Mike Gillis

While Mike Gillis was the GM of the Vancouver Canucks, the team prospered. He took over a pretty good roster (Luongo, the Sedins, Kesler, Schneider, Bieksa, Edler, Burrows), and mostly managed not to mess things up – something many GMs aren’t able to claim after trying to put their fingerprints on their new franchise. They had a .627 winning percentage over his six years, made playoffs five times, won two President’s Trophies and lost in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.

Then, things started getting ugly.

The hiring of John Tortorella was the launchpad on which the Canucks season failed to take off before crashing into the Pacific. I like Eddie Lack, but the goaltending situation went to pot (though some would argue that ownership had some hand in that). There was some disagreement about the playing style of the team, and with it came passive aggressiveness in interviews until it became clear that someone had to go. With four full years and eight million left on Tortorella’s deal, Gillis was sort of the odd man out. And once you know you’re going to fire a guy, you might as well do it. No point in waiting for some imaginary milestone. Cut the tension early, get looking for a new guy, and let him start to prepare for the draft.

There’s also this sentiment: Read the rest of this entry »

Scotty Bowman

My junior hockey career started out a little rough. I signed a card with the Vernon Vipers, and I immediately struggled to adapt. Our coach Mike Vandekamp, to me anyway, seemed like a crazy person. In retrospect I’m eternally grateful for the player he made out of me, but at the time, I thought there was a pretty real chance he might tomahawk me in practice.

I’ve still never asked him about the night he called me into his office to send me down to junior B, listened to my counterarguments, let me call my parents to make plans (quit and college? More Jungle B hockey?), then grabbed me before I walked out the door to say the staff had changed their mind. I’m pretty sure I was being emotionally manipulated.

This sort of thing went on over the course of two years, albeit at less preposterous levels, until Vandekamp, the Vipers and I had been to two BCHL finals (winning one), I had a college scholarship, and we were more or less buddies.

Some people need a pat on the back, others a kick in the ass. If you don’t think coaches intentionally keep players on “Holy hell I need to be at my best tonight” eggshells with their words and actions daily, you’re naivé. It’s why I’ve mentioned comments in the past from Mike Babcock to the media about certain Red Wings players – these are usually calculated comments, as he’s speaking to his players indirectly. 95% of players who say they don’t read what the media is writing about them are full of it. They watch SportsCentre every night, just like everyone else.

Here’s what Ken Dryden wrote in The Game about how Scotty Bowman handled his Montreal Canadiens roster. This followed a blurb on Guy Lafleur and his unwavering ability to self-motivate… Read the rest of this entry »

Alex Ovechkin

Much like the blooming of the cherry blossoms, the official end of winter in Washington is often heralded by scurrilous whispering that Alex Ovechkin, multiple Rocket Richard winner, is really what’s ailing this team.

Interestingly, with so many other problems with the Capitals having presented themselves over the last few months — with team makeup, roster selection, player usage, penalty killing ineffectiveness, leaky defense, outright lousy goaltending, bad luck, etc. etc. etc. etc. — this is actually the latest the rumblings have really started to crop up over the past few years (more often, it’s in February). But the fact that they’re cropping up again nonetheless is frankly bizarre.

This is the reigning league MVP, coming off scoring 32 goals in 48 games to win his third Rocket Richard in six years, and who is as of this writing a goal away from breaking 50 for the fifth time in nine seasons. But still the criticism lingers, because he’s the most visible athlete in the city (all apologies to John Wall, Bryce Harper, and Robert Griffin III), playing on the richest AAV in the league by nearly $1 million, and his team is the smoldering crater of a turd meteor.

Someone has to answer for it, and it’s probably going to be Adam Oates, but people love blaming stars for their teams’ problems, so blame Ovechkin they will. There are a whole hell of a lot of reasons that the Caps would, of course, be foolish to trade Ovechkin now, or probably ever, but the chief among these is obvious:

He’s incredible. Read the rest of this entry »

David Clarkson4

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Thoughts on Thoughts” is a feature that looks at Elliotte Friedman’s terrific weekly post “30 Thoughts.” Justin Bourne selects his 10 favourite tidbits, and elaborates.

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Friedman’s column, April 7th: Evander Kane too valuable for Jets to give up on

Opening:

Friedman’s latest 30 Thoughts piece opened with a pretty clean thought: Evander Kane is worth too much between his age, size, ability and contract to just give up on.

I wrote a post yesterday where I allowed myself the type of pure speculation you and your buddies do when you’re talking sports, because frankly, that’s what everyone behind the scenes is saying. That speculation was that Kane has obviously messed up a few times (whether that means being late for team events or whatever, Maurice has hinted at it), there seems to be some friction between him and the organization, and it seems like he wants out.

As Friedman says, that doesn’t mean he gets out, and I agree it’s worth making every effort to keep him. I guess it just remains to be seen if he’s willing to mature into a guy who wants to be a part of what they’re building in Manitoba or not. If he’s miserable and they’re not willing to move him, you’d expect to see more flare ups like this over the next four years, and that means more trade rumblings.

10 Thoughts

3. Whenever we get close to the end of a season, you hear the usual rumours about potential changes on the bench and in front offices. I try to be very careful about this stuff, because it isn’t always accurate. There’s a lot of it this year, more than normal. One of the difficulties with predicting change is how one dismissal affects others. There are a couple of current coaches with the potential to create a domino effect. The first is going to be Barry Trotz. If the Predators make a change, there is going to be a lot of interest. There are teams who think he will benefit from a fresh start and more offensive punch.

It would be really interesting to see what Barry Trotz could do with an offensive lineup. I feel like coaches in Trotz’s situation – running a lower budgeted team without pure offensive talents to frequent success (think Dave Tippett) – are comparable to GMs who do well with a shoestring budget, then get the chance to spend big with a new team, and don’t have success.

I believe it was Glen Sather, once the GM of the Oilers, who made noise about what he could do with the NY Rangers budget. I wouldn’t say it’s been an endless downpour of Cups there since.

Some coaches are really great at getting the most out of teams that don’t have the raw talent, and part of that is convincing them that because they don’t have the Crosbys on their team they need to be better positionally. If he suddenly went somewhere that did have offensive tools, could he get the team to play as responsibly? Would he succeed at utilizing his firepower, or feel more inclined to chain it up the way he’s gotten Nashville to be good over the past handful of years? Read the rest of this entry »

evander kane 3

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If we’re all okay with taking some not-so-massive leaps here, I’m gonna go ahead and say that Evander Kane is not happy in Winnipeg, and the Jets aren’t too thrilled with him either.

The short version of the latest flare up is that the Jets were going to play in Toronto…

…Kane went out, and it’s possible he had a bit too much fun.

Now, I don’t know that he slept in and missed a team event in the morning, but I know enough about hockey players, the lifestyle, and passive aggressiveness that I feel okay making that ca-raaaazy leap.

So, after that Kane was seen chatting with his agent in the hall (doesn’t mean anything, most players do, but when you’ve got another four years on your deal and just got healthy scratched as a young star “talking to your agent” certainly carries heavier overtones), and the next day he found himself in front of the camera, remorseful and apologetic about the unknown reasons for his absence.

Nah, I’m kidding, he was pretty indignant about the whole thing. Read the rest of this entry »

Rinaldo2

There’s a certain type of hockey player that climbs up through the ranks because, to put it bluntly, they’re a pain in the ass to play. They play an up-tempo style, they’re fearless, they’ll hit everything that moves, and they’ll chirp you in the process. They are Zac Rinaldo.

The thing with this type of game is that you can play it in a clean way. You don’t have to be a constant injury threat who doesn’t respect your opponents. Unfortunately, Rinaldo has yet to learn how to play that game, or he just has no interest in trying.

Two years ago he was suspended two games for a jumping shoulder to the brain of Jonathan Ericsson of the Red Wings just eight days after being fined twice for two separate incidents (a late hit and a slewfoot) in the same game. Here’s a refresher on the suspension:

The NHL’s Department of Player Safety won’t likely be pleased to see his name on the docket again today.

His hit to head of Chad Ruhwedel earned him a match penalty, and was injurious:

So, Rinaldo’s getting suspended. Let’s break down the play and give ‘er the old “Court of Public Opinion” assessment. How many games for this?

The facts:

Read the rest of this entry »

fights

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Look, I get it.

Fighting is on the way out in the NHL.

Fighting in neanderthalic (not a word, whatever).

But if you’ll allow yourself, on a Friday, to climb down from your high horse and accept that two humans have agreed to a contest of face-knuckling – grown men mind you, making their own decisions – and enjoy it for the basic entertainment that it is, you might just enjoy this list. Also, I only chose fights where nobody was concussed, so sleep easy.

If you pay close attention, in one of the fights one of the guys uses his fist to hit the other guy’s face. It’s fascinating.

#5

Colton Orr vs John Erskine

“Here come the jackhammers.” Read the rest of this entry »