October 15, 2010

Foligno Should Be Looking Over His Shoulder with NHL Poised to Come Down Hard on Sen

Talk about a non-SENSical situation. Now that the bad pun is out of the way and the situation has been sufficiently made light of, it's time to get serious, which, in all honesty does not add any sizeable degree of logic to Ottawa Senator Nick Foligno's blind-side hit on Carolina Hurricane Patrick Dwyer on Thursday night.

It's abundantly clear that Foligno is not a dirty player... a fringe second-liner who may likely never pan out as the offensive threat he was envisioned to be when drafted in the first round of 2006, sure. But dirty? No way. And it's not as if Dwyer is the type of offensive threat or hated pest that would make for an effective target of such a dirty hit. In a lot of ways, it's easy to believe that both Dwyer and Foligno were victims of circumstance, with Foligno caught in a situation where he had to make a choice between making a hit or getting grief on the bench and he just didn't expect to deliver a head shot. But a head shot is what it was... even if some camera angles aren't exactly the most revealing as to its true nature.

Probably the best point made came from TSN's Craig MacTavish, of Harvey the Hound tongue-pulling-out fame. On Thursday night's telecast, he said (and I am paraphrasing here) that if it comes to a point where you have to ask yourself repeatedly if it was a head shot or not, it's most likely a head shot. As such, the NHL has a golden opportunity to set a nasty precedent and curtail these blind-side hits before an even larger epidemic befalls the league. Like the first snowflake of winter, these things have a tendency to snowball before you know it and the league can save itself a lot of criticism and headaches by getting it right this time. A 10-game suspension is strict, but justified in this context.

Rule 48 of the league rulebook states that an illegal check to the head is characterized by "a lateral or blind side hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principle point of contact..." Foligno may not have meant to hit Dwyer in the head, but it did happen, making it the principle point of contact. Supplementary discipline is thus required, especially taking into account the fact that these incidents have become this year's Edmonton Oilers of hits... the flavour of the week if you will.

No, Foligno is not a repeat offender, but neither was Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson when he got a two-game ban for his hit from behind on Buffalo Sabre Jason Pominville. All things taken into account, the NHL would be justified in coming down harder on Foligno for the simple reason that they have a chance to nip this thing right in the bud right now, by making an example out of Foligno.

Hits from behind have gotten to the point where they are byproducts of an even larger problem: a lack of respect. There's already a penalty in place for checking from behind, but it doesn't work. The illegal-check-to-the-head penalty of the NHL's is brand new, relatively speaking, meaning players don't know where the line is. Show them. If a player like Foligno can get 10 games for an illegal check to the head, anyone can. That's where respect for other players begins... when it's your neck - and head - on the line.

October 14, 2010

... And the Only Player Worse than Mike Comrie Is...

It's no secret that GetReal Hockey doesn't like Pittsburgh Penguins forward Mike Comrie. It would be a gross understatement to say that his career has regressed since he nearly single handedly drove himself out of Edmonton all those years ago. Nevertheless, despite his lacking skillset, despite the fact that the only way he can score these days is is if he's at home with his wife, despite his moonlighting as a Josh Duhamel lookalike, there is one player that grinds GetReal's gears more. That player: Montreal Canadiens forward Maxim Lapierre.

Say what you want about Comrie, but at least he stands up for fallen teammates (see above vid). Lapierre? All he does is push the envelope to see how much he can get away with. And it's not a huge leap at all to assume the only reason he decided to grant Comrie his wish to fight last Saturday is because he's about the size of a garden gnome. In that same game, he had the opportunity to go against the the one-inch-taller (and much tougher) Maxime Talbot, but instead of just saying "no" to peer pressure, like we're all taught in high school, he goes to drop his gloves, but leaves them on at the last second, goading Talbot into taking a penalty. And I thought yellow was part of the Penguins' colour scheme.

Yeah, Lapierre got the call he was looking for, but his reputation, which is already pretty bad, took another hit. I'm not saying that Lapierre is useless, as the below video argues. I am saying that there's no place in hockey for his buffoonery.

Lapierre can actually play hockey, which is why it's sad to see him have to resort to playing the game within the game just to make a name for himself. It's even sadder that by the end of his career he'll likely be wishing his was Mike Comrie.

Leafs' Orr Gets Tagged with a Mean Right

If you missed it during the game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Pittsburgh Penguins last night, here's Deryk Engelland's knockout punch on Colton Orr. Now there's two things that separate Engelland from the rest of the pack: he spells his name with a "Y" AND he was able to take down one of the league's legitimately toughest customers. Considering his pedigree - Engelland is 28 and has only played in 12 NHL games up to this point in his career after being a sixth-round draft pick in 2000 - it's likely this is one of the few memories he'll be able to take with him when he retires. It's definitely a worthwhile one, though.

Kaleta Being the Rat that He Is

As initially argued up by TSN's James Duthie on Wednesday night, Buffalo Sabre Patrick Kaleta is quite the hypocrite. If you caught his interview following Chicago Blackhawk Niklas Hjalmarsson's hit from behind on Jason Pominville on Monday, along with some apparent b.s. on respecting one another in the NHL, he had this to say: "We're a team here and it will get taken care of either with the league or I think we play them Saturday, so we'll make a point that you can't be taking hits like that against one of our leaders and one of our better players on our team."

Now, before this somewhat veiled threat was uttered, Kaleta was a lot of things... a pest, a rat, maybe just one or two rungs below New York Ranger Sean Avery and Ottawa Senator Jarkko Ruutu on the NHL's most-hated scale. But a hypocrite? Due to a lack of evidence, no one in their right minds could make such a claim out of fear of being sued, because, as much as I hate to admit it, being among the league's least-skilled players can still earn someone a pretty penny to pay for some pretty expensive legal help. But here is the indisputable proof ladies and gentlemen: Kaleta's antics on Wednesday night against the New Jersey Devils:

Hell, forget Wednesday night... take your pick of any of Kaleta's numerous indiscretions over the years, like this one hit on the Philadelphia Flyers' Jared Ross that led to a suspension last season:

There's little use defending Hjalmarsson's hit on Pominville as it wasn't exactly clean. As mentioned in an earlier post, the two-game ban he received seems about right. But there's even less use in ever again defending Kaleta, whether it be through words as a blogger or on the ice as one of his teammates, because as he has proven so beautifully this past week he'll bring you down along with him as he makes a fool out of himself.

The Sabres do indeed play the Blackhawks on Saturday, but Kaleta had better circle the next Saturday instead, because that's the date (October 23) that the Sabres play the Devils again. I'm not saying it will happen, but if he's put in a position where he's forced into making a decision as to whether or not to drop the gloves, there should be no hesitation on his part. If he can stand up for himself and face the music then, only then will the one iota of respect he deserves be restored.

October 13, 2010

The Avalanche Get no Respect!

"Know the one about the so-so hockey team that won against all odds?"
Fresh off its 5-4 shootout victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Monday, the Colorado Avalanche began to answer several lingering questions left over from last season’s disappointing finish.

At the forefront of that list was:

1) Can Craig Anderson continue to write the script to his own Hollywood biopic and stay a legitimate number-one goaltender after years of being just an above-average back-up?

2) Will Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly continue to develop at an other-worldly pace?

3) Who is Brandon Yip??? And is it okay to make fun of his name?

Well, clearly, the answers to at least two of those three are still unclear, while the answer to the third goes something like this:

“He’s a no-name player of Chinese origin who came out of nowhere [more accurately Vancouver, British Columbia and then Boston University] to score 11 goals and 17 points in his first 22 NHL games, before cooling off and scoring just one in his last 10. And, why would anyone want to make fun of the name Brandon?”

Yip’s rookie season aside, he has notched two points in three games so far this year and also added the only goal scored in the aforementioned shootout victory. No, he may not constitute the game’s prototypical success story, but he is a fine example of the Avalanche’s success last year, which clearly resulted from an experiment that would have probably left even the mad Dr. Frankenstein scratching his head. Scientific theory be damned, management essentially threw a vast array of spare parts, cast-offs, unproven talent, and has-beens against an adhesive-laced wall just to see what would stick.

Like being pleasantly surprised after trying to breed a horse with a rottweiler and getting Cerberus, they got a pretty decent team out of it. That's even taking into account its 3-7-3 finish and its first-round playoff exit that saw its only two game-winning goals get scored accidentally by San Jose Sharks. I mean two-thirds of the Avalanche are comprised of players that weren’t even on anybody’s radar screen two years ago... Duchene included. The other third? Players like Anderson and Milan Hejduk who many thought were destined for support roles at the different stages of their respective careers. And, yet, until that final stretch of the season, the Avalanche acted like one collective hive mind led by star Paul Stastny that could do no wrong.

"What's that? Is it? It is! It's my stalled hockey career!"
Case in point would be the nonsensical decision to acquire Peter Mueller for Wojtek Wolski. Under normal circumstances, many general managers wouldn’t dare trade one star in the making that was producing (albeit at a slower pace than desired) for an apparent one-season wonder that wasn’t, but Greg Sherman decided that Mueller was worth the risk. The move paid off with Mueller putting his 17-points-in-54-games performance with the Phoenix Coyotes behind him en route to a spectacular finish to the season that saw him score 20 in 15... before getting injured. Now, his off-season auditions for the local Man of La Mancha production having fallen through, he seems ready to pick up right where he left off. But good intentions don’t necessarily lead to results. Mueller does also kind of look like the Devil, but I won’t go so far as to say that Colorado is on the road to Hell. The state’s far too cold for that and one obscure reference is enough for a guy that also looks like that one weird loner no one wants to be friends with in high-school.

It’s weird to say, but the team’s chances vary greatly between what is expected to happen after last year and what should happen, two years removed from a last-place finish in the Western Conference. In essence, the Avs haven’t proven anyone wrong. All they’ve done is temporarily satisfy the critics, put off answering the questions that are now certain to be asked by the end of this season... delay the inevitable crashing down to Earth.

A Brief History of Recent Hits in the NHL

As you've all probably heard by now, Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson was given a two-game suspension for Monday's hit on the Buffalo Sabres' Jason Pominville, which probably sounds about right, all things considered. It clearly constituted "a check delivered on a player who is not aware of the impending hit, therefore unable to protect or defend himself, and contact is made on the back part of the body," as per the NHL's rule 43.1.

However, it's interesting to note how this specific hit stacks up against other notable ones from the past few years and to take note of the league's consistency on handing down punishments or lack thereof. For example, in a 2006 incident, Washington Capitals superstar Alexander Ovechkin similarly hit then-Sabre Daniel Briere from behind as well, and no suspension was served, although he apparently did get a boarding call on the play. It's clear that he invoked the much-forgotten-about and unwritten "bankable star" clause in the rulebook that no one ever really cites. Curious, that.

And then there's Ottawa Senator Chris Neil and his hit on then-Sabre Chris Drury in 2007, which also didn't result in a suspension. There's less of a mystery here, though, as this hit took place before the well-documented Matt Cooke hit on Marc Savard, which led to the formulation of the "Illegal Check to the Head" section of the rulebook (I just love the fact that "check to the head" has to be qualified by the word illegal, don't you?). As such, Neil got off scot-free, while Drury got a concussion, with the NHL brass still three years away from first getting a clue that Don Cherry's Rock'Em Sock'Em Hockey video series does not constitute good masturbation source material.

There are several key takeaways from the case study, with the most notable one being that if you're a Buffalo Sabre, you had better keep your head up at all times, because goons seem to be attracted to that bright-yellow-buffalo emblem like moths to a flame. Beyond that, there is the undeniable deep-seeded issue that a lack of respect between players in the NHL is endemic. I mean, just looking at Ovechkin's latest commercial below, I gotta say it must be hard for even his teammates to look at him the same way.

All things being equal, none of those hits compare to then-Philadelphia Flyer Steve Downie on Dean McAmmond from the 2007 pre-season. Downie was given a 20-game suspension, the fifth-longest in NHL history, if memory (wikipedia) serves me correctly, which is sad because Downie had never played a regular-season NHL game at that stage of his career and he was only trying to make a name for himself. As a result, it's easy to believe that one huge reason the suspension was so large was due to his laying out a more-esteemed player in the league. If it was the other way around, if McAmmond had hit Downie, I would guess that the suspension, if there would have been one at all, wouldn't have been for nearly as long... then again, I can't even imagine any NHL player hitting a rookie in that fashion, which is probably more telling than any video, but, that being said, here you go:

A Rock as a Puck... Who Would Have Thought?

Another new commercial, which gets points for creativity. Everyone knows it's fake, but that doesn't mean you won't try it out the next time you're at your local curling club. Just make sure no one's around... so you don't look like a high-school reject once you break your stick into 10 different pieces.

Ovechkin's New Commercial

In case you've missed it up until now, here's Washington Capitals superstar Alexander Ovechkin's insane new commercial. The only thing that can really be said is he's lost his head, both figuratively and literally... that and HUH? His English has improved a great deal over the years, but it's like I understand what he's saying and I don't. Is anyone else with me on this?

October 12, 2010

Leafs Give Finger His Walking Papers

This is Jeff Finger with music:

This is Jeff Finger withOUT music:

It's a shame they don't play alternative rock 24/7 at Toronto Maple Leafs games, huh? On Tuesday, the sad result of that fact was Finger being placed on waivers.
Finger was being paid $3.5 million per year by the Leafs, and he will continue to earn that amount, but likely only as an AHLer from here on out, with Brett Lebda taking over the role as the team's seventh defenseman for the time being.
Once the Leafs realized $3.5 million was a little outrageous to be paying someone to be the team's punching bag, it seemed like only a matter of time before he made his way to the minors. Of course, technically speaking two years to admit a mistake is kinda long, but better late than never, right?

Wisniewski Blows It by Doing His Best Sean Avery Imitation

"Yes, I kiss my mother with this mouth." *Shudder*
By now, everyone in the hockey world knows that Sean Avery is a menace. Granted, at this point he’s become more a menace to himself than anybody else, but he is one nonetheless. If there is little to no debate on that, there can be none on New York Islanders defenseman James Wisniewski being just as bad.

Again, everyone has seen the video of Sean Avery conducting that supposedly on-the-fly and in no way whatsoever premeditated interview sequence in which he called ex-girlfriend Elisha Cuthbert his sloppy seconds in an effort to get underneath the skin of his soon-to-be opponent Dion Phaneuf, then of the Calgary Maple Leafs... Flames, sorry. 

For the record, it kind of worked, with Phaneuf getting no points on the night in question and posting a +/- rating of -3. However, the move was classless and definitely did not constitute the image the NHL wants to perpetuate of itself. I’m not even sure a three-ring circus would want Avery in charge of its public-relations campaigns either, lest management wants its sideshow to take on a life of its own.

Taking Avery’s antics, not just that one incident but his whole body of work, into account it’s clear that he’s as much a clown as the next bozo, which, as fate would have it... have you met Mr. Wisnieswki, ladies and gentlemen? Now, I won’t go into describing the act in question, because its vulgarity is just as tasteless as anything Avery can come up with or say, but it is posted below for your entertainment with the sole disclaimer being that it’s very sexual in nature.

It’s definitely not a coincidence that the act in question was directed at Avery (who else would be more likely to provoke that type of gesture in the first place?) at the tail-end of the first period of Monday’s New York Rangers-Islanders game. Still, the league needs to take a hard look (I would say “difficult” instead to try and avoid any and all inevitable immature laughter, but you really can’t do that in this context) at the video evidence and suspend him for at least six games, just as Avery was in December 2008 for his comments, as they ran counter to the family-friendly brand the NHL always seems to be trying to create for itself. Of course, one would think that taking fighting out of the game would be step number one, but that’s a different matter altogether.

There are some differences between the two incidents, of course, but the fact that Wisniewski’s gesture took place in the “heat of the moment” of game action should not be used as an excuse, mostly because there was a stoppage of play and it wasn’t in the heat of the moment to begin with, but also because that would be a stupid excuse considering 90% of all NHL suspensions are handed down due to acts committed as a result of actual split-second decisions.

The only other real difference would be the following: Avery wasn’t a repeat offender when he got banned two years ago... Wisniewski is after he nailed Chicago Blackhawks defenseman – and former teammate - Brent Seabrook last season... geez, if that’s what he does to friends, I’d hate to see what he does to his enemies. Based on his obvious intentions Monday night and assuming Avery is an enemy, maybe he’s got a few things backwards.

Surprisingly, though, the eight-game suspension that resulted from that hit on Seabrook wasn’t even Wisniewski’s first suspension either. If the NHL is doing its job, it won’t be his last.

Seven Degrees of Separation: Andreas Lilja to Dawson's Creek's Joshua Jackson (he's the dude that played Pacey)

So, here's a look at the Anaheim Ducks' beleaguered blue line that has helped to allow a league-worst 13 goals in three games so far this season.

First we have Andreas Lilja who was just signed on Monday as a sure sign of desperation on the Ducks' part. So bad is Lilja that an eight-year old flips him the bird in this arguably classless clip (you can't fault me for being honest). If people showing the middle finger is something you can do without, I implore you to not press the play button. If, on the other hand, you enjoy laughing, give it a go.

Next there's Andy Sutton, who unfortunately broke his finger (thumb) in a fight against the Detroit Red Wings' Ruslan Salei in the Ducks' first game of the season, despite his being unable to fight in general, losing to the Vancouver Canucks' Rick Rypien, who is 7" shorter and 75 pounds lighter.

Then there's Sheldon Brookbank, who has proved himself capable of fighting Rypien, but not so capable of being a legitimate defenseman at the NHL level.

Next on the list: Toni Lydman, who has proved himself capable of being a legitimate NHL defenseman, but has such inefficient goal-scoring abilities that he needs former Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Vesa Toskala to be in nets to stand a realistic shot at getting one in.

Now comes Paul Mara, who has become so inefficient at scoring that he can't even seem to hit a wide-open net.

Admittedly the Ducks do have one power-play threat in Lubomir Visnovsky, but, alas, he is so injury-prone, having played 50, 57, and 58-game seasons in his career, that he gets hurt by throwing a check.

And then there's fellow European Luca Sbisa, who, along with Cam Fowler and Brendan Mikkelson, makes up the Ducks' youth contingent, all members of which look like they could have been stars in Disney's 1992 masterpiece The Mighty Ducks, which starred Joshua Jackson, the dude who played Pacey in Dawson's Creek.

Now, admittedly, that European connection was pretty weak, and if I really tried I could have made it in just two degrees of separation by saying that Lilja plays for the Ducks, which were named after the team from the movie... voila: a successful connection in just two moves, but where would be the fun in that? Bottom line, the Ducks, with Lydman and Sutton hurt, are in trouble, so much so that Jonas Hiller is starting to look a lot like Goldberg.