Monday, August 31, 2009

When First Impressions meet Third Jersey

It was, by all admissions, another sign of the coming hockey apocalypse.

A crowd of over 2,000 -- enough to close Underwood Street, much to the consternation of sanitation workers, who were unable to dump trash cans -- assembled in front of the new "Fan Central" building (formerly the Modern Living building) to watch as budding model (and NHL heavyweight) Derek Boogaard model the new third jersey of the Minnesota Wild on Sunday afternoon during Day 4 of the Minnesota State Fair.

The crowd began assembling as much as 45 minutes prior to the event, as the Minnesota Vikings (who the Wild share the building with, along with the NBA Timberwolves) were finishing up their own attention-getter on the temporary stage set up in front of the building. While there were a few hundred people at the Vikings event, by 12 noon there were well over 1,000 waiting for Boogaard to make his appearance.

The event was emceed not by the Wild's Kevin Falness, to whom things like this normally fall; but to 'Dumb and Dumber' themselves, Dan Terhaar and Mike Greenlay, the Wild's TV PBP/Analyst duo, who also rode in the daily State Fair parade (on the 'Target Hot Seats' rebuilt Zamboni, nevertheless).

The ceremony was full of long-winded speeches, a quick jersey history and then, after they dragged it out for nearly 15 minutes, out came Boogaard, head and shoulders above everyone else in the crowd, followed by the Wild's mascot, 'Nordy' (who some have already called 'Nerdy') who also wore a new jersey as well.

What was put up last week on the Internet at was indeed what was revealed; a green jersey with very little red, a stylized-block "Minnesota" at a 45-degree angle (to conform to the RBK jersey template) with the word "Wild" below in smaller lettering. The only red on the entire sweater is that 'Wild' below the much-larger 'Minnesota', two stars (one on either side of the 'M' in 'Minnesota',) and surrounding the NHL league shield at the neck. A tie-neck (like the Iron Range Red jerseys) completes the jersey. Lettering and numbering is exactly the same as the IRR jerseys (meaning the white road jerseys are now the only ones with the original crest and 'Wild' font numbers). There is a shooting star dotting the I in the 'Minnesota' crest. Matching dark green breezers and hosiery complete the new look (hopefully they will get new matching hockey gloves as well).

It's JMO, folks: I like the basic concept of a base-green jersey (no other team has a base green jersey, now that Dallas has abandoned the green) for it's uniqueness, but IMO the Wild would have been much better served by just adapting the Wild 'head' crest onto this jersey. The lettering/numbering for the player names/numbers is fine (the original green jersey numbers were somewhat hard to read) but the script 'Minnesota Wild' leaves something to be desired.

The Wild say they worked on this since the summer of 2008. If they did, I really wonder how hard they worked on it. Yes, it's a hockey jersey (not a sweater, sadly) to again conform to the Reebok design limitations, so it will be interesting to see how this look is accepted both by players and by fans (whose $$ drive all of this, after all).

There were plenty of new design shirts available in the Fan Central building for sale (with prices to match) and the fans were buying them at a fairly brisk pace. The new location of the Wild's State Fair sales area allows them to get out of the hot, crowded second-level Grandstand area, where they have been since the team's inception.


Saturday, August 29, 2009

Kane Lucky, Unfortunately

Yes, Chicago star Patrick Kane got lucky when his "sentence" became writing an apology to the hack that he treated like an opposing forward in the corner.

Unfortunately his reaction continues to be that of a spoiled, stupid, immature, naive kid who probably will have this roll right off his back (after perhaps a year of dwindling taunting from opposing fans, not to mention cabbies).

"Obviously, I'm in a little different situation than most kids at this age but at the same time I think it's definitely been a learning lesson and something I want to move forward on," Kane told City Court Judge Thomas Amodeo before receiving his sentence. "It's maybe better I learn it now than later in life."

Outside the courtroom, Kane apologized to his family, the city, the Blackhawks and his fans "for being in a regrettable situation."

"But it's behind me. It's time to move on," he said.

Yeah, no, big boy.

If it's such a lesson it better not be behind you. That doesn't mean you have to dwell on it every second of every day, but it does mean that you maybe learned that you're not all that and a bag of chips - even in your hometown. Apologizing for being in a regrettable situation doesn't imply that you realize that you either created that situation or didn't but totally shit the bed when you found yourself in it. The regrettable situation is that Pat apparently thought he could "Do you know who I am" his way out of his regrettable situation.

That the hack was apparently only looking for an apology means that he's either very nice, or didn't actually get beat up as was alleged, or perhaps both.

But that doesn't detract from Pat (and his handlers) still apparently not getting it. The problem here is not that he got into it with a cabbie over just enough money to tape up one of Kane's hockey sticks one time. The problem is that Pat thought that was an appropriate thing to do, that he thought he was entitled to...what? Better treatment from the cab driver? That better treatment, in this case, would have been...not locking the door on the cab (which would have pissed me off no doubt, just not to the point of violence) and giving Pat a couple pennies in change. Really? That's what Pat thought he was entitled to? What a shame. Apparently Pat's mommy and daddy never taught him to treat others as he would like them to treat him. That's too bad. What's even worse, though, is that it appears they aren't taking THIS opportunity to fill that parental oversight. And the circle remains unbroken.

See you next time, Pat.

Stay classy.


Tanguay Spares Wild

The Tanguay Sweepstakes, so to speak, is over. The winger signed with the Bolts, in what at least Russo feels was a foregone conclusion. The combination of top 2 line minutes, arguably better linemates, and, perhaps, more money, was just too much to pass up. Not that I blame him. That and taking away his ability to score on the Wild in bunches - by signing with them - would have been a bad career move.

Personally, I say: good. We didn't need another softish, playmaking winger. We need finishers. We also need to keep the kids on whom the success - or lack thereof - of this season may well depend enthused heading into camp. The way to do that is to make them feel like there are jobs available to compete for - not that Fletcher is happy to fill them up like, well, his predecessor.

And keeping the cap space open was a good call too.

So, we are probably looking at the roster that we'll go into camp with. I'm okay with that. Is it all-world on paper? Absolutely not. I'm not even suggesting it'll be all-world on the ice. Far from it. But it represents solidification of vision by the GM (and, one assumes, the coach) which is an immediate improvement, in mentality if not on-ice skill. And it's certainly no worse than it was last season.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Crosby, Canada's captain?


So, there's a debate going on north of the border in regards to whom should captain the Canadian Olympic men's hockey team next year in Vancouver.

One name some people want to throw out is Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby.

But, let's be honest here: Crosby should not be Team Canada's captain.

By my reckoning, just off the top of my head, there are at least three good reasons why Crosby should not have any C stitched onto his sweater other than on his back.

First off - assuming he makes the final roster - Crosby will be on a team where most, if not all, of the players will be older than him. Ask the Penguins coaches or players what a significant factor in their Stanley Cup run this summer was and they'll say it was the presence of the grizzled Bill Guerin.

Guerin came into the locker room and immediately began throwing good-natured jibes in Crosby's direction, which loosened up the team. Crosby is still just 22 and it helps having older players like Guerin around for him to lean on. It will be better if instead one of those veterans wears the C.

Second, Crosby hasn't played in the Olympics before. He's supposed to tell his teammates what to expect when there are players who have already won the gold medal? Sid's going to need to stay in the shadows in the locker room and actually experience the circus without being the ringmaster.

Finally, Crosby still has a little maturing to do. That was evident after Pittsburgh beat Detroit in Game 7 in June, when Crosby missed part of the handshake line. If Guerin was the captain, I'm willing to bet there wouldn't have been any pseudo-controversy. Sid got caught up in the moment, and maybe that's the last time he'll make that mistake if given the chance to do so again, but the incident is a small notch against Crosby's candidacy.

The bottom line is, it's just not Crosby's time. If the NHL participates in the 2014 Games, he'll likely be a prime and logical candidate. While some people may view Team Canada as "Crosby's team," that doesn't mean he needs to be the captain.

He'll likely be a significant player for Canada and will be a main target of all the reporters. If anything, that's another reason he shouldn't be the captain. He'll have plenty of other responsibilities without needing to worry about locker room obligations.

More logical candidates are Calgary's Jarome Iginla or Anaheim's Scott Niedermayer. Personally, my meaningless vote is for Iginla, one of my favorite non-Penguins in the league, one of the most all-around individuals in the game and one of the most widely respected players.

As for Crosby, I think it'll be much better for his personal enjoyment of the Olympics and his development as a leader to sit back, let someone else handle the reins, and watch how other leaders run their teams, whether it's Iginla, Niedermayer, or whomever should be Canada's captain.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Tragic news


No one likes hearing of these stories, but there are reports that say Washington goalie Jose Theodore's two-month-old son has died. The cause is unknown at this time.

What makes the news even sadder is this is the latest tragedy for Theodore and Stephanie Cloutier. Their first child suffered respiratory problems but is doing well now, but in 2007, Cloutier suffered a miscarriage during another pregnancy.

Of course, my thoughts go out to the parents and other family members. Death has been somewhat prevalent for me lately (I've been to six funerals in two years), but fortunately for me, none of it has been to a child or parent of mine. So I can't imagine what Theodore is going through, but I'm willing to bet it's not a good time.

I can only hope he and Cloutier find a way to cope, but obviously they're going through some tough times right now.

From a hockey standpoint, there's no real telling what this will do to Theodore's season. Last year, Jean-Sebastien Giguere's father experienced severe health issues and died in December. Because of that or not, Giguere had a dreadful season, which included losing his starting job to Jonas Hiller. Maybe the same will happen with Theodore, who earlier in the summer was named the Capitals' top goalie by coach Bruce Boudreau.

But that's a discussion for later. Hockey absolutely takes a backseat to this much, much, much more important time in Theodore's life, and hopefully he'll come out of it as best he can.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Another reason....

...why the NHL is better than some other sports leagues:

There's a rookie salary cap.

The Washington Nationals of Major League Baseball signed their No. 1 draft selection from the 2009 class - first overall pick pitcher Stephen Strasburg - to a four-year contract worth $15.1 million, including a $7.5 million signing bonus.

Ask any fan of a non-major market team - unlike the Red Sox, Yankees or Mets - what one of the biggest problems with MLB is and I'm willing to bet they'll say it's the economic system.

The Nationals are going to pay a lot of guaranteed money to a kid who hasn't even thrown a pitch in the minor leagues, let alone with the big club. It's a contract that now has some baseball officials talking about drastically changing how the MLB draft is done. (Read Jayson Stark's column on ESPN here.)

When the Islanders drafted John Tavares first overall, or the Penguins chose Sidney Crosby first in 2005, there was no talk about how two downtrodden franchises might struggle with signing the top pick. But if you are a Nationals fan (which is unlikely if you read this blog), most of the stories you'd read would be, "Will the Nats sign Strasburg?"

And I think more than a few people did not expect Washington to be able to do it. I know some Pirates fans dreamed about the possibility of getting either the first or second pick and a chance to draft Strasburg (who would've re-entered the draft if not signing with Washington.)

But that didn't happen. Something else that didn't happen were pundits asking if New York or Pittsburgh could afford Tavares or Crosby, respectively, even with the troubles each franchise was experiencing.


Because their signings were pretty much technicalities.

Tavares' entire first contract, with bonuses if he achieves each one, isn't much bigger than Strasburg's signing bonus. The NHL limits how much money a rookie can make with his first contract, which only makes sense. They shouldn't earn boatloads of cash without even showing they deserve it.

Baseball doesn't do it that way, and that's just one of many things wrong with MLB. The NHL certainly has problems as well, but this is one aspect the league gets right.


Sunday, August 9, 2009

A "WTF?" situation


(Update: Is this the latest fallout from Hossa Karma?)

Patrick Kane arrested for punching and robbing a cab driver

This story can't possibly be true, can it?

Or is there something more to it?

As you can read, 20-year-old Kane and his cousin expected change back from a cab fare of $13.80. They paid $15. They wanted, but didn't get, change. They allegedly assaulted the cab driver and took back their money.

So, say it with me, what the f---?

This is alternatively unfortunate and curious on several levels. First, I don't ride in cabs much, but isn't it typical to tip the guy? Second, they really wanted $1.20 back in change? Why didn't they just give him the $15 and go on their way?

I know Kane is due for a new contract in 2010, but is he really forced to be pinching pennies already?

No league likes seeing its stars get into trouble - any kind of trouble - and the NHL in particular needs its young guns - particularly Kane - to avoid any unpleasantness. If this story ends up being true, I don't know what kind of repercussions will result.

But apart from that: Robbing a cab driver, Patrick? Really?

Maybe this will turn out to be much ado about nothing, but it is certainly one of the odder and minor arrests one will hear about in regards to a professional athlete.

Actually, no, it's stupid. Come on, Patrick, what were you thinking?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Alas, Janne, we hardly knew ye


In one of the more unsurprising Penguins-related news (and Wild, but more on that later), winger Janne Pesonen, a former Finnish League scoring champion, returned to Europe, signing a contract with Ak Bars Kazan of the KHL, according to Hockey Sverige, a Swedish site.

Pesonen spent most of the 2008-09 season in the AHL with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, where he set a new Baby Penguins' single-season scoring record with 82 points (30 goals), which was fourth in the AHL. That never translated into the NHL, where Pesonen played in seven games with the big club but failed to register a point.

In his defense, playing fourth-line minutes with fourth-line scrubs like enforcer Eric Godard or Chris Minard or Bill Thomas isn't an environment conducive to a "skill" player like Pesonen to put up points. Meanwhile, Pascal Dupuis, who isn't exactly a "finisher," continued to see minutes on the top line alongside Sidney Crosby until the acquisitions of Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin.

Having said that, maybe management and/or coaches saw something in Pesonen's game - or perhaps, did not see something - that led to the belief that Pesonen wouldn't be able to cut it in the big league.

Whatever the case, Pesonen never saw quality minutes with other skilled players in the NHL despite clearly showing the ability to do so in the AHL. But the AHL is a far different beast from the NHL. (Remember that fourth-line scrub I called Minard? Yeah, he was one of W-B/S's top offensive players. But he also didn't see much top-line time in the NHL. But I digress.)

The most telling statement against Pesonen is how he did not receive a call-up from coach Dan Bylsma, who perhaps more than anyone else knew what Pesonen's skill set included and whether he'd be able to produce. The only thing I can think of as to why Bylsma didn't give Pesonen a shot was because the Penguins had their backs against the wall and Bylsma felt he couldn't afford to give a "trial period" to a guy like Pesonen. Once the playoffs started, the stakes increased. It seems to me you'd want to give Pesonen a test run early in the season or when the team is playing well, not when it's struggling to stay afloat.

Having said that, desperate times call for desperate measures, and the Penguins were definitely desperate when Bylsma took over, but obviously not desperate enough to give Pesonen a legitimate chance.

Here's the part about the Wild: They could use another top-six forward. (So could the Penguins, by the way.) But neither they nor any other NHL team seemed to be beating down Pesonen's door. GM Chuck Fletcher, overseer of that Baby Penguins team, apparently wasn't overly impressed by Pesonen either. Maybe he saw in Pesonen another Pierre-Marc Bouchard, a small (Pesonen is 5-11, 180), play-making type who's not overly enthusiatic when it comes to putting the puck on goal or to bump an opposing body, and elected not to have two of those types on the team.

Obviously there was something lacking in Pesonen's game, but the Penguins weren't exactly ripe with top-six wingers last season - at least before the trade deadline - and the Wild's offense, while it might improve, likely won't burn out a tremendous amount of red bulbs, but it's got to be a little curious that Pesonen didn't get more of a chance.

No one's ever mistaken Petr Sykora (6-0, 190) for a rugged, tough, no-nonsense guy, and all he's done in the NHL is tallied 10 straight seasons of 20 or more goals.

Pesonen was a low-risk option who might've panned out or might not have. So, Janne, alas, we hardly knew ye.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Myth or Fact?


Welcome to the first edition of "Myth or Fact?" brought to you courtesy of Bobby Clarke. And as long as Clarke is around, this might not be the only time he is featured in this ... um, feature.

Recently, Clarke made some disparaging comments about the Penguins organization. We will investigate these comments to determine their veracity.

Myth: The Penguins, Capitals and Blackhawks, some of the last teams in the 2009 playoffs, missed the playoffs six or seven straight years.

Fact: Not entirely sure what time frame Clarke is referring to here. In 2008, the Penguins made the playoffs. In 2007, the Penguins made the playoffs. Their appearance in the 2009 postseason didn't exactly come out of nowhere. Prior to that, Pittsburgh made the playoffs in 2001. Since joining the NHL in 1967, the Penguins have never missed the playoffs in seven straight seasons. There was one span of six, from 1983 through 1988.

The Capitals drafted Alex Ovechkin in 2004. They'd made the playoffs in 2000 and 2001, even winning the division both seasons, and were also in the postseason in 2003, then again in 2008.

Prior to this season, the Hawks last reached the playoffs in 2002. They drafted Jonathan Toews in 2006 and Patrick Kane in 2007. That's less of a playoff history but still less than seven years.

Clarke even said it was "somewhat embarrassing" for those teams to be achieving success. Why is it embarrassing for these young stars to get to show what they can do on the sport's biggest stage? Should they be buried on mediocre teams who will never go anywhere for their entire careers?

Myth: Pittsburgh lost seven years in a row in order to get good.

Fact: In 2001, the Penguins made the conference finals, their last of 11 consecutive playoff appearances until 2007. There were losing seasons in 2001-02, 2002-03 and 2003-04. Sidney Crosby was drafted in 2005, after the lockout. Evgeni Malkin the year before. Under the new math, that's less than seven years.

Myth: The Penguins lost seven years in a row in order to get good twice.

Fact: Pittsburgh qualified for the postseason from 1979 through 1982. Mario Lemieux was drafted in 1984. It doesn't take a mathematician to figure out that's less than seven years.

Myth: Clarke finds the strategy of some teams "appalling."

Fact: Clarke conspired with the father of Eric Lindros to orchestrate a trade out of Quebec and into Philadelphia. This trade helped the Quebec/Colorado Avalanche franchise win two Stanley Cups. The Flyers made one Finals appearance with Lindros and were swept by Detroit in 1997. Clarke and Lindros later feuded, and Lindros was stripped of his captaincy before eventually being traded.

Myth: The Flyers always try to win.

Fact: Ray Emery.

Myth: Philadelphia's philosophy hasn't changed since 1967.

Fact: The Flyers haven't won the Stanley Cup since 1975.

Thus concludes "Myth or Fact?" We hope you enjoyed it.

Did the Penguins lose before getting good? Unquestionably. That's how every draft system in major North American sports works. It's how they've all worked for a long time. It's not like it suddenly changed in the last seven years. (I picked that number because that's the one Clarke likes to use.) It's exactly how bad teams get good. That's the whole point of the draft.

So, deal with it. Maybe Mr. Clarke should worry more about improving his team instead of what other teams are doing.

(Here's the article in question where Clarke made these statements.)