Great. Just Great.

NHL names LaBroad Chief Marketing Officer

We've already seen the NHL and IIHF bend over for RBK/Nike. Hockey uniforms have been adopted as their next swooshtika marketing tool. Now we have a man who spent 23 years developing a "brand strategy" for Anheuser-Busch to shill for the NHL.

When there is absolutely nothing to differentiate one mega-swill from another, the beer industry is based solely on brand marketing. Is this what we're going to see from the NHL now?
"My brand building knowledge coupled with my passion for the sport makes this a perfect opportunity to build on the current successes of the League and accelerate its positive momentum."

Numerous Subjects

While traveling in Buenos Aires with his family, Guy Lafleur was sucker-punched by a thief.
"It was like one of the players from the Bruins."

Just like in his playing days, Lafleur had no enforcer riding shotgun to protect him from such thuggery. Reports indicate that prosecutors hope to charge the thief not only with assault and robbery, but would also like to slap him with the instigator.


Saku Koivu appeared to be more crushed than anyone after losing the gold medal game to Sweden. He probably has a better grasp on just how rare those opportunities are, after missing out on the 2002 Olympics. He was busy that winter fighting non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

An article by Mark Brender in the most recent print edition of The Hockey News suggests Bob Gainey did the Ottawa Senators a favour by signing Saku to his 3-year, $4.75M per year deal. Brender insinuates that one Olli Jokinen will expect to be paid even more. That would make it that much more difficult for Mike Keenan to get him under contract (so the theory goes), which would make a deadline trade to the Senators more likely.

Should Jokinen receive more? His numbers are a little better. He has size. He's younger, which suggests that after three years his contribution should not slip as much as Koivu's. However, I'll point out one small thing: Look at how the two players were used in the Olympics. They were the top centres on the Finnish team. Jokinen played well - no question - but Koivu was incredible. He was arguably the best forward in the tournament. Just something to consider before assuming Jokinen is worth bigger money than the Habs/Finns' captain.


Sixteen of Canada's 24 medals at the Olympics were won by our female athletes. Why aren't the men holding up their end of the bargain? And, although 24 winter medals is durn good, Canada's total doesn't approach the per capita totals of other top "winter" nations like Norway, Sweden or Austria. Why is that?

I have a theory, and it's pretty simple: a huge number of Canada's top natural athletes are fleshing out pro hockey leagues all over North America. The vast majority of pros making a living in the AHL, CHL, ECHL, SPHL, and UHL are Canadian players. That's thousands of top athletes playing hockey and only hockey. How many of those guys just aren't good enough to crack the top hockey leagues, but would make formidable speed skaters or skiers? Even when you look at the athletes in other sports, hockey has informed their pursuits. Jeremy Wotherspoon took power skating classes to improve his hockey skills, and Jeffrey Buttle started out figure skating as a way to fast-track his skating for hockey.

Canada lacks diversity in it's athletic endeavours. With the rise of womens' hockey, we might start to see the same effect in womens' competition. We're all about the hockey. Deep down, I'm fine with that.


There has been more hand-wringing than I expected about the US hockey team's performance at the Olympics. At least the Americans have a good explanation for their team's performance: a glaring dearth of world-class players currently in their prime.

Perhaps expectations were higher than was realistic. The US had a great showing in the '96 World Cup and the '02 Olympics, and their junior development has been great in the last few years. So what went wrong at this event?

I have yet another theory. Hockey player development in the US was on a slow and steady rise. Then there was a spike of talent born on or around 1970 because of the 1980 Miracle on Ice. This bunch of impressionable kids - Leetch, Weight, Amonte, Richter, et al - went on to become a solid core of world-class players and produce the '96 and '02 international results. Meanwhile, development went back to it's slow and steady rise. Once the circa-1970 crowd went over the hill, the drop off in talent was exposed. No offense to Gionta, Gomez or Rolston, but Mike Modano they ain't. That doesn't mean development took a step backward. Rather, it merely returned to it's normal steady growth.

This effect is not likely to be observed in Canada, where development is running at full capacity all the time. Where hockey is more peripheral in the US, it's popularity among youth will be subject to external forces, like National Team victories.

Now we are seeing the next great crop in Kessel, Johnson&Johnson, etc. Is this bunch the result of the natural progression of US hockey, or is it another spike due to the '96 World Cup? Stay tuned for the next 15-20 years to find out.



So, who do we root for now?

If you place any stock in the
IIHF World Ranking, then, pragmatically speaking, the best case scenario for Canada would be:
1: Fin
2: Swe
3: Rus
4: Cze

The worst case would be:
1: Cze
2: Rus
3: Swe
4: Fin

Here are the ramifications for each:

Thanks to their putridity in the round robin, both Sweden and the Czech Republic will surpass Canada no matter what happens. Canada will have an opportunity to redeem herself at the '06 WHC in Latvia and salvage the #1 spot for this year, but they'll need help.

Personally, I'm pulling for the newest member of the IOC's Athletes' Commission and his Team Finland.


Here's a new one: Klauss Zaugg (the Swiss Don Cherry) says it was the obstruction crackdown that led to the early exit by the North American teams.


From Bucci's latest:

"This year will go down as the winter that wasn't for a majority of backyard rink owners in the United States (at least, in the Northeast). I have yet to step on my rink. Warm temperatures have reigned in the Northeast and, except for a couple of twirls by a 40-pound 6-year-old, the rink has stood as a quiet, economic disaster."

Indeed, this winter has not been great for my rink either. Here in NB we get similar weather to New England, only a bit colder. In fact we usually get the very same weather systems a day or two later. December was surprisingly cold, and we managed several good skates. January was bizarrely warm. A long stretch of spring-ish weather did irreparable damage to the rink (damn you, Global Warming!), but cold snaps in February allowed me to salvage a good portion of skatable ice. I'll try to get another pic up soon.



Well, it will be tough but I'll try to make a few points that haven't quite made the rounds yet. First off, let's dispel the myths that everyone is spouting (especially my co-workers this morning):

Roster selection? Pshaw. Canada had the best collection of individual players, bar none. Perhaps a different roster would have been an even better collection, but not necessarily the best collective.

International sized ice surface? Don't forget that all of the remaining contenders are almost entirely NHL players. Europeans born and raised on the big ice might have slightly more ingrained instincts for the international game, but the advantage would be miniscule.

Taking time out of the NHL season? Building chemistry? The lockout?? Again, these are all the same for the remaining four teams.

The fact is, it was a close game and Canada lost to the tournament's second best collection of individuals. This sort of thing happens all the time in every hockey league in the world, so it should come as no surprise. At these best-on-best events, when all of the contenders have world-class skating, anyone can win. The point was made well in a comment by Colin M. at Tom Benjamin's:

"5 different countries won medals between the 1998 and 2002 olympics and the only major country that didn't medal in that time won gold in 1994."

It's often said that any one of 7 nations can win any given event. The corollary of that rule is that any 3 of those nations can finish out of the top 4. With this much volatility, it is pointless to get bent out of shape over a single event. You have to take the long view. Canada has been on a great run since 2002 with the gold at Salt Lake, two WHC golds and one WHC silver, and the 2004 World Cup.

Once again, the only change I would dare propose would be to take a page out of textbook Sutter hockey. The world junior team was built with a theme in mind, and they played their game perfectly. Some highly esteemed talents were left off the team or given reduced roles, all in the name of playing their team game. The result was a convincing win.


Now for some perspective, courtesy of AQG at HWTUA.

If you can look at that photo, see the arcs that were carved in the ice by kids skating, and still grouse about what happened yesterday, then you don't really love this game.


The Round Of Death

Like many columnists, Jack Todd is still riled about the Gustafsson story.

If the opportunity exists for a team to throw a game to allow them an easier path to a medal, the problem is not with the athletes' integrity - it is with the tournament's format. After all, the goal of the athletes is to win the gold. If a team can go 3-2 in the round robin and still be considered gold medal favourites (as Canada is) then the single elimination format is not ideal in determining the top three teams. At the same time, you can't fault Canada for taking it easy in a mostly-meaningless RR and conserving their energy for the games that matter. After all, eight games in twelve days is *nuts.* (Whether they actually did this is irrelevant - my point is that they *could*.) It is unfair that Russia has to face Canada in the QF after putting fourth the effort to finish 2nd in their group.

Clearly, the round robin followed by single elimination is not the best way to evaluate hockey teams when there is such parity among the contenders. So, what is the alternative? The Olympics can't go with Stanley Cup style best-of-seven series, for obvious reasons. I think the WJHC's had it right 10+ years ago with a full round robin format, where each team plays each other team once, and the final standings determine the medallists. All games are "worth" same amount. This would remove the incentive to throw a game (unless a number of teams formed a conspiracy). With eight teams invited, the Olympics could present 28 games (7 per team) over 14 days - a schedule much more sensible than the present one.
Of course, the single elimination format makes for better TV so it's here to stay - actual competition be damned.


As I mentioned, Canada is still inexplicably favoured by the bookies. Evidently, Pavel Datsyuk is nursing a broken finger, while Martin Brodeur tweaked a knee vs. the Czechs. The numbers I've seen say Canada has about a 54% chance of making it through to the semis. Given what transpired between these two teams at the
last WHCs (take a gander at the SOG), I am not confident enough to pick a winner. Just for kicks, I looked up a random number generator to make my pick for me. A result from 1 to 46 would mean victory for Russia, while 47 to 100 would lean toward Canada. Here's what happened:

...and the result was:

I kid you not.

This divine intervention gave me the clarity to foresee the other three winners: Slovakia, Sweden and the USA.


QF Frenzy

- The way things stand right now (after Canada's 3-2 win ofer the Czechs yet before the Swe-Svk game), there is a 65% chance Canada will face Russia in the Round of Death. The chances are 15% for Slovakia and 20% for Sweden. These figures are calculated from the bookies' current odds of W-L-T in the final two remaining games.

- Speaking of the bookies, the Swedish insinuations of throwing today's game may not mean anything, but the story sure affected the odds. They were dead even yesterday; now Svk is a heavy favourite.

- There's nothing like the Olympics to bring out the manic bi-polarity of Canadian hockey fans. It's like the whole country becomes Habs fans for a few days. The only hockey nuts in the world more likely to have a bleeding ulcer right now: the Czechs.

- The three goals Canada scored in the first period today have quelled the pundits' hand-wringing about our offense for now. What worries me: when Canada takes a lead, they have trouble defending it, and when they fall behind early they show no signs of getting back up.

- No matter who Canada faces tomorrow, they will have one small advantage: a little bit more rest. All three possible opponents are involved in the late games, while Canada played mid-afternoon.


Who Should Be On Team Canada

Yes, that title is intended to bait you. So, who indeed should have been named to the team? Staal? Sid? Spezza?

Nope. You can speculate about players until the cows come home. The fact is, as usual, Team Canada has the best collection of individual players in the tournament. The problem has not been the player selection.

Now, how about Darryl Sutter. We all saw how Brent brought together the Canadian juniors and instilled an all-for-one attitude to decisively win the WJHCs, despite being overmatched talent-wise by a couple of other teams. Darryl does the same thing with his Flames. So far the Finns have looked like a Sutter coached team, and they are starting to look like a medal favourite. In fact, I'll make a prediction: if Canada does not win this thing, we will see a Sutter behind the bench in Vancouver. Indeed, we might see that even if Canada wins this year.

Of course, my suggestion is based on the premise that the team is indeed giving a full effort and trying to win every game but failing. Some (including some players) have suggested that they aren't taking the round robin seriously and are saving their best effort for the medal round. Personally, I think it's pure rationalization. But, hey, whatever works. They'd better hope it works or they'll find themselves in the figure skaters' kiss & cry zone without a medal.


IIHF is a Joke

What is with all the absurd rules? The Canadian women will be the visiting team in their final versus the Swedes. Doug Weight was assesed a minor penalty for not immediately retreating to his bench after his helmet was knocked off by an opponent. If a goalie chooses to make a save with his mask (as Hasek has been known to do), play is stopped immediately for concern for his well-being. If the IIHF is so focused on safety - they also mandate the use of visors - how can they let Jaromir Jagr play with that relic of a helmet??

There has always been a divide between the North American game and the International game, but some of these "rules" are just out to lunch. It seems like they make decisions out of spite, just to make the point that they don't like many aspects of the North American/NHL game. Now, I'm not saying that international hockey should aim to be like the NHL circa 1975. There should not be the present gap between NA hockey and European hockey, and the IIHF should not be making these idiotic decisions unilaterally.


World Pond Hockey Championships

After the build-up of the US Pond Hockey Championship and the Canadian Pond Hockey Championship comes the 5th Annual World Pond Hockey Championship at Roulston Lake in Plaster Rock, NB.

This event takes place just up the road from me. Well, 100kms up the road. From it's humble beginnings as a beerfest punctuated by games of shinny, it has really grown into a big international event (without losing the beerfest).

This year, 120 teams representing 12 Canadian provinces/territories, 26 U.S. states and 12 countries will vie to have their names carved into the holy Wooden Cup.

A team from Calgary called the Rustlers has procured a
ringer by the name of Brian Skrudland. Can this trade deadline acquisition help the Rustlers unseat the mighty Boston Danglers, a group of Canadian ex-pats who are the two-time champs? Stay Tuned!

Update: The Danglers achieved their three-peat! Congrats!


Streit Shooter

It was Habs d-man Mark Streit who scored the game winner on the PP as the Swiss upset the Czechs 3-2 today. Aebischer, who replaced Martin Gerber in the third period in yesterday's 5-0 loss to Finland, was splendid. So far, Aebischer has stopped 53 of 55 shots in four periods of hockey. I'm guessing we've seen the last of the Gerber baby in this tournament.


Steve Simmons is a colossal hypocrite. He has the gall to say Gretzky's presence at the Olympics detracts from the coverage of the amateur athletes. Since Steve is covering the Gretzky "story" rather than actual Olympic competition in this very column, are we to assume that Wayne himself - or perhaps his wife Janet - forced Simmons at gunpoint to attend the press conference? More likely, Simmons was coaxed by an irresistible smorgasbord of cappuccino and biscotti, or whatever the Italian equivalents of coffee and donuts are. How could silver medallists Renner and Scott possibly compete with that?


Here's an interesting tidbit that I hadn't heard before:
"In 1989, Olaf Kolzig was at Canada's training camp for the World Junior Championships. He made the team and he was asked for his passport number as the team prepared documents to travel over seas. Kolzig's passport had too many numbers. It was a German passport. Kolzig wasn't a Canadian citizen. He had lived in Nova Scotia since he was three, but he never became a citizen. Kolzig couldn't get his Canadian citizenship in time and he missed the World Juniors."


Mike Ulmer, on Journalists

"Put more than two of us on the same story and the group IQ lowers by 50%. Keep taking off 50% with each addition until we become this big stupid mass of microphones and notepads, a dumb, braying jackass convinced that somewhere, just beyond our scent, lies scandal."
This might be the single most astute thing Ulmer has ever had to say.

Pre-season Predictions Revisited

Since there is nothing going on NHL-wise, let's evaluate preseason predictions.

I assembled these spreadsheets to analyze the predictions of five bloggers, three media sources, and one in-between. First, we have everyone's predicted ranking for each team:

Now, a look at the absolute difference between each ranking and the team's actual current ranking:

My apologies if the above are unreadable. I used a small font to get all 32 lines on one screen.

I used Jes Gőlbez's summary for seven of the nine sets of predictions: his own, The Puck Stops Here, HockeyAnalysis.com, James Mirtle, McKeen's, The Hockey News, and Sports Illustrated. I dug up Chris McMurtry's from his archives, and mine from my archives.

For the actual current standings, I used
Zorak's points-per-game. Now, onto the results...

Bloggers vs. Media: Bloggers, by a considerable margin. Of the media sources, only McKeen's did better than average. That isn't surprising. THN and SI are (mostly) well written, and thus their picks were probably made by writers. I get a much bigger "stats geek" vibe from McKeen's. Their writing is inferior; their hockey knowledge is superior.

Most Surprising In A Good Way: Carolina, Rangers, Buffalo. No surprise there. Mirtle came closest with the 'Canes and Sabres, picking them for 8th and 9th respectively. The highest the Rangers were pegged was 12th (by yours truly and THN). Dallas is the surprise of the Western Conference. I came closest with the Stars, placing them 6th.

Most Surprising In A Bad Way: San Jose and Boston. Again, no surprise at all. SI had the B's at 6th and THN had the Sharks at 4th.

Easiest picks: Ottawa and Washington in the East, Colorado and St. Louis in the West.

Best pick: Mirtle, putting the 'Canes in a playoff spot.

Worst pick: THN, placing the Preds at 13th.

Best Western Conference: Jes Gőlbez's

Best Eastern Conference: Mirtle

Best Overall Predictions: The Ranting One

Most Ignorant of the NHL: Sports Illustrated!

I'll have to remember to look at this again at the end of the regular season.


Here's where Canada should concentrate it's funding for athletes: buck-toothed female skiers. So far in Torino,

Jennifer Heil and Beckie Scott have combined for one gold and one silver medal.

I know, I know - I'm awful.


Pot Calls Kettle Black

Rene Fasel is miffed at NHLers who are unwilling to play in the Olympics:
"Anyone who has this egoism, just to work for their own team or their own profit, they should forget that," he said.
That's rich - almost as rich as some IOC members.

Oh, they market the Olympics as the great symbol of purity in sport, but the men (and the occasional woman) wearing suits profit immensely from the Games - and on the backs of amateur (mostly) athletes at that.

"I cut my bum"

...said Mathieu Turcotte back in 2002, after a four-skater pile-up in the 1000m Short Track final at Salt Lake.

There are all kinds of interesting features in CBC's Olympics In-Depth section linked to above. One of my faves is
this one on Eddie 'the Eagle.' (Edwards, not Belfour.) Man, he looks a lot like Bubbles.

Also, check out the interesting interview of Clara Hughes - one of Canada's greatest athletes ever.


Big News

Captain Saku Koivu has been signed to a three year extension.

That means Koivu will around for the 100th anniversary festivities in 2008-09, which was no doubt a consideration for Gainey during negotiations.

Of course, some might question this decision, saying it doesn't make sense to sign a somewhat injury-prone vet well into their 30's. Time will tell whether this is a smart hockey move - whether the team will get a fair return on their dollar from Koivu. He will be only 34 at the end of the extension, so the risk isn't huge.

At the risk of sounding Pollyannically naive, some things are more important to an institution like the Canadiens than on-ice production per dollar. This extension had to be done. I'd like to see Koivu become this team's Yzerman, in that it becomes inconceivable to imagine him wearing another another NHL team's uniform.


Olympic Predictions - The Bookie Edition

These are from an internet gambling website that amalgamates the odds offered by numerous online bookmakers:

Now, here are my predictions:

I picked the Slovaks to usurp 3rd in their group just to make for a much more interesting quarter-final: Can-USA and Cze-Svk, along with Swe-Fin and Rus-Sui. Switzerland is primed to overtake Germany for #8 in a 7-horse race. Now that Sturm and Hecht are out, it should be a rough ride for the Deutschlanders.

Now for the medal round:

Gold - Canada
Silver - Czech

Bronze - Russia

4th - Sweden

5th - Slovakia, USA, Finland, Switzerland
9th - Germany, Latvia, Italy, Kazakhstan

I'm picking Canada for the gold because they get home ice (I think) against the Czechs in their final game of the round robin. That gives them a miniscule edge for 1st in the group, and home ice the rest of the way. Russia gets the bronze only because of the spate of injuries to Sverige.

This does not mean that I think Canada will probably win the gold. In fact, I think they probably will not. There was only one bookmaker that had the Canadians as the odds-on favourite at 1.85:1. If I could get even odds on "Canada will win gold" or "Canada will not win gold," I would have to take the latter. However, I do think their odds are better than anyone else's. Hence the prediction.

The entire schedule is available here.


Now for the Canadiens content. What a close season series:

Nov. 04: Mtl 3, Buf 2
Nov. 05: Buf 2, Mtl 3
Nov. 25: Mtl 1, Buf 3
Dec. 01: Buf 3, Mtl 2 OT
Feb. 07: Buf 3, Mtl 2 OT
Feb. 09: Mtl 3, Buf 2 OT

There have been 15 points distributed over the 6 games: Mtl 8, Buf 7. The total goals are Buf 15, Mtl 14.

Gainey paired up Ribeiro and Kovalev four games back, and the duo has been excellent. Ribeiro is 0g, 3a, +3 and Kovalev is 3g, 3a, +3 since then.



«Ça fait au moins cinq ou six fois que je suis testé depuis que je suis professionnel», a rappelé José Théodore.

That's what Jose Theodore said here in an article was published yesterday, before the news of his most recent test broke. Translated to the best of my ability, that is, "I have been tested five or six times already as a professional."

If Jose had been using Propecia for "eight to nine years," why hadn't it been caught by one of those previous tests?

Something smells fishy.


No More Pandering

In John Buccigross' latest column, he covers the RBK uniform issue:

"The NHL and its marketing minds are more concerned with the visual impact of a potential change. I had dinner with a high-level member of the NHL front office a couple of years ago, and I remember that person lamenting the fact that the players' bodies were not on proper display. NBA players wear shorts and tank tops, baseball uniforms show off players' bodies, and NFL players wear spandex; some believe this assists in boosting the female fan base."

Can you imagine if this was being said about the women's game? "Tighter-fitting uniforms will really show off these women's bodies, and will boost the male fan base!" I think it goes without saying that the women would be better off without those fans.

More Bucci:

"The lockout exemplified that the NHL is not concerned with the hardcore fan, because they know they'll always stay. You are in love, and you are loyal. The NHL is looking to grow its market share. ...the future of the NHL should not be left in the hands of Bob Pulford, Harry Sinden, John Muckler and other members of the Charles Montgomery Burns Fan Club. They will always stay with the status quo because that has kept them employed for 100 years."

I am so sick of every product trying to be everything to everyone. If I want to hear ear-shredding pop music, I'll go to pop concerts. If I want to win prizes, I'll go play Bingo. If I want to get extreme I'll watch the X-games. If I want to look at buff dudes, I'll go see the Chippendales.

While the NHL can attract some fans by adding these marketing elements, it comes at the expense of the hockey experience. Fans attracted by this bunk will be the first to get bored and move on to something else. It will be the hockey experience that will build hardcore fans, the fans that will pass their passion onto others and onto the next generation.

By sticking with the simple elegance of the game, you can build institutions like the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins - institutions with roots that can weather bad times and remain successful. Of course, the marketroids don't care about this - their success is measured by the number of bums in the seats for the next home date.

There is something to be said for tradition. It's what has made the Rochester Americans and Hershey Bears stable and successful in the notoriously volatile AHL, while franchises like the X-Treem Ice MegaStarz appear and disappear every season. It's why MLB teams still wear pinstripes and leather belts. Baseball respects it's roots, and it respects the fans that are fond of those roots. The day I see David Wells in spandex is the day I'll tolerate RBK's new allegedly skin-tight marketing abomination.

Oddly, Bucci later contradicts himself:

"The NHL is a niche sport in the States and it always will be. But that's OK. I like niche things."
Agreed. Unfortunately, the league would rather hand the marketing reins to whoever can promise the widest appeal right now, future of the game be damned.


Last night saw the Habs throw away another point in the standings on special teams. Montreal marginally outplayed the Sabres, but incurred seven minor penalties to Buffalo's three. A virtually-unheard-of 5-on-3 PP in OT led to Afinogenov's winner.

Looking at the Canadiens' roster, you would think the small, fast Canadiens would be one of those teams that would benefit from stricter calls this season. They should be thriving just like the Buffalo Sabres. Instead, they're 27th in PP opportunities (303) and are 16th in PKs (338). I bet the number of 5-on-3's is even worse.

The Habs are also 27th in PIM differential per game. They are racking up 15.6 PIMs/game to their opponents' 13.4. That's a big difference. The only clubs worse in this regard are Chicago, Florida and Washington. Montreal is slightly better than Columbus, the Isles and Pittsburgh. That's a lot of stinky teams.

Out of curiosity, I checked the correlation of the PIM/game differential with team ranking, as per Jes Gőlbez's recent post, and came up with .429 - a stronger correlation than PK%, hits, FO% or SOG.

I just can't think of a good explanation for their PIM differential. The Habs don't seem like a clutchy-grabby bunch. Like I said, they are a good skating club as a whole, and should be drawing more penalties than they are receiving. After Ribeiro's dramatics in the '04 playoffs and Markov (who has also been known to embellish) shoving a linesman this year, I wonder if the Habs' reputation has cost them the benefit of the doubt with the zebras this year?

Conspiracy theories aside, it's clear that the Habs have to find a way to even up the calls, or get more to swing the other way.


Enough with the goalie talk already

The latest G.C. (that's Goaltending Controversy) in Montreal has spawned a bevy of articles on Huet and Theodore.

There's even a feature on
Carey Price at NHL.com.


Why did Alex Kovalev sign with Montreal? The avid fans and hockey atmosphere? His outstanding run in the '04 playoffs? The history of the franchise? Nope.

"It was simple. They were the only team that was interested, and that's why I signed. I can't really shop around if nobody's giving me anything."
Kovy should really think about getting a P.R. briefing before he speaks.


Jussi '8-for-8' Jokinen is left handed. In shootouts, he always moves from right to left. For all seven goalies he has faced, this is toward the stick side. This is advantageous for both of his options. If he shoots, he uses his forehand, plus he doesn't have to contend with the faster glove hand. If he pulls out the sneaky backhand drag, the goalie doesn't have his stick in his left hand to lay across the goal line.

If Jokinen faces a right-catching goalie, he loses these two big advantages. Prediction: If Jokinen is stopped in a shootout this year, it will be by the right-catching Mathieu Garon. The Stars will meet the Kings three more times.

Attention Western Conference: Think eight is enough for Jussi? Jose Theodore catches with his right.


Thanks, Don!

Atlanta Thrashers GM Don Waddell has provided some excellent bulletin board reading material for the Canadiens, Bruins, Leafs etc.
“We'll be in the playoffs," Waddell told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on
Saturday night. “If you want to write 'guarantee,' I have no problem with that.”

Of the six teams mentioned in my previous post, Atlanta appears to have the hardest climb to make the playoffs. They have done very well to recover from their horrid start, but they have a lot of tough road games ahead. Home ice has been far more important this year than in the last few seasons.

Habs superBowl over Flyers

Given the circumstances, we should have expected a win. Both teams were playing back-to-back games, but the Flyers played the previous night in Philly while the Habs were home for their afternoon win over the B's. Also, while Montreal was *finally* healthy, the Flyers have been decimated by injuries. They were missing three centres (Primeau, Nedved and a guy named Forsberg), three defensemen (Desjardins, Johnsson, Therein) and a horse (Branko Radivojevic). To top it all off, Mike Rathje left the game in the 2nd period with - what else - a groin pull.

Nevertheless, les boys can take pride in
how the game was won. It was the most I've seen them outplay an opponent this season. After many years of being dominated by John Leclair er - the Flyers, they've turned the tables by winning all three matchups this year.

The Bell Centre crowd demanded to learn the identity of the masked man who had replaced Jose Theodore as they chanted: "Who, Eh? Who, Eh?" Or maybe they were chanting, "Huet! Huet!" I'm not really sure. It was, in fact, Cristobal Huet posting back-to-back shutouts in back-to-back afternoon games. Despite Huet's outstanding play and the confidence he gives the team, we have not seen the last of Theo. For better or for worse, Theo's contract dictates that he is the Big Man on this team. That gives him way more benefit of the doubt than he deserves. By all reasonable standards on the ice, he should be relegated to backup duty for the remainder of the year (or at least until Huet falters badly). Let him try to win the #1 job at camp next fall.


In the most recent issue of The Hockey News, there is a little piece on the strength of each team's remaining schedule, based on the points-per-game earned by their remaining opponents. The league average is 1.11. Montreal's opponents average 1.07, giving them the sixth easiest remaining schedule in the league (by this measure).

There appears to be a six team race for the last three playoff spots in the East. Not to discount the possibility of an Islander surge or a tragic slump by a top team, but it will probably boil down to Tampa, New Jersey, Toronto, Montreal, Atlanta and Boston (standings gleaned from TSN.ca):

According to the THN standard, Tampa has a relatively easy schedule remaining. The Devils, Thrashers and Leafs have average schedules, and Boston faces the toughest path.
I've gone a little further, and broken down the number of home/road games and remaining games vs. the other five teams competing for a playoff spot:

Their destiny is still in their own hands: the Habbies not only have a softer schedule, they also have more home games and home games against the competition. Of course, having more games remaining also means a denser schedule... There are still four games against the Sabres and three vs. the Islanders.

Immediately following the Olympic break, Montreal will venture out on a six game, ten day road trip. If you must go on a monster road trip, I guess that's the time to do it - right after a two week break. Mark your calendars: game #5 on March 7 worries me. It is the second in two nights, and it is in Toronto to face the Leafs who should be well-rested. Given how the last big road trip worked out, the stars appear to be lining up for a backbreaker for the Habs and a big boost for the boys in blue.


Worth reading

Now this is truly in-depth. The Hockey Rodent provides a
complete dissertation on Petr Prucha's MCL sprain, including an animated GIF dissecting the anatomy of the right knee...

"...Stevenson's right leg applies lateral force (red arrow) to Prucha's upper fibula which bends the knee joint sideways, stretching the MCL (green) to the point it tears slightly. Yellow lines are to emphasize the sideways (unnatural) bending. "
Japers' Rink has a most excellent account of what must have been a most excellent experience - watching the home team beat the Leafs from the owner's box.


New Uniforms

With the news about Reebok's "RBK's" new concept hockey uniforms, a "friend" sent me this image of the Habs' new sweater:

Har har.


If you're looking for commentary on last night's game, check out this entry at Bruins by the Jake. It has a much more positive tone than anything I would write.

Righting a Historic Wrong

As noted at the Battle of Alberta, SI published their top 10 NHL rookie seasons yesterday. Incidentally, Japers' Rink did a top 11 a mere two weeks ago. Makes you wonder where SI gets their story ideas...

Predictably, Gretzky's rookie season
was mentioned at BoA. It was a travesty Wayne didn't get the Calder. Lucky for him, he went on to have a pretty good career anyway.

When the WHA merged with the NHL, players from the WHA were declared ineligible for the Calder Trophy because they had already played at least a year of professional hockey. This makes sense for a guy like
Real Cloutier who had five seasons under his belt before joining the NHL.

Wayne Gretzky began his first NHL season in '79-80 as an 18 year old. Although he played a year in the WHA, he started as a 17 year old. He wouldn't even have been allowed to play in the NHL.

As everyone knows, Wayne had a pretty good year. He finished with 137 points, tying him with Marcel Dionne for the league scoring lead. That year was Dionne's career high. Guy Lafleur finished third, with 125 points. Lafleur's career high was 136 in '76-77.

Also of note, Gretzky won the Hart Trophy. This was in an era when journalists voted simply for the best player in the league, before they decided to delve into the semantics of the Hart Trophy criteria. Now you often hear journalists cite the "player judged to be the most valuable to his team" phrase to justify voting for a player who miraculously lifted his team above expectations. (By the "most valuable to his team" logic, shouldn't the winner always be a goalie??)

Gretzky's first year as an 18-19 year old was better than the very best seasons of Marcel Dionne and Guy Lafleur, who were both 28 and in their prime. Those are two Hall Of Fame players, and not exactly Clarke Gillies calibre HOFers. Oh yeah - Gretzky accomplished this without Charlie Simmer, Dave Taylor or Steve Shutt. He did it with B.J MacDonald on his wing. MacDonald had 46 goals in 80 games that year, and 45 goals in the other 139 games of his career. He was later reborn as Rob Brown.

Denying Gretzky the Calder was simply carrying on the NHL-WHA grudge and holding it against an incredible young player. It was a subtle way of saying "you shoulda waited and played in the NHL." Articles like the one from SI shouldn't continue to perpetuate the NHL's stupidity from 25 years ago.

Update: To perfectly make my point about the Hart for me, Terry Koshan says "Ovechkin fits definition of award." What an insult to legitimate Hart candidates like Jagr.


Mudcrutch provides some sound logic for moving Theo to Washington:

"Oddly though, there are teams out there who I think should be interested in Theodore. In the old NHL, it was always the good teams looking to make moves to take on salary. In the new NHL, it makes more sense for a bad team to make this move. Why? The salary floor."

Well worth reading - it's just crazy enough to work!


A fellow by the name of Gabriel Desjardins has produced some excellent articles at behindthenet.ca.

Here, he uses math to project Sid Crosby's point total for this season based on his numbers in junior. He comes up with an estimate of 89. As of this very minute, Crosby is actually on pace for 91. Whoa.


Happy Groundhog Day

From Kevin Gibson's Thursday Hockey Report:

"It's Ground Hog Day, the furry rodent came out of his hole, pulled his groin, scored three goals on Jose Theodore and went back to sleep."

The Habs have been getting blown out an awful lot lately, but at least they're infecting their opponents with their craptitude. Teams must be picking up a lot of bad habits in their cakewalks over les Canadiens.

On Jan. 21, after getting burned for 6 goals in the first 15 minutes of a 6-2 loss in Vancouver, the Canucks proceeded to lose 4-0 to the mighty Blues. They then lost 6-5 to the Bluejackets and 2-1 to the Wings.

On Jan. 26 the Habs directed only 12 shots at Dominik Hasek as they lost 3-0 to the Sens. Then Ottawa got smoked 5-0 by the Bruins, and lost 5-3 in the New Jersey swamp last night.

Finally, on Jan. 23, Carolina whipped Montreal 7-3. Then they reeled off three straight wins. But they couldn't slump yet because they would play the Habs again on the 31st - which was an 8-2 drubbing. Let's see if the infection takes this time...


It's Official

The increase in scoring in the NHL this season is entirely due to the play of Jose Theodore.

Theo was given the start and a chance to redeem himself. I mean, he couldn't be any worse than
last time (5 goals on 18 shots), could he?

Theo outdid himself. This time it was 5 goals on 10 shots. In his last two starts vs. the 'Canes, he has a 11.08 GAA and .643 Sv%. His season numbers: A 3.46 GAA, good for 40th out of 44 netminders listed in the nhl.com stats, and a .881 Sv%, ranking him 42nd - better only than Lalime and Thibault.

Do we have the next
Jim Carey on our hands, or is this merely the mother of all slumps? More importantly, how much longer does Gainey wait to find out? There has to be a Tim Thomas somewhere in the Habs' system. It might even be Huet.


Speaking of Lalime...

"LALIME TO HABS? The Blues have recalled Patrick Lalime, but the former Senators goalie must first clear waivers before he returns to the NHL. There's speculation the Habs could be interested."

Yes, Patrick Lalime - the one NHL(?) netminder whose psyche is as frail as Theo's, and whose numbers are actually worse. It's too late for Breezy to join in, but perhaps the pair could form a support group, improve their self-esteem and carry the Habs into the playoffs.


Speaking of Brisebois, another defenseman has been booed out of town -
this time, in Edmonton.
In a twisted way, this story is a mild relief. It means Montreal isn't the only town that can stress players to the point of illness. I worry for the future of the Habs when I read about players who are unwilling to deal with the
pressure-packed environment in Montreal, and meanwhile the Leafs are getting hometown discounts for Ontario lads. That Edmontonians can be just as mean-spirited provides a glimmer of hope for the Canadiens.


Olli Jokinen will be a UFA next season. He would plug two holes for the Habs - size on the front lines, and goal scoring ability. Unfortunately, being a very young UFA of his calibre, he will command a very hefty price. But wouldn't it be nice to boast Team Finland's top two centres? Amassing players of a given European nationality has been all the rage lately. You had the Russian Five in Detroit, the Czechmates in New York... how about the Flying Finns in Montreal? If only Dallas hadn't already hoarded so many.


How did the Hurricanes get to be so damned good?

Answers to this question often point to Rod Brind'Amour's resurgence, or the secondary scoring acquired this year. I'm going to go with the obvious reason: Eric Staal. Just because a reason is obvious doesn't mean it's wrong. Staal gives Brind'Amour the leads to protect. His work against the checkers creates room for the secondary scorers. The guy is a star. I'm not prepared to give Stillman and Whitney credit as long as they continue to pull their disappearing act in the playoffs.

There are a couple of other little things that are different this year: They're getting goaltending from Gerber and Ward that Irbe never could provide, and they regularly play seven defensemen (although only six played last night).

Two d-men, Wesley and Hutchinson, left the game with injuries in the first period last night. Under normal circumstances this would be crippling, but the 'Canes still had the legs to win (and win with style). We've seen absences on the blueline ruin games for the Habs several times this season. With Dandenault on the bench, it would seem like a no-brainer to dress seven defensemen. But what do I know.