Saturday, 25 January 2014

A hockey blogger criticized Erik Karlsson. What happened next may surprise you.

A little while ago, I was criticizing Erik Karlsson for putting a particularly poor defensive effort into a game against the Boston Bruins. Here is the post in question.

Unsurprisingly, some Sens fans on twitter rushed to the defence of their offensively-gifted blue-liner, blocking shots against him with a number of excuses for his uneven game. If Karlsson could shutdown the opposition with half as much intensity as his fans try to shutdown criticism of him, then there likely would be no criticism of him in the first place.

Fans often explain that the Achilles heel of Karlsson's skillful game is literally Karlsson's Achilles heel. Supposedly, #65 isn't protecting his own team's net very well because he still has not completely recovered from the devastating injury courtesy of Matt Cooke's skate. Here's a link to that incident (lest ye forget). Fans argued that Karlsson still wasn't the same defenceman that he had been prior to the injury.

I'd just as soon blame his problems on never fully recovering from the shock of Alfie's departure.

I looked into Karlsson's numbers and found some information that suggests just the opposite: Karlsson is currently playing as well or better than he did prior to the injury.

Karlsson's best offensive season prior to injury was the 2011-2012 campaign. He scored 78 points (19 goals and 59 assists) in 81 games played. He was a mere three points shy of being a point-per-game blue-liner, which is a huge accomplishment for any defenceman not named Bobby Orr. For this achievement, he was awarded the Norris Trophy.

This year, Karlsson has tallied 49 points (12 goals and 37 assists) in 51 games. In terms of offense, he's one point closer to being a point-per-game blueliner than he was in his best pre-injury season.

Karlsson's defensive stats, however, are not as impressive. A lot of people quibble over the relevance of plus/minus stats, but surely we can all agree that the contrast between Karlsson's current -12 and his previous +16 in 2011-2012 is nonetheless striking. Basically, there's a Springfield Gorge between between Karlsson's former plus and current minus would be like trying to jump the Springfield Gorge.

Pictured: Paul MacLean trying to bridge the gap between Karlsson's 2011-2012 and his 2013-2014 stats.

Karlsson's glaringly deficient defensive game, however, cannot be simply attributed to him not playing like the player he was before he was sidelined by Cooke's skate. As Travis Yost's analysis of the Sens' defence suggests, Karlsson isn't playing necessarily worse but differently than he did in his award-winning season. Back in 2011-2012, the Sens had better over-all defense, so Paul MacLean didn't have to rely on Karlsson as much.

This season the Sens' blueline is struggling, which means that Karlsson has to play more in order to compensate the team's shortcomings. Simply put, Karlsson's playing worse defensively because he's playing in more defence-oriented roles.

The bright side is that Karlsson is still very young. At just 23 years of age, he has plenty of time to learn how to shore up his play in the d-zone without detracting from his stellar play in the o-zone. Doing so will make people baffled by his previous NHL award feel less like they're in an episode of the twilight zone in which the league's best defenceman is really a forward in disguise.

MacLean has already started tutoring Karlsson in how to be more reliable in his own end of the rink. As Yost noted, many people (myself included) scoffed when Karlsson won the Norris Trophy despite playing meagre minutes on the penalty kill.

Here's the average amount of time that Karlsson per game in 2011-2012.


And here's his total amount of minutes played shorthanded during that same season.


As you can see (after a long squint), 456 other players played more short-handed seconds per game and 368 players contributed more cumulative minutes playing shorthanded than Karlsson did in 2011-2012. That means Craig Anderson's goal posts contributed substantially more to killing penalties than the Sens' all-star defenceman.

This season, however, Karlsson has moved up in these rankings significantly. As of this morning, Karlsson sits 237th overall in the number of shorthanded minutes played per game, and he's 161st in terms of total number of shorthanded minutes played. That means he has received substantially more defensive responsibilities than he did during his award-winning season.

To me, a defenceman shouldn't be given top honours if he isn't the go-to-guy when a team needs to kill penalties. Bailing out the team when they're shorthanded should be a defining characteristic of elite defencemen. Although his numbers are worse this season, Karlsson is, in my mind, playing better than he did when he won the Norris because he's learning how to become a well-rounded blue-liner. His -12 rating, then, is really not that bad considering the learning curve involved in enhancing a player's skill set.

Still, it's unlikely that the league would award a player with a double-digit minus ranking, so this learning curve will likely lead Karlsson away from a repeat appearance onstage at the NHL awards. But if he can persevere through these growing pains and become a true two-way defenceman, then Karlsson would silence his critics the next time he wins the Norris Trophy.  

Monday, 20 January 2014

No Contracts for Old Men: Hockey Terms Part III

The NHL artificially lowered the salary cap this year to help struggling clubs, but the newest CBA has inadvertently created two new classes of professional hockey players. These emerging classes can be grouped together as "cap exiles": players who have been forced into early retirement or to find work abroad due to the abrupt cap crunch.

"We'd like to thank the league's twentysomethings, who helped end the labour struggle by getting onside with plans to backstab veteran players."

The Millennials

The first group is a new type of milliennial: professional hockey players who, after suiting up for nearly or more than 1 000 NHL games, are now reluctantly retiring. After becoming UFAs in the 2013 off season, these players spent the summer and the first months of the new NHL season languishing in uncertainty over their careers before finally deciding to retire.

Last week saw two such retirements as Jamie Langenbrunner and Wade Redden realized that teams just aren't going to call them this year. Of the two, Langenbrunner had the more illustrious career: he won the Stanley Cup twice, and he assisted on Zach Parise's tying goal in the gold-medal game at the 2010 Winter Olympics. While his season-ending hip surgery suggested that Langenbrunner was too worn and torn to make a comeback, it's still tempting to wonder if Langenbrunner could have revived his rep as a late bloomer had he been able to find work this year.

Other untimely retirees include Pavel Kubina, Milan Hejduk, Roman Hamrlik, and Martin Biron. (NB: Biron only played in 508 games, but, as a goalie, he suited up for far more matches over his 16 years of NHL play.) Combined, these players have played 5993 games over 93 seasons cumulatively. That's a wealth of experience that NHL general managers are allowing to skate into the sunset.

The most maligned among these players has to be Biron, whose career came to an abrupt end after his club scapegoated him with a terrible loss. Biron was thoroughly embarrassed in a 9-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks back in October. Summoned to crease after Henrik Lundqvist gave up five goals, Biron let in four more markers-- including this highlight-reel goal (courtesy of Tomas Hertl), which became the low point of no return for Biron's career.

You can find this gif on display at the Louvre (probably).

Following the loss, the New York put Biron on waivers, but he opted to retire rather than while away his career in the AHL. Thus the Rangers ended Biron's career by blaming him for Hertl's triumph.

Cap Expats

The other type of salary-cap casualties are players who had to find work overseas because there was no interest in them among NHL teams. These expatriated players include Ryan O'Byrne (formerly of the Canadiens, Avalance, and Leafs) and Matthew Lombardi, who previously played with the Flames, Coyotes, Predators, Leafs, and Ducks.

Since the Leafs let O'Byrne walk after an underwhelming post-season in Toronto, the blueliner has signed in the KHL. As a member of HC Lev Praha, O'Byrne has scored 2 goals, tallied 6 assists, and stands as a +7 in 36 games played.

Lombardi has had much more success since departing Anaheim after its crushing game 7 defeat to the Detroit Red Wings. In August, he signed with the Swiss National League A's Genève-Sevette. While playing in Geneva, Lombardi has become nearly a point-per-game player, scoring 15 goals and 16 assists in 35 contests. He also led his team to win the Spengler Cup by scoring 8 points in 3 games (including 2 goals and 2 assists that helped his squad eliminate Team Canada from the competition).

Moving Forward

Have we seen the last of the above players?

The "millennials" are arguably past their prime, and that bleak reality has made their contract struggles even more excruciating to watch. It's disheartening to see athletes in the twilight of their careers vainly holding out not to get better deals (like the Ryan O'Reillys and P.K. Subbans) but rather to stave off retirement. Had team salaries not been artificially constrained, these cap casualties would likely have been able to find teams willing to take fliers on them.

Still, with the salary cap projected to rise to $71.1 million, there's hope that some players might be invited to retire from retirement. Of course, it's far more likely for the "cap expats" to get a call in the upcoming off season.

Of all the players mentioned, I predict that we will most likely see Matthew Lombardi return to action. The year away will give him a chance to prove that he can still score and to disprove his reputation for being injury prone. Lombardi may become next year's Mason Raymond: a player willingly to put up big points for little money just to demonstrate that he's capable of staying healthy.

Lombardi would also raise the overall handsomeness of any squad that signs him. Have any adv. stat supporters measured how looks influence wins?

Meanwhile, future free agents would be wise to sign new contracts that expire the year before or the year after the next CBA standoff in 2022. Players may be able to add years to their careers by simply avoiding a lapse in their employment during the next cap crunch. The NHL, of course, might decide against reducing the salary ceiling next time, but we'll likely see the Hamilton Flying Pigs play in the NHL before the league opts not to diminish players' salaries.


Proposed logo for Hamilton's NHL team.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Leafs Learnedly Lash Out Against the SO

The Toronto Maple Leafs may literally be the classiest protesters ever. Seriously, they seem to be voicing dissent over the dubious fairness of the shootout in Latin. More specifically, they are deriding the second stage of overtime through a selection from a collection of medieval poems that date back to the 13th century.

In last night's game against the New Jersey Devils, the Leafs DJ kicked it exceedingly old school right before the shootout commenced by blaring the first movement ("O Fortuna") of Carl Orff's setting for poems taken from the Carmina Burana. Don't let the name throw you off; you totally know this song. It's basically the musical equivalent of the "that guy" actor.

If you don't believe, just listen to this clip. You'll go "oh, yeah!!!" in less than 60 seconds, guaranteed.


This song is basically a lament that the aspirations and very lives of humans are frequently and unfairly ruined by the capriciousness of fortune. The trope of fortune's fickleness is particularly appropriate for a skills competition that ends an evenly-matched contest in an arbitrary (and often unsatisfying) manner.

Yes, I loathe the shootout, and so do the Leafs (apparently).

Here's a translation of "O Fortuna" courtesy of UC Davis:

O Fortune/Luck,
Like the moon,
You are changeable,
Ever waxing 
And waning.
Hateful life,
First oppresses,
And then soothes 
As fancy takes it;
Poverty
and power,
It melts them like ice.

Fate--monstrous
And empty,
You whirling wheel,
You are malevolent;
Well-being is in vain
And always leads to nothing,
Shadowed
And veiled,
You plague me too.
Now through the game
bring my bare back
To your villainy.

So the shootout, as a game predicated on chance and luck, is as constant as the waxing and waning moon. Fortune, like a wheel (hence "wheel of fortune") can force the powerful and impoverished to exchange positions in life for no apparent (let alone just) reason. Hence hope in the outcome of the shootout is vain because the competition is overseen by the unpredictable and malevolent forces of chance.


Of course, Leafs nation already thoroughly understands just how much Chance can suck.

The selection from Carmina Burana gets particularly interesting when used in a hockey context because of the lines that I have transcribed above in italics. Fortune, it seems, is a rat: in the game of life, Fortune performs villainy on the bare backs of people. To put this concept in hockey terms, Fortune is the kind of cheap-shot artist that hits players from behind.

When a fan base thinks that its favourite club will surely make the playoffs, Fortune blindsides the team, hitting them square in the numbers and knocking them out of their long-held playoff position. After being boarded by the impish impulse of chance, dazed teams watch in befuddlement as mediocre clubs step over them as they sink in the standings like a bundle of stones. 

Shootouts are a particularly cruel agent of fortune as they can keep a team afloat in the playoff race only to bar them eventually from the post-season if a team has too many SO and not enough ROW (Regulation plus Overtime Wins) points. Ultimately, the cruel gimmick that gave a team false hope can also render them ineligible for Stanley-Cup competition. 

Thus "O Fortuna" doesn't just capture struggles in the shootout, but the capriciousness of the NHL standings itself!

So what can the NHL do to penalize Fortune for flagrantly interfering in NHL games? Since it has a reputation for hitting-from-behind that spans more than half a millennium, the issue should be taken up by Brendan Shanahan and the Department of Player Safety. At some point, Shanahan will have to take action against this repeat offender (even though Shanahan's rulings seem similarly based on the uncertainty of chance).

Of course, it's hard to make a ruling against an abstract concept, so how will Shanahan punish Fortune? I wouldn't be surprised if they targeted Fortune's longtime spokespeople by handing lifelong suspensions to Pat Sajak and Vanna White.

Sajak, of course, is the more brazen offender as revealed in this Sidney Crosby trading card, which captures Sajak attending a Pittsburgh Penguins game. The Wheel of Fortune host later admitted that he was present at the game pictured on the card. However, Sajak has yet to confirm or deny if he was sent to the game by Chance in order to scout Crosby for future misfortune.

If you enjoy reading interpretations of songs when used in unconventional contexts, check out this post from my other blog: www.PhDeserter.ca

Thursday, 9 January 2014

The Biggest Olympic snub is...

Forget Martin St. Louis, Logan Couture, and Claude Giroux. The biggest surprise snub for Team Canada is Tessa Bonhomme.

Bonhomme, who plays defence for the Toronto Furies of the Canadian Women's Hockey League, has more international experience than her male colleagues listed above. At just 28 years old, Bonhomme has won gold at the Meco Cup (nee Air Canada Cup), the 4 Nations Cup, the Women's World Championship, and the 2010 Winter Olympics. There are a few silver medals on her CV as well, but I'm not going to brag on her behalf.

Pictured: Bonhomme sometimes flaunts her abundance of gold medals by nibbling on some between meals. 

Despite such success, Bonhomme was cut by Team Canada back in November due due to the team's depth on the blueline.

Now, I don't have a problem with the national team (a star player being cut by the national team because she was not as competitive as others competing for her spot on the team. I do, however, have a problem with the way in which the mainstream media have snubbed Bonhomme.

Instead of covering this controversial decision in November, TSN and Sportsnet saved up their outrage for the announcement of the roster for the men's Olympic team. You could see them salivating for weeks when doing Olympic panels as they eagerly awaited the first opportunity to spew forth their roster-related vitriol.

Given the players available to the men's team, it's a bit ridiculous to criticize the final decisions made by the team. Yes, some players were left off, but it's a stretch to call many of these "snubs" given the quality of competition. It's not like Sidney Crosby was cut because they don't want the team traveling with Crosby's gnarly jockstrap.

Seriously, how does the team plan to get Sid's lucky biohazard through customs?

When Canada has such a deep pool of male talent, arguing that Couture should have been taken instead of Rick Nash seems like unsportsmanlike hairsplitting. There's no problem with preferring one player over another based on personal opinion, but trying to spin such roster decisions into outrageous affronts just makes the sportscasters look desperate for a juicy "snub narrative." 

Perhaps Sportsnet fears that if Doug MacLean and Nick Kypreos aren't allowed to yell about the roster over highlight reels of omitted players, the bellicose commentators will go after sponsors. 

"How does coach Dempster justify putting turkey instead of roast beef on the same line as Crosby?" 

However, when the major Canadian sportscasters were given the opportunity to debate a roster decision that was actually surprising and controversial, they responded indifferently. Given how little coverage this story received, I'd be surprised if many people actually knew that Bonhomme--"the face of women's hockey" according the The Hockey News--had been cut from the team bound for Sochi in February.  

It's particularly disappointing that so little attention was given to the decision regarding Bonhomme since women's hockey (and the CWHL in particular) could have benefited from it being subjected to scrutiny. Instead of raising the CWHL's profile by debating whether the league first 1st overall selection in CWHL history should have been cut, the major broadcasters had commentators bemoan the plight of already-overexposed NHL players. 

If it sounds like I have no sympathy for the slighted NHLers, that's because I don't for the most part. I can sympathize with Martin St. Louis as he's a decent player and a former Olympian but, at 38 years of age, he can't honestly say that he's caught off-guard by not being selected for Sochi. Had he been 28 like Bonhomme, I could understand if he felt shocked and disheartened by the move.

Conversely, at just 24 years of age, Logan Couture has plenty of chances to play in the Olympics in the future when current Olympians retire. In the meantime, if he wants any sympathy, he should probably avoid offering opinions as an amateur GM (i.e. saying "I felt I should have been on that team."

Among those who were supposedly snubbed, Claude Giroux deserves the least sympathy. After getting the bad news, the Flyers captain revealed, "It was one of my dreams to play for Team Canada." (Source). It's always a terrible shame when a young man's dreams don't come true...except when that young man skipped Olympic camp because he felt that nursing a hurt finger was more important. That young man should expect to watch the Olympics from home as the wounded digit continues to convalesce.

Monday, 6 January 2014

No Room at the Finn, and, Canada's Culture of Entitlement

Finland's upset over the highly-favoured Swedish team at the 2014 World Juniors Championship is bittersweet for Canadians fans on many levels. The day prior to Finland's surprising 3-2 overtime victory, the Finnish squad thwarted Canada's highly-touted forwards by limiting them to just one goal.

The WJC gold-medal game went into overtime because the Swedes managed to succeed where Canada failed: the power play. Without the man advantage, there was rarely any room on Finnish ice to establish high-pressure offence. The Finns fearlessly crowded shooting lanes, swarmed puck carriers, and threw themselves in front of shots when playing 5-on-5 hockey.

The Finnish powerplay was equally up to the task of asphyxiating the opposition's offence: they denied all of Canada's power play chances. Indeed, the goal that Canada scored to spoil Juuse Saros' shutout in the semifinal was a fluky deflection off of Jonathan Drouin's skate.

Sweden fared better than Canada by using the man-advantage to besiege the Finnish crease.

Swedish Captain: "You at the barricade listen to this: your penalty killers are all in the box. You have no depth, no depth at all. Give up your net or die!"

Eventually, the fortifications around the net broke, allowing Sweden to capitalize on two of its six power plays. However, even-strength superiority continued to evade the Swedes, who surrendered the game-winning-goal in overtime.

In the wake of Finland's triumph, Canadians should take sober satisfaction in the fact Team Canada's gold-medal aspirations were ended by the team that went on to clinch the championship.

Of course, you won't hear Don Cherry mention this source of solace for the distraught, medal-less members of Canada' junior squad. Instead of offering any encouragement after losing to Finland on January 4th, Cherry dedicated a portion of Coach's Corner to boost his own spirits with an "I told you so" highlight reel featuring players that (he argues) would have prevented the loss had they been on the team.

And so Cherry lent his voice to a counter-tournament being played on social media: the WWJC (Wishful-thinking World Juniors Championship), in which amateur alchemists fought over the right formula that would produce a gold medal for Canada.

"Hmm, needs a couple more dashes of intangibles." (Painting: Joseph Wright, 1771) 

Unlike other participants in this tournament of bitterness, Cherry prefaced his comments on who should have been on the team by claiming that everyone on the current roster deserved to be in Malmö, Sweden for the tournament. Of course, this tirade never acknowledged the fact that roster limits won't allow the team to include all of the current players as well as those that were omitted: Max Domi, Connor Brown, and Darnell Nurse.

And so Don Cherry used Orwellian rhetoric to avoid looking like the bad guy for suggesting that certain unnamed players didn't deserve to be at the tournament, and then he proceeded to accuse Hockey Canada of playing politics.

 Welcome to the Wiserhood, Don.

Unlike in most circumastances, Cherry's roster rant is relevant because it shines a spotlight on the unseemly underside of Canadian hockey fandom: a culture of ethnocentric entitlement that fuels outrage whenever Team Canada falls short of dominating international hockey.

Canadians act uncharacteristically ungracious whenever their nation loses an international hockey tournament: instead of accepting that their best players could be outdone by another country, Canadians blame political machinations and faulty management for the loss. This reaction suggests that Canada should never and (if the right players are chosen) could never be beaten by another country, no matter how talented that opponent may be.

As much as it may hurt to admit it, Canada' dominance of the WJC may be over (for a while at least) as other countries have become more competitive recently. But Canada's recent losses are the WJC's gain, and they will also benefit Canada in the long run.

Since Canada last won WJC gold in 2009, four different countries had taken the tournament's top honours: USA (2010, 2013), Russia (2011), Sweden (2012), and Finland (2014). In previous years, it was a bygone conclusion that Canada would win gold--let alone medal--at the WJC. Like futility, such dominance can breed apathy toward a tournament that seems only to showcase one country's superiority annually. Now that Canada has to fight for a medal of any colour, future wins will be more meaningful when they come.

While WJC diversity may be dispiriting for Canadian fans, it will ensure the longevity of the tournament itself and enrich future wins if the fan base undertakes an attitude adjustment. NHL fans don't expect their team to win the Stanley Cup every year, but they do expect their team to be competitive. Canadian fans should take a similar approach to the WJC: it would seem arrogant and entitled to expect Team Canada to wear WJC gold every year, but it's fair to expect the team to be competitive during the holiday season.

Being competitive is exactly what Brent Sutter and his squad accomplished this year, so let's cheer on the boys for giving us a decent chance rather than lamenting the team that could have been had this instead of that player, more of "x" league instead of "y" CHL league, or Coke instead of Pepsi represented Canada at the tournament.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Searching for Bobby Ryan: Poile and Burke insincerely seek to make amends

On New Year's Day, I thought that the Leafs' uncouth trade of Leaf John-Michael Liles would upstage the Winter Classic. It turned out that the omission (and later degradation) of Bobby Ryan would become the major story hockey story that day.

If you're already familiar with this storyline, feel free to skip the recap below and move on to my thoughts on the situation, which has somehow managed to get even messier even as Brian Burke and David Poile have tried to reach out to and make amends with Ryan.

Pictured: After a breakaway that began in his own zone, Bobby Ryan "passively" scores the game-winning goal for the Ottawa Senators on December 28, 2013 (via nhl.com).

<recap>

In case you missed it, Team USA opted not to invite Bobby Ryan to Sochi even though Ryan--who played at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver--is one of the top American scorers in the NHL.

Team USA GM Dave Poile initially tried to parry criticism by lauding Ryan as a "fabulous player"that he would love to have on the Nashville Predators, and yet not (as James O'Brien of NBC Sports pointed out) on his Olympic team.

However, a day later, another story emerged that would undermine Poile's peacemaking: Brian Burke, a member of Team USA's management and the former Anaheim Ducks GM who drafted Ryan 2nd overall in 2005, offered some offensive remarks about his former player. According to Burke, Ryan "is not intense. That word is not in his vocabulary. It's never going to be in his vocabulary. He can't spell intense."

A noticeably distraught Ryan responded by calling these comments "gutless."

</recap>

Once the initial sting wears off, I hope that Bobby Ryan reacts by realizing just how moronic Burke's comments are. In hindsight, these remarks certainly justify why Burke was, in effect, dismissed as GM of the Vancouver Canucks in 2004, and why he was fired outright by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2013. Upon replacing Burke as General Manager of USA Hockey, Poile should have considered if there was a place in the team for Burke's intense volatility.

Today, David Poile undertook damage control by apologizing to the rightfully offended Ryan, but that apology was also insulting due to its insincerity. Poile notes that the mishap stemmed from a misunderstanding about Team USA's editorial control over ESPN and USA Today's feature on America's Olympic hockey team. Apparently, USA Hockey would never have made those comments about Ryan had they known that the remarks would later be published.

Basically, Poile isn't offering a heartfelt apology for what was said: he's only sorry that people found out about it. UPDATE 3:27 PM EST: Poile is still lamenting that USA Hockey management was caught disparaging players, not what was said about Ryan in the first place.

The only indication that Poile is trying to distance himself from Burke's comments is the excessive amount of negative space in this picture

Poile should have reacted to this fiasco by dismissing Burke--not as a reactionary response to the backlash over the comments made about Ryan. No, Poile should have considered showing Burke the door because his comments reveal that his judgment is questionable and his contributions are detrimental to USA Hockey.

How is Ryan "passive"? Does he just stand around and wait for the puck to bounce off his stick and into the net? If he's managed to find success with that approach--scoring 30+ goals in four of his six previous NHL seasons--then he simply has too much puck-luck for Team USA to pass up.

According to Travis Yost, a prominent Sens blogger, Burke's comments imply that Ryan scores goals but does little else. If that is the case, then Burke is a horrific hyperbolizer, and I'm not convinced that hyperbole is a useful skillset for USA Hockey. Did they pick Dustin Brown because of his grit, or because he can hit "like eleventy billion people on a single shift"? Did they select Brooks Orpik for his rugged physicality or because "he eats tanks for breakfast and defecates fully-functional jeeps at lunch"?

Hyperbole is often rhetorical shock and awe--a blitzkrieg of bluster that demolishes counterarguments with unreasonable effectiveness since many hyperbolic statements (like Burke's) contain little substance.

The most substantial comment seems to be Burke's allegation that Ryan "can't even spell intense." Here, Burke baldly alleges that Ryan is stupid. He's already suggested that Ryan plays without intensity and will never learn intensity, so why else would Burke comment on Ryan's spelling ability unless he intended to disparage the player's intellect?

After hearing these comments, Poile should have seriously reconsidered collaborating with someone who not has difficulty voicing his professional opinion tactfully but also has a proclivity to mingle insulting personal remarks with his assessments of players.

Instead, Poile (perhaps lacking sufficient intensity to stand up to Burke) took a passsive approach to handling his management team, which has unsurprisingly backfired.

Of course, most of the blame should fall on Burke for making those incendiary remarks in the first place. Why couldn't Burke have tempered his comments? He could have argued that Ryan doesn't suit the identity that they are creating for Team USA. He could have said that Ryan didn't stand out among the numerous quality forwards available to USA Hockey. He could have even suggested that Ryan and former-teammate Cam Fowler have a tendency to bicker when on the same team.

Any of these remarks would have been better than insulting Ryan's passion and intelligence.