Monday, May 29, 2017

Not Another P.K. Story

It's unavoidable with P.K. Subban and the Nashville Predators in the Stanley Cup Final. You know there will be tons of these stories.

First, a recap.

There's probably never been another trade in NHL history that has been discussed as much, and for so long, as the one that happened nearly a year ago between the Nashville Predators and Montreal Canadiens.  At least, one that I can remember.

It was a shocking day that also saw another blockbuster trade in Edmonton sending Taylor Hall to the New Jersey Devils for Adam Larsson.  The only one still talking about that trade is Hall, who to say the least, is still sounding a little bitter about the new found success of his former team, after suffering through the bad times.

P.K. Subban's name had popped up a few days earlier at the trade.  The Montreal Canadiens quickly denied that they were trying to trade their superstar player.  The media pounced, however, zeroing in on a number of things that make them believe where there is smoke, there's fire.

It was no secret that then head coach, Michel Therrien, was less than enamoured with Subban, singling him out for a loss two years ago in a February game against the Colorado Avalanche, after Subban had turned the puck over.  Never mind that it was still a 3 on 3 going back the other way and ended up being played incorrectly by those three players, leaving Jarome Iglina all alone in front for a tap in.  None of those players were called out.



There were rumours that Subban's over the top personality was rubbing some of the players the wrong way, including the captain, Max Pacioretty.  It is suggested by at least one person that Pacioretty was more of a divider than uniter, while another person said Subban did make some mistakes that pissed off some his former teammates.  I've never been in that dressing room, so I wouldn't know if that is true or not.  It would appear P.K.'s new Nashville Predators don't seem to have a problem with him.

Former Montreal Canadiens and a friend of Subban, George Laraque, believes the players might have been jealous of Subban due to his popularity.  Subban wasn't only the most popular player (maybe second behind Carey Price), but one of the most popular people in the entire city.

Lastly, a no movement clause would be kicking in on Canada Day, July 1st.  That would make any trade that much more difficult to pull off.  So, if Marc Bergevin wanted to move Subban without conditions, time was running out.

For whatever reason, P.K. Subban was swapped for Shea Webber.  In the very first year of the trade, here is Subban and the Nashville Predators four wins away from the team's first Stanley Cup, while his former team has been golfing for a few weeks now.

Let's make it clear: the Predators were already a very good team and could still have made it this far had they not made the trade.  In other words, Subban was not the final piece of the puzzle to a legit contender.  It also might not be a coincidence, either.

He's not the top defenceman on this team, which already was one of the best with Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Mattias Ekholm.  In Montreal, there was veteran Andrei Markov and Jeff Petry, but its nowhere close to be as good as Nashville's.

The one big knock on Subban, from a purely hockey standpoint, was that he wasn't as strong defensively or that he took too many risks.  It's interesting, then, that Subban was tabbed to be on the shut down pairing with Ekholm and did more than just an admirable job.
No doubt, he will be out against either one of Pittsburgh's top guns, Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin.

One of the things I guess nobody seem to consider while Subban was still in Montreal (especially Thierrien) was that he needed to take those risks because the team is offensively challenged, proven by the team's 1st round exit where they struggled to score goals, something Bergevin failed to address at the trade deadline.

To be truthful, I wasn't a big P.K. Subban fan in the first place.  But, as I came to the realization that not only was Subban a really good defenceman, but a pretty good guy, I began liking him more.  Everyone who seems to be criticizing him for no good reason only made me like him even more.

I believe the Pittsburgh Penguins will repeat as Stanley Cup Champions in six games and while I'm not really rooting for either them, I wouldn't mind seeing the Predators win, if so P.K. could bring the Cup back to Montreal, not to rub it in to his former GM and teammates who may not have appreciated him, but so the kids at the Montreal Children's Hospital could enjoy the Cup up close.

All the other P.K. supporters in the city, and there are plenty of them, can remind Bergevin and Therrien about that, instead.



After just one year, it's hard to believe that a winner of this trade, for those who need there to be a winner, could already be declared.  If the Predators win the Stanley Cup, then regardless of whatever happens in Montreal next season and beyond, they would be the winners because they get the younger player in Subban.

The real winner, though, is Subban himself.  He now is in a place where he can continue to be himself and not worry about having daggers thrown his way by the organization.

This And That

Edit: John Scott took to Toronto radio to explain himself, that his answer in regards to P.K. Subban was actually from a couple of years ago and it was taken out of context.  Scott's team just lost and apparently he wasn't happy with some of the things Subban was doing on the ice.

Former NHLer (somehow), John Scott, who became the darling of the 2016 NHL All-Star game in Nashville resurfaced after retiring this past season in an ESPN E:60 documentary on P.K. Subban, to call the Predators' defenceman a piece of garbage.

The actual quote goes: "I don't like him.  I think on the ice, he's a piece of garbage. Perceived as like a hot shot, this guy thinks he's better than everybody."

Let me get this right, the guy who's 15 minutes of fame came about because of a joke played by the fans who stuffed the digital ballot box, is calling Subban garbage.  The guy, who somehow eeked out a 9 year career in the NHL, earning more penalty minutes than actual playing minutes on most nights, is calling a former Norris Trophy winner, garbage.

Perhaps Scott should stick to doing whatever he is doing now in his retirement and keep his opinions to himself.


****************************************

Sticking with P.K. Subban for a moment.  The defenceman keeps on getting shots fired his way for absolutely no reason beyond he has a big personalty which he is not afraid to show to the world, which seems to rile the old dinosaurs.

NBC Sports analyst, Mike Milbury, called Subban a clown a couple of weeks ago, simply because Subban was enjoying the beat of the music that was blaring through the speakers at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis for game 2 of their series.  

I think Milbury was confused, as Subban is definitely no clown.

These are clowns.


So is this.


Yep, that would be Mike Milbury back on December 23, 1979, when he jumped over the glass and into the crowd at Madison Square Garden and started beating up a fan with a shoe.  He was suspended only 6 games and fined $500.

He's also the guy that traded Zdeno Chara, Bill Muckalt, and the 2nd overall pick (Senators picked Jason Spezza) for Alexi Yashin at the 2001 draft as the somehow, long time general manager of the New York Islanders.  He then gave Yashin a 10 year, $90 million contract. Yashin starting to suck upon his arrival on Long Island, last playing for them in 2004, when he then had his contract bought out by the Islanders.

Here's a list of the clown things Milbury did as Islanders GM.

One does not have to have a super serious, intense look on their face during warm up (we talkin' 'bout warm up), for them to be ready to play.  Everybody has their own way for getting up for the game.  Lets save the criticizing for when a player actually deserves it and not go on a witch hunt for B.S.

Quite frankly, the NHL needs more players like P.K. and there probably are, but are afraid to show it in public, otherwise they get called out for it.

****************************************

Congratulations to the Windsor Spitfires for winning the Canadian Hockey League's Memorial Cup.  Having been eliminated in the Ontario Hockey League playoffs and thus off for a couple of months, the host team defeated the Erie Otters to claim their third title following wins in 2009 and 2010.

Outside of the World Junior Championships played each year around after Christmas, junior hockey doesn't quite get the attention or television ratings as the pros.  That isn't to say they don't draw a decent number for the Memorial Cup tournament and the final, though the regular season numbers are much smaller.  It's not a huge surprise considering they are going up against the NHL.

Sportsnet made the same 12 year committment to the CHL, in 2014, as it did to the NHL, though obviously, the deal isn't worth billions, but is a substantial investment in the best junior league in the world.  The network hopes to build it up like its rival, TSN, did with the World Junior Championships.


Saturday, May 27, 2017

Jersey Change, Part 2

Here's part 2 about what I think about the teams changing their jerseys for next season.

Florida Panthers: The Panthers only changed their jerseys a season ago, so I would suspect anything but a minor change.  I suspect that the team could (should) make the bottom hem stripe thicker.  It would be great if they swapped out the placement of the numbers with the sleeve patch, but that seems unlikely as that is suppose to be one of the big design elements as the owner is a US Army veteran.


Minnesota Wild: A rumour going around is that the Wild will adopt their Stadium Series jersey as their new home, while keeping their current road jersey.  Every since 2007, the Wild's home, away, and alternate jerseys have not matched.  It's a bit of pet peeve of mine, except for the most part, the jerseys look pretty good.  However, it is clearly time to change up the red home jersey, which has lost some of its luster when it was originally released as an alternate jersey in 2003.  The removal of the hem stripes and introduction of faux shoulder yolk in the edge makeover were complete downgrades.

If the Wild do switch to the Stadium Series jersey at home, it would mean having red as a more prominent colour on the green jersey, which is good thing.  On their green alternate and road white, red is almost an after thought.  For me, I would rather they based the new home jersey on the current road, somehow using more red, instead of going with the Stadium Series jersey, as it is nicer.



Nashville Predators: The team changed their jerseys, going yellow at home, back in 2011. The under used colour at home has been fully embraced by the team and its fans.  I hated it when the team switched the blue helmets to yellow helmets this past season full time after wearing them the previous season for Saturday night games only, but have since come around to them.

It would be surprising if the Predators make a major change.  Removing the piping that goes from the front all the way down the sides would make the jersey even more beautiful. Flipping the white socks back to the way they original were would make a whole lot of sense, though I could actually see the team doing the opposite and flipping blue for yellow on the sleeves instead.




New Jersey Devils: The New Jersey Devils have a solid look that should not be changed. But, with the team struggling on the ice and off of it, freshening up the look might be in order.  It also will get the fans they have to buy something new.

What info that has been out there is that the logo won't change and neither would the colours.  Someone close to the team suggested that the Devils will continue to look like the Devils, so that should be good.

While I don't think they should be changing uniforms, if they do, basing something on their original uniforms, but in black and red, wouldn't be such a bad look.



Ottawa Senators: The Sens are coming off a great playoff run that surprised everyone. What's not surprising is that they are changing their uniforms.  They once shard the same template as the same team that just eliminated them from the Eastern Conference Final, Pittsburgh, as well as Tampa Bay.  Both of them have thankfully changed since, with Pittsburgh flipping back to their original set just this season after wearing their original black jerseys at home for the playoffs last season.

There will be those that will want the current alternate heritage jersey to become the full time home.  We have already seen a "light" version of it when the Senators played the Vancouver Canucks in the 2014 Heritage Classic.  I like the design of the uniforms, but do not like the "O" logo, as I do not feel it is strong enough to be a primary mark.  Perhaps, a combination of those jerseys with the long forgotten re-designed side facing logo would make a good match.



To which direction the team will be going is any body's guess.  They could come out with a completely new design that is primarily black at home.  They could use more gold in their colour scheme, which has only used on their Peace Tower alternate uniforms (2000-07) outside of the logo.  Any change could also be minor, instead waiting until the completion of a new arena in downtown Ottawa, though that is not a sure thing yet and would be a couple of years away.

With no third jerseys for next season, the Senators could be also going the route of the Edmonton Oilers, using their current alternate as the home jersey as a stand by until they do make the move downtown.  It would not be the first time they have had mismatched jerseys, as that had been the case from 1999 to 2007.

Part of the reason I believe any change could be minor or the team simply using the alternate jersey is due to the fact that the team's new CEO, Tom Anselmi, only took over in January.  So, unless the jersey change was already in the works, it seems unlikely that such a complete overhaul would have been done in the few months since, as the process usually takes a little longer than just a few months.



Jersey Change, Part 1

We now know that 12 teams will be changing their jerseys for next season as the league transitions from Reebok to Adidas as the official jersey supplier.  The Vegas Golden Knights also will be debuting their first ever jersey.  Only the Edmonton Oilers have released details of their new look, darkening the royal blue to navy blue, while going with their orange alternate jersey as their home.  There will be no third jerseys for any teams next season.

Some of the teams announcing changes are surprising, whether its because they only recently changed like the Dallas Stars and Florida Panthers, or that changes aren't necessary at: Boston Bruins.

Boston Bruins: The team switched over to their current look in 2007 when Reebok rolled out its Edge jerseys.  The Bruins have one of the best uniforms in the league, so it is curious as to why they might be making anything but minor changes.  It could be as simple as changing the number font, dropping the three layers, which some fans have complained about, to two.


Buffalo Sabres: In 2006, Buffalo introduced to the world the Buffaslug, a much derided logo that was replaced just 4 years after its introduction.  The team also brought back their original blue jersey as its alternate, complete with unnecessary chest numbers, to calm down the unhappy fans.  While the team may have looked funny, the team itself enjoyed some of its most recent success on the ice.


With calls to return to their original uniforms full time, the Sabres introduced another alternate jersey based on their original set in 2008, promoting it to full time status in 2010. However, the addition of silver and using the darker colours, not to mention piping that went no where, still wasn't completely satisfactory.


So, following the current evolution (or devolution) of the team's jersey, they should be going back to their original set full time.  It is their best look and nobody will have anything bad to say about them.


At the very least, they should remove the fluff.  The useless pipping and the chest numbers, which they remain as the only team to have them.  There were only three teams that had them in the first place and both have since removed them as the San Jose Sharks and Tampa Bay Lightning since changed their jerseys.

Calgary Flames: The Flames are one of those teams in desperate need of a complete overhaul.  Before 2007, they had one of the best looks in the league.  They attempted to mimic the style with their Edge jerseys, but it was a complete fail.  In an attempt to be patriotic, the use of the Canadian and Alberta flags as shoulder logos looked completely out of place, especially the Alberta flag with its blue colour clashing with the red jersey.


There's a split among Flames' fans as to whether black should be part of the colour scheme. The divisive colour has been used by the team longer than it hasn't, using it beginning in 1995 in their first jersey overhaul.  It was a design never seen before and was dubbed the pedestal jersey for obviously reasons.


For the fans who would like to see black dropped completely and a return to their original set, which they have worn off and on as an alternate jersey since 2009, I will say that the black is needed to balance out the look.  It makes the flaming C on the home red jersey pop. If the Flames were smart, they would have based their new jerseys on the alternate jerseys that the team wore from 2013 to 2016.  Use the regular logo and perhaps fill in the bottom of the sleeves black to mimic the current sleeve design.


Colorado Avalanche: Much like the Flames, the Avalanche attempted to fit their pre-edge jerseys into the Reebok template.  It almost worked, but failed on a couple of things.  For one, the sleeve design not coping the side panels made no sense.  Instead, those missing stripes were transferred down the front of the jersey.  The piping going down the front, dubbed apron strings, were ugly and somehow found its way on several other jerseys.


In 2015, the team revealed a brand new alternate jersey, featuring a new alternate logo based on the logo of the Colorado Rockies hockey team, which are now the New Jersey Devils.  There are some fans who believe that logo could potentially replace the current logo, which would be a huge mistake.  The A logo is a modern classic and replacing it with a defunct team's would make no sense.



The team's original uniforms were fitting for the team, as the mountain striping pattern was perfect.  If they could return to them, that would be great, but it seems unlikely.  Personally, I would love to see them come up with a jersey based on the alternate jersey that the team wore from 2001 to 2007, replacing the script with the team's actual logo.



Columbus Blue Jackets: Outside of the team's old alternate jersey, the Blue Jackets have had a very consistent look through the two jersey changes they have made.  They should stick with it, simply adding proper hem stripes to their current jerseys, similar to their original set.


Dallas Stars: Much like the Boston Bruins, it's curious as to why the Stars would make anything but minor changes considering the team already overhauled their uniforms in 2013. The team returned to their roots, sort of, going with a green home uniform for the first time since 2006 when black became its primary colour.

The changes are more than likely adding another trim layer to the numbers, instead of the single colour that it is now.  I wouldn't be surprised if a different logo adorned the shoulders for next season, either, as its current shoulder logo is redundant since it is the primary logo inside a roundel.  The State of Texas logo that is on the pants should take its place if not something completely new.

 


Part 1 Done.

Friday, May 26, 2017

The NHL vs The NBA Playoffs



Yes, that is Charles Barkley, who gets paid to watch and analyze NBA games, saying he would rather watch the NHL playoffs than continue to watch the dismantling of the Boston Celtics at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers.  This was during game 5 of the NBA's Eastern Conference Final.  And, it's not the first time Barkley has said he would rather be watching the NHL playoffs than the NBA.

This years playoffs have been beyond exciting, with many having gone into overtime, including Thursday's Eastern Conference Final game 7, needing double overtime to decide a winner.

The unpredictability and parity of the NHL playoffs is what has made it so exciting.  Who would have thought the Ottawa Senators would have reached the Eastern Conference Final when few would have thought they would have made the playoffs when the season began.
Or, what about the Nashville Predators sweeping the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round.

While there will be always favourites and underdogs, it's possible for an eighth seed to win the Stanley Cup like the Los Angeles Kings did in 2012, when they captured the franchise's first title.  The Nashville Predators could  be the next, though the league has done away with seedings after switching to a divisional playoff format.

The Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, this years NBA finalists, were basically penciled in for a third straight showdown before the playoffs began.  On their way, the two teams only lost once, Cleveland losing to Boston in game 3 of the ECF.  It will be surely as exciting of a final as any other year and will finally provide the drama that has been missing from the NBA playoffs.

The NBA playoffs have basically been blowout and blowout.  That isn't to say there haven't been any of those in the NHL.  There's been a couple of 7-0 games, but those are far and few in between.  Otherwise, the games have been close and the hockey great.

Yet, the NHL's ratings get buried by the NBA's.  It's been that way forever and unlikely to change as Americans just don't seem to gravitate to the sport as Canadians do.  Of the fans who do watch the sport, it is often said that they are more passionate about hockey, compared to fans of other sports.

In 1994, following a thrilling seven game Stanley Cup Final between the eventual champions, New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks, Sports Illustrated declared that the NHL was poised to pass over the NBA.




Thanks to a lockout that wiped out half of the next season and the New Jersey Devils introducing everyone to the most offensive phrase to the sport "neutral zone trap", the NHL never surpassed the NBA in popularity.  Even as the NHL has expanded to more non-traditional hockey markets, it has found growing the game hard.

Why is that?

Part of it is that the NBA's stars are recognizable compared to the NHLs.  With a few exceptions, NHL players are bland and conforming, otherwise they would be chastised by the dinosaurs of the game.  That isn't the case with the NBA.  Their personalities are allowed to blossom and then some.

Basketball is played everywhere in America and by everyone.  All one really needs is a ball and they can head down to any park or school and there will be a hoop.  They can play from sun rise to sun down if they want.

For many Americans, the only ice that they know about is the ice cubes in their drinks. In the warmer states, there may not even be a ice rink.  It would be hard for people to take up the sport and become fans if they couldn't even play it.

Hockey is also very expensive to play that could cost hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in equipment.  It is no surprise that many families, even in Canada, have been passing over the sport, as it is becoming unaffordable.

Hockey will always be a niche sport and while it would be great if the NHL could rival the NBA, NFL, or MLB, they may be better off trying to break into China, where even a fraction of the more than 1.38 billion people becoming NHL fans, could be a big success for the league.

Down To The Final Two

The Pittsburgh Penguins will look to successfully defend their title as Stanley Cup Champions against the Nashville Predators beginning on Monday at home.  No team since the 1997 and 1998 Detroit Red Wings have managed to repeat.

Pittsburgh survived a thrilling 3-2 double overtime game 7 against the Ottawa Senators to reach the Final, their second straight game 7 of these playoffs, knocking off the President Trophy winners, Washington Capitals, in round 2.  Despite missing out on their top two centres, the Predators won back to back games and pluck the feathers off the Anaheim Ducks in six games.

Nashville have been waiting since Monday and will have a full week off in between games, while the Penguins will only have three days off.  The long break for the Predators could be both an advantage and disadvantage.  The advantage comes from the obvious; being able to get as healthy as one could get after weeks of hard, bruising playoff hockey.  However, that's weighed against the loss of momentum (if you believe in stuff like that) going into the franchise's first every Stanley Cup Final appearance.  By this point, the players have developed a routine and the long break could throw them off.  Playing game 1 on the road could help the Predators maintain their focus.

Injuries have been an issue for the Penguins throughout these playoffs, which makes them returning to the Final that much more remarkable.  The good news is that they are getting bodies back.  At what percentage of health they are working at is something only the players know.  At this point, only Patric Hornqvist is the only regular, outside of Kris Letang (no chance of coming back) that remains on the IR.  Don't be surprised, though, if we see him at some point in the Final against his formal team, if he isn't ready to go for game 1.

So, who will raise the Stanley Cup at the end?

The Predators, unquestionably, have had the best goalie during these playoffs.  Pekka Rinne's numbers have been off the charts, and they will need to continue to be if he wants to be able to get his name etched into the greatest trophy in professional sports.  As talented as their previous opponents were, the Pittsburgh Penguins present a different beast, that features the game's best player in Sidney Crosby and the playoffs leading scorer in Evgeni Malkin.

They will need to continue to get surprising performances like the one from Colton Sissons in game 6 against the Ducks, where he recorded a natural hat-trick, including the game winner.  Sixteen players have scored for the Predators during these playoffs, and all sixteen might have to beat Pittsburgh.

The defence will have their hands full with Crosby and Malkin, but will also be called on to provide offence in the same matter that they did against St. Louis, when the top line was effectively shut down.  The group lead by Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, P.K. Subban, and Mattias Ekholm, have combined to lead the playoffs in goals by a defence core.

It's funny how at the beginning of the season, very few people picked the Penguins to return to the Final, let alone repeat as champions.  The experts had the Washington Capitals finally breaking through in the east, or the Tampa Bay Lightning making it three times a charm, having made it to back to back Eastern Conference Finals the last two seasons, only to fall short.  It goes to show how difficult it actually is to repeat, having played 106 regular season and playoff games combined last season.

But, here they are, ready to defend their title.

The experience of having won just a year ago will pull them through to successfully defend their title.  They have battled hard and had to deal with adversity throughout these playoffs, whether its injuries or two game 7s.

Sidney Crosby broke out of the funk he was in, following the concussion he received from Washington's Matt Niskanen, in the second half of the Eastern Conference Final.  That's bad news for the Predators.  If you stop Crosby, then there's Malkin to deal with.  Or Phil Kessel, who no matter how you think of him, is as dangerous as anyone on the ice.

Pittsburgh's power-play operates at a 25% clip, while Nashville is languishing at only 14.9%. Without Ryan Johanssen, it becomes even more difficult for Nashville, who were able to get away with an unproductive power-play against Anaheim.  It won't against Pittsburgh.

The Penguins will repeat as Stanley Cup Champions in six games, with Crosby once again named the Conn Smythe winner.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

No Fairytale Ending To Cinderella Story Run

There really is only one way for a game 7 to end and that is with a double overtime winner.
Chris Kunitz picked the perfect time to score only his second goal since February for the Pittsburgh Penguins, firing a knuckle ball past a screened Craig Anderson to send the fans into delirium.  His first goal since February was the opening goal in the second.  He also picked up an assist on this eventful night for the veteran winger.

The Ottawa Senators have proven doubters wrong pretty much all season long.  There weren't many who believed they would even make the playoffs in the first place, let along go as far as they did.  They battled back every step of the way, showing resilience, but the magic finally ran out despite some sublime performances in game 7 by Anderson and Erik Karlsson.

Karlsson seem to be on the ice every other shift, finishing with a game high 39:33, six minutes more than the next high man, Marc Methot.  Most of the time, those minutes were spent having to fend off Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, not to mention looking to create offence, which he did, assisting on both Ottawa goals.  We all knew how good of a player Karlsson was before these playoffs began, but after watching him play throughout these playoffs, he has opened eyes to just how much of an elite player he truly is.

Anderson had another unbelievable game, stopping 39 of 42 shots fired his way.  He made an incredible reactionary save in overtime, where he was surprised with a long shot as he cleared a discarded stick from the front of the net.  Not only was he the busier goalie, but was forced to make more in close saves than his counter part at the other end.  That isn't to say Matt Murray wasn't good for the Penguins.

You almost had to think that the Senators would find a way to continue their fairy tale run at least one more round.  It was, of course, not to be, as their dubious game 7 record now falls to 0-6.

A returning Justin Schultz scored on the power-play to give Pittsburgh a 2-1 lead after Dion Phaneuf took an interference penalty, which former Maple Leafs' teammate, Phil Kessel more than sold as he went down rather easily.

Ottawa responded with just 5:19 remaining in the third period.  Ryan Dzingel banged home a rebound at the side of the net after Erik Karlsson had let go a howitzer from the point which hit the post.

Pittsburgh dominated the first overtime period, out shooting Ottawa 8-2.  That included two glorious opportunities by Kessel.  On the first, he was flying down the left wing and just missed as he tried to out wait Anderson.  Late in overtime, he drove to the net and had the puck end up rolling up on the net and out.  Penguins fans, though, thought the puck had actually rolled inside the net and out, booing the final minute of the first overtime.

The big question, of course, is did the Penguins touch the Prince of Wales Trophy?  The answer is: yes.  Sidney Crosby, along with assistant captains, Evgeni Malkin and Kunitz, all grabbed a piece of the trophy and posed for a picture along with NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daley.  Unlike their opponents in the Stanley Cup Final, Nashville Predators, they did not take a team photo with the trophy, instead Crosby quickly ushered it into the locker room.


In 2008, Crosby shunned the Prince of Wales trophy as if it were poisonous.  They lost the Stanley Cup to Detroit.  Only a year later, Crosby lifted up the trophy, and the Penguins won the rematch against the Red Wings for the franchises third Stanley Cup.  Last year, as you may expect, Crosby, Malkin, and Kunitz picked up the trophy and ended up needing to add a fourth cup to their 50th anniversary patch.  Will history repeat itself once more?




Changes Are Coming

For the 2007-08 season, Reebok introduced its Reebok Edge Jersey System.  That means, NHL uniforms went hi-tech for the first time.  The jerseys were lighter and tighter and originally meant to be tucked in, which was why some teams dropped hem stripes.  But, that requirement was eventually dropped from the final design, which meant some teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs looked completely silly without them, eventually bringing them back a couple years later.

There were problems with the new jerseys, however.  They were too tight for some and while the moisture repelling fabric worked, the draw back was that the sweat that would normally be soaked up by the jerseys, were now dripping down into the players' gloves and pants.  After complaints, Reebok quickly changed the fabric, going with the old school fabrics.

The worst part of those jerseys were that some teams ended up looking the same, except for the team colours, sharing templates.  For some reason, other teams had weird piping that had no business being on a jersey anywhere.  Somebody, somewhere, thought they would actually looked good.  The last complaint, on a more personal note, was the hem was now curved, instead of straight.  This was probably was a holdover from when the jerseys were suppose to be tucked in.  It was such an ugly look, that Brendan Shanahan, still playing with the New York Rangers, had all of the teams' jersey stitched to resemble the old straight hem appearance.

Beginning next season, the league will be going through another round of uniform changes, as Adidas (they also own Reebok) takes over as the official supplier for the NHL.  This has been known for some time now.  The German company, better known for clothing soccer teams, both internationally and in domestic leagues around the world, began it's new effort by supplying the official uniforms for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.  The results were mixed, to say the least.

Today, the NHL announced that 12 teams will be getting new looks.  Just like in 2007, there will be no alternate jerseys.  The jerseys will also feature new jersey tech.  Unfortunately, we will have to wait until the draft until we find out whether those changes are minor or major changes.

The Edmonton Oilers had previously been the only team in which we knew what their plans were for next season.  They planned on rocking their orange alternates at home.  Now, we find out that they will also be darkening their colours, from royal blue to navy blue.

The other teams that will also be making changes are the Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Calgary Flames, Colorado Avalanche, Colubus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Florida Panthers, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, New Jersey Devils, and Ottawa Senators.
Of course, the Vegas Golden Knights will also debut their inaugural jerseys.

More to come.

Seventh Heaven

There's nothing like a game 7, especially with a trip to the Stanley Cup Final on the line.  For the Ottawa Senators, a win would mark only the second time in franchise history they would play for the Stanley Cup.  If the Pittsburgh Penguins win, they would be the first time since 2008 and 2009 when these very same Penguins went back to back finals, losing in '08 to Detroit, then beating them a year later.  There are still a number of players from those teams including Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fluery, and Chris Kunitz. Defenceman, Kris Letang was also part of those team, but hasn't played since Feb. 21 with an injury.

The last time there was a repeat champion was in 1997 and 1998 when the Detroit Red Wings captured their second and third titles in the team's modern day dynasty that began with their '97 win and ended with the 2008 Cup, beating Philadelphia and Washington, respectively.

The numbers don't favour the Senators going into game 7.  They have never won, going
0-5, including a 3-2 loss in the 2003 Eastern Conference Final.  The latest was in 2012 when the New York Rangers bested them in the first round.

Pittsburgh needed a deciding game 7, on the road, to get past the Washington Capitals to reach the Conference Final.  So, they know the feeling of the pressure of a do or die situation.

However, the numbers might not favour the Penguins, either.  They have failed to win a game 7 at home after losing game 6 on the road since 1975.  Again, the Rangers provided the foil in defeating the Penguins in the second round in 2014.

Does any of those numbers mean anything?  Probably not.  At least not before the puck drops, but afterwards, those numbers will surely be used as a talking point in evaluating the game.

The Senators will win because Craig Anderson stands on his head again like he did in game 6.  He struggled in games 3 and 4 against the Rangers in the second round, before rebounding in the final two games.  That could play out again and the Senators certainly need him, too.  The offence will meek out just enough goals to beat Pittsburgh.

The Penguins will win because they have the best player in the game right now playing up to that title.  If Sidney Crosby continues to get open as often as he seem to in game 6, he will eventually bury one of those chances.

They also have the leading scoring in these playoffs in Evgeni Malkin who has 7 goals and 17 assists with Crosby sitting in third on the list.

Whoever wins, the only thing I would like to see is a great game, with the real winners being all the fans tuning in.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Senators Still In Session

There will be at least one more game for the Ottawa Senators, after forcing a seventh and deciding game against the Pittsburgh Penguins with a come from behind 2-1 win.  The Penguins had everything on their side; momentum from two straight victories to take a 3-2 series league, including a 7-0 beat down in the last game.  They also have the best player in the game, in Sidney Crosby, regaining his form, leading the charge.

In other words, the Senators needed a miracle to force one more game.

I'm wouldn't say it was a miracle, but Craig Anderson put on a sensational performance in net for Ottawa.  The man that was pulled twice in the first period of game 5, stood on his head, making 45 saves.  He robbed Crosby on several occasions.  For a player that is checked as closely as Crosby, the Pittsburgh captain found a way to get open for some point blank chances.  But, Anderson was there to stop him every time.

Yet, Anderson only managed to be named the 3rd star of the game, behind Bobby Ryan and Mike Hoffman.  There's some explaining to do there, though I doubt Anderson really cares about that too much.

The Senators' power-play has been anemic in its last 29 chances, failing to score even once.  But, when it needed it the most, the power-play came through with the tying goal after Evgeni Malkin put the Penguins in the lead with a great solo effort in the second period. Granted, it took a 5-3 advantage to get that goal, but all that matters was the game was tied at 1-1.  Bobby Ryan one timed a pass from Kyle Turris, beating Murray.

At 1:34 of the third period, Mike Hoffman took a pass from defenceman, Frederik Claesson, and blew a shot past Matt Murray, off the post and in, sending the Canadian Tire Centre into a joyous frenzy.

The Senators would bend as Pittsburgh came after them hard, but they would not break.  It should not come as a surprise that Ottawa has force a game 7, with the way they have come back on several occasions during these playoffs.

The question now is can they do this again in enemy territory?

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Successful Duck Hunt

It just might have been the first time the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl was accepted by a man in a suit.  That was the case Monday night when the Nashville Predators defeated the Anaheim Ducks to advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history.
Mike Fisher, the team captain, was injured in game 4, so had to watch from the luxury box the last two games.

As it has become tradition, Fisher did not touch the Campbell Bowl, nor did anyone else on the team.  It is not the trophy that they want and would not make up if they fail to get four more wins.  However, it didn't stop the team, including injured centre, Ryan Johansen, from gathering around the trophy and taking a picture.  The last time I could remember anyone picking up the Campbell Bowl was when a very joyful Vancouver Canucks' captain Trevor Linden in 1994.  He dropped the lid to the bowl when he lifted it up.




In the absence of the team's top two centres, other players needed to step up these last two games.  It was Pontus Aberg last game, scoring the game winner.  On this night, it was Colton Sissons, recording a natural hat-trick, including the game winner after the Ducks had come back to tie up the game at 3-3.

Nashville got the start any team would want, scoring just 1:21 into the 1st period on its very first shot.  They would go up 2-0 a few minutes later on only its second shot.  The roar inside the Bridgestone Arena was deafening.

It was not John Gibson in net for the Ducks.  Out with a lower body injury, the Ducks would rely on former first round draft pick and highly touted goalie prospect, Jonathan Bernier, to force a game 7.  Bernier needed to stop the second goal that was scored by Sissons, but it's hard to say that it would have made a difference if it had been the Ducks regular starter.

At the other end, Pekka Rinne, simply outshone Bernier.  He would have done the same to Gibson.  He stopped 38 of the 41 shots directed his way.  The Finnish goalie leads the playoffs with an outstanding 1.70 GAA and .941 save percentage, along with 12 wins.  To say he's been the best goalie of the playoffs is an understatement.

The final 6-3 score makes it seem more of a blowout, but the final 2 goals were scored into an empty net, sealing Anaheim's fate.  The Predators had themselves a 3-1 lead before the Ducks managed to come back.  But, Sissons final goal of the night had Nashville minutes away from winning the west.

This would have seemed impossible just a few years ago when the team was on shaky ground.  Local ownership stepped in and prevented the team from possibly moving.  The small market team then got good through smart drafting and trades.  Predators first and only general manager, David Poile, and his staff (some of whom have been with him since day 1) deserve an incredible amount of credit for putting this team that is very capable of winning the Stanley Cup together.

And the fans should be given credit for fully embracing hockey in the south.  No more is it just Nascar country.  It's become hockey country, as well.

Welcome to Smashville.

Monday, May 22, 2017

On The Brink

The Nashville Predators put on a gutsy performance Saturday evening, winning 3-1 over the Ducks in Anaheim.  They were without their top 2 centres.  We already knew on Friday that Ryan Johansen's season was done, having injured his leg in game 4, that required surgery.
He suffered an acute compartment syndrome of the left thigh.

Mike Fisher was also hurt in game 4.  The Predators' captain was struck in the jaw by an errant knee from Ducks defenceman, Josh Manson, jumped in an attempt to bat a puck that was in the air.

The Ducks had their own injury woes, as the team's second leading scorer in the playoffs, Rickard Rakell, with a lower body injury.  He won't be ready to play in game 6, nor Patrick Eaves, who also has a lower body injury.

Of even greater concern would be the status of the team's starting netminder.  John Gibson left after the first period in game 5.  No reason was given, but it was suggested that he might have injured his right knee when video replay showed he might have stretched out his right leg awkwardly against the post.  He commented that he would be ready to go for game 6 following the game, though head coach, Randy Carlyle, was non-committal until Gibson was evaluated by team doctors.

Nashville now have the chance to punch their ticket to their very first Stanley Cup Final appearance at home.  There shouldn't be an empty seat in the building, with every single fan decked out in yellow.

Not to jinx them or anything, but when the regular season started way back in October, the Nashville Predators were predicted by EA Sports to hoist Lord Stanley's Cup.  They were once game predicted to win before the playoffs began using the 16 teams that made the post season.  Five more wins and those predictions become true.

************************************************

Part of the story line during the Eastern Conference Final were all the injuries to key players in which the Pittsburgh Penguins were having to deal with.  They've gotten some of them back as the series went on, while others went on the IR.  

Now, it's the other way around.  Three very important players for the Senators left the game early.  Erick Karlsson, Cody Ceci, and Derick Brassard were all done after the second period.  It's would be a huge blow for Ottawa if any of them, let alone all three, were unavailable for game 6, as they face elimination.  Even with them, they would be in tough as the Penguins have finally figured them out.

More than Matt Murray providing the Penguins' solid netminding as he took over for Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh were able to finally break through Ottawa's frustrating defence, mainly by taking the lead in game 4, forcing Ottawa to open things up, which played right into the more skillful Penguins.  Ottawa eventually scored twice in the third period, but were unable to tie the game up, losing 3-2.

In game 5, Ottawa did themselves in.  Turnovers, turnovers, and more turnovers lead to goals by Pittsburgh.  They had 4 before the 1st period was over, chasing Sens' goalie, Craig Anderson, twice.  Once after the Penguins took a 3-0 at the sixteen minute mark, then for good after the 1st intermission.

Before we go on saying the Senators' Cinderella run will be coming to an end, we should remember how resilient the team has been through this years playoffs.  They have come back in games to win in overtime.  People thought they were done after being embarrassed by the New York Rangers in games 3 and 4 of the second round.  They bounced back to reach the Eastern Conference Final.

It will be tough.  Tougher if the team loses any of its top players.  But, it's not entirely impossible that there will be a game 7 back in Pittsburgh.  Know this: Ottawa will bring it at home on Tuesday.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Old Habits Die Hard

There was a time when a homophobic slur was no big think in sports.  It was part of the language used by players in their trash talk.  If one player uttered such a word, the other player would probably scream it back, and after more jawing, the players would move along.
Even if said words were caught on camera, chances are, nothing would happen to them.
No suspension, no fine, no apologizes either.

Today, times are very different, and that is a good thing.  Society, for the most part, have become more accepting of people of different backgrounds, religions, colour, and their sexual preferences.  As long as people are good, why does it matter if they are different?

It would seem, though, that is sports, athletes are somewhat slow to change.  Anaheim Ducks captain, Ryan Getzlaf, has been fined $10,000 (the maximum allowed) by the NHL for uttering a homophobic slur during game 4, which was caught on camera, though there was no audio.

Just a couple of days ago, Toronto Blue Jays outfielder, Kevin Pillar, was suspended for 2 games by the team for screaming a homophobic slur at an opposing pitcher.  He was immediately contrite following the game and issued an apology.

Andrew Shaw, while still with the Chicago Blackhawks was suspended for a game and fined $5000 for directing a homophobic slur towards an official.  It is no surprise that the NHL did not suspend Getzlaf, as this is the way the league operates.

I've joked in the past that the league spins a wheel with various suspensions, fines, and even nothing on it, to determine what punishment a player will receive.  That would explain  of the head scratching decisions the league has made in the past.  If it was still the regular season or if Getzlaf wasn't one of the top players on the Ducks, it would not be surprising if he would have received the same penalty that Shaw received last year.  If the league wanted to send a message, they would have suspended Getzlaf for a game.  Make the punishment harsh so that players think twice and can't use the "in the heat of the moment" argument.

To the NHL's credit, they have partnered with You Can Play since 2012.  The group's goal is to eradicate homophobia in sports.  Teams have taken steps in the last few years to be more inclusion, participating in pride parades.

There has never been a NHL player, past or present, who has come out as gay.  There have few in sports in general, but the feeling of acceptance of a gay teammate has risen in most sports, at least that is what some have said.

So why then in the year 2017, athletes are still using homophobic slurs?

Well, because for so many years it was normal to use a homophobic slur as part of trash talk.  Even for somebody like Getzlaf, who is 32, it was considered no big deal.  I don't think Getzlaf is homophobic or a bad person at all, though I don't know him personally, so I couldn't be 100% about that.

For future generation of players, using homophobic slurs, or even calling male athletes 'girls' or other female terms which is supposed to be an insult, should become non-existent as the times change.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Life Of A Goalie

There's a reason moms don't want their babies to be goalies.  Not only do they have to wear all that equipment, but when things go wrong, they get the blame, even if its not really their fault.  They are pretty much the only star on the team that can be replaced the next game.
There were plenty of Penguins who didn't have a great night, but only Marc-Andre Fluery will be watching from the bench, replaced by...well his replacement, Matt Murray, who took over as the team's number one goalie this season.  Yes, that comes with the position, but it's still not exactly fair.

Fleury has been good, not great, and he's had a couple of bad games.  But, without him, the Penguins might not even be in the conference final in the first place.  As much as the Washington Capitals didn't show up in game 7 last round, Fleury still needed to be sharp in the 2-0 win.

While Fleury gave up 4 goals on just 9 shots in the first 13 minutes of game 3, he didn't exactly have a lot of help.  A couple of those goals were fluky and hard to completely fault Fleury.  Based on that, he should get another shot, but he won't be.  It will be Murray in net for game 4.

It's not that shocking of a move for a couple of reasons.  One, Murray is the present and the future for the Penguins after leading the team to the Stanley Cup last year.  He got hurt in the warm up before the very first playoff game and as a result, Fleury was given the opportunity to be the starter again.  It must have been a great feeling for the French-Canadian to be once again playing every game.

Second, Penguins' head coach, Mike Sullivan, did this last year.  He switched goalies in the middle of the conference final against Tampa Bay when the series was tied up at two. Sullivan went back to the veteran Fleury for game 5, which they lost, before going back to Murray, with the younger goalie coming through in the next game.  It's possible Sullivan could pull the same move.

By going with Murray, Sullivan made it clear it wasn't about Fleury, but looking for something that could give his team a jolt of life.  They have scored just two goals in three games.
Some of that is on the tight defensive play of the Senators, but some of that is also on the Penguins themselves failing to generate enough offence.  Changing the goaltender isn't exactly going to change that.


Mr. Overtime

Corey Perry is one of only two players remaining from the Anaheim Ducks' 2007 Stanley Cup win.  Ryan Getzlaf is the other player and he's been doing everything in his power to get the Ducks back to the final for the first time since then.

Perry, on the other hand, has been mostly quiet in this years post season.  Except, out of the four goals he has scored, three of them have come in overtime.  The latest, last night in Nashville, evening up the Western Conference Final at two.  The goal was very similar to the overtime winner he scored in game 3 against Calgary, from the side boards and deflecting off something in front of the net.  In the case of last night, it was P.K. Subban's stick, who was trying to tip the puck away, not into his own goal.

Every since being reunited with Getzlaf in game 3 against Edmonton, Perry has played much better.  He's found his way to fourth in team scoring with those 4 goals and 7 assists. Yet, he still seems like a shadow of his former self, at least from an offensive perspective. Thankfully for the Ducks, other players like Jakob Silfverberg and Rickard Rakell have stepped up.

The goal salvaged a win for Anaheim, who led 2-0 late into the third period before the Predators mounted a furious comeback.  Subban got things rolling with a shot from the point that found its way past John Gibson.

Anaheim would then do pretty much everything it could to help the Predators tie the game up.  They took back to back penalties, giving Nashville a 5 on 3 man advantage, which they managed to kill off.

Defenceman Josh Manson unnecessarily iced the puck which lead to the tying goal.  A weird play in its own right, the puck had deflected straight up into the air and dropped behind the goal line, having stayed in play.  Eventually, Filip Forsberg banged the puck past Gibson to send the game to overtime.  Had Manson looked up, he would have noticed that he had time and space to move the puck out.

An exciting overtime following, with both teams trading chances, ending on Perry's goal.  It was relief for Anaheim who didn't have to go home facing elimination.




Thursday, May 18, 2017

You Wants Goals? You Get Goals!

The Ottawa Senators answered their critics very quickly, and emphatically, in game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final, scoring 4 goals in the first 13 minutes.  They came out with plenty of energy, going hard on the forecheck.

Mike Hoffman banked the puck off of Pittsburgh goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury, just 48 seconds after the opening face off.  Ottawa got another lucky bounce on their second goal 10 minutes later.  Marc Methot, a stay at home defencemen, was stopped by Fleury, but the rebound bounced off Ian Cole, before Fluery ended up kicking the puck back into his own goal.  Two more quick goals by Derick Brassard and Zack Smith a couple of minutes later spelled the end of Fleury's night.  Kyle Turris would score in the second period on Fluery's replacement, Matt Murray, while Sidney Crosby scored the lone goal for the Penguins in a 5-1 loss.

Playing in front of a packed house, Ottawa realized they needed to press the Penguins.  They couldn't quite sit back like they did in the last game and wait for a mistake that never came.  You can't win a game if you can't score, after all.  The only problem area was the power-play, which might have explained as to why Senators' head coach, Guy Boucher, still had his regular power-play units out there at the end.

As much as the Senators system has shut down the Penguins, the injury bug hasn't helped, either.  The team got back Trevor Daley, no doubt at less than 100 percent, but was without Justin Schultz, who was hurt early in game 2.  As a result, the defence wasn't very good in front of Fleury.

Up front, Patric Hornqvist's absence is hurting the Pittsburgh offence.  Without him, Mike Sullivan doesn't have the ability to shake up his lines.  Malkin and Kessel continue to struggle, while Sidney Crosby simply does not seem to be the same player as he was before getting cross checked in the face in the last series by Washington's Matt Niskanen. Jake Guentzel leads the playoffs with 9 goals, but hasn't been much of a threat so far. Conor Sheary hasn't scored at all.

There will be much discussions, outside and within the coaches room, as to who should start in the next game for the Pittsburgh Penguins.  In a role reversal from a year ago, Fluery took over for Matt Murray after Murray hurt himself during the warm ups in the very first playoff game.  There will be some who will suggest he should start game 4, giving the Penguins a change.

By no means was Fleury the reason the team lost.  He's had his ups and downs in the playoffs, but replacing him would unfairly put everything on him.  He deserves another chance to go back into the net.  The Penguins might not even be here without him.

That being said, if we hop in Doc Brown's time traveling DeLorean and go back to last years' conference final, Penguins head coach, Mike Sullivan, tabbed Fleury to start game 5 with the series tied.  Sullivan felt Murray needed the breather.  The Penguins lost and Murray was back in between the pipes for game 6 and 7, which they won.  Could Sullivan do the same thing this year?

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

No Style Points Given

The Ottawa Senators played two, almost, perfect road games in the Eastern Conference Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins.  I say almost perfect because while they won game 1 in overtime, they lost game 2 on a single goal by angry Phil Kessel.

Their style of play leaves a lot to desire.  It is a no nonsense, defence first system that leaves fans, wanting goals and exciting play, yawning at the lack of action.  While we all like to see goals galore, in the playoffs, style points don't mean anything, especially in the playoffs.  You do what you have to do and ignore the critics.

Against the favourite and much more talented team, that features Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel, the Senators need to do whatever it takes to win. That means trying to win 1-0 every game.

The Penguins were clearly frustrated, in particular Phil Kessel.  The winger, in a rare show of emotion, vented his frustrations at linemate, Evgeni Malkin, for not moving the puck quick enough.  He eventually balled up all that anger and scored the only goal of game 2 as the Penguins evened up the series at one a piece.



That isn't to say the Senators aren't capable of playing a more uptempo style.  Every team in the league can play at a fast pace.  It's just a matter of if they can win that way.  The thing is, the Senators have been involved some exciting games in these playoffs, including a couple of come from behind overtime wins, where there were goals and more goals.

The fear, of course, is that if the Senators end up winning the Stanley Cup playing a more defence first style, more teams will follow, much like how teams copied the New Jersey Devils when they won their Cup in 1995.  It took quite a while before the league recovered from the dead puck era as it was known.  So, while I hope the Sens can bring home the Cup, I wouldn't want to see the league, already struggling for goals, to come back to that dark period.

'Ad' Nauseum

In a time long, long ago, a NHL rink was devoid of any advertisements.  There weren't any beer or car logos soiling the white ice or the rink boards.  Those times have changed and then some.  Starting in the 1980s, teams began to sell advertisements on the boards, then the ice.  Over time, the ads have evolved.  Now, thanks to technology, they can be digitally projected onto the glass for the viewers at home.  During the 2016 World Cup of Hockey (more on that later), digital ads were injected into the television broadcasts, while the fans at the Air Canada Centre saw old fashion banners on the boards.  Today, if a game was played without any advertisements, it would actually be a shock, as fans have become completely use to them.

It could be worse.

It could be like in Europe, where ads litter the ice completely, as well as the players.



NHL Commissioner, Gary Bettman, has gone on record as saying the NHL has no plans on ads on jerseys...for now.  But, as NBA teams take to the floor with a small ad patch on the left chest on their jerseys, beginning in 2017-18, how long will NHL owners continue to sit on the bench and watch as money slips through their hands.  Its not like ads don't already appear on NHL jerseys, after all, albeit on practice jerseys.





When the NHL and Reebok were set to introduce an entirely new uniform system, which Reebok had dubbed RBK Edge, a rumour swirling around was that goalies would wear a different colour jersey, much like they do in soccer, and would feature advertising.  Thankfully, it didn't happen, along with the players having to tuck in their jerseys into their hockey pants.  So, the idea of ads on jerseys have been kicking around for some time, it's just that the NHL wasn't willing to be the first.

Back to the World Cup of Hockey.  The NHL tested the waters of how well ads on jerseys might be received by fans by placing tech company SAP's logo on the shoulder of all eight World Cup jerseys.  No financial terms were released.  Fans, suffice to say, do not like the idea of any advertisement on the jerseys.  It should be noted that the retail jerseys fans can buy didn't feature the ads.  But, that might only have been because the SAP sponsorship was announced after the the jerseys were already on sale.  Don't be surprised if the all-star game jerseys are next to be tested out.

The Cleveland Cavaliers became the latest team to sign an ad deal just a couple of days ago, signing with Goodyear.  They are the sixth team to do so.  The deal is reportedly for $10 million over the next 3 years, as the NBA test the waters and whether or not to continue with ads after those 3 years.  Goodyear's winged foot logo will even appear on hats and t-shirts.  Admittedly, the logo which is in Cleveland's colours, didn't look out of place on the hats and t-shirts, and if one didn't know it was Goodyear, might think it was just part of the design.



NHL teams won't command $10 million a year.  Other NBA teams won't even get that much.  Even the big market NHL teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs or Chicago Blackhawks would be unlikely to be able to charge that much.  But, they should still get a premium over what lesser teams like the Arizona Coyotes and Florida Panthers might be able to ask for.  It has been suggested that the league could generate an extra $120 million in ad revenue.  

My opinion on the ads is that the NHL should stay away from them.  The jersey is sacred and shouldn't be sullied by an advertisement for McDonald's or Molson or anything else.  It would a kin to selling one's soul.  And for what?  The price of a third liner or fifth defencemen?  Sure, some teams could use that extra revenue, but if you are already losing millions every year, then you've got some bigger problems. 

Will it happen?  Unfortunately , probably.  It is unlikely to happen until for another few years as the NHL studies how it goes down with the NBA.  In the end, ads on jerseys may become as normal as ads on the boards and ice.


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Anthem Controversy

There's a curious anthem controversy involving the Nashville Predators semi-regular anthem singer.  No, he didn't butchered the American national anthem, attempting to add his own spin to it, like some other famous celebrities have tried.  Nor did he forget any words.  So, what's the problem?

The problem, so says Dennis K. Morgan, is that some of country music's finest, including the captain's wife, who just happens to be Carrie Underwood, have been asked to sing the anthem for playoff games, instead of Morgan.  He let the team know of his unhappiness, then let everyone else know through the Tennessean, and was given the thumbs up to do so by Preds management.

Outside of friends and family, it's hard to believe too many people will be behind Morgan on this issue.  The fact is that while Morgan has sang the anthems for the Predators since 2000, that's amounted to only 185 regular season home games out of a total of 639.  So, while he's the "regular" anthem singer, it seems like he's more like the semi-regular anthem singer.

It also seems like somebody who thought people were actually go out to the game to hear him sing the anthem.  While it is cool when any celebrity is trotted out to sing the anthems before the game, anywhere, they are just a precursor to while 17,000 plus fans are there in the first place.

Me thinks the Predators will be looking for another semi-regular anthem singer for next season.

Smashville

There's Hockeytown, USA, in Detroit and the State of Hockey in Minnesota.  They are more just a catch phrase, to help sell the game.  They are two traditional hockey markets where the sport is as big, if not bigger, than any of the other pro sports played in the city or state.

Then there is Smashville, located in Nashville, Tennessee, home of the Predators.  As far as you can get from the traditional markets, the city has embraced the Predators the last few years after the team was mired in turmoil off the ice.  The team has been owned by a group of local owners since 2007, bringing stability to the team, allowing the management, coaches, and players to simply focus on hockey.  They weren't moving to Hamilton or Kansas City or anywhere else.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the team has enjoyed its greatest period of success since then, with the team making the playoffs 7 out of 10 times since.  Tonight, they get to host a Western Conference Final game for the first time in franchise history.  The Bridgestone Arena will be packed and loud, rocking yellow coloured t-shirts, matching the team's yellow home jerseys.

The area around the arena is also jumping before and after the game (especially after a win).  The building has helped revitalize the area.  Without the team, it's unlikely that process would have happened as quickly, especially with the bars and restaurants popping up, where fans without tickets go to watch their team.

Nashville is home to country music.  There have been plenty of sightings of country music's biggest stars at the Bridgestone Arena, cheering on the Predators.  Luke Bryan, Vince Gill, and Carrie Underwood are among the celebrity fans.  I certainly hope Underwood would be, considering she is married to Predators' captain, Mike Fisher, who she met while he played for the Ottawa Senators.

There are plenty of people, particularly Canadians, who believe hockey shouldn't be played in southern markets like Nashville.  Instead, there should be teams in Quebec (most definitely) and Hamilton (maybe), or other Canadian cities.  I, however, feel hockey is a great game and should be spread around the world, including what is normally Nascar country.  Time needs to build those markets.  That isn't to say that the NHL shouldn't eventually throw in the towel and relocate a team *cough* Phoenix *cough*.  But, Nashville is proof that if you give it some time, with stable ownership, and a team worth cheering on, the hockey can work in the south.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Last Laugh

It's hard to say, without being in the Toronto Maple Leafs locker room the last couple of years, just how much of a issue there might have been with Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel.  Were they truly poison like some in the media made them out to be?  Or, were they just made out to be the escape goats because of their big salaries?

Phil Kessel was a really good player for the Leafs.  The problem wasn't so much Kessel and more the fact that he had no help offensively whatsoever.  There was never a top centre to give him the puck or a threatening second line to take some of the heat off of him.  It did not help that former Leafs' GM, Brian Burke, traded away two first round picks that ended up being Tyler Seguin (2010) and Dougie Hamilton (2011), as well as a second round pick for the American winger.  Seguin and Hamilton have turned to be pretty good players, even as both had been surprisingly traded away by the Bruins a few years later.

Dion Phaneuf came to Toronto in one of the bigger trades, in terms of players, in January 2010 from Calgary.  Of the seven players that changed jerseys, only Phaneuf and Matt Stajan, who went to the Flames, are still in the league.  Only a few months later, he was named captain.

On any team, the captain takes on an extra burden that others don't.  You are expected to stand in front of the media day after day, game after game, win or lose, and answer the media's questions.  Some can take it, others not so much.  Perhaps, Phaneuf never should have been named captain in the first place.  This was highlighted during a win in November 2014, when the team forgo what has become a tradition in most NHL rinks, the team coming to centre ice and raising their sticks to salute the fans.  It was a bad look, which Phaneuf said had nothing to do with the fans booing or throwing jerseys onto the ice.

Regardless of how they were seen inside and outside of the organization, it was clear that both players needed to move on, for the best of the player and franchise.  The Leafs, whether they want to admit or not, were bottoming out in an attempt to get the top pick in the 2016 draft, which they did, landing a generational player in Austin Matthews.

Kessel was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the summer of 2016, landing in Pittsburgh, where Sidney Crosby was salivating at the thought of finally having a top winger on his line.   He no longer needed to be the guy, playing behind Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.  Not to mention, he was no longer in the fish bowl that is Toronto, having his every step tracked, including whether or not he grabs a hot dog on his way from his condo to the Air Canada Centre.

Strangely, it didn't quite work out.  Instead, Kessel found success in the playoffs with the now famed HBK line -Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino, and Kessel.  Kessel lead the team in scoring with 22 points, finishing fourth overall.  The most important thing was that he was able to raise the Stanley Cup, getting the last laugh over all the fans and media who believed he was a problem for the Leafs.

A year later, Kessel has another opportunity to win the Stanley Cup again.  He just needs to beat his former teammate in Dion Phaneuf and the Ottawa Senators.  Toronto, somehow had managed to trade their former captain to the Sens in another large deal (nine players were traded) in February 2016.  His contract was the big reason many thought Phaneuf would never be traded, and everyone was certainly surprised he ended up in the hands of the hated Senators.  Though, I doubt there too many mans that shed tears for Phaneufs departure, instead strongly cheering it.

In Ottawa, Phaneuf has fit in well.  This is Erik Karlsson's team, but Phaneuf is a well respected veteran, who was made an assistant captain.  He doesn't have the same pressures that he did in Toronto, because he's the 2nd pairing, but also because Ottawa simply isn't Toronto.  He's three wins away from playing for the Stanley Cup, something that was never a possibility with the Leafs.

Toronto needed to make the changes they did.  So did Kessel and Phaneuf.  The Leafs would never have landed Austin Matthews, a generational player, with the 1st overall pick in the 2016 draft if they hadn't.  Matthews lived up to expectations and then some.  He will be good (and likely, their future captain) for years to come.  He's got help in Mitch Marner and William Nylander to name a couple of young, energetic players that help the Leafs make the playoffs for the first time since the lockout shortened season in 2013.

The team pushed the Washington Capitals in the first round before Washington got things done (at least in the first round) and eliminated the young and exciting Leafs.  It got fans planning the parade route, which despite their talent, may never come (see Washington & San Jose).  Kessel already got his; Phaneuf might be next.