Sunday, January 31, 2010

Flames to deal Jokinen

It appears as though the Calgary Flames are shaking things up even more - by sending underachieving forward Olli Jokinen to the New York Rangers along with Brandon Prust in exchange for Ales Kotalik and Christopher Higgins.

TSN is speculating that full details / approval will not be forthcoming until Monday morning, but what does this mean for the Flames?

The reported Jokinen deal, along with the Phaneuf deal certainly provides them with some depth, but it does remove some top end talent. One noticeable item is that this would create some room on payroll to perhaps add another high profile forward before the trading deadline if they felt so inclined.

There has been a revolving door in Calgary the past few years with coaches. Despite the talent-laden roster, they have never delivered near expectations. Perhaps by dealing Jokinen and Phaneuf they feel they are removing some of their dressing room that created disfunction, but it may be possible that they just removed a strong puck moving defenseman, and one of their best forwards.

Time will tell if these deals pay off. The addition of Stajan and Hagman earlier today bolstered their anemic offense and adding Higgins and Kotalik may do the same. However, Higgins has struggled to regain his form from a couple of years ago, and Kotalik has been a scratch in eight of his last nine games.

What the Flames add in depth, it looks like they've lost in top end talent. However, it was obvious a shake up was needed. At this point, perhaps any move is a good move.

Dion Phaneuf traded to Maple Leafs

The Calgary Flames and Toronto Maple Leafs have pulled off a blockbuster deal.
TSN is reporting that Toronto has sent Matt Stajan, Niklas Hagman, Ian White and Jamal Mayers to Calgary in exchange for Dion Phaneuf, Fredrik Sjostrom, and 6'6" prospect, defenseman Keith Aulie.

Both teams look to benefit from this deal. The Flames get a couple of forwards for their lineup to address their scoring woes in Stajan and Hagman, as well as a nice replacement in Ian White for the vacancy created on the blueline by the departure of Phaneuf. This deal makes sense for them because of their depth on the blue line but lack of it at forward.

For the Maple Leafs, it looks like they also benefit from this deal. They get the best player in the deal in Phaneuf, and a good role player in Fredrik Sjostrom.

The Maple Leafs also pulled off another deal is also reporting that the Maple Leafs have traded struggling goaltender Vesa Toskala (and long time scapegoat in Toronto) and underachieving forward Jason Blake to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere.

This deal makes sense for Anaheim because they Giguere had lost his starting job to Jonas Hiller, and they will appreciate some depth up front on their scoring lines with the acquisition of Jason Blake.

The Maple Leafs meanwhile hope that Giguere will regain his 2003 Conn Smythe trophy form. Even if he keeps his recent form, this is still an upgrade in goal for the Leafs.

These two deals should benefit all teams involved and do not appear to be an offload of talent for draft picks as one might expect. These are two deals that arguably should improve all teams in the short-term.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

HIGHLIGHTS - Canucks 5, Leafs 3 - January 30th 2010

After a slow start, the Sedins and Burrows showed the Maple Leafs and the HNIC crew what they might miss by going to bed early. The Sedins and Burrows scored 5 unanswered goals (four of them in the third period) after falling behind 3-0 after one period of play.

Alexandre Burrows provided the spark with a short-handed breakaway goal in the second period before the Sedin twins took over the game in the third.

Vancouver has won seven straight games. Toronto's Phil Kessel opened the game with two goals for the Leafs in the first period. A late goal with five seconds left in the period chased Roberto Luongo from the game. Andrew Raycroft took over between the pipes and had a quiet night against his former team.

Oilers' Struggles

Tonight the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers faced off attempting to end bad stretches of hockey that has seen the two teams lose a combined 21 games in a row.

The good news about tonight's game was that someone MUST win and end their 9 or 12 game losing streak.

The Oilers in particular have had a horrible season. Their recent struggles beg the obvious question - why?

1) Injuries - This is the most obvious. Long-term injuries to franchise winger Ales Hemsky and goaltending acquisition Nikolai Khabibulin, along with previous early season injuries to Sheldon Souray and a handful of their secondary cast surely cost them some games and confidence as the season wore on - but it goes deeper.

2) Lack of High-End Talent - After Ales Hemsky, the Oilers are forced to rely on the likes of Shawn Horcoff, Dustin Penner, Patrick O'Sullivan, Sam Gagner and Andrew Cogliano. Arguably none of these players have demonstrated their ability to be top line NHLers. Cogliano and Gagner showed flashes of stardom in their rookie years, but they were over-hyped and haven't delivered on any of the considerable press. Horcoff and Penner meanwhile appear to be a pair of players who are really not delivering on being top liners.

This begs the question - where to go from here?

Well, unfortunately for the Oilers, Horcoff, Souray, Penner, Visnovsky, Khabibulin, Moreau and a handful of others are all weighing down the franchise with large contracts that most other teams will not be interested in - especially given the production seen from that group.

Tonight's game against the Flames should be quite disappointing for Oiler fans. Losing 6-1 against the Flames - a team that can't score to save it's life lately - is definitely a sad sight. Sure the Flames are angry and are due for a big win, but surely a team like the Oilers with nothing left to play for this season would be able to get up for a big game against their biggest rival and could generate a heart-filled effort to extend Calgary's recent misery just a little bit longer.

It appears as if Edmonton's confidence has been broken and they are already just playing out the string.

While they do have Jordan Eberle and a handful of other top notch prospects on the horizon, they are being suffocated with large contracts to the wrong people and will have to clean house if they really want to be more than a mediocre hockey club. Taylor Hall would be a good start.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

HIGHLIGHTS - Canucks 3, Blues 2 - January 27th, 2010

The Vancouver Canucks have now won six in a row. By defeating the St. Louis Blues 3-2 the Canucks have pulled into sole possession of the Northwest Division crown - at least temporarily.

Playing their last game at home before a massive eight game road trip, the Canucks are 7-1-1 in their last 9. Their season long road trip begins in Toronto on Saturday afternoon.

Mason Raymond led the way with two goals and an assist, while Ryan Kesler added three assists, including a helper on Christian Ehrhoff's game winner in the third period.

The Blues got goals from Keith Tkachuk and young spark plug T.J. Oshie and nearly tied it in the waning moments when defenseman Erik Johnson rang a wrist shot off the post behind Luongo.

Canucks end boycott with CBC

It appears as if the Vancouver Canucks and CBC have made peace after all. As the Vancouver Sun reports, a conference call held Wednesday between Canucks GM Mike Gillis and Media Head TC Carling, along with relevant CBC executives resulted in an end to the boycott of Hockey Night in Canada access to Canucks' personnel.

While it was not discussed publicly what the result of the conversation was, speculation is that some middle-ground was found. The Canucks likely will not get a meaningful public apology from HNIC host Ron MacLean, but they likely received a private admission from CBC that their long-time host erred in judgment and did not display the journalistic integrity required of someone in his position.

The only way we may know the resolution that allowed both groups to reach a settlement is by tuning in this week. It will certainly be interesting to see how the Canucks are received this Saturday night as they visit Toronto, the HNIC Holy Land, during 'Hockey Day in Canada', celebrating the game throughout the nation.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Canucks boycott Hockey Night in Canada

If you happened to catch the Canucks defeat the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday night, January 23rd, you might have noticed that no Canucks were interviewed before the game, during the intermissions, or after the game.

The Canucks impressive victory garnered some of their players recognition as they swept the game's three stars. However, the traditional post-game interview with a 'star' by CBC's Scott Oake did not take place.

As is being reported all over the internet, the Canucks chose to boycott CBC, specifically their interview requests - at least for now.

In case you are late to the story, this is in response to CBC's Ron MacLean airing and leading an 11 minute segment attacking Burrows' character, rather than employ any balanced journalism and cover both sides of the Burrows/Auger incidents.

Interestingly, the Canucks play in Toronto next Saturday on Hockey Night in Canada, where MacLean and CBC host their weekly program. Even though the Canucks have not tipped their hand as to whether the boycott will continue to next week, surely with the Leafs playing horrible hockey and the Canucks being the nation's biggest draw at the moment, this should make for some interesting television.

Vancouver Canucks @ Toronto Maple Leafs, January 30th and 7PM Eastern.

HIGHLIGHTS - Canucks 3, Sabres 2 - January 25, 2010

The Sedin twins were at it again tonight as both Henrik and Daniel had multi-point efforts in a 3-2 Vancouver victory, their 5th in a row.

Vancouver once again produced a solid effort despite a missing several regulars on the back end. The Canucks have one game left at home before an eight game road trip before the Olympic break.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

HIGHLIGHTS - Canucks 5, Blackhawks 1 - January 23rd, 2010

Once again the Sedin twins and Alexandre Burrows powered the Vancouver Canucks. With a combined 9 points on the evening, the Canucks showed intensity and provided an inspired effort in a 5-1 win over the Western Conference powerhouse Chicago Blackhawks.

Playing their third game in four nights and without three of their top defensemen (Kevin Bieksa, Sami Salo, and Willie Mitchell), the make-shift blue line comprised with the likes of Aaron Rome, Brad Lukowich, and Nolan Baumgartner managed to give Roberto Luongo enough help to hold Chicago to one goal.

Some great story lines in this one. Shane O'Brien played nearly 23 minutes tonight, and the Canucks managed to score five times despite receiving only one powerplay. On the other hand, the Hawks had a strong outing from D Duncan Keith who played 30 minutes and had 8 shots on goal, but squandered it with average goaltending and a lack of grade A scoring opportunities, despite their gawdy shot total.

Canucks interested in David Backes?

STL Forward David Backes is apparently on the Canucks radar. So much so that Mike Gillis and emsemble were spotted at the St. Louis / Ottawa game this week.

As reports, Backes was a mysterious scratch. There was also speculation that the Canucks may be interested in the Blues' defensive depth, including former Canuck Mike Weaver, and former Maple Leaf Carlo Colaiacovo.

You might remember David Backes as the recipient of some infamous trash talking from Alex Burrows and Ryan Kesler during last year's playoff series between the two teams.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

HIGHLIGHTS - Canucks 4, Stars 3

Christian Ehrhoff scored a beauty, and Alexandre Burrows potted his 13th goal in 9 games en route to a solid 4-3 win over Dallas on Thursday night.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

HIGHLIGHTS - Canucks 3, Oilers 2 - F/OT

Henrik and Daniel Sedin combine for three points each on three power play goals as the Canucks beat the Oilers 3-2 in overtime.

Gary Bettman chimes in

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman chimed in Wednesday night with his take on the Auger / Burrows saga, and the fallout.

As the Vancouver Sun reports, Bettman believes the infamous game on January 11th was well-officiated.

"That interference call (on Burrows) down in the faceoff circle, if a goal is scored on that play Nashville has a real problem. They weren't outrageous calls and I reject the notion there was any bias in the officiating in that game."

When asked about the level of quality or diligence in the investigation into Burrows' accusations, Bettman offered the following;

"I don't think this goes to the quality of the investigation," Bettman said. "I'm comfortable with that. I think there are people who are passionate about the Canucks, they are passionate about the players they root for and they are just not happy with the result. I'm sorry about that, but I am comfortable that Colie (executive vice president Colin Campbell) did his job."

"You have to be very careful about what you do with unsubstantiated and uncorroborated information," Bettman added.

This shouldn't surprise anyone given the way Gary Bettman runs the show. I bet 'Colie' did his job. He swept this under the rug rather than investigate it fairly. What are the odds that when asked to investigate itself, the NHL found no corruption? Shocking.

If there's any salvation for those who feel justice was not served here, rest assured that Auger will likely never officiate in Vancouver again (I'd like to ask Bettman that question), and that Auger's reputation is in the toilet.

To steal a Conan O'Brien joke regarding NBC: Auger is probably upset at that news, but the toilet is furious!

Monday, January 18, 2010

More on Ron MacLean / Burrows Story

MacLean has spoken - sort of.

In a recent phone interview, Ron MacLean of Hockey Night in Canada has defended his position regarding the Burrows / Auger saga, and the one-sided piece on Saturday night.

Read MacLean's thoughts here

I quite like Dan Murphy's blog

The instances MacLean showed from Burrows past were so minor. As Murphy points out:
"The diving call Auger made on Burrows in the Nashville game was the second diving penalty of his career. The first happened in 2006. So if Burrows has been on a watch-list for quite some time then he must be playing pretty cleanly.

Did anyone else think the transgressions that the CBC showed weren't all that disgusting? Burrows with a slight spear on Bouchard; Burrows leaves his feet for a hit; Burrows shoves a guy from the bench; Burrows trash-talks players prior to a game and during TV timeouts. Are you kidding me? What's the big deal? Not big enough for a suspension obviously."

Also, an interesting article from the Windsor Star suggesting that Burrows parents are quite upset at the article on CBC, and they've filed a formal complaint with the television station challenging the journalistic integrity of Ron MacLean.

Personally, I'd like to praise those journalists gutsy enough to challenge the NHL on the lack of a transparent investigation and a pretty obvious attempt at shoving this under the rug. Attempts of the CBC, the NHL and other media outlets are rather frustrating and resemble a cheap defense attorney who tries to dig up any irrelevant item in the past to discredit the victim.

Kudos to Alain Vigneault and the Canucks organization for backing their player, and defending him. And of course, kudos to Burrows for the courage, yes, the courage to speak up, knowing the onslaught that would follow.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Ron MacLean's "Journalism"

This past Saturday on Hockey Night in Canada, Ron MacLean spent about 15 minutes with NHL disciplinarian discussing Alexandre Burrows and Stephane Auger. Or, should I say, Alexandre Burrows and his 'past'.

While everyone and their dog realizes the role that media plays in today's society, and how they are supposed to present both sides of the story, investigate, and be unbiased, Ron McLean provided us with the exact opposite of that.

You might expect that having the NHL's Chief Disciplinarian on your show might warrant some questions about the referee (Auger)'s decisions, his history, and how that was dealt with. McLean however, turned the 15 minute segment into an exercise in character assassination for Burrows, rather than discussing the issue, or at least discussing Auger's checkered on ice past (described below in a previous entry).

Ron MacLean / Colin Campbell Part 1/2

Ron McLean / Colin Campbell Part 2/2

Rather than say anything about Auger, here are some snippets of what McLean said of Burrows, including putting sarcastic words in his mouth.
"Burrows to Canucks trainer Mike Bernstein- 'I'm okay, has he signaled 5 minutes yet'"
"Absolutely unbelievable to any of us that this would go on" (When Burrows was talking to then Blackhawks Goalie Nikolai Khabibulin)
"Burrows has made his bed"
"I'm more upset that he accused Auger"

As Ron showed a series of clips illustrating Burrows 'history' on ice, I noticed one thing - the vast majority, he didn't do anything other than trash talk.
One clip showed Aaron Downey of the Wings spearing him before the game, and another showed a goaltender shoving him after a whistle.

It was nice to see the shoe on the other foot after the game, when Canucks' head coach Alain Vigneault appeared on CBC's After Hours segment to address Ron McLean's ridiculous tirade against Burrows.

Whether you are a Canucks fan or not, or like Alexandre Burrows or not, his history as a hockey player here is completely irrelevant.

Diving, and exaggerating calls has no place in the game. But that is not the issue at play here, nor is Burrows' past. The issue at play is an NHL official telling Burrows that he 'embarassed' the referee, and that we was going to pay him back.

Then, the pay back actually taking place and altering the outcome of a game.

McLean should have focused his time challenging Campbell on a referee putting his personal agenda before the integrity of the game. Ron, if you can't act like a legitimate journalist, asking tough questions and covering both sides of the story - you should stay out of journalism and return to being what you are - a host of a hockey show.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Instant Replay Woes

The NHL recently released a story regarding a Flyers / Penguins game not too long ago where a producer on the local Pittsburgh broadcast intentionally withheld a certain angle of a replay from NHL officials that provided conclusive evidence of an opposition (Flyers) goal.

It was a 5-3 Flyer lead at the time, when Flyer's forward Simon Gagne scored a short-handed goal. When the play went to video review, the NHL was unable to obtain a view the indicated the puck actually crossed the line.

As the video below shows, the puck clearly entered the net, but was only aired after the decision to negate the goal was made.

My question is, why does the NHL not have all views available? Why do they rely on local broadcasters to provide video evidence for replays?

I understand the logistical benefits of relying upon other, more readily available sources of video, but is this any way to demonstrate the integrity of your product?

While the NHL is posting an article praising the disciplinary actions taken, and the warnings issued to broadcasters who withhold relevant video, shouldn't the NHL actually be investigating ways to access unbiased video sources?

NHL punishes the wrong whistleblower

In case you missed it, Monday’s game in Vancouver against Nashville had some interesting fall out. Canucks’ forward Alexander Burrows claimed that referee Stephane Auger intentionally targeted him in the 3-2 Vancouver loss. Why did Auger target him? According to Burrows' post-game comments, it was because of a penalty Auger issued in a previous game on December 8th, where (according to Burrows) Auger allegedly claims Burrows embarrassed him by diving to exaggerate the call.

Burrows does have some supporting evidence. As you can see in the video, before the game, Auger is on tape approaching Burrows on the ice and speaking with him, where Burrows alleged the initial conversation took place. Then, in the third period in a 2-2 game, Auger whistled Burrows for two marginal penalties. The latter of the calls took Vancouver off a power play after only 4 seconds, with five minutes left in the game, leading to Shea Weber's game winning goal.

After the Nashville power play goal, Burrows received a misconduct with 3 seconds left in the game for letting Auger know what he thought of him.

Fast forward 48 hours, and the story is all over the internet. Many people felt Burrows should have kept his opinions to himself, or addressed them privately after the game. Many felt that Auger wronged Burrows and the Canucks, and that the evidence warrants an investigation and significant discipline.

The NHL. however. has chosen to fine Alexander Burrows for criticizing NHL officials. The fine amounts to $2,500, the maximum allowed under the current collective bargaining agreement. The NHL also decided, at least for now, to do nothing with regards to Auger.

That raises a few questions. First and foremost, how does Auger get away with no discipline?

The NHL has had a lot of negative press over the past year, so it should come as no surprise that rather than investigate this openly, or tackle the issue head on, they would rather sweep this under the rug and punish any dissent as quickly as possible.

I am of the opinion that while the officials are human, there is no standard of officiating in the NHL these days. Veteran officials like Bill McCreary are allowed to manage the game with their personal style. Vancouver’s previous game against Calgary saw several non-calls that are almost always penalties in the ‘new’ NHL, including a goaltender interference situation with Dion Phaneuf in overtime. Canucks’ coach Alain Vigneault was told that the officials ‘did not wish to decide the game on a goaltender interference penalty’. Yet two days later under Stephane Auger, there were many marginal calls both ways throughout the entire game. No wonder the players are so gun shy. One night something is a legal play, the next it’s a two minute minor.

Aside from the consistency issue between officials, the fear of speaking out may be more troubling. Many current and former players and media interviewed about the Burrows / Auger events speculated that the Canucks and Burrows may be subject to some type of vigilante justice by referees. Punishment by the 'brotherhood' or union, protecting the honour of Stephane Auger. Doesn't this sound like organized crime? Okay, maybe not organized crime, but the WWE?

We all know that referees are human and subject to subconscious biases towards or against certain players, as inevitably their paths will cross over their careers and opinions will form as emotions run high. But am I to believe that as a season ticket holder and a fan of the game that I have to accept officials settling grudges with players and altering the outcome of games as acceptable conduct?

I would not be surprised if this type of retribution went on in the NHL though. Look no further than Tim Donaghy, an NBA official who claims there were various rivalries between players and officials, and a system of altering outcomes of games that ran deep. Excerpts of Donaghy’s book can be found here.

His book was halted before it even reached the shelves, and I for one believe that there is at least an element of truth in what he is saying. It's insulting to fans' intelligence to suggest otherwise.

Here’s another potential example of the history between Auger and Burrows. In February 2008, Alex Burrows was evicted in a game against the Montreal Canadiens for a questionable call that left journalists perplexed.

If you think the NHL would not be victim to personal vendettas and agendas, think again. Remember Shane Doan? The Phoenix Coyotes’ captain was alleged to have uttered racial/cultural insults towards a referee a few years ago. Those charges were proven to be unfounded. Any bets on which NHL official made those claims? You guessed it, Stephane Auger.

Want one more example? Here it is. The very same crew that called the Nashville - Vancouver game officiated a Dallas Detroit game last year, with a horrible decision on a Detroit goal.

Now look, I’m not suggesting officials are not allowed to make mistakes, but there are two burning questions for me.

If the Nashville Vancouver game and the other examples above indicate severe misconduct on the part of Stephane Auger, he should not be allowed to officiate another game in the NHL.

On the other hand, if this is the type of honest officiating to expect from Stephane Auger, and this is the best we can expect, why is he officiating in the best hockey league in the world?

Either way, it’s not good enough.

Then again, if the NHL refuses to address these issues and investigate properly, the ‘best league in the world’ may not be an appropriate description of the NHL.