The Season of Big, Hard Changes

Now that the 2012 season is over, it’s time to look back and reflect. For me there is one thing that really rings true – making the big, hard changes can change everything. Exhibit A: The Los Angeles Kings. Also now known as the first team in NHL history to enter the playoffs as an 8th seed and win Lord Stanley’s coveted Cup.

They didn’t have a stellar season, hence cinching the last spot in the West. But from the minute the 2010-2011 season ended the Kings started to do what more than a few teams are afraid to – they made big, hard changes. Their first was acquiring Mike Richards from the Flyers last year when they had their “fire sale”. Unfortunately, Mike alone, didn’t solve their problems. Was he a big, hard change that backfired? I would say no. He had a productive season but just wasn’t the motivator that I think the Kings expected. Until LA also acquired his partner in crime, Jeff Carter (more on that in a second).

While struggling early in the season, the Kings fired their coach Terry Murray. Why is this a big, hard change? Because it can lead to chaos in the middle of a season that’s already not going well. Luckily for them it paid off. The introduction of Darryl Sutter seemed to motivate and light a fire under the Kings collective butts. And then came the aforementioned Jeff Carter.

Can we just talk about Carter’s luck for a moment? Traded from continual contenders Philly, to the hopeless Columbus where he struggled, and then suddenly whisked West just in time to make the Playoffs. Talk about a rollercoaster career!

The trade for Carter was another big, hard change for LA. Sure they gave away a defensemen, which isn’t a big deal because the Kings had a plethora of talent in that field, but they also gave a first round draft pick. That is a bigger deal, especially considering they were trading for a guy with a reputation for having a so-so work ethic (Carter in Philly was apparently an underachiever on the ice and an overachiever in the bars) and was having a really disappointing season at the time of the trade. For CBJ Carter was a -11 and only had 15 goals and 10 assists. But LA took the chance that this previous top goal scorer could be that way again with his old center and best bud Richards and a better team. It could have gone horribly awry very easily but as the world now knows, it didn’t.

Other big, hard changes to reflect on now that the 2011-2012 season is in the record books? Philadelphia Flyers trading Carter and Richards in the first place and acquiring Bryzgalov. This is a example, in my humble hockey opinion, of big hard changes that bite you in the butt. Now to be fair it wasn’t so much the trading of Richards that was a mistake. Sure he went on to win a Stanley Cup but that wasn’t because of his hard work alone. In fact before adding Carter and a new coach, Richards was exactly carrying the team on his back. He was just another struggling Kings forward. And Simmonds, who Philly snagged in return, was a pretty good addition to the Flyers. He’s done well and is a strong asset for them. Same goes with Carter. Sure he was the Flyers top goal scorer but Claude Giroux more than picked up that slack, as did Briere during the playoffs.

What really makes this big hard change one that backfired is that the Flyers traded both elite forwards to clear cash goalie for Ilya Brygalov. The tiger loving, Universe philosopher of a goalie was luke warm and cold all season long, never hot or, more importantly, consistent. And in that final game of the Flyers playoff run he essentially scored on his own net. As if his underwhelming performance wasn’t enough to call this a failed gamble, Flyers gave Bryz a rumored 51-million, nine-year deal. Signing any player to a monumental contract like that is sheer insanity in my opinion, especially if it’s a goalie. Which leads me to an example of a team that did the same – The Vancouver Canucks.

Luongo is locked in with a big contract and a no trade clause. And subtly through the 2011-2012 season it seemed like despite the contract Vancouver was making a big hard change – Cory Schneider was becoming their number 1 goalie. That was made crystal clear when, without having to have an 8-goal meltdown, Luongo was benched in the playoffs in favor of Schneider. For Vancouver, who is all about the steady and doesn’t do big hard changes this is a big deal. Why do I say Vancouver doesn’t make big hard changes? Well they just gave both GM Gillis and Head Coach Vigneault contract extensions despite the fact that their biggest hardware is a couple President Trophies. Sure that’s something, but not really. I mean ask yourself this – when kids play road hockey how many of them pretend it’s a President Trophy winning game? Exactly. If it ain’t Stanley, it’s not good enough.

So will this shift in number one goalies be a big hard change the Canucks stick with? Maybe, but maybe not. Luongo has agreed to be traded but who can afford him and who wants him? He’s over 30, past his “prime” and, although he has more epic saves than epic meltdowns, his press is mostly bad. Also Schneider is younger and has what seems to be a better mental grip on the game. So if Gillis gets what he considers a bigger better offer for Schneids will he take it? Maybe. But hopefully Vancouver sticks by the statement they made last season. Because the Canucks need to get comfortable with big hard changes or they’ll never get a Cup. Tried and true doesn’t seem to win Lord Stanley’s Cup anymore.

Dear Vancouver Canucks

Dear Vancouver Canucks,

Here we go again. Me writing open letters, you in the playoffs. Only this time, the do or die part has come a little earlier than anyone expected.

I wish I knew what to say here. I wish I was confident and passionate like I was right until the end of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final last year. But this year… call it a Cup hangover, but I’m just not so zealous.

I don’t hate the Kings like I hate the Hawks or the Bruins, probably because I have never had to before. They’re a non-factor. So I’m more perplexed than anything that they are some how a factor suddenly. Maybe that’s why they became a factor. Because you, like me, don’t have a hateful fire burning deep for them.

Honestly, I don’t know. But I do know I believe in your talents. I know you have it in you. The core did it last year and I see no reason why you can’t do it again. The newbies – Booth, Kassian, Pahlsson – should be full of drive. It’s become an easy, over-used catch phrase but it’s also a hard truth – THIS is what YOU live for. As an NHL player there should be nothing you try harder at than getting as close to Lord Stanley’s cup as humanly possible.

You’ve gone on winning streaks before and you can do it again. I don’t buy the hype that “playoffs are different” and neither should you. Let’s be honest you guys face scrutiny from media, hate from around Canada and the league and attacks from “fans” year round so this is just another day as a Vancouver Canuck.

Who cares if the odds are stacked against you? Who cares if the math is not in your favor? Who cares if the Kings twitter is run by a Communications department that thinks bad attention is better than no attention? You’ve dealt with worse.

Schneider or Luongo it doesn’t matter – you both have the talent and the ability to blank the Kings. Kesler, find that strength, patience and determination that had you carry the entire team on your back for large parts of last year’s run. I believe it’s still in you – dig deep and find it. Burr, picture a rolling puck and Crawford in net with every freaking shot you take – and take every shot you can. Bieksa, find a stanchion and a puck and make them your bitch. Hamhuis and Henrik, you’ve been everything you could possibly be in this series so far so keep on keeping on. Lapierre focus on skating and pestering for the puck not the penalty. You have the potential to cause a Kings collapse, more so with your mouth shut than with it open. Believe in your hockey talent. Kassian, Weise, Booth – hit something! Hard and clean and as often as possible.

If I had to pick a team in Round 1 that’s likely to drop a lead – it would be the Los Angeles Kings. And if I had to pick a team that has the ability, stamina and talent to come back and win four in a row – it would be the Vancouver Canucks.

It’s do or die time. You have it in you to win this. In the words of the most passionate and dedicated Canucks I’ve ever known; I don’t just believe, I know. Go Canucks Go!

Sincerely,
Me

Dear Brad Marchand

Dear Brad Marchand,

I read your blog on ESPN. I am not your biggest fan, Brad. Not by a long shot. This, shockingly, has a little to do with the fact that I am a Canucks fan. It has everything do with the fact that I am a hockey fan. I disliked you long before one of my favorite teams ever met you in the Stanley Cup Finals. Why? Because you sir, are what is wrong with hockey. You’re the worst thing in the league right now because you’re a player with ability who relies instead on inappropriate violence and buffoonery. You seem to have no respect for the sport you play, the league you play for, or yourself. This has been clear for a long time but your blog post spells it out.

You think it speaks to Alain Vigneault’s “class or lack thereof” to talk openly about how dirty he thinks you are? Well what do you think it says about YOU when you publicly call the National Hockey League’s head disciplinarian someone who doesn’t know the rules of hockey? You wrote: “They can call it a clipping, but they obviously don’t know the rules of hockey.” The comments don’t make you look classless (the hit itself did that) but the comments do make you look like a disrespectful little snot-faced child. You’re an adult Brad, act like one. Show some respect if only by shutting your mouth and taking your lumps.

You claim you thought you kept your emotions in check this game against Vancouver and that “I played a pretty disciplined game for the most part”. For the most part? Yeah, right up until you STOPPED. You clipped a man and gave him a concussion. It doesn’t matter if that happened in the first 5 minutes or the last 5 minutes – it happened. And lets not even get into punching Salo in the back of the head prior to that. You shouldn’t be publicly patting yourself on the back for “almost” playing a whole game without concussing someone. Seriously, even YOU have to understand how absolutely stupid you sound.

You said “I don’t really care what my reputation is” which is sad because a smart hockey player would care. Your reputation factored into this suspension as it will with any future disciplinary action. That’s what “repeat offender” essentially means – your past is taken into account. Your reputation is affecting your play – because it’s limiting it. If you care about your “job” then you should care about what stops you from doing it.

Your reputation sucks, Brad. Fans, players and media refer to you as a rat – YOU refer to you as a rat. You get calling yourself a rat is ridiculous right? I still have no idea what you expected to get from that. I mean did you think people would respect you for being so self-aware? FYI Brad just because you admit to being a horrible person doesn’t mean people will forgive you or respect you. The fact that you’re self-aware and embrace your horrible qualities rather than work to change them just makes you an even more despicable human being.

People (especially bruins fans, rightfully so) love to claim Matt Cooke is the dirtiest player in the league – but he isn’t this year. Matt Cooke seems to have learned his lesson but that’s probably because he has better “parents”. Mario Lemieux made it clear he wasn’t going to put up with the dirty, violent stuff anymore. Unfortunately your “parents” are a huge part of the problem The Bruins organization keeps defending you and coddling you. They promote violence under the guise of “old style hockey”. When their players concuss or break the backs of other players they defend their actions or blow them off with excuses like “he was defending himself”. You can’t learn if no one is teaching you, I guess.

Fact is Brad if you don’t start caring about how you look and start questioning why you resort to violence instead of relying on your goal scoring ability, all anyone will remember you for is the fact that you’re a dirty, undisciplined, violent player that fans and players alike had no respect for.

What kind of idiot wants that?

Sincerely,

Victoria

Here We Go Again

I don’t even want to write this article. Why? Because unfortunately, I do actually try to have at least a little perspective when writing for WinDaTurd. And because this article is about the upcoming Bruins-Canucks game finding perspective (even a shred) means putting a copious amount of mental energy into fighting my well-developed lifelong instinct to just rage blind hate for the Boston Bruins. But…. I guess I’ll give it a go. I can always nap later to regain my strength.

The ever-incredible sports journalist Guts McTavish (best puppet in the business) asked a question late last night on twitter. He said What Do You Honestly See Happening in the Game Saturday? I gave him a quirky answer, but it wasn’t the whole truth (Sorry Guts) because the truth is I have no clue. Here are the three possible outcomes that are fighting for dominance in my head.

1- The Canucks will be neutered. The Bruins will skate all over us. I love my team very much but I feel that they tend to get carry more baggage than a Bell Hop at the Beverly Wilshire. Emotional baggage that is. Key players in particular seem to not be able to shake demons off their back very easily. Bobby Lu’s relationship with the Madhouse could be sited here. The Canucks didn’t just lose every game in the Garden during the Finals, they lost them by huge margins. This is what makes me nervous. And just to avoid the Luongo-Hater accusations I’ll add here that Kesler tends to be reckless when he’s emotional (not angry but emotional, there’s a difference). And the Twins tend to turtle. Of course we finally broke free of the United Center curse, we can do it here too, which is why I’m not convinced we’ll have a repeat of the painful shutout loss that was June 15, 2011.

2 - Canucks will earn a solid, clear win because Boston will underestimate us. When the Bruins faced us in June we were playing at less than our best.  We were tired and injury riddled. Kesler could barely skate. Raymond’s back was broken. Malholtra was barely back from a career ending injury, etc. Also facing the same team for 7 games in a row – a team whose playing style…. Is “rougher” than is typical, would wear down even a team playing at 100%. (Excuse me while I catch my breath. It took everything in me to call the bruins style something as simple and polite as “rough”)

This Canuck team – the one going into Boston Saturday – is healthy and strong and playing great, solid hockey. And there are some new additions – like Dale Wiese who might be able to earn back some fans he alienated on twitter if he plays with the fearless aggression and force we know he’s capable of this Saturday. Also, when asked about the upcoming rematch, Ballard said “It’s one game in the middle of the season. We’re not going to feel better about last season by beating Boston once in January.”

If the Canucks believe this – TRULY believe this – then we have the definite advantage. It means we’re not going in there actively seeking revenge and we aren’t trying to prove anything. It means we’ll play our hockey and not be goaded into their hockey. And to be honest, the Bruins are the ones who should feel they have to prove something as far as I’m concerned. Because if they lose I intend to believe that their Game 7 win was a fluke and pull out lines like “If we’d been healthy they never would have won, which this game proves.” (sorry…. My blind rage escaped its cage for a minute there)

3 - Last but not least the all-out, old-school, full-on massacre. I’m not talking in points, I’m talking in blood. The hate between theses teams is full and complete and not nearly enough time has passed to even have a thick scab on the wound. The media is surely going to do nothing but fan the flames (again). Boston fans are ignorant, conceited, a-holes. And there are a fair share of loudly delusional idiotic Canucks fans. Although it’s great that the Canucks say they’re looking at this as just another game, neither fanbase is by any means. This game easily has the potential to make last year’s Islanders-Penguins debacle look like a playground scuffle. I’d be lying if I said part of me didn’t want that. What Canucks fan doesn’t want to see Brad Marchand take another 6 swings at a Sedin and Kevin Beiksa step in and punch that Sears Tower Marchand calls a nose off his ugly face? And oh God I would be wrongly delighted with a goalie fight! 

Now which of these possibilities do I want to see become reality? As much as I love a great goalie fight, I want Option 2. I want to get this ugly, dirty bear off our backs now. Beat the Bruins and move on (mentally and physically). Because we could very well be facing them again and if we should learn how to beat them in their barn now so we know how to do it later.

And now excuse while I go back to despising the most violent, dirty team in the entire NHL with a blind rage. Ahhhhh that feels better.

The Highs and the Lows of the NHL in 2011

There was a lot of action in the NHL this year. Here are three things about the NHL in 2011 I will always remember and three things I will spend my life trying to forget.

 

 

Let’s start with the bad so we can end on the good.

3 Things Worth Forgetting

1. Zdeno Chara’s Hit on Max Pacioretty
This still, for me personally, is one of the most disgusting acts of violence I have ever seen in the NHL. I believe without a doubt Chara knew exactly what he was doing. Exactly. Add to that (Dr.) Mark Recchi’s ridiculous medical opinions and the incredibly embarrassing way Bruins fans everywhere proved that they were the most unintelligent, ignorant fans in the league (with their vigorous and rude defence of the hit) and you had quite the drama. To add more insult to existing insult to injury, the NHL – Colin Campbell in particular – proved once again “justice” is anything but fair when Chara received ZERO discipline. It was a foreshadow to the lackadaisical way the league would treat discipline against the Bruins for the remainder of the season and post-season. (and into this season as well).

2. Concussions
It started almost the moment 2011 did with Steckel’s blinding shoulder to the head of the face of the NHL on a very public stage – The Winter Classic & HBO 24/7. I knew the second I saw the hit that he was very injured. I think a lot of fans did – I mean you couldn’t deny the dazed look in his eyes between periods. But yet he kept playing. And played more games until a second hit finally forced him out of the game. To this day Sidney Crosby is still suffering concussion-like symptoms. Yes he came back and made a strong, hard effort until a game against the Bruins took him out of action again. Concussions are still victimizing the league with stars like Pronger, Letang, Giroux and Marc Staal all falling victim. Three of those four are still out after a prolonged time. You can see the frustration in players, fans and coaches. On the Flyers-Rangers 24/7 a player called a concussion the “Flavor of the week”, Laviolette blatantly pressures Giroux to come back and the darling, Torts (who I think is on the verge of a heart attack at any given moment) makes faces when the word comes up.

Staal + Staal = concussion

In a way I get their lack of sympathy for this injury. Concussions have been a factor on all sports for years but have suddenly become impossible to avoid and equally impossible to cure. Is the league being over-cautious? Maybe. Maybe not. The equally frustrating thing is I don’t know if we’ll ever have an answer to that. I think, more likely than not, the sensitivity to head injuries will fall out of fashion eventually. Hopefully we don’t go back to neglecting them completely and instead find some healthy middle ground.

3. The Vancouver Stanley Cup Riots
It was an embarrassment. It was a sad, sick joke. It was unfair and uncalled for. I could be talking about the actual final game here, but no, I’m talking about the riots afterward. And I stand firm in my belief it had little to do with the actual events on the ice. Win or lose I knew the idiots that call themselves Canucks fans (the ones use game nights as an excuse to drink beer and buy rip-off $40 jerseys off ebay NOT the people I converse with on twitter) and the idiots that seem to flock to the City at any large event to do nothing but damage would take advantage of the situation. And that they did. There are many people to blame for what went on – at the forefront is Mayor Gregor Robertson who opened up his city with the preparation and forethought of a teenager with his parents out of town. The fact is sports riots are a sad reality in a lot of cities including Los Angeles, Montreal and even Boston where a person died in a Celtics riot. Robertson made it too easy for this to happen. But no matter who is to blame the damage was far more severe than just financial. Vancouver looked like idiots. It tarnished the gleam left after the Olympics. It gave all those jerkoffs who slammed us during the scrappy playoff run something to hold in our faces that we couldn’t deny. And most importantly it disrespected what was a great, strong, valiant run by a team that deserved our respect.

3 Things Worth Remembering 

1. HBO 24/7 Penguins and Capitals Road to the Winter Classic
This show could be the best thing that ever happened to the NHL. For hardcore hockey fans it was a delectable treat to be inside the locker rooms and on the ice with microphones to hear the hits and trash talking first hand. Boudreau was like a drunken irate Santa Clause and the Pittsburgh Penguins had a tangible bond on and off the ice, which made them fun to watch. I’m not going to lie, it made me a Pens fan for life. For people who just didn’t “get” hockey, it opened up the details of the game and exposed a depth to it that probably converted more than one.  Luckily the show was such a hit that we have a new edition to revel in this year. It also spawned In The Room, the Penguins own online continuation of a Behind-the-Scenes show. WIN!

 2. Goalie Fights
Seriously, how can you not love them? The minute the two over padded, awkwardly skating goalies leave their nets and drop their giant sticks and gloves I turn into a caveman and roar. It’s the basics of the game – an old school tribute to a time when men were men and fights weren’t dirty. They were a clean and respected part of the game. Sounds crazy but I truly believe a hockey fight between goalies is a treat. And in one fated week in 2011 we had THREE goalie fights. Johnson versus DePietro. Johnson versus the skill-less rabid Islander pitbull named Haley. You can catch them here. The winners in my opinion – Johnson won both his fights easily. Price sort of won his fight but it was more of a draw (and a joke as you can see both of them smiling during it). My favorite part of the above video link – after the DePietro fight watch Fleury back at the bench. He looks positively, gleefully awe-inspired that his Back-Up brought the Smack-Down. It’s adorable.

3. Game seven of Round One of the Stanley Cup Playoffs & Game Five on the SCF
I was there for both games. Game 7 thanks to my friend Christy. This game brought back all the excitement, and let’s face it terror, of the Olympics and with the same perfect results. (At least Canucks fans think so). Smacking down the Chicago Blackhawks after two years of failure was incredible and set the Canucks on what felt like an unstoppable streak – until another game 7 of which we will not speak.

My actual arm & sign from Game 5.

Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final I sat in my seat all by myself (thanks to my amazing husband who bought me a ticket off our friend Novit who was kind enough to sell it at cost) on the edge of heartbreak the entire time. The series had been rough. When we were winning it was just barely and when we were losing it was a meltdown. Everyone kept telling me that whoever won this game would win the series. I WANTED to believe that. So when Maxim Lapierre scored the only goal of the game I was so excited and so relieved and so overjoyed I literally almost fainted. I shot out of my seat so quickly I got lightheaded. It seemed to good to be true – and sadly it was. We didn’t win the series. but I still got to see my very first Stanley Cup Final game and my favorite Canuck scored the only goal. And for another 48 hours I was able to hold onto the dream that the Canucks would win the Cup. (after we lost game 6 I knew it was over).