Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Bruins fall to Flyers 2-2

I know what you are thinking... how is it possible for a team to lose a tie game? Sadly it is very possible in today's NHL where officiating gaffes are quietly brushed under the rug and the officials are never held liable.

In yesterday's game there was a game-altering moment in the first period when Vlad Sobotka, centering the 4th line, came down the right side and put a backhand on net which Boucher saved. Sobotka was able to flip the puck in as he passed the net and started celebrating (understandably) only to see it emphatically waved off.

Initially, I assumed the issue was that the net was off its mooring thanks to the Philly D-man crashing into the post and was annoyed that such a play would negate a goal. However, replay immediately showed that the puck was in the net well before the net came off its moorings so there goes that theory.

I then immediately feared an early whistle or even worse, its mentally deficient cousin, the assinine 'intent' to blow the whistle. Again, replay told the story as the whistle came long after the puck was in the net and there was no possible justification for 'intending' to blow the whistle before the puck went in.

So now the question is, why the HELL was the goal waved off?! Whats worse is that no replay was even allowed for reasons unknown to anyone. Finally the league's 'justification' was given after the first intermission and it was truly laughable... see for yourself:

Andy Brickley reports that the excuse was that "Boucher was not allowed the opportunity to make a save because he was shoved into his own goal as he was trying to cover the puck." Problem is, any contact forcible to move Boucher away from the puck came from his own teammate well after the puck was in the net. What contact Sobotka's left foot may have made was negligible at best and goalies absorb more contact than that on allowed goals in practically every game!

So long story short, the refs screwed up and the league went out of their way to cover for them... AGAIN.

I think the part that amuses me most is the fact that the national hockey blogs (PuckDaddy, Kukla's) have completely and utterly ignored this story after making such a big stink of Detroit's disallowed goal last month. Way to have equitable and consistent coverage guys!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Could there be a light at the end of the tunnel?

The Bruins finally appear to have recaptured some of last season's mojo and are playing as everyone expected them to entering the season. The defense has been excellent for the past five games, as has the goaltending and the offense appears to finally be coming around. As if this wasn't enough good news, it would appear that the walking wounded are closer to returning to the ice and are expected in two weeks or so.

During the telecast of Tuesday's game against Pittsburgh, VS interviewed Marc Savard about his recovery path. Apparently the plan is to be back on the ice this coming Tuesday and if everything goes well and doctors give their permission he hopes to be back in action four or five days later.

Meanwhile, the Globe is reporting that Milan Lucic had his first skate with the team today to test how his surgically repaired finger handled vibration from puck-impact on the blade. There were no problems reported though he has yet to take any slap shots or bodychecks. Julien is being understandably cautious with the hulking winger and setting his return date to at least a week away, if not a bit longer.

What does this all mean you ask? It means that the REAL Bruins will likely take the ice for the Monday night game in St. Louis on the 23rd with at least a week's practice under the belt.

Question now is, who gets sent down? Whitfield is an obvious choice but will Marchand or Sobotka be the ones to stick? My money is on Sobotka but he may be forced out along with Marchand due to cap considerations.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

One area where the NHL trumps the NFL

Most Americans consider the NFL to be the dominant sports league and view the NHL as a fringe organization. Unfortunately for puckheads, this is a pretty accurate assessment as hockey lacks anything close to the national television deal that the NFL enjoys. However, one area where the NHL has it all over the NFL is its financial transparency. Incidents of the past week illustrate my point perfectly...

On Monday, October 19th the Patriots released LB Tully Banta-Cain, the team leader in sacks who was making only $620K on his one-year deal. There was no reason given for the surprise release and all media outlets were dumbfounded by the move and struggled to explain any possible motivation. The following day, Banta-Cain re-signed with the Patriots for more money and more years and the best explanation ESPN could come up with was essentially a best guess and nothing definite. They THINK it was due to the player being signed to a cap-friendly contract type that could not be altered until its conclusion, and thus the release was necessary to get an extension.

The same week, the Bruins lost Marc Savard, their first line center and leading scorer, for 4 to 6 weeks to a broken foot. For a team that was pushing up against the cap, such an injury has major cap implications as replacements must be called up or signed. Curious as to the cap ramification of placing Savard on the LTIR, I took it upon myself to examine their current cap situation and determine just what impact Savard would have upon it going forwards. It took me 3-4 hours of slacking at work to work out the cap situations well enough to come up with the financial impact mentioned in my previous post.

In other words, the media 'insiders' required over 24 hours to analyze the Banta-Cain move and come up with the possible reasoning for it... if an embedded reporter needs that much time, what hope does the average fan have of understanding the complexities of the NFL salary cap? Meanwhile, an average NHL fan was able to determine just what impact a major move would have upon the teams salary cap after just 3-4 hours. It took me, the average fan, 20% less time to learn the ins and outs of the NHL's cap in my spare time than it took for a veteran, knowledgeable reporter to determine the motivation behind one simple NFL move.

In the NFL, only the extremely passionate and intelligent fans have a chance at understanding the intricacies of the financial side of the game. This can definitely be a turn-off for the average fan as FA and trade discussions will always remain incomplete. The NHL fosters their fans interest in organizations and their possibilities by making their financial structure so accessible and simplified. In my mind, that is a major win for the NHL as it will only serve to strengthen an already loyal fanbase.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Chicken Little Brigade

If Boston's spotty start wasn't enough to get the typical naysayers going in full force, events of the past week should ramp their cries up to full volume. Trading Kobasew for spare parts while announcing Lucic's impending absence would have been enough to bring out the boobirds but then to have Savard go down? Even otherwise sensible fans are joining the 'Chicken Little Brigade' and declaring the Bruins season over before it has even truly started! It honestly makes me hate being a Boston fan at times with the pervasive desire for instant gratification you see from so many supposed diehards.

Now I am not trying to say the loss of Savard and Lucic is nothing... it will definitely have an impact on the Bruins game. However, I choose to look at the positive aspects of this situation of which there are thankfully plenty.

1 - Timing
Would you rather the Bruins lost Savard in October or in March? Early in the year troubles can be overcome, often with relative ease... just look at the Penguins of last season. They were out of the playoffs in the 10-spot as late as February 28th! So why worry so about early points? The Bruins don't need to lead the Northeast from wire to wire again... they just have to stay in the running until they get back to full health. After all, playoff performance is all that should truly matter.

2 - Opportunities
Let the kids see the ice. Sobotka has been bouncing between Providence and Boston for two years now... its about time the Bruins find out what they really have in him. Is he an AHL all-star who can't cut it in the NHL as his performance would suggest thus far or is he a legit NHL player? No way of finding out until he sees regular icetime and now is as good a time as ever for that to happen. This also gives Boston an opportunity to get Brad Marchand some invaluable experience... in his debut last night he definitely looked like he belonged. Played with no fear or nerves for 15 minutes, including 1:45 on the PK and earned his first career assist. Very promising debut for Boston's 2006 third round selection.

3 - Motivation
With a player of Savard's caliber absent, the rest of the team knows it has to step up to fill that void. All 13 forwards on that roster now feel the need to up their game and help cover for Savard's lost production, none moreso than Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci. Bergeron has been looking more and more like the player Boston signed to a hefty contract in 2006 and has been one of Boston's best thus far. If Patrice can carry more of the load offensively and return to his 70-point game Boston becomes that much more dangerous a team.

4 - Financial
After the trade for Paille and Lucic's injury, Boston's daily cap hit fell $4.4K shy of the upper limit which prorates to $850K (Lucic's cap hit). In other words, Boston was right up to the cap and had little wiggle room. With Savard being replaced by Whitfield, Boston's daily cap hit falls $28,180 below the limit (Savard's daily pay) for a daily saving of ~$24K. If the roster remains static for the duration of Savard's time on LTIR, the Bruins will see the following savings against the cap:
30 days - $737K*
45 days - $1.093M*
60 days - $1.450M*

So before any more fans foolishly join the Chicken Little Brigade, maybe they should think about the potential long-term benefits from this situation. Boston will have additional cap space, more experienced depth players and stronger, more resilient personnel... all crucial elements for a long playoff run!

I should add, after seeing Paille play last night I am very pleased with the outcome of the Paille/Kobasew trades. It was Paille's hard-work and willingness to get dirty in the corners and behind the net that allowed Begin to score the game-winner last night. Boston improved draft picks while lowering their cap with minimal on-ice impact. Don't believe me? Then check out this objective analysis. Oh, and let's not forget that Chuckie was a UFA while Paille is an RFA.

*Note: This is based on my understanding of the LTIR's impact on cap space per the NHL's CBA. By no means should this be taken as being gospel truth.

Monday, September 21, 2009

New beginnings...

Thanks to my good friend Dan, I was able to get tickets to a dozen Bruins home games this year including an all-important Montreal Canadiennes game. This means that the 2009-2010 Bruins season has officially begun in my mind! Thus, I am back on here ready to go at this for a second year... hopefully I will be posting more frequently but nobody should hold their breath (blue skin just really isn't pretty...)

To begin with, I am going to ignore the elephant in the room and look into something that really bothered me this offseason. Last season, for the first time ever I was the proud holder of a 'season ticket'-ish 12 game pack for the Bruins. By buying in bulk, I was guaranteed a shot at playoff tickets and got the regular season tickets at 75% off or roughly $42 for solid balcony seats. As much as I would love to get full season tickets, I just can't justify the cost and the added transportation problems (I live 25 miles due west of the Garden and pay $20 for parking) and so I was debating getting a similar package as last season. Until I saw the price...


Ticket prices went up a full 50% from last season! While I understand that the Bruins were very successful last year and therefore it only makes sense to raise prices, that kind of increase is ridiculous gouging! Now it turns out that the majority of season tickets saw either no increase (if purchased before March 18) or minimal increase in cost (5% if purchased before April 30) which does make the situation more palatable. Basically, the team is sticking it to the new fans who are jumping on board now and to those who haven't been steadily supplying their income before this year. A sound business practice I suppose given the ridiculous season ticket totals (up 5K to 13,200) but still brutal for fans like me who are stuck in between categories. The real concern now becomes next season... there is no guarantee the prices will remain fixed again.

Now for the elephant in the room... the trading of 22yo, 36-goal scoring Phil Kessel to divisional rival Toronto. Before getting into my thoughts on the trade, there is one thing about this that absolutely astounds me...

At last season's trade deadline, there was rumors of a deal being in place with Toronto to ship them Kessel for Kaberle with Boston also asking for Toronto's #1. Turns out Burke, in his infinite stupidity, thought the offer was Kaberle for Kessel and BOSTON'S #1... needless to say, PC turned it down immediately.

Jump ahead a few months to the actual trade and Kessel gets shipped off for two #1s and a #2. Does that mean that Burke actually values 31yo Tomas Kaberle at THREE first round picks?! Sure looks that way... just boggles my mind!

As for the trade, I am all for it. Way I see it, the guy was asking WAY too much for what he brings to the ice. Sure, Phil has terrific speed and one of the nastiest shots in the game... there is no doubting that. However, what is being doubted is more important... his desire, his toughness, his willingness to play through pain, his understanding of the team concept, his attention to defense... need I go on? Fact is, there just is no room for him under Boston's cap and shuffling the roster to re-sign him would only have proven detrimental going forward. With his big cap-hit on the books for the next few years Boston would have been unable to re-sign team cornerstones Savard (UFA), Lucic (RFA), Wheeler (RFA) and Stuart (RFA) as well as (hopeful) goalie-of-the-future Rask (RFA). The simple facts of life under the cap.

With these picks, Boston now has 5 of the top 60 picks in 2010 (Tampa's 2010 #2 in the Recchi deal). Those picks will be invaluable with the lowering cap predictions and could prove very handy at this seasons trade deadline. Also, while this season's draft is supposedly looking pretty weak, it is not like the Bruins can't trade up to top-3 with the bevy of picks they now have. Now we just have to pull for the Leafs to go 0-for-2010, even if it means Montreal gets 6 wins!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Pyrrhus or Yamamoto?

The question is... whose quote better fits the situation after Game 5 of the Boston-Carolina series?

History lesson time! Pyrrhus led a Greek kingdom named Epirus in the early 3rd century BC and was widely held as one of the greatest military minds of the Hellenistic Era. Only Alexander the Great (his ancestor) was placed ahead of him by Hannibal of Carthage. In the days of Rome's infancy, they were still attempting to control the Italian peninsula and were fighting with Greek colonies there. These Greek colonies turned to Pyrrhus for aid and he answered, sensing a chance to expand his own kingdom at the expense of the still vulnerable Rome. Pyrrhus invaded southern Italy (Tarentum) and fought the Romans twice, winning both battles. However, his victories were so costly in terms of manpower lost that he was quoted by Plutarch as saying:
If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined.

So despite his forces winning the battles, they had lost the war and thus the term 'Pyrrhic Victory' was born. It is a case where the initial victory is so costly that defeat is all but assured in the long run and I fear that may be the case for the Bruins if Ward is lost to injury. With Boston's blueline already thinned by injuries to Hunwick and Ference the loss of Ward's steadying veteran presence and 19 minutes of ice time could prove devastating. He would be replaced by an AHL call-up (likely Johnny Boychuk) with minimal experience, thus increasing the already heavy workload on Chara, Wideman and Stuart. Not a good thing to say the least.

Or will his loss and the lack of punishment to Walker provide the spark Boston so desperately needed and propel them to a series victory? These Bruins have shown they thrive upon the physical game and play their best when they have been angered. Evidence of this can be found in the 5-1 domination of Dallas early this season (Ott was trying to end careers) and the destruction of Montreal after the closing fireworks to Game 1. So did this spark and the absurd punishment (apparently a punch hard enough to break the orbital bone is not considered a "reckless and forceful blow to the head" but Lucic's bump was) provide enough of a boost to the Bruins to overcome the potential absence or diminished role of Aaron Ward?

Who knows... it is anyones guess at this point in the series. Personally I am on the fence but I like to imagine Carolina players and fans muttering Admiral Yamamoto's (alleged) response to the bombing of Pearl Harbor...
I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.

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: http://watch.tsn.ca/nhl/clip162326#clip162326

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!