Monday, 30 December 2013

Now for something completely different

Hey everyone,

I am self-indulgently inviting you to check out my new blog, PhDeserter: the Life and Times of a Delinquent Grad Student. It's a generalist blog that will discuss literature, art, and sports among a wide variety of other things that I like to think about laboriously. This new blog won't be a substitute or a replacement: RinkRover will keep going alongside this other project.

I'd love it if you checkout this this PhDeserter post, "10 Reasons to Watch the Spengler Cup."



Sunday, 29 December 2013

From the Hot Seat to the Not Seat: Erik Karlsson and Tuukka Rask Embarrassed

There were two strange incidents on Saturday night during a game between the Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators at Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa.

Paul MacLean votes no-confidence in Erik Karlsson

Midway through the second period, Sens goalie Craig Anderson took a penalty for tripping Bruin Reilly Smith. In such situations, most fans would be surprised if a team's premiere defenceman wasn't on the first penalty-killing unit charged to dispatch the powerplay. Such fans would be flabbergasted to see the score sheet from the Bruins-Sens match:

(That yellow circle is my finest MS Paint work yet.)

Norris-winning d-man Erik Karlsson wasn't even allowed on the ice when his squad was shorthanded.

Apparently Karlsson is head coach Paul MacLean's go-to-guy to serve penalties incurred by the team's goaltender. Personally, I'm thrilled with this decision because I often get into arguments for suggesting that Karlsson excels at everything except playing defence. Now I can use Saturday's game as proof that Paul MacLean agrees with my opinion of the Sens' offensively-gifted/defensively-deficient blueliner.

For further evidence of Karlsson's suspect defensive game, take a look at this Bruins goal scored midway through the first period. Daniel Paille blows by Karlsson with ease and scores a goal that was both unassisted and unimpeded. Anderson must have looked dumbfounded as he watched Karlsson shy away from making a check--a lazy effort that allowed Paille to break for the net effortlessly.

As this video demonstrates, when Karlsson is the only man standing between an opponent and the Sens net, Anderson is virtually defenseless.

Ultimately, the Karlsson fiasco suggests that the NHL Awards are broken: how can the league award the trophy for the best defenceman to a guy who doesn't even have his coach's confidence? Perhaps it's time to introduce a separate trophy to award offensive defenceman so that the Norris can be awarded to blueliners who excel at playing defence.

Claude Julien overplays Tuukka Rask

While MacLean showed little confidence in his award-winning blueliner, Claude Julien showed too much confidence in his starting goaltender by opting to start Rask both of the Bruins' back-to-back games.

I get the notion that coaches should ride a hot goalie, but Rask was at the apex of good goalie fortune; there was no place for his confidence to go but down. On Friday, Rask had a solid 33-save shutout against the Sens at TD Garden in Boston. How could he reasonably outdo that performance in the second half of the home-and-home series against Ottawa?

Since it's absurd to expect Rask to outdo himself, it would have been better to let the team's starter enjoy the decisive win for at least a full day before putting him back in action. Instead, Julien put him in a situation in which he was almost certain to fall short of the expectations created by his performance on the previous night. Sure enough, Rask was benched from the net after allowing 3 goals on 12 shots.

What's worse: by setting Rask up to disappoint himself and the team, Julien emboldened the opposition that was embarrassed by Rask the night before. They not only exacted revenge on Rask by breaking his bid for back-to-back shutouts, but they also had the satisfaction of chasing him from the net. As a result, the Bruins ended up chasing most of the game as against a team that thrives on schadenfreude.

Exhibit "A"

Thus Julien's rash decision resulted in Rask being subjected to the highs of a shutout to the lows of being benched in less than 24 hours.

Rask's fortunes fall from first-star of the night on Friday (pictured left) to an "also ran" on Saturday (pictured right).

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Clarifying the quality of wrist shots

Just a few moments ago, I was watching Team Canada play HC Davos in the preliminary round of the Spengler Cup tournament. During a flurry of activity, TSN's play-by-play announcer claimed that so-and-so had "a cannon of a wrist shot."

I'm not sure where and when this metaphor for wristers originated, but it's been around for some time. At different points in hockey history, the wrist shots of Kjell DahlinJaromir Jagr, and Phil Kessel have been compared to cannons. In each NHL season, there are approximately 45 742 references to wristers resembling artillery. Cannons are among the most commonly compared kinds of battery.

Since such unabashed embellishments are being bandied about liberally these days, I feel that it is essential to set the record straight and disabuse players of the notion that their shot rivals that of an actual howitzer.

(Imagine the following being said by Paul Hogan of "Crocodile Dundee" fame.)

That's not a cannon of a wrist shot.

That's a cannon of a wrist shot.

Friday, 27 December 2013

2014 WJC: Norway briefly goes berserk in inspiring loss to Finland

Late December brings about two holiday traditions in my household: my annual curse for the inventor of eggnog (may his soul be peppered with mildewy nutmeg for eternity); and a surge of rabid patriotic fervour as NHL hockey takes a backseat to the World Junior Championships on my television. The WJC tends to help me cope with the tremors and night terrors that accompany bingeing on the 'nog.

Aside from the joys of unbridled jingoism, the WJC also affords an opportunity to root for a wide selection of underdogs. Not all men's under-20 teams are created equal, so there's no scarcity of struggling squads to cheer on during the tournament.

It also gives us the opportunity to see some unconventional logos such as this one used by the German U20 team. As ferocious as the crest is, it didn't save the Germans from being trounced by Canada 7-2 on Boxing Day.

This morning I enjoyed a spirited match between Norway and Finland. The latter outgunned the former for much of the game by relying on their superior talent to tame the opposition with suppressive fire: as Finland relentlessly bombarded Norway's net, the Norwegians dug in and fought fiercely just to avoid any errors that would result in an atrociously lopsided score.

Despite their ideal locale for winter sports, the Norwegians have never been a dominant force in the International Ice Hockey Federation. Norway formed the Norwegian Ice Hockey Federation in 1934 and joined the IIHF federation in January of 1935. Despite being in existence for nearly 80 years, the Norwegians have won nothing at any of the international hockey competitions.

As if that's not bad enough, Canadians use the NIHF's logo on their currency, valuing the emblem of the Norwegian league at $2.

Given the NIHF's struggling track record, it was unsurprising that Norway's WJC trailed Finland 4-0 heading into the 3rd period today. However, it was pleasantly surprising when the Norwegians came out eager to pillage and plunder in the third. Undaunted by the score sheet, the Norwegians managed to hem the Finns into their own zone for the first five minutes of the final frame. Had they played at this level of competitiveness for the entire game, the score would have been much closer: Norway might have even caused a stir by upsetting the heavily favoured Finns.  

Instead, the Finns weathered the storm as the surging Scandinavians failed to put the puck passed their Nordic neighbours. Following that flurry of activity, Finland regained composure and renewed their former dominance of the game after extending their lead to 5-0.

The Norwegians managed to spoil Juuse Savos' shutout bid by scoring a single goal in the dwindling minutes of the match. Nevertheless, aside from the +/- column, Norway's score sheet looked like a stream-of-conciousness monologue written in in binary. 

Still, the Norwegians can take heart in the play of goalie Joachim Svendsen, who made 43 saves on 48 shots. While those stops weren't nearly enough to have kept the team in the game, Svendsen did keep the match from becoming an utter embarrassment. 

Svendsen also made a few spectacular saves to stave off a complete blowout. Indeed, his .896 save percentage would have been a lot better had his team not suddenly applied pressure to the opposition in the 3rd. Ironically, he would have been more of a standout had his defencemen hung him out to dry a bit more in the final 20 minutes.

Ultimately, the game was nothing to sing a saga about, but it did suggest that the Norwegians could be competitive one day if they continue to develop their goaltending program and distill the berserk spirit with which the team dominated Finland for a solid chunk of the final period. 

Suggested logo for a fiercer Norwegian team.

Friday, 20 December 2013

8 Awful Bleacher Creatures

While sorting through hundreds of items on the other day, I came across some hilariously awful Bleacher Creatures--plush toys that are (allegedly) based on current NHL players. Here are the best of the worst.

8. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins' Bizarre Growth

When I first saw Nugent-Hopkins' Bleacher Creature, I immediately assumed that the manufacturer had made some sort of error: that head clearly belongs to some other player as it doesn't even vaguely resemble Nug-Ho. I'm guessing that the designer ran out of time and put Peyton Manning's head atop an Oilers' body.

Come on, there's more than a slight resemblance here.

My second reaction was one of concern: why is a tuft of Nug-Ho hair sticking out on one side? Is #93 known for having day-long bed head, or is he sprouting an antler here?

7. Brad Richards Is Surprisingly Unphotogenic Un-plush-ogenic

Of all the pictures of Richards that the designers could have used, they apparently settled on one that shows him in the violent throes of a sneeze.

6. Business in the O-Zone, Party in the D-Zone

The latest Bleacher Creatures have a much-anticipated new feature: mullets. Unfortunately, the company often assigns them to the wrong players. Here's Erik Karlsson sporting a particularly horrid hairdo:

Now, you might argue that the long hair at the back is supposed to be the same length as that in the front. However, the hair in front is close to the scalp whereas the latter strands dangle freely. That can only mean that plush Karlsson is rocking one of the most starkly pronounced ever: a crew cut with mullet fringes. Yikes! 

5. Hi-liter Hair Gel?

When determining the concept behind the Tyler Ennis doll, the makers apparently chose the idea "ultra-frigging-Aryan" and ran with it:

There's no telling where they got that noxious yellow, but it seems likely that the manufacturer used the Sabres' abundance of unsold third jerseys.

4. Plush Doppelganger

While some Bleacher Creatures look nothing like the players after whom they are fashioned, others look freakishly similar. Take, for instance, Evgeni Malkin:

This doll make the manufacturers look bad for not achieving this same level of similarity with the other plushified players. The only thing that sets this doll apart from Malkin himself is the smile: when does Malkin ever smile? The smile is particularly creepy because it makes this Bleacher Creature seem more human than the emotionless man of Magnitogorsk.

3. Daniel the Devourer

While the Malkin Bleacher Creature may have more soul than its namesake, the Daniel Sedin doll seems intent upon eating your soul:

Unlike with most toys, parents can extort good behaviour from kids by threatening to make them play with this ravenous replica. Luckily there's a forelock that kids can grab to keep Sedin from biting them: otherwise, I think the infectious bite will turn their flesh-and-bones into plush-and-stuffing.

2. Hartnell Downsized

To their credit, the designers dared to dream big when they ambitiously tried to tackle a difficult specimen in Scott Hartnell and his unruly hair. Despite their grand aspirations, the product is rather underwhelming: 

They've basically given Hartnell the same hairstyle as Chewbacca's: matted on top, mangy at the back.

I'm not sure how one could truly capture the unwieldy nature of Hartnell's hair adequately, but I think that sticking the head of Fozzie Bear on this doll would have yielded a much better result.

"What do you call a radioactive goalie? Roberto Luon-glow! Waka! Waka!"

1. Counting Unhatched Chickens

I don't want to beat the "this doll doesn't look anything like the model" joke to death, but the Ryan Kesler Bleacher Creature is exceptional. Take a look at Kesler's Ronald McDonald hair:

Did you know that Kesler was as ginger as an animate cookie in a wolf's mouth? Me neither--and that discrepancy makes me think that the folks responsible for the Bleacher Creatures actually intended to make a Cory Schneider doll. 

Assuming that Roberto Luongo would be traded, the company moved ahead and foolishly produced an arsenal of Schneiders before the jilted goaltender was dealt to New Jersey. Following the trade, the company (I assume) went into damage control and slapped Schneider's head on a Kesler body in the hope that none of us would notice.

Nice try, Bleacher Creature moguls!

Thursday, 19 December 2013

NHL Gift Guide: the most absurd items available at

Having trouble finding unwanted stocking stuffers? Stuck playing Secret Santa for someone you secretly scorn? Here are some terrible NHL Christmas gifts that you can by right now.

1. Germ Warfare

Look, it's plastic, reusable, NHL-themed, fake ice!

When at a party, does anything make you instantly assume that you've contracted hepatitis quite like looking into your drink and seeing reusable ice cubes?

2. Marketing Mash-ups

When determining what animals should be matched up with hockey teams in order to make cute or cuddly novelties, it seems like a no-brainer to go with the clubs' mascots. Well, the people behind these objects dared to dream differently.

Here are some team-mascot mash-ups that are sure to infuriate fans.

Now, in fairness, a rubber octopus might be too scary for tub time, so we could perhaps excuse this Detroit-Anaheim crossover. That rationale, however, wears thin when applied to this offensive rubber ducky.

Nothing quite says "yours is the cupless, illegitimate NHL team in California" quire like putting a Sharks jersey on a hated duck.

Still, at least that type of affront relates to an actual rivalry and appeals to Sharks-haters and Ducks fans alike. The next mash up has no relation to fans or rivals: 

Yep, it's a bear wearing a jersey whose logo reminds us how absurd it is that the fanbase is being offered a plush bear instead of--oh, I don't know maybe...a penguin! 

3. Even More Passive Aggressive Gifts

Shopping for something that will antagonize the Philadelphia Flyers fan in your family? Look no further than this ornament:

To infuriate the receiver further, act surprised when they try to maintain composure while explaining the Penguins-Flyers rivalry.

If you're feeling bad after causing some tension at the Christmas table, you can help make amends with the offended party and get onside with his or her Flyers fandom by burning the hated rival's logo around Christmas dinner.

I wonder if could tell us how many of these candles have shipped to Philadelphia versus Pittsburgh.

4. (Don't) Panic in Detroit

Ever have difficulty walking around Detroit without being murdered? Well, has some outdoor accessories for you!

These camo scarves and Santa hats are perfect for blending in with the free-flowing gore that has become the backdrop of inner-city Detroit. If someone sees you moving, they'll probably refrain from mugging you as the bloody attire suggests that you've already been marauded for all you're worth.  

5. Even more politically insensitive gifts

If that slight to Detroit didn't satisfy your penchant for politically-volatile gifts, check out this one-percenter ornament:

Look at this bourgeois snowman trampling on the back of his less-fortunate brethren and grinding them into the dirt for his own personal amusement. If you're ever looking for a subject around which to write a Marxist revision of "Frosty the Snowman," consider using this coal-eyed capitalist. 

6. Not all snowmen are created equal

While on the topic of Frosty, check out this enraged snowman:

Just kidding--what looks like a murderous slush monster is actually a snowman sporting the Calgary Flames' colours. That's a sweet idea, right? How could it possibly backfire? 

Well, check out the Boston Bruins' snowman:

Notice anything wrong? Perhaps the snowman's cheerful blue eyes distracted you from the fact that his face is made out of yellow snow! I guess someone at the NHL's warehouse wants to wish Bruins fans a merry, urine-soaked Christmas. 

7. Gift Yourself

If you need a pick-me-up this season, consider getting this Flyers-themed "party bear."

"Party Bear" is a modernization of Teddy Ruxpin that was made especially for the hockey hooligan. According to the product description, you can plug this bear into your mp3 player or phone and it will lip-sync music for you. So, when you're having a bad day, you can cheer yourself up by having a thuggish-looking bear serenade you with Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing," Ceelo Green's "F*** You," and whatever other inappropriate tracks you can think of.

The only downside is that it also lip-syncs your phone calls, which means that your boyfriend or girlfriend might interrupt your jam session to reprehend you for spending upwards of $50 to hear a stuffed animal sing explicit lyrics. Next thing you know you're getting dumped and the bearer of the bad news is the very bear responsible for the rift. You're a cruel, cruel mascot, "party bear."  

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Officious Space: Steve Downie and Suspension Bait

David Clarkson became the first member of the Toronto Maple Leafs to double-dip in suspensions this year. Normally I would respond to David Clarkson's latest suspension by pointing out another incident that was worse and yet didn't merit disciplinary action.

Doing so, however, would suggest that I have some hope that the deluge of suspensions that have inundated the NHL this year would crest when Gary Bettman and Brendan Shanahan realized that the game hasn't become safer: rather, it's just becoming more officious.

Instead, Bettman has recently showed confidence in Shanahan's jurisprudence, which means there's no chance that we'll see a decline in the number of suspensions handed out this year. So, if the NHL isn't going to put its collective whistle away, I think that it should at least dole out damages for all types of head injuries--real and feigned.

Following a game between the Philadelphia Flyers and Montreal Canadiens on December 12, there was speculation that Alexei Emelin would be suspended for elbowing Steve Downie.

Here's the video of the incident:

Habs fans were probably relieved when Emelin didn't get a summons from Shanahan, but they should probably be pushing for Downie to get a hearing. Based on his suspect reaction to the play--flailing and then throwing himself to the ice moments after getting hit--he should be required to explain his actions to the Department of Player Safety.

Suspensions are becoming a serious concern for NHL players as penal leaves-of-absence reduce their salary, brand them as pariahs, and make them susceptible for lengthier subsequent suspensions. They also probably cause a hostile environment in the dressing room by hindering team chemistry as ad hoc forward lines and defensive pairings have to be drafted in the absence of a core player. 

Moreover, struggling teams probably resent teammates who further erode the club's chances of making the playoffs by getting seated by Shanahan.

Meanwhile, a new form of pariah seems to be emerging: the player who fakes an injury in order to get an opponent ejected from the game. If the NHL wants to take headshots seriously, then it should consider suspending players who feign head injuries just to get an unfair advantage in a game at the expense of a colleague's personal and professional reputation as well as his finances.

Since the NHL insists that illegal checks to the head merit a penalty in the game as well as a suspension, then embellishers should similarly be given a two-minute penalty and a suspension if they feign a head injury.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Pittsburgh Penguins unveil vaguely new and insulting Stadium Series jerseys

What did fans ever do to deserve being insulted by your ingratitude, Pittsburgh? Earlier today the Penguins unveiled their new jersey for the Stadium Series. If the New York Islanders' SS jerseys were a bit uninspired, the Penguins' new threads are lackadaisical.

Here's what the Penguins have "designed" for their Stadium Series game against the Chicago Blackhawks:

And here's what the regular away jersey looks like:

"OooOOooh!" That, I assume, is the anticipated response from Pens fans as the main difference in the jerseys is that the new one is shinier than the others. That's right: the Penguins organization expects fans to shell out cash for an insignificantly dissimilar jersey just because it's shiny and new.

Players, of course, offered a different interpretation of the uniform in their talking points. Winger-turned-model Chris Kunitz confessed his feelings about the jersey to the Penguins website (what a scoop!): "I like the logo with the silver accent and metallic look." Translation: "It's shiny--buy. BUY!" 

In comparing the regular away jersey to the SS duds, Kunitz noted that the latter "keeps the original in tact, but changed enough to play in an outdoor game."(Kunitz was quoted in this article, which also features the video of #14 modelling the jersey.)

Unless the shiny logo has adapted Archimedes' burning mirrors in order to enable the Pens to set the Blackhawks on fire, I don't see how this jersey is better suited for outdoor games than the regular away jersey. Without such a conflagration, it's had to justify referring to this slightly changed garb as a "new jersey."

Teams need to stop the "subtle difference" approach to designing jerseys for one-time events like the Stadium Series. At best, the only thing this approach accomplishes is an unknown number of violent altercations that are sure to occur when drunk fans mistake the slightly different jersey as a knock off. At worst, this apathetic approach merely implies that outdoor games are a blatant cash-grab for the NHL.

If the latter scenario is true, then teams playing in involved in the Stadium Series might as well wear Florida Panthers and Phoenix Coyotes jerseys since the money earned from these events will be used to keep cash-strapped teams floating just above insolvency.

Why not make these spectacles more spectacular by releasing daringly original jerseys? They're only going to be worn once, so why not make the occasion memorable by designing a jersey depicting the chimerical penguin from that plagued Adam Sandler in Billy Madison?

The Billy-Madison idea might also provide context for this old NHL commercial. 

If making money is the main point behind these one-time uniforms, why not cash-grab for the stars by partnering with Warner Bros. and designing a Happy Feet Penguins jersey?

If nothing else, design something hideous that fans across the league will enjoy mocking for decades to come. The varied uniforms will sell regardless of how subtle or bold the designs are, so why not show offer fans something memorably original to justify taking their money?

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Back in Black (and Gold): A first-hand account of Jarome Iginla's return to Calgary

WARNING: The following is an unabashed fan post. I went to the Flames-Bruins game last night, so I thought I'd offer my biased thoughts on the return of Jarome Iginla.

Prior to this game, sportscasters tried to ramp up controversy regarding Iggy's return. True, they admitted, Iginla did what was best for the team last year by accepting the trade, but, hockey writers argued, the Flames could have received a better return for him had he not nixed a trade to the Bruins--the club he would later sign with upon becoming a free agent later on.

Pictured: a dubious source of controversy.

Their efforts were geared toward creating a compelling story for the event, but I also wonder if they were trying to take some heat off of Daniel Alfredsson after he deserted the Sens last off-season. Unlike Alfie, Iggy seemed reluctant to leave his team after becoming its longest tenured captain. He never told reporters that the Flames were "probably not" going to compete in the playoffs--not even during the team's worst struggles following their last appearance in the Stanley Cup Final back in 2004.

Iginla's first game at the Saddledome since being traded last season was a raucous event, but I didn't detect any of the resentment that members of the hockey media hoped to hear last night. The boisterous "Iggy" chants began as soon as the former captain took the ice for the pre-game warm up. This spontaneous fanfare would be heard throughout the evening as fans heralded Iginla's every shift in hopes that he would score a goal for them.  

The opening announcements and national anthems were almost completely derailed as the fans' chants overpowered the stadium's loudspeakers, forcing Canadian nationalism to take a backseat to a rival form of patriotism that night.

The match itself seemed like an afterthought compared to the excitement during the pre-game entertainment--especially the tribute video and the standing ovation for Iginla.

Note that the official tribute video does not include clips of Iginla concussing the fan favourite or mocking the captain of a provincial rival (a.k.a. "the Alfredsson special.") 

Following the video, the bashful Bruin embraced the outpouring of support by giving fans a wistful smile and a humble stick salute. Clamouring for an encore, the crowd's standing ovation continued to cheer until Iginla took another circular skate in recognition of the support. His tearful gratitude made the delay of game worth it.

This outpouring of support also had an affect on Iginla's new teammates. At first, Milan Lucic looked confused that fans were making such a ruckus when Boston hadn't even blindsided or bludgeoned an opponent yet.

Milan puzzled and puzzled till his puzzler was sore. Then Lucic thought of something he hadn't thought of before. "Maybe hockey," he thought "isn't measured in gore. Maybe hockey...perhaps...means a little bit more."

Moments later, Lucic seemed to appreciate Iggy's importance to Calgary and that though made him smile, which is surreal to see as I assumed Lucic didn't smile unless he was watching highlight reels that showed only kill shots from nature documentaries. 

Pictured: Lucic's heart growing three sizes last night.

When the puck finally dropped, chaos ensued as the home crowd abruptly switched from cheering the Flames to the Bruins whenever Iggy was on the ice. The fans even booed some defensive plays that took scoring chances away from #12. The booing became venomous when the former captain was denied an empty net goal in the dwindling seconds of the third period. Even though the home team had a chance to make a comeback late in the game, Flames fans were desperately hoping that Iggy would clinch a 3-1 win for the Bruins.

If I had been watching at home, I might have scoffed when Iginla was given the third star of the game. After all, he didn't notch a single point that evening. However, having seen the game first-hand, there was no question that Jarome Iginla's mere attendance was the main event that night. Iggy deserved at least the third star of the evening on account of the fact that his long-awaited homecoming defined the entire game.

UPDATE: 10:10PM, December 11: In the original post, I forgot to add the best part of the game. Following the game, the Flames played the Iggy Dance even though #12 didn't score. In case you haven't seen it, I've pasted it below: enjoy!

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

The Suspendables 2: Shanahan Censures Dion Phaneuf

The season of suspensions keeps rolling along as another noted member of the Toronto Maple Leafs has been ordered to atone for his misdeeds from the sidelines. For a recap of the team's suspensions to date, check out the first installment of The Suspendables.

Here's the latest of the Leafs' league-leading 5 DAAs (Disciplinary Actions Against, a newly-coined badvanced statistic).

Why he was suspended: Dion Phaneuf's shoulder kinda sorta slammed Bruins' Kevan Miller from behind. To his credit (?) Phaneuf tried to brazen out the incident during post-game interviews on Sunday night. Initially, reporters seemed determined to avoid the issue entirely. They instead asked Phaneuf about the team's struggles with injuries and a feeble penalty kill.

When one reporter finally asked what happened on that hit, Phaneuf's voice became thin but grave as he explained, "I ran into him by accident--tried to turn...and he was coming off. What did you see?" Phaneuf punctuated this rebuttal with a cobalt glare that suggested he was offering a threat in the guise of a counter-question. (Here's the full clip.)

What he should have done instead: This incident will probably make Phaneuf seriously consider signing elsewhere as a UFA this summer. 

After all, in this same game Bruins defenceman Dennis Seidenberg delivered a hit to the head of Jerry D'Amigo, and yet he wasn't even given a stern talking-to after the incident. Don't get me wrong: Phaneuf's hit on Miller was certainly worse. Still, it seems that Seidenberg got a pass because the NHL thinks that the B's will have been suspended enough once Shawn Thornton serves a double-digit leave-of-absence for blindsiding and bludgeoning Brooks Orpik. (Recap.)

The NHL, however, seems to think that the Leafs can't be suspended enough. If Phaneuf had been playing for the Nashville Predators, Brendan Shanahan probably wouldn't have even questioned him about his hit on Miller.

After all, Shanahan saw no reason to discipline Shea Weber after he grabbed Henrik Zetterberg's head and bashed it directly into the glass. 

Full disclosure: this gif has been sped up slightly, perhaps to make it sync with Verdi's "Anvil Chorus." (Gif source)

Maybe the league just didn't have the right footage to prove conclusively that Weber targeted Zetterberg's head. Oh wait, no, here's proof positive:

How could Weber possibly defend this infraction? Did he mistake Zetterberg for a Pez dispenser!? (Source.)

Bad Luck or Unexpected Cropportunity? One potentially positive outcome of Phaneuf's suspension is that it will give Leafs Nation a chance to see what the team would be like if the controversial captain shrugs off the blue-and-white in the off-season.

If the Leafs somehow manage to outdo their often-incompetent defensive play, fans will likely hop on-board with Dave Nonis' plans to re-sign Phaneuf. If the Leafs suddenly play a consistent, energetic, and engaged game, fans will be able to justify criticizing Phaneuf for deficiencies in his leadership.

What do you think? Will team morale soar with the hotly-contested captain removed from the lineup, or will Phaneuf's absence incite six periods of unmitigated meltdowns in the Leafs' d-zone? 

Friday, 6 December 2013

San Jose Sharks show more brag than bite

Is there a cockier team in the NHL right now than the San Jose Sharks? I'm not just talking about Joe Thornton's infamous threat to commit on-ice masturbation should he ever score 4 goals in a game. I'm talking about the way they handle lopsided losses.

Some teams take losses in stride, but the Sharks apparently take losses like a bunch of swaggering braggarts. Last night, San Jose were beaten 5-1 by the Pittsburgh Penguins, and yet they reacted to the loss in an unexpected way: they threw Penguins starter Marc-Andre Fleury under the bus.

Now, Fleury is certainly fair to criticize on most nights as he's practically the poster boy for soft goals. I honestly have no idea how he hasn't gotten a sponsorship deal with Charmin.

Last night, however, was an exception: Fleury made 44 saves on 45 shots. Sure, some of those saves might be chalked up to luck, but a goalie's luck must run out somewhere around the 35th attempt on goal.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the ice, Sharks starter Antti Niemi was benched after allowing 4 goals on 27 shots. Niemi's .852 save percentage was the second-worst of the night as his replacement, Alex Stalock, only successful stopped two of the three shots directed at him in his 19:51 minutes of time on ice.

So how can the Sharks possibly justify criticizing Marc-Andre Fleury's play?

Logan Couture remarked that Fleury's save percentage did not reflect his composure. When a reporter asked if the team suffered simply because they had "run into a hot goalie," Coture replied, "Stats aside, I don't think Fleury was that good tonight: he gave up a lot of rebounds and a lot of shots he looked shaky on." (Here's the full interview.)

Sure, the Sharks may have lost the game based on the scoresheet, but Fleury utterly lost the even more important game-within-the-game: the battle to appear more poised than the opposition.  

Joe Pavelski similarly criticized Fleury's rebound control by drawing on a little-known advanced stat: wishful thinking. Pavelski noted, "[Fleury] was fighting it all night. It felt like we could've had five [goals]." Pavelski's absurdly partisan comments should earn him the nickname "Jingo Joe."

Still, perhaps Pavelski raises a good point. Instead of just tallying a player's total points, maybe the league should change each player's stat sheet so that it includes "gross points" (based on the total points that a player actually scored) and "net points" (based on the total points he could've scored).

The league can then award the player with the highest gross points by presenting him with the Neville Chamberlain Trophy for outstanding achievement in the field of wishful thinking. The award is an umbrella made of iron pyrite.

This joke might not make sense now, but it would have been a riot back in the 1930s when Chamberlain was typically satirized in political cartoons by his ubiquitous umbrella.

As Mark Halford observed, this isn't the only lopsided loss that the Sharks boasted after a beat down. Following a 5-2 loss to the New York Rangers on October 31, 2011, Joe Thornton referred to the victors as the softest team that the Sharks had played on their six-game road trip. At the time, the Sharks were wrapping up an otherwise successful stint away from the HP Pavillion (now SAP Center) as they went 5-1-0 on the road. Yet somehow that one loss ruined all of those gains.

So how did Thornton react to the loss against Pittsburgh yesterday? Unlike his teammates, he handled the situation modestly--although I'm still tracking a rumour that Thornton defended Niemi by saying that he'd perform an act of autoeroticism on the ice if he only gave up four goals in a game.

It's astounding that San Jose takes regular-season losses so poorly. It's not only surprising because no team has ever gone 82-0-0 in a season, but also because you'd think that the Sharks would be used to disappointment after frequently floundering in the playoffs. Maybe they'll learn some much-needed humility this spring after one more cup crash, but I wouldn't be surprised to see them raise banners to commemorate the years in which they, according to Jingo Joe, could've won the cup.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Dear Sens fans, Alfie's just not that into you

Among the defining characteristics of Leafs Nation are a relentless (although often shamefaced) support for the blue-and-white, and an uncompromising abhorrence of Daniel Alfredsson.

During previous installments of the Battle of Ontario, viewers could count on two things: seeing more blue than red in Scotiabank Place, and hearing Alfie booed by Toronto fans. Responding to the later phenomenon, Hockey Night in Canada's Jim Hughson often mused on-air about whether or not Leafs fans knew why they were booing the Sens longest-serving captain.

Well, I hope Hughson was watching Alfredsson's homecoming game yesterday as the highlight reel cleared up the issue. Here's the clip in question:

Based on this clip, the Senators organization considers Alfie's most celebrated actions include mocking Mats Sundin and delivering a dirty hit from behind on Darcy Tucker. Peter Raaymakers offers a recap of these incidents in a Silver Seven Sens post unironically titled ""Top 10 moments from Daniel Alfredsson."

Sens Army's again expressed this lack of irony when lauding Alfie's disdainful and dirty sportsmanship as #11's most infamous moments were replayed to the tune of U2's "Beautiful Day". As a result, this clip has probably set Ottawa back decades in its attempts to forge an autonomous team identity.

While offering Sens Army exactly what it likes to see in a game, the tribute nevertheless contributed to the impression that the franchise isn't a hockey club in its own right so much as a team founded in loyal opposition to the Leafs. If Ottawa ever wins an NHL championship, I would be surprised if they opted to follow the convention of having each player's name engraved on the Stanley Cup instead of asking for "Leafs Suck" to be chiseled onto the trophy.

I had hoped that Sens fans would boo Alfie throughout the game yesterday in order to prove that they were, first and foremost, fans of the team that Alfredsson happened to captain for a long time, not fans of Alfie and fairweather friends of the local NHL team.

Alfredsson gave them plenty of reasons to boo him. In the on-ice interview ahead of the game, Alfredsson added insult to his injurious absence from Ottawa's roster by openly remarking that the struggling Sens were desperate for a win in that game. Unfortunately, no one asked Aflredsson if he thought the Sens could make the playoffs, so viewers at home weren't treated to another "probably not" speech.

Alfredsson was also asked how he felt about all the hoopla surrounding his return, which he scorned in saying that he'd just like to get the game going. This indifference toward his adoring fans suggests how little Sens Army means to him. Sure, he said all the right things after the game by calling the experience humbling and unforgettable, but, when he had his game face of, he couldn't seem to care less about the outpouring of support for him.

Ironically, the Red Wings were the only ones to razz Alfredsson by making him wear the scarlet letter during the game.

The "A"  actually stands for adultery, right?

In contrast, Sens fans gave him a hero's welcome complete with an acrostic poem of questionable literary merit.

Aside from the obvious problems with parallelism (the single noun seems out of place among the four adjectives), the poem perpetrates a heinous act of historical revisionism by praising Alfredsson, who abandoned the team that he had captained for17 years, for his supposed loyalty. Praising Alfredsson for being loyal is like honouring Robespierre for his clemency, Stalin for his philanthropy, or Erik Karlsson for his defensive prowess. (Oh, wait, the NHL actually did that last one.)  

As though one fan's uncritical adulation wasn't bad enough, the organization as a whole similarly indulged in similarly shameless hero worship by using U2's "Beautiful Day" in the opening montage. In the context of the homage to Alfie, the lyrics "I know I'm not a hopeless case" and "What you don't have you don't need it now" seem to be shamelessly begging Alfie to put aside his dreams of winning the cup with Detroit and come back to the Sens.

Apparently, the organization hasn't figured out how to handle being dumped even after what happened with Alexei Yashin, Dany Heatly, and Zdeno Chara. Sens Army is never going to gain closure and move on with the franchise until someone pulls them aside and says, "Alfie's just not that into you."