Thursday, September 30, 2004
World Hockey Association: Death Before Life
The World Hockey Association started out as a league with big dreams and plenty of media attention. With the impending lockout, the WHA looked poised to make a name for itself in its second reincarnation.
Sadly, their business planning was poor and their execution was even worse; Leases rejected, Unsettled ownerships, no commitments from players?
Really, it is no big surprise that the WHA never got going in the first place. Their business plan ($15 mil payrolls are not workable for the WHA), stupid franchise names, and lack of good management could not make up for Bobby Hull's big dreams.
What's really sad is just how quietly and pathetically the WHA has died.
Checking out the WHA Website, the last news item is posted from August 27th, when the "Nordiks" folded (not long after they chose that stupid name). There hasn't been an announcement in the major news outlets or even the WHA site since then! The worst kind of publicity is no publicity.
Is it dead? Still breathing on life support? Lost on a deserted island? I'd just like some kind of closure. Poor Moe Mantha, the one and only coach hired by the WHA, would probably like to get a real job by now.
If the WHA, they should at least let the world know. Admit their mistakes and move on to the next venture...unless they really hold out *Some* hope that the WHA can be revived once again.
(EDIT: Well suck me sideways! It appears that the WHA will announce some time in the next day that they are really folding the tent. Details can be found in this story.)
At the very least, the WHA gave us some very interesting press to read; from drafting Sidney Crosby, holding the draft in a frickin' CASINO, to getting players to open up about non-NHL options, to seeing Travis Green drafted 2nd overall over Joe Thornton...crazy crazy stuff.
According to a Portland Winterhawks fan on hfboards.com, Robin BigSnake was scratched because he was with the AHL's Hartford Wolfpack on a tryout.
It's great to hear that BigSnake has earned an AHL tryout, although I don?t believe he will make their team. BigSnake was never drafted, but he's got a shot to earn himself a job in some lower league in his future. With that name, he's already got a leg up with the ladies ;)
Wednesday, September 29, 2004
Extraleague Update Machine: 09-29-04
Absolutely no worthy 'lockout' news to report. The players are obviously going to drag this out for awhile, as their next planned proposal will likely wait until November.
Anyway, I give you more Stats and News about your favourite players in the "Homeland"
1. Ex-Blues defender Libor Zabransky has retired from professional hockey. He had been playing with Pardubice and Sparta Praha the past few seasons, but has been suffering through a bevy of injuries.
2. Martin Havlat has still not suited up for a game with Znojmo; He's probably too busy with his 'disgustingly hot' girlfriend :)
3. The big story in the Czech Extraleague continues to be the floundering of a very deep and powerful Pardubice squad. They have 1 point in 6 games and are clearly in last place in the standings. This team was expected to be right at the top, and they don't shown signs of getting better.
Milan Hejduk: 6 games, 0 points, -8!
Ales Hemsky: 5 games, 1 goal, -5
Jan Bulis: 6 games, 1 goal, -3
Maybe they ought to tell these NHLers 'Thanks, but no thanks.' It doesn't look like these 3 have fit in at all and Pardubice may be better off sticking to what their original roster looked like. As is stands right now, Pardubice has a boatload of offensive-minded players floating around, and not enough gritty players doing the dirty work.
1. Lubo Visnovsky left the Slovan/Trencin game with an undisclosed injury. We?re still awaiting news on how serious it is.
2. Vladimir Orszagh played for 1st division Banska Bystrica (his hometown) and scored a goal in a 5-2 loss.
Lubomir Visnovsky (Slovan), Injured and finished with all 0?s
Pavol Demitra (Trencin), 2 goals, 1 assist, +4 with 2 PIM
Marian Gaborik (Trencin), 1 goal, 2 assists, +3 with 2 PIM
Marian Hossa (Trencin), 1 goal, 1 assist, +3 with 2 PIM
Martin Cibak (LMikulas), 0 pts, +2 (Returns from injury)
Martin Strbak (Kosice) 1 assist, +3
Ladislav Nagy (Kosice) 3 goals, 1 assist, +4 (First ever Extraliga Hat Trick)
Jiri Bicek (Kosice) 1 goal, 3 assists
Tuesday, September 28, 2004
Giants vs. Winterhawks - Reports and Observations
With the NHL lockout in effect, the Giants are a hot ticket of sorts right now. Season tickets have nearly doubled to just under 5,000, and the Giants were able to open up a portion of the upper bowl again in the Pacific Coliseum.
The only thing missing from the game was Portland's Robin BigSnake, the former Giants goon with a cool name. The Winterhawks scratched BigSnake, depriving the fans of seeing one of the more popular players in Giants history. I cannot recall ever seeing BigSnake lose a fight in any of the games I?ve attended or watched on TV.
Also, the Winterhawks scratched BOTH imports; Dornic and Bucek. There aren't great prospects, but I would have liked to see them.
Here are some scouting reports and impressions from the game...
Marek Schwarz, G - Vancouver
Not a terribly good debut for the Blues?' #17th overall pick as he let in 2 soft goals in the 1st period and 4 overall. Schwarz was very wild and "reflexive", and wanted to do the splits at every opportunity (Perhaps he is big on Yoga or Van Damme movies). What I noticed the most is that Schwarz was ultra aggressive in coming out of his crease to make even the most routine of saves...well, no save looked routine the way Schwarz was playing in net. His aggressive style left him out of position on all 4 goals, and he really needs to learn to pick his spots better. He seemed very nervous or just too excited.
In the 2nd period, Schwarz made an absolutely beautiful save on a 2-on-1 situation. Schwarz did the Van-Damme splits to rob the Hawks...possibly the best looking save ever by a Giants goalie. It?s these kinds of stops and acrobatic ability that has pushed Schwarz into the spotlight throughout his young career.
I am hoping Giants? goalie coach Bill Ranford can teach Schwarz some fundamentals and get him to just calm down. Someone slip some Ritalin into Marek's water bottle.
Overall, my friend and I got the impression that Schwarz played goaltender like a flopping fish out of water.
Andrej Meszaros, D - Vancouver
A great debut for Meszaros (The Sens 1st Rounder), even though he went pointless (he finished +2). Meszaros was paired with new Giants captain (and Dallas 1st rounder) Marc Fistric for most even-strength and Power-Play shifts. Meszaros also played with Fistric on some Penalty-Killing shifts, but only about half the time.
What I liked most about Meszaros was the fact that he was shooting...a lot! He had about 10 shot attempts from my unofficial count and probably about 5-6 shots on goal for the game. His shot is hard, quick, and well placed for redirections. Many European defenders prefer to pass and setup the Power Play, but not Meszaros. Like Richard Lintner, Meszaros will let a shot fly any time he sees a good opportunity.
Defensively, Meszaros seemed just a little hesitant when he was going into the corner to retrieve a puck with an incoming attacker bearing down on him. He will probably get better at this aspect once he gets used to the physical style of WHL hockey. Meszaros' skating was just as good as advertised, and he carries the puck without much loss of speed.
Shawn Vey, RW - Vancouver
Advertised as a 6'3" 200 Center coming into the season, Vey (a former high bantam pick of the Giants) was listed in the Giants' guide as 190 and he looks a bit slim in the upper body. With Courchaine and Brule on the roster, Vey was shifted to the right side on a line with Courchaine and Triston Grant. Vey is considered a dark-horse 1st rounder in the 2005 draft (if there is one).
The lack of bulk showed when he was battling against Portland?s Michael Funk (a big 6'4" defenseman) in the corners. Vey's ice time was cut down in the 2nd and 3rd somewhat, but he played on the 2nd Power Play unit and was paired with Courchaine quite often.
Vey drives well to the net, and should work well with Courchaine and rack up a lot of points this season. I'll be keeping a closer eye on him in future games.
Jason Reese, C/W - Vancouver
Reese, the native of California, was Vancouver's 1st round bantam pick in 2003, and has made the Giants as a 16 year-old. I was surprised to see him stick on the roster, as I figured the Giants would want him getting more ice time on a bantam squad.
Reese finished -2 and generally played on the 4th line most of the night. He did see some PK duty in the 2nd period, and a couple of Power Play shifts with Brule off for fighting, but generally played about 3-4 shifts a period at most.
Reese shows good skating ability, but he really stuck out for his pestering style of play. Almost every shift, Reese was hitting and/or yapping the opposition. At the very least, Reese was doing his best to get involved in the game. It's good to see this kind of competitiveness from a top prospect. Reese will have to bide his time until next season most likely, as the Giants are quite set on the Top 2 lines.
Gilbert Brule, C - Vancouver
If you don't know Brule by now, then wake up and smell the Starbucks venti non-fat latte!
With most everyone's attention focused on Sidney Crosby, people quickly forget about the #2 rated prospect, Gilbert Brule.
A simply way to describe Brule: Jeremy Roenick without the bad/cocky attitude, hot wife (or ex-wife?) and gambling problems.
The 5'11" pivot is everything you could want in a hockey player, other than the fact he isn't 6'4", which means a lot to some Neanderthal GM's in the league.
Skating Speed: Excellent
Skating Quickness: Excellent
Skating Balance: Excellent
Physical Acumen: Good
Defence: A touch below average, but noticeably improving.
Brule played on a line with the industrious Mitch Bartley and Californian dude Tim Kraus (We know where the Giants scouts like to spend their winter days). Brule picked up the Gordie Howe Hat-trick with 2 goals, 2 assists, and a 3rd period fight against Brandon Dubinsky (Which Brule lost). Both of his goals were Brett Hull-like (a wrister and wicked one-timer) and, like Meszaros, he isn?t afraid to shoot the puck when he gets the chance.
Brule might be somewhat short for a hockey player, but he goes into the corners without fear and comes away with the puck many times. He loves to dish out hits and he doesn't fear anyone on the ice.
Trust me, folks, you'll be hearing a lot about Gilbert Brule this season...especially from me.
A couple of pictures...
YES! The return of Crazy George!
Monday, September 27, 2004
Technical Difficulties: Technically Difficult
Also, do any of you know how to import Excel data into HTML in a nice format? I'd love to transfer the updates data directly to this HTML section, rather than cut and paste into a JPEG. If you have any ideas, please let me know.
Sunday, September 26, 2004
Extraleague Update Machine: 09-26-04
On with the updates...
1. In Saturday's 'Hockey Night in Czechia' game, Jarom�r J�gr and HC Kladno beat up on Znojmo 4-1. J�gr went wild with 3 goals and an assist with a +2 rating and 2 PIM. Teammate Tomas Kaberle finished with 2 assists and a +2 rating. For poor Znojmo, Karel Rachunek went -1 with 2 PIM.
2. TRINEC(!) won its first game of the season 4-2 over the hot Liberec White Tigers. They are now out of last place, and I can breath a sigh of relief. Surprisly, Radek Bonk has one of the best players for Trinec so far and he's done a hell of a lot more than Hejduk (who still doesn't have a point!)
Stats from today's games...
1. Ladislav Nagy (pictured) and Martin Strb�k made their debut for HC Kosice today in a nice 3-2 win over Zvolen. Nagy (playing on a line with Jiri Bicek) finished with 1 assist and 4 PIM while Strbak had all zeroes.
Ronald Petrovick� (Zilina), 1 assist and +1 (7-1 win over poor Dubnica)
Jiri Bicek (Kosice), 0 pts and -2 with 12 PIM
Lubo Visnovsky (Slovan), 0 pts, even, 10 PI
Mari�n G�bor�k (Trencin) 1 goal, 2 assists, +2, 14PIM (Trencin rolling with a 9-2 win)
Mari�n Hossa (Trencin) 1 goal, 3 assists, +3
Pavol Demitra (Trencin) 1 goal, 3 assists, +3
Yesterday was the season opener for the Vancouver Giants (WHL) and the Giants won 6-4 in front of a record crowd (8,900). I'll have pics and scouting reports in the next couple of days.
Saturday, September 25, 2004
Extraleague Update Machine: 09-25-04
Martin Havlat (punk), after giving consideration and indications that he would be playing in Switzerland, has decided to play for the Znojmo Eagles. Apparently, Trinec waffled on the negotiations with Havlat, so he pancaked them and went to Znojmo. Why Znojmo? Well, it's the closest Extraleague team to his hometown of Brno...and since Brno won't have an Extraleague team until 2030, this was a good option for him.
Branislav Mezei (Florida) has signed with Trinec (Finally, some defense!) and made his debut on Friday. It looks like Trinec has kicked useless Pavel Brendl to the curb. Wow, it only took him 2 games!!!
Trinec still lost 3-2 to Slavia in overtime, but at least they got their first point of the year! (Small steps...Small steps)
Zigmund Palffy has apparently agreed to play 10 games with his hometown of Skalica (He played there during his holdout with the Isles). Details of the arrangement are still sketchy, and he played last night for Slavia.
Zdenko Chara gave indications that he would play with Karlovy Vary in the Czech League, but he's decided to go to Farjestad in Sweden. (boo!)
Roman Hamrlik also made his debut with HC Hame Zlin. He joins the team where his brother, Martin, has been a star for years.
In the 4 games Milan Hejduk has played for (now last place) Pardubice, he has 0 points and is -7! I can't say I'm crying hard for him :)
Onto the stats...
(Edit: David Nedorost should read 'VACLAV' Nedorost. D'oh!)
Gaborik, Marian (TRE) 2 goals, +1
Demitra, Pavol (TRE) 1 goal, +2
Hossa, Marian (TRE) 1 assist, +2
Visnovsky, Lubomir (SLO) 0 pts, even
Bicek, Jiri (KOS) 0 pts, -2
Petrovicky, Ronald (ZIL) 1 assist, +1 (Made his debut with Zilina in a 2-1 loss)
Thursday, September 23, 2004
OSHL in trouble...or just unrealistic expectations?
As you would expect with any league that is put together in a hasty manner, the OSHL has run into numerous problems in its exhibition schedule that call into question some of the problems that need to be addressed:
- 1. Lack of Intensity � The OSHL has built itself as a shinny league, so then why the surprise that the players would basically go out there and have games with 29 goals? The rules and the format lend itself to an offensive Midway-style hockey game.
Problem? There is no incentive for the players to play with any intensity. Why would they risk injuring themselves in the OSHL? What do the winners get? The players have no real loyalty to their OSHL club, and expecting them to do so is foolish.
- 2. Lack of Information � As Ben Wright has pointed out,
Note to OSHL- if you can't manage simple updates on a website, which I manage to do several times almost every day, how are we to believe that you're capable of running an even mediocre hockey league?
If the fans can�t get fast and accurate information on the OSHL, how can you expect them to turn up for the games? At the very least, the OSHL should have a daily posting on their website informing the consumers and fans of any breaking news, start times, reschedulings, etc. Information is power, and in today�s Internet age, people want information NOW!
- 3. Ticket Prices - $15-60$ for shinny hockey? Even if the proceeds are going to charity, most fans aren�t going to spend that much money to watch shinny hockey, even if the players are NHLers. Now, for a one-time charity event, you can expect decent crowds...and the crowds of 2,000+ are pretty good considering the OSHL isn�t anything close to real hockey.
I can pay $20-25 to see real hockey in the WHL with real intensity and something substantial on the line. I certainly wouldn�t pay those prices or go out of my way to go watch the OSHL.
- 4. Anti-Player Sentiment � Many fans are channeling their anger towards the players in this lock-out (You know it�s true), and they see the OSHL as a vehicle of the rich NHLers. Showing support for the OSHL is almost akin to showing support for the NHLPA, if you see it in that light.
- 5. Lack of Support from the Players � A telling quote from Wade Belak:
�"A lot of players just found out the schedule a day after the lockout was announced. Originally there were 115 guys signed but only 45 showed up. That's not even enough to ice six teams."
I know many big names were announced when the OSHL was first suggested...now that less and less players have committed to the OSHL, this gives fans even less of a reason to attend the games.
Look, I believe the OSHL is a nice quick-fix diversion during the lockout, and it has potential to be something decent in the short-run. At the same time, the OSHL has greatly overestimated its performance and not done a good enough job promoting itself to the fans.
1. Update the OSHL website daily
2. Lower ticket prices - $15 is decent, but $60? Let�s get real...
3. Tweak the rules � Try and get some semblance of defence into the OSHL. There is a such thing as too much offence. Perhaps getting rid of the penalty-shot-for-a-penalty gimmick would help.
4. Don�t expect big crowds. Sorry, but the fact that you got 2,000 fans to each game is actually pretty good considering high-level AHL hockey has trouble attracting large crowds in places like Hamilton.
When/If the real season starts up again on October 9th, maybe Randy Gumbley will have made the necessary changes to make the OSHL work. We�ll see...
Wednesday, September 22, 2004
Extraleague Update Machine: 09-22-04
Now, onto the update for yesterday�s games.
Pardubice 1 � Slavia Praha 2 - A battle of the giants�
Jan Bulis 1goal, even, 2PIM
Milan Hejduk 0pts, even
Ales Hemsky 0pts, even
Zigmund Palffy 1goal, 1 assist, even
Jozef Stumpel 1 goal, 1 assist, even
Sparta 4 � Vitkovice 3
Jan Hlavac 1 assist, +1
Petr Nedved 1 goal, 1 assist, +1
David Vyborny 1 goal, 2 assists, +1
Marek Malik 1 assist, even, 4PIM
Vaclav Varad�a 1 assist, even
Martin Prusek -> 5 for 8 saves, pulled after 13 minutes and gets the loss.
Jihlava 2 � Plzen 4 (Plzen has better beer and a better hockey team)
Jihlava: 1 assist and +1 for ex-Giant Marian Havel. I�m shocked�
Milan Kraft 1 assist, +1
Martin Straka 1 goal, +1
Pavel Trnka 0 pts, even
Jaro Spacek 0pts, +2
Karlovy Vary 4 � Litvinov 6
Canucks prospect Lukas Mensator saw his first Extraliga action as #1 goalie Masalskis was pulled in the 2nd period. Mensator stopped 14 of 15 shots.
Tomas Kurka 0pts, +1
Robert Reichel 1 goal, 2 assists, +1
Martin Rucinsky 2 goals, 1 assist, +1, 4PIM
Martin Skoula 1 goal, 3 assists, +1
Jiri Slegr 1 assists, even, 4PIM
Vsetin 1 � Zlin 2
Roman Cechmanek -> 26 of 28 saves for the loss
Rostislav Klesla 0pts, +1
Branko Radivojevic 0pts, +1
Petr Cajanek 0pts, even
Martin Erat 1 goal, even, 4PIM
Trinec 1 � Kladno 4 � I can�t take much more of this�
Radek Bonk 1 assist, -1
Pavel Brendl (SCRATCHED)
Michal Rozsival 0pts, -1
Jaromir Jagr 1 assist, +2
Tomas Kaberle 1 assist +1
Znojmo 4 � Liberec 7
Karel Rachunek 1 goal, 2 assists, -1
Tomas Vokoun (SCRATCHED)
Ales Kotalik 3 goals(!), 1 assist, +3, 2PIM
Vaclav Nedorost 2goals, +4
Radim Vrbata 3 assists, +3, 2PIM
Milan Hnilicka 30 of 34 saves for the win
Two new signings to announce:
Ronald Petrovicky has agreed to suit up with Zilina, although he didn�t play in yesterday�s 3-2 win over Slovan Bratislava.
Ladislav Nagy wants to debut with HC Kosice this Sunday in their 5th round match against Zvolen.
Lubomir Visnovsky 0pts, -1
Miroslav Zalesak 0pts, -1
Jiri Bicek 1 assist, even
Marian Gaborik 2 goals, 1 assist, +3 (8-0 win for Trencin)
Marian Hossa 2 goals, +2
Pavol Demitra 1 goal, 1 assist, +3
Tuesday, September 21, 2004
Goodenow, Bettman go 'National'; Jagr goes Kladno
The CBC�s �The National� will be playing host to Gary Bettman (tonight), and Bob Goodenow (tomorrow). Host Peter �I�m a real� Mansbridge will be asking these two doofuses (or is that Doofii?) questions submitted by you, the plebians. You can go to the website link above and submit your question.
If I were asking, I�d have these simple questions.
�Mr. Bettman, why should the NHLPA and the players have to pay the ultimate price for the stupidity and free-spending habits of the owners and the weak leadership displayed by you? What concessions are you prepared to give the players if you expect them to agree to any kind of �Cost Certainty�?�
�Mr. Bettman, how do you expect the players to accept any kind of �Cost Certainty� with such inconsistent reporting of revenues by all 30 teams?�
�Mr. Bettman, why would a luxury tax not work in your idea of a new CBA? Why shouldn�t the high revenue teams be allowed to spend more if they so wish? Any money they would spend would come out of their profits. Shouldn�t an owner be able to determine how much they are willing to invest into their business?�
�Mr. Goodenow, perhaps if you came down from your ivory tower, you would realize the game of hockey is not very popular is most USA markets, ranking down below lawn darts and PBA Bowling. Why isn�t the NHLPA all that willing to recognize that the league really is in trouble with its finances and that the types of high salaries paid to many of your players just can�t be sustained indefinitely? Are you more concerned with maintaining the high salaries earned by the top 5% of your membership, or are you more concerned with the strength of the league and jobs for all of your members for the indefinite future? Would you really like to see 4-6 teams fold and lose jobs for many of your members?�
Jaromir Jagr is making his debut for Kladno tonight (or this morning, if you are in Vancouver), as you can see in the picture taken not too long ago in their pregame warmup (Thanks to the fine folks who run the much improved www.hctrinec.cz website.
What �great� luck that Jagr makes his debut against Trinec of all teams. Do pice!
Jagr is playing on a line with Kladno�s captain, Radek Gardon, and young Michael Frolik.
Sunday, September 19, 2004
Czeching Out Opening Weekend
Not only do these lucky bastards still get their top leagues running as usual, but they get the added bonus of watching a bunch of NHLers plying their trades with various teams in the league. Just about every Czech team has 2-4 NHL players on the squad, which has the home fans excited.
There is a downside with having an NHLer on the roster for a short-time; Mainly, that player may not give a good effort in fear of suffering an injury (Most notably Jozef Stumpel during his tenure with HC Slovan Bratislava). There is also the fact that the tenures of these players are never guaranteed as they may solve the lockout tomorrow. Still, fans and team managers aren�t worried about these things this time around. The lockout looks to be a long one, and the teams are loaded up for the long-haul.
For a great English-language overview of the Czech Extraleague, the Hockey Rodent has a great one for ya.
Trinec started the weekend very poorly with a 5-4 loss (Radek Bonk had 3 assists and Jan Peterek had all 4 Trinec goals!) to Znojmo and an 8-1 road loss to the loaded Litvinov team. Trinec is really really missing Marek Schwarz right about now.
Also notable is that Jaromir Jagr has signed to play with HC Rabat Kladno, but he has not yet dressed for the bulldogs for any of the opening games. Meanwhile, Martin Havlat seems intent on playing in Switzerland, and Trinec� president has confirmed that there is no chance in hell that Havlat will be with Trinec this year. Damn!
Your update on the NHLers playing in Czechia�
After 2 games�
Radim Vrbata 1-1-2 +2 0PIM
Ladislav Smid 0-1-1 +3 0PIM (Ducks 1st round pick)
Vaclav Nedorost 0-0-0 +2 2PIM
Milan Hnilicka 2Wins 1.50GAA 93.88SV% (Returned to Europe permanently)
Litvinov (Looking good after their 8-1 trouncing of Trinec):
Robert Reichel 2-2-4 +1 0PIM (Has returned to Europe permanently)
Martin Rucinsky 1-2-3 +2 14PIM
Martin Skoula 0-1-1 +1 0PIM
Tomas Kurka 0-1-1 +1 2PIM
Jiri Slegr 2 0-0-0 +1 2PIM
No NHLers for this newly promoted team, but they do have former Vancouver Giant
Marian Havel, who played about 3 minutes a night on the 4th line and has all zeroes on the statlines in 2 games.
Zlin: Last year�s Champions are boosted bigtime with some returnees
Martin Erat 1-0-1 �1 2PIM
Petr Cajanek 0-1-1 �1 0PIM
Karel Rachunek 1-2-3 even 2PIM
Tomas Vokoun 2Wins 3.00GAA 90.91SV%
Pavel Trnka 0-0-0 even 8PIM
Jaroslav Spacek 0-0-0 �4 0PIM (Ouch! �4?)
Martin Straka 0-0-0 �2 10PIM
Milan Kraft 0-0-0 �1 0PIM
Pardubice: This team is LOADED! Yet, they only have 4 goals in 2 games�
Ales Hemsky 1-0-1 �2 2PIM
Milan Hejduk 0-0-0 �5 2PIM
Jiri Dopita 0-0-0 �5 0PIM (Wow, him and Hejduk are off to a rough start)
Jan Bulis 0-0-0 even 2PIM
Jan Lasak 1GP 1Loss 4.07GAA 90.91SV%
Trinec: Can you play goalie? If so, Please apply to the offices of HCO Trinec
Radek Bonk 0-3-3 +1 12PIM
Pavel Brendl 0-0-0 �1 0PIM (Just as useless as ever)
Michal Rozsival 0-0-0 �3 6PIM
Tomas Kaberle 1GP 0-0-0 2PIM
Jaromir Jagr 0GP�still waiting
Josef Vasicek 1-1-2 +1 0PIM
Jozef Stumpel 1-0-1 even 2PIM
Zigmund Palffy 0-1-1 even 4PIM
With former NHLers Frantisek Kucera, Josef Beranek, and Pavel Kolarik on board, this team is my favourite to win it all.
Sparta Praha: BOOOOOOOOOOOO!
David Vyborny 1-0-1 0PIM
Petr Nedved 0-0-0 �1 0PIM
Karel Pilar 0-0-0 +1 2PIM
Jan Hlavac 0-2-2 �2 2PIM
Vitkovice: No Kubina this far
Vaclav Varada 1-0-1 even 4PIM
Marek Malik 0-0-0 �1 0PIM
Martin Prusek 2Wins 1.50GAA 96.05SV%
Branko Radivojevic 1-2-3 +3 0PIM
Rostislav Klesla 0-0-0 even 0PIM
Roman Cechmanek 2Wins 1.00GAA 97.22 SV%
Robin Kovar 0-0-0 �1 2PIM
Along with Havel, Kovar was among the first imports the Vancouver Giants had. Like Havel, he�s basically a 4th liner in the Czech league now after a failed CHL career.
The Zlata Helma (Golden Helmet) awards are back up again. Click on the picture below (or right-click and hit SAVE TARGET AS) to see Martin Prusek rob Josef Straka on the doorstep. Good stuff!
Unlike the Czechs, the Slovaks don�t have their league flooded with NHL players just yet. Only Trencin (loaded to bear) and a couple of others have had such luck. The Slovak teams just can�t offer the $$ the others teams can. So, after 2 games�
Dukla Trencin: Last year�s champions are loaded with some NHL players, but they�ve only managed two 2-2 ties in their first 2 games�not a great way to start with the talent that they have.
Pavol Demitra 1-1-2 +1 2PIM
Marian Gaborik 0-2-2 +2 2PIM
Marian Hossa 1GP 0-0-0 even 2PIM
Jiri Bicek 1-1-2 even 14PIM!
Lubo Visnovsky 2-1-3 +4 2PIM!
Miroslav Zalesak 2-0-2 +1 8PIM
Martin Cibak 1GP 0-0-0 �1 4PIM
If there is one constant in all of these statistics, it�s the fact that the NHL players are taking a lot of penalties in their short return. It looks like the bad habits they learn in the clutch-and-grab NHL are hurting them in the more finesse-oriented Extraleagues. If only the NHL would call the damn penalties, then the NHL wouldn�t be so damn boring.
Friday, September 17, 2004
Hockey in the USA: Coyote Ugly
There are many theories and reasons for the lack of interest in hockey in the USA, but I just want to touch on my personal experiences in the two markets I�ve travelled to this year: Phoenix and San Francisco/San Jose.
First things first, I�ll start with Phoenix.
Basic Stats :
Phoenix is the 6th largest city in the USA with a population of over 1.3mil, and the 14th largest metropolitan area with a population of just over 3mil. The border communities such as Glendale (Where the Coyotes play, which is west of Phoenix) and Scottsdale are full of very affluent people living in �gated� communities. Yes, there are many retirees, many of whom live in Scottsdale and east of Phoenix
A large portion of Phoenix is made up of Latinos and Mexicans�over 30%, as Phoenix is very close to the Mexican border.
I went to Phoenix in March; the very night the Bertuzzi incident took place. The incident was all over the �regular� American TV networks: CNN, MSNBC, ABC, and even the 3 sports channels (ESPN, ESPN2, FOXSPORTS). I was kind of surprised to see that even the mainstream networks aired a front-page story on hockey.
Of course, the media tried their very best to sensationalize the story and put a bad light on hockey. From reporting incorrect information of Moore�s injury (�He broke his back!�) to raving about hockey was a bunch of out-of-control Neanderthals, there was hardly a moderate voice in the bunch. Plenty of non-hockey sports personalities and news personalities took it upon themselves to paint the sport of hockey with a �holier-than-thou� brush over ONE incident. You can�t expect more from people who never care about hockey otherwise, nor can you expect any kind of realistic moderate reporting from channels that seek to maximize shock value.
Once the hub-bub died down, hockey basically went back to being the non-factor it was for most Americans. Try as I might, I couldn�t get much of any hockey coverage from the local media or the 3 American sports channels. Apart from hockey broadcasts on ESPN, and the Bertuzzi incident, hockey was treated as an �other� sport. Sportscenter, the ESPN sports news broadcast, played no more than 3-4 minutes of hockey coverage per hour of broadcast. In Canada, hockey usually gets at least 20 minutes out of every 60 during the season.
The local newspaper, the Arizona Central, has one guy who covers hockey for them: David Vest.
To his credit, David Vest does quite a good job rounding up news from other sources and writing his own stories on the Coyotes and the League. The paper actually gave Vest at least half a page daily and a fan could get a decent dose of league news from this paper. The coverage wasn�t great for a hardcore fan, but it would be good enough for a casual fan. The hockey page was usually buried around page 5 or 6, so you�d have to dig for it. Compared to the baseball, basketball, and football coverage, hockey was definitely a distant 4th.
When I was in Phoenix, it was about 30 Celsius (90 Fahrenheit, I think) every day that I was there. It�s in the middle of a freaking� desert! With the bright sun and clear skies, it�s very hard to get into any kind of hockey mood while you are in such a city. As with any hot city, there won�t be many ice rinks. A crude search turned up about only 15 or so skating rinks available in Phoenix. Not all of those are �hockey� rinks, either. As you can imagine, it�s very hard to develop a culture of hockey in a place that is very hot (over 120 Fahrenheit in the summer) and devoid of hockey rinks.
March is also �Spring Training� season for Major League Baseball. It�s great for me (baseball fan), and a lot of folks (Especially older ones) come down for a vacation to watch the many exhibition games around the Phoenix area. Baseball is forefront in the sports news and gets all of the premium coverage by the media.
The large Hispanic population of Phoenix tends to be poor, plus they generally have no interest of hockey whatsoever. Hockey is not part of the culture in this community, and I recall seeing maybe 2-3 Hispanic fans attending the Coyotes game.
Phoenix is also home to many �snowbirds�; Rich white folks who come to Phoenix to retire in a nice hot climate. The Coyotes were banking on the fact that these rich folks, some of them Canadian, would spend their disposable income on hockey games. Unfortunately for the Coyotes, many of the snowbirds I talked to came from baseball cities with no NHL hockey (Milwaukee, Seattle) or from places like Iowa, Georgia, and Arkansas. I don�t think they will develop a sudden interest in hockey.
MY EXPERIENCE/GLENDALE ARENA:
Glendale Arena is located in the middle of nowhere. It�s surrounded by a massive parking lot and then desert. The plan is to develop the surrounding area with more �gated� communities. Until then, Glendale Arena will remain an oasis of ice in the desert surrounded by Free Parking (Which the Coyotes go out of their way to mention to you 100 times during the game).
Face Value tickets range from US$15 to $100. Most of the seats are expensive and on average, a lot higher than a real hockey market like Vancouver�s. Ouch! There are some 2-for-1 offers for the very cheap seats which involve getting UPC labels and buying some other sponsoring products in order to get them.
Instead of taking out a 2nd mortgage, my step-father and I ran into a young couple with a couple of their daddy�s extra season tickets to get rid of. We paid $20 for 2 Club seats which would have cost us $200 at the window. We sat right near center ice, not too far behind the penalty boxes. The club seats were very well padded and came with a free program. Fortunately for us, there was hardly anyone at the game, so I had lots of leg and arm room.
Glendale Arena is one of the newest in the NHL and one of the best by far. The video boards around the arena and the Jumbotron conglomerate are far superior to those I�ve seen at GM Place and Air Canada Centre. The picture and sound is clear and crisp and very bright. The arena also appears to be very very small inside since the upper seating area is built at a very high angle. The architects did a great job bringing a cozy atmosphere and great seating to every part of the place.
As for the game itself�it was a snoozefest between LA and Phoenix, two teams out of the playoffs. Derek Morris had just come over from the Avalanche, and Cechmanek was injured. There were no more than 9,000 people at the game, and I�ve never been surrounded by so many empty seats.
The fans that did attend the game are quite enthusiastic and willing to shell out money. The new Coyotes uniforms look quite nice, and there was a large % of fans wearing these sweaters to the game. I�ve never seen such a large % of team-sweater saturation at a game before.
Phoenix is no Winnipeg, and it�s a shame that the NHL abandoned a great NHL market for a poor NHL market. Hockey will just never be as big in the USA as it is in Canada, and that�s a fact. A final look at Phoenix�
Positives: Large population, very affluent population, new state-of-the-art arena, active management (Ricci, Hull, trades), FREE PARKING!
Negatives: Large portion of population does not like hockey, the arena is very far away from most people (it takes awhile to get to it), no real hockey history in the area (Other than the AHL Roadrunners), weather isn�t conducive to hockey atmosphere, lack of rinks to help nurture kids into hockey, very hot weather makes it hard to play outdoor roller hockey, rather inept management, past ownership problems�
The NHL wouldn�t contract the Coyotes, given their very nice new arena and large population. Still, if the NHL were to take out one team from an indifferent market, Phoenix would have to be at the top of the list. It�s not the worst market, but it�s definitely below-average. That�s my feeling, anyway.
Wednesday, September 15, 2004
09-15-04: The Darkness and the Light
"At some point, the owners have to realize the players will never accept a salary cap or a system linking payroll to league revenues," NHLPA president Trevor Linden said after Thursday's meeting, the last between the two sides.
I have a bet with a co-worker that there will be a shortened NHL season and a luxury tax system put in place (In other words, the players will win), while my co-worker believes there will be a hard-cap or a punishing luxury tax (basically a cap) with no NHL season.
I have $5 on this bet, thus I have a minor rooting interest for the NHLPA.
Since the lockout will be a long one, there will be plenty of discussion on this blog, other blogs, and the Face Off Circle message board about this issue. Perhaps it�s time for me to come off of the sidelines a little more eh?
It�s all about the money, in the end ;)
The Golden Age of Hockey in Canada
After last night�s 3-2 win over the boring Finns, Canada has left its fans with a good feeling heading into the NHL lockdown.
After the disasters of the 1996 World Cup, 1998 Nagano Olympics, and 1998 World Junior Champions, Canada was in a so-called �crisis�, and the bigwigs of hockey got together to discuss the problems with Canadian hockey. Apparently, Canada was being passed by the Europeans and we no longer ruled �our� game.
Nowadays, Canadians are clearly at the top of the heap in hockey and we�ve taken back �our� game, so to speak.
The medals from 1999-present
WC: No medals until 2003 and then 2 straight Golds
Olympics: 2002 Gold
Women�s Hockey: 2002 Olympic Gold, Gold at every single Women�s World Championships.
So, what�s really changed?
- 1. Development - Until this season, the CHL didn�t really change its rules and the league (especially the WHL) has developed into an even more low-scoring trap-fest. Players are learning systems over skills. Canadian kids are developing at the same avenues and haven�t been really thrust into a skills-first mentality that the Europeans have.
- 2. Lucky Currency - Ever since the Canadian brass started burying a loonie (A $1 coin for the non-Canadian readers) somewhere in the ice (Salt Lake City was the first), the Canadian team has had Gold at the senior levels and Silver at the WJC�s. I�m surprised the opposing countries haven�t cited us for an unfair comparative advantage.
- 3. The NEW Guard - Looking back at 1996 and 1998, the Canadian teams were filled with old Geezers, long-established stars, and players who had reputations for NHL greatness, rather than perhaps the most skilled rosters. The teams were also filled with lesser-skilled role players who were older. I�m specifically looking at guys like Messier (WC but not Nagano), Gretzky, Shanahan, Zamuner, Linden, Fleury, Brind�Amour, Ranford... Canada was always very reluctant to take youngster players since they didn�t have �experience.
Fast forward to today and we often have some of the youngest and brightest stars on our rosters: Dany Heatley, Vincent Lecavalier (World Cup MVP), Brad Richards, Simon Gagne, Jerome Iginla, and Roberto Luongo. Now that Canada realizes the young players have talent and can handle themselves at these tournaments, we don�t have to rely on less enthusiastic vets who have some of their best days behind them.
- 4. SPEED and SKILL - In the past, Canadians teams played �Canadian� hockey based on Canadian attributes: Grinding, Determination, Physical Play, Intimidation, Heart, Dumping-it-In, etc... This wasn�t working so well against the faster and highly skilled European teams that could take advantage of Canada by using their own speed to nullify the Canadian attack, especially on the bigger ice surfaces.
It finally clicked for Canada that they had plenty of players with skill and speed, and they could play the same high-paced hockey that the Europeans were, and do it even better! The Czechs, Russians, Swedes, and all other countries cannot match the quality of depth that Canada can throw out there. When the Canadian teams started placing a premium on speed and skill and let these players use these attributes effectively (unlike SLOVAKIA�s World Cup BS), then the Gold medals started piling up.
We must also remember that *anything* can happen in one game or a short tournament. There is a lot of luck involved (Salt Lake City � Belarus, we salute you!) in short-span events and the Canadians have had the fortune on their side most of the time.
Certainly, Team Canada officials have taken steps to ensure the teams they take emphasize speed and skill over physical play and �role playing�, but things could have easily just remained as bad if the stars aligned a little differently. How would I put it?
�Luck is the residue of design� � Branch Rickey, former Oakland A�s owner.
If the Canadians would like to ensure even more Golden victories in the future, then the development of young players in Canada must change to ensure skill is developed over system place. The sweeping rule changes that the CHL is introducing might just do that, but the practice-to-game ratio must also change if the players are to develop their raw skills.
Tuesday, September 14, 2004
Canada vs. Finland - What's the Motivation for the fans?
Up until the Canadians faced the Czechs in the semi-final match, the Canadians were steamrolling over the competition. The Canadians beat the Slovakians, Americans, and Russians with relative ease. If the Canadians broke a sweat, it was during the post-game exercises, and not the actual games themselves.
The Czechs, on the other hand, were an emotional mess during the preliminary round. After the death of coaching legend Ivan Hlinka, the Czechs looked like they would have rather been somewhere else.
After a blowout loss to Finland, and a loss to the Swedes, the Czechs managed a token win over the overmatched German squad. It was hard to expect that the Czechs would suddenly turn it around and play as well as they did in Nagano.
This all changed with the Czechs getting their revenge in a 6-1 win over the Swedes in the first playoff match. This set up a great semi-final match between the Czechs and Canadians: Would this be a replay of the 1998 heartbreaker in Nagano?
In the best-played match in this year�s World Cup of Hockey, the seemingly invincible Canadians ran into a determined Czech squad. The Czechs outplayed, outshot, and outworked the Canadians for 3 periods. Unfortunately for the Czechs, Tomas Vokoun is not Dominik Hasek, and Prince Vince Lecavalier gave the Canadians a lucky victory.
Canadian coach Pat Quinn and almost every Canadian fan could appreciate how well the Czechs played.
"We escaped!" Pat Quinn said. "I saw tentativeness in our team tonight. I'm not sure why? We sure didn't have the focus we needed to have. We did not execute very well, but a lot of that was the play of the Czechs."
"We were fortunate to have survived," Quinn said. "The Czechs played really well. They out-chanced us by quite a margin."
It�s almost unfair to the Czechs and the hockey fans that the Canada-Czechia match was not the final match of the World Cup. Instead, the Canadians now face the Finns.
For Canada, there is no rivalry or hated in playing the Finns. It is certainly easy for Canada to hate the other countries�
Russia? Evil Communists.
Sweden? They hog all of the beautiful blonde supermodels for themselves.
Czechia? They beat us in Nagano
Germany? There was World War I and World War II�
USA? We want revenge for 1996 and Britney Spears.
Yes, Gary Bettman must be crying himself to sleep with the fact that the USA and Canada won�t meet in the finals. The television ratings in the USA will be low and only hockey fans in Finland and Canada will care about the game.
It�s hard to hate Finland or Finnish hockey players. Really, how can we be mad at Finland?
They use too many vowels in their language?
They are always winning STRONGMAN competitions?
They bombard us with boring educational toys and dorky looking cell phones??
They eat reindeer?
Sorry, but I find it hard to get excited about a finals match against the boring and hard-working Finnish squad; It�s like winning a game of chess against your mother.
Canada will be cheering hard for their team, but it just won�t be as sweet as beating the evil Americans, Russians, or Czechs.
From a post on livejournal...
Monday, September 13, 2004
Trevor Linden: A Message from the President
Unfortunately, despite the rhetoric coming from the NHL's Bill Daly, the NHL seems unwilling to really negotiate, and seems set on breaking the NHLPA Guild.
Today, NHLPA Pres Trevor Linden released 'his' NHLPA approved message to the fans.
The owners are only interested in negotiating a salary cap and will shutdown hockey if they don�t get their way. Five years ago they created a $300 million lockout fund. Now they have begun to lay off staff with more layoffs to come. The league is also engaged in a PR campaign to justify their lockout to fans.
Well, Trevor, the players have also prepared their own little warchest in preparation. It seems the NHLPA is just as willing to have no NHL hockey as the NHL is. Unlike the owners, the players have other options (AHL, Europe, OSHL, etc).
Our system would have taxed higher-spending teams and redirected those dollars to lower revenue clubs. That, coupled with other elements in our proposal, such as a 5% salary rollback, revenue sharing and changes to the entry-level system, would give the league the drag on player salaries they want and provide revenues to teams that need it.
As you can see for yourself, we are not looking to preserve the status quo in these negotiations, as the league likes to claim.
I agree with Linden that the NHLPA appears to have 'conceded' some ground to the NHL, but the NHL has not returned the favour. As much as the finances in the NHL aren't really too great (but not as bad as the NHL would lead you to believe), the NHL has entered these negotiations with a 'take it or leave it' attitude. If the NHL owners want a new CBA, what have they given the players in concession for any proposed salary caps or salary reductions or whatnot? It seems that true negotiations involve some give and take, and I haven't seen much giving from the NHL.
Fans have asked me what�s wrong with accepting a salary cap like the ones used in football and basketball. Besides imposing severe and artificial limits on the market value of a player, salary caps also handcuff team managements.
To stay under cap limits, clubs are forced to get rid of popular players or to take a pass on signing players who could help the club improve. Fans take a back seat under salary cap systems, where accountants rule, players come and go and winning becomes secondary.
In all of the talk about the current CBA, one fact seems to get lost: when compared to other leagues, the NHL�s current rules on player mobility are the most restrictive of all major pro sports. NHL teams have the ability to control a player�s career path from the age of 18 up to 31. Although this system is restrictive on player movements, it has produced the kind of roster stability fans favour and incredible competitive balance.
We believe that a marketplace system where owners determine a player�s value, as they have for more than eighty years, is the best system for our fans and our sport. A player�s value can both rise and fall in a marketplace.
1. I don't believe winning is secondary to most NBA and NFL franchises. They certaintly try to win under their systems.
2. I do agree that stability is something the NFL does not have at all. All too often, players switch teams and there are very few players like Brett Favre who stay their entire careers with one team. However, fans of hockey and ANY team sport tend to be a fan of the TEAM, rather than the players. I know I am one of the few exceptions to the rule.
3. The current CBA does not really allow for a players market value to decrease. In order to keep a player's rights, the NHL team must offer a qualifying offer that equals or betters their current contract. So, Trevor, how does that allow for a player's value to fall in this marketplace? A team can almost never get a player at a salary reduction because they'll likely take off to another team. Just ask the Mighty Ducks about Paul Kariya sometime.
4. The NHLPA certainly did agree to a very restrictive free agency, and the owners did their best to screw up what they had. Of course, what Linden didn't mention is that the high UFA age leads to a shortage of skilled labour on the market, which really drives up the prices for Unrestricted Free Agents. Players wait until they reach 30-31 and then they really cash in (Bobby Holik, Robert Lang, etc).
Say you are a high 1st round draft pick. You start off with a heavy $1.25mil contract plus big incentives (Kovalchuk got close to $4mil in bonuses). To keep your rights, the team must offer you a raise during your next negotiations.
When you hit 31 years old, you have established yourself as a star and then you will get megabucks once you are on the open market.
In the end, the NHLPA has a better argument than the NHL, despite the fact that the NHL has spent a lot more resources on its propoganda campaign against the NHLPA Guild. The problem for the NHLPA is that it doesn't fully appreciate that the NHL is not going to be a viable long-term entity for many small market teams under the current scenario without some major changes. I'll expand more on this later, but my experiences in San Francisco/San Jose and Phoenix have really showed me just how much of a hockey market there is in these two cities (not much).
Sunday, September 12, 2004
Canada Czeching into the Finals
After rolling through their first 4 games of the World Cup, Canada finally ran into a hungry Czech team that gave them their run for the money. Thanks to a second-effort goal by Prince Vince Lecavalier, the Canadians will now meet those pesky Finns in the finals.
Some random thoughts on the game.
- The Czechs are typically known as a team that uses their speed and defensive system to counter-attack. In this game, however, the Czechs were absolute demons down low in the offensive zone. The big players like Dopita, Jagr, and Rucinsky were doing great work along the boards, as were the smaller guys like Hejduk and Cajanek. Looking at the two teams, it's as if the Czechs played a more Canadian style and the Canadians played a more Czech style.
- Best Seat in the House? - Normally, standing/sitting beside Wayne Gretzky at a hockey game would be any fan's dream. For Kevin Lowe, however, I have the feeling that he drew the short straw.
Everytime the CBC cameras would cut to Gretzky and Lowe in the press box celebrating a goal or getting excited over a particular play, Gretzky would seemingly hit, punch, and/or shove Lowe. I don't think Gretzky was even that violent during his on-ice days. I guess married live will do that to a guy...
- Luongo - He stopped 37 of 40 Czech shots, but the 3-3 goal was Michael Jackson-like BAD. Draper gave the Canucks a 3-2 lead, and Luongo seemingly fell asleep. It's a good thing the 3-3 goal was the last Luongo gave up.
- Resiliance - Canadians often get all of the credit for their heart and grit, but the Czechs have often been one of the more patient and resiliant teams in International competitions. No matter the score, the Czechs stick to their system and never seem to panic. The Finns are eerily similar in this regard.
- Martin Havlat is still a punk.
- Pat Quinn's post-game quote captures the game quite well (and without whining!!)
"We escaped," Pat Quinn said. "I saw tentativeness in our team tonight. I'm not sure why. ? We sure didn't have the focus we needed to have. We did not execute very well, but a lot of that was the play of the Czechs.
"We were fortunate to have survived," Quinn said. "The Czechs played really well. They out-chanced us by quite a margin."
- For the Czechs, they probably would have won if they got better performances from Marek Zidlicky and Tomas Vokoun.
For most of the tournament, Zidlicky was a scoring machine on fire...but as it is with feast-or-famine offensive defensemen (Ozolinsh, Lintner, Delmore), these kinds of guys can hurt you in big games when they make boneheaded decisions in the offensive zone. Vokoun...well he's no Hasek, and didn't do his team any favours in this game.
Bring on the Finns...
A little news from the Homeland
1. Trinec is looking at 4 different players to sign in case of a lockout. It seems the Polish duo of Czerkawski and Oliwa is no longer in their sights...so they will focus on Michal Rozsival, Martin Havlat, Radek Bonk, and Pavel Brendl.
Bonk is a shot in the dark, but they could really really really use a defensive center. Trinec has been aggressive with their pursuit of these players, so look for them to make a big splash if the lockout occurs.
2. Vaclav Varad'a - Varad'a is currently playing with Vitkovice (Pictured) and is close to signing a 2-year deal with the Senators according to his agent, Rich Winter. This pesky bastard had 2 assists in a 4-3 win over Trinec during an exhibition game, and is joined by Pavel Kubina and Marek Malik (who was just at the World Cup) as the NHLers on Vitkovice's roster currently.
Saturday, September 11, 2004
Not Rootin' for Ruutu
While the Finns crushed any hope of the dream revenge match-up between the USA and Canada with a 2-1 victory, one event during the game got me thinking about the Vancouver Canucks.
2nd Period Penalties
J Blake, USA (roughing), 8:14, J Ruutu, Fin (holding), 11:52. M Koivu, Fin (roughing), 15:37. B Rafalski, USA (roughing), 15:37.
Jarkko Ruutu � A study in �Pesternomics�
Regular Season: 71 GP 6-8-14 �13 133PIM 11:28ATOI
Playoffs: 6GP 1-0-1 �3 10PIM 9:12ATOI
World Cup 2004: 3GP 0-0-0 -1 6PIM
Often when we speak of a player, we speak in the positive:
�He brings grit to our team�, �He gives us a level of toughness and grit�, �He�s a face-off specialist�, �He keeps the Gatorade� nice and cold�, �He�s a Power Play specialist�, etc� rarely do we talk about how a player takes away from his team simply by dressing up every night. Unless the player is a minor-league scrub (Nolan Baumgartner), we don�t tend to talk about what a player does that hurts his team.
Well, in the case of Jarkko Ruutu and the Vancouver Canucks, here we the perfect case of a player that is hurting his team with his continued presence in the line-up. If he�s on a World Cup team, you�d think he�d be a pretty good player who could help the Canucks.
Ask any Canucks fan about Ruutu, and you�ll likely hear that he�s a young, sizeable pesky role player who goads opponents into taking bad penalties and inspires his teammates with his hits and work ethic.
What they don�t tell you is that he is a defensive liability who takes numerous bad penalties, putting his team in shorthanded situations, while providing minimal offensive numbers.
Let�s breakdown this guy, shall we?
The Pest Factor
One of Ruutu�s supposed pluses is that he can get under the skin of opposing players and draw them into taking penalties.
Unfortunately, we cannot get detailed stats showing how many penalties Ruutu has caused opponents to take. We can, however, shed some light on other important aspects of his �pesky� game.
One of the attributes of a pest is to draw opposing players into fights. Taking a superior opposing player off of the ice for 5 minutes can actually help the team by tiring out that opposing player along with shedding their availability.
In 2003-04, Ruutu had 7 fights. His opponents were�
David Ling, Sergei Zholtok, Rob DiMaio, Fernando Pisani, Martin Gelinas, Mikael Holmqvist, and Rob Blake(!)
In a March 8th game against Blake, Ruutu absolutely beat Blake like a Congo drum, giving the Canucks a huge boost. Other than that, the players Ruutu fought were either scrubs or secondary players. Only once, during the entire season, did Ruutu managed to goad a good opposing player into a fight.
�Discipline! You must learn Discipline!�
One part of hockey that never gets enough attention is the fact that some players take many bad minor penalties. Due to laziness, slow skating, or a lack of discipline, some players put their team shorthanded more often than they should.
If the league-average Power Play is about 15%, then you are giving the opposition a 15% chance to score by taking a stupid penalty. Putting your team in a shorthanded situation is never a good thing. Players that can play a good game without taking loads of minor penalties (Lidstrom) provide more of a benefit than those who take penalties as part of their style (Keith Tkachuk).
During the 2003-04 season, Jarkko Ruutu had 39 minor penalties in his 71 games. Ruutu ranked 20th amongst ALL NHL players in this statistic. This is quite an achievement, given that Ruutu finished 556th amongst all NHL players in Minutes per Game Played.
Now, we could discount a few of those minors as coincidental, but not many. From my memory, Ruutu�s penalties were of the singular variety, and he was hurting his team greatly despite not actually playing more than 10 minutes a night.
So, more than once every two games, Ruutu was putting his team into a shorthanded situation and giving the opposition prized scoring opportunities. Given a 15% Power Play rate (Just a number I picked), and given that at least 30 of Ruutu�s minors were singular, Ruutu was giving the opposition at least 5 goals. In a low scoring NHL, these 5 goals really become big and cost a team 2-3 wins.
In the playoff series against Calgary, Ruutu had 5 minor penalties in 6 games!
In the World Cup, Ruutu has played 3 times and has 3 minor penalties. When the games count, Ruutu is giving his opponents plum Power Play opportunities.
It was no surprise to me that the US�s only goal in their 2-1 loss came thanks to a Ruutu penalty. If the Finns didn�t managed their 2 3rd period goals, then Ruutu would have been a big reason why the Finns lost.
Pests like Ruutu aren�t generally known for great defensive play, but they should at least be adequate enough to finish break-even at the end of the year.
Not only did Ruutu not break-even, he was horrible!
Ruutu�s �13 was a team worst, by far, and on a team with a large +goal differential that the Canucks had, this kind of defensive performance is inexcusable.
It�s not as if Ruutu was out on the ice constantly against top opposing scorers (That would be the job of Linden, Cooke, and even Keane).
14 points in 71 games. Ruutu�s PPG and Shot% ranked 2nd worst amongst all Canuck forwards behind Brad �Stone Hands� May. Apart from a fluky goal or assist, Ruutu doesn�t provide any positive measure of offensive contribution. When Ruutu is on the ice, he doesn�t provide nearly enough offence to justify the negative contribution he makes with his lack of defence and bevy of minor penalties.
What to do?
Ruutu has been involved in a few trade rumours to date, but the other NHL GM�s must be smart enough to realize that Ruutu isn�t worth much more than a few rolls of hockey tape.
Honestly, given the negative contribution that I feel Ruutu gives to the franchise with his on-ice and off-ice (whining over playing time) �contributions�, the Canucks would be best off by giving Ruutu away to the first team that wants him. Waive him, trade him, give him cement shoes�just get rid of the guy! The more the Canucks continue to play this guy, the more games they will lose overall because Ruutu is truly a negative-impact player.
Thursday, September 09, 2004
Slovakia Shameful in Defeat
5-0! What a way to go...
In the 4 games the Slovaks played, they lost all 4 and were outscored 4 to 18.
Before the tournament, I said there were 7 powerful teams and then Germany. Perhaps we should switch Germany with Slovakia in that equation?
The Slovaks were outmuscled, outscored, outplayed, outskilled, outworked, outeverything. There really isn't anything that the Slovak team can be proud of.
The Slovak players were made about being compared to a 'B' team like Belarus:
"Everybody compares us with Belarus," forward Richard Zednik said.
"Who? Belarus? Look at this group. I think we can beat any team on any night. I look at the players in this room and see so much talent."
The Slovaks didn't pick up a win in exhibition, preliminary, or playoff round competition. With the lopsided games we've been subjected to, Slovakia sure as hell looked like a 'B' team to me.
It's easy to criticize after the fact, but it's time to look at some of the reasons why Slovakia was just plain awful.
Coaching: Jan Filc
Jan Filc... the man has lead Slovakia to World Championships Gold, but was also a big part of the Salt Lake City debacle.
Filc has done a good job in the past getting results from a less-than-stacked roster playing on the International-sized ice surface. When the Slovaks are without many of their high-flying stars, it makes sense to play a tight defensive system.
Unfortunately, Filc couldn't handle a star-studded roster with the tournament being played on the smaller ice surface. Filc has no experience handling either of these situations, which helps explain why the Slovaks faired so poorly.
"We have to try to keep the game tied 0-0 as long as we can and then try to get some goals," said goalie Rastislav Stana
The various Canadian sports channels (CBC, The Score, TSN, Sportsnet) all gave detailed breakdowns of how the Slovaks were keeping 5 men back and not forechecking at all. There was no pressure from any of the Slovak forwards when the puck was deep, and it caved in on them when Canada burst out with 2 quick goals in the 2nd period.
Part of a good coaching strategy is to mould a system out of the players you have. Filc had a roster stacked with speedy, finesse offensive-minded forwards (Gaborik, Hossa, Satan) and forwards who excel at cycling the puck (Zednik, Demitra, Orszagh).
So what does Filc do? He has his forwards playing an extremely passive system that is pretty much the absolute worst way to use the type of talent he was given.
The Slovak players looked quite uncomfortable and slow playing a system that they are generally not used to playing. It's like having Britney Spears sing Opera...it just wouldn't work. Filc should have had his forwards forechecking and cycling the puck. The speedy Slovak forwards could pressure the weakened Canadian defense into making mistakes, and the cycling forwards could keep the puck away from Jan Lasak as much as possible.
Although the blame should ultimately go to the players, it's a large part of a coach's job to inspire his troops and get them fired up. The Slovak players lacked passion and intensity and Filc failed to motivate them in any way shape or form.
Jan Lasak showed us the Jekyll side of his personality.
Before the tournament, I highlighted how Lasak could either be ice cold or white hot.
It's too bad I missed the Canada/Slovakia exhbition on Canadian TV yesterday; a 2-2 tie. Rasto Stana stood out, and some speculate that he may have stolen the #1 job from Lasak. I surely hope not, since Lasak is the type of goalie that can continually steal games, while Stana is not.
The Slovaks decided to put their fate in the hands of Jan Lasak for their game against Canada, and he failed to steal the game for them.
Throughout the tournament, Lasak was just plain awful!. As much as he's stolen some victories for them in the past, Lasak is a very emotional goalie that will get rattled and just fall apart like Humpty Dumpty if he lets in a soft goal or two.
Pundits galore were harping about the Slovak's weakness in goal. This time, they were right. Until one of the fine young goalies like Michal Valent or Jaroslav Halak develops into a star, the Slovaks will have to pin their hopes on the roll-the-dice Lasak or the B-grade Stana/Budaj duo.
Richard Lintner - In the NHL and smaller ice surface, Lintner has been an abject failure. In Europe and bigger ice surface, Lintner has been a star.
Thus, Filc saw it fit to put Lintner on the roster and give him a prominent role.
Fortunately, Lintner's -5 and 0 points performance in the 3 preliminary games got him a seat in the press box for the playoff game against Canada. It's too bad his replacement, Suchy, did such a poor job in return.
Chara/Visnovsky - These two were the only defensemen that seemed to play with a level of competancy expected at this tournament. Visnovsky was playing solid hockey and doing his best to create offense in a system that isn't condusive for doing so.
Chara, on the other hand, looked like a turnstile at times despite giving a good effort. Chara was simply overwhelmed by having to do almost everything for the weak Slovak team. It doesn't help when Lasak or Stana are letting in beach balls.
Martin Strbak wasn't horrible, and he's generally decent for Slovakia whenever he plays.
Obsut...it's no wonder he's going back to Europe.
Suchy...translates to 'dry', which describes his skill level perfectly.
Mezei...has been a big dissappointment given where he was drafted. He wasn't a pick I liked much in the first place.
The short list of forwards who get, at least, a passing grade:
Lubos Bartecko - Worked hard at both ends of the ice and didn't have much to show for it in the points column. How could there not be at least ONE NHL team that would want his services next year.
Pavol Demitra - 2 assists in 4 games doesn't really beef up the sandwich, but Demitra was one of the few Slovak forwards playing at a higher-than-zombielike tempo and one of the few Slovaks who created offense.
Martin Cibak - As much as I derided the fact that Cibak was the one replacing Michal Handzus, Cibak didn't do too badly for himself defensively. I don't know why Filc gave him so much ice-time offensively (Since he didn't produce more than squat), but Cibak deserves credit for not doing a bad job.
that is all...
Miro Satan - When Miro was with the Oilers, I used to call him Zero Satan...as in Zero effort, Zero heart, Zero defense, etc...
This changed when he became a real leader for Slovakia at the International stage, and a good 2-way forward with the Sabres.
Perhaps maybe it's time to change his name back to 'Zero'?
This past year, Satan whined, bitched, and moaned about his role with the Sabres. He slumped badly and scored about as much as Rob Ray used to.
Satan was once again given captaincy of the Slovaks, and he finished with 0 points and a -7 rating in 4 games. This isn't exactly the kind of leadership we were looking for...
THE HOCKEY GODS!
Proving, once again, that they are evil sadistic bastards.
Palffy, Handzus, Bondra, and Zednik all injured in one way or another.
The Hockey Gods will allow a team from freakin' TAMPA BAY to win the Stanley Cup, but they can't allow Slovakia to play with a nice full roster. Thanks, guys.
Overall, it's been a bad bad bad bad bad bad summer for the Slovaks. After I'm done writing this entry, I'm going to put them completely out of my mind and focus on the Canadian effort.
Monday, September 06, 2004
Canada to be Slovaked
The Slovaks have clearly been overmatched in every game so far, and their effort has been clearly shameful.
Coach Jan Filc now seems to be more focused on making Slovakia's defense even better, which is like trying to make Rosie O'Donnell more of a supermodal.
It ain't going to work.
As long as Filc and the Slovaks continue to work away from their strength (offense and speed), the Slovak players will continue to flail away helplessly and show the disjointed effort we've seen in all 3 games thus far.
Entering the playoff round, the Slovaks have to face Canada yet again. This could get ugly...
The Canadian media, of course, are trying to make some story out of the Slovakia-Canada match.
Slovakia: Canada's Belarus? - If Slovakia beats Canada, it would be an upset of sorts. However, there is a big difference between a legit team like Slovakia and a B-group like Belarus. Talk about mailing it in...
Apparently, Pat Quinn can't sleep at night over nightmares of Team Slovakia - Riiiiight. It would be nice if Pat Quinn pulled a Brett Hull and gave us a real quote such as "Who gives a rat's ass about Slovakia? They couldn't beat a congo drum!"
Speaking of Brett Hull, you can always count on a good quote or two from the Golden Bratt:
"Got a minute to talk to reporters, Brett?" Hull was asked in a corridor outside the dressing room.
"What would I have to talk about?" he replied.
"Fans want to know how you're doing," said the reporter.
"I don't give a (deleted) about the fans anymore," said Hull.
Bratt is clearly upset because, for the first time in his life, he is being benched due to an inability to score.
Memo to Brett: Rather than hang around high in the slot for one of your patented one-timers, why not actually go into the corners and help out a little?
Hull claimed he was always smarter than everyone else, so prove it big boy!
Saturday, September 04, 2004
Slovakia 1 - USA 3
When I got back and watched much of the replay of the Slovakia-USA game, I was glad that I missed it.
Why are the Slovaks playing like losers?
While the Americans played a spirited game, the Slovaks weren't creating anything with their speed. It's as if the Slovaks are defeating themselves before the games even begin.
The Slovak line combinations remained much the same, although Zednik made his return:
Even with the injuries, the Slovaks have a group of players that should be able to create offense with their speed. Instead, the Slovaks were outshot 17-39
What's the problem?
Well, I'm no psychologist, so I can't explain the apparent lack of effort.
I will say that Team Slovakia should *not* play a stifling defensive system that coach Filc has put in place.
The Slovaks have a skilled, finesse, offensive minded bunch of players and they are being asked to play a style of game that doesn't really suit their skills. Even in an important tournament, such as this, the players shouldn't be asked to play completely out of their element.
For the game against the Russians, I'd like to see Filc let the forwards attack more and Richie Lintner be allowed to pinch more. The Slovaks need to be aggressive and establish more cycling (A good reason to re-unite the Slovak Pack).
The Czechs, on the other hand, have ended the preliminary round with some improved play.
Sure, everyone except France can beat the Germans, but the Czechs were more than impressive enough in a 7-2 rout over the sour Krauts. After a moribund first period, the Czechs found their offense and the German #2 and #3 goaltenders were pretty much left to dry by the weak German defense. As bad as the Slovaks have been playing, it's obvious that the world truly has only 7 hockey powers.
Hokej.cz has an impressive photo gallery of the game.
At least they are talking...
The NHL and NHLPA have at least been smart enough to keep ongoing discussions over the CBA while the World Cup is runnething over. These two parties are also nice enough not to take away from the World Cup experience by throwing out too much public garbage.
Still, after 19 hours of talks over 3 days, both parties are still spouting the same crap we've been hearing for the past 2 years.
Aaron is more pessimistic about this than I am, but the fact they are talking and planning more talks in the immediate future signals that both parties are making progress and know what's at stake.
Nothing bothers me more in contract negotiations than when both parties aren't talking because of some childish pride. How can you ever expect to finish a deal when you aren't even talking? Get back to work!!! Ok, I'm just rambling...
Wednesday, September 01, 2004
Czechia-Slovakia: Brothers in Defeat
In the 1996 tournament, both the Czech Republic and Slovakia finished with identically putrid 0-3 records.
In 2004, not much has changed...
Czechia took 5 periods, but they finally showed up today in a 4-3 loss to the blondes who gave us Ikea furniture.
When it was 4-0 after 2 periods, I was thinking of all kinds of excuses and rants to write about Team Czechia. Thankfully, the Czechs woke up and made a game out of it when Rucinsky, Zidlicky, and Elias scored in the 3rd period.
Czechia - Is Vladimir Ruzicka the right man for the job?
In my opinion, yes! Ruzicka has done amazing things with HC Slavia of the Czech League. He brought them from the 1st division and turned them into league champions as Coach/GM. Ruzicka was captain of the golden Nagano squad, and has a high level of respect amongst the players and media that Hlinka enjoyed. I expect the Czechs to play a lot better for all 60 minutes in their match against the Krauts.
Sweden - Pundits have lauded Team Sweden as a favourite to win Gold at this tournament, but I don't see it happening with their goaltending.
Luckily, it only took the Swedes 1 game to realize that Tommy Salo is no longer a legitimate #1 keeper on any team with winning aspirations.
Unfortately, the Swedes have put their faith in a goalie who can't even beat Trevor Kidd and his goatee for the Leafs' backup job.
Canada 5 - Slovensko 1
It just looks worse and worse for Slovakia as they were without another star, Richard Zednik, in their match against the powerhouse Canadians.
(Food poisoning? Zednik should know better than to eat the Poutine in Montreal.)
When Canada loses a star like Ed Jovanovski, they have a great replacement like Scott Hannan to step in.
When Slovakia loses a star like Richard Zednik, they have scrubs like Martin Cibak as replacements.
The lack of depth was previlent in tonight's game and Slovakia was throughly dominated. I'm quite upset that Stana got the start over the much-more-proven Jan Lasak. Stana didn't make the key stops early in the game, and Canada pretty much cruised after 2 early goals.
If Slovakia is going to go for gold, Jan Lasak has to be the man in the nets. Slovakia isn't going to win the gold with Stana in nets.
I'm just feeling a bit ashamed that Canada dominated so damn easily. Now I have to deal with the cocky sector of the Canadian fanbase razzing me over this 'effort'