Monthly Archives: January 2009

Something I just realized about All-Star Weekend

I’m listening to XM radio, and they just led in with Paul kelly opening his press conference where they announced they weren’t re-opening the CBA (good move!). With him were six players, including Joe Thornton and Vincent Lecevallier.  Also with him were some other NHLPA officials including Glen Healy.

And listening to it, I suddenly realized there was a big name missing.

Where’s Eric Lindros, NHLPA Ombudsman? There were rumors of friction between Kelly and Lindros a couple of months ago, but they quieted down, and since then, not much.

But — now that I think about it — I can’t think of any reference or sighting of Lindros at the All-Star Weekend. Anyone know if he was there?

Because it sure looks, given that he wasn’t included in a very important set of meetings at THE in-season get-together for the NHL and the NHLPA, that he’s been purged or exiled.

Anyone seen Eric Lindros recently?

The only reference I can find of him is his speaking at the Concussion symposium. Lindros simply isn’t talking about it. Kelly is merely saying “Lindros continues to work for the NHLPA”. But clearly, something is going on here, because Lindros really should have been at that press conference, and not only wasn’t, doesn’t seem to have been mentioned.

Hmm.

Politically incorrect as usual: I enjoyed the All-Star Game

There. I said it. I know that’s an unpopular opinion in some places, where it seems it’s better to say nothing at all than actually compliment the National Hockey League, but what the hell.

I have gotten really, really tired of the hyper-serious criticism of the All-Star game. It’s far from perfect, but from listening to some of the pundits, it needs to be taken as seriously as the Cup Final, and the fact that it isn’t is some kind of felony that folks should go to jail over. Or something.

Honestly, here’s how these folks sound to me: It’s just a meaningless exhibition, but if the NHL doesn’t fix it and make it relevant and force players to treat it like a real NHL game then they all suck and the league should just fail and be done with it. And this game is really for the fans, but the fans are too stupid to be trusted with the voting; god forbid, tehy’re actually voting for who they want in the game and not the players we, the media, say should be there. So we need to prevent the fans from actually getting involved in this.

Yeah, right. Really, a lot of the media griping about the game and the action surrounding it are both taking this stuff WAY too seriously, and taking themselves way too seriously as well. I suggest the best way to improve the All-Star game is for a bunch of these people to just chill out. Not that they will.

I think it’s important to put the game in its proper context. What IS the All-Star game, or what is it supposed to be? Here’s what I think the key aspects of the game are:

  1. It is a chance to give most of the players in the league a much needed break and some rest in the middle of a six-month grueling marathon.
  2. It is a chance for the league to throw one hell of a party, celebrating itself and throwing a party for the fans and for the people involved with the league: media and sponsors especially. They are the people who paid a good chunk of the bills, so if nothing else, creating a place to bring them in and let them have a good time once a year is a good thing to do.
  3. It is a chance to humanize and promote the players, and to show off aspects of the league you don’t necessarily see on a daily basis in games — it’s a real showcase for the skill within the game and the people who make the game special.
  4. It is a chance for a city and a team to promote itself and bring a fun and exciting event to its fans.
  5. It is a chance for some of the players to get together in a non-competitive situation and get to know each other and have some fun — and learn from each other and share the experience of the game away from the “must win” competitive pressures.

It is a chance to showcase the game to non-fans, both within the host city, and secondarily to the rest of the continent.

Notice that “showcase to non-fans” comes WAY down my list of priorities here; dead last, in fact. Having fun is part of the intent of the game on many levels, for the players (especially), for the sponsors and media that are involved in marketing and covering it, for the fans, especially fans in the hosting city. Montreal packed 21,000 screaming, happy fans in that arena two nights in a row, and the number of fans involved in various activities for the weekend was well over 100,000 — and they seemed to be loving it. The building both night seems buzzing with energy. The players were having a lot of fun, and a good time was had by most. Most excluding, from what I can tell, mostly media types who were taking this all so seriously and seem unable to allow folks to have a good time.

That’s the big hint here: this is a freaking party. And that’s how much of this criticism strikes me — we’re at a beach at the party, and some folks pull out a net and a volleyball and get a game going, and everyone has a good time. Except for the two guys standing on the side complaining that, like, these players aren’t even TRYING to spike the ball or block a shot, and that sucks.

It’s not the party or the game that’s the problem, it’s those two guys who have a problem. They’re taking it way too seriously. Unfortunately, those two guys have a newspaper column or a TV spot, and so people don’t hear about all the fun everyone’s having there, they mostly hear the whining about things. Put it back in perspective, folks.

Now, that doesn’t mean the All-star weekend can’t be improved. Anything can be improved. Except maybe my writing, which is of course prefect. Given that, what would I do?

One of the big gripes about the All-Star is the voting. Personally, I don’t see a problem, if this came is truly “about the fans”, with the fans getting excited and involved in choosing players. it seems silly to say “we want the people in the game that the fans want to see” and then complain about who they choose, but what the heck. I’ve been hearing and reading people trying to “fix” this problem coming up with “solutions” that so complicate things you need a lawyer and an actuary to sort out the answers, but they all boil down to letting fans vote without really counting those votes. Yeah, that’s a great solution.

I think we can defuse this with a couple of simple changes:

  • First, change the voting slightly. Instead of voting for the starters in the East and West, have them vote for one forward, one defenseman, and one goalie in both the east and the west. Call them the fan favorites or something, and they are sent to the All-Star game. After that, the coaches, GMs, league officials and players get together and choose the rest of the rosters. Fans can go crazy voting, but they send fewer players to the game and those players aren’t necessarily starters. I doubt the fans will mind — I KNOW they’ll mind a lot less than some of these suggestions where fan voting is diluted and only counted 40% and whatever other convolutions we get in the way.
  • Second, change the skills competition. Right now, the skills competition is populated by players who are also All-Stars. I want to see the fastest skaters there, not the skaters who are the fastest All-stars. So as part of the selection process, include players who may not play in an All-Star game, but deserve to be there to compete in the competitions.
  • Third, include the requirement that all teams be represented, but that this representation is spread out across all events on the weekend — Skills competitions, Young Stars, and the All-Star game. By the time we’re done, we’ll be roughly doubling the size of the rosters, and between that and reducing the number of players chosen by fans to start the All-Star game, it shouldn’t be hard to get the worthy players into the games and the best competitors for the different events and have all of the teams have representatives to root for.

Those changes will increase participation and remove most of the points people complain about in putting together All-Star rosters, without creating new complications or exclusions. All fans have team members to root for during the weekend, the fan choices cna be there, and wee can still make sure the best players and the players that most deserve the recognition get to the weekend and get that recognition.

As to the format, I wouldn’t change it too much. I like the two day, multi-event format. I do miss the Legends game, which has been replaced by the Young Stars. I like the Young Stars, also, so here’s my suggestion:

  • Day 1: Skills Competitions and Young Stars. This year’s format for day one seemed pretty good, so I wouldn’t change it.
  • Day 2: start the day with a return to the Legends game in some form: say, two 15 minutes periods. I also think you could have some fun and do a 15 minute period between the media and the coaches — there are enough ex-NHLers in both camps to make it interesting to fans, and I, for one, would love to see the reaction of the crowd when a coach skates down Pierre McGuire and puts an elbow into him in the corner. Just for fun, you know.Just think of it, we could have Glen Healy and Darren Pang as starting goalies, with Kelly Hrudey and Wayne Thomas cleaning up. If they want, they can sit in chairs and wave their sticks at stuff — I won’t mind.

End result: four events, two each days, two events showcasing today, one each showcasing the future and honoring the past. A good time will be had by all, except, as usual, the goalies. And even Luongo seemed to enjoy getting his jock repeatedly stolen tonight, so perhaps the goalies are figuring it out, too.

Do you really feel this game should “mean something”? Even though it’s an exhibition and a party? Cool. For each event, the league and the players association put up $50,000 each, to be donated to the charities chosen by the winning team members. That’s $400,000 going to charity based on how well the teams play. That’s more than enough to get the players motivated to win, but not something that will make them do things that might get them hurt or piss off their coaches when they get back home after this. And the charities win, and the league and PA win because they’re contributing to help people in need. The good PR and goodwill this could generate would be huge, yet it still keeps the game in perspective for what it is: part of a big party where the league is celebrating itself and doing away with the competitive pressures and stress of the long season for a few days.

Everyone wins. Everyone has a good time. Nobody gets hurt. And then the players go back to work and start trying to kick each other’s butts for another few months. But for a few days, everyone lets their hair down, forgets the stress and grind, and has a good time.

Well, except for those two guys whining that the players aren’t even TRYING, and that SUCKs.

Of course they aren’t. That’s the point. What part of having fun don’t these guys understand? And why does everything in the universe have to have some reason to it, or some “winner”, or some purpose? Isn’t having fun enough?

To me, it is. Hell, I was sitting five rows up, right on the goal line when Owen Nolan pointed. You think I’m ever going to forget that?

And do you think Nolan would have done that if the game had really mattered? Of course not. And that’s the point. The most important thing we can do to “fix” the All-Star game isn’t fixing the All-Star game, it’s for us to stop paying so much attention to the people who can’t see the All-Star game for what it is (a fun party) and insist on trying to turn it into something serious, something that “counts” or “matters”. Hell with that, toss me that volleyball and get me a beer, ya know? If you don’t know how to have fun, don’t come to the party and try to ruin it for the rest of us.

“High hits” rule could help stem NHL concussion tide

The reason why the NHL and its players are resisting a simple ban on all hits to the head is this: Bodychecking is part of hockey, and it isn’t just for show or intimidation. Defending in hockey depends on playing the body. Playing the puck is too risky, because skilled players can move it around and leave you chasing air. You defend by stopping the puck-carrier with body contact as far from your net as possible.

To successfully do this, you must keep yourself positioned between the attacker and your net. This requires a specific angle of approach and perfect timing or the player will get past you. So what happens if his head is in front of his body in your line of approach? There is no way to avoid hitting it. Or what if he falls at the last second? There is no time to stop or change your trajectory.

However, I believe there are ways to eliminate the problem of hits to the head. Here is my proposal, fully explained:

1. Create a rule banning “high hits” the way we ban high sticks. A high hit could be defined as:

a) Any time a player leaves his feet to make a check;

b) Any part of the checker’s arm being extended above his own shoulder prior to or at the moment of impact;

c) All contact with another player’s head by anything other than a shoulder.

via TheStar.com | Sports | `High hits’ rule could help stem NHL concussion tide.

There are some really good ideas on dealing with the problems of hits to the head here, from a former player who ended his career with a concussion.

I’ve been thinking down similar lines, but I think you can define it in simpler terms — Extend the ban on high sticking to include the arm from the hand to the elbow. Any hit to the head by a hand, forearm or elbow is a penalty. (personally, I’d love to see this penalty, and high sticking, upgraded to be a minimum double-minor, with five minutes for blood drawn or injury, and match for intent to injure, but that’s a secondary argument).

Force players to learn to keep their arms down, the way high sticking forces them to keep their sticks down. encourage hitting, but make it clear hits are done body to body using the shoulder. By outlawing the”forearm shivver” and the guys who lead with high elbows, you’ll solve the worst of the injury-causing hits. That these hits are generally seen as dirty, and I doubt anyone wants to argue that an elbow to the jaw is a “hockey play”, makes this a reasonable path to pursue, without markedly changing the game or reducing the physical aspects.

In many ways it IS simply an extension of high sticking; the forearm and elbox are as dangerous as sticks, and really have no purpose being in that position for a hit, other than a guy trying to hurt or injure a player.

I also like his idea of tightening up late hits by making it clear what the parameters are. In hockey terms, one second is a long time, more than enough to recognize the puck has left and pull up on the hit. I’m all for it.