Archive for the ‘Ice Hockey’ Category

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

A solution to the NHL’s shootout “problem”

- March 14th, 2014

Only the NHL would think that something that has an 80% approval rating needs to be fixed.

Earlier this week at what seems like the eight-times a year GM meeting, one of the bigger debates was about the shootout – something insanely popular among the league’s fans.

But while the vast majority of the league’s fans love the spectacle, the league’s general managers do not.

To be honest, I think that it’s a better option than infinite overtime in the regular season, but there needs to be less of an importance placed on it.

The more games that are settled before going to this exhibition, the better. So, isn’t the solution easy? Make shootout wins less important in the standings.

If wins in regulation were worth three points and wins in overtime and the shootout were worth two, teams would be more inclined to go all out for the regulation win.

You could even convince me to get rid of the consolation point for losing in extra time, but most would think that’s going too far.

While basically every international tournament uses this style of scoring system, the NHL does not for some reason.

This solution doesn’t necessitate any on-ice rule changes, which helps keep the game simple for fans. And after completely changing the division and playoff-seeding system this season, it’s not like ice hockey fans aren’t used to adapting to changes.

The one change that was suggested – and thankful was quickly shot down – was going an extra five minutes of OT and making it three-on-three. The solution isn’t to keep on removing players to open up the ice, that only makes things harder for young fans to understand. It also creates situations that don’t happen normally in a game – another problem with the shootout.

The GMs’ ultimately decided on having teams switch ends, making for longer changes in OT. While it’s a nice tweak, I’m not sure how many more goals that will actually lead too. I’m sure that games decided in OT would only have a marginal uptick.

What the NHL needs is to overhaul its standings system. Keep the shootout to settle things, just don’t let it carry as much weight.

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

An Olympic-sized case against fighting in ice hockey

- February 26th, 2014

Now that even the biggest supporters of Canadian ice hockey have weathered their hangovers after Sunday’s big gold-medal win over Sweden, it’s time to get back to one of the hottest debates in the sport that just won’t go away: Fighting.

I’m not sure if you noticed but there was a supposed element of the great winter game missing from the biggest tournament of the sport: Fighting. Makes it seem hardly “necessary” as some pundits and players say it is.

You could see it coming before the Games even began. The fact that each country was opting to forget about the goons of the NHL and picking entirely skill players ensured that we wouldn’t see much, if any, of the hooliganism that plagues the NHL.

Throughout the entire tournament, there were no fighting majors. Even in heated rivalry games like Canada-US, Finland-Sweden and Czech Republic-Slovakia, nobody saw the need to drop the gloves. Even in blowouts, when teams tend to get most frustrated and start playing dirty, there were no fights.

This doesn’t even sound like the same sport as NHL ice hockey, but it is, but with one simple twist: If you fight, you’re out of the game. So, in other words, you better make it worth it.

Even with two extra spots on the bench and therefore a roving forward and defenceman, no player saw the need to get pugilistic.

It’s not like these guys haven’t ever been in a fight, but there weren’t any of the Colton Orr or Frazer McLaren types, whose roles seem to strictly be to go out there and mix things up.

So, if the Olympic Games can stage a great series of games like these, why can’t the NHL make this adaption? It has already been proving that fighting in ice hockey is unsafe and can lead to long-term brain injuries and even scary incidents like when George Parros was knocked out when hitting the ice with his chin earlier this season.

With the games trending towards an emphasis on the sport is supposed to be, we had a legit concentration on the seeing the best and brightest skill players out there – which is what makes the Winter Games such a good advertising tool for the NHL. If you were tuning into a league game after that fantastic two weeks, you are going to see a much different type of game. If anything Sochi was false advertisement for the NHL.

And for those that say that fighting is needed for players to police each other on the ice, how many cheapshots were there in Sochi? Players weren’t taking liberties because they knew that there wouldn’t be any repercussions.

While many would scoff at the prospect of a fight-less NHL, why can’t the league at least make a half measure? Let’s eliminate that stupid staged fighting.

How about have that Olympic-style match penalty for staged fighting instead of all fighting? That would crack down on guys chucking knuckles right off the draw, but allow for legit beefs to “discussed” on the ice.

While I may have been against NHLers going to Sochi – and will still be against in when the South Korean Games come around in the 2018 – at least we saw a great, civilized version of the sport that all Canadians love.

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

Snapshots on the Sochi Game – from my couch

- February 7th, 2014

As the 22nd Winter Olympics held it’s typically massive opening ceremony today, I feel the need to share some thoughts about the Sochi Games and how they’ll turn out – for better and worse.

- The reporting on the toilet and hotel situation for these Games has been second to none so far. I can’t remember ever seeing so many photos of Russian toilets. Thank you, Internets, for keeping us up to date on this crappy situation.

-While there are many things that probably shouldn’t have been left until the last minute by organizers, shouldn’t the stray dog situation have been dealt with a lot better? First off, it’s terrible to cull 2,000 dogs for the sake of appearances; second, with more time, these dogs could have been dealt with properly by finding them homes or a pound. I also know there’s a lot of people in North America that would love to help rescue dogs – send them over here!

-And how about that number of strays?! Get your pets spayed or neutered, Russia!

-I probably should have started with this, but I seriously hope there won’t be a terrorist attack and I’d be willing to bet that the Games will be peaceful in that sense. There will likely be some protests over some of the boiling issues of the area, but no big flare ups.

-Is this going to be the warmest Winter Olympics or what? The only snow I’ve seen is up in the mountains and it’s basically T-Shirt weather in town. But maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

-I think it’s pretty good that the NHLers will be staying in the Athlete’s Village with the rest of their countrymates. At the London Games, NBA players all stayed at luxury hotels. Then again, when you’re 6’11″, I don’t think you would fit on one of the beds provided in the village.

-You can’t overlook the fact that soccer’s World Cup will be in Russia in four years time and games will be held in Sochi. So, let’s hope that the hotels are finished by then.

-I’ve said this before about the NHL taking a two-week break in it’s season and sending players to the Olympics, but I’ll say it again: I don’t like it. These Games shouldn’t be about pro athletes making millions; it should be about the little guys. But since every NHL team has at least two players heading to Russia, at least there’s some balance out there.

-If I were a better man, I’d take Sweden for the gold, beating Canada. Russia wins bronze, much to Putin’s disappointment.

-How are there events happening before the opening ceremonies? Snowboarding slopestyle and figure skating have already kicked off, yet the Games aren’t even open? Is the schedule really that tight for the next two weeks? I’m sure that this kind of tomfoolery could have been avoided.

-While some criticize slopestyle – or just don’t know what it is – it’s an awesome event. Watching what some of the top guys in the event can do is midblowing.

-Tossup for best nickname of the Games: Iouri (iPod) Podladtchikov or Mark (McRib) McMorris?

-Is McMorris the first star of a MTV show to compete in the Olympics? That has to be a first, right?

-You would think that Canadian Olympians like Sebastian Toutant and Maxence Parrot would have a little class instead of calling Shaun White a coward for withdrawing due to injury. Come on guys, you’re better than that.

-White winning the halfpipe gold is about as sure of a bet as there is at the Games.

-Worst part about the Games for people that aren’t interested in them: There’s nothing else on. Networks will likely go to re-runs and at the theatres, well, they call it “Dumpuary” for a reason.

-The amount of televised Olympics that will be broadcast in Canada reaffirms just how crazy we are as a country for the Winter Games. A total of more than 1,500 hours will be broadcast, which is roughly three times the amount of hours broadcast by NBC in the U.S. and massively outdoing countries like Germany (240 hours), France and the UK (200). It really goes to show that nobody cares about the Games as much as Canada does – for good and bad.

-You’ll be hearing a lot of about Norway winning a lot of medals and wondering how a smaller nation can do so well. The reason Norway usually kills it at the Winter Games: Cross-country skiing events. The Norwegians have multiple medal threats in each event based around cross-country skiing – and there are quite a few. When you consider the climate of Norway and how skiing is part of its culture, it’s a lot easier to understand why it is so good.

PREDICTION TIME

-Most medals: USA-Norway-Canada.

-Most golds: Norway-Canada-USA.

-Russia’s performance: Fourth in medals, average at hosting.