Archive for the ‘Ice Hockey’ Category

The World Cup of stupid

- January 30th, 2015

I might be a little late to the party on this one, but when you’re sick, you don’t really feel like thinking about things that make you feel even worse.

Over that monstrosity known as NHL all-star weekend, commissioner Gary Bettman announced the return of the World Cup of ice hockey.

What a joke.

There couldn’t be a more ham-fisted way of this league trying to side-step the Olympics.

What Bettman doesn’t realize is that this little tournament he is trying to pull off doesn’t have a fraction of the cache of the Games.

Players don’t want to compete for this resuscitated Cup, they want Olympic medals!

The two big problems that the NHL has with the Olympics is that it must take two weeks off mid-season and that the next Games will be in South Korea, making it hard for the NHL to use as a tool to market players because of the difficult time difference.

It won’t get any better in 2022 either, when the Winter Games will be either in China or Kazakhstan.

Really, this is just a measure of control for the league over its players, and it’s a poor move on their behalf.

The worst part about this World Cup proposal: The two non-national teams that will be involved. There will be an “all-star” team made up of players from the remaining countries not invited, which is stupid, and a Young Guns team featuring the best young North American players 23 and under, which is completely preposterous.

Are there really not eight countries in the world good enough to play in this World Cup? And if not, why are we bothering to even call it that?

The Young Guns team is especially stupid when you consider that it will amount to a much of second-year players going against Olympic-calibre stars. Looking over Canada’s roster from the Sochi Olympics, only Matt Duchene would have qualified to be a Young Gun. Doesn’t seem fair, right?

The timing of when this World Cup will occur isn’t good either. In a league where the off-season is too short already, the league’s top players are now going to have to be in game shape by early September. It also means that teams will be without their top players until right before the season starts, making preparation more difficult.

Finally, don’t get me started on this even more preposterous Ryder Cup idea!

Having a series between a team of the top North American players and the top European players is just plain dumb. Nobody draws lines like that in ice hockey except for Don Cherry. And when you consider that the biggest national rivalry hasn’t been Canada vs. Russia for a long time and is now Canada-U.S.A., why would you want to see those two sides team up?

And to think, the NHL had been on such a nice run too.

There has been  a noticeable lack of scandals and mistakes. The quality of play is up and the league growing, even think about – gasp! – expansion. Fights are even way down, too – which at least I’m thrilled about.

But now, they gotten too greedy and flown too close to the sun.

Just like goals at the all-star game, too much is not always a good thing.

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

Let’s concentrate on other sports, Canada

- January 8th, 2015

After the world junior triumph by Team Canada on Monday and coming off Olympic gold medals by both our men’s and women’s teams at the Olympics in Sochi last year, it is very clear that we are back on top of the world as the undisputed best country in the world at ice hockey.

So, after climbing that mountain, let’s aim for another one.

Let’s call this mountain: Anything-but-ice-hockey.

Canada is so good at this sport that any tournament that it enters it will be considered the favourite – and rightfully so.

In the women’s game, there are only two world-class teams, with the Canadians and Americans always dueling for the gold.

In the juniors, Canada is always the best team out there, but has blown it the past few years. If you think otherwise, just look at the first round of the NHL draft.

In the 2014 draft, almost half (14 of 30) of the first-round picks were from Canada and six of the top seven were Canucks. The year before, 18 first-round picks were Canadian.

At the Olympics, you could’ve built a team with the all of guys that Canada didn’t take and have a good shot at a medal.

So, here’s what I propose: Let’s try to get stronger as a nation at other sports.

If we use 20% of government funding allocated to ice hockey and if one of every five top ice hockey prospects took up a different sport, we could still dominate on the ice while developing other sports and creating diversity on the sporting landscape.

Just look at some other sports and we fare in them:

-While Canada produces some decent baseball players, there’s not enough to ever contend at the WBC.

-We had just one gold medal at the 2012 Summer Games and were tied for 13th in overall medals.

-In the current FIFA rankings, Canada is ranked 112th in the world and hasn’t qualified for a World Cup since 1986.

-Can anybody name the last Canadian-born QB to start in the CFL? Has one ever been successful? I’m guessing probably not.

-Mike Weir winning the Masters was an excellent story, but how often do Canadians win even low-end tournaments on the PGA Tour?

-We’re finally getting our act together in tennis, so no complaints there. Eugenie Bouchard and Milos Raonic are arguably the two greatest Canadian tennis players ever – which is saying something about our history.

Can we not aim to improve at these other global sports and bring some pride in other areas?

As great as winning gold in ice hockey feels every time out, just making the World Cup would feel even better.

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

Our completely uninformed 2014-15 NHL preview

- October 8th, 2014

I’ll be the first to admit that when I don’t have to, I’m not paying attention to ice hockey.

I’m not a fan of it and I’m not sure if it’s a fan of me.

What I am a fan of is making predictions, especially with a new season raring to go on freshly zamboni’d ice.

So what did I miss over the summer, when really, you shouldn’t be paying much mind to a winter sport?

Well, until reading up a little bit, I had no idea who the first pick in the draft was (Aaron Ekblad), that Jarome Iginla joined my “favourite” team (Colorado), that the Phoenix Coyotes no longer exist (it’s the Arizona Coyotes now) and, really, just forgot which teams were realigned into those funky new divisions last year.

There is plenty of knowledge I did retain though. Like the fact that league is in pretty good shape and actually looking into expansion – you know, because the teams in Florida, Carolina and Arizona are working out SOOO well and shouldn’t be moved.

Also, there’s no Olympics this year, so the season should start and end at reasonable time without that idiotic two-week break to send 5% of the league’s players.

And perhaps both most shockingly and importantly, Gary Bettman is no longer the worst commissioner in sports. Not even his incompetence and the NHL’s repeated work stoppages could knock Roger Goodell off of that podium now.

But in fairness, could you imagine how terrible Bettman would come off if he had to deal with the same stuff that Goodell did.

As for my picks, I look forward to seeing a large percentage wrong at season’s end.

Metropolitan division: Pittsburgh, Washington, New York Rangers.

Atlantic division: Boston, Montreal, Tampa Bay.

East wild cards:, Toronto, New York Islanders.

Pacific division: Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose.

Central division: Chicago, St. Louis, Dallas.

West wild cards: Colorado, Nashville.

Hart trophy: Sidney Crosby, PIT

Art Ross trophy: Steven Stamkos, TB

Norris trophy: Shea Weber, NAS

Vezina trophy: Carey Price, MTL

Surprises: New York Islanders, Jonathan Bernier (Vezina contender), Columbus, fighting will – thankfully –go down a tick.

Disappointments: Winnipeg Jets, Alberta teams, Minnesota, the East in general.

Eastern Conference final: Boston Bruins over Pittsburgh Penguins.

Western Conference final: Chicago Blackhawks over L.A. Kings.

Stanley Cup: Chicago Blackhawks.

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.