Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Crystal Ball: Part 2

Ok sports fans, enough with the think pieces and navel gazing, it’s time to get back to hockey. The home opener at the MTS Centre is less than 40 days away and it’s time to go out on a limb and make some predictions for the season ahead. Being a blogger is the best of all possible worlds because if my predictions are right I can get on a soap box and brag all day long about how awesome I am, and if I’m wrong, I can shrug my shoulders and say, hey I’m just a blogger (Ask Eklund , he’s actually made a career out of it).  The hotly debated question on everyone’s mind, including my own is; Will the new Winnipeg Jets make the play offs?

It seems as though this question ranks right up there with “what’s the meaning of life?” on the difficulty scale.  Not a lot of people are willing to take a position and when they do it’s with qualifiers, like “they will make the playoffs but.....” or “they’ll be in the hunt, but...” So now it’s time for me to put up or shut up.

Will the Jets make the playoffs? Answer: YES!

Now the hard part, why?

Most people on the other side of this question point to the competition as reasons why the Jets won’t make it. “Who will they catch?” is the often used logic. Ask yourself this though, how much have any of the other teams in front of the Jets improved in the off season? Now look at what the Jets have done.

I know there have been no blockbuster deals that would fill the obvious holes up front, but the Jets have quietly, almost under the radar been filling the plumber positions with good quality depth guys. Now I know what you’re thinking, so what, we’re not going to win the cup with plumbers and fourth line wingers. And on that I would agree, but here’s the thing, how many guys on this team are set to have break out years? What has to happen for these guys to have their break out year? They need support.  They need the grinders, and plumbers to give them the space to make the plays and explode offensively. So while other teams are hoping their young stars will step up, the Jets are putting the pieces in place to make sure it happens.

In my humble opinion what you are going to see next year is one of the toughest, and youngest defensive corps in the league punishing teams, while one of the most previously underrated and again young offenses, kicks it up into a different gear.

Kane, Burmistrov, Little, and Fehr will all see their point totals increase significantly next season. Kane I suspect will begin his ascent into the ranks of elite NHL forwards as well.  Also look for one of the off-season signings to be a diamond in the rough. Remember Zinger has a great eye for talent and a lot of these guys are hungry to make the most of their opportunity with Winnipeg. I think a guy like Tanner Glass could easily find a new level of play in Winnipeg, along with others.

The defence is definitely not the same question mark as the guys up front. Byfuglien heads a strong package that is a good mix of experience and youth. This is the year Bagosian has to impress or his stock will drop significantly. If the rumours are to be believed he knows it and is holding out for a generous contract. His agent is doing the smart thing and hedging his bets against what could be a disaster for Bagosian if he doesn’t have a good year. This is not a good sign for the Jets, although the defence has enough depth in Oduya,  Enstrom and others to compensate.

Now let’s look at teams in the east. Canucks fan in part one of this series basically said the team to catch would probably be Montreal, and only if Price has an off year. Really? Admittedly I’m not an expert on the eastern teams but in my opinion the habs got lucky last year and hot at the right time. Frankly I see them as the low hanging fruit that should be very catchable. I also see the Rangers on a downward slide, even with the addition of Richards. Look for Tampa, Boston, and Philly to dominate again this year. I do however have question marks about Pittsburgh and Washington. Obviously on paper these two teams are stacked but I found the problems Washington had last year to be ominous and problems with Sid will hound the Penguins this year. I also believe that Buffalo will improve after opening the vault in the off season. So I’m going to say the Jets will ride their young forwards and capable D to an eighth place finish in the east this year.

The other thing that no one mentions is the X-factor. Winnipeg will be the epicentre of the hockey world next year. Already there are reports of spontaneous GO-JETS-GO chants at many events throughout Manitoba. Every day Jets players are tweeting and talking to the media about how excited they are to play in front of the Winnipeg faithful and in my mind it seems to go beyond the usual sports cliché pandering. I think there’s a palpable sense amongst the players of being a part of something special and of course the fans will make their voices heard. How will it translate to on ice performance? I’m not sure, but if I had to guess I think you will see most players over achieve at least in the first year.

One thing I can predict with much certainty is we’ll be entertained.  Seeing the NHL clubs roll through Winnipeg again will be a magical experience and a winning season would be the icing on the cake. There is a small part of me that dares to dream bigger though. A surprising dark horse run through the playoffs, or maybe, just maybe a guy named Ladd with his name on the cup one more time. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

You Can Roll a Hard Six or an Easy Eight, but Nothing Beats a Lucky 7

Well valued reader, as you can see there have been some changes. A couple of days ago the creator of another Hard Six Hockey blog let me know that she had been blogging under that name at since January 2010. Now I could point out that I had gone to the trouble and expense of registering, and that when I do a Google search for hardsix hockey I have to go four pages in to see a link for her blog, but I can’t really argue that she was there first. Possession is 9/10ths of the law and she had staked a claim on that little piece of Intellectual land before I had, so I feel I have to back off and try to come up with something new.

Now when I came up with hard six, I basically just thought it sounded cool. I had heard the term used loosely before and when registering the name I realized it was a term used in the dice game of craps. It’s basically a hard way to win, and since the Jets in a previous life always seemed to get their wins the hard way, it sounded perfect to me. Now in choosing a new name for the site I went back to the game of craps and was intrigued to find out that the number seven carries big value. The number seven in new Jets history also carries significant value as the Jets now become the seventh Canadian team in the NHL. 

To get back into the NHL, the Jets took a long and winding road that was really mostly due to the hard work and perseverance of True North Sports and Entertainment, but you can’t deny there was an element of luck. A perfect storm of circumstances began to brew in 2010 that saw two US based NHL clubs on the brink of relocation, and the NHL in need of a big favour. It’s true you have to make your own breaks , and if TNSE had not been so very, very ready for the opportunity it may have slipped by, but you can’t deny an element of good fortune. It’s these elements, luck and the number 7 that I have mashed together to create a new title for the same old blog.

Lucky 7 Hockey is probably not as sexy as Hard Six hockey, but in my mind it's somewhat better in its symbolism. Personally I don’t want to go back to the old days of winning by hook or by crook , and continually having to roll the hard six. I would rather see our team rise to the top on the merits of a well run organization, I would rather roll a seven.

After all you know the old saying. You have to be good to be lucky and lucky to be good.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Piece No One Wants To Write

I know you’re not going to like this article. Why? Because I’m not sure I like this article. As with most hard questions that rattle around in my brain, it stems from a conversation I had with a friend of mine. I was having lunch with “The Expert” at a busy food court a few weeks ago. We had just finished buying our inaugural Jets gear and so of course hockey dominated the conversation . After thoroughly assessing the Jets for next season the conversation turned towards Sid and of course concussions. We were discussing possible solutions to what is becoming a very large and looming issue in the NHL, when “The Expert” blurted out something completely from left field; is hitting even really part of hockey?  I was shocked. I felt like he had just burnt down my local church and was standing over the ashes laughing. This was sacred ground he was treading on here. I stared at him blankly and realized that even though I wanted to let him have it with both barrels, I just couldn’t because as much as I hate to admit it, he may have a point.

You have to remember “The Expert” is a purist. He plays, coaches and follows every player in the NHL with a type of religious fervour usually reserved for people that strap C4 to their chests.  I asked him to elaborate and he basically put it like this: “Hitting is not checking. Checking is using your body to retrieve the puck. What we see at high levels is hitting to exact a physical toll on the player with the puck. Those are two different things”.  So we had to ask ourselves, had we drifted away from the pure game of hockey and made it something different? Honestly when playing shinny (what I consider the purest form of hockey) you don’t usually crush someone into the boards, nor do you in ball hockey, or any other form of the sport. Now I know what you’re thinking, Mike has spent too much time on the west coast, and taken one too many hits from the bong. No I am not wearing flowers in my hair and asking why can’t we all just get along, but I am wondering what the game would look like (theoretically) without hitting as we know it right now.

Co-incidentally, around the same time we had our conversation a local sports story was broadcast on the suppertime news. It was about a minor hockey association in North Vancouver that was offering its teenage house players two tracks to play in, one track with hitting and one without. Of course I turned up the volume and listened intently. They interviewed a 15 year old who was a former rep player and asked him why he choose the non hitting house league over rep hockey. His answer was simple: “because I can actually enjoy playing the game now” .The reporter then went on to ask if he had ever sustained an injury in rep hockey, what followed was a long list that included cracked ribs, a separated shoulder and a broken collar bone. Many parents where asked about the quality of the game and if it was still enjoyable to watch. Every person answered that it was actually more enjoyable to watch.  They intimated that the game flowed with greater speed and pure hockey plays seemed to form more naturally.

I was still reeling. How could hockey be fun to watch without hitting? Now again, I know what you’re thinking, Mike’s on a soap box trying to preach to us about his new non hitting theory. Well not really, I’m not exactly convinced that the game would benefit, it would be different, but would it be better?  For example would you really want to take away a defenders ability to lay out an open ice hit on someone trying to cut through the middle? I don’t think so. Would the intensity of a game at the elite level ratchet down if there wasn’t as much of a physical price to pay? Perhaps, but on the flip side of that coin would the Stanley cup playoffs be better if it were a test of skill rather than attrition?

I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t know what I’m saying. I’m asking questions, and I’m not sure about the answers.  I don’t want to be “that guy”, the granola cruncher that thinks we should all live in a world of cotton candy and unicorns. I watch the games and share the same excitement when retribution is handed out to a player on the opposing team, and I want to see the players I hate stapled to the boards. I freely admit those things, I’m just wondering if that’s really hockey or something else.

In the end, I know that hitting is the way the game has evolved and therefore is part of the game. It will never be taken out of the game, and I’m not necessarily convinced it should ever be curtailed. This leads us back to close the circle and the original problem. What do we do about concussions and serious injuries? Do we change the game or let players accept the consequences? Hard questions, with no easy answers.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Crystal Ball: Part 1

Ok it’s that time of year. Yes the time where absolutely zero is going on in the form of substantial hockey news. What’s a hockey blogger to do during the summer doldrums? Why make bold and probably wrong pre-season predictions of course. We assemble the paper teams and imagine the upcoming battles that will ensue. There’s a saying in the Military though, that most battle plans fall apart after the first shot is fired. With that in mind, the teams will ultimately have to play the games and fate will no doubt play a part.

So for lack of anything better to do, I prevailed upon the wisdom of the Hard Six hockey panel and asked a simple question. Will the Jets make the playoffs?

I sporadically received answers, because apparently a lot of people aren’t thinking about hockey in August. However Canucks Fan replied with a shockingly objective and comprehensive analysis. Remember this is a guy who has no skin in the game. We don’t play in his division and he's never stepped foot on Manitoba soil. Also remember, this is his opinion, not mine, so don’t shoot the messenger.

So without further delay I give you Canucks Fan:

Jets make the playoffs?  Can't see it.

Which team will they catch?  Washington, Phily, Tampa Bay, or Pittsburg? Boston wont slide far enough for sure - leaving the NY Rangers - who are prone to bring in what is needed to get the job done (well, at least MAKE the playoffs) so I don't see them as 'catchable'

Montreal and Buffalo are the ones that would need to be beat from those who made the playoffs last year.  This, of course also ignores the other non playoff teams. Carolina, Toronto, NJ, NY Islanders, Ottawa and Florida are spinning their wheels and have been for years, so I’m comfortable with the assumption that they won't make it. (except maybe Ottawa who may surprise and be a top eight - but not with strength if it DOES happen)

So .... Montreal and Buffalo are the targets .... have the Jets improved more than these teams?  Can their youth overcome Montreal and Buffalo's experience?


Montreal's forwards seem to figure stuff out enough to win. On paper, I don't see anything that would make me believe this team is a 'winner', but they seem to be able to compete, at least without PRAYING their youth will "step up" which is pretty much the story for the Jets.  
Buffalo has always had some potential in their forward lot and the present roster continues that trend - Roy, Boyes, Gaustad, Stafford, Vanek? I'd say Buffalo's forwards are the better of the three.
Tip of the hat to Buffalo.  Montreal a slight nod over Winnipeg.


Montreal's 'D'?  Strong and can play ... Subban is a stud, Gill solid, Markov- proven (when not injured), Spacek ... these guys are solid game in, game out.  Buffalo has shored up their 'D', but have yet to see the results - Erhoff, Regher and Leopold will be an improvement over what they relied on last year with Sekera a solid contributer.  Compare these guys to the Jets Bogosian, Bygfuglien, Hainsey, Oduya and Enstrom. For the Jets to make it, this D corp has to achieve consistency and maintain it. I don't see that happening, but if it does, this would be the area that will make or break their playoff possibility in my opinion.
Tip of the hat to Montreal (Subban himself tips the scale) .... Buffalo with the nod over Winnipeg.


Price is hot and cold - but consistently more hot then cold (if that makes sense!)  Pavelec? A wild card ... and Miller? cmon! Tip of the hat to Buffalo ... is Pavelec that good? will Price be that bad? October won't come soon enough!


I predict the Jets will be in the action, but will not make the final cut into the playoffs unless Price finally does falter for good, or the Jets 'D' suddenly find consistency and mature together as a unit out of nowhere.  

Can a fella named Claude Noel who apparently has a solid following in the IHL, AHL and ECHL not only make the transition to the NHL, but coach a team in need of some solid focus into the playoffs in his first year?

Not likely.

- Canucks Fan

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Dark Days

I didn’t want to write today. The news broke last night that Rick Rypien had killed himself and I thought to myself, let someone else write about it. As a fan of Rypien the player, I felt a little gut punched and wasn’t particularly in the mood to share. I and others in Vancouver had the opportunity to watch Rick in the bigs. He was the type of player, as a hockey fan you loved to watch. He was tough, hard working, never backed down from a fight and truly seemed to love playing the game. When he signed as a Jet, I of course was thrilled; he was the perfect blue collar player for a blue collar town.  So his death by suicide was a loss that truly deflated me. Let someone else write about it, I’m sure there are plenty that will.

But then I started hearing the word depression, and mental illness thrown around, along with a lot of tired cliché’s and misconceptions.  I myself had always assumed Ricks absences where due to substance abuse, a disease that seems to claim a lot of young famous people that lead fast paced lives. However we’re starting to get just a glimpse of what was really haunting Rick, and to be honest substance abuse may have been preferable. We started to hear that Rick probably suffered from depression, and as a result I started to hear the question “why?” a lot. Why would a young man with so much going for him be depressed? Why we would he take his own life? From the outside looking in these are logical questions, unfortunately the answers don’t really adhere to logic.

I have myself have lived at arm’s length with mental illness, as one member (possibly more) of my immediate family openly battles depression every day of their lives. I have seen this horrible disease, and yes it is a physical disease, from top to bottom.  As someone not afflicted your first reaction is to say “snap out of it” but as you live with the disease day in and day out you realize how foolish that remark is.  A person with depression can no more just snap out of it than an amputee can just put their limb back on. The most insidious thing about depression is the victims often know that there is no logical reason for them to feel the way they do, but still darkness permeates their mind. It creates a frustration, and a sense that they are trapped in their own head by their own thoughts with no escape. Often this leads to self medicating with drugs or Alcohol, and when that no longer works, there seems to be only one escape left. Imagine waking up in a suffocating prison that follows you wherever you go.

Fortunately a lot seek help and can at least slowly step away from the brink, but this step is harder than you might think. The stigma that is attached to mental health makes this a painful thing to admit, not only to one’s self, but to family and friends. I can only imagine what it must be like to be an elite athlete and have to admit that you have been betrayed by your own mind.

I have also heard “If he had only sought the proper treatment”. Who’s to say that he hadn’t? Treatment is not a magical panacea; it is a long and tough road that can be ineffective in the beginning. Several victims of depression can spend years of painful trial and error finding the right combination of therapy, medication, diet, and exercise. It is however worth the effort, as depression is curable to some extent and there are several thousand people who have successfully broken through to the other side. But it is a journey in a very literal sense, and not everyone makes it.

So reader, I guess I did end up writing today. I guess I needed to, and in some ways it was me selfishly wanting to come to terms with the reality that depression can even affect our pro athletes.  I don’t know for sure what dark rider chased Rick or what his circumstances where. I do know that the story sounds all too familiar to me. I really wanted to see you play again Rick, this time in a Jets uniform .... I really did. 

Monday, August 15, 2011


Ok reader, so this summer was sailing along quite nicely. It started with the Jets returning in May and then treated us to a major Jets story every month since (Name, logo, merchandise, etc). I was a pretty happy hockey fan; for the most part it was sunshine and lollipops. Of course the good times never last.

Yesterday @NHLwiki posted on Twitter that he had heard rumours from the producers at NHL Home Ice that Sidney Crosby was still suffering concussion symptoms and was probably not going to start the Season with Penguins. Wow! Queue internet firestorm from NHL fans everywhere. How could this be? He was Sid the Kid, the scorer of the golden goal, he was invincible. I along with others expected a long rehab, but to miss the opening of the season, with no prognosis of ever returning, that was truly shocking.

Later in the day @NHLwiki posted, that due to the rampant internet speculation touched off by the producers of NHL Home Ice, the Penguins would be releasing a statement. Well that was a relief. Surely the internet story was nothing more than a rumour and Shero was moving quickly to squash it like a bug before it got out of control.

Here are some direct quotes from a short statement from Ray Shero:

"There are going to be some symptoms with this injury, but nothing where he's had to shut it down or anything," Shero said, noting that he was in contact with Crosby over the weekend. "He's pushed himself, which is good."

He will not be "pushed" to join the Penguins for on-ice practices at the start of camp or even when the regular season opens at Vancouver on Oct. 6, Shero said.

"I'm only interested in making sure he's comfortable when he returns to play, end of story," Shero said. "I'm about the bigger picture with this thing."

Crosby has "seemed good" during their conversations, Shero said.

Read more:

Ummmm OK.. This certainly doesn’t sound an emphatic denial by a GM who wants to shut down a rumour. It sounds more like President Obama doing damage control on the economy. As a matter of fact if I were to read between the lines on this, I would say Sid is indeed still hurt. If Sid is still hurt we have to ask ourselves the next logical question; is he ever coming back? I’ll even raise you one, if he’s still hurt do we want him back?

I always have a certain sense of guilt when I see one of my sports heroes’s battling crippling post career neurological disease or a disabling chronic injury. I feel like I somehow contributed when I cheered every hit, punch or tackle. So for Sid to lace them up again might be more of a crime than if he were to simply hang them up. I’m not necessarily calling for his retirement, I’m just saying he’s won everything there is to win and he doesn’t need to become another Mohammad Ali or Tony Proudfoot to solidify his place in hockey history.  It would be a truly a sad thing if Sid where to come back and then face a more debilitating injury, or skate as a shadow of his former self. Of course I’m jumping the gun, I’m not a doctor, nor am I close to the situation.  We still however have to ask ourselves the “what if’s” and if Crosby is indeed forced from the sport what does that mean for hockey?

We have in the last twenty years seen several stars depart due to head injury. In the modern age potential stars like Lindros, Kariyea, and more recently Stevens, and Primeu, have had to leave the game abruptly. Why? Like every complex problem it’s probably a combination of factors.  It’s a perfect storm of rule changes, equipment evolution, better athleticism, and sheer stubborn pride that have contributed to what is becoming one of the most serious problems facing pro hockey. Let’s also not forget about the unspoken X-factor that nobody really wants to face because there simply is no answer; the stratospheric compete levels. The difference between a good hockey play and a suspendable offence is a) if you get caught or b) you mess someone up really bad.

What’s the answer? I would love to tell you there’s a magic bullet, but I’m pretty sure one doesn’t exist. I think I would start at the head, make it off limits, period! A hit to the head, even incidentally is a penalty, and call it every time. For a rule like this to work it needs to be like icing or off-side, the head gets touched and the whistle blows. The players need to know exactly where they stand. I would also look at equipment size, do real empirical research on the subject and then come back with regulations if needed.  Let’s also put the pride factor away and make pro players wear safety equipment like mouth guards, and ..... Yes ... I dare say visors. Players wear this equipment at every level except the pro level, so players don’t give me any crap that it affects your game. I also wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t stir the pot so here’s another suggestion; let’s look at the instigator rule. No one wants WWE hockey like we had in the 70’s. It was, to put it mildly a joke, but I have to wonder how many of these incidents would happen if an enforcer was patrolling the ice.

I’m really hoping that this is all just navel gazing, and that Sid will recover in time for the start of the season with all his facilities intact. I do however have a lingering fear that a combination of self imposed pressure and big money pressure will see him back, even if he’s not ready. Please Sid, if you’re not ready don’t come back. I don’t need to see another one of my heroes struggling to maintain his dignity in the face of disability after the game. Leave us with the memory of the golden goal, and lead a blessed life after hockey. We'll all be better for it.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Legendary Creature of Old

They are the stuff of legend and crypto zoology. Big Foot, the Loch Ness Monster, Ogopogo, and others. You probably have one of these creatures where you live, a mysterious presence who stalks the woods, lakes or mountains. A creature that is only talked about in hushed tones at coffee shops, and kitchen tables. Once in a while someone will come forward with a tale of an encounter or maybe even a grainy photo, but he or she will eventually be written off as a cook or crackpot.

There is one such creature that haunts my imagination, but I dare not speak its name in any hockey forum or social media, for fear of ridicule and rejection. He haunts the frozen lakes of the NHL and terrorizes goaltenders as he leaves them undressed in his wake. Yes I and others encountered this creature 20 years ago as it spread its swath of terror across the NHL goalie union. It wore white and seemed to appear as a flash, and then it was gone.  Some say it moved far away from its northern home and turned from white to black in the process, continuing to wreak havoc in the warmer climate of southern California. Of course you know the creature of which I speak, he is the Selanne!

Many say the Selanne has left us never to return, and no good can come from speaking of such things. But there is a small band, made up of myself and others that quietly whisper of a return with our grainy 20 year photographs in hand. And like all good crypto zoologists, ufologists, and cold fusionists we have created sketchy evidence to convince us his return is imminent. Like a Big Foot researcher taking a plaster cast of an oversized footprint, we point to the fact that he has not made his mind up yet. When asked why he would ever come back to his northern home, we point to the good hunting he once enjoyed in Winnipeg. When asked why the media hasn’t heard anything about a Selanne return, like all good cooks we trot out a conspiracy theory. Of course the media hasn`t heard anything, TNSE and his agent are conspiring in secret to formulate a blockbuster deal. When we`re told he’s already stated to the media, if he comes back it will be with the Ducks, we roll out the conspiracy again (it becomes pretty convenient). Of course that’s what he said, it`s just a smoke screen to hide the fact he`s talking to Winnipeg.

Yes I am a secret Selanneologist, I use pseudoscientific methods to conduct my research, and am completely convinced of his return. In no way whatsoever is nostalgia or wishful thinking corrupting my opinion in any way.  When talking of Selanne I always make sure my foil hat is turned in the appropriate position so that I can actually hear the contract negotiations in my head. Don`t worry they`re close to a deal, just you wait and see.

So now when I get on twitter, or one of the forums and reply to trade rumours with “It could be Selanne”, don’t ridicule me. You now know my motivation, and my methods.  By the way as of right now Kevin Cheveldayov is overseas, I wonder why?  Selanne hunting perhaps..

Monday, August 8, 2011

Send In The McClowns

I was really hoping that I wouldn’t have to write this article for at least another two months. I was happily enjoying a summer without the naysayers kicking sand in my face, I mean after all we had proven them all wrong right? Unfortunately some still feel the need to throw stones, so I guess our brief break from negativity was short lived.

Last week the great all Seeing Eye that is the Toronto sports media fixed its gaze once again on Winnipeg from the dark towers of Toronto. A leading Toronto sports radio pundit went on the air proclaiming gleefully that he knew first hand of three players that absolutely will refuse to play in Winnipeg. Much chin wagging was done at Winnipeg’s expense during the segment, along with an almost pitiful condescension. This is the same radio man who, at first proclaimed that the NHL board of governors would never endorse Winnipeg as an NHL franchise. Then when governors had endorsed Winnipeg he told us that Winnipeg would only be a placeholder until the club could be moved to southern Ontario. When that idea evaporated under the light of day he announced that Winnipeg partner David Thomson was also looking to buy MLSE. I mean, by god man if you are going to buy an NHL team how could you possibly fathom not buying the US Olympic I mean Toronto Maple leafs.  

I guess the axe grinding has not completely stopped at the centre of the universe. Of course we know that the last pillar of the Winnipeg naysayer is the old standby; “Players won’t want to play there”. I guess I really can’t blame those who fear Winnipeg being in the NHL again. I mean every one of their other myths has been completely shattered; “Winnipeggers will never be able to afford NHL ticket prices”, looks like 13k season ticket holders and 8k on the waiting list have no problem with it. “There’s simply not enough corporate support” , The 55 luxury suites at the MTSC that sell for 180k a pop sold out almost as fast as the season tickets, with a waiting list of their  own. That would appear as though the corporate community has no problem supporting NHL hockey. So at the end of the day they cling to the old chestnut about the players not wanting to come to Winnipeg, like a drowning man clings to a life preserver.

But why? Is it because the Toronto sports media can’t fathom the idea that anything from the uncivilized outposts beyond southern Ontario could possibly challenge their conventions? I mean after all, why would  any player want to play in that cold lonely Hudson Bay trading post known as Winnipeg, that dusty stage coach stop Calgary, or that bleak northern oil camp Edmonton. Vancouver? Pleassseee, those hippies couldn’t tie their own shoes without help from someone in Toronto.  I’m sorry, but everyone at the FAN 590 and the Toronto Sports Network (TSN) are going to have to realize sooner or later that life exists beyond the glowing gates of Toronto.

The bottom line is that there are some players who will prefer not to play in some cities. That’s just an unescaple fact.  Ryan Smyth prefers to play in Edmonton, and Illya Brsygalov prefers to play in Philadelphia, that’s just the way it goes. But to use that as your Winnipeg hating crutch is just weak.

For all of those who are wondering which players the Toronto radio guy was referring to, rumour has it that they are: Bogosian, Antropov, and Oduya. Rumour also has it that TNSE is working a trade that may involve multiple players. So while guys like Kane, Ladd, and Byfluglien have embraced their new home, it looks like the other princesses will be sent packing. Sorry Toronto for every player that wants to play somewhere other than Winnipeg, there are ten more that want to play for a winning, well run organization. It’s a strategy you should suggest to the Leafs some time.

UPDATE AUG 10, 2011: Looks like both Antropov and Bogosian are looking for or have bought homes in Winnipeg for the coming season. Also, suddenly there is a media love-in with Bogosian, who in turn is saying all the right things about Winnipeg. With those two suddenly off the princess list, I'm now also hearing talk that  the big trade is off the rails. Co-incidence?

UPDATE Aug 11, 2011: Hot of the Twitter feed, it appears a deal was being negotiated with New Jersey. It was Antropov and Bogosian for Zajac and Greene. Apparantly what killed the deal was Bogosians insistence, yes that's right insistence on playing in Winnipeg! Take that Toronto sports media Mcclowns.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Bogosian, Be Gone?

Throwing journalistic credibility to the wind today it’s time for some completely baseless gossip. What would idle summer time be without rumblings of player trades from the Internet? Today’s rumour comes to us from the twitter verse where everything is double fact checked so you know it’s true, and yes I have lowered myself to using cheap sarcasm to get my point across.

The word off the Twitter-wire is that the negotiations with Bogosian are not going well and even more so after Shea Webbers arbitration ruling. Therefore Chevy is looking to deal Bogosian. Although Bogosian is primed to be become a big time shutdown d-man, he hasn’t proven himself yet and with negotiations stalled there certainly would be reasons to deal him while he’s still hot. Another consideration is that the Jets have depth on defence but come up short on offence. Swapping out a top defenseman for a first line forward could make a lot of sense in the grand scheme of things.

According to rumour, New Jersey wants a top shutdown guy in a big way and they have their eyes firmly fixed on Bogosian . Lou Lamoriello, it is said also has a bias towards American players and has had Bogosian on the radar for some time. So what do they have that we want? That’s where the guesswork begins. There have been a couple of scenarios proposed by fans and followers; these seem to be the favourite ones:

Scenario 1: Bogosian for Parise straight up or with the Jets throwing in a sweetener. Ok now that you’ve stopped laughing, let’s look at this objectively. Parise is their Marque player and probably going to be their top goal scorer so that’s a pretty big piece to trade away. On the other hand he’s only signed to a one year deal, and he does have a big cap hit for a team looking to free up space. I guess the question is, how bad do the devils want Bogosian? Are they willing to part with a proven offensive first line talent for a still as of yet unproven shutdown d-man. My feeling is probably not, so don’t shoot the messenger.

Scenario 2: Bogosian for Travis Zajac, and a draft pick or utility player. This in my mind seems like the more plausible deal. Zajac is exactly what the Jets are looking for; a young talented centre with great offensive upside, who is co-incidentally from Winnipeg. If that’s what’s on the table, I say pull the trigger. I’m not convinced Bogosian will turn into the stud everyone thinks he will, and if we can fill that gaping hole at center with a good Winnipeg kid I say do it!

There are also rumblings of other teams in the mix, including Philadelphia, although how serious that is and who might be moved are beyond my pay-grade.

Again this is all rumour and speculation, but aint it fun? There are very good reasons to move Bagosian and good reasons to keep him. Bogosian is supposed to be the next big thing, and good defensemen don’t grow on trees. Nor do they become stars overnight, and at age 21, Bogosian is nowhere near his prime.

In the end I think the Jets probably are shopping Bogosian around, whether it’s to New Jersey, and whether they pull the trigger on a deal, who knows. What I do know is that a lot of times, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. We’ll just have to wait and see. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

To Zherdev or not to Zherdev

I’m cheap. Just ask anyone who knows me. My favourite guilty pleasure is a garage sale in a rich neighbourhood. So when I heard Nik Zherdev was actively campaigning to play for the Winnipeg Jets, the first thought the entered my mind was; we could get a first line guy at a third line price. And then that nasty little thing that has stopped so many of my Fred Flinstone-esque schemes in the past reared its ugly head again. The voice of reason, and it said “How come no one else wants this guy?”

A good question indeed.  Nik Zherdev entered the league as a high draft pick and superstar in waiting. There is no doubt about it this guy can dangle the puck, but, if you believe the talk, his play only flows in the offensive direction. The book on Nik Zherdev is that he’s a defensive liability, that doesn’t always bring his offensive A game every night. Still if you look at his highlight reel goals it’s hard not to be tempted. Especially if you consider that fact that he’s relatively young at 26 and he’s demonstrated a desire to play with the Jets.

A hard question, a quandary, a dilemma. Time to call in the hard six hockey panel.  I put the question to them:

What do you think of Zherdev?  And would the Winnipeg Jets be wise to pick him up?

Bruisfan:  Yes get him. Russian talent is not something to pass up on. Pair him up with young Burmistrov and there could be magic. The NHL needs more Russian talent and I think we will see resurgence with the new KHL, MOU. So yes sign him he’s a talented player.”

Jets Connection: “We need Zherdev like JFK needed a convertible.”

The Expert:Zherdev is like many Russian players with enormous offensive talent (ie. Filatov, Krivokrasov, Volchkov, etc...) They often don’t get much playing time from NHL coaches bent on playing defensive systems.  To be fair to these coaches, they are trying to win games and in hockey, stopping goals is nearly as important as scoring them.   For these offensive players (not all Russian, look at Schremp) the puck needs to be on their stick for them to be effective.  Defensive teams need to get the puck back once it’s lost and these guys are often not good at getting it back.  Hence, entire shifts are spent in your own end getting cycled to death.
Zherdev has shown signs of defense in his stats with the Rangers in 2008-2009 as he was their second leading scorer and second on the team in plus/minus with a plus 6.  But generally his plus/minus has been woeful and it’s a concern.  He is another winger, that needs to be on the top two lines to be effective and with the amount of bouncing around he has done he seems like a "me first" player.  So he may not be a good fit for the Jets, but as with all these guys there’s a big reward if you give him a chance, just don't sign him to a long term deal.”

Nucks Fan:  “Winnipeg will need as much talent as they can to add to their plethora of 'character players'.  During the regular season, when the refs actually make calls, his playmaking skills will HAVE to be respected by opposing teams - even if he DOES check out and float for some games.  He's got some grit and will contribute offensively whether or not he’s actually on the scoreboard.  He can help teams that need to get into the playoffs, but may not be someone to rely on once there.  Winnipeg won't have to worry about his playoff performance for a while; just making a presence will be a huge step.
Bottom line ... the guy is ONLY 26 ... an 'enigma' ... wants to be back in the NHL apparently, so he will be motivated for at least a year.  With players on the roster like Ladd, Kane, Glass, Rypien etc, Winnipeg already has the hard working 'character' dynamic and now needs to fill out their 'dance card' and this fella can do the tango, foxtrot and jazz to whatever music is played.  HUGE upside potential with a roster that will protect him.  If he actually wants to play for Winnipeg, this signing should be a no brainer.

So there you have it, the panel has weighed in, three to one in favour. Chevy’s job just got easier.

I’m inclined to agree with the panel. Although centre is the gaping hole in the depth chart, if a talent like Zherdev is motivated to play for your team, you at least need to look at it seriously.  The Winnipeg Jets are deep in defence and light on offense. Nucks fan makes a great point when he says, even if he does check out for a few games who cares? The other teams still need to respect his ability.  

There is another angle to this that people seem to be missing. Let’s say the Jets bring in Zherdev, and get him at a bargain price on a two year deal.  What if he puts up big numbers in the first year trying to get the big contract? He instantly becomes a valuable asset that can be traded for say a first line centre, or a player that’s a better fit.  There’s also one other thing no one has mentioned. Is Winnipeg management even interested? So far all the talk has been coming from Zherdev himself.  No one from TNSE has confirmed that there have even been talks with Zherdevs agent.

There is a ton of potential upside with Zherdev, if he comes at the right price and with the right attitude. However I have to keep asking myself why Nik hasn’t been a mainstay in the NHL. If he’s a poisonous influence in the room, does that fit with trying to build a winning culture long term? Again, hard questions with no easy answer. To Zherdev or not to Zherdev.... 

UPDATE AUG 3, 2011: Nik Zherdev has signed with Atlant Mytishchi of the KHL.