Wednesday, 10 December 2014

The Vindication of Paul MacLean

The stingiest team in the NHL now has the most expensive front office. That is the reality of the Ottawa Senators after the players banded together against their award-winning coach. Instead of rallying around Paul MacLean and venting their frustration on the opposition, the Sens looked inwardly, scapegoating one of the few people in the club who cared more about their fortunes in the standings than at the box office. The mob now rules the bench in Canada's capital.

That is the scene in Ottawa as Bryan Murray begins the honeymoon with the fifth coach in his tenure as the Sens' GM, newly-promoted head coach Dave Cameron gets used to having his chin resting on the guillotine, and Paul MacLean wears the blame for the club's many misdealings and deficiencies.

Looking back, MacLean must've seen this decision coming, and he may even have welcomed it. For his entire tenure in Ottawa, he's been caught in a corporate nightmare: every year he's told that he's expected to outdo his previous accomplishments; every year the organization continues to downsize. MacLean is essentially the hapless victim of the Senators' unofficial de-build.

When Paul the Improbable took over the Sens in the off-season of 2011, no one expected them to be a playoff team. Somehow, MacLean took a club that finished last in its division and 13th in the Eastern Conference in 2010-2011, and helped it finish second in the division and eighth in the conference in the 2011-2012 campaign. Miracle MacLean outdid that astounding finish by taking a team that had been absolutely savaged by injuries in 2013 (including the infamous Matt Cooke incident) and leading it into the second round of the playoffs.

Then the Sens missed the playoffs entirely in the 2013-14 season, and suddenly Eugene Melnyk et al. began to suspect that they had a coaching problem. Never mind the fact that the team lost its longest serving captain in the most acrimonious NHL break up in recent history. Never mind the fact that last summer they traded Jason Spezza and replaced him with no one. ("No one" is the polite way of not insulting everyone involved by suggesting that David Legwand was supposed to replace the club's superstar centre.) Never mind the fact that a team that shed stars quicker than the Perseids was also trading draft picks in order to acquire Ales Hemsky as a rental for a feeble playoff push.

The Sens are an enigma. Management wants to be at the top of the standings while being at the bottom of the NHL's payroll bracket. The scrimp-and-save Sens have recently spent each stingy off-season worsening the roster, and yet management still expects the same level of success as when they invested in players. How can they point fingers behind the bench when they've gotten what they've paid for: a middling group of forwards that does not yet have a single double-digit goalscorer among their ranks this season, and a dysfunctional group of defensemen?

But that's not how managements sees things. The real problem for this club, if we're to believe its spokesmen, is that the former coach had "lost the room."

That's an awfully cheeky thing to say since the room was essentially gutted through poor personnel moves. MacLean must've been bewildered to see Murray haphazardly remodel the dressing room in order to make the roster more cost effective. Given these circumstances, alienating what players remained seems justifiable. If I were Paul MacLean, I'd respond to whoever approached me after missing the 2014 playoffs and whined about wanting "the old Paul back" by telling them that I wanted the old Sens back. You know, the scrappy team that defied all postseason prognostications in back-to-back seasons. Those guys could play.

And it seems that MacLean basically did just that when discussing the terror he felt when being forced to use substandard players this season. That may be the way things are, but that's not what management wants to hear, and so MacLean was dismissed for pointing out the obvious. In case it wasn't clear already, being a yes-man is now part of the job description for the position of the Sens' head coach.

Based on Murray's remarks, MacLean's public castigation of his group was a big part of the factors that necessitated the firing. Had the coach been pampering his players with platitudes instead of casting aspersions on their credentials, he would probably still be behind the Sens' bench right now.

However, that explanation seems unconvincing since less than a week before the firing, the organization ballyhooed a player who infamously scorched the team by publicly expressing his own disbelief in the group's ability to compete. Now some will say that a star player should be given more leniency than a coach, but the Adams Award made MacLean somewhat of a star coach, so shouldn't he get some special consideration as well? After all, he was one of the few stars on a lucklustre bench.

Like Alfredsson, MacLean called out the organization, but unlike the former captain, MacLean lost his risky PR gamble. Or maybe he actually won. After all, Alfie's derision was the prelude to his defection. MacLean's remarks may have been a way of submitting his resignation by unconventional means. If so, I hope that fans laud MacLean for going out as Alfie did: dropping the gloves with management.

And like Alfredsson, MacLean appears to have already won the PR war. I was delighted this week to see MacLean masterfully use the the fallout from his firing to zing his former bosses mercilessly. Is MacLean devastated by the firing? No more so than quoting a catchy Taylor Swift single can manage. Is he bitter toward the Sens? No, he's just confused that they seem to be short on mirth as well as money.

I think I speak for hockey fans everywhere when I say, zing on you crazy diamond!

Friday, 7 November 2014

Sean Avery Bows Out of Off-Broadway Debut

Just over two years ago, Sean "man, I HATE that guy" Avery announced that he had retired from his unillustrious NHL career by declaring that he'd thrown his skates into the Hudson River. (I'm not sure if he was speaking metaphorically, or if he is an avid litterer.) His soggy skates won't be lonely any longer as this week, the former New York Ranger chucked his actor's resume as well.

Avery's previous acting credits include the title role in "Phantom of the Press Box."

Yes, audiences in New York are surely in mourning this week. They will not be treated to having water bottles hurled at them when for jeering a former athlete's performances. They won't see any pre-curtain fights, nor will they be treated to seeing an "actor" do push ups in lieu of a traditional encore. They will even somehow have to get by without being entertained to Avery's undeniably dramatic brand of diving. Unfortunately for theatre-goers, the former enforcer has packed up all of his tricks for this season. (Here's a low-light reel of Avery's antics in case you forgot about his "contributions" to hockey.)

According to sources, Avery's decision to end his second career in infamy occurred over a simple misunderstanding. Like a ninja turtle reeling from a ten-day meth bender, Avery freaked out over a conversation regarding pizza. When offered a slice from an assistant stage manager, Avery declined and became upset when he thought that he heard the crew member call him an "asshole."

In Avery's defence, approximately 97% of his interactions with mammals end with the other participant or participants calling him an asshole. In fact, I've heard that inanimate objects will sometimes come to life just to call him a jackass. The unfortunate thing for the former enforcer is that he chose to have his meltdown  in one of those 3/100 cases in which his addressee had not muttered insults at him.

The startled assistant referred to Avery as a "madman." Perhaps she was simply confused because Avery stormed off the set after trying to form a handshake line so that he could glad-hand everyone whom he had called "fatso" during rehearsals.

Avery's previous acting credits include Scar in The Lion King.

According to reports, prior to leaving the theatre, Avery allegedly accosted the director by rhetorically demanding, "Do you know who I am?" Isn't that simply adorably? Avery apparently thought that everyone in the production had assumed that he was a legitimate actor, not someone who is coasting on by-gone infamy.

Avery's whereabouts since the outburst have not been reported. I'm not sure how off-Broadway works, but I assume that it's like the AHL, so Avery has probably been sent down to some ECHL-calibre vaudeville circuit for "conditioning."

As per cliche, the show will go on: Avery's understudy will takeover the abdicated role in the production. However, I doubt that the cast and crew have heard the last from Avery. Something tells me that the jilted star will send his replacement a message referring to the system of understudying roles as "sloppy seconds."

Avery's future acting credits including the role of Tevye in "Enforcer on the Roof."

If you're interested in the specifics of this story, check out these two links.

Friday, 17 October 2014

In Memoriam: Scorch the Arson Enthusiast

This week, the hockey world lost a bright little sparkplug named Scorch (a.k.a. the "Killer AHL Mascot." As the frontman for the Adirondack Flames, Scorch was designed to keep the home-fires burning--literally: this fictional character proudly stood up for house fires in his hockey market and, presumably, the world in general.

In case you're unfamiliar with scorch, here's a link to the video that introduced him to the world. If you don't have time for the video, at least read this biographical blurb on Scorch's origins. (Note: this is an actual screen cap from the video.)

"We need to stop infernos from becoming victimized by the brutality of firefighters," said the arsonist who designed this character sketch. 

Yes, apparently Scorch is the sole survivor of that reckless fire that shone so brightly only to burn out in its prime. But, as the saying goes among conflagrations, "Burn fast, quash young, and leave a smoldering corpse." As the only surviving part of that hallowed (?) fire of 1864, scorch is presumably responsible for the fires that ravaged Glen Falls in 1884 and 1901 respectively. Thus far I haven't been able to confirm if Scorch was the son of fires that also ravaged this area of New York state during the French and Indian War or the American Revolution.

Personally, I suspect that Scorch is actually part dilophosaurus.

See the resemblance? 

Since this area has been a real hotbed for fires, it's somewhat puzzling that a team would choose a destructive blaze as its mascot. Perhaps some insensitivity alarm should have gone off in the boardroom when Adirondack's brain trust convened before the mascot's approval and asked, "Will the residents of Glens Falls resent us for transforming their towns fiery destruction into a smiling, dancing mascot?"

Oh, I forgot to mention that Scorch likes to stick it to Smokey the Bear by dancing around forested areas. (gif c/o)

Maybe the Glens Falls crowd is super chill with the flaming destruction of their township, but my gut tells me that some felt about Scorch the same way that residents of Boston would react if the Bruins "commemorated" the Boston Molasses Disaster by redesigning their mascot as a corpse encased in syrup (Suggested nickname, "Candied Mummy").

Perhaps I am erring on the side of cultural sensitivity. After all, Scorch made the Adirondack Flames one of two professional, North-American hockey teams named after the burning of American cities. The other team is, of course, the Calgary Flames, whose moniker recalls the "Burning of Atlanta" during the American Civil War. With the extinguishing of Scorch, it's hard to imagine how parents on the east coast will teach kids to disregard let alone willfully impede fire safety.

Hey kids, don't let the mean firefighter ruin the happy house-fire's fun! Note: the above image is a team-authorized picture used to "promote" Scorch. The person who staged this shot must've thought, "It's my life's goal to give a new, positive meaning to the term 'friendly fire.'

Thanks to a bunch of complainers who have nothing better to do than watch out for sports mascots that might encourage pyromania among today's youth, Scorch will no longer be around to joke around with them at games, teaching them that playing with fire is wholesome family fun. Such joyous endangerment of children has not been seen since biblical times, when Canaanites and Phoenicians sacrificed their children by fire in the hopes of appeasing the pagan deity Moloch.

Yes, Adirondackian children have lost must with the snuffing of Scorch, but the people who lost the most from Scorch's demise were the many abusive football players who didn't look quite as monstrous compared to Adirondack's spirited slayer of firemen. (Well, technically "fireman," but by the look on his face in the picture above, you can bet that Scorch would've struck again if given the chance).

So, on this sullen autumn day, let's all take a moment to commemorate the passing of Scorch. Personally, I recommend listening to the original version of Elton John's "Candle in the Wind" in a dark room, cuddled up with a fire blanket.

Scorch, we hardly knew ye (because the Flames organization realized that you were a complete PR disaster that had to be snuffed out immediately before engulfing the franchise in a conflagration of controversy).

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

2014-15 NHL Predictions Part 5: The Central Division

With the regular season about to begin (hooray!), it's time to wrap this series up before the puck drops tonight. Thanks to everyone who read part 1, part 2part 3part 4 in this series. I can't wait to update you on how wrong I've been. A special thanks to Bobby Ryan, Ryan Johansen, and the captain-less Montreal Canadiens for busting three of my predictions predictions before the season even started!

Chicago Blackhawks

Good: If the LA Kings don't cement their dynasty by winning a third cup in 4 years, expect Chicago to lay claim to their own dynastic status by winning their third in 5 years. Either way, the Kings and Blackhawks will meet in the Western Conference Final, and whichever wins will handily defeat the Eastern Conference champs. 

Bad: Brad Richards will not rediscover his goal-scoring form, nor will he ratchet up enough assists to earn his keep on the second line. This lack of productivity, combined with wear and tear to aging scorers such as Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp, will lead to the Blackhawks struggling to muster enough offensive power to win games this season.

Ugly: The goal-scoring difficulties will be exacerbated by Corey Crawford, who will continue to baffle onlookers with his wildly inconsistent goaltending. One minute, he's snagging a surefire goal. In another, he's letting shots as hard as soft-serve ice-cream glide into the net.

Colorado Avalanche

Good: While enforcers continue to disappear from the ice, Patrick Roy will ensure that they have a place behind the bench. The feisty bench boss will pioneer the role of coach/enforcer as he gets into verbal and perhaps even physical confrontations with colleagues such as Bob Hartley this season.

Bad: Off-season acquisitions Jarome Iginla and Daniel Briere will not gel with their teammates. As a result, the team will play as an incongruous mixture of young speedsters and plodding veterans. Except issues with pacing to derail the team's playoff aspirations.

Ugly: Semyon Varlamov will continue to be a source of controversy. He will outdo his his celebration of the Crimea's annexation by supporting other polemical issues such as Russia's claim to the Arctic and Putin's canonization as the patron saint of the Cold War. When Varlamov goes too far, he will try to recuperate his image a la Shia LeBeouf.

Dallas Stars

Good: Jason Spezza will re-sign with the team at a decent price, and a resurgent Ales Hemsky will follow suit. Dallas will be a fearsome opponent with these double threats in addition to Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn.

Bad: Even though they're dangerous, this team will struggle because of the quality of competition in their division. The Blues and Blackhawks will not make life easy on the rising Stars in Dallas. If a darkhorse candidate threatens the Stars' place in the division's top-three rankings, Dallas will be hard-pressed to win one of the Western Conference's wild cards.

Ugly:The Stars will score, but they will not defend well. As a result, their highly-skilled forwards will have to make up for the team's deficient defence by outgunning teams. Expect a lot of games in which the team is forced to regain numerous blown leads.

Minnesota Wild

Good: If Ryan Suter suits up for 82 games this season and plays as solidly as ever in an increasingly tough division, he will be a shoe-in for the 2015 Norris Trophy.

Bad: I hate ill-wishing a player, but I have a feeling that Ryan Suter will miss a considerable amount of time this season due to injury. Minnesota has simply overburdened its star defenceman, and those grueling nights of playing upwards of 25 minutes will take their toll.

Ugly: This injury will expose the team's spotty defence. The Wild simply do not have a substitute for Suter's minutes; hence they played him to his breaking point. In the absence of someone to conceal their blueline's liabilities, Minnesota's already-spotty goaltending will become porous.

Nashville Predators

Good: By the end of the season, head coach Peter Laviolette will have the Preds playing a balanced, two-way brand of hockey. Fans in Nashville will no longer be bored by offensively-anemic games.

Bad: There will be growing pains as the team adapts to a different coaching philosophy after the departure of their only head coach in franchise history.

Ugly: The Predators won't reach the playoffs, but they may position themselves to make it next year if they ride out the ups and downs with Laviolette and draft well with their crop of high picks in June 2015.However, I have a feeling that they may get antsy and make disastrous moves like hiring a new bench boss and trading away their picks to quick fixes.

St. Louis Blues

Good: Paul Stastny will shine in St. Louis, making himself one of the best free-agent acquisitions in the modern NHL. He will be seen as the sort of hometown hero that the Leafs hoped to get by signing David Clarkson in 2013.

Bad: While Stastny will improve the team, those improvements will not make the Blues dominant. Rather, his offensive output will only help the team keep pace with with its two biggest rivals this season: the Blackhawks and the Stars.

Ugly: Ken Hitchcock will once again fail to lead the Blues deep into the playoffs. As a result, he will be fired during the off-season and replaced with the worst possible option: John Tortorella.

Nothing short of a hedge maze and an unusually cold winter will save St. Louis from the wrath of Torts.

Winnipeg Jets

Good: Alleged GM Kevin Cheveldayoff will finally trade disgruntled winger Evander Kane after the budding superstar has dropped several hints that Winnipeg if not his favouritest place to play.

Bad: Aside from finally completing the long-overdue Kane trade, Kevin "Nero" Cheveldayoff will continue to fiddle while his roster ages and stagnates in an increasingly tough division.
Ugly: Alleged goaltender Ondrej Pavelec will continue his decline, leaving the Jets essentially defenseless as the produce the worst goaltending stats in the league. Fans will clamour for the team to sign Martin Brodeur or Ilya Bryzgalov as a quick fix, but Cheveldayoff will do nothing as his favourite pastime is tormenting Jets fans with his Hamlet-esque inactivity. 

Monday, 22 September 2014

2014-15 NHL Predictions Part 4: The Pacific Division

Alright, let's bring this series home before the regular season begins in October. I can't wait to see how wrong I am come June when the Calgary Flames play the Buffalo Sabres in the Stanley Cup Final!

Here's a recap of the predictions posts thus far: part 1part 2part 3.

Arizona Coyotes

Good: After many setbacks in Edmonton, Sam Gagner will have a bounce-back season that vindicates his former club for drafting him 6th overall at the 2007 NHL draft. 

Bad: In any other division, the Desert Dogs could be a respectable team. But in the NHL's strongest, toughest division, their shallow depth at all positions, iffy goaltending, and lack of high-clabre scorers will lead to many lopsided losses. 

Ugly: Divisional rivals will devour this team all season. and Dave Tippett's defensive systems won't be enough to cover up his group's blemishes. Indeed, beating up on this outgunned club will enable the Pacific division to clinch both of the Western Conference's wild-card spots. Expect teams next off-season to describe Arizona as the easiest team to beat.
Anaheim Ducks

Good: The Ducks are poised to take a strong run at the Stanley Cup. They have amassed enough depth in their prospect pool to cash in some up-and-comers for some now-and-herers at the trade deadline, when the team stocks up on players that will help them combat their Californian rivals in the playoffs.

Bad: Dany Heatley will not regain his scoring form, forcing the Ducks to look for another winger to play alongside Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry on the team's top line. On the bright side, at least the Ducks didn't commit too much of their salary cap to a fading star.

Ugly: Teemu Selanne's scathing tell-all book is only the beginning of Bruce Boudreau's problems this year. His leadership of and direction for the Ducks will be questioned throughout the season. If the Ducks fail to make the Final this year, expect Boudreau to be lumped together with Todd McLellan as coaches whose systems run smoothly in the regular season only to crash in the playoffs.

Calgary Flames

Good: The Flames will be feisty losers all season long. They won't win enough games to be considered even a potential postseason surprise, but they won't make beating them easy. Fans will love the grit and determination of a team with little postseason upside.

Bad: The Flames will have a season worthy of "Boring Sean Monahan" season (Check out @boringmonahan on twitter). And that outcome's fine as nothing spectacular will or should happen for a team that needs to bottom feed for a few years before resurfacing as a playoff contender.

Ugly: Everyone not named Brian Burke will patiently wait for the roster to develop. Burke, however, will press for some shortsighted trades to improve a roster that should be built to bust. Expect Burke to cause controversy with his attempts to fix a team that is better off being broken for a couple more seasons.

Edmonton Oilers

Good: The Oilers will pass the title of "longest active playoff drought" to the Winnipeg Jets this season. (Sorry, Winnipeg, but you need to get a functional GM before you're able to make the playoffs.)

Bad: Edmonton will not get far in the postseason, and they may regret making it at all since they'll be easily dispatched by whichever divisional rival they play against. I predict that they won't last more than 5 games in the first round.

Ugly: There will be many, many moments in which it looks like the Oilers are doomed to miss the playoffs again. They'll secure a spot in the bracket, but their path to the postseason will be paved in humiliating losses, spotty defensive play, and numerous losing streaks.

Los Angeles Kings

Good: The Kings will win the Stanley Cup once more and be acclaimed as the first dynasty of the modern NHL.

Bad: Mike Richards will not regain form, and his contract will become a millstone that crushes the club's chances to improve itself through trades and free-agent signings.

Ugly: I stress "once more" in the "Good" as this dynasty's reign will end after their 2015 championship. Cap pressure will contribute to the end of their dominance, but injuries will also play a key role. The modern game is simply too grueling to allow certain players to dominate others year after year.

San Jose Sharks

Good: The Sharks will make the playoffs despite the GM Doug Wilson's efforts to rejig his "tomorrow team." Like Denethor attempting to cremate his still-living son Faramir, Wilson is going to torch a roster that is more than capable of winning the Cup now.

Doug Wilson's controversial handling of the Joe Thornton situation.

Bad: Bickering between management and players will rage all season long. Expect members of California's sports media to savour the incendiary sound bytes during the civil war between the club's on- and off-ice members. Wilson will make at least one egregiously disadvantageous trade around the 2015 deadline.

Ugly: When the Sharks are eliminated from the postseason, Wilson will lash out on his team like The Governor when he gunned down the Woodbury militia after they questioned his authority. 

Pictured: artistic rendering of Doug Wilson around spring 2015.

Expect the Sharks in 2015-16 to be in post-apocalyptic disarray. 

Vancouver Canucks

Good: After John Tortorella's reign of terror, the Canucks will embrace new coach Willie Desjardins as like a bunch of abused puppies rescued from a dog-fighting ring. Expect the team's stars to rebound from a disappointing 2013-14 season. 

Bad: The three-goaltender system that the Canucks are considering for this season will only provide fans with more players to revile during tough times. Heavy is the head that wears the goalie mask in Vancouver. Not only will fans run at least one of the three netminders out of town, but the crease at Rogers Centre will be seen as a career killer.

Ugly: As fans rain abuse down on their goalies, expect them to cheer on Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo when they return to Van-city. The only thing 'Nucks fans enjoy more than winning is the opportunity to salt wounds that they helped to inflict on their team.