Archive for the ‘Ice Hockey’ Category

The NHL draft is not worth watching

- June 27th, 2014

The second-worst event in major North American sports goes tonight and it’s one that gets a surprising amount of hype for how bad it actually is.

We’re talking about the NHL draft, which is only slightly better than the MLB, but at least baseball has more common sense to actual broadcast its selection process.

There are many reasons why the NHL’s draft is bad, but it starts with the fact that very few of the guys taken in even the first round get a chance to make an impact in the coming season.

Once you get past the first 10 picks, it becomes highly unlikely that these guys will even play regular NHL minutes in the following season, let alone right away.

Looking at the nominees for the Calder Trophy this season, only Nathan MacKinnon – who won – was drafted in 2013. Of the top nine vote-getters, only two – MacKinnon and Sean Monahan – were taken last July.

So why make such a big deal over something that has so little impact on the immediate future?

In both the NBA and NFL, you should be getting big-time, immediate impact from your first rounder; not waiting for them to develop like in the NHL.

There’s also the fact that the NHL draft lacks any sort of atmosphere. The NBA and NFL get it right by hosting their events in theatres, which plays well for the fans. The NHL stages their event in an arena, which seems to suck the life out of the event.

The NHL also lacks a decent moderator. Instead of seeing the pick come onstage for a quick handshake and photo with the commissioner, instead we have to wait for the selecting team to thanks the host city, the league, etc., then make the selection. What follows is roughly a half-dozen handshakes with semi-scared, zit-faced kid from Kelowna that takes a good five minutes and is deathly boring to watch on TV.

And if there are a team’s fans in attendance for some reason, expect a smattering of applause at best. Also, it’s not like you can boo a selection because chances are you won’t know how good the kid is for three years.

Why the NHL seems to think this is an event worthy of prime time, I’m not sure. I’m sure, though, that people will watch it, parrot the analysis of TSN types to their friends and either applaud or pan their team’s pick accordingly.

After all, that’s what sports are all about.

The finals are finally here – but which one is better?

- June 4th, 2014

It’s early June, so you know what that means: It’s time for those two sports that started back in October to finally crown their champions. And, quite fittingly, the NBA Finals and the NHL’s Stanley Cup final will both get going later this week.

In the NHL, we have the Los Angeles Kings facing off against the New York Rangers on Wednesday night and in hoops, it’s the Miami Heat taking on the San Antonio Spurs.

So how do these two championship series measure up to each other? Let’s find out.

THE BREAKDOWN

Championship pedigree

The Kings won the Cup in 2012, which is nice and all, but the Spurs won four titles from 1999-2007 while the Heat is the two-time defending champion and were a finalist the year before. That leaves the New York Rangers as the weak link here, having won just four Cups in almost 90 years and just one (1994) since 1940 – not a great record.

Big edge: NBA

Rivalry

Being in opposite conferences, it’s hard to build a real rivalry in either sport just due to the fact that the teams rarely meet. But with the NBA final being a rematch from last year, there’s plenty of proverbial heat between these two combatants.

Edge: NBA

Star power

The NHL has done a better job at growing their stars recently, but it’s a well-known fact that NBA stars are among the most marketable in the world. Just look at “Global brand” LeBron James. The Rangers and Kings have their fair share of household names, but none the likes of Tim Duncan, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker.

Edge: NBA

The markets

This matchup couldn’t have been better for NBC, with a matchup between the two top TV markets in the U.S. And as nice as having a Canadian team in the Cup final would’ve been for CBC, ice hockey fans north of the border are going to watch the games regardless. As for the NBA, San Antonio is an established team, but one of the smallest TV markets in the league – not exactly a boon for ABC.

Big edge: NHL

Wild cards

While anything can happen in sports there are two big wild-card factors at play in these two finals. In the NBA, refereeing decisions play into the result of games far too often. While many will joke that the NBA can have certain teams win by using certain refs, it’s too much of a reality. In the NHL, enough can’t be said about the fact that the teams will have to fly coast-to-coast during with a single off day three times if this series goes seven. That could mean a lot of jetlag. Also, don’t forget that games in L.A. will be start at 5 p.m. local time on week days, which could lead to dead crowds for the start of games.

Slight edge: NHL

Best individual matchup

While the NBA does have some good matchups, like LeBron James staring down Kawhi Leonard and veterans Manu Ginobili and Dwyane Wade going at it, the best matchup in the finals is actually between two guys that are almost 200 feet apart. Henrik Lundqvist and Jonathan Quick are two the best goaltenders in the sport and will be the keys for their teams.

Edge: NHL

Atmosphere

Despite the usual poo-pooing of California ice hockey fans and particularly caring, the Kings fans have been great while the crowd at MSG for the Rangers is always top-notch. While I have nothing bad to say about Spurs fans, the crowds in Miami are among the worst in sports. Never has there been a fanbase less worthy of its team’s success. Who could forget seeing them stream for the exits during last year’s final in a game the Heat eventually came back to win.

Edge: NHL

Funnest to watch

If you like fore-checking, shot-blocking and low-scoring games, you’re in for a dandy with the Cup final. While nobody likes the grind of fouls and timeouts at the end of NBA games, it’s not as noticeable in the final thanks to the impact of the games. Of course, whenever a Cup game goes to OT, all bets are off.

Slight edge: NBA

The picks

Miami Heat in seven, Los Angeles Kings in six.

A quick, loud rant about the Gardiner’s construction

- May 2nd, 2014

If you live in the Greater Toronto Area or have to come into the city for any reason this week, you’ve probably noticed that traffic is a nightmare. You can thank the construction on the Gardiner Expressway – only one of the busiest highways in Canada and a main route into the city – which will be going on for the next little while.

Oh wait, it’s not just going to be a little while; it’s going to be for the next TWO YEARS.

Of course, the Gardiner needs work, but that sounds like a ridiculous amount of time to choke one of the key arteries of this massive city.

It has been awful for traffic this week and, while it may improve as people get used to the limitations and find either different routes or different modes of transport, I can’t help but look on the horizon at events coming to the Big Smoke.

It was pretty bad that the weekend the Boston Red Sox were in town, the Gardiner was closed. Well, over the next two years, there’s roughly a mere 162 home baseball games to go. Perhaps we should hope the Jays don’t make the playoffs.

With the Raptors playing a home playoff game on Wednesday, traffic was somehow not a nightmare. But could you imagine a potential Game 7 on Sunday if the Nets win at home tonight? That sounds like hell on earth!

Then there’s two more season’s worth of games, 82 at home.

And then there’s the Leafs! Traffic getting to and from games is bad on game nights at the best of times, this is going to be hellish. God forbid they makes the playoffs.

Perhaps the biggest nightmare of all is just a couple of months away – The Honda Indy Toronto. Picture this: The Gardiner down to two lanes and Lake Shore Blvd. closed for a week. You might as well cancel any plans you have of going downtown or leaving it, depending on where you are.

And this isn’t to mention big concerts, parades and other events that occur year-round in Canada’s biggest city.

At least whenever there’s an Argos game, traffic is usually lighter.

And when the Pan Am Games are going on next summer, we’ll be back to three lanes to handle the extra traffic. Oh, joy.

Ready for some slowed-down ice hockey?

- April 17th, 2014

I’ve said before, so I won’t give the extended version of the argument, but the NHL playoffs isn’t the best form of ice hockey.

It seems like half the shot attemts are blocked, teams are too worried about making mistakes to really gamble and in general it’s a less fun atmosphere. And don’t get me started on the little skirmishes that take place after every time the goalie freezes the puck.

I went into more detail last year, so I won’t repeat myself here.

As for this season, we get to try out this new, more interesting playoff system with a true bracket instead of reseeding. Whether it leads to better and more interesting matchups will remain to be seen, but we do have some good ones in the opening round.

So here’s the picks to click.

OPENING ROUND

Colorado over Minnesota in 5

Chicago over St. Louis in 6

Anaheim over Dallas in 4

Los Angeles over San Jose in 5

Boston over Detroit in 5

Montreal over TampaBay in 6

Pittsburgh over Columbus in 7

New York Rangers over Philadelphia in 7

OVERALL

Eastern Conference finalists: Pittsburgh
Western Conference finalists: Los Angeles

Eastern Conference champ: Boston
Western Conference champ: Colorado

Stanley Cup champion: Boston

Conn Smythe winner: David Krejci, BOS

That’s actually not too far off what I called at the beginning of the season, picking a Boston-Pittsburgh Eastern final, but with the Pens going on to conquer the Kings and win the Cup.

As for the fact that I’m taking Patrick Roy’s young Avs to win the West, well, I’m an old-school Nordiques fan, so I must represent.

As for some of my pre-season predictions that didn’t pan out, the teams I thought would make the post-season but didn’t were Toronto, Washington, Edmonton, Vancouver, Ottawa. Looks like I just had too much love for the Canadian clubs.

Many changes needed for Leafs

- April 16th, 2014

It’s mid-April and the question we’re asking about the Leafs is the usual one: What time are they teeing off today?

After snapping the streak last season, it was back to normal. Maybe they should campaign to play just 48 games every year. Or to put Detroit and Columbus back in the Western Conference.

We all watched this season go terribly wrong after the Olympic break. There was that eight-game losing streak in which the team didn’t even pick up a consolation point for going to OT.

There were players looking over their heads, making dumb decisions – especially in their own end.

And when a team that has little to nothing in the way of secondary scoring sees their top line and top star go through one of his epic cold streaks, well, you’re just not going to win games.

It’s the second straight season we saw this team meltdown, only this time it was over the course of a month as opposed to 10 minutes last year in Game 7. If last year was a swift decapitation, this year was a slow, torturous bleed.

So how can this star-crossed team avoid the same fate next season? Well, I’d start by lowering expectations.

Before the collapse, the Leafs were third in the conference and hoping to lock up home-ice advantage in the first round. That had everyone optimistic for a playoff run, even though the team was always flawed and showed some cracks on a nightly basis.

The defence was always suspect, getting bailed out by strong goalkeeping from Jonathan Bernier and occasionally James Reimer.

But when Bernier went down, Reimer wasn’t able to hold his end of the bargain.

On defence, Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly are both fine young offensive defencemen, but both have to grow into more physical players with better awareness in their own end.

Captain Dion Phaneuf had some howlers of giveaways, costing the Leafs on more than one occasion. It was questionable if he deserved his big contract extension when he was playing well, now it seems like a salary cap albatross.

And as for Cody Franson, after his breakout performance against Boston in last year’s playoffs, we thought he’d step into a role as a top-two defenceman. Instead, he regressed horribly, leading the team with a minus-20.

As for the forwards, after Phil Kessel’s slumping ways, it is readily apparent that you need a consistent second and third line to help ease the scoring burden. Guys like Nazem Kadri and Nik Kulemin clearly aren’t the answer here while also providing little in the way defensive help too.

The first big change that has already happened is the appointment of Brendan Shanahan as team president. Personally, I’m not sure if this will have much of an immediate impact at all – and even a long-term one is dicey. This is a guy that has no history of building teams or even organizations. The only reason that it’s big news is because this is Toronto we’re talking about and Shanny’s a Mimico boy, through and through. But just remember the last South Etobicoke guy that the team signed: David Clarkson.

Starting with the roster makeover, if anybody wants to take on Clarkson’s enormous salary, let them – for whatever it wants to give.

The next issue is Reimer. This guy has been torn down too many times to be rebuilt in Toronto. He should be shopped for any draft pick the Leafs can get, if only just jettison this toxic asset.

Talking about toxic assets, Colton Orr should never play in the NHL again. What good is a goon who doesn’t fight? He didn’t have a single point this season in 54 games and didn’t get in a fight after late November. So, what good is having him on the roster, let alone playing?

The Leafs will have roughly $21 million in cap space this coming summer, but as they learned last year, that doesn’t guarantee good pieces coming in. Also, because the cap is being raised, every team will have at least some space too, which will see a lot of buyers in the market.

The biggest notable observation down the stretch was that the team looked dead, as if it couldn’t care less about the predicament that it had put itself in. That falls on the leadership of the team, specifically the captain and especially the coach. Randy Carlyle has to go.

He has clearly lost the team if he can’t get them up for what were essentially elimination games in late March and early April.

Not helping the case to keep Carlyle is the fact that the Preds have fired long-time, highly respected coach Barry Trotz. With that kind of name on the market, it would be wise for Toronto to quickly cut ties with Carlyle and go after the former Preds bench boss hard.

Of course, all of these decisions are in the hands of Shanny now. Whether he’ll be a strong voice in the front office or just a puppet for Tim Leiweke remains to be seen. And if I were a member of Leafs Nation, I’d really hope that it is the former. The NHL is a league where you can’t just buy success.

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki