Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Zdeno Chara: Reckless Goon or Misunderstood Freak of Nature?

That was a scary, horrifying moment last night watching Max Pacioretty lying prostrate after apparently nearly being decapitated by the stanchion between the benches at the Bell Centre. After several slow-motion shockfests I just watched the replay at full speed (finally) where I think a better perspective can be gained. I saw it thusly: Chara pushed Pacioretty's head and face into the post at full speed then skated away from the play as if nothing was wrong. Had he not meant to do that to him he almost definitely would have stopped after the collision and looked horrified at what had happened. He pretended not to notice anything had happened at all which makes me believe he knew exactly what he had done. Or he truly didn't notice in which case he is too dangerously stupid to be allowed to continue to play NHL hockey. In either case, this seems like the right time to make a stand - but the NHL is not exactly known for that. He'll probably get 2 games. My thinking is either it was an accident and he should get no suspension or he meant to do it and he should miss the rest of the season at minimum. A small, token suspension says "We can't decide what happened and don't know how to fix it if there is a problem... so in the meantime look at these shiny car keys!"

However.....

Max Pacioretty - like virtually every other member of the team he plays on - is a cheap-shot artist and a diving faker. (Apologies to my Hab fan friends and relatives, but you won't get an argument out of the fans of any of the other 28 teams in the NHL besides the Leafs and you guys). I vividly recall a game earlier in the year when Pacioretty scored a game-winning goal against the Bruins, raised his arms to celebrate and then immediately lowered them again to viciously hammer with both fists an unsuspecting Zdeno Chara who was skating away from the play and certainly not threatening to come anywhere near Pacioretty. Then he immediately went back to celebrating the goal as if that hadn't just happened. I remember the play because I was disgusted by it. I am pretty sure I posted about it on Facebook at the time. It sickened me. Fast-forward to last night's game. Habs with a 2-0 lead, Pacioretty going into the B's corner with the puck, Boychuk in pursuit. Pacioretty suddenly lifts his left leg - the leg farthest from Boychuk's stick - high up into the air and throws himself to the ice. The ref bites and calls a tripping penalty on Boychuk. (I've seen the replay several times - it was a better dive than Alexandre Despatie has ever executed in competition.) Of course the Habs scored on the PP.

Now I am not for a moment suggesting that what Chara did - if he meant to do it - should ever be condoned, applauded or even shrugged off. It was potentially lethal - unless, of course, Pacioretty is faking this as well. If he returns again before April it will stink a fair bit. What I am saying is that in professional sports if you continually, ruthlessly and generally without provocation make it your business to get under the other team's skin - and particularly if you do it in such a gutless way as diving and faking - then it is very likely indeed that at some point you will have to pay the piper. This was, apparently, that point.

Here, in case anyone is interested, is my yardstick.

Marty McSorley had his waning career come to a sudden and ignominious end over just such a situation. Donald Brashear - who I wouldn't cross the street to spit on - was the real architect of his own demise in the famous game that McSorley will never be able to live down. First Brashear ran the goalie. The next time McSorley was on against Brashear Marty challenged him to a fight which Brashear appeared to have accepted, even lowering his hands to drop his gloves. When McSorley dropped his gloves, Brashear laughed at him and skated away, leaving McSorley standing alone, gloveless and embarrassed. Marty got a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct or some such thing for overtly attempting to be involved in a fight. While he was in the box, Brashear again ran the goalie - also again with no call for whatever reason - and followed that up by gliding past the penalty box and mocking McSorley. When Marty got out, inexplicably Brashear's coach had him on the ice as well. McSorley challenged him again (which is "the code" for guys who are only on the team to fight, which was often McSorley's role but always Brashear's) and again Brashear laughed and skated away. An enraged McSorley followed Brashear and tried to whack him in the shoulder with his stick. Unfortunately, it bounced up off of Brashear's shoulder and caught him on the tip of the helmet - a glancing blow which caused a cement-head like Brashear no real damage. But Brashear still didn't turn to fight. No, he decided it would be clever to throw his arms up in the air, tossing his stick and gloves away, looking for all the world like he had been shot storming the beaches at Normandy. He flung his head back dramatically, kicked up his feet and hit the ice, prone. The problem is his helmet fit him as well as all NHL helmets fit - which is to say, not at all. It failed to protect him when the back of his head hit the ice and it is precisely at that moment he suffered a mild concussion. However, McSorley was pilloried for having "caused" the concussion and never played again. I'm still waiting for Brashear to have his comeuppance.

The very same comeuppance which I believe visited one Max Pacioretty last night.

Should Chara have done it (if indeed he did)? No. Am I disgusted by the play? Yes. Was it unexpected? Not on your life. And therein lies the true rub when we speak of attempting to rid the NHL of the dangerous head shots that are an epidemic right now: the law of the jungle still applies.

Even in the boardrooms, unfortunately.

Friday, March 4, 2011

This is why we do it

It's been a very trying year for me (and my fellow coaches) in the minor hockey league up the street from my apartment. Some of the trips to the rink have been made reluctantly and with tight stomachs. It's not a really good way to spend your weekend when you're always worried about another shoe dropping from the idiot executives in their fortress of absolute power.

But then this comes to my inbox and....it gets a lot easier to "Keep Calm and Carry On".

*** Hey Steve,


Sorry to throw another e-mail your way but as I previously told you i'm very opinionated. lol


Yes I was extremely disappointed with [the convenor]'s response and really didn't want to start a pissing war(pardon my french)
So I basically took the easy way out, I felt this was necessary to keep this away from [his son] H----- and not have this effect him in the years to come. H----- really looks forward to playing and practicing every weekend. We have some great conversations about hockey,and I can tell you he just wants to get better and keep having fun! Which leads me to you,J--- and C-----.
I cannot thank you guys enough for what you have done for H----- this year. I always make a mental note at the beginning of the year and watch H-----'s progress throughout the rest of the year. Well iv'e seen H----- do alot of great things this year that I didn't know he had in him! As a father watching his son, this is where I get great satisfaction...and it's to you guys I thank.
I couldn't have asked for three better coaches for H----- to have before he goes to the next level, next year.It's a big step to the Bantam level and I now feel very comfortable for H----- to make this step......once again I thank you.
 As well...to allow me to have participated in two practices with my son and the rest of the kids meant the world to me.
Last practice I showed H----- how to take a slapshot, the smile on his face said it all......this again meant more to me then I can say.
In closing, I wish the best to you guys and thank you for everything you have done this hockey season for my son and myself.
If I can ever do anything to help you guys out, please do not hesitate to ask.


Forever Greatful,


T--- ***

Even if the spelling had been perfect this wouldn't have read any better.

Coaching. There truly is nothing like it.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

I've got those ol' "Trade Deadline Blues"

Well, I've had a night to think about the passing of another NHL Trade Deadline and....I don't feel any better about the moves Brian Burke has made the past two weeks. He got good return on his trades, unless what you are looking for is imminent improvement to the team or veteran leadership for the kids. In that case, he gets a failing grade. Again, keep Versteeg and trade the coach. That's the most important piece to the puzzle right now, for with Wilson at the helm we will never attract vital free agents nor will any of the young kids get over the hump for good.
 
Every team the Leafs are up against for the 8th spot made moves to improve the 2010-2011 team. The Leafs did not. That speaks volumes to another lost season for Toronto and its fans. Burke claims that it "kills him" not to make the playoffs, yet he is doing all he can to have it happen yet again this year - even going on record as saying the playoffs "mean nothing" to him if they "are going to get blown out in the first round". So Burke, apparently, only wants to make the playoffs in 4th place or higher.
 
I understand "rebuilding" is a gradual process, but the Leafs haven't made the playoffs in 6 years. Where is our Sidney Crosby? Our Alex Ovechkin? Our Jonathan Toews, our Steve Stamkos, our Evgeni Malkin, our Taylor Hall? 6 years of ineptitude (the worst in the team's history) and the best we can offer is Phil Kessel - for whom we gave up 2 Taylor Halls, potentially? By now, with this much time in the weeds, we should have the solid foundation for several years of at the very least strong competitiveness if not outright Cup challenging.
 
But we don't. We have a plan to "build from the net out" which has left us relying on a kid who started the year fourth on the depth chart as our goalie. We have 2 semi-solid defencemen (one of whom - Gunnarsson - was a healthy scratch for portions of this season), a promising rookie (Aulie, who was thrown into a trade on the insistence of the 2nd assistant GM), a mediocre and fading captain and two more that wouldn't likely crack the lineup of virtually any other team in the NHL. There is no real help on the farm. Three years of Brian Burke "building from the net out" and we have no real foundation there. We traded away arguably our two best and most consistent defencemen this year for draft picks and prospects - one of whom doesn't even play defence. Nobody is available to replace them.
 
Many years of watching professional sports has convinced me that you do not trade away important cogs of your team's lineup unless you 1) get an immediate return on the trade; 2) have someone else ready to step into that spot immediately; or 3) are beginning a full rebuild of your talent base. In the cases of Beauchemin and Kaberle, the first 2 points were not met, so what does that leave us with? Is it really possible that, three years into Burke's tenure here, he is only now starting a full rebuild? Can he really be that audacious?
 
Kaberle should have been dealt 2 years ago. Whatever return he would have brought then would possibly have started to bear fruit now. Beauchemin was perhaps a decent move as it opened up a spot for Aulie (but also Lebda) and that jury is still out. Versteeg was a disaster. We moved three prospects to get him in the first place and then gave him up for two draft picks 6 months later simply because he didn't get along with the coach. Not a good thing, ever.
 
And now Burke is telling us he won't likely re-sign our leading scorer to a long-term deal.
 
How is this team going to be better next year? What is the carrot for future seasons? Who are the young, talented stars of tomorrow in our minor league system?
 
Where is our Sidney Crosby?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Brian Burke: despite his bluster and insufferable arrogance, he's a Man Without a Clue

"We got a 21-year-old kid...who scored 37 goals in the NHL. Like I said, I’d do it again.” - Brian Burke explaining why he traded away three very high draft picks for Phil Kessel.

"This was the best offer we had, it met our criteria. The package of picks was something we felt we had to take at this point." - Brian Burke explaining why he traded away Kris Versteeg, a 24-year-old Cup-winning forward who blocks shots, kills penalties, hustles and is on pace for 20 goals on the third line for very late 1st- and 3rd-round picks.

The man is an idiot. Either you are building through the draft or you are not. This is an even dumber trade than the Kessel one. At least there you thought maybe he might have some kind of Master Plan.

But obviously not. Versteeg is EXACTLY the kind of player Burke said he was looking for when he came here. EXACTLY. And he's 24 years old. And he's won a Cup. And he seems like he gives a damn. And Burke traded THREE players for him: Viktor Stalberg and prospects Chris DiDomenico and Phillippe Paradis. Are the players they pick up in this draft going to be better than those three? Doubtful.

I would far rather have Seguin (or Hall, because without Kessel last year the Leafs would likely have finished 30th) and Knight and whoever goes 1st or 2nd overall this year paired with Versteeg going forward than Kessel, NONE of those three players and whoever we get with the two very late picks from the Flyers - one of which Burke is already planning to trade away for God knows who. On the plus side, now that they don't have any lottery pick possibilities the Leafs are finally learning how to tank to move down in the standings. So there's that, at least. Where was this thought process when Stamkos and Doughty and Tavares were the prizes? Sigh.

 "We're excited about adding a first-round pick," Burke added. "We think there are plenty of assets in this draft." Oh yes, Brian? Plenty of assets? So many that you didn't mind giving up a top-5 pick in it? That's very odd and most certainly not what you said when you made the Kessel trade.

But my favourite part of his presser yesterday was this: Burke opined that the acquisition of Joffrey Lupul made it easier to move Versteeg. I almost spit out my milk upon reading that. Lupul is S-L-O-W. He is older than Versteeg. He won't score as many goals or block as many shots in any single season of his career from here on in as Versteeg does and will. And even if I'm completely wrong about that... how on earth is this team so strong that they only need ONE of them on it? This team has Brett Lebda and Joey Crabb, just to name a couple of sweater-fillers.

Brian Burke has proven once and for all - as if there was any doubt - that he has absolutely no game plan in mind and is just pissing wildly into the wind. When he leaves here Cupless, as he inevitably will, there may be 20 more years of desolation in Leafland before there's even a glimmer of hope.

This is the worst trade he has made so far. Sadly, I don't even think it will be top 5 when the dust finally settles over his sorry career in Toronto.

It's just not fair. :|
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