Tuesday, December 28, 2010

GM Sutter Steps Down in Calgary

Photo courtesy of Canadian Press
A move that should have taken place a year or two ago, Calgary Flames GM Darryl Sutter is stepping down as the team's GM, to be replaced by Jay Feaster. The changes comes amid a horrible season for the Flames who sit near the bottom of the division, conference, and league standings.  Unlike their provincial rival, the Flames are not re-building, as they have an older team that is bumping right up against the NHL's salary cap.

Re-acquisitions Olli Jokinen and Alex Tanguay have not panned out - much like many expected - and that combined with the Flames position in the standings likely sent Sutter packing.  Indeed, since a Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 2004, the Flames have been ousted in the first round of the playoffs for a few years after, only to miss the playoffs altogether last year.  The team has been in decline for years and this action is probably long overdue for many in the 'Sea of Red'. 

When you look at some of Sutter's moves over the past few years, you wonder why this move did not come sooner.  The decision to trade for Olli Jokinen originally seemed like a decent plan to obtain a front line center for team captain Jarome Iginla.  That off-season however may have been the beginning of the end.  Calgary chose to keep Olli Jokinen and let Mike Cammalleri leave for Montreal - a move that in hindsight definitely appears to have backfired, as Cammalleri has flourished in Montreal while Jokinen sputtered.

To compound matters, the Flames traded Jokinen along with Brandon Prust for Chris Higgins and Ales Kotalik.  Higgins left in the off-season and Kotalik was placed on waivers.  So for the original first round pick that was traded for Jokinen, the Flames lost Mike Cammalleri, Brandon Prust, Chris Higgins and Ales Kotalik.  Even with the re-acquisition of Olli Jokinen in the off-season, that string of decisions appears to have been an unmitigated disaster.

In Sutter's defense, his acquisition of Miikka Kiprusoff provided some goaltending that the Flames hadn't seen since the Mike Vernon days, and he likely can't be criticized for the Jay Bouwmeester signing, as few could have predicted his struggles.

Regardless of the analysis of his individual decisions, and the numerous coaches he's used over the years (himself, Jim Playfair, himself, Mike Keenan, himself, Harvey the Hound, himself, Brent Sutter), Darryl's legacy will likely be spelled out over the coming year or two.  At this point, he can be remembered for reviving hockey in southern Alberta with a strong run in 2004.  Beyond that, some poor salary cap management and poor personnel decisions did the team no favours.  There may be a long rebuild in Calgary that begins this year or next, and it will be at that time when we can determine how big of a hole Darryl Sutter has dug the Calgary Flames.

For more information on the Flames struggles, Sportsnet's Mark Spector shared his thoughts a mere 10 days ago.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Why Pavel Bure Left Vancouver

It's been quite a few years, but the issue of Pavel Bure's departure from Vancouver has recently resurfaced.  When Bure played for the Canucks and requested a trade, there was a lot of secrecy and mystery around the situation at the time.

As a kid in High School, I was more interested in the Canucks on the ice as opposed to off the ice.  Bure's reputation in Vancouver appeared to largely be that he was the amazing player that he is, but also someone who was horrible with fans and not much better with the media.

GM Mike Gillis (and former Pavel Bure agent) appeared on the TEAM 1040 recently and indicated (at least when reading between the lines) that Pavel's number will not be retired by the team.  Instead, the team will do something else special for him.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

NHL All-Star Ballot Needs Facelift

No, this isn't a rant about why Phoenix Coyotes' forward Paul Bissonette is ahead of the likes of Daniel Alfredsson and Ilya Kovalchuk and other much more talented and accomplished forwards in All Star voting this year.  That's the ability fans have to exercise their right to vote for whomever they like. 

What irks me is the ballot selection.  Inevitably every year there is a bit of an outcry about who is included on the ballot and who isn't. It's nice to see the NHL using the internet for this,and even being kind enough to include a write-in section, but why are we still living in the 1950's with the ballots?

Granted, I only had a minor in Political Science, but if this was a federal election, we'd have a list of a handful of candidates to choose from.  Not 37 candidates on the ballot, but maybe 5-10.  I like that they keep the crazies off that list from the fringe parties.  Maybe they limit the number that appear on there for that purpose, or logistical purposes because a paper ballot can only be so long.  Someone who knows the real reason - I welcome you to enlighten me.

I can only assume similar reasons exist with the NHL  Perhaps in the past it wasn't feasible to list more players.  Why else would they create a system where every year the names on the ballot seem to be decided before the season begins. Inevitably there is a bunch of players on the ballot who under perform or get injured, and there's always a handful of players who shine in the first half of the year, but are nowhere to be found on the ballot. (Carey Price, Alexander Semin, Sergei Bobrovsky, Claude Giroux, etc.).

Montreal Canadiens' D Andrei Markov is actually in the top 20 for all-star voting for Defense.  He's played three games all year.  I understand that fans would vote for him, but why is he even on the ballot?

Let's take another example.  Alexander Edler is top 10 in scoring amongst NHL Defensemen.  He's been the best defender on one of the better teams in the league.  Christian Ehrhoff from the Canucks has also been strong.  Yet despite their strong years this year and last, Dan Hamhuis is the Canucks' representative on the ballot.  This makes absolutely no sense.  Heck the injured and mediocre (when he was in the line up this year) Dion Phaneuf has four times the votes of Edler or Anaheim's super rookie Cam Fowler.  I'm not complaining about a disparity in votes based on fans preferences, but I think it's obvious that players on the ballot have a much greater chance of receiving a vote than a player not on the ballot, regardless of their play this season.

Thankfully fans are trying their best.  In fact, as ESPN's Pierre LeBrun points out, 43% of Defensemen are write-in ballots. 

I cannot figure out why the NHL cannot make use of some drop down menus to give all players a fair shot.  At least the NHL's fans are nice enough to poke fun at the system and vote for the likes of Paul Bissonnette - and who could forget the run that former Canucks defenseman Rory Fitzpatrick had as he gave Chris Pronger and Nicklas Lidstrom a run for their money towards being a start in the All-Star game.

The bottom line is, it's about time they made a more interactive ballot.  Computers can do some crazy things these days.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Sidney Crosby's 'Dubious' Slew-foot

It's been a few days, but one story that is still persisting across the NHL blogosphere is Sidney Crosby and his alleged slew foot on New York Ranger's forward Ryan Callahan.  Earlier this week, the NHL's Poster Boy - Sidney Crosby - was the subject of some pointed comments by Rangers' forward Brandon Dubinsky,

Here's a replay of the play in question:

Brandon Dubinsky's comments were captured during an interview between periods as the Rangers and Penguins battled it out.

"That's a dirty play," Rangers center Brandon Dubinsky said of Crosby in a broadcast interview during the first intermission. "He's a guy who tries to get away with a lot of that stuff. He complains a lot."

"It's a play that the NHL has tried to get rid of," said Rangers Hall of Fame defenseman Brian Leetch, who now serves as a studio analyst on the team's broadcasts on MSG Network. "It's a dirty play."

When Crosby was interviewed about Dubinsky's comments, he offered the following:

"How many penalty minutes do I have this year?" Crosby asked. Answer: 15. "I'm not dirty. Please. Show me all those dirty plays. It's a battle. He falls. I think [Dubinsky] has done his fair share of things out there that are questionable. I guess he's talking again. I'm not surprised...It's a battle. He's holding me going up ice, and I'm trying to push him off. Is it that calculated? I'm trying to get to the net. I'm not worried about that kind of thing. I'm trying to get to the net and push him off. If I tripped him, I tripped him.  But am I a dirty hockey player? Come on. I think [Dubinsky's] smarter than that."

Enough debate has been made about the Crosby play.  It seems pretty tame overall.  Perhaps it was a slew foot but it does not seem incredibly pre-meditated.  The more interesting story here is the development of a rivalry between two players playing out through the media.

Similar to last year when Canucks' forward Ryan Kesler called then-Blackhawks forward Andrew Ladd a 'coward' for his opportunistic hit on Kesler during the 2009 playoffs.  Ladd caught Kesler without the puck with a hit to the head that went unpenalized.

These comments may be justified or unjustified in both cases, but without the likes of Chris Chelios, Brett Hull, and Jeremy Roenick, the NHL desperately needs some personality.  Media and fans grow weary of the boiler plate questions and answers in nightly post-game scrums, so little rivalries generated from these sound-bites make the games within the game all that more interesting.