Archive for May, 2009

Blue Jackets Saga Getting Progressively Sillier

May 29, 2009

Buddy, can you spare $80-million?

That’s the amount of money the Columbus Blue Jackets have lost in the last seven years. Now, they’re looking for Franklin County, where the Jackets reside in Ohio, to purchase Nationwide Arena in a bid to renegotiate their lease and to pass a “sin tax” without voter approval. Complete details can be gleamed from this Columbus Dispatch article.

It seems that all of these years, the Jackets have been operating in the red due to restrictions that developed as the nine year-old arena was being built. In May of 1997, voters turned down a short-term tax increase of .05 cents to help build an arena for the new team. However, then prospective franchise owner, the late John H. McConnell, promised NHL commissioner Gary Bettman that there would be a new arena for a team. Nationwide Insurance announced that they would pony up the $150-million to build the arena. But the tag came with a price of its own:

  • Nationwide Insurance, as owners of the arena, have naming rights.
  • Since Nationwide owes a great deal of the real estate around the Columbus Arena District, the Blue Jackets get little revenue from parking.
  • To help offset costs for construction, 15 of the arena’s 52 luxury suites were sold with 25-year leases.

The theory behind the sin tax is that, eventually, ownership of the arena would fall to Franklin County. The Jackets could then rework their lease agreement with the county. The arena would retain its name, therefore, Nationwide would pay for naming rights. The plan is similar to that used in Cleveland to fund Jacobs Field and Gund Arena.

One would think that if an organization was bleeding money for the last seven years, more than half of the arena’s original cost of $150-million, something would’ve been set in motion a few years ago. The Jackets have been taking money from Hockey operations to cover operating costs, a “rob Peter to pay Paul” that might’ve worked early on but is not a quality plan for success.

If this sets forth motion of the Jackets eventually relocating, all of the good that the Jackets have done in their community — and I’m talking humanitarian here — will have been for naught. It’s too early in the game to speculate but something needs to be done with the Jackets and now. It seems like a sin tax is an easy fix and the Jackets are happy to pass costs on to someone else. This smacks of rich folks pleading poverty and expect the public to bail them out. Again. That the sin tax would be passed without a voter referendum is an even more egregious because it is against the will of the people… the ones who voted down a tax increase to begin with.

Go Blue Jackets.

Go away.

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Pravda in Columbus

May 21, 2009

Things have been getting a little odd in Blue Jackets country.

Just over a week after the Blue Jackets were eliminated from their first post-season appearance, word came down that management was seriously evaluating both the radio and the television broadcasters. With contracts for all of their broadcast personnell expiring, the decision whether to keep or cut loomed.Most fans were somewhat satisfied with the radio side, although some were disappointed that Bill Davidge and George Matthews focused more on creating nifty phrases than describing what was going on on the ice. However, the most ire was drawn towards FOX Sports Ohio’s on-air team of Jeff Rimer and Danny Gare.

Rimer, a hire from the Doug Maclean era, has a play-by-play style that is prone to cliches, malapropisms (several times in the past he has referred to Columbus as “Florida” and the Jackets as “the Panthers”), and generic rah-rah cheerleading despite the action on the ice. Danny Gare, the former Buffalo Sabre, was a likable if somewhat bamboozled color commentator with a penchant for nicknames like Jason “Choo-choo” Chimera or Christian “The Juice Is Loose” Huselius. Endurable, Rimer and Gare were, but definitely AHL-calibre talent.

But with no decisions being made, fans began to inundate CBJ management with phone calls in support of the radio broaodcasters and giving opinions on television. Then, some interesting news started to leak out.

Sources have told The Dispatch that at least some of the broadcasters have grown weary in recent seasons of what they saw as the front office’s [director of business operations Larry Hoepfner, director of broadcasting Russ Mollihan and director of marketing Marc Gregory] repeated meddling in the broadcast booths, to the point of minutiae. For instance, broadcasters were told this season to limit the number of times they use one another’s first names in broadcasts.

The situation hit a low point late this season, when the Blue Jackets pulled off an improbable come-from-behind shootout victory in Chicago on April 8, clinching the franchise’s first spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Each of the broadcasters was told in advance of the game that, as the final buzzer sounded, they should not mention late Blue Jackets majority owner John H. McConnell, nor should they put into the context the club’s eight-season struggle to make the playoffs.

Despite the front office noodling, many felt, and rightly so, that Rimer should be shown the door and that Gare, should the right play-by-play man come along, could develop nicely. Many felt that Rimer acted solely as a cheerleader, never criticizing the team when they were flat on the ice nor saying anything beyond a mushmouthed, “This team needs to recapture that sense of urgency”. Fans were tired of having sunshine blown up their ass for the last few years. Therefore, it came as a shock when news broke that Gare was to be let go and Jeff Rimer was given a three-year contract. Joining Rimer in the TV booth would be Davidge, which leave George Matthews by himself (for now) on radio.

This decision was followed by news yesterday that pre-game and off-ice reporter Jim Day had been let go by the Blue Jackets. Day, an employee of FS Ohio, will still do Cincinnati Reds pre-games as well as Cleveland Cavaliers (both of which garner more ratings than the Jackets’ broadcasts). And why was Day let go?

Sources said that Blue Jackets executives complained to Fox Sports Ohio regularly about Day’s choice of words, the questions he asked and, at times, his demeanor after losses.

For instance, he was chided this season for using “disappointment” in a question posed to Blue Jackets assistant coach Gord Murphy when the Jackets fell behind by two goals March 28 at St. Louis.

While it’s understandable that CBJ management prefers that their organization is represented well and respectfully, the significance of Day’s dismissal can not be lost on the team’s fans or the population at large. The signal being sent is, essentially, “You’re An Idiot”. By trying to whitewash a team’s struggles away by ignoring them completely is an insult to the viewer. “You’re An Idiot”. The CBJ management’s handling of their broadcast booth is akin to censorship if not for the fact that people know what they see with their own eyes. The expectation here is that Rimer et al, will sugarcoat a turd and expect the fans and viewers to think it’s a TimBit.

And it’s not just Columbus faithful who noticed. The word is getting out on how screwball the front office is, as the Columbus Dispatch’s Aaron Portzline reports:

I spoke to lots of broadcasting types across North America today, trying to track down specifics and anything they might have heard. (Day did not want to talk on the record, saying he didn’t want to burn any bridges with the Blue Jackets.) I was left with two impressions, neither of them flattering for the Blue Jackets.

1. Nobody with any legitimacy whatsoever is going to feel comfortable taking a broadcasting job with the Blue Jackets if the word “disappointing” is deemed inappropriate. Word travels fast in the world of broadcasting, believe me. Faster than the speed of newspaper, certainly. Faster even than the blogosphere. The constant meddling in the booth is quickly making Columbus an organization that folks in the business whisper about, usually with a roll of the eyes. One big-time national broadcaster — not John Buccigross — told me a year ago that he’d love to work for the Blue Jackets, if only he could convince his wife to move to Columbus. When I talked him today and asked the same question, he chuckled: “Not a chance.”

The depressing point here is that, after all of those years of struggle, any positives that we might have gotten from this season has been done away by Hoepfner, Mollihan, and Gregory’s bungling of this situation. Indeed, their conceit at thinking fans will accept crap because they say so sets them amongst Dollar Bill Wirtz in terms of respect for their audience.

John H. McConnell is dead. The Blue Jackets are a hideously run franchise. No whitewash is going to cover what the eye has alreayd seen.

The truth will out.

Once More, For Luck

May 14, 2009

Go, kid, go!

Jesus, I hope he has tickets for tonight’s game, too.

The Gino Factor

May 14, 2009

Milan Lucic knows how to win.

As if there weren’t enough things to admire about this kid; his work ethic, his toughness and hitting ability, his amazing leadership qualities at such a young age.

Let’s not forget. He is only 20.

But he’s already shown what a competitor he is. Look back at what folks call “The Shift”. I wasn’t there but people tell me it’s part of what won the Memorial Cup for the Vancouver Giants in 2007 and what earned young Lucic the MVP honors of that tournament.

Take a look at it, 60 legendary seconds that will resound forever in Western Canadian hockey lore.

Afterward, after Vancouver had won the game 3-1 and hoisted the Memoral Cup on their home ice, people still spoke about it with awe in their voice. Giants Captain Brett Festerling said of it, “After watching that shift, [winning] was almost a certainty. I remember looking at the guys on the bench and you could just see in their eyes nothing was going to hold us back after that.”

So that was Milan Lucic at age 18. Impressive, to say the least.

These days he’s bringing that exact same poise and hunger for winning into the locker room and on the ice for the Boston Bruins. He helped them power their way through longtime rival Montreal Canadiens, an undeniable factor in what became a dominant sweep of that series. Lucic had the Habs so concerned about him that they gave hapless Georges Laraque an absurdly exaggerated role in the series to try to counter his impact on the game. It didn’t work even slightly and, in fact, might be a key reason the Bleu Blanc et Rougettes lost as they altered their game plan so much to account for Lucic’s play.

Just ask Mike Komisarek what he thinks about it.

He’s also been a key factor in the Bruins comeback in the series against Carolina, making an extremely heady play in the second period of Game 6 to set up Marc Savard for the 3rd goal of the game. In the previous contest, when the B’s needed it most, he set the tone early with a monsterous hit on Dennis Seidenberg (pictured atop this post) that was gloriously reminiscent of his work in Vancouver.

His impact on the team’s resurgence is undeniable. In these playoffs alone, the 20 year old left wing has 8 points in 9 games and leads the entire NHL in Plus/Minus at a +11. Those stats don’t tell the whole story as the intangible factors he brings to the game are immeasurable.

Except in the Win/Loss column, that is.

If the Bruins can win Game 7 this evening and advance to play the Pittsburgh Penguins in the conference semi-finals, it will be a fantastic team effort, with credit to be given to all, especially guys like Tim Thomas, Zdeno Chara, Mark Savard and others.

Chances are, though, that the man they call Gino will have something to say about it, too.

Which bodes well for the Bruins.

Back To Boston

May 13, 2009

It’s not just the name of one of my favorite Rosebuds songs.

It’s where the Bruins-Hurricanes eastern quarterfinal series is headed for a dramatic Game 7 thanks to yet another dominant win by the team in Black & Gold last night in Raleigh, stunning the Carolina fans who showed up ready to celebrate and left with their heads hung low.

Of course, they call themselves “Caniacs”, don’t you know?

I asked a neutral observer, a woman who is a self-professed non-hockey fan, what she thought of the nickname Caniacs. “Sounds gay,” she said. Her words, not mine.

Here in Boston we don’t have cute nicknames for ourselves as fans. We don’t tailgate before games and we think NASCAR is a boring, pale imitation of an everyday commute down Route 128, only without the embarrassing, ad-covered uniforms. Or the toothless rednecks.

Here in Boston we just want to watch hockey, to play hockey, to live and breathe hockey. There are rinks in every town, pee-wee leagues full to the brim with excited youngsters, high school programs renowned for grooming world class talent. It’s the home of the current National Champion BU Terriers, the Beanpot and a host of prime time Division 1 teams. It’s the home of Mike Eruzione and about half of the 1980 Miracle On Ice team.

Y’see, hockey is in our blood here. We grow up surrounded by it, immersed in it and the Boston Bruins are an integral part in that. They have always, as much as the Red Sox or Celtics or Patriots are beloved, been the team adopted by the working class folk of the area, the grind it out, bring your lunch pail, 10 hour workday types that are the heart and soul of the city and it’s environs. People who know how to put in an honest day’s work and people who know how to enjoy life when the sun goes down.

Not that the Carolinas don’t have their share of decent folk. And sure, they’ve even taken home Lord Stanley’s hardware a whole lot more recently than Boston has and, hey, good for them. But it’s still not the same. It’s not in their blood. You know it, I know it. They know it.

Anyway, excuse an excited Bruin’s fan his ramblings. Game 7 is on the schedule for 8 p.m. Thurday and the anticipation is already building like a gathering storm. Bruins fans have waited a long time for stuff like this to happen. You can’t blame us for getting a little rowdy.

Which is just how it’ll be inside the Garden tomorrow night.

And, oh, yeah, there’s also the little matter of two other Game Sevens in the quarterfinals, each to be met with just as much wild enthusiasm. As of this writing the much hyped face-off between young megastars Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin is ending with a resounding thwap upside the head of the Caps as Pittsburgh is already up 5-1 at the end of the second period.

The other Game 7 tomorrow, between the Red Wings and Ducks, has built momentum via the wonderful nastiness at the end of Game 6 where Detroit’s euro-stars got a mouthful of old school smackdown at the hands of the feisty Ducks. Looking like another hell of a night of hockey, folks.

Ain’t it awesome?

Why We Fight

May 12, 2009

The Boston Bruins probably don’t need much exterior motivation to win going into tonight’s essential Game 6 in Carolina, trying to bring the series back to Boston for a decisive Game 7 on their home ice.

But just in case, here are a few reasons to play hard.

Do it because of this.

Do it as revenge on this guy.

Do it in response to Paul Maurice’s fuckhead comments in regard to the above mentioned sucker punch on Aaron Ward.

    Scott probably has sore knuckles. I may have to sell my truck.”

Or, maybe most importantly, do it for this kid.

C’mon, guys. If that ain’t enough, what is?

Playoffs Gone Wild

May 11, 2009

Amazing night of hockey tonight. High scoring rollercoaster games, high flying young stars, high emotion all around. If ever there was an evening of games that graphically illustrated why playoff hockey is so utterly compelling it was this night.

First, in the Battle of the Young Stars, the Washington Capitals, courtesy of a tip-in from David Steckel, gave everyone at NHL headquarters instant hard-ons when they beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 6:22 into overtime to force a much anticipated Game 7 in what is the the marquee match-up of the second round. The NHL brass doesn’t deserve such good fortune but they’ve got it. Appointment viewing for Wednesday night, any way you slice it.

Then, as if the Caps – Pens game was merely an appetizer, a wild, see-saw shootout between the Vancouver Canucks and Chicago Blackhawks that saw six goals scored in the third period, multiple lead changes and, eventually, a hat trick from an even younger star when Patrick Kane finished off the scoring with an unassisted goal late in the third to seal the deal and eliminate last remaining Canadian team in the playoffs with an insanely entertaining 7-5 win in Chicago.

The thundering applause in the United Center might still be going on as, when the telecast ended, few of the 22,000 in attendance were showing any signs of leaving the celebration of their brilliant young team moving on to the Stanley Cup Semi-finals, the first team to do so and the first time the Hawks will have done so since 1995.

Both games were incredible fun, filled with excitement, a feast for fans who love this sport, it’s speed, grace and physicality. Exhibitions of intensity and emotion that rewarded every viewer who invested their time in watching.

A frickin’ good night to be a hockey fan, for sure.

Keep it comin’!

Gary Bettman: Meter Maid

May 11, 2009

In a disciplinary blunder undoubtedly designed to vividly illustrate their own inconsistency and ineptitude, the NHL has today rescinded the mandatory (see definition below) suspension of Scott Walker for receiving an instigator penalty with less than five minutes left in a game and, instead, merely levied a $2500 fine for his brutal sucker punch on Aaron Ward in the closing minutes of Game 5 of the Boston-Carolina quarterfinal series.

Take a moment and read that sentence again. Let it soak in. For your entertainment, feel free to also peruse the following definition.

    mandatory (man-də-ˌtȯr-ē) – obligatory; compulsory; required by rule

See also automatic.

Twenty five hundred dollars. Precisely 1/1000th of his current salary. The exact equivalent of a parking ticket to any ordinary working man.

For breaking the face of an opposing player who was not engaging him in a fight.

Render unto me a fucking break, Gary Bettman. Thou art the worst example of any human who hath ever managed a professional sports league, methinks. Forsooth.

It’s a ridiculous joke of a decision, of course, and a potentially dangerous one. Regardless that things were getting heated at the end of that game and there was a minor scrum going on, something that we all know happens constantly during games, Walker clearly crossed all reasonable and honorable boundaries as he threw a vicious punch into the face of a man that was not defending himself, potentially causing serious injury.

So, according to the NHL then, if some member of the Capitals, during an ordinary pushing match in front of the Washington goal decides to quickly shed his gloves and break Sidney Crosby’s jaw, so be it, as long as that player says “…it was my understanding that I was engaged in an altercation.” Write that dude out a warning slip. On with the game.

It’s yet another embarrassment to the game we all love, another example of the fumbling mismanagement that has marred Bettman’s entire, endless tenure at the helm of the NHL.

The only good news is that Scott Walker will be within easy reach of any number of Boston Bruins who, should the opportunity present itself, will likely serve the chap the sort of justice he deserves. Something tells me that there won’t be much of that grey area this time either, Scotty. You’re going to know you’re in an altercation this time.

And Bettman? Rock on, dude. Another gold star for your report card, brother. Keep up the good work.

Asshole.

Hey, Retard

May 10, 2009

Thank you, Scott Walker.

The following gutless, cheap shot sucker punch to gloves-on non fighter Aaron Ward, which may very well have broken an orbital bone in his face, may be exactly the motivation the Boston Bruins need going into Game 6 on Tuesday in Raleigh, hoping to extend this series to seven games.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the team came out and finally, after a miserable trio of games leading up to this point, and played the kind of game Bruins fans have been dreaming about. Physically dominating, offensively confident and strong on the puck in every corner of the rink, they showed the kind of game folks were hoping they still had in them, the kind of game that led them to the top berth in the Eastern Conference. Where it had been hiding, no one really knows, but it was exhilerating to see that it wasn’t completely lost after all.

So, yeah, you were at the receiving end of a pretty one-sided affair, there, Scott and it probably didn’t feel good getting slammed all over the rink and beaten like dogs, I’m sure. But did you really have to take it out on a guy like Aaron Ward? Someone everyone in the entire league knows is a non-fighter. A guy no one in the league would ever expect to drop the gloves. A guy who didn’t drop the gloves.

Thankfully, Ward was on his feet to see you skate off with your 17 minutes of penalties, barely escaping the wrath of Milan Lucic who, if the linesmen hadn’t protected you, would have pummelled you into a mass of red jelly on the Garden ice for such a punk-ass move, such an obvious infraction of the Code. The ambient mics caught Ward’s intitial words to you as were escorted away.

“Hey, retard…” The rest was garbled but I’d like to think it was something to the effect of “Enjoy your seat in the press box for Game 6. Smark fuckin’ move.”

It really was that dumb, Scott, me little simpleton. Ever heard that saying about letting sleeping dogs lie? Well, it applies to bears, too. When a team needs something, some emotional boost, to draw out of themselves all the fire and rage that will make them play at their utter best, something to ignite the sort of snarling hatred that had them tearing though the Montreal Canadiens like Wolverine through a bunch of ninjas? It’s not a good idea to be the mouth breathing fuckhead who gave it to them.

That’s what’s likely to happen in Game 6 now, you brainless dink. Now they’ve got the anger, now they’ve got a reason, now the beast has awakened and will be coming at you claws bared, frothing at the mouth and hungry for the kill. With red uniforms turning their vision crimson with bloodlust. That’s what’s coming at you on Tuesday, Scott Walker, Carolina Retard.

Don’t worry, though.

You won’t be there on the ice to see it.

But, hey. Retard.

Thanks.

Phoenix Back To Ashes

May 7, 2009

By now, you’ve heard the news that the Phoenix Coyotes filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Never a completely stable financial franchise, even back to the days when they were the Winnipeg Jets, the NHL has been assisting the Yotes for months dollars-wise. The team has never progressed further than Round One of the playoffs, they’re nine miles away from the city that bears their name, and not even the Great One as coach has been able to right the ship. Signs are certain that it is a question of when, not if, the Coyotes are moving.

Enter Jim Balsillie, Canadian billionaire and wannabe NHL franchise owner. Twice already, Balsillie has been thwarted in his attempts to own a team. First, there was his attempt to buy the Pittsburgh Penguins. Though he had the blessing of league commissioner and legal weasel Gary Bettman, Balsillie never unconditionally guaranteed that he would keep the team in Pittsburgh. When Bettman decided to make that part of the deal, Billion Bucks Balsillie walked away.

Then there was the fiasco that was the Nashville Predators affair. Although a very good Hockey team, the Predators never did pull in the punters. With team owner Craig Leopold, Balsillie made a deal to buy the team for higher than market value. With a sale assured, Balsillie began taking season ticket deposits in Hamilton, Ontario, collecting 12,000 deposits — far more than Nashville’s ticket base. Yet, in walks Weasellman convincing Leopold to sell the Preds to another group of owners for a smaller price. Balsillie is rejected, Bettman wins, and Leopold disappears into the Wild.

By that, I mean that Bettman secured Leopold to own the Minnesota Wild.

So for round three, Balsillie is again working with a struggling team, the Glendale Phoenix Coyotes. And yet again, Bettman is interferring with Balsillie’s attempts. Y’see, when the Yotes filed Chapter 11 and set the deal to sell the team to Balsillie in motion, no one alerted the NHL. With the Weasel’s previous actions, who could really blame Balsillie? Bettman has since stripped owner Jerry Moyes of all authority and is taking the whole shebang to court.

Who knew during a time of great playoff drama on the ice, the most intriguing one would be off it?

It’s admirable that Bettman wants to save the Coyotes, what with the $30-million the league has sunk into the franchise. But Bettman’s actions are shortsighted, megalomanical, and dickish. Indeed, it was the league’s actions in locking out the players four years ago that definitively put the Coyotes in the hole. The move to Jobing.com Arena in Glendale, AZ, didn’t help either. Realistically, the NFL Cardinals and the NBA Suns are the sweethearts of the city. The Coyotes are the redheaded stepchild of Maricopa County as well as the National Hockey League.

This drama isn’t over yet.

And is it really all worth it? Say Balsillie is successful and gets the Coyotes only after a protracted sturm und drang legal battle. Does support in southern Ontario wilt? With the closeness of Detroit, Buffalo, and Toronto NHL teams (not to mention AHL teams), would there be enough fan support to carry the Canadiyotes? And what of Balsillie’s financial cache should the legalties draw on? History could repeat itself a third time and the franchise’s fortunes could swirl the drain.

Bettman’s stubbornness in denying Balsillie what he will eventually get is going to hurt the league. There are 29 other teams out there. Should a franchise in, say, Florida falter, how quick will Bettman come to their rescue? Is the league able to operate more than one or two franchises? Surely, losing an American team to Canada (when that team should have never left Canada to begin with) beats a losing an NHL team outright.

The league has done a yeoman’s job in trying to keep the Coyotes above water. But Bettman’s actions are a bandage when what’s really needed is an amputation.