Thursday, May 14, 2009

Cinqo de Mayo

The fine folks at PPP have asked me to make a contribution to their site every 10 days or so. This is what I gave them.

I was at a formal dinner this week where I sat with a group of academics. The man to my right had a PhD in Anglo Saxon English. Many of the guests at my table were fluent in Latin. And not ig-pay atin-lay either, I’m talking verus unus.

Between the appetizers and the salad, the conversation turned to a round of questions. Each person at the table had to offer up their response, which we then discussed. Believe it or not, here’s an actual sample: “Is there a difference between underperform and underachieve?” and “What’s the difference between OK and alright?”

Now, I love asking lots of questions and I love a good debate, but I can’t say these topics were exactly in my wheelhouse. (I also kept my initial answer about underachieve v. underperform to myself: If there’s no difference to those two terms, next time you’re in bed with a special someone ask yourself: would you rather be accused of underachieving or underperforming?).

So what would I rather have discussed? What questions would have been in my wheelhouse? Well I’m glad you asked…here are this week’s five questions:

1. Who is the worst GM in the NHL?
For a while that question had multiple correct answers.

There was a time not so long ago when all of the following men were simultaneously employed in the NHL: John Ferguson Junior, Mike Milbury, Doug MacLean, Don Waddell, Mike O’Connell, Francois Gigeure, Mike Barnett, Glen Sather and Bobby Clarke.

Of the group listed above only Sather and Waddell still have their jobs.

But there’s a larger observation to be made here: for the first time in a long time it seems like serious incompetence is not common among NHL GMs. Consider that in 2006 one could argue that 30% of the GMs in the NHL were underachieving (or is it underperforming?).

Maybe the reduction in the number of incompetent GMs has more to do with the fact that many of the current GMs just haven’t had enough time in their new(ish) jobs to fully demonstrate their incompetence.

Garth Snow has shown he can tank with the best of them, but can he draft the right pieces to make the Isles win? This is just season number two of the madness underway in Tampa Bay. And then there’s Sutter’s complete botch job with the Flames cap situation and his inability to get that team out of the first round, nevermind Murray’s curious decline in Ottawa.

I’m wondering if this a new era of competence among NHL GMs or is it just a matter of time before we're back at 30%? Or perhaps the immediate pre and post-lockout NHL was anomaly - one of those times when incompetence reigned supreme?

2. Is Steve Yzerman staying up at night thinking about a goalie?

With the Olympics just nine months and 2,630,812 annoying promotional TV commercials away, Team Canada GM Steve Yzerman can’t be taking much delight in the NHL playoffs. Especially as he thinks about who will be the man in the mask for the Canadian entry.

Martin Brodeur looked pretty meh in getting eliminated by the Canes. He gave up two goals in the final two minutes in an elimination game against Carolina and boom, the Devils were gone. This year’s playoff meltdown from Marty makes it two-seasons in a row that he’s looked suspect in the post-season.

Over on the west coast, Roberto Luongo, the stuff that Jim Hughson’s dreams are made of, gave up seven goals in game six. What’s worse, the Hawks scored four goals on just nine third period shots (and at one point three on six).

Who’s the forerunner to lead Team Canada in the Olympics? Can Cujo redeem himself and show Pat Quinn the so-called error of his ways? Might Fleury or Ward be the answer?

3. Did the benching of Luke Schenn have anything to do with Canada not winning the gold at the World Championships?

As much as I hated to see Schenn ride the pine at the World’s, I’m not sure that his skill set was the missing factor for Team Canada. The team only gave up two goals to the Russians in the final and played a pretty dominant game.

Schenn doesn’t generate much offensively (let’s hope he’s working on his shot from the point this off-season) and it’s doubtful he would have been the difference in an already lopsided game.

It may be blasphemy in Leafs Nation, but if Schenn were an Islander, Blue Jacket or (Heaven forbid) a Canadiens’ prospect, would anyone around here be kvetching about his lack of ice time?

4. What do you think the expansion fee would be for a new NHL team in Southern Ontario?

If I were the Commissioner of the NHL, I’d be blocking Jim Balsillie’s attempt to buy a team too, but not for petty, personal reasons or as part of a failed Sunbelt strategy. I’d block it out of pure greed for my owners. After all, as the Commissioner it’s the interests of the owners, not the game of hockey or hockey fans that I represent.

You see, if Balsillie is able to move a team to Southern Ontario it precludes the NHL from having a high profile open bidding process to bring a team back to Canada. Balsillie’s pre-emptive strike not only eliminates any good will, positive PR and heightened interest in the game Canadian expansion would bring the NHL, it’s sponsors and fans, it also deprives each NHL franchise of their share of expansion fees.

Several media experts have suggested a new franchise in Ontario would immediately be worth $400 million US. That seems a little high to me – the last expansion teams went for $200 million US and the economy wasn’t in a free fall back then - but even if it’s closer to $300 million it certainly makes Balsillie's $200 million bid look like a bargain.

An expansion fee of $400 million USD would yield $13 million per team – not a lot of money considering the Lightning will pay Andre Meszaros $16 million between now and 2013 – but at a time when many NHL teams are papering the house and bleeding money that’s $13 million more than they’ll get if Balsillie wins his case. It’s also $13 million in addition to all of the revenue sharing goodness that a team in Southern Ontario would generate.

5. Can the quality of post-season officiating be measured in Kelvins or is there another negative scale we can work with?

Suspensions are as random as ever. Walker walks after sucker punching Ward with less than five minutes to go in a game. Carcillo gets a game for slugging Talbot; Cammalleri gets nothing for slugging Havlat.

Hossa’s last minute game tying goal gets waived off one-night. Helm’s goal with Cleary running goalie inference is allowed to stand 2 games later.

Chatter from the media types is that teams don’t know what type of game is going to be called by the officials.

During the regular season, The Score (a Canadian all sports channel) has a panel discussion with former NHL linesman Ray Scapinello who reviews the questionable NHL calls of the week. Wouldn’t it be great if HNIC or TSN had a former official as part of their panel that could provide some insight and a greater sense of transparency? Wouldn’t it be nice to hear from someone a bit more, ahem, open than Colin Campbell?

Anyone that’s a fan or has played the game at any level will tell you, the only thing they really want from officials is consistency. What many of us didn’t anticipate was that the NHL would deliver - unfortunately consistently bad wasn’t what we were looking for.

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