions inside the baggie for easy access. Being that this mixed bag of stuff your child assembles can have juice boxes, insects, and a myriad of other things that can cause messes, is this really a good idea? Someone is probably making money off these things as we speak, so who am I to question it? In any case, here's your mixed bag of quick hockey stories to finish off this week.


The AHL's Houston Aeros, affiliate of the Minnesota Wild, will look a little different this season as they don new threads for the upcoming AHL season. Last season, the Aeros looked a lot like the Wild in terms of colours and design, but the Aeros have moved away from that look this season. They haven't totally abandoned the Wild's design, but they are further from them than before.

The home jersey is significantly different in that the Aeros have gone away from the Wild's colour scheme and design entirely. Same goes for the road jersey, and I personally like this idea of going away from their NHL affiliate. Houston has had some very unique uniforms in the past, and I really think they should continue to forge their own identity. The one uniform that will resemble the Wild a little this season is the alternate uniform. It, of course, looks a lot like Minnesota's alternate uniform, but I do like this Aeros' version of that design a lot.

What say you, readers - did Houston improve or did they take a step back?


I have to give a lot of credit to Dalhousie University student Katie MacDonald. Miss MacDonald won herself the opportunity to speak to anyone in the world through a contest, and she did one of the most selfless things anyone can do: she gave the opportunity it to someone else.

Miss MacDonald "entered a competition sponsored by wireless telecommunications provider Wind Mobile to talk to anyone in the world", and was one of the lucky winners. Imagine having the opportunity to speak to anyone on the planet - who would you choose?

Well, she had promised the phone call to 11 year-old Matthew Mancini, a young boy from Thorold, Ontario who is suffering from osteosarcoma, the same bone cancer that afflicted Terry Fox. And Miss MacDonald was true to her word: she gave Matthew, a die-hard hockey fan who has put his dream on hold because of his health, an opportunity to talk to one of his heroes in Sidney Crosby.

The conversation between Mr. Mancini and Mr. Crosby has already taken place, and Mr. Crosby released a statement stating that Matthew is "an amazing kid". I'm very happy that Matthew got a chance to speak to one of his heroes, and a huge thumbs-up from HBIC goes out to Katie MacDonald. It's that kind of generosity and kindness that makes me proud of the next generation in this country. Well done, Miss MacDonald!


Look, I get that some media outlets probably are still getting themselves set for Canada's newest NHL team this season in terms of getting TV spots ready with logos and what-not, but you would think that one of Canada's largest all-sports networks would be on the ball, right?

Rogers' Sportsnet carries a number of Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers games on TV each and every year, but there is a distinct lack of Winnipeg Jets coverage on their website. Case in point?
Seems like something is missing there, right? The Winnipeg Jets have only been back in Canada for few months, so you would think that Sportsnet would be all over this "complete coverage of your home team" thing, right? Apparently not.

It's funny because Sportsnet will be in Winnipeg on Monday, February 27 to cover the Oilers-Jets game that night. They will also be in Calgary for the Jets' only visit to Cow-town this season on Friday, March 9. So what gives, Sportsnet - why is there not one single iota of Jets info on the website?

That's all for today, kids. I have something coming next week that I want to really take a look at that deals with the newest idea from Hockey Canada. This one should be interesting because one broadcasting icon had the idea over a decade ago, and no one listened to him then. I'll explore this next week in depth.

Until then, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday 25 August 2011

Vigilante Justice?

You'll probably see a lot of this guy from a perch in an NHL arena. No, not Will Arnett, although having him involved with the NHL could be very entertaining. Instead, Brendan Shanahan will assume his role as NHL disciplinarian now that his on-ice laboratory time is done for this off-season. Shanahan will probably blend in to the background like his is in this photograph, but I'm hoping he'll be front and center the first time someone decides to take matters into his own hands when it comes to exacting justice. He played the game, he was suspended by the game, and now he'll have a chance to hand out a little time-off for those who break the rules.

I'm hoping we'll see a few things instituted by Shanahan when the season kicks off. Call this an unofficial set of guidelines more than rules, but Shanahan could make things very interesting if he just gets creative early on.

  • The "Matt Cooke" - automatic 10-game suspension for anyone dishing out elbows to the head. Despite being a Hall-of-Famer and a Red Wings legend, Shanahan retroactively suspends Gordie Howe for six seasons from 1973 to 1979. The NHL does nothing as they note that all stats from the WHA are already forgotten.
  • The "Ulf Samuelsson" - automatic 15-game suspension for deliberate knee-on-knee checks. While Ulf Samuelsson is already retired and coaching Modo of the Swedish Elite League, Shanahan sends Philip Samuelsson a note that upon his debut in the NHL, he will sit for his father's knee-on-knee check on Cam Neely in 1991. Shanahan goes on record saying, "I don't care which Samuelsson on the Penguins did it, there's no place in the game for that."
  • The "Gregory Campbell" - two-game suspension. Because his dad, Colin Campbell, suspended Shanahan for two games in 1999, there's nothing wrong with a little this-for-that as Shanahan randomly picks two games where Gregory Campbell is suspended. Appeals by the Campbell family sent to "" go unanswered.
  • The "Sean Avery" - six-game suspension. Any player found committing "conduct detrimental to the league or the game of hockey" is given a six-game break. Examples include dress code violations, unauthorized personal space violations, and any appearances in future Revenge of the Nerds movies.
  • The "Todd Bertuzzi" - twenty-game suspension. While Shanahan certainly doesn't want to see anyone get seriously hurt like Steve Moore was, Shanahan does not want to see grown men crying. Ever. Mark Messier is given a lifetime ban by Shanahan to "send a message".
Ok, so those are just a few of the tongue-in-cheek ideas I have to help kick off Shanahan's new role in the NHL offices. Personally, there is nothing wrong with handing out a few suspensions to send messages, especially to those players who are repeat offenders year in and year out. I'd like to see Shanahan absolutely devastate the NHLPA with a massive suspension for a deliberate head-check, but we'll see how far he pushes the envelope.

I do know this, though: in Shanny, I trust.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday 24 August 2011

TBC: Eddie Shore

With summer vacation nearly over, I thought it would be a good idea to just continue the theme of Boston Bruins/CBC stories for the remainder of the summer. This will be the second-last entry in the Teebz's Book Club Summer Literacy Project, and I feel this book might be long overdue for one of hockey's most iconic figures. Before there was Bobby Orr in Boston, another defenceman held the fans captive with his every move on the ice. He was tough, he was exciting, and he rewrote the book on how to play hockey in the early days of the NHL. Teebz's Book Club is proud to present Eddie Shore and That Old Time Hockey, written by C. Michael Hiam and published by McClelland & Stewart, Limited. The stories contained within the covers of this book talk about a man who was feared for his toughness, but rarely showed how great a man he was when he wasn't on the ice. Eddie Shore's story is one that needs to be told, and I'm glad to have finally read it.

From the publisher's webpage, "C. Michael Hiam was born in 1962 in Boston and came of age as a hockey fan at the height of the Bobby Orr era, when there were no Bruins tickets to be found. As an undergraduate, however, he both played hockey and attended as many Bruins games as he could. Today, Hiam is a licensed psychologist in New York and Massachusetts, and has authored and co-authored a number of scientific articles. In 2006, his first book, a biography of a CIA analyst active during the Vietnam War, Who the Hell Are we Fighting? The Story of Sam Adams and the Vietnam Intelligence Wars, was published by Steerforth Press. Today, Hiam lives in Newton, MA, with his wife and three children, and on Saturday mornings is an assistant coach for the Newton Youth Hockey Association."

Mr. Hiam's writing style threw me for a loop for the first few chapters. He is very wordy in the sense that he covers all his bases. He doesn't just say that the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog, but rather he covers the speed, the colour, and the species and genus of fox in comparison to the energy and agility of the species and genus of dog. In short, Mr. Hiam's 319 pages of writing could have been fit into about 100 pages.

The key is that it could have been done in brevity, but the vast information about Mr. Shore and how important he was to the early NHL stars and the Boston Bruins in particular would have been overlooked in a very tragic way. To say that Mr. Shore was important to hockey is like saying that water is important for life on Earth. Mr. Hiam's telling of Mr. Shore's life and abilities as an NHL star in the 1920s and 1930s is an excellent look at the NHL's first true superstar.

Eddie Shore and That Old Time Hockey starts at the very beginning of Eddie Shore's extraordinary life in Saskatchewan as a lad, through his time in Manitoba and Alberta as a youth and teen, and into his adult life in Boston as the most recognized man in Beantown through the Great Depression and beyond.

"The man from Saskatchewan was the Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb of hockey, a brilliant athlete with a temper to match, and his importance to the history of the professional game is immense. In the hockey vernacular of his age, Shore was a 'superstar' who gave the NHL visibility in new markets south of Canada, saw it the Great Depression, and sent it on its way to be the highly profitable sports empire it would become.
At first, I thought this quote would be more suitable for a player such as Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe, or even Maurice Richard, but Mr. Hiam's writing reflects all of these traits in Eddie Shore throughout the book. Indeed, Mr. Shore could be considered hockey's first true superstar.

Eddie Shore and That Old Time Hockey is definitely for a more advanced reader, and there is a great deal of description that Mr. Hiam put into the book about the vast amount of injuries that the old-time players suffered at the hands of one another. One of the greatest triumphs of this book is that we actually get to see Eddie Shore's side in one of the most tragic incidents in NHL history.

The "Ace" Bailey incident is probably best remembered because of Shore ending Bailey's career. Bailey, then with the Toronto Maple Leafs, was guilty, without penlaty, of clipping Shore's head earlier in the game with his stick. Shore had taken note of this in the back of his mind. Late in the period with the Bruins on a two-man advantage, Red Horner tripped a streaking Shore heavily into the boards, and again escaped unscathed as the referees simply looked the other way.

Shore, dazed and confused, after heavily falling into the boards, got up slowly from the latest indiscretion, and looked "peeved". King Clancy had skated the puck up the ice and Bailey, having dropped back to cover Clancy's abandoned defensive post, watched his teammate streak up the ice, unaware that an enraged Shore wanted vengeance for the punishment he had taken all night.
"Bailey was watching the action unfold in the Bruins end and had his back to Shore, who, gathering speed and with his head down, charged at Bailey from behind like a bull. Shore's left shoulder slammed hard into Bailey's midsection, and the Leaf's skates shot out from under him. Bailey twisted around in the air as the crowd roared with delight, the he dropped backward, his head hitting the Garden ice with a dull thud that could be heard all over the building."
What happened next I will leave to you, the readers of this book, but there should be no doubt that Shore's intentions were not indicative of the resulting injuries suffered by Bailey. The resulting all-star game festivities to help Bailey and his family with hospital bills saw this photo snapped, but I'm quite certain there could have been hundreds others taken that showed how much influence Shore had on this game.

I have to credit Mr. Hiam for a job well done in Eddie Shore and That Old Time Hockey because there just aren't that many records of Eddie Shore's playing days still available for public consumption. The photos obtained by Mr. Hiam are absolutely amazing, and really should be seen by a lot more people. The story and facts contained within the covers of Eddie Shore and That Old Time Hockey are a testament to an outstanding researcher and writer, and Mr. Hiam's story is an excellent addition to any bookshelf or nightstand. Eddie Shore and That Old Time Hockey certainly deserves the Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval for the amazing facts and interesting anecdotes about the legendary Eddie Shore!

If you're a Bruins fan, this is one you definitely want to add! And hockey fans who want a great historical look at how the game was back in its infancy should definitely add this one to their collection!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Teebz Is Out

It will be a quiet front on the HBIC side this weekend as the league I played softball in has their playoffs. Honestly, I felt I had a good season as I routinely played well. The team, on the other hand, could have finished better, but there were a number of factors that determined our record that were out of our hands. A number of serious injuries to regular players caused us to suffer, but I think, in the end, everyone had a good season when it came to fun and laughter. That's what matters most in these type of beer leagues, and I know I had a good time even if my overly-competitive spirit demanded otherwise. In any case, we go into this playoff weekend as underdogs, and I plan on shocking the world.

That being said, we kick off the weekend's round-robin games at 9:30am this morning. I am not looking forward to that morning. We pick up the pace at 11am, and finish off the round-robin at 2pm. I feel that if we play well enough in Saturday morning's 9:30 game this morning, we can set the pace and finish in the top-two to advance to the upper bracket where we'll sit pretty.

No hockey coverage today from this writer. I will update everyone on how the team did later. Keep your eyes on the prize, kids. But just because this is a little softball entry, check out Sidney Crosby's visit to PNC Park on September 8, 2010. The kid goes yard in batting practice!

If he felt up to it, I'm sure the Pirates could use another Bo Jackson-like, two-sport athlete!

Until next time, keep your eye on the ball!

Tuesday 23 August 2011

1991 Was A Barometer

I took the NHL to task about the cost of their franchises back on August 2, and I'm still quite baffled by the amount of money that owners throw at the NHL for a lot of nothing. When you factor in the amount of the money that prospective owners throw at the NHL to simply gain entry as an expansion team, you have to wonder how these millionaires and billionaires ever earned a dollar in their lives. Couple that with the "relocation" fees that the NHL is establishing, and it seems that the NHL can literally charge a fee for anything and everything when it comes to finding successful markets. Again, I have to ask why the prices are so high to join this group? What makes owning an NHL team worth hundreds of millions of dollars just to say "I'm in"?

For that answer, we jump back to 1991 where Sports Illustrated's Jay Greenberg takes a look at the ballooning costs involved in joining the NHL's fraternity. 1991 proved to be a year where a lot of measuring sticks were established: expansion fees, expansion protocols, and the NHL's lure of the greenback in any situation. These three items established how well the San Jose Sharks would do, and would spell out how future expansion teams would fare when compared to the Sharks. Let's take a look at where the NHL may have gone wrong in their quest to be a 28-team league.

The NHL has always been a forward-thinking establishment, in my opinion, but it needs to slow down once in a while and check out its own history. Mr. Greenberg also states that the NHL's reluctance to check its own past has led to the NHL fighting some uphill battles. He writes,

"Since the absorption of four World Hockey Association clubs in 1979, the NHL has been a 21-team league. Its self-proclaimed 'vision of the nineties' calls for expansion to 28 teams by the year 2000. The first of the new teams, the San Jose Sharks, begins play this season, and conditional franchises have been granted for '92-93 to Tampa and Ottawa. The addition of San Jose and Tampa is intended to move the NHL toward its goal of becoming a truly national entity in the U.S., as it already is in Canada.

Unfortunately, in executing this grand scheme, the NHL brass has been looking myopically at the horizon without first consulting the rearview mirror. Little has been learned from the past, when the NHL's growth was stunted by its eagerness to beat the WHA into virgin territory and to collect expansion fees in the process. Between 1967 and '74, the league added 12 teams, but it often awarded franchises to owners ill-equipped to run them. Worse, it didn't allow the new clubs to claim enough solid major league players in the expansion draft to achieve quick respectability."
This seems to be the case in each and every expansion model that the NHL has gone through. The best example of this poor expansion strategy is the Atlanta Thrashers. The Thrashers started off with a collection of discards and grinders filling out their roster. Can you name the player who scored the first goal in franchise history? Can you name the leading scorer that year? Their names will be revealed below, but neither wore the names of Kovalchuk or Heatley.

Expansion, especially when there are two teams in the same year, have shown remarkably poor results. The NHL Entry Draft, once thought to be a saving grace for teams needing an infusion of talent, has turned into a roll of the dice, especially when you consider the number of players who don't turn into legitimate NHL stars. The NHL handicaps the new teams by limiting the talent available through the expansion drafts, and then leaves them to chance when it comes to the entry drafts. With poor teams and no marketability other the appeal of being new, the owners find out pretty quickly that the membership into the NHL is a lot more expensive than just the expansion fee. Mr. Greenberg writes,
"Instead of giving its new clubs the means to turn into winners within, say, three or four years, the league is using them as trash heaps for unwanted players. Too many teams are being brought in too quickly. The NHL is also overcharging for the expansion clubs, increasing the possibility that they will be undercapitalized. Teams are going to owners who may not be able to afford them—and, in two instances, to those who have done poor jobs running other franchises."
Names like William "Boots" Del Biaggio III, Bruce McNall, John Spano, Sanjay Kumar, John Rigas, Greg Reyes, and Dennis Kozlowski have all owned or been part of an owenership group of an NHL team, and all of them have been convicted and sentenced for some sort of fraud. Of course, there are notoriously bad owners like Bill Wirtz, Gordon and George Gund, Peter Pocklington, and Jerry Moyes who simply stopped investing what little money they had into their teams, and drove them into ruins after trading and releasing high-profile players from each of their teams. This is the NHL's legacy when it comes to ownership. For every Mike Ilitch, there seems to be three owners who never should have been considered for ownership.

Peter Karmanos, the current owner of the Carolina Hurricanes, wanted to establish an NHL team in St. Petersburg, Florida around the same time that the Tampa Bay Lightning team were being considered as a potential expansion franchise. He was baffled by the NHL's demand of $50 million itself, as well as the payment in three installments - $5 million down, $22.5 million in June and $22.5 million in December. Mr. Karmanos stated,
"'When I asked [NHL president John] Ziegler how he justified a price that was 65 percent more than the NBA charged its last four expansion teams, he shouted that it was none of our business. We should either pay or forget it.

'We offered them $29 million up front and proposed to split the profits with them [other NHL owners] over the next seven years. The other two groups [from Miami and from Hamilton, Ont.] who made offers came up with similar parameters. We were the only three that had the money, too. It was like a comic book.

'The NHL owners are perpetuating a sham. The basketball people have worked hard to build their game and the value of their franchises. Ziegler isn't anywhere near the businessman that the NBA front-office people are.'"
Pretty harsh comments from a guy who bought the Hartford Whalers for $47.5 million just three years later. He bought an established franchise without having to go through the headaches of an expansion draft and lousy seasons for LESS than what San Jose, Ottawa, and Tampa Bay paid to be an expansion franchise. Anyone else see a problem there? How does an established NHL team with a lengthy history sell for less than a team that hasn't written one word of its history? Anyone think the NHL's expansion fees are, in fact, overpriced?

Mr. Greenberg thinks the expansion fees are a large part of why NHL expansion franchises take years to get off the ground.
"In fact, at $50 million, the chances of a franchise being a business success are ridiculously low. So are the chances of those teams being interesting to watch. Under terms of their deal with the league to abandon the North Stars in favor of the Sharks, the Gunds won the right—their final pillage of hockey in the Twin Cities—to take several of Minnesota's best prospects with them to San Jose. So the Sharks have a slight head start. But as part of the Gunds' bargain with the NHL, San Jose also had to share the picks in last May's expansion draft with Minnesota. With the league's remaining 20 teams permitted to protect 16 skaters and two goalies (each could lose only one player), the likelihood that San Jose would land useful players was slim. The Sharks had the usual options: lugs and thugs.

The protection lists when Tampa and Ottawa choose their teams next spring will consist of only 14 skaters and two goalies, but because the expansion pool will have had only one year to regenerate, the pickings will probably be even worse than they were for San Jose."
And they were. Ottawa's leading scorer in their first year was defenceman Norm Maciver. He finished 15 points ahead of centerman and runner-up Jamie Baker. That's horrendous. Tampa Bay was lucky to get Brian Bradley who led the team in scoring. John Tucker finished second in scoring, a mere 30 points back of Bradley! That, readers, is why both of those teams were horrible for the next decade - zero talent on those two rosters. Maybe they could build with youth?

Mr. Greenberg finds fault with that idea. In the past,
"... the best way for new teams to build a foundation for success is through the amateur draft—but that requires considerable luck. That's because rule changes in 1979 and '80 lowered the minimum age for eligibility for the amateur draft from 20 to 18. Since scouts have more difficulty discerning greatness in an 18-year-old prospect than in a more developed 20-year-old, drafting mistakes have become more common."
Indeed, draft mistakes can destroy an expansion team. The 1999 NHL Entry Draft saw the Atlanta Thrashers draft Patrik Stefan in what was thought to be the first of many fruitful drafts. As of last year, not one of the players selected by the Thrashers in the '99 draft were playing in the NHL. Is there any wonder as to why that franchise failed?

So if expansion teams can't make it through the expansion draft, and they can't get any better through the draft, maybe they can improve through free agency, right? Mr. Greenberg addresses that, too.
"Forget it. There was virtually no free-agent movement in the NHL in the '70s and '80s, but now, at least, there is a trickle. Bob Goodenow, the NHLPA's tough new director (he replaced the ever-compliant Alan Eagleson last year), may be able to negotiate greater leverage in the collective-bargaining agreement for teams and players trying to better themselves."
Free agency, before the 2005 shutdown, was wild and free where players could sign multi-year, multi-million dollar contracts with no regard for the team they were leaving or the impact on the teams bidding for their services. Gone were the days of the one-team player, replaced by hired mercenaries who went to the highest bidder.

Ok, so that might be a bit of an overstatement, but free agency in the 1990s benefited the teams in the largest markets with the most money, and the little guys be damned. Mr. Greenberg makes a very prominent statement when he wrote,
"Bobby Orr's three visits a season didn't save the Oakland Seals from their inept management. Neither will one or two appearances a year by Wayne Gretzky or Brett Hull sustain the Tampa Bay Lightning if it doesn't quickly become a winner."
It took Tampa Bay over a decade to build a Stanley Cup winner, but the original ownership group was long gone and the second owner, Art Williams, bailed as well. Again, that's three different owners in the span of twelve years before the Lightning hit pay dirt. There's something wrong with that picture.

What does Mr. Greenberg suggest to fix the expansion problem?
"The franchise fee should be cut, first to bring relief to Tampa and Ottawa and second to encourage sound businessmen to apply for future franchises with their own money, not somebody else's. The pace of expansion should be slowed to accommodate no more than one franchise every two or even three years so that the talent pool would have time to replenish itself. Expansion drafts that allow for the protection of only 10 players and one goalie would give fledgling franchises a core of solid players while they wait for draft choices to develop."
I totally agree with Mr. Greenberg 100%. The ludicrous expansion fee should be lowered so that brand-new teams aren't operating out of a well of red ink. Businesspeople who actually conduct sound business ventures might be interested in investing in a league where the start-up is reasonable, and not the same as the GDP of some third-world countries.

Secondly, give the talent pool a chance to replenish. It takes approximately four to five years for the pool to balance itself out again at the bare minimum, and there shouldn't be more than one expansion team every decade. Multiple expansion teams in the same year cause the talent pool to drain even faster, and the replenishing of talent takes exponentially longer.

Lastly, teams should only be able to protect two lines of players and one goalie. That's eleven players total that each team can hang on to, and the rest go into the expansion draft. Teams like Detroit, Pittsburgh, Boston, Vancouver, Chicago, and Washington would have to make some tough decision on who to keep, but it would give a vast number of players a chance to step in and be a first-liner on an expansion team instead of a third-liner on a solid team. The expansion teams get a lot better a lot faster, and the competition is higher between all the teams in the league. That's a win-win for everyone.

Mr. Greenberg wrote, "The NHL already has a map of the road to ruin. All it has to do is read it." With the shutdowns of hockey in 1994 and 2005 over CBA disputes, it was clear that the NHL didn't even bother unfolding the map. Before anyone even suggests that the NHL look at expanding its borders once again, it might be a good idea to check the path the NHL is on. The relocation fee charged for the Thrashers to move to Winnipeg was nauseating, and I still can't believe that True North Sports and Entertainment agreed to the price.

If those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it, the NHL is nothing more than a broken record.

As for the above trivia, the player who scored Atlanta's first goal in franchise history was Kelly Buchberger. The player who led the Thrashers in scoring in their first season? Andrew Brunette. Would you consider either of those names to be marketable stars?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday 22 August 2011

Dancing With The Devils

There was a strange report in the New York Post today about a rock group - Black Water Rising - filing a $30 million lawsuit against the New Jersey Devils for the use of one of their songs. I'm very aware that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of songs and musical pieces used across the globe at hockey games, and I'm pretty sure that the teams aren't paying individual bands and songwriters for the use of their songs. In fact, having worked at Moose games last season, I know that the teams and leagues pay for the right to use those songs through music licensing, so I'm not sure how or why a lawsuit is being filed against one specific team for the use of one band's music. To me, this seems like a band who doesn't know their own industry.

According to a Facebook quote at the bottom of the New York Post story, Rob Traynor, lead singer for Black Water Rising, wrote,

"My music was basically stolen and put to work by a corporation for their monetary gain. They used my song to rally their team and fans before every home game and didn't even bother to credit the band. They dismissed and ignored my honest attempts to rectify the situation in the hopes that I would just go away. They banked on the hope that I would become discouraged and lack the means to file a suit against them."
Wow. I'm all for protecting one's creations whether it be art, written word, song, or any other form of artistry, but that statement sounds like someone wanting his cake and trying to eat it too.

If you want to read through all the comments on Facebook, they're here, but it seems that the one thing that Traynor is focused on is copyright infringement.
"Credit was not given to the band and permission was not granted to use the song. COPYRIGHT was infringed upon. They used my music to market their product without permission. They didn't even give me CREDIT. READ."
Traynor's lawyer, Wallace Collins, said the Devils are "offering an insultingly small amount of money to settle." So the next logical step is to file a $30 million lawsuit, right? I mean, why not just ask for the keys to the Prudential Center while you're at it?

I'm not sure how many copyright suits Wallace Collins has handled, but he may want to read up on ASCAP and BMI. The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) and Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI) simplify the process of needing individual rights from every band when an entity would like to publicly broadcast music. Hockey teams broadcast to about 15,000 people every night, give or take, so they need to buy these music rights. ASCAP and BMI make it easy because they have the rights to about 4,000,000 songs each in their libraries. That's pretty easy on the teams - one vendor for 4,000,000 songs.

There are a vast amount of forms on the BMI page. BMI has one page where they specifically go over how artists are credited and paid, so that one might be one you want to bookmark if you're an aspiring artist. Unless Black Water Rising had not registered their songs with either ASCAP or BMI, they would certainly have a case against the Devils because the Devils would be using their songs without permission.

The fact that this is being brought to light now is a little annoying and stupid. In October 2010, the Devils came right out and stated that they were using Black Water Rising's song "Rise" as their chosen song for their theme of "Rise Up!" for the 2010-11 season. In fact, BWR bassist Oddie McLaughlin is quoted as sating, "I've been a huge hockey fan since I was a kid and to have our song 'Rise' played before the New Jersey Devils is beyond my wildest dreams. So let's drop the puck and 'Rise' to a new level of hockey. Go Devils!!"

So I did what any aspiring journalist would do when tracking down evidence for a story: I search both ASCAP's and BMI's music databases. And wouldn't you know it? I found Black Water Rising's works under ASCAP, and, specifically, the song "Rise" (Work ID: 882069515) in ASCAP's database of music licenses. As long as the Devils can prove that they subscribe to ASCAP's licensing, Black Water Rising has no copyright case against the Devils because the Devils bought the licensing to the music as legally as any department store or radio station can.

Doing a little online research shows that Devils fans really want nothing more than for the Devils to abandon Black Water Rising's song for good. From the HF Boards Forum, the comments range from "who cares" to absolute hatred for the song.
  • "kyle evs48" says, "he should be happy at least someone likes the song".
  • "Richer's Ghost", a moderator, says, "that song sounds like Nickelback and Alice In Chains got in a car wreck and as they were bleeding out they played some music."
  • "AZNDevil" says, "They used a small part of the song, just where the dude yells 'rise' and the chorus, and when the Devils first unveiled the video, Black Water Rising was all over it, promoting how their song was the 'official theme' to the Devils season."
  • "azrock22" says, "Right, but that doesn't mean that the band has signed on with ASCAP or BMI. In fact, if the band had signed on with ASCAP or BMI, it would've been ASCAP/BMI filing the suit, and not the band individually." Teebz: confirmed ASCAP signing.
  • "ILikeItVeryMuch" asks, "How exactly is that Rise intro used as a profit driven commercial video and the 29 other teams have intros that do not have bands calling for a lawsuit?"
To me, this entire debacle is nothing more than a publicity stunt from a band that either can't hack it as a legitimate rock band or are legitimately starving artists. The New Jersey Devils played a ton of music last season, and only one band is crying that they didn't get credited on the scoreboard. Boo-frigging-hoo. Grow up.

I hope that the Devils countersue, and put Black Water Rising out of their misery. I have never listened to their songs, I will not buy their album, and I certainly won't be missing them on the radio anytime soon.

Like Kevin Spacey said in The Usual Suspects, "How do you shoot the devil in the back? What if you miss?" This could be a big miss for Black Water Rising, and I'm pretty sure the Devils won't just let this lawsuit just drift off into the sunset.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday 21 August 2011

POTUS He Was Not

A quick glance at the image to the left may have you believing that Gordie Howe was presenting a uniform to the President of the United States like championship teams do today. Except he wasn't. So what was Gordie Howe doing with a jersey that had the name "President" on it? Well, he was accepting his new responsibilities with the WHA's Houston Aeros in 1975. The 47 year-old Howe was made club president in 1975 after having brought the Avco Cup to Houston, and then he promptly signed on to play another season with the Aeros. Imagine playing against one of the top players in the WHA in Gordie Howe, and taking a beating at the hands of the Aeros' new president! It happened a lot in 1975-76 because Howe took to the ice in his new role!

A Sports Illustrated article from October 20, 1975, written by Jerry Kirshenbaum, explains how the Houston Aeros were blessed with amazing talent and backed by owners who wanted to win. Building the 15,000-seat Summit on the strength of the Aeros' popularity, Howe's return only bolstered the Aeros' presence in the city.

The article goes to show how the three year-old league was still making life hard for the NHL.

"If only because of the diluted quality of the expanded and reexpanded NHL, the WHA is closer to parity of talent than the upstart AFL was at a similar stage or than the ABA is even today. The WHA might have pulled closer still had Minnesota succeeded in its $4 million bid for Bobby Orr. But the Fighting Saints did grab 35-year-old Dave Keon, the Toronto Maple Leafs' alltime scoring leader, and wooed Henry Boucha away from their arch-rivals, the Minnesota North Stars. Boucha is still bothered by the eye injury suffered in the Dave Forbes fracas, but his defection is a big blow in the raging interleague battle between Minnesota's two pro hockey teams."
Could you imagine what Bobby Orr's legacy might be like had he signed on to be a Fighting Saint rather than a Bruin? Orr would have had no problem scoring in either league at the clip he did, but his exploits in the WHA would have been swept under the rug like the vast majority of WHA records. Orr in Minnesota... it almost happened!

Another thing that surprised me was that the Boston Bruins and New England Whalers went head-to-head in competing for fans in Boston.
"The one team besides Houston to win a league title—in the '72-'73 inaugural season—the Whalers finally gave up trying to buck the Bruins in Boston and moved last year to Hartford, Conn., where empty seats in the new 10,507-capacity civic center Coliseum were gratifyingly few."
The NHL's Hartford Whalers may never have been had the team not moved before the start of the 1975-76 season. I can't imagine why the Whalers would have wanted to compete, but clearly their move to Hartford was beneficial. Could this be one of the reasons there was so much animosity between the two teams whenever they played in the 1980s and 1990s?

I found the following line to be a very interesting one:
"As part of his commendable campaign to overhaul the Racers, resourceful Jim Browitt sent a couple of marginal players to a Swedish club in exchange for Goalie Leif Holmquist in hockey's first intercontinental trade."
Indianapolis completed the first player trade between a North American club and a European club in 1975. How cool is that? History in the making!

Mr. Kirshenbaum even adds a little comedy to the article, despite the matter being entirely true.
"The speedy Nordiques remain deficient in muscle, but newcomer Gord Gallant should get them out of the 98-pound-weakling class. Gallant arrives from Minnesota, where he led the WHA with 203 penalty minutes before making himself expendable by punching Fighting Saint Coach Harry Neale."
That's right: he punched his coach. The story of Gord Gallant's punch isn't really that glamorous. Gord Gallant was a fan favorite in Minnesota because he had an extremely short fuse on the ice, and fought anyone and everyone. One night, he was out past curfew that Neale had instituted, and Neale had called his room. Gallant, knowing he was in hot water, went down to Neale's room with his short fuse lit, knocked on the door, sucker-punched the coach, and then destroyed Neale's room. As a result, Gallant's days in Minnesota were predictably over.

One last comment that I thought was totally hilarious considering who said it was from Toronto Toros owner John Bassett Jr.
"Meanwhile, the suspicion lingers that the Toros trained in Sweden only because Owner John F. Bassett Jr. wanted to spare Torontonians the sight of the team. Of the decline in ticket sales, Bassett says, 'You can't blame subscribers for canceling, not with the garbage product they put up with last year.'"
That's HIS team he's talking about! You kind of want your own fans to like your team so they, y'know, buy tickets and stuff, but Bassett said exactly what most Toros attendees were thinking. It takes some nerve to call out your whole team in training camp about how poorly they played last season.

Anyway, there are some more WHA highlights for a lazy Sunday. The "President" jersey is a pretty interesting development when you consider that only the POTUS receives a uniform like that. On the other hand, Gordie Howe, for all he did in Houston, could have probably won a Texas Governorship if he had really wanted.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday 20 August 2011

Like He'd Ever Work There

With hockey season approaching, parents who are buying school supplies will soon turn to sporting good stores to outfit their children in hockey gear once again. Adults who are playing hockey will join them in the quest for the latest and greatest, so it's no surprise that sporting good stores in Canada are starting their push in selling all the new gear. Sticks, skates, pads, helmets, undershirts - all of it has to be considered when suiting up the next Sidney Crosby.

Which brings me to Sport Chek and Sidney Crosby. They have a deal to help distribute Sidney Crosby's line of gear under the SC87 name, and the new commercial is all about SC87's other potential names. Check it out.

Now that's all fine and dandy in terms of Sidney Crosby hawking his wares, but does anyone truly believe Sidney Crosby would be stocking shelves unless he owned the store?

Of course, this is the latest commercial in what has been a string of commercials that started last year. I'll run them down in order of appearance on TV.

I don't know whether Sport Chek or SC87 have had any sort of mutual benefit from Crosby's commercials, but there have been other businesses that have used Sidney Crosby for commericials. Like Dempster's Bread, for example.

Clearly, there are benefits to having one of hockey's current stars selling and using your product. I'm just not convinced, however, that Crosby would ever take a job at Sport Chek after earning millions in the NHL. The entertainment value is high, but I think the joke has run its course.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday 19 August 2011

Business Morons

I'm not knocking anyone who loves the NHL out of pure entertainment here, but I'm pretty sure we all know that the NHL is big business first, right? The NHL talks about how many rears they put in the seats, how much merchandise they sold, and how well the teams are doing financially ad nauseum so it seems to be a pretty cut-and-dry discussion when debating whether the NHL is a business or entertainment. Don't get me wrong: entertainment can be business, but, at the end of the day, it's still and always will be the bottom line that makes or breaks that entertainment business.

In that vein, I found an article written in The Business Journals today to be very idiotic when it comes to business. The writer, G. Scott Thomas, is probably a very good businessman and has had several books published, but I'm not sure if he understands sports at all. His bio reads,

"G. Scott Thomas has been a journalist for more than 30 years, specializing in stories about business and demographics. He has written 8 books and more than 100 articles for such national publications as American Demographics, Biz, Savvy, Sporting News, and The Wall Street Journal."
Impressive, but, again, I'm not convinced he has any savvy for how hockey works, and his latest article on the most overextended markets for pro sports is, in my view, delusional and insulting. Personally, it goes to show how little he knows about the business of sports, and the idea of sports being a form of entertainment.

In today's article, Mr. Thomas puts a painstakingly ridiculous set of criteria forward to determine which markets would be ideal choices for future NHL expansion. Never mind the fact that expansion at this point would be an absolutely moronic idea for the NHL, but the examination was done by Mr. Thomas anyhow. According to Mr. Thomas, "[t]he study estimated that an NHL team needs an income base of $37.6 billion" - a very large number for smaller markets, but entirely acceptable in some large American markets.

But it's just a number.

This number is some number-cruncher's rationale for putting an NHL team into a particular place that isn't currently served by the NHL. However, it doesn't take other factors into its analysis: hockey's popularity, fan commitment, overall business support of the sport. Those three things are vitally important when talking about hockey because the NHL's revenue is derived largely from ticket sales and merchandise sales. You would think someone who knows sports business would have a grip on how the NHL does business, right?

Let's take a look a few of the 58 North American cities chosen in this study. I'll focus mainly on the top ten cities, and we'll look at why the criteria chosen by Mr. Thomas is debunked by his own oversights in this study.
  • Ranked #1 by Mr. Thomas was Riverside-San Bernadino, California. Forgot for a moment that the distance between downtown Riverside-San Bernadino and downtown Los Angeles is approximately 60 miles, but Riverside-San Bernadino has Coussoulis Arena to house its NHL team. Coussoulis Arena holds 5000 people. So not only is the market part of the Kings' surrounding market, but it doesn't even have an AHL-calibre arena. But it should be the top market for the NHL to pursue in future expansion, right?
  • Houston came in at #2, and there's a good chance that Houston could be on the NHL's radar in the future. The Toyota Center can seat 17,800 fans for hockey, and it is the fourth-largest metropolis in the US. The only problem? No one has stepped forward in the last decade as a viable owner for an NHL team in Houston. If no one wants to own a Houston-based NHL team, why would the NHL pursue that city? And where do the AHL Aeros move to if the NHL moves in? The Aeros have long been one of the best AHL franchises since joining the AHL, and they have excellent in-state rivalries with the Texas Stars and the San Antonio Rampage. Why would the NHL want into an AHL market if the AHL market hasn't made it clear it wants an NHL team?
  • Bridgeport-Stamford, Connecticut was #3, and this suggestion is even more stupid than Riverside-San Bernadino. Stamford is a mere 40 miles from Madison Square Garden in New York City, so a new team in the Stamford area would certainly be within not only the Rangers' market, but also the Islanders' market and potentially the New Jersey Devils' market. Secondly, the Islanders have their AHL franchise - the Bridgeport Sound Tigers - in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and it does fairly well there. Again, why is the NHL moving into AHL markets when the AHL market hasn't expressed any desire for NHL membership?
  • Cities ranked #4 through #7 have all had or have minor-pro hockey in them at one point. Las Vegas (#4) had the IHL Thunder there for a while, and they discovered what a lot of other leagues have experienced: no one goes to Vegas to watch sports. Norfolk, Virginia (#5), Providence, Rhode Island (#6), and Austin, Texas (#7) are all successful AHL cities, so I'll refer to Houston's and Bridgeport's question: why would the NHL want to set up shop there if there is no demand for it?
  • Hartford, Connecticut (#8) is a different situation as they had both an NHL and WHA team in the Hartford Whalers who were extremely popular with the fans in Hartford. Fans in Hartford would certainly welcome the NHL back as easily as the people in Winnipeg did, but they are still operating out of the aging Hartford Civic Center, aka the XL Center. It seats 15,635 fans for hockey, making it one of the smallest venues for hockey in North America - something that still hasn't been corrected since the NHL Whalers left. Besides that fact, the Connecticut Whale AHL franchise operates out of that building, and they haven't exactly been the most successful franchise at the gate over recent years.
  • Sacramento, California (#9) is an interesting idea. It is 120 miles from San Jose, California, so it really isn't part of San Jose's market per se. But it is faced with two major challenges: no ownership and no NHL-suitable arena. Sacramento has the Maloof brothers who own the Sacramento Kings NBA franchise, but no one has even remotely mentioned ownership of an NHL franchise in recent years. Add to the fact that new arena votes were shot down by Sacramento voters, and the Power Balance Pavilion would instantly become the smallest NHL venue at approximately 14,000 fans. Expansion franchises with low attendance and no billionaire owners won't last long.
  • Richmond, Virginia (#10) is about 100 miles from Washington, DC, so there might be an argument over the Capitals' market reach. Richmond also has an arena issue - it seats just 11,088 fans for hockey. That would be a great AHL arena, but it doesn't even come close to what the NHL expects. The AHL Richmond Robins played there from 1971-1976, and there have been two ECHL teams since: the EHL's Richmond Rifles ('79-81) and the Richmond Renegades (1990-2003). If we look at the SPHL Richmond Renegades, the most recent hockey team from 2006-09, the attendance was abysmal. The Renegades averaged 2977 fans per game - horrible numbers. Ownership issues, arena size, and fan apathy make Richmond a very moronic choice as the tenth-best place for the NHL to settle.
If you look at the top ten list, there are two cities from each of Virginia, California, Connecticut, and Texas. If you happen to peruse the list of states with the most millionaires, those four states rank seventh, ninth, fourth, and twenty-sixth on the list of millionaires per capita. So if Hawaii was #1 with the most millionaires per capita, why wasn't Honolulu one of the chosen NHL destinations for an expansion team? Well it was - #15 - and there are no pro teams, lots of money per capita, and a chance to stick it to their landlocked brethren - seems like a no-brainer to me.

Could it be because hockey isn't popular there? Hockey has failed twice in Atlanta now, and it was ranked as #11. Louisville, Kentucky, and Birmingham, Alabama are college towns when it comes to sports despite the University of Kentucky having a team. Hockey doesn't get much recognition in Louisville at all, and the AHL failed there when the Louisville Panthers existed. New Haven, Connecticut (#17) saw the AHL New Haven Beast fail miserably. Orlando, Florida (#18) saw the Orlando Solar Bears win the IHL's Turner Cup, and they still folded.

And that's the problem with this list: the cities chosen would not have NHL hockey as the first, second, or even third entertainment choice on their lists. The NHL is a source of entertainment, and it competes with a myriad of other entertainment choices. From the plethora of shows and events in Las Vegas (#4) to Disney World and Universal Studios in Orlando (#18) to rodeos (Tulsa), college football (nearly every American city), pro football (nearly every American city), and everything else, the NHL knows its niche and is wise in sticking to it. Would it be great if every American city grasped the sport? Absolutely. But it just isn't going to happen.

Quebec City, possibly the next place the NHL will consider for relocation, was ranked as "borderline" at #31. Hamilton, Ontario got the same verbal rating as they came in at #33 just ahead of the thriving metropolis of Poughkeepsie, New York (#36). Kansas City, a place where the Penguins, Predators, and Islanders were all rumoured to end up, which has a new arena and only would compete with the Royals and Chiefs for sports dollars, was called "insufficient" and still ended up as #57.

Is it just me, or does it seem like Mr. Thomas is a little brain-dead? Maybe he just has no clue about sports in general. Business people sometimes get into these ideas about how good something is in theory without actually taking a look at the practical side of the coin. It doesn't matter how rich a city's peoples are if they have no interest in the entertainment you're bringing to town.

In the vast majority of these cities' cases, they are already AHL towns, and they are doing very well with minor-pro hockey as opposed to the NHL. Grand Rapids, Michigan (#40) could never support an NHL franchise, but the Grand Rapids Griffins are extremely popular and successful as an AHL club. Worcester, Massachusetts (#26) is home to the AHL Sharks, but the popularity of the Boston Bruins would crush any NHL team in Worcester.

Perhaps it would be wise if The Business Journals actually stuck to business and stopped wading into sports. From Mr. Thomas' deductions, it's clear he knows little about hockey, and he comes off as a complete moron with this type of article.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!