Thursday, 20 February 2014

Olympic Women's Hockey Final: Canada 3, USA 2 (OT)

The gold medal game in Women's Hockey is an instant classic.  It was tightly contested, hard-fought, and I caught myself on a couple of occasions literally on the edge of my seat, rather than comfortably lounging on my couch.  I was watching a couple of hours behind everyone on my trusty PVR, and I repeatedly had to fight the urge to skip ahead or check online to find out how it turned out.  Am I ever glad that I didn't start fast-forwarding when the Americans made it 2-0.

The final's narrative will be different depending on which side of the border it is spun.  The cool thing will be that it won't evolve independently, and go in different trajectories.  We'll bicker as neighbours over the facts of the case, and argue each other's conclusions, but in this age of livecast television, live streaming, Twitter, etc., we'll have started with the same source material, at the same time, with roughly the same instant analysis.

As we headed to certain defeat, I formulated the thought that the American team was clearly populated with better athletes.  They seemed faster, more explosive skaters, for one thing.  Their shots were more dangerous, a couple of their blueliners could really blast the puck at the net, something which the Canadians seemingly couldn't do.  A lot of our shots seemed to be flip shots, instead of true wrist shots, they fluttered to the net instead of whistling in.  Sometimes we had clear possession of the puck but failed to clear it effectively, the puck would hit the boards and die instead of rattling around and out of the zone.  Or we'd try to clear through the middle, but the American players would easily intercept those.

If I'm the Canadian coach, starting tomorrow, I put my girls on a daily regimen of 100 pushups a day, every day, for the next four years, on top of all the other training they'll have to do.  It's harder for ladies to develop upper body strength, but they won't be able to generate shot velocity if they can't flex the shaft of their stick, and that will only come with strength from the chest and shoulders, from the arms, from their abs and hips and core.  

So nice job ladies, but hit the deck and give us a hundred, we have to defend our gold in Korea.  No time to waste, this American team won't go away.

Oh, and we're going to need to match their explosiveness, so we'll have less hiking and more running stairs, less yoga and more deadlifts.  It was scary on a couple of occasions how much faster the American players looked, notably on races to retrieve the puck in the Canadian zone.  It seemed the American forwards were taking two strides for every sluggish step the Canadian defence player took.  At first I thought the Canadian must have been at the end of a shift, and out of gas, but it became evident that there was a large gap between the fastest Americans and the more ponderous Canadians.

Where the Canadian team shined was in goal, with Shannon Szabados making spectacular saves all game long.  The coaching staff played a hunch there, in making the change mid-tournament from Charline Labonté, and it paid off.  Ms Szabados never seemed bombarded or overmatched or lucky, just athletic and sharp.  And fantastic.

Another aspect which the Canadian team dominated was in terms of their system of play, their team game, their cohesion.  The team was more than the sum of its parts.  Whereas the Lamoureux sisters and Hilary Knight on the American side were noticeable individually, it wasn't enough to overcome the steadiness and veteranship of the Canadian team.  They passed the puck well, would circle back and be patient when they found their way blocked, they defended well as a group, at even-strength and on the penalty kill.  

The fact that they didn't lose their composure when down by two goals late in third, but kept fighting, while I was already trying to reconcile myself with the silver medal, speaks volumes.  

Mark Lee spoke of Coach Kevin Dineen's bench management during the tournament and the game in particular, how he never stopped coaching, and trying different line combinations, notably trios that had played well together in the previous Olympics.  They never gave up either, so the coaching staff deserves credit as well.

Kevin Dineen just probably earned a chapter all to himself in the "Encyclopedia of Coaching".  Taking over a team in disarray two months prior to the Games, while having precious little experience coaching women, but turning the tide and taking them to the gold medal is a magnificent result.  He can probably write his own ticket from now on.  

He took on the job on a temporary basis, after having contacted Hockey Canada about opportunities, which he admittedly thought were more likely to be at the Men's World Hockey Championships in the spring.  So with a two-month interim stint he covered himself in glory.  He'll probably get some NHL offers soon, but I wonder if he may be tempted to sign up for another four years.  

You have to think that in the last few weeks he thought to himself frequently how well he could have done, how much more he could have accomplished, if he'd just had more time to mold his charges, to polish their game.  Well now, he can have all the time in the world to take this program and try to catch up and surpass the American team, which has been superior overall in recent years.  I can't believe that he's not charged up by the experience, that he's not seduced by the possibilities.  

It'll be up to Bob Nicholson of Hockey Canada to make him an offer he can't refuse, that could make him put the NHL on hold.  It can wait.  After all, Mr. Dineen has proven to be nimble and flexible.  For example, he's not that dogmatic that he absolutely has to play a leftie with a rightie on his blue line.  He seemed to have the revolutionary notion that when it came down to it, he was better off putting his best players on the ice...

There will be some debate about the competence of the refereeing crew.  I must admit that when I heard the referee was from the U.K., I thought that was equivalent to having a Ugandan judge for the ice dancing competition.  I know it would have been near impossible for a Canadian or American to act as officials in this game, but are there not any others from traditional powers like Russia or Sweden, that might have more experience?  And I say this without having any knowledge of the résumé of the refs, maybe they were on paper the best choice, but in practice the results suffered.

I don't have a problem with the slashing call on Jocelyne Lamoureux in Overtime.  I generally detest the concept of not penalizing trips or hooks or other infractions based on the severity or the score or time left, etc.  An infraction is an infraction, whenever it happens.  To 'let them play', as is often heard, equates to 'let them cheat'.  Ms. Lamoureux couldn't see the puck on the play, it was frozen by the Canadian goaltender, she showed indiscipline when she swatted at her pads.  Maybe she was trying to score, but maybe also she was trying to 'instigate'.  And maybe hockey players shouldn't hit each other with sticks.  Just because an NHL ref wouldn't have had the spine to make this call doesn't make it the wrong call.

Further, the referee had made a specific trip previously to the U.S. bench to warn Meghan Duggan and the rest of the team generally about a slash to the Canadian keeper.  They had been told not to do it, but Ms. Lamoureux couldn't muster the discipline to heed that injunction.  So the blame rests with her.

There were some other whoppers though.  Hayley Wickenheiser was hauled down from behind on a clear breakaway, bringing the ref to whistle the play dead and point to centre ice, the sign for a penalty shot, which would have been the right call.  Except she reconsidered mid-stream, and then awarded a penalty for cross-checking.  Which was bizarre.  

Ms. Wickenheiser was tripped by Hilary Knight as the latter was desperately trying to catch up.  Ms Wickenheiser protected the puck from a stick-check attempt, the American forward tried to switch sides and their skates collided.  Whether it was intentional or not is immaterial, the Canadian player was brought down illegally, and the act had to be penalized.  What is very strange is how this was deemed to be a cross-checking penalty.

The lowlight which could have forever lived in infamy as an instance of bad officiating is how, late in the third with Canada playing with an extra attacker in the offensive zone and trying to tie up the game, a lineswoman backed into Canadian defender Catherine Ward and caused her to cough up the puck.  An American player managed to clear her zone, and the puck headed for the empty net, but ended up gently bouncing off the post.  

This could have been catastrophic.  The game would have been sealed due to official incompetence, but as we know the refs are part of the playing surface, there would have been no avenue for appeal.  The goal would have counted, we would have groused that we could have made a comeback, the Americans would have told us to be realistic, and accept that the game was as good as won for them, and we would have gone round and round.  And we wouldn't have known what could have been.  Oddly, this bobble by the officials will now just add to the lore of the game.  But that specific official should never officiate in any major event again.  Until she learns to skate, at least.

Watching the American players receive their medals reminded us of the infamous Nike commercial that claimed that the silver medalist 'is just the first loser'.  In the specific case of women's hockey, that's possibly accurate.  Both teams came to Sochi with one goal in mind, which was to win the tournament.  Coming in second held no allure at all to either team.  Silver didn't mean you beat all the other teams but one, it meant you lost to your only real adversary, the only one that mattered. 

The tight smiles on the American showed how little value they put on the silver, how they considered it another karmic kick in the rear, considering how they now regularly beat the Canadian team in regular competition but come up short when it counts every four years.

Meanwhile, the Canadian players were fixated on the medals, hypnotized by them on the trays held before them, and while they were being unfurled by Dick Pound.  They were looking at the little trays of medals and bouquets with the same covetousness I'd eye a tray of free doughnuts with.

And the poor Swiss team, good on them for being overjoyed with their bronzes, but a handful of their players definitely do not look like athletes, they looked like nice enough girls who got scooped along for the ride, and it again spotlights how big a chasm exists between the North American teams and all the others.

Finally, did the Canadian team commit a breach of protocol by, after receiving their medals, going over to the Swiss team to shake hands, but then foregoing a handshake with the American team who were glumly, gamely waiting to fulfill this chore before repairing to their dressing room?  Instead, the Canadian team joined up for a team picture at centre ice, and the American team gave up and left the ice.

Now, the Canadian team and American team had already shaken hands before the medal ceremony, in the traditional hockey handshake line, but even that had taken quite a while, the Canadian women celebrated their win extensively and kept their counterparts hanging an uncomfortable amount of time I thought.  

And the CBC's Mark Lee had been quite clear that it's customary for the gold medal winners on the podium to shake hands and congratulate the silver and bronze medalists.  I'll be interested in finding out if this was an oversight or more of a snub.

Speaking of Mark Lee, he has done a tremendous job in these Olympics calling games.  I've noticed his work before, he usually gets a late game on Hockey Night in Canada, and I wonder why.  The CBC has already lost Chris Cuthbert to TSN while they prop up an embalmed Bob Cole in front of a microphone every Saturday night, you would think they wouldn't want to lose this guy and give him a more central role.  Even if it's for naught, and Nick Kypreos will soon be running the sport.  Into the ground.

Kudos also to Mr. Lee's analysts Cassie Campbell and Jennifer Botterill.  We already appreciate the former's strong work on HNIC, but Ms. Botterill is a revelation.  She was polished and informative from her post between the team benches.  I can envision her playing a role on the NHL coverage of the CBC, she's that strong a communicator.

So all that remains now is for the men tomorrow to, as the famous cartoon from 2006 read, "Play like girls."

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Olympic Hockey Quarterfinal: Canada 2, Latvia 1

The Olympic hockey tournament has been an eye-opener for me.  I was expecting a much better style of hockey, more fan-friendly and wide-open, based not only on the bigger ice surface, but also the higher talent level of the top teams involved.  Who didn't expect a couple of blowouts from the Russian team, with names like Ovechkin, Malkin, Datsyuk, Kovalchuk among the forwards? 

Instead, we've watched boring games, with a stifling brand of hockey played by outclassed teams grimly trying to hang on, hoping that the talent nullification provided by the bad ice will keep the game close and maybe let them get to an overtime period or a shootout when anything can happen.  It's anti-hockey abetted by the international cross-pollination of systems, by aggressive coaching and training tools, by rigourous physical conditioning for players, and by the steady downward spiral of refereeing standards.  The trap lives because refs have to let the multitude of little slashes and trips and hooks and holds and obstructions slide, since they have in the past, and slowly their tolerance increases and more gets by and now Norway and Latvia can give Canada a close game, if not a good one.

Some quick thoughts on today's 'victory':

1)  Is Chris Kunitz destined to become the Rob Zamuner or the Kris Draper of this team, the miscast undertalented role player selected to the national team roster for a specific reason but who doesn't deliver the goods?  He was brought on because of his purported chemistry with Sidney Crosby, and the only way he could justify that decision was by picking up at least a point a game on goals scored by his line.  Instead he looks ungainly, sluggish.  He muffed a perfect setup in the first period, clanging an open look on net off the crossbar.  Sure, he came close, but he wasn't brought on to come close, like Mathieu Darche or Dale Weise.  He's on the team to convert some of Sidney's magic.

Equally damning is how, while the Latvians were hitting everything that moved, and ran around unabated mostly during the whole game, he didn't respond physically.  I couldn't help but notice how on a forecheck in the second period, he was hot on the heels of a Latvian player who managed to clear the puck out of his zone.  However, instead of crunching him into the boards and 'finishing' his check, like the Latvian team were doing, and how the referees were benignly allowing them to do very late after the puck was gone, Mr. Kunitz breezed by, barely brushing the Latvian player.  Based on the standards being set in this game, he would have had plenty of leeway to deliver a good hit and continue on his way.

If he's not contributing on the scoreboard, he should at least be trying to chip in some other way, any way.  He could have made a few Latvian players take note of him after a good solid check, put their heads on a swivel, make them hurry their play the next time they held the puck.  He wasn't the only one who chose to play a finesse game on the Canadian roster, but I think the coaching staff will pause the video during their game review session, and scratch their heads as to why he didn't deliver a hit on this specific instance, when the situation cried out for it.

2)  Rick Nash isn't Rick Nash anymore.  He used to be this crazy freak, with huge size and speed and amazing hands who'd dazzle you, but tonight he looked big and lethargic, and I'd say that's been mostly true the entire tournament so far.  I don't second-guess his inclusion on the roster, he's kind of impossible to ignore based on his résumé and past production, and his service to Team Canada at multiple World Championships, but I can't help but think that this slump of a season he's in isn't necessarily an anomaly anymore, but maybe the new normal for him.

3)  The Canadian defence is really good.  That Duncan Keith-Shea Weber pairing is amazing, and Drew Doughty can carry anyone, he might as well be playing with Josh Gorges, it wouldn't make a difference.

I was wondering during the game if Mike Babcock was regretting not having P.K. Subban on his bench as an ace up his sleeve, how in such a tight game he might have made a difference, but I couldn't convince myself that he was.  It's not like he wasn't getting an offensive component from his defence corps.  They were first on the puck and they moved it up the ice but quick and jumped in the play and got chances.  I don't think he's concerned with his d-men at all, he's probably going to focus on his impotent forward group from now until Friday.

4)  Carey Price had a thankless task, being asked to stand idle for big chunks of the game, but then be razor sharp on a few occasions, since he didn't have any sort of cushion.  Good job by him holding the fort.

Meanwhile, as good as the Latvian goalie was, I got frustrated with his flopping and histrionics really early.  Dude, if you want that much attention and have to collapse in exhaustion so often, maybe you should take up soccer, you'd fit right in.

5)  Unfortunate that John Tavares was injured and will not play on Friday, but I don't think it's that worrisome.  You have Matt Duchene as a reserve, ready to go, there's no need to cry in our corn flakes, we just plug that guy in the roster and keep rolling.

Of course, this line of thinking applies to Team Canada and its supporters.  If however you're the New York Islanders, then please, be my guest, go ahead and worry.

6)  Not to beat on Chris Kunitz too much, but I was idly wondering during the game how well a Taylor Hall skating and hitting with abandon might have fared on Sidney's left wing.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Winter Olympics look great on TV, and so do Dara Howell and Kim Lamarre with gold and bronze medals.

I thought HD tv's were made for hockey and football, that that's where they shined.  I now have to at least make it a three-way tie with the Winter Olympics though, the crisp picture, the bright colours, the slow-mo, the snow or ice shavings flying off the blades or runners, fantastic stuff.  Great to wake up to find the Canadian ladies added two more medals in the ski slopestyle, what a treat that was to watch, aside from a couple of competitors who were clearly overmatched and cowed by the course.  

Congratulations Dara Howell on your gold medal, well deserved after an excellent run, although I really like the trick Kim Lamarre did where she launched a huge jump swithstance (riding backwards) and sailed all the way to the landing without rotating, and stomped it switch.  Compared to a scrambly over-rotated trick with a hasty grab, it looked really cool and different from everyone else's attempts.  A well-deserved bronze medal for her.

We had the 2010 Olympics here in Whistler, but somehow I don't remember enjoying the telecasts as much.  Probably (duh) because I could attend a few of the events live.  Another factor would be how busy, almost frazzled we all were with work, aside from making sure I didn't miss any Canadian hockey team game, my viewing was pretty limited.  This year, I'm transfixed.

Ryan White becoming all he can be

Good to see Ryan White getting some props lately, and getting some love from the media.  His return to the lineup after overcoming a lengthy injury has been a minor sensation.  The combination of Dale Weise and Michaël Bournival with him at centre played 

My ardor on Ryan had cooled after last season.  While not exactly giving up on him, I was afraid he'd plateaued, got sidetracked by the fighting aspect of his game, maybe he'd never fully develop.  Maybe the concussions would derail his career. I still was happy to see the Canadiens retain his services, there was no reason not to really, he was a cheap asset to keep.

I know it's a small sample size, barely a blip, but I hope the last three games are an indication of what he can become, a Matt Hendricks-type of player who rounds out your roster, whose teammates love him, and who brings a physical game but is also reliable and can take a regular shift, and play a defensive game that's effective, and makes our team tough to play against. 

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Game 59: Canadiens 4, Hurricanes 1

"Y'en aura pas d'facile" -- Claude Ruel.

Loosely translated, the above quote from the former Canadiens coach and player development sensei meant "No game or win will be easy".  It was trotted out by journalists and broadcasters regularly, a truism/pearl of wisdom used to frame the discussion when the Canadiens would lose a game to the Scouts or the Golden Seals, or to congratulate the team when they jumped on a weaker opponent early and beat them decisively, earning a precious two points that was there for the taking.

The latter usage can be deployed tonight.  While the 'Canes have been on a hot streak, they're not a league power, and with the Canadiens scratching and clawing to pile up points to keep a high seeding in the playoff race, and with a post-Olympic break homestretch looming with a slate of difficult games, every point counts.  The Canadiens did their job tonight, working hard, cashing in on opportunities rather than cursing bad bounces, and scrambling to make up for the absence of a few regulars among the forwards.

David Desharnais had another strong game, against an opponent that didn't use thug tactics against the Canadiens but rather concentrated on hockey.  David used the open ice to his advantage, darting here and there for a loose puck or a savant pass.  He tallied two goals, which is good for him because at times he seems to have lost confidence in his shot.  It's accurate and he has a quick release, so when he pulls the trigger he can fool the goalie, but it's understood that it's not a powerful shot, so he has learned to not trust that he'll beat a goalie cleanly with it, like P.K. or Ovie can.

David also showed good rapport with René Bourque, who seems to be less and less torpid these last few games.  Some accuse him of being useless and/or lazy, but again I'll disagree.  His whole career, the 'problem' with René Bourque has not been that he dogs it, necessarily, it's more a of a problem between the ears.  He lacks confidence, he goes into a funk, and gets frustrated and it spins out of control.  René is the quintessential example of the player who doesn't need a kick in the pants but a pat on the back.  And being asked to replace the injured Max Pacioretty on the nominal first line seemed to spark something in him.  I'll say again, with this game as further evidence of my reasoning, that René Bourque should play with David and Max, and be the recipient of David's passes, and see if he can cash in a few and gain in confidence and get on a roll.

Another player I've spent time defending in the past but who had caused me to doubt whether our patience would be rewarded is Ryan White.  Based on the scouting reports and coach's recommendation coming out of Junior with the Calgary Hitmen, I thought that Ryan could become a third or fourth-line regular, a tough ornery hard-worker who coaches can count on to give everything he has, be responsible, and provide a spark with a few hits.  He clearly wasn't merely a scrapper.  I worried though when two years ago he had his bromance with Brad Staubitz and seemed to want nothing more than to get into fights, take on all comers.

Rather, with a few injuries behind him and a couple of scrapes with his head coach over incidents where he lacked discipline, he now seems to be coming into his own, with a growing maturity, and he is demonstrating very effective play with new sidekick Dale Weise.  As the only right-handed centre on the team, he's been delegated to take the faceoff in key defensive situations.

One instance was notable.  Late in the second, Coach Therrien sent Ryan in for a draw to the right of Carey Price, but not before giving him what seemed to be detailed instructions.  Ryan was raptly attentive, then skated into his zone and conferred with his teammates to let them know what play was on and what their roles were.

This was refreshing for many reasons.  First, it showed a coach in clear command of his team, and not a coach who "has lost the room" and is being tuned out.  Ryan wasn't yawning or scanning the stands for puck bunnies or gazing up at the Jumbotron, he listened to what the coach had to say.  This exchange also serves to nullify the argument that Coach Therrien only plays his veterans and favourites, and is too hard on the young players and 'ruins them'.  Instead, the coach was tough on his player when he gaffed, but now was rewarding him for his strong effective play by giving him increased responsibility.  Finally, the little confab that Ryan had with his teammates showed the command that a centreman is expected to have, the leadership he needs to display.  Maybe Ryan is taking himself more seriously than before, and is starting to believe that he should be more than just a face-puncher, and that belief is causing him to play with more focus and discipline, and that belief can be contagious.

I also wonder if the (and stop me if I've riffed on this before) acquisition of George Parros and Douglas Murray and Brandon Prust, along with the larger share of physical play being taken on by Travis Moen, has relieved some of the (self-imposed?) pressure on Ryan to be the enforcer of the team, the 'energy guy', the catalyst only.  Ryan seemed to act like a year-old Great Dane puppy, kind of big and imposing, but still gangly and uncoordinated and goofy and prone to chewing his master's Reeboks or peeing on the rug.  We're seeing a more restrained deportment from Ryan, like he's starting to think he belongs and needs to take on a bigger share of the load.

Carey Price put the last touches to his pre-Olympic tuneup, with only a brain cramp on a zone clear leading to a goal against.  Aside from that, he put fires out all night, stopping pucks and stopping the play when the Canadiens were being overwhelmed, allowing the faceoffs to reset the defence.  He made a few spectacular saves, got saved by his posts a couple of times, and generally kept the Hurricanes from making a game of it.  Despite the choppy waters in January when opponents were wide-open on cross-crease passes and his GAA ballooned, he's had a terrific season and seems at the height of his powers.

Let's hope that P.K. gains confidence and gets back into a rhythm during the Olympic break.  Again, P.K. needs to make the simple play more often, not to try to win games all by himself, or to make up for a giveaway with an end-to-end rush attempt that ends in another giveaway.  His play seemed to go south when he was announced as a member of Team Canada, maybe the anticipation was killing him, let's hope he gets it out of his system and he comes back re-focused and ready to resume his strong play from last season.

Finally, apparently Max Pacioretty was not hurt badly when he crashed into the Carolina goal post, it's being described as a back contusion.  So just a bruise.  Phew!

Mark McMorris wins bronze in slopestyle, Parrot and Toutant trip over their big yaps.

Two Québec boys, snowboarders Maxence Parrot and Sébastien Toutant talked trash about American mega-hero Shaun White before the slopestyle Olympic competition, but couldn't back up their big talk with action in the finals, finishing fifth and ninth respectively.  We'll be left to wonder whether the medal hopefuls psyched themselves out by taking on the American half-pipe champion publicly, in the Twitterverse, whether they added pressure onto themselves and lost focus.  I feared they might experience a backlash from the judges, but based on their runs there was no risk.  They didn't put themselves in a position where they could be robbed.

It was left to Mark McMorris, competing with a broken rib suffered at the X Games a couple weeks ago, to rescue the team with a gutsy bronze-medal performance.  Kudos for a great show of courage and perseverance.  And diligence and concentration, and focus on the task at hand, which is more that we can say for his teammates, who flubbed a great opportunity for themselves.

Friday, 7 February 2014

NHL Pre-Olympic break thoughts

Catching up on today's posts on HockeyInsideOut:

1) CJ, you're getting lots of compliments on a certain post I haven't come across, can you re-post please?  Thanks.

EDIT:  Just read it on the previous page.  Thanks for posting.

2)  Burly, re: Marcel Aubut.  I couldn't stand that clown when he was with the Nordiques, and I can't bear to hear him speak now.  Can't believe he greased his way onto the Canadian Olympic Team management somehow.  When they announced the roster for the men's hockey Team Canada, I was never so happy to have the ceremony on PVR and be able to skip over whatever he bloviated, although I worried I'd drain the batteries in the remote, he took so long, desperate to keep the spotlight on himself.  I could feel the whole country yelling at him to shut up and get off the stage.

3)  I gather we've eliminated another troll.  Good.  To just make it a little tougher, his IP address should be blocked, not just his login name.  And HIO should be more active in screening out those screechers who ruin a good conversation.  If people want to yell at cross-purposes, they should just visit TSN's site.

4)  Dunboyne, Phil C.:  Offensive linemen who are dominant are often called 'road-graders', since they clear and polish up a path for the ballcarrier.  Fullback are usually likened to bulldozers.  Either of those would do nicely, as in "Spezza struggles to corral the puck, tries to clear it down the ooooohhhh!  He was run over by a bulldozing Murray!"

5)  About Ron McLean, I think Hockey Night in Canada would be so much better off had Dave Hodge remained there.  His intellect and presence would have kept the buffoon Cherry on a short leash.  Ron McLean was sat there as a patsy, an enabler, and we ended up with Mr. Cherry kissing Doug Gilmour and Nazem Kadri on our theoretically national game of the week.  I understand that some bosses viewed Mr. Hodge's reaction to the decision to cut away from a game to go to other programming was insubordinate, but it in hindsight proved to be a terrible decision, HNIC effectively shot itself in the foot.  It's easy to fire people, but usually better to use other forms of discipline.  The CBC divested itself of a valuable employee on a point of principle, and cut off their noses to spite their face in the process.

6)  My fantasy teams are taking a beating.  First, Kris Letang's terrible news, means I have to sit him but can't really cut him, and it has a depressing effect on the points I'll reap from Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Marc-André Fleury.  And no positive news from Marian Gaborik and Mikko Koivu, was hoping they'd be back sooner than later.

In general I don't understand the lack of recognition received by Kris Letang on HIO.  People just parrot to each other that he's not strong defensively, but whenever I watch him play, if he gets the puck he skates or passes it out of his zone in a hurry, and the other team is scrambling to get back.  To me, that's a great sign for a defenceman.  Sure, he can't crosscheck like Mark Fraser, but that's an indication of a problem with the NHL, not with Kris Letang's abilities.

If not for the surplus of right-handed defencemen, and his injuries last season and this one, I think he'd have fit right in on the Canadian Olympic Team, and thrived on the big ice.  He's a big strong mobile defenceman who knows what to do with the puck, he would have done some damage.

7)  Bad news also for Team Sweden and the Canucks, Henrik's comeback was overly optimistic, and he had to be shelved for a few more weeks.  How Martin Hanzal got away with injuring three Canucks in one game and only drew a $5000 fine is laughable.

This is where the NHL's obsession with size and defence proves suicidal.  Mr. Hanzal can't really play anymore, but he's still big, and he can "play strong defence", so he stays in the league at the expense of smaller more skilled players who can actually play the game.

Those low-grade crosschecks that Nick Kypreos adores, since they "send a message" and "let the opposing player know you're there", escalate into medium crosschecks because you have to clear the crease, and everyone wears padding nowadays right?, and we don't know where the line is drawn anymore, and now we lose Henrik Sedin because of a dumb player making a dumb play to the assent of a dumb league and its dumb commissioner.

Roger Goodell and Paul Tagliabue get it, they're doing their best to keep their stars, their quarterbacks, healthy and on the field instead of the IR, defence be darned.  David Stern knew what side his bread was buttered on, and he skewed his league toward the fans, towards scoring and artistry, toward Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, and Michael Jordan, not toward 'team defence' or coaching or 'battlers' or grinders.  He watched his league explode in size and popularity during his tenure.  Why Gary Bettman makes ice in L.A. and showcases his league when he does nothing to protect its stars is mind-boggling.

Sidney Crosby takes an after-the-whistle punch from Zdeno Chara in his first game back from a broken jaw without wearing a guard, it's clearly captured on video, and Mr. Bettman and his side-buffoon Colin Campbell don't lift a finger.  They should have thrown the book at Mr. Chara for his deliberate attempt to injure, they had all the evidence they ever needed, and a duty to protect the game's best player that dovetailed with their own selfish interests.  But no.  It's lunacy, it's awful for hockey, but the NHL prefers not to be short-sighted, it chooses to wear blinders instead.

8)  In defence of Ed Snider, NHL owners are pinching dimes to survive these days, so the Olympics are an unfair burden to them.  We have to remember that the Chicago Blackhawks, for example, have not been able to turn a profit in the nine decades they've been in existence, as Rocky Wirtz assures us.

Game 58: Canadiens 5, Canucks 2

I was watching a game with a Vancouver fan, and had to subject myself to watching the Vancouver broadcast. Play-by-play caller John Shorthouse does a creditable job, but his sidekick John Garrett is just awful. He went on a rant one minute in about how an icing call (against the Canucks, natch) shouldn’t have been an icing call, and golly if it was up to him…

It was interesting to hear them heap encomiums on Max Pacioretty. Obviously the broadcast team didn’t do its research on the Canadiens by reading social media, they were raving about what a big strong skater he was, and what a lethal sniper he is.

I hope that some Canadiens fans who may be over-excited at the acquisition of Dale Weise got to witness how poor the Vancouver forwards are, with a diminished Alex Burrows and an injured Henrik Sedin, they really are struggling talent and depth-wise. That should be some indication of how dispensable Dale Weise is, if they felt they could part with him. We need to temper our expectations in his case.

Having said that, he is really effective with Ryan White and Michaël Bournival, those guys seem to be meshing, and form a usable fourth line. Which is good, it’s a pleasant change from previous seasons with Aaron Palushajes and Andreas Engqvists and Yannick Webers making up our fourth trio.

Roberto Luongo pitched forward while doing the splits again, he often ends up on his stomach while opponents flip the puck above him. We sat up and took notice, it’s worrisome if he ends up in nets for Team Canada. Roberto has been good with gusts to great, but he also has lulls where he looks like he has no confidence. Meanwhile Carey looked cool, calm and collected. The Vancouver broadcast team took note.

I’ll come back to this topic in greater length, but Douglas Murray proved his worth again tonight when Tom Sestito, who is a tough customer able to give Brian McGrattan a run for his money, started throwing his weight around in front of the Canadiens net. I think it was Ryan White or Brandon Prust who wrapped him up, but right with him in the scrum was the big Swede. Mr. Sestito kept barking, but allowed himself to be steered away from the crease, and skated away without any facewashing or cross-checking. Douglas Murray’s physical presence defuses certain situations before they explode, and in the NHL as it’s currently mismanaged, this contribution is crucial, even if it doesn’t appear on the scoresheet, and in the Corsi or Fenwick or other calculations. If the Senators have Jared Cowan and Eric Gryba, and the Leafs have Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren, we have to have players like George Parros and Douglas Murray.

To really get a sense of how he’s doing, we should be comparing his stats and advanced stats against other players of his ilk, #6 defencemen who are not there for their powerplay skills, but for their rough-and-tough attributes. So we should measure him against the Mark Frasers, the Deryk Engellands, not against Raphaël Diaz or Francis Bouillon, who are on the team for other skillsets.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Canadiens trade Raphaël Diaz to Vancouver Canucks for Dale Weise.

The Montréal Canadiens have sent soon-to-be unrestricted free agent Raphaël Diaz to the Vancouver Canucks in return for 25-year-old right winger Dale Weise.  In doing so, the Canadiens get an asset back in return for a player who had played his way off the roster and was bound to leave the team without compensation on July 1st.

Indeed, Mr. Diaz never developed into a reliable puck-carrier and point-producer.  The potential was there since he seemed a heady player and slick skater, and had shown flashes in his rookie season when on the power play, or sometimes by jumping into the play and joining the forwards on odd-man rushes.  The potential never seemed to materialize though, and Mr. Diaz was never able to offset his struggles when dealing with rougher teams and physical play with a decent return as the second-wave powerplay quarterback.  There's no telling how much the concussions he suffered may have derailed his progress.  In recent games he had been a healthy scratch in favour of Nathan Beaulieu, who seemed to grow into the role and make him expendable.

As for the trade itself, it doesn't provide a great return overall.  I would have preferred a younger player or prospect or draft pick, but there's no way the Canucks are letting any of their youngsters go, or draft picks, their system is much depleted after years of acquiring rentals at the deadline and bad drafting.

Dale Weise is like a half of a Travis Moen, we shouldn't expect too much from him.  He has decent size and a big heart, but little vision or dexterity.  He'll chip in some hits and fights, but few points.  He barely hung on to a roster spot with the 'Nucks, and their third and fourth lines are arid wastelands devoid of talent.  Best-case scenario is that he fits in better in our roster, but that's a remote chance, since the Canucks have the same profile we do (low-scoring, undersized).

It is a good trade for Raphaël though, since Chris Tanev and Kevin Bieksa got injured, they had six lefties playing on defence, save for instances when Yannick would draw in, and that has been disastrous, he's really struggled except maybe when he's on the powerplay.  Raphaël gets another chance on another team to show what he can do, and hopefully become the player he seemed to be when he first arrived from Switzerland.