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Monday, February 28, 2011

Re-Signing Brent Seabrook: The Chicago Blackhawks Open Their Wallet One Too Many Times

During the summer of 2009, Dale Tallon was let go as the GM of the Chicago Blackhawks.  The firing was a shock to many in the hockey community, as Tallon had been a big part of pulling the team out from the ashes and molding them into a contender.

After reaching the Conference Final just a few months before, we were all left guessing at a reason the Hawks decided to dump him for Stan Bowman.  Other than the generic dismissal note by the team, most observers speculated that the main complaint was Tallon's recent run of overpayment for free agents like Brian Campbell and Cristobal Huet the summer before.

The Blackhawks won the Cup in the first year under Bowman's guidance, but they paid a steep price for all the talent that got them there; and were forced to sell off many assets.

With the way that Chicago has struggled to stay in it in the ultra-competitive Western Conference, one might think that all the necessary roster shuffling and salary dumping/hiding, the Blackhawks may take a more conservative approach to building a long-term winner.

That idea of conservatism  had to go out the window when the team announced the signing of Brent Seabrook to a very sizable five-year $29 million extension on Sunday.

Please don't get us wrong, we believe Brent Seabrook to be an excellent defenseman.

He just is not a guy that a team like Chicago can pay more than Duncan Keith, particularly when you consider that Campbell's albatross contract and last off-season's re-signing of Hjalmarsson, the team has more than $20 million invested in their top four blueliners until 2014.

Where does that leave the Blackhawks forwards situation for next year and beyond, as the team has only six of them under contract beyond this season?

They also will need to sign two goaltenders.  Someone has to play between the pipes, right?

Standout Corey Crawford will be a RFA after the season, but he likely will want more than the $800k he has earned this year.  How much more, will be the real question.  Remember Bowman didn't believe Niemi was all that valuable, even after winning the Cup.  It's quite clear that they won't be paying a ransom for any backstop next season.  They can't.

Absolutely the organization has protected it's core, but possibly at a disproportionate cost.  Teams that compete for the Cup every season know that depth is just as important down the stretch as your best talent.

Seabrook no doubt is an important piece, but his salary may do more damage to the Blackhawks' Cup chances than his talent will to help them.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Mission Impossible: Keeping the Thrashers in Atlanta

On the very cusp of finally realizing a moment of relaxation, at the most critical point of dropping off into peaceful nap, Ethan Hunt hears the disturbing rattling buzz of his highly customized iPhone 4.

"Dammit! What now?"  He pounds his fist into the tray table that lays out in front of him. The rumbling is in stark contrast to the tranquil ambiance of the super-secret G650 that simply whispers though the early morning air. 

The message reads:

Good morning, Mr. Hunt. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, involves the recovery of a limping NHL organIzation, "the Thrashers of Atlanta." You may select any two random billionaires for potential ownership transfer... They must be willing to keep the team in Atlanta, but it is essential that the third member of your team be me, Jim Balsillie. I am a Canadian patriot, and a highly capable NHL ownership candidate. You have forty-eight hours to recruit the other two investors and meet me in Hamilton, Ontario to receive your assignment. As always, should any member of your team be caught or killed, my secretary will disavow all knowledge of your actions. And Mr. Hunt, the next time you are contacted by Steve Jobs, please be good enough to let us know. This message will self-destruct in five seconds... P.S.  There is a new BlackBerry Torch 9800 waiting for you in the overhead compartment above.
 Que the M.I. music. 

Now quite obviously, this fantasy could never be reasonably constructed.  Balsillie would never be part of a scheme to backdoor engineer a move of a NHL franchise, while working under the guise of  keeping it in it's current city. Right?  Who's with me on this?

Not to mention the fact of how silly it would be to think he would message someone in possession of an iPhone!

The reality is that the Atlanta Thrashers are for sale.

Since taking over the Atlanta Hawks, Thrashers and Philips Arena in 2003, the chaotic disaster that is the Atlanta Spirit Group claims that they have "'incurred over $130 million in out-of-pocket losses' while operating the Thrashers".

They wanted to own a NBA franchise.  Check.  They realized that with the Hawks.  Sadly, their purchase agreement with Time Warner stipulated that along with the Hawks, they buy the Arena and that hockey team that plays there as well.

They went along with it.  They pretended to be interested in hockey for a couple of years and then have tried, unsuccessfully, to sell the Thrashers ever since.

With attendance, local television ratings and merchandising revenues near, or at the bottom of the league, coupled with the exodus of every star that has come to play there, fan interest has declined with that of ownership.

It's no wonder that they have not been able to find a buyer in those six years.

The Atlanta metro area has more than enough resources to support a NHL club.  It's why the league has chosen to pursue the market... twice.

Taking over from the apathetic current ownership group, a pathetic marketing plan (that has consistently pushed the arena, "Blueland", over the game and players for years), poor TV ratings, no merchandising, and bottom of the barrel attendance figures in a market in which they have almost no brand awareness, is hardly an attractive package to sell to prospective NHL owners.

By purchasing the Thrashers, the new owner not only gets the aforementioned package, but also the financial mess that has lost an average of $16.25 million per year since 2003.

but wait... there's more!  Keeping the team in Atlanta means having to generate local interest.  To do that the new owners get to spend more money!!!  (flashing lights, bells ring, etc...)  Woo hoo!

More money on PR in community outreach.  More money on advertising, marketing and promotions.  More money on payroll!  Yes, they must add to the near cap-minimum payroll to gain star power in an effort to win more games, which should in turn, draw fans back to the arena.

Yes, the same arena which the NHL club now would no longer own, but must lease from that same awful ownership group they bought from!

The final insult to injury. Take on a business that is losing money and you get to add expenses too.

What business person/investor/investment group would be interested in taking on that mission?

Other than the US Federal Government, we can't think of another group that would want that kind of sure failure.

Because of the structure of the Spirit Group and their investment holdings, selling the hockey entity alone, is Mission Impossible.

The NHL will soon be forced to accept the reality that Evander Kane should be sporting a re-issued Jets or Nordiques sweater in the near future.

This message will self destruct, when proven otherwise.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Criticism of Lemieux Unsubstantiated

By now, most everyone has read a myriad of of opinions, blogs, message boards and news stories on Mario Lemieux's statement regarding the aftermath of an ugly, incident-filled, mauling of his Pittsburgh Penguins at the hands of the New York Islanders.

Garnering even more attention, has been the backlash by fans, players and media members concerning Lemieux's statement.

If by some chance you missed it click here.

The "unacceptable and embarrassing" actions that Lemieux was referring to no doubt included the Islanders’ Matt Martin sucker-punching an unaware Max Talbot, Islanders’ Michael Haley, lauching himself at Talbot and then Penguins goalie Brent Johnson; and no doubt Trevor Gillies elbowing of Penguins’ Eric Tangradi in the head, who continued to punch him while Tangadi lay prone on the ice, then shouted at and mocked him as Gilles was forced off the ice surface.

 Lemieux's comments were harsh to be sure, however, the backlash did not come from the NHL, at which his comments were directed, but from elsewhere.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, chose to take no action against Lemieux, and stated that the comments would not be discussed or debated publicly.

Yet, that did not give Lemieux any reprieve from the likes of the Edmonton Journal, Don Cherry, Zenon Konopka, Jeremy Roenick or countless fans and bloggers.

Most of Lemieux's critics thought his comments were ill-timed or overly dramatic, but the word that crept up over and over was "hypocritical". 


As Don Cherry (please read with the greatest level of sarcasm imaginable) "elaborated" while showing video...

Paraphrasing: Cherry doesn't understand why Lemieux was OK with Brent Johnson knocking Rick DiPietro's lights out, and that Matt Cooke works for Lemieux and never criticizes him.

You don't even have to watch the video to know that Don Cherry is a moron, so we won't waste our time enumerating every nonsensical  comment, but some of his arguments were made elsewhere.

Many outlets made references to Cooke, Goddard leaving the bench to fight Michael Haley, Johnson hurting DiPietro in a fight a few days prior, and how the Penguins lead the league in penalty minutes and fighting majors.

Now, do you have to agree with Lemieux's statement?

No.  I'm not sure that I do.

Can you accuse him of not having the best timing and being reactionary?


However, the criticism that he received was not about these issues.  Repeatedly, we read the same unscientific accusation that sought evidence to support a pre-conceived notion, not the other way around. 

First, the point that because the Penguins lead the NHL in fighting majors and Johnson's breaking the face of DiPietro, Lemieux has no grounds for argument.

These are weak and ill-conceived concepts.

Fighting is part of the game.  It always has been and always will be.  Most fights are for spark or retalition of liberties taken on another player within the confines of a game.

Lemieux made no statement regarding fighting.  What we are sure he didn't like, was much of the violence in this game was a premeditated foolish display in response to DiPietro's misfortune in a consensual skirmish.

Regarding the other idea of Lemieux being a "hypocrite" as long as he employs Matt Cooke.

This will assuredly be a topic of debate, but the facts win out over heart-felt opinion.

Cooke's history and the incidents that occurred during the game in question are completely unrelated.

Regardless of how you view Matt Cooke, you won't find tape of him attacking goaltenders, throwing shots at a player, hitting him while he is down, and then taunting him afterward.  You won't find evidence of him sucker punching anyone, anywhere.

Sure he makes questionable safety decisions.  You can reasonably accuse Cooke of not respecting other players.

Granted, his propensity for knee on knee collisions happen far too often to be excused, but they happen no more frequently than Alex Ovechkin's. His latest suspension was a result of an unnecessary hit on Fedor Tyutin, not a dirty one.

Cooke has a record for questionable and dangerous decisions, but his rap sheet does not include a single incident that is in line with Gilles', Haley's or Martin's.

Public opinion is just that, opinion. 

Many times evidence, facts or reality have little to nothing to do with the formation of these opinions/criticisms.

The criticism of Mario Lemieux is no exception.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Mike Fisher To Nashville. Is It Personal?

Shortly after a high profile wedding last year, Mike Fisher was interviewed in the Ottawa Sun regarding married life and such:

Mike Fisher plans on being a Nashville resident some day, but he has no interest in giving up his Ottawa address any time soon.

“I definitely love it here. I don’t see that happening,” the Senators centre said in an exclusive interview with the Sun — when asked about any desire of finishing his career as a Predator — a little more than two weeks after being wed to country singing superstar Carrie Underwood.

“When I’m done hockey, she’ll still be working. I’m sure she can always work. We’ll settle in Nashville. I love it there. I’ve got lots of friends there now, I love the area. I like a lot of things about it. There’s a nice church that we love, that we go to ... that being said, it’s a little ways away. I want to obviously play a few years, a bunch of years here yet.
Just imagine the look on Gomer's face when "Surprise, surprise" the Fishers are here for choir practice! "Golly gee!" - Alright Nashville, ease up. We know Gomer is from Mayberry.

As Puck Daddy mentioned... "There had been some debate about whether Mike Fisher did or did not have a no-movement clause in his contract, but the Ottawa Sun reported last week that he had no control over his next destination if he was traded this season."

Since he wasn't going to finish his playing career in Ottawa, we get the feeling that the Sens shopped around and figured that Fisher would be least disappointed going to a place that was convenient for the wife.

The Senators lose one of their most popular players.  One of the few guys that plays hard in every zone.  As Predators GM David Poile put it:
"He plays playoff-style hockey all season long. He plays on the power play, kills penalties, is strong on draws and can match up against any opposing line."
The Sens gain Nashville's first-round selection in the 2011 Draft, and a conditional 2012 selection that can range from the second to third-round.

However, Nashville gets Carrie Underwood's husband!  From a regional PR perspective, it seems a little unfair.

For Senators fans this has to smack of a certain je ne sais quoi!  Does it seem a little too storybook ending?

The Senators, were forced into rebuild mode when Sergei Gonchar failed to transform into a reincarnated Bobby Orr.  Trade talk has swirled around the franchise regarding team captain, Jason Spezza, free-agents to be Jarkko Ruutu, Chris Phillips and Alexei Kovalev for months.

Yet, moving one of them would be a welcome sight, as aside from Ruutu, the aforementioned players have underperformed lately. 

Trading one of the few guys (Fisher) who gives an honest effort every night has to sting, regardless of whether it was an expected move or not.

The only salve that can heal a wound like this would be for those draft picks to turn into something far better than a Mike Fisher, but hopes can't be all that high right now. 

Sounds a bit like the makings of a country song, no?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Toronto Begins Dealing: Beauchemin Back to Anaheim

According to the Anaheim Ducks official Twitter page, the Ducks have made a deal with Toronto.
#NHLDucks acquire D Francois Beauchemin from @MapleLeafs for RW Joffrey Lupul, D Jake Gardiner and a conditional 2013 draft pick.
Toronto has been looking to move Beauchemin, it seems, since they signed him.  Lupul, who constantly must battle injury demons, will add a scoring threat that can support Phil Kessel, but he will need to stay healthy.

It's no surprise that Leafs GM Brian Burke would go back to the Anaheim well for more drink, but didn't he believe he was getting a good fit in Beauchemin when he signed him to a free agent contract in 2009?

The key to this deal will be the development of the lesser known name, Jake Gardiner.  He was Anaheim's first round pick in 2008, 17th overall. Gardiner was widely considered one of the Ducks' top prospects.  

Since being drafted by the Ducks, Gardiner has added about twenty pounds to his frame, without sacrificing any of the speed and agility that made him such an attractive draft selection. He is a very solid puck moving defensemen at the University of Wisconsin, who uses his quick feet and on-ice vision to make plays in all zones.

This could be a deal that Leafs fans fondly look back on in the near future.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Penguins Show the NHL Who Has the Biggest Johnson

The league has many Johnsons dispersed about the 30 NHL teams.  All-time, there have been twenty-four players in league history with "Johnson" stiched on the back of their sweater.

The Pittsburgh Penguins alone, have had six players by the name of Johnson, in addition to Stanley Cup winning, and legendary head coach Badger Bob.  There have even been two father/son Johnson combos with the team.  The aforementioned Badger Bob and his son Mark, member of the Miracle on Ice US Olympic team; and Bob and Brent, both goaltenders for the Pens.

However, it wasn't until last week, that we, along with Isles goaltender Rick DiPietro, were put on notice that current Pittsburgh backup goaltender, Brent Johnson is the biggest, baddest Johnson of them all.

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Reminiscent of "One-punch wonder, Iron Mickey" O'Neil, Johnson took down DiPietro, with just that: one punch.

We realize that it has made the rounds of the internet, but we don't believe that it has received enough attention.

Realize that Johnson not only put his man down in a fight with a solitary shot, but with that single blow fractured bones in DiPietro's face!

There are a lot of fights through the course of a season.  There are often injuries, but they are usually of the nick and cut variety.  If bones are damaged, usually it is to the punchers hand.

How hard would the blow have to be to actually break bones in DiPietro's face?

According to eMedicine from WebMD: Forces that are required to produce a fracture of the facial bones are:

  • Nasal fracture – 30 g
  • Zygoma fractures – 50 g
  • Mandibular (angle) fractures – 70 g
  • Frontal region fractures – 80 g
  • Maxillary (midline) fractures – 100 g
  • Mandibular (midline) fractures – 100 g
  • Supraorbital rim fractures – 200 g 
The Islanders did not specify which part of his face suffered fractures, but going by the low end of the G-force scale from the above chart, 30 g is approximately the force of a golf club striking a ball at the tee. 

Um... ouch!

Brent Johnson, we salute you, and please don't ever hit us!