Thursday, 26 September 2013

"What's in a name? That which we call a goon by any other name would hit as hard."

The on-ice brawl between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres on Sunday lasted mere minutes, but the war over its significance rages on in debates about the role of fighting in hockey. Unlike other instances in which this divisive issue has become the central subject of debate among hockey writers, the current controversy has included arguments over the words that we use to describe fighters.

James Mirtle of The Globe & Mail caused controversy with the words that he used in this article. People objected to his use of the words "goon" and "super goon" to describe players primarily known for (or unable to contribute to the game beyond) fighting their opponents.

Normally I'd leave this situation alone because I don't think any amount of debate will change people who dislike hockey fights into fans of that aspect of the game. However, I decided to get into a debate with Mirtle on Twitter because he didn't understand why people might object to his use of the word "goon."

Unfortunately, there's no "dictionary of hockey terms" that can resolve this matter for us. Even if there were one, it'd really only serve as a guideline. Our analysis of language has to consider specific usages of words as well as established definitions. As an academic, I routinely begin each paper by offering specific definitions of my key terms. That's how discourses develop. For this debate, I'm proposing the following hierarchy of terms for hockey fighters (listed from most positive to most negative):


I may be the only person to use the highly-favourable terms "champion" or "challenger"to describe fighters. I'm using an old form of "champion" that alludes to traditions of judicial combat. Sometimes armies would avoid bloodshed by agreeing to let the outcome of a battle be decided by a duel between each army's greatest warrior. Sometimes a person would fight to defend the honour of a person who (for whatever reason) could not do so herself or himself. A knight, for instance, might fight for a lady or for a king whose well-being couldn't be jeopardized by having him fight for himself. 

Pictured: Achilles fights Hector in single combat after the latter fatally high-sticked the former's friend, Patroclus (scene from Troy).

In hockey, the "champion" or "challenger" often fights in place of an elite player who has been challenged or affronted by an opponent. For example, Colton Orr might fight for Phil Kessel if someone manhandled the Leafs' sniper. In other cases, this player would get into a fight in a losing game for the sole purpose of defending the team's reputation and, thereby, securing a moral victory in order to prevent the game from being an utter loss. To some it might be petty, but such attempts are a way to show that the team is too proud to go down without a fight.

The term "policemen" captures the role fighters play when dormant: their mere presence on the bench can help to keep things civil and orderly between teams in a game. Like other terms in this list, this designation hinges upon a fighter's reputation rather than his actions. The fighter's presence deters misconduct by reminding players that there will be retribution for such actions. Should the threat of reprisal fail to keep players honest, the "policeman" becomes the "enforcer" who tries to redress any wrongdoing.

The terms discussed so far generally uphold the notion that fighters make meaningful contributions to a game. Conversely, those who consider fighters as detrimental to the sport prefer "goon" or "face-puncher." The only term that both sides of this debate could agree upon if "fighter." This generic term is neutral because it captures the thing that unites each type of belligerent player--his fighting prowess. 

If Mirtle had intended his article to be neutral toward these players, he should have used "fighter" and similar words that describe someone who fights (e.g. combatant, pugilist) instead of "goon" and "super goon," which suggest that fighters are nothing more than paid thugs. Mirtle insists that "goon" and "enforcer" are interchangeable, non-derogatory terms. However, anyone familiar with "Little Bunny Foo Foo" would tell you that goons are awful things because being turned into one is a punishment reserved for creatures who are guilty of unprovoked, aggravated assault against field mice. 

I believe that the story of "Little Bunny Foo Foo" is taken from Ezekiel 25:17. "The path of the righteous bunny is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil goons. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother's keeper and not the bopper of lost rodents. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my field mice. And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee."

Mirtle's argument that "goon" and "enforcer" are interchangeable seems based on understanding "synonym" to mean "same-o-nym." Synonyms designate words that are comparable or have similar yet (in at least some ways) markedly different meanings. Thus "goon" is a synonym for "enforcer" in that both words describe the same object, which is, in the context of hockey, a person renowned for his fighting prowess. The fact that the words are synonymous doesn't change the fact that each contains connotations that express certain attitudes toward players whose game revolves around fighting and the role of fighting in the game. 

I list "face-puncher" lower than goon because this word suggests that fighters are bereft of even the meager intelligence possessed by goons. Below "face-puncher" are whatever other words people devise to disparage fighters. One such example is "coke machine."

These terms, of course, can apply to any one fighter based on circumstance. A player's actions in a game, his purpose on the team, and his reputation all contribute to what words suit him as a fighter in a game or in general. Frazer McLaren, for example, might serve as a policeman in one game, enforce civility in another, and act like a goon in another game. 

These terms are similar to designations such as "knight," "raider," and "mercenary." A knight can be employed for mercenary reasons or go on a raid. Both a raider and a mercenary can act chivalrous. Often these terms describe the actions of different warriors or the opinions of others toward them. Another way to consider this situation would be to use pizza as an analogue. Hawaiian, Canadian, and Greek are all types of pizzas that some people like and others hate. Despite key differences among them, each type shares qualities with the others that make it belong to a general kind of food. In a similar manner, the basic function of a player as a fighter unites him with others despite differences in their actions or reputations as fighters.

Reputation perhaps has the greatest influence over how a fighter is perceived because fans often form prejudices toward players. For instance, John Scott could single-fistedly thwart an alien attack of Independence Day proportions, and a large contingent of Leafs fans would still consider him to be nothing more than a goon. 

"Welcome to earth!"
Colton Orr could save Nazem Kadri from the clutches of a rabid Zdeno Chara, but Orr's detractors would still blame him and players of his ilk for the role violence plays in hockey. 

Personally, I hope that classifying fighters will help us to understand and appreciate the contributions that these players make to the game. If nothing else, these terms should enable us to discuss the function of hockey fighters with greater precision. These definitions aren't perfect, and they will all need further elaboration and revision. But, at the very least, they clarify that many of the words used to discuss hockey fighters reflect attitudes toward them and the role that they play in the game. 

Given how disagreements over these subjects have generated so many articles, blogs, and tweets, it's not surprising that language is another battlefield in this conflict over old-time hockey!

Monday, 23 September 2013

Best. Preseason. Game. Ever.

Just when the preseason was getting stale, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres spiced things up with a brawl that quickly devolved into algebra as officials tallied the exact number of penalties incurred during a melee reminiscent of the opening scene from Gladiator.

To no one's surprise, the anti-fighting contingent of hockey writers denounced last night's game as a fiasco, gong show, disgrace to the game, or the hockey equivalent of The Godfather III. (Okay, I made up that last one, but it would be nice to see these writers nuance their diatribes now and then.)

Subtitles for this movie included The Godfather III: Nothing's Sacred, The Godfather III: Will There Ever Be a Rainbow? and The Godfather III: Electric Boogaloo

Perhaps these writers felt compelled to condemn last night's brawl because it may have a tangible result and make a significant contribution to the game. The fights might convince pending UFA Phil Kessel to re-sign with the Leafs.

As a few people noted following the game, Kessel has been surprisingly truculent lately. (Well, as truculent as #81 can be.) Kessel has been dishing out hacks and slashes more often than goals thus far in the preseason. Some consider this behaviour to be characteristic of a player in his contract year, but last night's incident wasn't about Kessel proving that he deserves a big pay day. The two goals that he tallied earlier contributed to that end.

No,  last night was more about the team courting Kessel to stay with them. The line brawl was tantamount to teammates negotiating with Kessel on Dave Nonis' behalf.

As Carter Ashton put it following the game, "we got twenty guys that are gonna back Phil up." The Leafs sent a strong message to the Sabres yesterday, but they sent also sent an even stronger message to Kessel. With the Leafs, Kessel has a team that will protect him from the John Scotts of the league. Can Phil count on that kind of support elsewhere? Kessel would be wise to stick with teammates who are willing to get their noses bloodied and broken for him.

Here are some other thoughts following the game.

1. Hindsight: 1, Me: 0

I'm impressed with Carter Ashton's performance in the preseason. In the last two games, he's battled hard during every shift, fought at least one Sabre in both halves of the home-and-home series, and tallied some assists along the way.

I'm kicking myself for not listing him on my list of Leafs Prospects Guaranteed to Infuriate the Opposition. It was such an obvious omission that it prompted the following discussion on twitter:

Well, time has told me that Frank was right. As of today, Ashton certainly is more infuriating to play against than Tyler Biggs. 

2. Defending the Code

A number of writers of seized upon yesterday's brawl to decry "the code" (an informal agreement among players as to how enforcers should function in hockey) as a "myth,"  "lie," or "worthless idea." Here's one such example. (And here's another.)

Bruce Arthur's article in The National Post exemplifies the inanity of these arguments. He writes, "the code is a worthless idea whose actual value to the game...doesn't strictly exist." Does anything strictly exist? Isn't existence a loosely-understood phenomenon based on the personal or shared perceptions of a person or thing and documentary evidence that supports an understanding of its realness? Arthur's dubious attempt to condemn fighting succeeds only as a way to infuse hockey discussions with unwanted existential angst.

These dubious, naive, and sometimes hysterical overreactions belabour a rather obvious point. Of course "the code" is flawed and can be broken. It's devised and followed by people, who are similarly flawed and breakable.

Bruce Willis, however, is an exception to that rule.

"The code" can't ensure a player's safety, but it can prepare people for what they can reasonably expect in a hockey game. In that sense, it's similar to criminal law. Enforcers aren't supposed to go after the Phil Kessels of the league just as people aren't supposed to rob others. That doesn't mean that such incidents don't happen: it simply means that they are exceptional cases that merit punishment. We can't denounce the entire justice system because it fails to prevent crime from ever happening, and we shouldn't dismiss "the code" because players such as John Scott flout it.  

Carter Ashton explained that the Leafs "didn't expect" Scott to target Kessel in retaliation for Jamie Devane KOing the Sabres' Corey Tropp; such a response was "drastic". 

Scott's breach of etiquette, however, didn't leave Kessel defenceless: it simply required extraordinary measures to protect #81 (i.e. David Clarkson leaving the bench to restrain the rabid Scott). Scott will undoubtedly be chastised for his actions by enforcers because he's proven himself to be untrustworthy. Likewise, officials will scrutinize Scott's every move from here on out since he can't be relied upon to respect hockey's honour codes. 

These measures will either force Scott to clean up his game or make it impossible for him to play even the meager number of minutes expected of a 4th liner. Thus the system will work itself out. 

3. Sympathy for the (former) Devil

I understand that David Clarkson will most likely be suspended for 10 games because he left the bench for the sole purpose of joining a fight. I don't disagree with the enforcement of an established rule, but I do object to the purpose of the rule and its uncompromising nature. Frankly, if I had the power, I'd have this measure to prevent bench-clearing brawls struck from the NHL rule book.

After all, even baseball has bench-clearing brawls. Do we really want to let baseball players seem tougher than hockey players? 

Even if we accept that this rule is legit, shouldn't some lenience be shown to players such as Clarkson given the circumstances surrounding their infractions? I normally follow the rules at sporting events, but even I would have tried to scale the glass last night to save Kessel from certain death at the hands of John "descendant of the biblical Goliath" Scott. 

Okay, Phil's life might not have been in danger, but his career could easily have been jeopardized had no one intervened: the league should be happy that Clarkson's intervention prevented the league to take extraordinary measures (like S.H.I.E.L.D. in The Avengers) and scramble a fighter jet in order to pacify the hulking Sabre. 

Here's what would have happened if Clarkson hadn't saved Kessel.

4. Carlyle goes maverick

In the slew of posts calling Randy Carlyle an idiot today (e.g. this one from Pension Plan Puppets), none of the head coach's detractors seem to appreciate his unexpected candor during last night's post-game presser.

Carlyle explained that he put Kessel's line on the ice following Devane's fight with Tropp in order to calm things down. Carlyle's reasoning was that he could defuse the situation by putting a scoring line on the ice to show the Sabres that there was no threat of a subsequent fight ensuing. Given Scott's unexpected attempt to jump Kessel, Carlyle confessed, "Obviously, I was wrong." 

Such accountability is refreshing in a league full of coaches and players who prefer to point fingers elsewhere and deny any culpability for their mistakes or wrongdoings. Even if you don't like Carlyle, you should at least respect him for admitting that he was wrong to put Kessel in that situation.

Of course, Carlyle will have to do more than admit he was wrong in order to win back Kessel's trust.

4. New Records?

With this section, I'm turning things over to whomever is reading this post. Were any records set last night? Has a goalie ever notched an assist and a fight in the same game? How close was Bernier to becoming the first goalie in NHL history to notch a "Gordie Howe hat trick"?

Here's another highlight that might be a record-seter: all three players credited with a goal (Phil Kessel's second-period goal, assisted by Ashton and Bernier) would later be ejected from the game for participating in the same fight. How often has that happened?

Friday, 20 September 2013

U Mad, Brony? Why Ray Ferraro blocked me on Twitter

It's absurdly easy to get blocked in Twitter these days. Take, for example, last night when I was blocked by Ray Ferraro after a two-tweet exchange during a preseason game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators.

After goalie Drew MacIntyre took over the crease from Jonathan Bernier, Ferraro (acting as the commentator between the benches for TSN) seized upon this opportunity to report on MacIntyre's mask. He said that the mask (pictured below) featured 3 Care Bears. 

Don't let the harmless appearance of these cuddly critters fool you: they've dealt a mortal wound to the Leafs' reputation as a truculent, pugnacious team.

I can see how these groups of characters can get confused. Both have a penchant for rainbows, and both have symbols on their bodies. (Apparently these are called "cutey marks" on My Little Pony and "belly badges" on Care Bears.)

However, there is one palpable difference between these groups--one is ursine and the other is equine. In layman's terms, one's a damn bear, and the other's a frigging pony! (The third figure on the mask, of course, is a Kangaroo.)

I don't expect hockey commentators to know such nuances surrounding relics of 80s nostalgia, but I do expect them to have a sense of humour when they refer to a pony as a bear. With that expectation in mind, I tweeted the following: 

Maybe Ferraro misunderstood my avatar (of Jonathan Toews dressed as Titus Andronicus from Julie Taymor's Titus) as a declaration of war. Maybe the name I was using ("Bobo") caused some of Ferraro's repressed hostility toward the real Bobo (Bob McKenzie) to bubble up to the surface. Whatever the cause, Ferraro fired back with the following reply.

Seriously, how did things get out of hand in such a short period of time? Perhaps Ferraro was already receiving a lot of flack over this pop-culture mess up from others on twitter as well as his colleagues at TSN. My lighthearted correction, then, may have become the straw that broke Ferraro's camel.

Dramatic re-enactment of my tweet breaking Ferraro's sanity.

Temporary insanity is perhaps the only way to account for Ferraro's strange response. I know there's a Care Bear on MacIntyre's mask, and I appreciate that the goalie had it included as a shout-out to his wife. That doesn't change the fact that Ferraro failed to recognize the differences among ponies, kangaroos, and bears.

It's not like Ferraro's journalistic integrity hinges upon his ability to discern bears and ponies, so why did he take such offence to my tweet? What made my tweet so offensive that Ferraro had to drop whatever he was doing between the benches in order to block me on the spot? While I appreciate being given notoriety, I'd rather become infamous for saying something that actually mattered.

Given how upsetting my tweet was, I'm impressed that Ray managed to remain composed for the rest of the game knowing that people with a superior knowledge of bears and ponies were ready to pounce on his every mistake. 

However, there was one noticeable slip up. Perhaps I merely imagined, but toward the end of the game,  it kinda sounded like Ray said "Mason Roo-mond" instead of "Raymond" when announcing TSN's "electric player of the game." Was Ray distracted by the Winnie the Pooh fans trolling him vengefully on behalf of Kanga and Roo?

Frankly, I'm just glad that Ferraro didn't refer to Mason Raymond as a Care Bear.

We may never know why Care Bears are such a sensitive issue with Ray Ferraro. Maybe young Ray once desperately wanted a Care Bear, but his mother could only afford a My Little Pony, so she bought him the pony and convinced him that it was a bear. Maybe last night was the first time in Ray's life that he understood why the other kids made fun of him as he fruitlessly struggled to force a horse into a cloud car. 

If that's the case, then I'd like to make a peace offering. Ray Ferraro, this Care Bear's for you!

United at last, Ray Ferraro and Cheer Bear drove off into the sunset together.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

The Cain Mutiny: An Attack on Hockey Clichés

Earlier this week, the Vancouver Canucks cut camp-invitee Cain Franson from their pre-season roster. The inevitable response from hockey writers involved punning on Cain and Abel. Here's one example involving two hockey writers who generally produce outstanding work.

If anything could be considered inevitable in sports, it would be that sportswriters are wired to make a biblical joke whenever something happens to a player named Cain or Kane. In terms of Kanes Patrick and Evander of the Chicago Blackhawks and Winnipeg Jets respectively, we often hear support for each player phrased with the formula "Kane was always able" or "Kane is very able." Get it? It's a pun on "able" as in competent and "Abel" as in the guy murdered by his brother in the Book of Genesis.

This oft-repeated joke makes no sense. The jokers strain the source material to make a lousy pun. Kane was always able? So, the brothers were the same person all along? According to that logic, the first murder was an inside job (suicide).

The only way to make sense of this joke would be to note that Cain received some (perhaps undeserved) criticism on his religious game. Both Cain and Abel made offerings to God: Abel's was accepted, but Cain's was rejected for unknown reasons. Do hockey writers mean to say that criticisms of Kane are unjust rejections of what he has offered us? Such a conclusion elevates journalists to the status of gods who weigh in on the worthiness of players. It hardly seems likely that any sportswriter intended this sort of theological controversy with a pun that he or she made flippantly.

No, the simple conclusion is often the best. In this case, it seems to be that puns are fun, so we should make them all of the time.

The Cain-Able pun, however, is particularly annoying because it seems to have a perpetual newness to it. People treat each reiteration of it like a bold new witticism. Last season, I heard the joke made on two separate occasions when the hosts of TSN's "Sportscentre" dissected the play of Kanes Patrick and Evander. Both jokers wore smug expressions of self-satisfaction. Each seemed to believe that he was the first person to use Sunday-School education in such an outrageous way. Perhaps they thought we at home would react as follows: "OH SNAP!!! Did he just make fun of the first murder in biblical history?"

Neither host, of course, was charting new territory in the world of sports humour. Each was stumbling down one of the most over-trodden paths in the field of puns by mercilessly beating a zombified horse.

If we accept South Park's theory that cultural traumas become fair game for risque humour after 22.3 years, then it's reasonable to conclude that stories from Genesis entered the "comic domain" a long time ago. Since the story of Cain and Abel took place shortly after Eve snacked on the forbidden fruit, punning on it has been kosher for millennia. I Mel Brooks' ancestors made quips about Cain and Abel between lashings as they helped build the pyramids.  

Of course, the main problem with this joke isn't the fact that it's old but that it doesn't make sense. I've already discussed the "Kane was always able" iteration of the pun, so let's focus on the one included in the tweet posted above. Cain was cut because he wasn't able? No, Cain isn't Abel in this case because he was cut from a team instead of being bludgeoned to death by his brother (Cody). It's not like Cain was a draft bust while Abel went on to have a Hall-of-Fame career as a shepherd.

These comparisons are particularly meaningless since Cain Franson has a famous brother (Cody) who is neither a shepherd nor victim of fratricide.

Maybe I'm being a bit nitpicky about the differences between not making a team and being murdered. My point is that these puns on Cain/Kane don't contribute anything to our understanding of events in sports. We use figures of speech to help us grasp actions in games. For example, we often hear a slapshot described metaphorically as a howitzer in order to express the strength and suddenness of the shot.

Our knowledge of the Cain-and-Abel story doesn't enhance our understanding of Cain Franson's misfortune. There's a word for excessively-used phrases that have little meaning: cliché.

Of course, making these points won't stop these puns from being made. Instead of merely complaining, I'll try to improve hockey discourse by suggesting ways to nuance these jokes.

1. In terms of Cain Franson's release from training camp, we could play on the fact that Cain was exiled. Example: "The Vancouver Canucks have decided to assign Cain to the Nod Wanderers of the AHL."

2. We could pun on Cain's physical punishment. Example: I'm surprised that Cain Franson was cut: he received high marks for his truculence." (Get it? Mark of Cain!)

3. We could make fun of the fact that some cultures depicted the "Mark of Cain" as a horn or a set of antlers. Example: If Cain Franson isn't careful when wandering through the outskirts of Vancouver, he might end up in David Booth's trophy case! (NOTE: David Booth likes to kill things.) 

4. If Cain Franson was released because he refused to buy into John Tortorella's emphasis on blocking shots, we could pun on Cain's altercation with God. Example: When Tortorella asked why Franson didn't throw himself in the way of a shooting lane, Cain replied: "Am I Luongo's keeper?"

5. Perhaps it's time to put the Cain-and-Abel story to rest. There are many other ways to pun on the name Cain. We could compare players named Cain or Kane to characters played by Michael Caine. We could dust off some old Herman Cain jokes from the 2012 US Presidential Election. We could even put aside clever comparisons and just have Kanes Evander and Patrick dress as candy canes to promote hockey during the holiday season.


Friday, 13 September 2013

Overkilling the Penalty Kill (written in defence of Frazer McLaren and Randy Carlyle)

Randy Carlyle did it again! Leafs Nation erupted in a whiny volcano of molten negativity today when the head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs announced that he intended to try noted pugilist Frazer McLaren on the team's penalty kill.

Here's the exact quote care of James Mirtle.

Much like when Carlyle chooses to tie his left shoe before the right, this decision created a surge in the number of tweets that denounced Carlyle as a moron and lamented that Dallas Eakins hadn't been hired to helm the Leafs. (Side note: at any given moment of the day, someone is calling for Carlyle to be fired. The sun never sets on bitter Leafs fans.)

Could Frazer McLaren knock out penalties like he has so many opposing players?

I have no idea if Frazer McLaren has any ability to kill penalties. I also wonder if those who seem convinced that he would be a disaster on the PK have any evidence to support their tirades against Carlyle and one of his prized fighters.

This type of response is essentially prejudicial. A significant portion of Leafs fans have long  decried the team's emphasis on toughness and other intangibles. The problem is that their disdain for these aspects of the game appear to be informing their negative opinions of Carlyle's actions.

I'm not saying that Carlyle is incapable of making mistakes. Take, for example, this hair.

Here's how I imagine a dialogue between Carlyle and fans who dislike enforcers would go.

Randy Carlyle: I'm glad that we re-signed both Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren this summer because they contribute to our team's overall toughness.

Fan: That's stupid. Face-punches like Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren have no place in the NHL. I wouldn't mind them as much if they could actually play hockey, but they don't belong on an NHL team because they're one-dimensional players.

Randy Carlyle: Well, we're going to try McLaren on the PK during camp and pre-season games.

Fan: That's stupid. Why would you put a one-dimensional player on the PK?

Randy Carlyle: To see if he has another dimension to his game.

Fan: That's stupid: he only has one dimension to his game. If you don't see that, then you're stupid."

Randy Carlyle: So he's one dimensional because he only does one thing, and he shouldn't be given a chance to do another thing because he's one dimensional?

Fan: Exactly--also, you're stupid.

Exeunt severally. Finis.

Basically, fans are using their perceptions of McLaren (without any evidence of his potential as a penalty killer) to pigeonhole him into being a one-dimensional face puncher. To them, it's apparently an affront to offer an enforcer the chance to contribute something other than a handful of minutes on the ice and dozens more in the penalty box. The real problem here seems to be an unwillingness to give McLaren a chance.

Granted, in all likelihood, McLaren won't come anywhere near the Selke Trophy unless he's giving it some left hooks in order to teach it a lesson for taking liberties with the Leafs' star players.

Sure, McLaren might be a terrible penalty killer. But shouldn't we give him the opportunity to be terrible before writing him off as such? With his frame, he might be able to succeed in shorthanded situations simply by lying down on the ice and blocking 2.5 shooting lanes with his sheer size!

I'll update this post if anyone comes up with evidence that McLaren shouldn't come anywhere near the ice--that he shouldn't even look at a snow cone--when his team is killing a penalty.

However, even with those arguments in mind, it's still worth noting that there's little to lose by trying McLaren on the penalty kill in camp and during the pre-season. At best, the Leafs may find that there's another dimension to McLaren's game. At worst, they give up a bunch of power-play goals in games that don't really matter. It's a win/insignificantly-lose situation that the Leafs should exploit by experimenting with their lineup and testing their personnel.

In the meantime, I hope that Carlyle's detractors ask themselves the following question honestly: should we fault Carlyle for putting a guy in a position that he might not be cut out to play, or for refusing to give his enforcers a chance to prove that they can offer more to the team?

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Peter Chiarelli signs off on Tyler Seguin (In Song!)

The Boston Bruins caused quite a stir yesterday when "Behind the B," a documentary series focusing on the moves made by the team's front office during the off season, featured Peter Chiarelli and his staff offering some controversial criticisms of a former Bruin: Tyler Seguin, who was traded to the Dallas Stars back in July.

Basically, Chiarelli and his staff fully understood Seguin's talent, but they were nevertheless unimpressed with his performance on (as well as his conduct off) the ice last season. To them, Seguin's deficient intangibles outweighed his statistical upside (especially his Corsi stats).

Unfortunately, the producers cut a significant portion of this special. In a now-deleted scene, Peter Chiarelli offered even more reflections on Seguin through song. Luckily, I managed to find a transcript of this song. I've posted the contents below.

"Faith" as performed by Peter Chiarelli

Well I guess it would be nice
If I could ice your Corsi.
I know not everybody
Has a Corsi like you.

But I've go to think twice
Before I give my cap away.
'Cause I don't like the games you played,
When the 'Hawks broke through.

Oh but I
Need some time off from that implosion.
Time to work the cap around our core.
When the cap comes down
In a ruthless motion,

Well it takes a strong man, Tyler,
But I'm showing you the door.

Because I gotta have faith.
I gotta have faith.
Because I've gotta have faith, faith, faith.
I gotta have faith, faith, faith.

I know you're asking me to stay.
"Please, Pete, don't trade our deal away."
But I gotta be shrewd.

You mean every word you say,
'Bout parting with your party days
And flouting your curfew.

Before this cup drought
Becomes a desert.
Before you wear the spoked 'B' anymore.
Oh Tyler, I'll reconsider just what you deserve.
Well I need someone to score goals,
But you've got to offer more.

Yes, I gotta have faith.
I gotta have faith.
Yes, I've gotta have faith, faith, faith.
I gotta have faith, faith, faith.


All in favor of petitioning iTunes to release this song as a single, please pledge your support in the comments section below.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Tyler Gosling? 5 Takeaways from the Leafs' Rookie Tournament

If, like me, you're a Toronto Maple Leafs fan living outside of Ontario, you probably had to subsist on highlights and post-game interviews while more fortunate fans watched the Leafs rookie tournament live.

I can't offer an in-depth analysis of the tournament. Instead, I've prepared some general comments on the event as a whole (especially on comments made during post-game interviews).

1. Two Ruperts Are Better than One!

If the Leafs can sign Matt Rupert, I'd be ecstatic. Matt has been passed over in the last two drafts. I'm not sure if he can sign now as a UFA. If not, I wouldn't the marginal loss if Toronto decided to use a mid-round pick (3rd-round and up) on him next year.

As I wrote earlier, Brian Burke praised the Ruperts' brand of hockey for its surliness. I only hope that Matt makes his game more edgy than surly so that the Leafs can debut them as members of the "7 Duffs."

Feel free to suggest which players should fill in as the other Duffs. It's too bad that the Leafs didn't draft Tyler Seguin: he'd be a shoe-in for Dizzy and/or Remorseful.

Matt and his twin brother Ryan (already a Leaf prospect) are the closest thing this team will come to signing the Hanson brothers from Slapshot. Although undersized as NHL forwards ( might be a bit too generous in saying that they are 5'10" tall), the brothers deliver infuriating blows with and without their gloves on, and they often add insult to injury by scoring afterward.

Tie Domi attended Budweiser Gardens regularly to watch his son play with the London Knights, but (and I'm not trying to knock Max here) he probably saw more of himself in the Ruperts.

Added bonus: If the Ruperts manage to get into the NHL while the Sedins still play, Leafs-Canucks games would be an exciting match up between two very different sets of twins. Proposed title for these games: "Finesse under Duress."

2. Christmas in September

I feel bad for Antoine Bibeau. Judging by the box score last night, he was ridiculously outmatched by the Baby Sens. It almost seems cruel to send a guy who still has that new-draft smell against a group of Sens prospects that had quite a bit of AHL seasoning with a dash of NHL experience.

Mark Stone, who has had a smattering of NHL and WJC experience to go along with his excellent AHL debut last season with the Binghamton Sentaors, lit up Babeau last night like a Christmas tree. Bibeau played Santa Claus in this game by gifting rebounds to opponents such as Shane Prince. Combined Stone and Prince scored 1/3 of Ottawa's goals in the 6-2 beatdown.

I'm not too surprised by this result as it's no secret that the Sens currently have a very strong prospect pool. Still, it seems like a form of cruel and unusual entertainment to thrust Bibeau into the lineup against a dominant prospect team.

Of course, Bibeau needs to learn that the road to the NHL is paved with players who have been crushed by the pressures of professional hockey. There's no sense sheltering him from that reality, which is probably best for him to face in a tournament with an outcome that is mainly of symbolic importance.

3. Steve Spott Drops the Gauntlet

I wasn't a huge fan of Steve Spott during the 2012 Subway Super Series and the 2013 WJC. During that tournament, he seemed rather complacent with team performances, and he often looked directly into the camera during interviews.

"Stop trying to peer into my living room! Seriously Steve, it's creepy."

Well, my opinion of Spott skyrocketed after the game against the Pittsburgh Penguins' prospects on Saturday. Noting that the Leafs were outshot 7-0 early in the match, Spott credited Jamie Devane's fight with Liam O'Brien as a turning point that gave the Leafs momentum.

So fighting turned the tide against a team that (at least at the pro level) is synonymous with finesse instead of physicality. Twitter must have exploded immediately after Spott made these unequivocal remarks, which he spoke deliberately and directly into the camera. I only wish that he'd followed up these comments by dropping the mic, sauntering away from the scrum, and giving Randy Carlyle a Fresh Prince of Bel-Air handshake.

"Put this in your excel spreadsheet and formulate it, advanced-stats partisans!"

To summarize--the Leafs firmly believe that fighting is an essential part of hockey that contributes directly (albeit often imperceptibly) to the outcome of a game.

4. Moral Victory?

The Leafs dominated in the least likely part of the game during the rookie tournament. Well, maybe "dominated" is too strong of a word, but they won two games in the shootout. And, as far as I could tell, Tyler Bozak wasn't inserted into the lineup for the second frame of OT play.

We shouldn't take these wins as signs that Leaf prospects have some extraordinary shooutout skill. Perhaps their success represents the hockey gods making up for the Leafs' SO futility in the 2012-13 season. Perhaps these wins foreshadow greater SO success in the 2013-14 campaign. Even if all of these interpretations are wrong, it was a pleasant surprise to receive news of the Leafs going to the shootout without dreading the inevitable loss-due-to-lack-of-scoring.

5. Tyler Biggs Trolls Frederik Gauthier

Spott's valorization of fighting was a highlight from the post-game pressers, but the most entertaining interview took place following the Leafs' SO win over the Chicago Blackhawks.

As you can see, the interview with Frederik Gauthier is somewhat upstaged by Tyler Biggs, who is giving us his best "how you doin'?" look.

I assume that Biggs was trying to channel Ryan Gosling, so let's give him the meme treatment. 

"Hey girl, I might be a tough guy on the outside, but I have a Biggs heart."

"When I'm thinking of you, two minutes in the penalty box is like seven minutes in heaven."

"Hey girl, I fought a guy just to frog his jersey for you."

"Hey girl, I don't think the "no-touch icing" rule should apply to your habitual snacking on cake frosting."

"Hey girl, I don't call penalties for roughing."

"Don't eject me from the game for being the third-man-in the fight for your heart."

"Hey girl, I'd give you more than two minutes for holding."

Friday, 6 September 2013

Vancouvering All the Bases: Are the Canucks Cornering BC Sports History?

Few hockey writers dedicate themselves to wild speculation about an NHL team's nefarious schemes to succeed. Due to this oversight, no one has commented on the Vancouver Canucks' insidious appropriation of symbols associated with defunct hockey teams from British Columbia.

Last season, the Canucks wore throwback jerseys to "celebrate" the Vancouver Millionaires/Maroons, who played in the Pacific Coast Hockey Association and, later on, the Western Canadian Hockey League between 1911-26.

The throwback uniforms remind us both of BC's rich hockey history, and of the mood disorders associated with Vancouver. The drab colour of these jerseys perfectly capture the brooding behaviour exhibited by Vancouverites during the city's rainy season. The team might have better reflected Vancouver's civic identity by naming themselves the "Burgundy Bile" or the "Glum Plums."

Personally, I would have dubbed this team the "Vancouver Winos" since their outfits are a fine merlot colour; the "V" emblem on each jersey starts to look like a "W" when players assemble for group shots; and the stripes induce a form of blurred vision that is akin to the symptoms of severe intoxication. 

The 2012-13 Canucks also occasionally wore patches on their home jerseys to pay homage to that same defunct team.

Notice that the negative space inside the "V" creates an arrow pointing to the "O," which represents the number of Stanley Cups won by the Canucks.

At first, this appropriation of the past might seem entirely honourable when compared to other teams that have paid homage to defunct franchises. People often criticize the current Ottawa Senators for trying to claim the glorious past of the defunct hockey team of the same name. The current Sens hang Stanley Cup banners and wear 3rd jerseys that recall the original Ottawa Senators franchise, which folded in the 1930s after relocating to St. Louis.

However, the Canucks seem to be up to something far more diabolical than the Sens. While their celebration of the Millionaires/Maroons has been widely documented, their appropriation of the Victoria Cougars' iconography has gone unnoticed.

Here's the Victoria Cougars' logo.

And here's the shoulder patch from the Canucks' third jersey, which they debuted in 2008

As you can see, Vancouver has seized on the basic design of Victoria's logo but replaced the "C" with the head of Johnny Canuck. (I have no idea why a team would design their jerseys to feature the decpitated head of its allegorical hero.) This superimposition suggests that Victoria's "C" actually foreshadowed the Canucks, who would restore hockey to British Columbia after the Cougars and Millionaires folded. This use of foreshadowing suggests that the Canucks will not only replicate but surpass the glory of BC's defunct teams.    

This cunning use of symbols is worthy of a plot hatched by a James Bond villain.

On second thought, this scheme is really a rip off of Mike Myers' parody of Bond villains. In Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, Dr. Evil tries to render his nemesis impotent (in more ways than one) by stealing Austin Powers' mojo. After stealing the spy's quintessence, Dr. Evil gains Austin's powers by consuming the stolen mojo.

In a similar manner, the Canucks are trying to engineer themselves into Stanley Cup champions by stealing the quintessence of other successful teams. The Victoria Cougars became the last non-NHL team to win the Stanley Cup when they defeated the Montreal Canadiens in 1925. Earlier, the Vancouver Millionaires won the Stanley Cup by beating the Ottawa Senators in 1915.

And that's where the plot gets even more viscous. At Vancouver's Denman Arena in 1915, the Millionaires became the city's only Stanley Cup champions when they beat the visiting Senators. Nearly a century later, the Canucks will host the Sens in a Heritage Classic held at BC Place. This celebration of each team's past will undoubtedly embolden both franchises to strengthen their grasp on the respective hockey histories that they have misappropriated.

There's an easy way to make yourself immune to the Canucks' and Sens' attempts to brainwash you into accepting their historical revisionism: just use air quotes whenever you refer to either team's "heritage" as a "hockey" team. 

Ironically, success is perhaps the only thing standing in the way of the Canucks' plans to win the cup by stealing mojo from other championship teams. Every BC team to hoist the Stanley Cup later folded, so the Canucks might end up winning a Pyrrhic victory if their failure to clinch a championship has actually been protecting them from some unknown curse upon BC's hockey teams. We'll know for sure if the Canucks succeed in their schemes only to find themselves embroiled in financial ruin soon afterward.

Oh, in case some of you're still unconvinced that the Canucks have such a scheme to win a championship, consider this last piece of evidence. In the 2011 NHL post-season, the Canucks made it to the Stanley Cup final on account of the outstanding performance by a goalie named Roberto Luongo. That goalie later lost his job as the club's starter after the team collapsed in the 2011 and 2012 playoffs. 

Here's the weird part: the Canucks' new starting goaltender for the 2013-14 season is also named Roberto Luongo! That's just a little too convenient to be written off as a coincidence. As Milhouse Mussolini van Houten once said,

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Buffalo's Ott-trocity: The Ugliest 3rd Jersey in NHL History

If you haven't heard anyone complain about the new third jersey released by the Buffalo Sabres today, that's probably due to the fact that most people who have seen it were immediately turned to stone. Seriously, even Medusa thinks that these jerseys are grotesquely nauseous.

Here are some pics courtesy of Steve Ott's twitter account.

If hugs could kill, this one would be registered as a lethal weapon.

Saddened that no one will hug him, Ott weeps alone in a corner.

Unless there's something wrong with the lighting, it appears that the designer intended to have two different tones of hideous yellow. If Mountain Dew ever went rabid, it would probably look like this shade of radioactive urine. 

By having a strip of the one yellow flanked by the other, it looks like players are wearing a bib or an apron. Maybe the design is supposed to show that Buffalo's wingers are cooking up some spicy offense, but it'd be just as easy to interpret these jerseys as Buffalo's admission that the team is a bunch of cry babies.

It's baffling that the designer incorporated so much hideous yellow. It's used in the lettering, as a border around the numbers, and along the underside of the arms. There's even a little glob of it around the NHL's logo on the collar. Combined with the grey trim, it looks like the designer wanted the jersey to look like a florescent ascot.

The most unsightly aspect of the jersey has to be the yellow trim on the underside of each arm. Spectators at First Niagara Centre are going to have their digestive systems thrown abruptly in reverse when they see players racing down the ice in these jerseys with their arms extended. I predict that fans will begin to nickname the club the "flying phlegm wads" because of these outfits.  

The worst part of these hideous jerseys is probably the fact that they're not even original. It's understandable that some attempts to differentiate a franchise from others will result in outfits that scald the eyes and raise doubts about the existence of a benevolent God.

Atheism hit an all-time high in Arizona after the Phoenix Coyotes debuted these duds. 

Buffalo, however, pretty much ripped off the Nashville Predators style and yet somehow found a way to enhance the Predators' ugliness.

Come on, Buffalo! You're a much older and, presumably, more viable hockey market than your colleague in Tennessee. Why would you open yourself up to being called "Nashville North" by issuing a jersey that has all the genetic defects of an over-bred species? Buffalo's new jersey shows more signs of inbreeding than the setting of Deliverance

Maybe they ripped off the Predators because they felt that Nashville's "sabre-toothed cat" logo infringed on Buffalo's rights to all things "sabre." Even so, imitation is a poor form of revenge.

I assume that someone in the Sabres organization noticed that their jerseys look like knockoffs. Maybe Perhaps that's why Buffalo's monstrosity has the word "BUFFALO" appear as though stenciled in just above the logo. This way, casual fans will be able to tell Nashville and Buffalo apart.     

Of course, the easiest way to tell these two apart would be to look at the cuffs. Nashville's are a dark blue whereas Buffalo's are a light grey for some reason. Was light grey was on sale at Costco? I can't think of any other justification for slapping another colour on the cuffs. Sure, this grey also appears in the number on the back of the jersey, but that could just as easily (and perhaps more logically) have been a third shade of noxious yellow.

I assume that the cuffs were included to make the team look like a bunch of Civil-War era gentleman officers. The outfit is kind of reminiscent of this get up worn by a captain in the Confederate army.

I'm probably giving the team waaaay too much credit. However, if they were trying to appeal to nostalgia for agrarian America, they might have gone with something more like this.

"I have to take a faceoff against Claude Giroux? Fuh-fuh-fuh fortunately I keep my faceoff numbers from memorized in cause of just such an emergency."