Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Sami Salo Cloud

The Canucks just wrapped up a 5-game road trip with 3 losses and 2 of them were shutouts. Sole ownership of the number 1 spot in the league is gone for the moment. And if we’re being honest, Luongo let in some weak ones in the 4-3 loss to the Avs.

So is the streak over? Are we sliding into a slump? No and no.

As of today the Canucks are tied with the Flyers in points but sit #2 in the league standings. And that Avalanche loss was in OT which means Bobby Lu has not lost in regulation since December 5, 2010. He’s also improved in shootouts and has stopped the two penalty shots he’s faced this season. All that is happening here is that a white-hot team is currently only red-hot.

But that doesn’t mean we Canucks fans have nothing to worry about.

There is a dark, ominous cloud that hangs over the Vancouver franchise and its name is Sami Salo.

If Sami “Made of Glass” Salo steps on the ice for a game the Canucks are in salary cap hell. Keeping the Fin means gambling with the emotional and physical dynamics of a winning team. It also means betting on a guy who can’t seem to sneeze without pulling his groin or tie a skate without breaking a finger.

In a perfect world, Salo would waive his No Trade Clause and we’d dump him on someone else. When Salo is healthy he is great so someone could get a solid game or two out of him, I’m sure. But you can’t trade a player who is not on the active roster and to get him on that roster we have to make salary room. It’s a really nasty dilemma.

It seems like the only option is to mess with the roster of a team that San Jose Sharks head coach Todd McLellan recently called “Complete”.

If we have no other option, who goes?

For the last couple of years no matter the situation, if a trade seemed necessary every Vancouverite, journalist, analyst screamed “Bieksa!” I’m beginning to think it’s because it’s just such a fun name to say. And honestly, I don’t know a girl who wouldn't want to be screaming his name (but maybe not for trade reasons).

Now though, Bieksa has adequately pulled himself out of a point/performance slump and his name seems to be off the trade table. This is a good thing because I would also argue that he’s a solid member of the emotional core of the team and probably contributes off-ice in ways we are unaware of no matter his plus/minus. And on behalf of the female fan contingent I must also point out he is currently the best-looking Canuck. Every team needs a hottie for female fan morale purposes.

Haven’t heard of him? That’s because I Bennifered the names of Rome, Torres and Samuelsson – one or more of them may have to be dumped in order to get one old, under-conditioned, injury-prone defensemen back on the bench.

Now there are arguments that Torres is under performing, Samuelsson is past his prime and Rome sucks. But we need to remember that while Torres might be slumping right now, the man has made it to a Stanley Cup final so he knows what’s required. If he lets Kesler and the Sedins perform now and he picks it up in March, when the twins have repeatedly fallen asleep, I’m okay with that.

Samuelsson is definitely under performing at the moment, however last year Samuelsson didn’t heat up until the latter part of the year and he was stronger in the playoffs than Kesler and Burrows combined.

Rome. Well, my only argument for Rome is that he is able to stay healthy longer than Salo. Why trade someone who stays relatively healthy for someone who completely does not?

The Expensive Hip Check
Ballard is really not living up to his hype or his paycheck. Yeah, the hip checks are entertaining but not that entertaining. Then again, Ballard, like Rome, is currently healthy and likely to stay that way longer than Salo. And for a team that hollered about being plagued with injuries when they went down yet again to the Hawks in the playoffs…. They might live to regret trading him.

Last Year’s Whipping Boy
I can’t believe I’m saying this but trading Alberts would be a bad idea. The defensemen, who was the well-deserved butt of fan jokes everywhere last year, has really picked up his game. He’s hitting, he’s grinding and he’s generally – finally – making more positive plays than negative. Yes, he still skates as fast as geriatric, bloated Big Bird, but as Mason Raymond’s performance lately has shown, speed isn’t everything.

And then there was “E”
Ehrhoff could be seen as a logical trade on paper because his contract is up next year and the Canucks will likely not have the financial means to hold onto him. But that’s exactly why we should keep him. Because he’s brilliant and worth way more than we’re paying. And he’s been a key, integral part of the core players that have worked hard over the last couple of years and gotten the Canucks where they are right now.

It feels like a lose-lose situation. If Salo doesn’t sneeze and rupture his last good ball, or hang a picture in his house and put a nail through his hand, we’re pretty much up the salary cap creek without a paddle.

The team that got us to the top of the league may not be the team that enters the playoff race. And that worries me much more than a 2-2-1 road trip

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Winter Classic was a Wash

I appreciate the idea of the Winter Classic. On paper it’s a beautiful concept. 2 National Hockey League teams bringing the game back to its simplest form. A wholesome tribute to the roots of the sport. So why do I feel ripped off, cheapened and frustrated after watching it?

After a long sleepless night these are the top three reasons I could come up with.

I’m Just a Hockey Commissioner Standing in Front of a Country Asking It to Love Us

Gary Bettman and the NHL make it glaringly clear that they don’t care about the roots of the sport. They aren’t trying to display the beauty of hockey in its simplest form. What they are trying to do is make America watch more hockey. The Winter Classic isn’t for the fans. It’s for the non-fans. Because Gary Bettman wants Hockey to be America’s Game, not Canada’s because Americans mean more money. This is why you will never see a Canadian team in the Classic – Canadians already watch hockey and NBC isn’t going to buy the rights to a Canadian dust up.

I fully understand that money needs to be made to keep the league going but I also think that good authentic hockey is enjoyable and viewable and can make the NHL that money, no matter which teams are playing. The Commissioner of the National Hockey League clearly doesn’t have that kind of faith in hockey. He obviously believes that the only way to attract new American fans is to highlight “American” teams and sensationalize and dramatize the crap out of it with slick advertising and an HBO documentary. (Have to give him props on the HBO thing because 24/7 is amazing. He, inadvertently I’m sure, made true hockey fans very happy with that).

Maybe what Bettman and the NHL spin doctors should be working on is educating Americans to the fact that just because a team is based in the USA doesn’t mean the players on that team are American.

When Canada won Men's Hockey Gold I had an American friend from California say “Yeah well you did it with our players. Most of your team is from San Jose and Doughty is from LA.” Clearly the NHL should teach future US fans that you can watch a Canadian team and still find an American to root for.

Is it impossible to think that if Bettman let a Classic between the Vancouver Canucks and the Montreal Canadians happen that NBC wouldn’t be able to twist out some American Dream story about Ryan Kesler or Brian Gionta? By the way the Canadiens have more Americans (6) on their roster than the Washington Capitals (5) and only 1 less than the Penguins (7).

Yes, Ovie and Crosby are a rivalry and I get making them a Winter Classic once, but the Pens have been in this New Year’s Day game twice. And a Canadian team has never been in it.

A Winter Classic between Montreal and Boston could beautifully highlight the history of the NHL, the roots of the game, and bring the emotion and conviction of a true, honest, lifelong rivalry into the homes of Americans.

Never Dumb It Down For Your Audience, Even If they Voted For Bush - Twice
I have American relatives and American friends and I know that there’s a pretty large amount of US citizens that are not as dumb as a puck. After watching NBC’s coverage of the Classic, I am insulted for them. Well, to be completely honest, I only watched about 7 minutes of the NBC broadcast. I changed the channel from NBC to CBC right after the NBC announcer said “Sidney Crosby… from Nova Scotia. You’ll notice a C on his jersey. That means Captain.”

Even if I could let that go – which I really, really can’t – the constant tweets about the craptastic camera angles NBC was showing would have had me switch feeds. The Top Tweet when you click on the WinterClassic hashtag is this from HockeyBacon: “I’ll admit the Winter Classic is great for hockey because it attracts the non-fan. For instance, the guy who is directing the NBC cameras.”

I mean seriously, did NBC want to air this or did they lose a bet? Cuz they clearly dialed it in.

Americans are a sports-loving nation. They understand what a penalty is, a team Captain, a goalie and they know the guys in black and white are called referees. Hockey is unique in a lot of ways but the basics of the game isn’t much different than lots of other sports. Give them some credit. They didn’t need a colorful circle around the puck and they don’t need blimp-views with ant-sized players.

America Wants You to Hug It Out, Bitch

By hyping it to no end and making the Winter Classic into this dramatic, sensationalized monstrosity the new, and the old and stupid, fans of hockey believed that this was more than just a regular season NHL game. But it wasn’t. It’s not the playoffs or the Stanley Cup Final. It’s just a game that happened to be played in a different location than the usual arena. It still counts in the season’s standings.

I bring this up because people were losing their minds on the Penguins for not shaking hands at the end of the game. But NO ONE shakes hands at the end of a regular season game. If you’ve read my blog it’s fairly clear I am a Sidney Crosby fan. But even if the Pens had won I wouldn’t expect anyone to shake hands.

Repeat after me folks “It’s a regular season game”

If it was exhibition, or All-Star or Playoffs shake hands, high five, hug it out, whatevs. But the Penguins just lost 2 points at home, affecting their standing and ultimately possibly their playoff ranking. If Ovechkin and his Capitals had shook hands with every team that beat them – or even one team that beat them – during their 8-game losing streak then you’d have a case. But you don’t.

Repeat after me, “It’s a regular season game.”

And for all those incredibly mature grown men out there who spent last night calling him Cindy Crosby and screaming that “He” didn’t shakes hands, media outlets around the world – even Washington – acknowledge that NEITHER team attempted to shake hands. Crosby doesn’t control the universe, you just think he does.

The teams that played the 2011 Winter Classic were the first to have a true, strong established rivalry and the game ended in a very tense state. If there had been a bench brawl I wouldn’t have been surprised. No one wants to shake hands after that. If you're that traumatized by it, see a therapist.

In the end the only thing I’ll miss about the Winter Classic is the HBO 24/7 Road to the Winter Classic show. The rest of it from- the hype, the game, the handshake and most definitely the ice - was a wash.