February 28, 2013

Jordan Staal memories

Jordan Staal's first NHL goal was a sign of things to come.

Madison Square Garden. Oct. 12, 2006. Killing a penalty.

His read on the play to intercept the pass and score on a breakaway showed what kind of defensive presence he would become as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

I was a big fan of Staal. As one of the three-headed monster, he gave the Penguins incredible strength down the middle. Not only would teams have to shut down Sidney Crosby and then Evgeni Malkin, but they would also have to worry about Staal on the third line.

Staal gave Michel Therrien and then Dan Bylsma the luxury of using him primarily for defensive purposes or, if needed, he could fill a role on one of the top two lines. This was on display in 2011 with Crosby out and Staal, returning from a broken hand, scored 11 goals and 30 points for the Penguins in 42 games during the second half.

Keeping Staal a Penguins long-term was going to be tough. As valuable as he was, spending $6 million for a primarily third line center just isn't feasible in this salary cap era, no matter if the Penguins are team that finds itself with a higher payroll these days. There were always the whispers about how he didn't want to be stuck behind Crosby and Malkin, so when he expressed that himself after being dealt to the Carolina Hurricanes during the Draft last June, it was refreshing. At least it was now known what his aspirations were.

Staal was a good soldier; a key contributor to the 2009 Cup team (I get a hockey boner every time I think of his shorthanded goal in Game 4 vs. the Red Wings); and a guy who developed in a solid NHL player, even with the crowd that likes to go back in time and bitch that GM Ray Shero should have used that No. 2 pick in 2006 on Jonathan Toews.

His six years of service in Pittsburgh turned into the package that inclued Brandon Sutter, a somewhat similar player who's coming into his own and much cheaper than the $6 million a year deal that Staal rejected from the Penguins, but accepted to play with his brother in Carolina. It all worked out in the end for everyone.

The hat trick against Philly in the playoffs.
The incredible comeback in the third period against the Red Wings on that November night in 2008. The nickname of "Gronk" thanks to Colby Armstrong.

When Staal faces the Penguins for the first time in Pittsburgh on April 27, there will be a nice video tribute on the CONSOL Energy Center videoboard. There will be a good ovation for him from the crowd that night (despite some cheers after the trade announcement last June). There will be a lot of reflection on what he meant to the Penguins organization.

Staal's No. 11 won't hang from the CONSOL rafters, but he was a vital part of an important phase in the franchise's evolution.

August 16, 2012

Canadian news sites love selecting Gary Bettman photos

I've noticed something over the past year.

Whenever there's a story on some Canadiens news websites, specifically the Globe & Mail, involving NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman either mainly or peripherally, the accompanying photo is far from flattering.

Case in point:

Super smiley

Confused

Deep in thought

Surprised

"This is your counter proposal?"

Now Bettman's been in charge since 1993. He's been photographed thousands of times. These are the best shots that these news services can find apparently.

February 2, 2012

Pandora's box and the idea of replaying games

Go back to Nov. 2009 when Ireland and France were playing the second leg of their World Cup qualifying playoff.

A trip to South Africa and the 2010 World Cup Final was on the line and in the waning moments of the game, a clear handball by Thierry Henry was missed and led to the winning goal from France.

Game over. Irish eyes were crying ... including mine.

After the game, the incident made international headlines and calls came from all over the globe for FIFA to order the game be replayed due to the controversial non call.

For as much as I was hurting over the loss at the hands of an egregious error, the idea of the game being replayed after being determined by a bad call was not an idea I wanted to see take place.

Why?

It would open a Pandora's box and cause more issues than it would be solving.

Like the clock malfunction in Los Angeles last night that cost the Blue Jackets a point in the standings and an opportunity to grab an extra one in overtime, Henry's handball was the deciding factor in a game. But there are mistakes and chances for mistakes to occur at any point in a game, not just at the end of them.

Forcing the Blue Jackets and Kings to play an overtime session when they next meet in March is silly; same as replaying the game entirely. Mistakes happen in every game. Whether it's at the five-minute mark of the first period or in the dying seconds. Bad calls, clock malfunctions, referees getting in the way of play ... it happens.

But if you want to have games or instances of games replayed because of bad endings, why not if a missed call happens earlier in the game? Who's to say a game clock can have similar malfunction earlier in the game when no one would even really notice and either extend or lessen the game by a matter of seconds? In reality it could have an effect on the game.

If the FIFA and NHL decided to replay any portion of the two games I've mentioned, then that would open the door for that to happen after any controversial instance in a game that ends up having an effect on the outcome.

Sometimes teams are going be on the wrong end of a bad situation, but as we often see in sports, bounces and calls find a way of evening out in the end. While Columbus' season has been over for sometime, they'll likely be on the benefiting side of a few calls before the year ends.

Sports can be funny like that.

Photo credit: Puck Daddy via NHL.com

January 11, 2012

Polls are the most inaccurate things ever

The latest ESPN Sports Poll rates Tim Tebow as "America's favorite active pro athlete".

This means ESPN PR machine will send out releases to everyone in their Rolodex promoting this and continuing the Tebow narrative that's dominated the 2011-12 NFL season.

Here's the kicker:
"To put this in perspective, Tim Tebow rose to the top before the end of his second pro season. It took Tiger Woods three years, LeBron James eight years and Kobe Bryant 11 years," Rich Luker, founder and director of the ESPN Sports Poll, said. "I think we may be at the front end of a new era in sports stars."
To put this in perspective, and not spin, 1,502 people were interviewed for this poll, while approximately 300,000,000 live in the U.S.

SPIN. SPIN. SPIN.

December 3, 2011

Alexei Emelin on Joe Pavelski


Beautiful. Textbook. Perfect.

Emelin and Doug Murray should have a hit off. That'd be a spectacle and a half.

September 28, 2011

The English meet hockey, falls in love

Guest Post from an English fan

Many years before I ever considered buying tickets to hockey games, when I first came to this country, I was in a bar talking to a Canadian hockey coach. The man was dedicated to his sport and had nothing but scorn for all others - apart from one; soccer. Or football as we Brits call it. I asked what he admired about football, and he said, "Y'see, football is the same as hockey. It's a game where defence plays a very important role. Look at the size of a puck, or a soccer ball, and look at the size of the goal you gotta get it into. Yet they only score once a twice a game if they're lucky. Now look at a basketball, and compare that to the size of the hoop they gotta get it into. There's barely a couple of centimetres of clearance around it, yet they score dozens of times every game, hundreds even! That's 'cos they don't play a real defensive game. They can't."

This business of the couple of centimetres of clearance was a new one on me. I'd never thought of it like that before. Both hockey and basketball were screened on TV in England when I was growing up in the 70s, but there was one big difference; the "basketball" was actually Harlem Globetrotters games but the hockey was real NHL games. Basketball was on Saturday morning, along with the Jackson 5 cartoon and Sesame Street. By contrast, hockey was featured on the grown-up sport show, World of Sport, late on a Saturday afternoon. Kids watched the Globetrotters and marvelled at the exotic names of the players, like Meadowlark Lemon and Curly Neal. Not many people knew the names of the NHL players, but it was far more interesting to us Limeys. Something about the speed of the skating, the fact that play could extend behind the goals (unlike soccer) and especially the fights, was addictive. It was a mystery why there were teams from both the US and Canada competing; weren't they two different countries?

Now I really know what hockey is. At least I think I do. It's a game played by big, scrappy dudes, kinda like rugby players but maybe a bit wirier and on skates. In England, when you see rugby players in pubs and clubs, everyone knows not to mess with them, and I suspect hockey players are of a similar ilk. Nasty buggers, born killers, or at least maimers. But that's what provides the momentum for the sport. It's why we love having our noses pressed against the glass while some supersonic butt-ending bruiser steams into his opponent like a shark making a run on a surfer. It's why Norm MacDonald has an edge (despite never having played professionally), or why we watch Slapshot whenever it's on TV, even though we've already seen it twenty six times. We English have long poked fun at yanks for their helmets and pads in their version of football, we laugh at baseball as a bad attempt at cricket and basketball was regarded as entertainment but never taken seriously as a sport. Hockey, or ice hockey as we call it, was the game that fascinated us most. With good reason.

September 1, 2011

I'm tired ...

I'm tired of reading obituaries of hockey players gone too soon.

I'm tired of the soapboxing of some debating the purpose of fighting/role of enforcers in hockey in regards to the deaths of Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak.

I'm tired of reading about the uncertain returns of players who've suffered concussions like Sidney Crosby and David Perron.

I'm tired of reading about players who have to hang up their skates due to head injuries like Paul Kariya and Dave Scatchard.

This summer should have been about celebrating the Boston Bruins Stanley Cup title, the fun of free agency and catching our collective breaths after another NHL season.

Instead, it's been a summer of tragedy and questions about the returns of the NHL's top young stars.

Sports is supposed to be a distraction from real life; a place for fans to remove their brains for a couple of hours and cheer on their favorite team and players before returning back to reality.

This summer it's been the collision of real life into fandom.

This isn't how fandom is supposed to be.

We're not supposed to be reading about players in their late-20s and mid-30s being buried and leaving behind loving families. We're supposed to be debating roster moves, player improvements and predicting how teams will do the following year.

The collision of hockey and reality is scary because behind each player is a person like every one of us. A person with a family. A person with feelings and a person with issues, just like every one of us.

Boogaard, Rypien and Belak all battled demons before they met their end; demons that people in every day life also try to deal with.

Trying to play dime store psychologist with these players is worthless. We can't get inside their heads. We just don't know. It's like trying to talk about how a concussion affects a player in the future. All concussions are different and there's no way for any of us as fans and media to trying to predict just exactly what will happen. We've seen too many times before players feeling great one day and then symptoms return the next. It's a worthless cause to try and figure out -- same with trying to understand what happened to Boogaard, Rypien and Belak.

We don't exactly what was troubling these players right before they died, but it's just another sign that when athletes leave their field of play -- whether they're currently player or retired -- they aren't invincible like we believed when we were kids. They're not infallible. They're human.

Even as a 30-year old adult, I still want that inner child to come out when I watch sports. I want to believe these guys are supermen; that these guys are on a higher level than the rest of us. And they are ... athletically, but this summer has only reminded us that while the talents of athletes separate us, when you take that away we really are just like them: humans struggling with everyday life.

And like you and I, they too sometimes are too proud to ask for help.

July 13, 2011

You could realign this or you can realign that

NHL realignment has been a hot topic of late mostly because it's July and we're down to wondering where Mike Comrie might sign next season.

With the move of the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg realignment is necessary so the divisions don't look like the 14 years the Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals were in the NFC East.

There've been a number of different proposals floating around. The Toronto Star had a few the other day, including one with an all-Canadian division. But the NHL -- if they do indeed go forward with a bigger realignment job than just simply swapping Winnipeg with Detroit or Columbus -- wants to try make the setup more travel and time zone friendly, which will be tough. Just look at the geography:



The setup of the NHL, with the way the teams are spread out, is going to leave with some team(s) not being happy with the final product. The Red Wings have wanted to move to the East for years. Dallas has to travel two time zones for their part in the Pacific Division. And Minnesota can't be happy either being in the Northwest.

Here's what I'd like to see from realignment. Allow me to present the 3,457,281th proposal.

The need or no need for an enforcer

So the Pittsburgh Penguins signed tough guy Steve MacIntyre to a one-year, two-way deal for $600,000 tonight closing the door on the Eric Godard era (who inked a two-year deal with the Dallas Stars on Tuesday).

Godard played 135 games with the Penguins collecting 352 penalty minutes in the process. MacIntyre has seen scant duty in the NHL after coming up during the 2008-09 season with the Edmonton Oilers.

So did GM Ray Shero not feel the need for a full-time enforcer on the roster?

Simple. Ask the Detroit Red Wings how successful you can be without one.

The Wings have been the example when the debate about whether or not a team needs an enforcer to protect its players and more importantly, its stars.

Detroit has led the NHL in the fewest majors in the six years since the lockout.

2005-06: 7
2006-07: 10
2007-08: 21
2008-09: 12
2009-10: 19
2010-11: 14

Who was their last true enforcer? Only Bob Probert comes to mind. Guys like Darren McCarty, Brendan Shanahan and Martin Lapointe all played a tough role, but contributed more than just fights. And I know Probie was more than a fighter, but he at least racked over 200 PIMs a season unlike other Red Wings of the era.

The Wings, as we all know, have been loaded with stars for a long time and the idea of needing a body to take up cap space to play three minutes a night to "protect" Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin is silly.

MacIntyre is in a great situation for Shero and Dan Bylsma. He'll split his time between the Pens and Wilkes-Barre and when needed -- say, for games against Philadelphia and the New York Islanders -- MacIntyre will be summoned in case things spiral out of control.

The Pens already have enough toughness in the lineup. Between Matt Cooke, Deryk Engelland, Arron Asham, and Craig Adams, that's enough guys who can drops the mitts if need be or play the physical game enough where cooler heads could eventually prevail.

MacIntyre's two-way deal will allow for a younger forward to get more ice time and experience with the big club. And with the depth of young forwards the Pens have, it's nothing but a good thing.

Photo credit: AP via Canadian Press

May 25, 2011

20 years ago today ...

"The Stanley Cup has come to the city of Pittsburgh!"

"Go for it Mario, go for it."

May 10, 2011

False hope blinds reality: the 2010-11 Penguins season

(written while I was on a plane home from Jamaica two weeks ago)

Deep down we knew. Way in the back of our collective minds, we knew.

When Sidney Crosby exited the Penguins lineup after his second bruising hit in a week’s time in January, there still was hope.

When Evgeni Malkin tore both his ACL and MCL a few weeks later, with Crosby still having not returned, there was false hope. Hope that Crosby would return and despite Malkin’s absence, Pittsburgh would still be a force in the Eastern Conference.

As time waned on and Crosby’s return was a mix of murky rumors and the flat-out unknown, the fan inside hoped, even as the team on the ice was making a surprise run at the Atlantic Division title.

But we knew.

April 23, 2011

Roberto Luongo and United Center

This theory that the United Center in Chicago is some sort of house of nightmares for Roberto Luongo is just silly if you just look at the stats over the past three playoff series (and regular season) between the Vancouver Canucks and Blackhawks.

First, the playoff numbers:

2009 at United Center: 1-2, 3.33 GAA, 10 GA
2009 at home: 1-2, 3.71 GAA, 11 GA


2010 at United Center: 2-1, 1.68 GAA, 5 GA
2010 at home: 0-3, 5.36 GAA, 16 GA

2011 at United Center: 1-1, 4.62 GAA, 8 GA
2011 at home: 2-1, 2.98 GAA, 7 GA

Regular season at United Center 2008-09/09-10/10-11: 3-2-1, 2.23 GAA, 12 GA

(Regular and postseason)
Games at United Center with > 3 goals: 4
Games at United with 2 or < goals: 9

A total record of 7-6-1 record with a 2.97 GAA isn't as terrible as it's being made out to be. 

The United Center and the Fratelli's "Chelsea Dagger" isn't what's caused Luongo nightmares, it's just the playoffs in general that do that.

Photo credit Bruce Bennett / Getty Images


April 21, 2011

A series in one photo















Of the 10 goals scored by the Phoenix Coyotes in their series against the Detroit Red Wings, only four came 5-on-5.

How?

The picture above explains everything that the Red Wings did to prevent Phoenix from scoring at even strength. Every Coyote covered. Sticks in lanes. Nowhere to put the puck to help create a scoring opportunity.

It's just one example in the series showing how Detroit played disciplined 5-on-5 and thereby frustrated a Phoenix team that was middle-of-the-road offensively entering the first round.

April 15, 2011

A split-second changes everything

From last night's 3-2 San Jose win over the Los Angeles.

1) If Kings defenseman Alec Martinez was a split-second quicker he would have disrupted Joe Pavelski with a stick check before the OT winner:


2) Wayne Simmonds goes for the blocked shot on Pavelski's goal, but in the process gets in Jonathan Quick's line of sight by staying on his skates and not dropping all the way down to the ice:


Football isn't the only game of inches.