Sunday, April 19, 2009

Ah the hypocrisy...

Milan Lucic has officially been suspended for Game 3.

So let me get this straight... according to Colin Campbell players are allowed to:
-- Sucker punch an opponent in the face at the drop of the puck while on the wing (Cammalleri)
-- Attempt to elbow an opponent in the jaw, missing by less than an inch (Kostopoulos)
-- Continually eye-gouge an opponent, drawing blood and requiring sutures (Komisarek)
-- Hit a player into the boards while they are celebrating an ENG to seal a playoff game (Lapierre)

However, they are not allowed to do the following or they will be suspended:
-- Punch an opponent in the back of the head while at center (Carcillo)
-- Defend yourself from a charging agitator after already having been elbowed in the face (Lucic)

At the end of a blow-out over Montreal (how sweet that sounds!), Lucic was elbowed/butt-ended in the face by Mathieu Schneider. Like any legit player (this excludes most of Montreal's roster), Lucic went back at Schneider and crosschecked him as payback. This drew the attention of resident PITA Lapierre, who came flying towards Lucic from the side while he was engaged with Schneider. Seeing the oncoming pest, Lucic, already in the defensive position, raised his hands and made contact with Lapierre's head, knocking off his helmet. He was immediately attacked by Komisarek and effectively jumped by THREE Montreal players. On ice, Lucic was given 2 for cross-checking, 5 for fighting (I believe) and 10 misconduct leading to a 5-minute power-play for Montreal. It was only after the game that the call magically transformed into an match penalty for an intent to injure... very curious to say the least.

So Colin Campbell, who just this week laughed off the suggestion of actually deigning to punish Montreal players for blatant attempts to injure, determines that Lucic deserves to be suspended. What is worse is, he is going by Lucic's intent... not his actual actions!

While it is unclear whether Lucic's glove or stick makes contact with Lapierre, what is clear is that he delivered a reckless and forceful blow to the head of his opponent

Apparently Kostopoulos can intend to injure by throwing an elbow but that is acceptable since he didn't actually connect... only Lucic's intents are punishable. Needless to say, the acts of Gary Bete-man and his lap-dog Colin Campbell have SERIOUSLY damaged the integrity of the game. Not only has there been minimal consistency in officiating throughout the season now there is no consistency in discipline either and punishment apparently is determined not by your actions but by your star power and team. How else can you explain a Flyer and Bruin getting punished while Flames and Canadiens' get off scott-free? The only explanation can possibly the star power of players involved (Komisarek, Cammalleri) and the opposition/teams involved. After all, both Boston and Philly have reputations of being rough-and-tumble teams (despite Boston ranking at the bottom of the league in penalties) while Montreal and Pittsburgh (aka Crosby and the Malkinites) are both the media-darlings of the league. That is the only posisble explanation here...

I suppose Bete-man finally got his dream... he has turned the NHL into the NBA!

Friday, April 17, 2009

And so it begins...

It, of course, is referring to the general asshattery and douchebaggery we knew would come from Montreal in this series where they are clearly outgunned. I had the good fortune of being in attendance for last night's game and I am proud to report there were very few Montreal fans present and those that were remained silent. The game was nothing like the two previous Montreal games I attended this year (games 1 and 2 in Boston) as the visiting fans were limited and nowhere near as brave in their chanting.

Last night's game started off fine with Boston taking control early and the crowd being very supportive... right up until Montreal scored at the end of the second. The goal took a lot out of the crowd and the tying goal near the end of the second took the rest. You could tell the fans were rattled and worried about history repeating itself... the Bruins weren't helping matters any as they were unable to win any faceoffs in the third or even control the puck. Needless to say, it was not looking good for the Bruins until the 10 minute mark or so when they finally seemed to awake from their slumber. Montreal took back to back icings and the crowd started stepping up the cheering and the 'Carey' chants... two minutes later, Boston scores and the place is rocking once again for the remainder. Once Chara netted that PPG, the pall on the arena seemed to lift and confidence was restored... a confidence I think will carry over into tomorrow's game.

Something else that may carry over is the dirty tactics used by Montreal. With 20 seconds remaining, Lucic stepped in front of a Schneider cross-ice pass and took off down the boards towards the empty net... seeing he didn't have the angle, he passed back to a waiting Kessel who buried it and iced the game. Understandably he started celebrating (nothing over the top mind you) at which point Maxim Lapierre shoved him into the boards, sparking off a scrum. Somehow, matching penalties were doled out to Lapierre and Lucic despite Maxim's obvious instigation and unsportsmanlike conduct. No matter though... game is in hand, just have to close out the final seconds.

Julien, suspecting foul play from Montreal, took the high road and iced a quintet devoid of size or fight (no Chara, Lucic or Thornton) to show that Boston had no intent at gooning it up. Of course, Montreal decided to send a message as the final siren was blowing as Kostopoulos (who has already been suspended for boarding and severely injuring Toronto's Mike Van Ryn) throws a blatant elbow at the chin of Matt Hunwick. Fortunately, the elbow did not connect and the young D avoided the potential for serious injury. However, the attempt was not missed by Hunwick's teammates as a scrum commenced after the whistle which led to Hunwick being tangled up with Komisarek. An official gets between the two and grabs their sweaters, thus allowing for Komi to reach across and literally eye-gouge Hunwick multiple times, all in full view of the official. Needless to say, not penalty was called for this. According to Peter Chiarelli, Komisarek removed his glove and was poking at Hunwicks eyes with his bare hand. Though there is no video to support this chain of events, there is a picture which certainly indicates PC's interpretation of the situation is accurate. Video of the elbow and initial eye-gouge can be seen here:

Now as I see it, there are two things to note in all this...
1 - Montreal fans love to call Lucic a coward while eternally defending the actions of Komisarek. Their logic is as follows... last playoffs, Komisarek should not have fought Lucic since it would be a talent loss would go in our favor. Perfectly understandable and logical. However, the same people call Lucic a coward for not fighting the no-talent Georges Laraque despite it being an obvious talent imbalance for Boston. The other issue is the fact the Komisarek will NEVER defend his actions with Lucic or Chara, the two Bruins who are near his size (6'5, 240lbs). He will, however, gladly mix it up with smaller players like Hunwick (5'11, 190lbs) and Krejci (6'0, 175lbs). Now who is the real coward here?

2 - Will the NHL actually stick to its guns? Yesterday they suspended Philly goon Daniel Carcillo for a punch to the back of the head on a faceoff in the closing seconds of a decided game. They also fined Flyers coach John Stevens $10K for his part in the 'message-sending'. This playoff season, the NHL is attempting to crackdown on 'message-sending' late in decided games and discussed the matter with all the playoff teams. Here is Colin Campbell's take on the matter:
We held a conference call Monday with the general managers and coaches of playoff teams and told them explicitly we would not tolerate attempts by clubs to 'send a message' late in a game when the outcome had been determined," said Colin Campbell, the NHL's senior executive vice president of hockey operations.
Organizations -- players and coaches -- will be held accountable for such actions.

To me, that says that the actions taken by Lapierre, Kostopoulos and Komisarek all merit punishment, whether it be fine or suspension. Problem is... in Philly, they suspended a 4th-line fighter that will have little impact on the series... with Montreal, it will be their top D man which will have a major impact on the game. In order to be consistent, Campbell NEEDS to suspend Komisarek for his actions but history and realism tells me that this will not be the case. As it is, Campbell has already been quoted as saying this on the matter...
People take things out of different incidents last night (and say:) 'Oh boy! Same thing (as Philadelphia-Pittsburgh)! How many games are you going to suspend him?' You've got to let the games unfold. You've got to let hockey be hockey, playoffs be playoffs. You've got to let the energy flow. And then, when they cross that line, you do what you have to do.
Certainly sounds to me like he is going to let the blatant late hit, elbowing attempts and eye-gougin happen after the whistle has blown while punishing people for punches during the game. Certainly makes sense to me!

Man, it must be nice to be a Montreal player and fan... knowing you can get away with ANYTHING!

Monday, April 13, 2009

NCAA recap...

Every spring, the sports world seems to revolve around the wonder that is 'March Madness' with ridiculous media coverage and endless bracket analysis. The media and the NCAA loves to push it as a tournament where anything can happen and upsets are de rigeur even as no #1 seed has ever lost in the first round. Since 1985, (when it expanded to 64 teams) the top 16 seeds have combined to win 90% of their first-round games with the top 8 teams losing only 4 games in 200 tries. Needless to say, there is not much suspense with the top teams early on, or sometimes at all as was the case this past season when 14 of the top seeds made the round of 16. What's worse is that the seeding of this tournament is shrouded in mystery and done by unknown processes, often favoring the big name schools and the hotter hand over the more consistent teams.

While all this is going on, the NCAA hockey tournament is left in relative anonymity... acknowledged only by fans of the participating schools and hockey die-hards. The seeding for this tournament is done by objective means... PairWise Rankings which compare every team with one another based on four attributes and rank them all accordingly. Therefore, the name of a school and how hot they are has no bearing in their seeding or even the ability to make the tournament other than via conference auto-bids. This aspect of the tournament makes it more appealing to me as the requirements for participation are clearly laid out and the field is stronger and has better balance. To give an idea of this balance and why the more popular basketball version has nothing on its lesser-known brother, here is a rundown of this years tournament...

Round 1 -
#1 BU beats #15 Ohio State 8-3. This one was over before it began.
#25 Bemidji State upsets #2 Notre Dame 5-1 with ND's lone goal coming when they were already down 4-0 in the third. Bemidji scores 4 on 18 shots.
#13 Miami (OH) upsets #3 Denver 4-2, outshooting the favorites 29-18
#14 Air Force upsets #4 Michigan 2-0 despite being outshot 43-11! High-pressure goaltending at its finest.
#9 Vermont upsets #5 Yale 4-1 in a game that UVM dominated. Yale only scored with 2 minutes left to break the shutout.
#11 Cornell upsets #6 Northeastern 3-2, scoring with four minutes and 0:17 left for the comeback win (typical NU gets outshot 12-4 in final period)
#7 Minnesota-Duluth beats #12 Princeton 5-4 in overtime. UMD scored with 0:40 and 0:01 left to overcome a 4-2 deficit and send the game to OT.
#10 UNH upsets #8 North Dakota 6-5 with UNH scoring with 0:01 left to send the game into overtime, which only lasted 45 seconds.

Tally: 6 upsets in 8 games... only one #1 (BU) and #2 (UMD) seeds remain.

Round 2 -
#1 BU beats #10 UNH 2-1 with the Terriers breaking the tie with only 0:15 left.
#13 Miami upsets #7 UMD 2-1 with two special teams goals (SH and PP). UMD pulls the goale with 3 minutes left and nets their lone goal but not enough.
#9 Vermont beats #14 Air Force 3-2 in double OT. Strangest game of the tournament as UVM gets a goal waved off in the final minute of the first OT and then scores on a shot that goes THROUGH the net and is not seen by officials. Play continues for 5 minutes until a stoppage occurs for the play to be reviewed... a review that required 15 minutes to ensure the correct call was made.
#25 Bemidji State upsets #11 Cornell 4-1 by out-shooting the favorite 12-2 in the third and netting 3.

Tally: 2 upsets in 4 games, only BU remains among the top half.

Rounds 3 & 4, Frozen Four -
#1 BU beats #9 Vermont 5-4 with two late third period goals (6:54 and 5:41 remaining)
#13 Miami beats #25 Bemidji St 4-1, finally ending the Cinderalla season. Even so, two 4-seeds meeting for the chance to make the National Championship game?!?

#1 BU beats #13 Miami 4-3 in overtime. Miami scores three unanswered to lead 3-1 with 4 minutes remaining but can't keep BU down as they score with 0:59 and 0:17 left to send it to OT where they end it after 12 minutes after the strangest blocked-shot deflection I have ever seen.

Finaly Tally - 8 upsets in 15 games, would have been worse had #1 overall BU not won its four. SEVEN goals scored in the final minute to win or tie games.

And yet there is minimal coverage by the media even though they love to go on about the suspense and buzzer-beaters of 'March Madness'. Somehow, I doubt there were as many 'buzzer-beaters' in the 64 basketball games as there were in the 15 hockey games with the 7 last minute and 4 overtime goals scored. Despite the inherent drama of the NCAA hockey tournament and the intensity of sudden-death playoffs, ESPN felt that D2 basketball was more important as the hockey games were bumped to ESPN2 and unheard of (and oft uncarried) ESPNU. To add insult to injury, two games (UNH-UMD, NU-Cornell) were preempted for regular season NCAA lacrosse games! Well ESPN... you can keep your basketball... you can keep your poker... you can keep your lacrosse... I will stick with hockey and just go on ignoring the 'world-wide leader'.

Guess that is the burden of being a hockey fan... knowing you enjoy the superior product but the masses not being smart enough to comprehend that fact!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Did Chiarelli screw the pooch?

Let me preface this by saying that by no means am I a Chiarelli-basher nor am I an doom-and-gloom troll as are (sadly) so common in Bruins forums. I generally agree with the moves Chiarelli makes and understand that not every move he makes will be perfect (Schaeffer, Nokelainnen) and that a GM should be judged by the total body of his work (Wheeler, Ryder, Lucic, Krejci, Savard, Chara). However, he really seems to have messed up by signing Thomas to a 4yr, $20M deal, a slight change from previous contract rumors.

The reason I say Chiarelli screwed up is not in the signing itself... the merits of which are definitely debatable but can easily be defended. No, my issue is with his apparent misinterpretation of the CBA. This quote is taken from the Bruins Blog Friday afternoon:

According to a source in the Bruins front office, part of what was driving the club to get the deal done now is that fact that Thomas will turn 35 years old on April 15.

When a player signs a new deal after his 35th birthday, per the collective bargaining agreement (CBA), although he can be bought out (at a two-thirds reduction in pay), his cap number can not be deleted from the club's salary commitments.

For next year, and for either two or three more years, Thomas will be on Boston's books for some $5 million a year. But because he has signed the deal before age 35, the Bruins have the safeguard -- that they would want to execute it -- to be able to buy him out at any time, cut their dollar commitment by one-third, and be able to spread the payments over twice the remaining term of the deal. It is a significant safeguard.

Now we are clearly led to believe by SOMEONE in the front office that the timing of this extension is key and provides the Bruins with some insurance against struggles and/or retirement. However, this is NOT the case as was pointed out by Larry Brooks and James Mirtle via Stanley Cup of Chowder. Curious as to what the disconnect was, I attempted to find answers in the CBA... no easy task for those unfamiliar with legalese such as myself. Here is what I found (transcribed from the CBA):
Actual Club Salary shall be calculated as follows:
All player salary and bonuses earned in a league year by a player who is in the second or later year of a multi-year standard contract which was signed when the players was age 35 or older (as of June 30 prior to the league year in which the contract is to be effective)...
The 'league year' in question is 2009 as the extension goes into effect next season. Therefore, the signing counts as 35+ and his cap-hit can NOT be affected by retirement. Only way to lose the 5M cap-hit is via trade or the ever-unappetizing buyout.

Now someone in the front-office was KPD's source and they clearly do not understand how the CBA works. My question is this... was this information allowed out to make the signing look better or was it a mis-interpretation by Chiarelli? Unfortunately, there is no positive answer for this... the former means Chiarelli (responsible for the front-office) lied to the fans... the latter means Chiarelli doesn't comprehend the CBA. Simply put, no good.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Thomas Extension - Ramifications

The Boston Globe is reporting that Tim Thomas signed an extension with the Bruins for 3 years at $5.2M per (the same amount as Brodeur). Needless to say, this has some MAJOR ramifications for the future of the team, not all of which are of a positive nature. As much as I love Thomas and everything he has done for this team, I have very mixed feelings about this contract and here is why:

Timing - One of the positive aspects of the deal actually. Per the new CBA, a player's contract can be bought-out for 2/3rds the value with the cap hit being 1/3rd the value spread out over double the remaining length. (Example: Player A has 2 years left on his contract with a cap hit of $3M per. If he were bought-out, he would have a $1M cap hit for the next four years.) However, while players signed after the age of 35 may still be bought-out, there is no cap relief allowed. Tim Thomas turns 35 on April 15th. Had he not been signed til the offseason, the Bruins would not have the insurance of cap relief via buy-out should Thomas struggle at the end of his contract.

Duration - What does this mean for Tuukka Rask, the goaltender of the future? People have already been clamoring for him to take over for Manny and back-up Tank after his impressive 35-save shutout earlier this year. The plan has been to get him up next season as a backup and get him used to NHL life before having the responsibility of starting thrust upon him. A one or two year extension for Thomas would have made sense as Rask could have backed up next season (25 games?) and then swapped the following season (50 games?). With three years of Tank, the question becomes when does Rask assume the starting role and will he get frustrated waiting for it?

Monetary - Not gonna lie, $5.2M a year is an awful lot for an older goalie, especially when there is someone like Rask waiting in the wings. I would have very much preferred his deal top out around $4M but nothing to be done about it now. This will make the upcoming offseason that much more critical as Boston has three RFA's who will all be demanding a raise. Currently, Kessel, Krejci and Hunwick combine for a $3.8M cap hit... my guess is they will require at LEAST $10M next season to retain all three. At best, Boston will have $8M in cap space (assuming the cap ONLY drops $1.7M to $55M) meaning someone will have to be moved. It may also prove difficult the following offseason with four RFA's needing to be signed (Rask, Wheeler, Lucic, Stuart). Mind you, when I say that these seven need to be signed, I mean NEED... these are the kind of players you build a franchise around. It will take some impressive work from Chiarelli to keep this group together in light of the Thomas signing.

My hope for the cap next year? It has a slight drop to the aforementioned $55M giving Boston the most room possible. With the CBA securely installed, the rookie contract bonus structure will return, meaning that Rask and Wheeler will see their cap hit drop from a combined $5M to ~$1.6M (I need to do more research into this matter to better understand the specifics of the cap and how bonuses are applied but this is my current understanding.) Should the bonuses be removed from cap consideration and Glen Murray win his appeal (thus taking his $1.4M buy-out off the cap next season) Boston would have 15 players under contract for $44.4M (8 F, 5 D, 2 G). This is assuming PJ, Hnidy and Yelle are not re-signed for next season.

Problems arise when you attempt to add in the hopeful $10M for the three RFAs as the Bruins have $600K in cap room with only 18 players (10 F, 6 D, 2 G) under contract! Should Ward retire (a definite possibility given his age and frequent injuries) the Bruins would save another $2.5M giving $3.1M to sign three forwards and two defenseman. Would be very difficult to say the least. One possibility would be PJ, Yelle and Hnidy returning for a combined $2.25M ($750K a pop seems legit) meaning two spots still need filling with $850K and thats just not happening! Looks like Kobasew, Sturm or Bergeron will be trade bait with Kobasew being the best asset due to his health and lower contract. Unfortunately, it is for those very qualities that I would want to keep the man in a Boston uniform!

Oh, and let's not forget... the cap is expected to drop even further the following off-season! The same off-season that Rask, Wheeler, Lucic and Stuart will be RFAs. This is going to require some impessive massaging of contracts and cap-hits for PC to make this all work... and that is with a number of beneficial assumptions all going in Boston's favor!

In all honesty, this signing may have just killed the future of the Bruins...

Edit: Apparently the extension is actually 4 yrs, $20M. Goodbye Tuukka. Goodbye Phil. Send us letters from your future ASG appearances!