Thursday, December 31, 2009

Top-10 Moments from the Past Decade

The end of the decade has everyone trying to wrap up the previous 10 years in convenient top-10 lists.

The NHL’s previous ten years were tumultuous. The first half of the decade may well be the league’s nadir, while the latter portion of the decade saw the NHL slowly rise from its ashes (unfortunately that doesn’t include the Hamilton Coyotes rising from the ashes of the Phoenix Coyotes). Hopefully, the last five years in the NHL are a harbinger for a successful 2010s. Remember, this is a league that less than 15 years ago was infinitely cooler than the NBA. Gary Bettman ruined it and, unfortunately, that’s reflected in a lot of this list.

Here are the top moments that defined the decade.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Point/Counterpoint: The Red Threat

russia ivan drago hockey
It’s time to introduce a new segment here at 5 Minutes For Fighting. We’re calling this Point/Counterpoint (What? 60 Minutes already has that? Who cares about that two-bit operation, it'll never catch on). We’ll have a debate on certain subjects. Sometimes the debate will be between Rick and I (hopefully these don’t descend into me calling him stupid for all my counterpoints) and other times we’ll have special guests on to give their opinions. This time the point/counter-point will feature only myself. This is because I’m having an internal battle over one topic of importance: Russia’s vast superiority at the 2010 Olympics. One side of me is examining their team rationally and finding overwhelming evidence to suggest they will cake-walk to the gold medal. The other side of me is desperately grasping at any sort of counter argument to this. My Canadian patriotism is taking over. I’m about ready to go Joseph McCarthy on everybody’s ass. Ring the bell.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Sidney's Seniors

sidney crosby winter classicSidney Crosby owns an impressive resume. He’s a three-time all-star, winner of the Art Ross, Lester B. Pearson, and Hart trophies, Stanley Cup champion, youngest captain in league history, not to mention recipient of the Order of Nova Scotia! Plus he’s carried the Olympic torch and will soon own a 2010 Olympic gold medal (fuck you Russia). But there is one aspect of Sidney’s resume that should be emphasized: prolonging the careers of the game’s elder statesmen. Let’s examine.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Dear Santa...

team canada world juniors
Well, it’s almost Christmas and that means I’ll be taking a brief hiatus to focus on family party time. That means lots of food, lots of beer, a little gambling, and most importantly, lots of sports. Since Christmas falls on a Friday this year we get the gift of sports from Santa Claus. The weekend is full of football, which even includes a NFL game on Christmas Day. However, I live in Canada and in Canada Boxing Day isn’t just a day for fighting with old ladies over marginally discounted goods. Boxing Day means the World Juniors.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Bringin' Home the Gold

canada olympics hockey 2002
I only have a passing interest in the upcoming Winter Olympics. I dislike the Olympics in general. Being held in Canada is only making me marginally interested. First, I don’t think most events are actual sports. Ice dance is not a sport. It’s dancing…on ice. Don’t tell me dancing is a sport. If drunken people do it in a club then it’s not a sport. Am I supposed to take these events seriously when they are subjectively scored by crooked judges? At least the winter Olympics are better than the summer ones which are filled with survival tactics (e.g. running, swimming), not sports. Wow, you can run fast. Great, that isn’t fun, it’s what you have to do when a bear is chasing you. The only thing I am looking forward to in the Olympics is men’s ice hockey (I also get pretty into the women’s final). In fact, to me the Olympics is synonymous with hockey. If Canada is shut out of every medal, but they take home the gold in men’s hockey, I will consider it a success.

The roster announcement is set for about a week away, so I thought it would be appropriate to outline my picks for the team. I’ve already stated my reasons for leaving Thornton and Marleau off the team, but I’ve got a terrible feeling one, if not both, will be on Steve Yzerman’s list.

It’s imperative that Canada makes the right picks because Torino was a clusterfuck. That year Gretzky and friends picked a horrible defence (McCabe, Redden, Foote, Blake in particular). Pronger looked old and out-of-place, but the four previously mentioned were miles behind the competition. The offense couldn’t score and remember the number one centre that year was Jumbo Joe Thornton. There was also the baffling Todd Bertuzzi selection and the Sidney Crosby omission. These aren’t even just bad moves in hind sight. Even before the tournament began these picks were suspect. Canada needs the gold. It’ll take a long time for the nation to recover if we don’t. Onto the picks.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Rick DiPietro: A Case Study

rick dipietro injured
Rick DiPietro, initially slated for a mid-December return, had a set-back in his rehab from knee injury. The Islanders are seeking additional medical opinions on their young netminder who left an AHL game last Friday with leg stiffness. It was only his second game of a conditioning assignment. He hasn’t played in the NHL since last January. Since signing a 15-year, $67.5 million contract before the start of the 2006-2007 season DiPietro has played a total of 130 games. However, he has only played five since last season. This is only one of the major reasons teams should be wary of signing their players to such long-term deals.

The DiPietro deal was perplexing on multiple levels. First, he really only had one good year prior to the contract extension. In the year before the lockout he won 23 games with a 2.36 GAA and .911 save percentage. He even recorded 5 shutouts. After sitting out the lockout, DiPietro returned with mediocre numbers in 2005-2006 and was then rewarded with his major deal. I can’t fault the Isles for re-signing their franchise goalie, but the term is ridiculous. How can you give a 15-year deal to a young player you don’t really know much about. It wasn’t like he was consistently producing since draft day. The second reason this deal was perplexing is because the Islanders already locked up a 28 year-old Alexei Yashin for 10 years and $87.5 million in 2001. Didn’t they learn after Yashin’s production declined precipitously to the point where the Isles bought him out in March 2007? In fact, the Isles will be paying for Yashin until the 2015.

The Islanders case study should be a warning to the rest of the league. Long-term deals are very risky. I guess the real effects of these long-term contracts won’t be realized until the next decade when many of today’s stars begin to age. Over the past years we’ve seen long-term deals given to Marian Hossa (12 years, $62.8 million), Duncan Keith (13 years, $72 million), Henrik Zetterberg (12 year, $73 million), Johan Franzen (11 years, $43.5 million), Mike Richards (12 years, $69 million), Vincent Lecavalier (11 years, $85 million), Roberto Luongo (12 years, $64 million), and Alexander Ovechkin (13 years, $124 million). This does not even include players like Chris Pronger who signed long-term deals in their mid-30s that will last until their early 40s.

Each of these deals has varying degrees of risk to them. The Mike Richards deal is probably the safest considering the reasonable cap hit and the contract will conclude before he is 35. Both the Hossa and Lecavalier deals are probably the riskiest considering they were both signed close to 30 years old and are signed until their early 40s. These deals are risky because there is no way that near the end of these deals, when they are mid-to-late 30s, these players can match their production in the 20s.

Monday, December 14, 2009

AMJ Campbell Move of the Game

The upcoming NHL board of governors meetings, taking place in sunny Pebble Beach on Tuesday and Wednesday, will give the NHL owners a break from their teams to discuss a litany of issues concerning the league. ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun reports that the main discussion will revolve around the potential sale of the NHL-funded Phoenix Coyotes to the Ice Edge investment group. Interestingly, LeBrun also speculates that discussion surrounding the Coyotes sale will inevitably lead to discussion on the viability of other markets, particularly Quebec City, Winnipeg, and Toronto.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Boston Boo-Fest '09

phil kessel bruins leafs boo
Hating in sports makes it better. I hate the Yankees. It’s much more fun to watch games when they’re involved. Even if they aren’t playing against the Blue Jays I can still cheer for injuries and beanballs. Notice how I didn’t say either the Senators or the Canadiens. That’s because my hate for them is so vociferous that I can hardly stand to watch them play, ever.

So, I can appreciate the hate that Bruins fans are graciously bestowing upon Phil Kessel. I get it. I certainly don’t like it, but I can understand their hatred. If I were a Bruins fan I would treat Kessel the same way. As a fan, when I feel slighted by a player, even in the most trivial way, I carry that for the rest of their career. Alfredsson hits Tucker from behind and has the audacity to score the overtime winner immediately after? Hate. He mocks Sundin by pretending to throw his stick in the crowd? I can’t even describe my Alfredsson hate. Sean Avery makes cancer jokes to Blake? Hate. Yes, I take attacks against Leafs players personally. Even if these attacks are just merely scoring a lot of goals against the Leafs. Tavares is slowly developing some hatred in me. He’ll get there.

So, if I was a Bruins fan I would boo Kessel every time he touches the puck. I’d enjoy it, too. This will probably help rekindle the dormant rivalry between the Leafs and Bruins. I’m starting to hate the Bruins even more. Their Kessel hate is making me mad. Not to mention their pile of mounting victories against the Leafs. Hate.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Ducks Fly Together

getzlaf perry ducks
One of the most confusing teams in the league is the Anaheim Ducks (or is it the Los Angeles Ducks of Anaheim?). Trading Chris Pronger in the summer certainly weakened their team, but not to the point where they should be languishing near the bottom of the league. The only teams worse are the Leafs and Hurricanes. That isn’t right for a team that has Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Bobby Ryan. Despite their abysmal start, the Ducks could be in a position to ensure their future success is secure. With the right moves this is a team that can quickly turn itself into a Western Conference powerhouse.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Cognitive Decline in the Elderly

don cherry stupidI think we need to make a weekly column highlighting the nonsense spewed from Don Cherry’s mouth.

Don Cherry has many valid and well-formed opinions on hockey. His advocacy for no-touch icing, illustrated almost weekly with graphic visuals, is the most sensible of all. He promotes a style of hockey that embraces blocking shots and sticking up for your teammates. He defends the underdog. However, he’s also like the one Grandpa everyone knows. The one who occasionally makes a remark at the dinner table about the coloured fellow down the street that causes uneasy glances between family members. It seems like with each passing week these comments are more common. It also seems like each week he just has to say something utterly stupid directly related to hockey.

Tonight’s verbal lunacy was directed to one of my favourite whipping boys, Sheldon Souray. Cherry had the audacity to mention both the Norris Trophy and Sheldon Souray in the same sentence. Cherry said that no one ever mentions Souray for the Norris and they should. What? There is a reason no one mentions Sheldon “excuse me while I collect this minus” Souray when they discuss the Norris. In which alternate universe is Sheldon Souray considered even an adequate defenceman?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Cap Crunch

toews kane blackhawksThe Chicago Blackhawks announced a trio of signings today and, in the process, solidified their competitiveness for the foreseeable future. The Hawks signed Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews to identical 5-year deals worth $6.3 million per season, while signing Duncan Keith to a monster 13-year deal worth $5.5 million per season. While signing these three players was absolutely essential for the Hawks, the deals do come with some negative consequences.

The first negative is the Hawks' dwindling cap space. This is a product of some questionable deals made by Dale Tallon a few years ago. The major problem is Brian Campbell and his salary of $7+ million per year. Oh, there’s still six years left after this season. Campbell isn’t playing horribly. He has 14 points and is plus-6, although he only has one goal. However, if you’re paying a player over $7 million a season you’d like more production than that. The second problem is Christobal Huet, who is making over $5.5 million for the next two seasons. His production is acceptable and solid goaltending doesn’t come cheap, but this isn’t the best contract. The Hawks cap issue is also compounded by the Marian Hossa signing. Hossa is an awesome talent, but at the time I thought that signing would create trouble for the Hawks both in the immediate future (now) and in the long term (since Hossa is signed for 12 years
until he is 42). These signings created the cap problems the Hawks now face.

There are rumours that the team president, John McDonough, pushed these free agent signings because he didn’t believe the young Hawks were ready to take the next step without help. The media savvy McDonough also desired to make a large splash in the Chicago sports market. It may have been prudent to wait, since the young Hawks such as Toews, Kane, Keith, Cam Barker, Brent Seabrook, Kris Versteeg, Dustin Byfuglien and Dave Bolland have progressed so rapidly. Although Chicago was the laughingstock of the league for over a decade, so I can’t entirely fault the management for wanting to create a winner at the first opportunity. And if the Hawks are able to win the Stanley Cup this year then the moves will be successful. However, if the Hawks are unable to achieve the Stanley Cup they will not have the same team to make another deep run next spring.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Night of Idiocy

The Date: Monday, November 30th, 2009
The Suspects: Alexander Ovechkin and Keith Ballard
The Crime: Idiocy

Say NO to Joe in 2010

joe thornton patrick marleau choke
Don Cherry needs to be stopped. I can put up with the subtle racism and blatant xenophobia, but I will not stand for his latest verbal proclamation. Last Saturday’s Coach’s Corner featured Don showing clips of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and Dany Heatley, while exclaiming this is your No. 1 line Canada. Oh, please.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

How CBC Made Nickelback Tolerable

nickelback cbc rock sucks
I admit I like a Nickelback song. Maybe you don’t think there is anything wrong with this. You’re probably from Alberta or maybe Saskatchewan. It is egregious. It pains me. Nickelback is a national embarrassment. Is this what the world thinks of Canadian music? Despite my shame I feel a tremendous surge of happiness each weekend when I hear Chad Kroeger belt out “Saturday! Saturday! Saturday!”

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Free To Be...Awful

The Toronto Maple Leafs have a theme song. It’s perfect. It’s perfect because it typifies how cocky and out of touch MLSE is. For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, you probably have not suffered the misfortune of watching a Leafs broadcast this season. At least not on LeafsTV, who insist on polluting my ear canal with it at every waking opportunity. The song is called “Free To Be” and it's by Alan Frew of Glass Tiger.

Nik Antropov: A Toronto Maple Leafs Success Story

nik antropov leafsThe Toronto Maple Leafs have a history of giving up on young players too early. The eternal pessimists believe/fear that every time these players depart the organization they are destined to become stars. This isn’t entirely false, particularly in recent years.

Steve Sullivan was waived by the Leafs at the age of 26 and turned into a consistent 60-point player. Fredrik Modin was traded for Cory Cross in 1999 at the age of 25 and became an important component of Tampa’s championship team. The Leafs traded Jason Smith to the Edmonton Oilers, who he would later captain, in 1999 at the age of 26. Those aren’t even that bad. Russ Courtnall was traded to the Canadiens at the age of 24. I don’t think it’s healthy to continue this list, so we’ll stop there.

I always argue that if you reflect on past trades and potential draft picks you will drive yourself mad, regardless of your favourite team. I’m not trying to be a sadist, but discussing the Leafs' penchant for giving up on players is particularly relevant at this juncture. I know frustration is moutning with the regression of a few of the team’s young players (e.g. Mitchell, Schenn, Kulemin) and others' inability to even make the NHL roster (Tlusty). Thankfully, there have been no real cries from the fans to trade any of these players... yet. Fans must remember that these players are very young and developing into a full-time NHLer takes time.

The best example of sticking with a player, regardless of fan sentiment, is Nik Antropov. He is a true Maple Leafs success story.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Phil Kessel, Metaphorically Speaking

phil kessel leafs
With each mounting loss there is only one thing on my mind: first-round draft pick (or lack thereof). In previous years I shielded myself from the emotional pain of losing by looking forward to the end of June when an awful season could be rewarded with a tantalizing young prospect. However, this year, a loss is just a loss. There is no upside to losing.

I’m not concluding that the Phil Kessel trade was bad for the Leafs. In reality, whether it was a good deal or bad won’t be known for a number of years. My opinion, at this early juncture, is that the trade was good. Here’s why: Kessel is young. Jiri Tlusty came from the same draft class and is still considered a prospect. Whether this reflects poorly on Tlusty rather than favourably on Kessel isn’t relevant. He was also considered a top-end, franchise-type player when drafted and the early returns for the Leafs appear to indicate as much. Accordingly, this year’s draft pick doesn’t really matter. The Leafs have already drafted it. The Leafs’ first-round pick this year is Phil Kessel. I’m happy with that.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Well, at Least There Was a Nice Hip Check

ian white leafs moustacheJust the second post and I'm beginning to wonder if this season will be too psychologically damaging for me to handle, especially if I need to write about it. Well, I last said I was a classic Leafs fan in the way that I experience the highs and lows and tonight's match-up really tested this means of "enjoying" the Leafs. When Ian White scored to make it 5-4 I let out an emphatic "yes!" Unfortunately, when Erik Cole responded I was in shambles. I thought I was going to cry. After that the finale was a foregone conclusion. I needed a shower to cleanse myself.

I've decided that in order to get through this rough spell, which encompasses the entire post-lockout, I can't dwell on the negatives. Therefore, I'm embarking on the first post in a series called Reasons To Keep Watching. This way I can shield myself from self-inflicting psychological damage and avoid moving to a country that watches soccer.

The first reason to keep watching the Leafs is the continued progression of Ian White.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Respect Yourself or No One Else Will

There is a disturbing sub-type of Leafs fan developing. They are the self-loathing Leafs fan. There is a striking similarity between this Leafs fan and the fans of the Boston Red Sox prior to their cathartic 2004 World Series win. (I should note that I mean cathartic for Red Sox fans, not for everyone else who now has to experience an even more aggravating Bostonian).

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