Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Gomez Gone

Well, Sather is willing to shake things up after all. In what appears to be a cap-clearing move (one of the two it was possible to make), Scottie Gomez is now a Montréal Canadien. In return, we got a fellow named Chris Higgins. (We also traded 2 prospects each, Tom Pyatt and Mike Busto for Ryan McDonagh and Pavel Valentenko. Valentenko and McDonagh are both defenseman.) Higgins is a 26-year-old, 6', 202-lb center who has scored 151 points in 282 games with the Canadiens. He's nothing special. But he does clear out a substantial portion of Gomez's team-leading $7.4 million cap hit.

I'm sad to see Scottie go, I really liked him. But he'll do great in Montréal, and he was one of the only legitimate moves (with Drury) we could have made to clear space. Redden and Rozsival will not be taken off of our hands unless they're coupled with something good, and Hank is off-limits. I think his game this season will be much better than it was last season, and I'm sad that his time with us couldn't have been more productive.

Still, this feels like a positive step toward the future. I wonder if Torts will actually make Dubinsky our first line center, let Drury do his job as second line center, and let Anisimov, Higgins, and Boyle compete for 3rd and 4th line. I also wonder if this isn't just Step One: the cap room this clears us allows us to try to take on a contract like Heatley's without bleeding ourselves dry. Girardi and Rozsival for Heatley? Too many possibilities. Stop thinking about a first line made up of Dubinsky, Callahan, and Heatley. Right now, we're here to talk about one trade.

All in all, I'm a little sad, as my Dad is, about still not having an identity. This major shakeup happens every off-season now, and it's hard to think about anyone besides Lundqvist as a "career Ranger." Hopefully some of that will start to settle as we build our team around youth. For now, we wish all the best to Scott Gomez in Montréal, and we look to what Sather's next move is gonna be.

Better clarification on Heatley

Apparently Heatley's contract includes a $4 million bonus paid to him for still being on the team July 1 (that date was picked because it's the beginning of signing season, not the other way around). So, that's why Ottawa is panicking. That is all.

Trade rumors

Times like these, my blog pretty much becomes a mouthpiece for Blue Notes, which keeps breaking stories faster than anyone else. The important bit here is Dany Heatley. Apparently after their discussions with us fell through Friday evening, Ottawa proceeded to do absolutely nothing with Heatley, who really does not seem to want to be a Senator anymore. Now, they're getting desperate to make a move, what with tomorrow being July 1.

Let me attempt to explain something I don't fully understand: if Ottawa can trade Heatley away, they'd be subject to whatever terms they came to with the team they trade to. However, the new season starts July 1 by some kind of official reckoning - this is what makes RFAs become UFAs on this date. Apparently, Ottawa would have to begin paying Heatley's '09-'10 salary starting tomorrow. That's a lot of money. Which is why they're looking to move him today. Or something like that - the point is: Ottawa is desperate to move him by tomorrow, so they might be lowering their standards.

I'd do Drury and Redden for Heatley in a heartbeat. Although Drury would fit on the current Sens even less than Heatley does.

According to Steve Zipay (of Blue Notes), the names being tossed around the Heatley deal are Dubinsky, Zherdev, and Rozsival. I'd be ok with Heatley for Rozsival and Zherdev, I think? I'd hate to see Dubi go for him. I know Heatley is a way better hockey player than Brandon Dubinsky, but Dubi's just a kid, and I'd like to start actually building the team around some of our own.

Ah, well, no sense speculating: there are just way too many possibilities right now to start worrying about this. The point is: things might still be happening, and we'll know more when they start to actually happen. For now, relax! Have a beer!

As we expected

...word on the street is Dubi, Cally, and Korpikoski all got their qualifying offers. No surprises. Expect these to total somewhere around $3 million, I think? I imagine they'll all accept. I imagine that by noon Wednesday, some of this will solidify.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Congratulations, Torts

A quick moment taken away from roster calculations to congratulate John Tortorella on being named one of the two assistant coaches for the 2010 U.S. Olympic men's ice hockey team. Way to go, Torts! In tribute, I'll share what came out of his mouth at camp today (everything that comes out of his mouth is good news for us): "As far as the lines are concerned, as far as the makeup of our team, from Scott Gomez right on down, the only guy I know is gonna be there is Hank. He's gonna be our starting goalie. But other than that, it's wide open. And I'm not afraid of youth. It's going to be done on merit."

More thoughts on roster

Reading this Larry Brooks article and trying to make heads or tails of it. The point of the piece is that the Rangers traded a 2010 pick to the Kings for 4th line center Brian Boyle. Yet another sign we won't be retaining Blair Betts. This makes me hell of sad. I guess we figure Boyle's gonna be way cheaper? But fine, whatever. The point Brooks makes is that we're sad to see the 3rd round pick go, because we could maybe have used it to get Phil Kessel from Boston. Could we have picked up Kessel while keeping room to afford a full roster by holding onto that one pick? Brooks thinks so. If he's right about that, then yeah, the Boyle move was horrible, because yes of course I would give up those picks to have Phil Kessel. Is that realistic? No idea, and I don't care anymore, 'cause it's off the table now.

But in making this point, Brooks brings up a lot of roster info that I'm having trouble understanding. The first point Brooks makes is very interesting. Boyle comes with the modest price tag of $832,000. Remember how I said we weren't going to offer Sjostrom a qualifying offer? Yeah, the number we failed to offer him was $882,000. So Boyle's worth .83 AND a pick, but Sjos isn't worth .88? That's interesting. I guess we really, really figure we're going to have to let Betts go, and we need a cheap replacement??

Then Brooks goes on to make a claim about money and players that I'm having some trouble filling out. But to get you there, first I need to fill you in on a few details I've neglected:

1. Back on May 1, the Rangers extended Valiquette's contract for another year for $725,000. That's important to get down. I couldn't be happier about it - as I've said many times, there's not a starter/backup pair in the league I'd rather build my team around.

2. It's time we mentioned prospects. I was gonna do a whole entry on just that, but I'm done saving the info: we should talk about it briefly now. Matt Gilroy, defenseman from Boston University, won 2009's Hobey Baker Award (given annually to NCAA Hockey's best individual). Also, he signed with us. This is not a small deal. He is supposedly fan-fucking-tastic. He's costing us $1.8 million, and that seems totally worth it to me. I'm...dreaming of a Gilroy-Staal top pair... (that was White Christmas)

3. Remember that Artem Anisimov character? We signed him for around $0.8 million. Whatever, sure.

4. In addition to talking about how Antropov, Sjostrom and Betts likely won't be back with us, Brooks mentions that we "won't have unwanted free agent Colton Orr." So, add him to the list of people we don't want back. You know: the fourth line. For some reason.

So, anyway, the point is that Brooks makes this claim that we have already committed $49.4 million to 2 goalies, 5 d-men, 5 centers, and 4 wingers (leaving us $7.4 million to sign a couple of defensemen and like 9 wings). I'll grant that we're in trouble similar to that, but I'm having trouble getting as far as he did. Here's what I have:

2 goalies (Lundqvist, Valiquette) = 6.9 + 0.7 = 7.6
5 d-men (Redden, Rozsival, Girardi, Staal, Gilroy) = 6.5 + 5 + 1.6 + 0.8 + 1.8 = 15.7
4 centers (Drury, Gomez, Anisimov, Boyle) = 7.1 + 7.4 + 0.8 + 0.8 = 16.1
3 wings (Avery, Voros, Zherdev) = 1.9 + 1 + 3.3 = 6.2
Total = $45.6 million for 2 goalies, 5 d-men, 4 centers, and 3 wingers, assuming Zherdev accepts our offer.

Now, that's not great as it is, but I'm trying to figure out where Brooks gets an extra wing and an extra center, especially totaling $3.8 million. Brooks specifically mentions that his numbers don't include Callahan (who, being up for arbitration, will likely resign with us very soon for significantly more than his current wage). Even if the numbers include Dubinsky (who, being an RFA, will end up back with us for right around the $633,333 he made last season), then I'm still a $3.2 million winger short of Brooks's numbers. The only person I can think of that might possibly fit this description would be Cally, who Brooks specifically excluded. So: maybe my numbers are a little bit off, is the point. But still, this is an approximate picture of where we are. To recap:

Under Contract
Scott Gomez
Chris Drury
Artem Anisimov
Brian Boyle
Sean Avery
Aaron Voros
Wade Redden
Michal Rozsival
Dan Girardi
Marc Staal
Matt Gilroy
Henrik Lundqvist
Stephen Valiquette

Probably signing with us soon
Brandon Dubinsky
Nikolai Zherdev
Lauri Korpikoski
Ryan Callahan

Probably leaving us soon
Blair Betts
Nik Antropov
Fredrik Sjostrom
Colton Orr

No idea whatsoever about Derek Morris or Paul Mara, but I'd expect one or both to go. That would leave us wanting to make a couple of defensemen and 4 or so wings out of basically no money. I imagine we've got to make some kind of deal this summer. Once again, here we are, over the summer, wondering about the New York Strangers. Again, it's all speculation, and again, I'm feeling...cautious. I'll keep you posted. Leave your thoughts in comments!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Salary cap, team update

You'll recall my previous discussion about our current team, a convenient chart from which will now be reprinted for your convenience.

Under contract (numbers listed are cap hit, not salary)
Scott Gomez - $7.4 million
Chris Drury - $7.1 million
Sean Avery - $1.9 million
Aaron Voros - $1 million
Wade Redden - $6.5 million
Michal Rozsival - $5 million
Dan Girardi - $1.6 million
Marc Staal - $0.8 million
Henrik Lundqvist - $6.9 million

Restricted free agents (* means eligible for arbitration)
Nikolai Zherdev *
Lauri Korpikoski
Fredrik Sjostrom *
Brandon Dubinsky
Ryan Callahan *

Unrestricted free agents
Nik Antropov
Blair Betts
Colton Orr
Derek Morris
Paul Mara
Stephen Valiquette

Markus Naslund

So we're committed to $38.2 million on those 9 players. Which, again, is horrible. The draft weekend news that people miss sometimes is the assignment of the season's salary cap. As expected, it rose marginally. Um...more marginally than you'd think. It went up $100,000. From $56.7 million to $56.8. So, yeah, we're in a pickle. 56.8 - 38.2 = 18.6, for those of you keeping score at home. $18.6 million to resign 10 people and find a replacement for Naslund. And that's just to get back up to as "good" as we were last season. So, yeah, some moves are gonna have to be made.

You know my plan: stick Redden in the minors, free up his salary. But that's not going to happen, I imagine. What likely will happen is we'll try to make some big trade to move Drury or Gomez's salary (since Redden and Roszival are completely unshoppable, and Lundqvist is completely off limits), and use that freedom to build the rest of a roster. So, that's where we stand.

Oh, yeah, and also there's a reason I wrote this post. There are developments.

1. It seems we've offered Nikolai Zherdev a $3.25 million qualifying offer. Yeah, that Nik. I'm not sure how to feel about this. On the one hand, I like Zherdev a lot, and Torts can probably whip him into shape over a season. On the other hand, he's incredibly inconsistent and 18.6 - 3.25 = 15.35!!! We'll see if he accepts it, possibly as soon as tomorrow.

2. Meanwhile, much to my girlfriend's dismay, the other Nik (you know - the consistent one) will almost certainly be departing us. Brooks reports that Sather referred to the contract he requested as "ridiculous." And I'm not sure how a team with $15 million to spend on 10 players comes to terms with a "ridiculous" contract request. I'm sad about this. If I was gonna spend $3 million on a Nik, it probably would have been Antropov. But my guess is that he asked for way more than that - in fact, rumor has it that he's looking to go unrestricted and find a multi-year deal at $5 million or more per. So, yeah - that wasn't gonna happen. I'm sad to see him go, but I guess that's life (when you sign your shitty pair of defensemen for $11.5 million worth of cap space).

3. Sjostrom will likely not return to Broadway this year. Slats revealed, apparently, that he won't be offered the $882,000 offer he'd need to qualify (ie not become an unrestricted free agent this summer). This one I'm sad about. If Zherdev is worth $3 million to us, Sjos is probably worth $1 million. He and Betts have been such a goddamn solid tandem, possibly the most consistent pair of forwards over the 2008-'09 season. Can you imagine how our season would have gone if we replaced our #1 PK unit with a middle-of-the-road PK? Yeah, exactly.

4. Speaking of our Penalty Kill, Steve Zipay reports that Slats thinks Betts "could be wooed by Edmonton." Of course, this means nothing much, but Betts is apparently on the table, I guess. Including an awkward "Tom [Renney] always liked him." I dunno how much credence or value to give to this, but it's interesting that Betts has come up as a give-uppable name before, like, Derek Morris? Whatever, he's a UFA anyway, so we'll see what offers come his way. We can't keep everyone I like.

Overall, in really good news, Sather seems to understand that it's time to concentrate on the youth. When asked about bringing in free agents to help out with our defensive problems, his answer was (thanks, Michael Obernauer) "(Matt) Gilroy, (Bobby) Sanguinetti, (Michael) Del Zotto, (Michael) Sauer, (Corey) Potter - there's five guys who are banging on the door to play...(Tomorrow), that's really the first indication of how serious these guys are about taking the jobs. There is opportunity there." ("Tomorrow" refers to the start of developmental camp.) That's a very promising answer. And while throwing money at Zherdev might seem a little weird, and losing Antropov is sad, it looks like an overall trend to concentrate on the youth, not to overspend on one or two silver bullets. Sure, I'm terrified - we've got major problems - but it's exciting to read headlines like "Sather knows it's time to get younger," even if it's meaningless.

Remember, kids: restricted free agency ends in 3 days. With the Zherdev and Sjostrom questions kinda answered, expect some kind of news on Callahan (eligible for arbitration) as well as Korpikoski and Dubinsky (not) within that time period. Also, as I mentioned, expect an answer from Zherdev.

I'll keep you posted!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Draft and so on

Well, well, well. It doesn't seem like it was all that long ago that Evgeni Malkin was staring down the barrel of a 2-0 series deficit, or that he was hauling the Conn Smythe down Boulevard of the Allies a few blocks from my office (in fact, it wasn't: it was 28 days ago and 13 days ago, respectively), and yet the 2009-'10 NHL season has already begun. Yes, the draft was this weekend, and as expected, it was full of news that a lot of people made out to be way more interesting than it really was, and also full of news that kinda matters a little.

Let's start with the moment the media has told you to all have been waiting for: your team's first round draft pick. We are led to believe that, in professional sports, a team's future is determined by its first round pick. As we know, the reports of this importance are greatly exaggerated. Unless you're the Pittsburgh Penguins - then, time and time again, the NHL draft will actually reshape your franchise from "move to Kansas City" to "win the Cup." Anyway, the point is: just like everyone else, we picked the guy we thought was the best guy available when it was our turn. We picked a kid named Chris Kreider. Some will tell you this was a horrible plan. These people miss the point: a hockey team like ours's problems do not get solved by bringing one high schooler into the system. That's dumb. Kreider is, apparently, the fastest skater eligible for the draft this year. He's also 6'2", 201 lbs. That sounds like a good combination, and a good guy to bring into your system and work on. Good work. We'll see how he is in a few years, when we hopefully bring him onto the squad. That's the whole analysis. He's a high schooler. Next year, he'll most likely be playing hockey for Boston College. So let BC worry about whether or not he's the savior. We'll move on to the Rangers.

In even less relevant but somewhat more interesting news, we drafted Ryan Bourque in the third round. This is interesting because, unlike Colton Orr, Ryan actually is the son of the guy you think he might be the son of. Is being as good at hockey as Ray Bourque genetic? I guess we'll see, the end.

To continue in that direction, to news even less relevant and even more interesting, apparently Sather was talking a lot to Senators GM Bryan Murray on Friday night. The word on the street is that Sather wanted to make a big deal for Dany Heatley, but Ottawa was asking too much. What on this squad is too much for Heatley? Must have involved 1-2 of Callahan, Dubinsky, Staal, and Lundqvist. Or, like, 7 players. Anything else probably would have been worth it. But whatever - if Slats is now erring on the side of keeping our kids over getting stars, I'm not sad about it.

There are two things that could actually substantively affect a team's immediate future that happen on draft weekend (again, excepting the Penguins): that team could make a big trade (you know, like, for example, Chris Pronger could become a Philadelphia Flyer), or the salary cap could change in a way that affects that team. Slats didn't make any deals. Guess what my next entry is about.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Mock Draft

With the draft only days away, it is customary for sportswriters who have run out of things to say about, in this case, what a hilarious mistake Marian Hossa made, to write Mock Draft stories. A mock draft is a nice, easy way to shit out a story: first, you take the NHL teams in order, 1 to 30, of when they will get to pick in the first round. Then you take the top 30 highest-ranked prospects eligible to be drafted, also in order. Line them up. Then switch some things around, based on the imaginary conversations among GMs, coaches, and players going on in your head. Finally (and this is the fun part!), write a little paragraph next to each one justifying the choice. Bear in mind that a one-sentence summary of that player's biggest strengths followed by a one-sentence summary of that team's biggest weaknesses will fill a paragraph! If you know NOTHING about the prospect, just talk about the team's needs: the readers will fill in the rest! Wasn't that fun?

Anyway, there are a lot of mock drafts around, and I assure you they're all fascinating, but if you read just one (and God help you if you read more), it should be The Province's Mock Draft of the top 30 phrases that will be used at the actual NHL Draft. Special Thanks right here on the blog go to anyone who turns this into a drinking game for me by Friday.

Hall of Fame

Along with Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull, and Luc Robitaille, our own Brian Leetch will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. The ceremony is November 9. Congratulations to 4 great players, including probably the greatest American-born NHL defenseman, Brian Leetch.

Monday, June 15, 2009

I saw the Stanley Cup today

So, I guess you probably may have heard that the Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup. Yeah, that happened. And you know what? They earned it.

No, seriously.

The Red Wings took a 2-0 series lead in two 2-goal games, and then they lost 4 out of 5. Yes, the NHL has been giving the Penguins preferential treatment. And yes, they absolutely helped right the ship when, after those first two games, Campbell sent a message to Malkin with the content "Don't worry about it - you and your boys are ok by us." But at the end of the day, they played like champions. There wasn't even a ton to complain about in Games 6 and 7, other than the slowly developing realization that Gary Bettman was going to get what he wanted: a 7-game series in which Sidney Crosby wins the Stanley Cup.

But the point is: the Penguins did win the Stanley Cup. And the NHL obviously wanting them to do so wasn't actually enough to make it happen. It couldn't be. The Pens came back and beat the Red Wings, for the most part, by playing better hockey than they did. And a hockey fan really can't begrudge them that. The Penguins earned the Stanley Cup last week. Evgeni Malkin earned the Conn Smythe. They beat the Wings to pucks, they kept control for vast stretches, and they weathered the storm when the Wings came back strong. Good for them.

I went down to the victory parade today. Not that I was gonna start chanting "Let's Go Pens" or anything, but how often is a dude like me gonna find himself a 15-minute walk from the Cup? So I went, and I watched throngs of excited Penguin fans yell and scream, blah blah blah. The parade was relatively tasteful - low budget, featuring a marching band and then the players and their families in cars. I cheered somewhat for Jordan Staal and Dan Bylsma and even Malkin and his Conn Smythe. I shrugged, somewhat confused, at Pascal Dupuis, and I said "who?" when Craig Adams went by.

Then I learned something about myself. Crosby's car was, of course, the last in the procession, bearing not only Sidney himself, but Lord Stanley's Cup. We know I don't really like Crosby. We know he represents what's wrong with the league in a way no other player does. And we know that next season, the first time Ryan Callahan checks him into the boards, I'll be cheering for it. But when he came down Boulevard of the Allies with the Cup in his hands, I couldn't find that feeling: I was too busy screaming like a little girl. Cause he was holding the goddamn Stanley Cup. Internal Revelation: my love for the Stanley Cup far outweighs my hatred of Sidney Crosby. Which is a nice thing to learn about oneself.

And while we're feeling all warm and fuzzy, I wanna talk a little about how great hockey is. Hockey is great for a lot of reasons, of course, but what might impress me most of all is the stuff we always take for granted: the traditions that enforce respect. We know about the handshake. At the conclusion of each NHL playoff series, since forever (the tradition predates the NHL), the two competing teams line up and each player on one team shakes the hand of each player on the other (except Martin Brodeur, who is above this particular tradition). What other sport does that? It shows a respect that every player is forced to show for every other - "this game is hard, good work" - that is amazingly absent from every other professional sport. I watched the Steelers win the Super Bowl a few months ago. I didn't see Kurt Warner give Mike Tomlin a hug at the game's end.

But what I really want to talk about is how this respect shows up in our trophies. You've heard it said that "there's only one Cup." Usually that means "nothing is quite like winning the Stanley Cup," but its more literal meaning really struck me today, as I saw it and the Conn Smythe drive through my city. There is only one Stanley Cup. There is only one Conn Smythe trophy. Malkin will get his name engraved on a leaf affixed to it next to a leaf bearing Henrik Zetterberg's, down way below leaves containing Jean Beliveau's and Bobby Orr's. The Stanley Cup famously bears the name of every single person in every single club that has ever won it.

What other sport does that?? The owner of the Super Bowl winner is awarded a new Vince Lombardi Trophy the night of the Super Bowl - it is then engraved and given back to the team, to keep. Ditto for the Pete Rozelle Trophy (Super Bowl MVP). A new Commissioner's Trophy is similarly built annually and given to the World Series winner, engraved with their name, as is MLB's World Series MVP Trophy. There's only one Walter A. Brown Trophy, which, through 1977, was presented to the winner of the NBA finals (a plaque was added each season bearing the winning team's name, though not the names of the players), but it's permanently on display at the NBA hall of fame, in favor of the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy, which is remade and given to the winning team permanently, every season. Ditto, as you might imagine, for the Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP Award. The FIFA World Cup actually takes a step in the right direction, but misses the point: the winning country and year are appended to the engraving on the bottom of the trophy (like, on the bottom, the face that is touching the table the trophy is sitting on, out of sight), and teams are given gold-plated replicas (the trophy itself is solid gold).

What's the point? Hockey throws its tradition in your face. If you win the Cup, your name, personally, will be engraved onto it. There, it will join the name of everyone else who has ever won it. You will keep it for a year, and then it is given to whoever wins it next. When you lift the Cup over your head, you remember everyone who has come before you. Everyone knows this about the Cup, but every so often, it's important to really pay attention to this. Respect it. There really is only one Cup. And that's totally fucking sweet.

So, anyway, congratulations to the Pittsburgh Penguins and to Pens fans. I may not agree with the culture of some of the team, and I certainly may not like Sidney Crosby or Gary Bettman's fellatio of him. But there's only one Cup, there's only one Champion, and you (or I) can't claim that the Penguins didn't earn it. And at least Michel Therrien didn't.

Two more quick, unrelated things before I go: I whine and bitch about sportswriters a lot (though not as much as some other people do), but I'm never as funny as the Onion.

Finally, from the pages of "Was It Really That Long Ago? Digest," yesterday, June 14th, 2009, was the 15th Anniversary of the day we won the Cup. I was 10, watching on TV downstairs, alone, because my dad was at the game. My mom came downstairs, very unhappy with how loud I was being on a school night. This marks the first time I ever remember feeling teen angst. 1.6 seconds tick off the clock, schoolyard chants of "19-40!" from Devil fans fade away (leaving behind only our responses of "19-Never!"), Messier jumps up and down as the streamers fall and "The waiting is over! The New York Rangers are the Stanley Cup Champions! And this one will last a lifetime!"

Here's hoping it doesn't have to, Sam.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Brief Roundup

1. JD's getting inducted into the Hall of Fame, winning the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award (the one Doc Emrick got last year). This is great. Though near the end of his broadcast career, JD got a little excuse-the-NHL happy, overall he was a Ranger icon, both in goal and in the booth, and I'm pleased to see him in the hall, where he no doubt belongs. Oh, Baby! Also, Leetch is officially eligible now. So watch as that story develops.

2. Sports Illustrated ranked the 5 best and 5 worst owners in each major sport. While Dolan managed to miss the NHL list (thanks, Chuck Wang), he made it to second worst on the NBA list, in a passage that we do not escape: "Subterfuging two of the most storied franchises in pro sports at once takes hard work, but Dolan has managed both. The business tycoon took a controlling stake in Cablevision in 1999, and immediately both of his marquee sports properties -- the Knicks and the NHL's Rangers -- tailspun into the most futile eras of their respective histories." Oof. Can not disagree.

3. Speaking of tail spins, is anybody still watching hockey? Pro tip: Canadians aren't. And is it any wonder, given the kind of tail spin Bettman's "model franchise" went through Saturday night? Talk about a complete breakdown, the kind that can only scream "but this was supposed to be us!!" And it wasn't even led by Crosbaby. Hell, it was barely Sid at all. But super-wow did Malkin ever get the "you're special, the rules don't apply to you" message Campbell handed down. And super-wow, was he ever not the only one. Forget Detroit, or even general NHL, reactions - let's go straight to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: "It almost seems comical now that some of the Penguins believed the Red Wings were in a state of disarray in Game 4...Shamefully, the Penguins lost their cool to the point that they took 12 penalties, including three by Evgeni Malkin and 10-minute misconducts by Craig Adams, Max Talbot and Matt Cooke. For a minute there, I thought I was watching the cheap-shot Philadelphia Flyers...I wonder what Bylsma would have said if a Detroit player had slashed, say, Sidney Crosby the way Talbot slashed Detroit star Pavel Datsyuk at the end of the second period." Yeah, exactly. Shameful. And speaking of shameful, NBC cut to Bettman's face in the third. Man, I wish I had found a picture of it online, but you'll have to settle for the Red Wings forums talking about it. Suffice it to say that no one is questioning that he's biased. Oh, and does he wanna tell me he's pouting because the kind of goonery he saw was ruining his sport? You chose this, Gary! This is the team you appointed to be the face of your franchise! YOU picked these guys! Next time, let the sport speak for itself, you hockey-ruining dipshit! YOU MADE CANADA STOP WATCHING HOCKEY! FUCK YOU!

Well, I...don't feel better. How about you?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

My thoughts on the Malkin-Zetterberg "incident"

So, my good friends over at Free Tank Carter, who, despite being Penguin fans, are knowledgeable about many non-hockey things that I could never hope to understand, recently asked, in a footnote to an otherwise enjoyable post, for their readers' opinions on "the Malkin fight," throwing in a quick "I'm in favor" before signing off. Rather than leaving a long-winded comment over there, I figured I'd just respond in full entry form over here. Cause why interact with people when you can yell into a cave instead?

First of all, for those of you who would rather read "legitimate" coverage of this latest in the circus that Bettman is running, I direct you to Greg Wyshynski of, yes, Yahoo! Sports.

For those of you that ill-advisedly remain here, let's dive right on in and have a look-see. As always, we'll provide the evidence, and then we'll discuss. With 18.2 seconds left in the game, Detroit up 3-1 and about to take a 2-0 series lead out of the opening pair, Chris Osgood made a save on a rocket from Malkin, stopping play. Maxime Talbot speared Osgood in the chest (presumably thinking he could push the puck through the goalie and into the net), which Henrik Zetterberg then took some issue with, going after Talbot. So far: unremarkable.

Then Malkin came around and started attacking Zetterberg. I say attacking because he started throwing "punches" long before he bothered to put his stick down. I say "punches" because they looked more like tree-chopping moves than anything else. Enough description. Video now, analysis after. For this one, I want you to watch all 1:52 of the video. It shows the incident live, then a closeup of Talbot's spearing, and finally, a closeup of Malkin's sweet sweet moves.

Forget Talbot's stabbing trick. It was a thing he did, it was against the rules, he deserved 2:00 and nothing more for it, he got 2:00 and nothing more for it, hooray. Pens fans are claiming Osgood dove. He probably didn't. I'm not sure what good it would have done him, to risk a dive with 18.2 seconds left in a 2-goal lead. But fine. Who cares? Move on from that penalty.

Watch Malkin. Talbot and Zetterberg are tangled up, and Malkin comes around, stick in hand, and starts whacking away at Z. Eventually, he drops the stick, and it becomes a proper "fight," I guess, until it ends. Now, here's the deal: the penalties, honestly, were fairly reasonable. Z got 5 for fighting, and Malkin got 17: the matching 5 for fighting, 2 for instigating (which is pretty unarguable), and a 10-minute misconduct (presumably for starting a huge, completely unnecessary fight with a guy who was facing the other way, to send a message with 18.2 seconds left, by hitting him with his stick). I'm comfortable with all this.

In fact, let me say, before I get into where this gets hairy, that I don't disagree with a lot of what Malkin did. End of a Game 2 loss to go down 2-0 to the team that beat you in 6 last finals. All the Pens are frustrated, because they finally, upon firing their empty shell of a coach, learned how to play with a system, and became a much more dominant team, only to run into the same infuriating brick wall they ran into a season ago. Malkin wants to lead his team with fierce action (he knows Crosbaby won't): he wants to send a message to his boys that they're not done yet, and he wants to send a message to the Wings that they have something to still be afraid of. If he remembers to put his stick down BEFORE he starts punching a dude (you know, so he can fight him like a man or something), I'm probably totally okay with this. I would still penalize him the 7 minutes, but I would think he did the right thing in taking those penalties for the good of the team, and I would absolutely not want to suspend him or anything.

Wha? Suspend?? I warned you that this would get hairy. There's this rule in the NHL, one of the many insane rules designed to "clean up the game" without a fundamental understanding of what "dirty" is. Rule 47.22 states:

A player or goalkeeper who is deemed to be the instigator of an altercation in the final five (5) minutes of regulation time or at anytime in overtime, shall automatically be suspended for one game. The Director of Hockey Operations will review every such incident and may rescind the suspension based on a number of criteria. The criteria for the review shall include, but not limited to, the score, previous incidents, etc.

Wow! So anyone who gets an instigator penalty in the last 5 minutes of a game gets a 1-game suspension, in the name of stopping teams from just sending out their goons to fuck shit up when the game is already lost. Principally, that makes sense. In practice, it can get a little questionable to do something that black-and-white, so they add this even more ridiculous clause whereby the Director of Hockey Operations can rescind the suspension based on [catch-all clause].

Put simply, an instigation minor in the last 5 minutes or overtime earns a one-game suspension, unless Colon Campbell doesn't want it to.

It should not surprise you that Colon Campbell didn't want it to. And, in fact, there's an argument that states that it shouldn't have. It might not be the best argument, but I would believe "Look, this rule is there to prevent a team from sending out its big hitters to injure people at the end of a lost game - there's nothing wrong with someone trying to send a message to his team by bringing in some energy. Malkin was clearly not trying to injure Zetterberg, we're not gonna take him out of a Stanley Cup Final game." It would be a little wavery and ridiculous, but at least it would make some coherent sense. As opposed to Campbell's actual reasoning:

None of the criteria in this rule applied in this situation. Suspensions are applied under this rule when a team attempts to send a message in the last five minutes by having a player instigate a fight. A suspension could also be applied when a player seeks retribution for a prior incident. Neither was the case here and therefore the one game suspension is rescinded.

Woof, Colon. Wow and oof. The argument here, if I understand it correctly, is that Malkin does not deserve a suspension because the suspension rule only applies when someone "attempts to send a message"? Go back up and watch that video again. 18.2 seconds left. Losing 3-1. Zetterberg just standing in the crease. Malkin facepalms him, then comes around and starts whacking at him with his stick. And your defense is...somehow...that he's NOT trying to send a message? Then what the fuck was he doing, auditioning for his summer job??

Let us review. The rule says that any instigator penalty in the last 5 minutes of the game warrants a one-game suspension, pending a big undo by Colon Campbell. Malkin receives a fairly unquestionable one (bear in mind (thanks to Wyshynski for this stat) that only 6% of fighting majors this year have come with an instigator penalty - it's not a common thing). He comes in with 18.3 seconds left in a 3-1 loss and goes specifically after Henrik Zetterberg, beating him with his stick at first. Campbell somehow excuses this as "not trying to send a message" and cancels the suspension.

This is a perfect example of what I've been talking about: the NHL does not know what makes a play or player dirty - they have their storylines and they stick to them. If the "bad" guys don't do anything bad, the rules shift to make what they're doing bad. And if the "good" guys do something bad, the rules shift to make it less bad. And it keeps getting more and more obvious, and they're held completely unaccountable by anyone. "Missing the forest for the trees" is a fantastic understatement. In this case, a rule specifically written to keep the game clean was given a caveat of "unless we don't wanna," a player was handed a suspension based on it, the suspension was revoked on a blatantly false claim, and the part where the player actually did anything at all suspension-worthy (the fighting-with-his-stick part, for those of you who napped through the middle of lecture) was completely ignored.

And the worst part is that these kids are never going to learn to play classy hockey, because this kind of behavior is actually commended by the league. They're Bettman's "model franchise"! Ugh. It makes me sick. Go Wings go, the end.