November 5, 2010

Dale Tallon and His Crusade Against Humanity

Ever one to rock the boat of conventionality, Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon has taken a stand against the ineptitude of referees everywhere.

Why would he dare crusade against such a beloved part of the game, a facet that all at once brings people together and pits them at each other’s throats, you may ask. Well, the answer is that Mr. Tallon is evil. There is no other way to explain it. He steals candy from babies, walkers from old people trying to cross the street, and year after year tries to steal Christmas, although that last one may be the Grinch.

If you’re unfamiliar with Tallon’s work, he’s the general manager that threw caution and fiscal responsibility to the wind in engineering the Stanley Cup-champion Chicago Blackhawks. And, now, left steaming from a non-call from last week that helped result in a loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, he’ll be campaigning next week when the league’s gms meet in Toronto for the chance to do away with what most hockey fans hold near and dear to their hearts: the make-up call.

Now, the make-up call, or, as it is known to most casual fans not in the know, the “what the heck kind of call was that” call, takes many forms. It can occur as a result of a high stick, after which there is blood all over the ice, with the officials somehow missing the infraction only to see how badly they screwed up later on the replay. It can occur following an actual penalty, which the referee realized too late unjustifiably handicapped the team in question all thanks to him. It can even happen when the score is getting out of the hand and the referee feels bad for the team being routed to the point of trying to throw them a bone. While referees will never admit to having made one, make no mistake; they do exist and are quite common, sometimes taking place two-to-three times each game... except in post-season overtimes when a referee would rather see a player decapitated than risk being the deciding factor of a game.

In specific regard to Tallon’s issue, he would have each head coach be given the ability to challenge a goal if they feel it was allowed against the rules. Some other criteria in Tallon’s proposal to the NHL’s defacto disciplinarian Colin Campbell: It only pertaining to goal-related calls, coaches still possessing a time-out to use up, and the loss of the time-out if the challenge is unsuccessful.
"Winning a Stanley Cup doesn't make you an expert, Tallon... Oh, wait. My bad."
All this ruckus after the league actually did the Panthers a favour and helped the Leafs to win the game. I mean, did Tallon stop for one second and consider what would have happened if the Panthers had won that game instead? Florida would have been one step further away from earning a lottery pick, all the while giving the Leafs an edge in that race (sorry... the Boston Bruins; my bad). And fan expectations would have been heightened, not to mention all the pressure the Panthers would have certainly put on themselves in subsequent games after successfully beating the lowly Leafs. It never ends.

So, sorry Mr. Tallon, but this so-called idea of yours doesn’t belong in the NHL or any professional sport, for that matter. Forget that it’s currently a success in the NFL, it’s a little too risqué for our tastes, putting the fate of the game in the hands of actual video evidence. Is that what you want, Mr. Tallon? To further empower technology? I suppose the next thing on your wish-list is robotic players, and then a robotic revolution à la Battlestar Galactica. Well, I, for one, do not want the extinction of the human race to take place in my lifetime or at all, for that matter. Clearly you feel differently.

Some things belong in the game: make-up calls after a dirty goal is scored, human error, blind-side hits to unsuspecting heads, etc., etc. Change is bad, Mr. Tallon, and I will thank you to fall in line from here on out.

Thornton's Thick Head Nearly Costs Perron His

You have got to admire San Jose Shark Joe Thornton for his persistance and stubbornness, which are both clearly beyond reproach. On Thursday night, no sooner does he get out of the box for a boarding call on Saint Louis Blue T.J. Oshie does he take out Oshie's teammate David Perron.

Clearly his determination to get a game misconduct last night was surpassed only by his career-long desire to eventually win a Stanley Cup. Well, at least he got one of them. I wouldn't hold my breath if I were him on the other, especially when he's got the mental capacity of a slow-witted goldfish to learn from his mistakes.

No Blues were injured during the filming of this clip. Perron eventually scored the team's second goal in what would be a 2-0 victory. If only there had been some way for the Sharks to boost their offensive output, like not have their leading scorer leave the game early following a boneheaded play of the bush-league variety.

Daniel "Twinkle Toes" Carcillo a Little Light on His Feet as He Levels Ruslan Fedotenko with a "Good Hit"

Some clips give more obvious hints than others, but you can always tell which team the television commentators are rooting for or cover on a regular basis based on how they react to an arguable cheap shot in a game. I do believe that's former Philadelphia Flyer Keith Jones doing colour, so that should tell you all you need to know before watching this hit. If the team had been working the game from a New York Rangers-angle you can bet beyond a shadow of a doubt that they would have been calling for Dan Carcillo's head on a plate to feed to the Bogeyman, Derek Boogaard, immediately after the hit. Yes, apparently Boogaard's diet is made up of the heads of opponents and the fear they carry around with them just prior to playing him.

Really, the only matter up for debate in regard to this hit is whether or not Carcillo left his feet before making contact with New York Ranger Ruslan Fedotenko or upon it. Because he did leave his feet. That much is clear. Obviously Fedotenko had his head down and should have been more aware of his surroundings, most notably that there was a dirty player lurking around by the name of Carcillo, who's notorious for his head-hunting AND pantomiming-getting-high-sticked abilities like it's no one's business. I mean, if you were downtown and penniless and you needed $10 quick, there's no street performer  whose help I would recommend enlisting more than Carcillo's. He's just that convincing... unless you have the benefit of instant replay.

Still, the hit goes back to a lack of respect in the NHL between players, and with players like Carcillo running around, it's easy to understand why. The hit was borderline and likely won't result in any additional discipline from the NHL, meaning Carcillo will likely do the same thing again under the same set of circumstances. Makes you kind of long for the instigator rule being repealed, doesn't it? Who says the league can't clean up the game without cracking down on shots to the head? For the record, Carcillo did end up fighting Brandon Prust, but that wasn't the main event we were looking for.

Hot, Hot Halak Has Blues Fans Hailing Him Now

Of course San Jose Sharks defenseman Kent Huskins isn't an offensive threat - only in some twisted universe where up is down and good is bad would that be possible. But there's still little way not to be amazed at this glove save by Saint Louis Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak from Thursday night. He flashes the leather to the point of blinding everyone at Scottrade Center with his brilliance.

Hockey fans have seen this before, in last year's playoffs, when he robbed both the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins superstars time and again as the Montreal Canadiens rode Halak's wave of superheroism all the way to their first third-round berth since 1993. When the Habs traded him away this past off-season, those that defended the move (mainly those that actually made the move, in the team's front office) said that it was only a matter of time before Carey Price became better than him. Well, it is early in the season, but Halak now has a 7-1-1 record, a .940 save percentage, and a 1.53 goals-against average (with three shutouts). Those are Vezina Trophy-type numbers. Just how much better are they expecting Price to be??? Oh, right... Jesus Price and all that. That admittedly would be better, if only for the water-into-wine trick so Montrealers can drink themselves to sleep if Halak continues his reign of dominance this season.

November 4, 2010

A Luda-Kris Trade Revisited Four Months Later

By now, everyone is familiar with Kris Versteeg, his apparent ambitions of becoming the next Vanilla ice, his coming out of nowhere to become a premier two-way forward in the league two years ago, his winning a Stanley Cup last spring with the Chicago Blackhawks, and then his trade this past summer to the Toronto Maple Leafs. But, other than Leafs fans, how many people know Viktor Stalberg?

Stalberg is of course the key piece of the trade from the Hawks’ point of view that went to Chicago, along with prospects Chris DiDomenico and Philippe Paradis. The trade was arguably a win for the Leafs, as Versteeg was seen as an up-and-coming clutch forward with loads of untapped potential (as a top-liner and not a rapper).

Prospect Billy Sweatt also went to the Leafs which was just gravy, seeing as Versteeg was able to score 20 goals in back-to-back seasons with Chicago as a mere role player. It stood to reason that Versteeg was capable of much more in Toronto. While the season is still in the early-going, Versteeg’s actually ended up a huge disappointment, hampered not only by back pain, but a team-wide lack of goal-scoring. Add in the fact that Sweatt eventually signed with the Vancouver Canucks, somehow owning more leverage than all other 22-year-old players who have yet to play a game in the NHL put together en route to testing the free-agent market, and the trade has swung quite handily in the Hawks’ direction. 

Between the two NHLers, Stalberg is the one that has relatively thrived in his new surroundings, with four goals and three assists in 14 games. Thanks to a late generous boxscore change from Wednesday night that gave him a goal and an assist, Versteeg now has five points in 11 games.

It’s hard for me to admit, but at the time I labelled those Leafs fans that considered the deal a disaster (for setting back the team’s rebuilding efforts and youth movement) as ignorant. Of course, the fans that did are still ignorant because both Stalberg and Versteeg are each 24 years old, and Versteeg is actually four months younger. But that doesn’t change the fact that I was wrong too.

"Talk about mixed emotions. I just scored, but I'm also going to Toronto."
Those that applauded the move chose not to consider that Versteeg’s success in Chicago was in part due to the Hawks’ depth and how opponents’ top defensive pairings were forced to pay more attention to the team’s bigger threats. They also conveniently forgot that even if you’re blessed with all the ice time in the world on a bad team, you’re still playing for the Leafs. Phil Kessel can score, but, as he proved last year, he can also do it himself. He doesn’t need a wingman... apparently second-rate number-one-center Tyler Bozak will do.

As such, one of two things is clear: either Versteeg isn’t as good as people thought and Stalberg is better... or Chicago is an environment just more conducive to scoring goals for anyone, and Toronto? Not so much, to the point that even an in-his-prime Mats Sundin would have problems maintaining his usual point-per-game pace right now.

As previously mentioned, it’s still early in the season, but as it stands now Versteeg’s career has taken a turn for the worse and he should concentrate his efforts on a second one... singing the blues.

Leafs Give It Their All against Caps but Ultimately Fall as They're Supposed to each Autumn

It's important to give credit where credit is due and on Wednesday night the Toronto Maple Leafs did indeed skate with the Washington Capitals as if the two teams were racing each other for the gold medal at the Olympics in the 500-metre speed-skating event. Unfortunately, a hockey game plays out more like a 10000-metre race, with about as many twists and turns in the action as the last 30 seconds of an M. Night Shymalan movie.

Twice Wednesday the Leafs took the lead, including the first one of the game off this beauty of a goal by Nikolai Kulemin. Admittedly Washington defenseman John Erskine was doing his best impression of an oriental rug on the play, but it's still pretty to watch. Twice Wednesday, the Leafs also gave up said lead en route to losing the game in a shootout.

Now the Leafs skating with the Caps aside, the game give viewers the chance to bear witness to several other notable occurrences:

1) Mike Komisarek notching two assists... incredibly, thereby pretty much doubling his offensive output up to this point in his career.

2) Alexander Semin actually came through in the clutch, notching not only the game-tying goal in the third period but also a shootout goal to seal the win. It would seem that no sooner do I criticize him for his laclustre skills in the extra, extra frame does he go and make me look bad (link here). No worries, Mr. Semin. I will get you back. Mark my words. Bwahahahahahahahahahahahaha.

3) Former Norris Memorial Trophy nominee Mike Green posting a +/- rating of -3. Surprising stuff really, if we weren't already familiar with his defensive style... the non-existent one, that is.

When all is said and done, there are a lot of positives that the Leafs can take out of Wednesday's game, and they should be proud. As should their fans. As for everyone else? Scared that the end is near... the Leafs actually played well against the Caps for crying out loud!!!

Niskanen Loses to a Kid in a Fist Fight... How Embarrassing

It wasn't Pittsburgh Penguin Sidney Crosby's first fight, and, judging by how well he was able to handle himself Wednesday night against Dallas Star Matt Niskanen, it won't be his last. What's perhaps more surprising than the wrath Crosby suddenly unleashed is that it was actually his fifth go-around in the invisible squared circle. He's even 4-1 after last night. Impressive stuff.

Crosby went as a result of teammate Kris Letang losing to Brenden Morrow mere seconds earlier in a fight in which the Pen didn't even land one punch, mostly due to a partially injured hand. That of course raises the question why he chose to fight in the first place, forcing Crosby to try and regain some momentum for his team in a game Pittsburgh lost quite handily, 5-2..

Despite the loss, despite the Pens no longer having any viable goaltending option with Brent Johnson suddenly playing like the back-up he's supposed to be (admittedly just in the one game) and Marc-Andre Fleury falling back into bad habits of sucking so much that he's no doubt attracted the attention of Pittsburgh's gay community, there is reason to be optimistic in that the team is still .500 on the year, the overall outlook is good, and their captain, especially after last night, can legitimately be considered one of the best in the game.

November 3, 2010

Holik Should Take a Long, Hard Look in the Mirror... only Figuratively Speaking

"It's called rugged handsomeness."
Saying Ilya Kovalchuk’s $100-million contract is to blame for the New Jersey Devils’ struggles is like saying the unprotected sex you had with a prostitute is the reason behind the new burning sensation you get when you pee. That’s the number-one reason why former New Jersey Devil Bobby Holik speaking out on TSN about the signing is funny (link here).

The second? Holik, who retired in 2009, is the last person that should be talking about ill-advised contracts that have crippled organizations. In 2002, he signed a five-year, $45-million contract with the New York Rangers that led to his buy-out after the 2004-2005 lockout.

Of course, Holik really wasn’t singlehandedly responsible for all those overpaid, underperforming Rangers teams of the early-millennium, but he was the poster child for what was wrong with the league entering into the work stoppage that led to the re-worked collective bargaining agreement. Keep in mind that Holik was a defensive stalwart with a little offensive flair. That’s it. Paying him $9 million per season is like paying, well, a 41-year-old Kovalchuk $4 million to play on the fourth line.

"Really. I'm serious."
So, when Holik appears on TSN’s Off The Record (no idea why the show is named that, seeing as every time a guest of some significance makes an appearance the network rehashes the material on all of its other programs as if the Dalai Lama had paid a visit), as he did on Tuesday, and says that the Devils should not fire head coach John MacLean because he was put in a bad position because of management’s decision to sign his former teammate to such an absurdly excessive contract, it’s cause for much hilarity to ensue. How’s that for the pot calling the bong a means of getting high?

Additionally, talking to Hockey Night in Canada in late October, Holik had this to say as well: “If you want to talk about team first and everybody [playing] for the team, why do you sign [a] player who’s not exactly known for that? If I want to [take] my team to the next level, that’s not the player I’m going to go after.”

Now, I’m going against my better judgment discussing this for the simple reason that I feel like reporting anything OTR passes off as news might be seen as encouraging them to keep doing what they’re doing. But this was clearly too good an opportunity to pass up discussing how bad the Devils are. In fact, so bad are they that the Toronto Maple Leafs called and said “thanks”. So ludicrous was the Kovalchuk contract that Rangers enforcer Derek Boogaard had immediate second thoughts about his four-year, $6.5-million deal and wanted to null and void it just so he could sign with Jersey too.

"Who am I kidding? I'm hideous!!!"
That isn’t even taking into account the recent bad news that the team’s actual star player, Zach Parise, will be out three months with a knee injury. The good news is that the cap relief that will result from placing him on long-term injured reserve will undoubtedly help in the short term for a team that is right up against the cap (if you can call substituting one awesome player for presumably average one(s) good). But, in the long term, Kovalchuk’s contract may even rob them of the Stanley Cup contender they envisioned  themselves being for the next decade when Parise’s restricted-free agency kicks in next off-season. Given the opportunity to match an offer sheet, a non-financially handicapped Devils team would surely do just that, but how about one that just committed an average of $6.66 million to a player about as effective as a Devil as Martin Brodeur’s back-up of the week as a legitimate starting goaltender in the NHL?

At the end of the day, the injury to Parise will give the 3-9-1 Devils the chance to see what life is like without him and realize that they likely essentially traded a superstar selfish to the point that he can’t put the team before himself for one that was potentially a future captain that would have led them to the promised land time and again... without the former.

Eight years ago the Devils wisely let one player go. This summer they got him back and are now paying the price.

Caught On Camera: GetReal #1

Brian McGrattan Wishes He Was Chris Neil... Secretly at Least

When Ottawa Senator Chris Neil makes you look unclassy in comparison, you've got a problem. But that's just the situation in which Boston Bruin Brian McGrattan finds himself after calling out Neil through the media on Monday.

After Neil fought McGrattan's soon-to-be teammate Dennis Seidenberg on Saturday, McGrattan said that it was "typical Chris Neil" to do something worthy of getting kicked out of a game, adding that he always had to protect him when the two were teammates between 2005 and 2008. All Neil said in response: "I'm sure he's trying to get into the line-up. I have nothing bad to say about the guy."

It's interesting to note that McGrattan has yet to play a game for the Boston Bruins after signing a contract as an unrestricted free agent with the team in mid-October and being assigned to the Providence Bruins for conditioning. Even though he was recalled on Monday, McGrattan should have taken the three-game stint in the AHL as an opportunity to get used to his surroundings, because he's likely due for an extended stay in the minor leagues somewhere in the near future.

That isn't because McGrattan would have a hard time finding the back of the net blessed with binoculars and optimal seating two feet from the goal line (47 points in 197 career AHL games is kind of proof of that). That isn't even just because the Bruins already have a more-than-capable heavyweight in Shawn Thornton. No, it's mostly because even five years after the Senators gave him his first taste of NHL action he has yet to establish himself as a full-time NHL enforcer. His one claim to fame? Establishing the AHL record for most penalty minutes in one season in 2004-2005 (551), which, for a guy trying to prove himself capable of playing with the big boys, is like beating up on all the guys who are smaller than you. Really not all that impressive unless you're looking to become a professional bully... or as this clip shows one psychotic bad-ass.

What's "typical" Brian McGrattan? Well, admittedly not swinging his stick like a baseball bat. That was just a one-time thing (hopefully, anyway). Who really knows? He did enter the league's substance-abuse program in 2008, but it would be wrong to hold that against him. What should be held against him is his need to criticize Neil for attacking Seidenberg, who wasn't looking to fight, when he once did the same thing to then-Los Angeles King Sean Avery. Granted, he did everyone a favour by trying to put Avery in his place then, but there's little room for hypocrisy when it comes to making a living as a tough guy. People are supposed to fear and revere you for your toughness... not act afraid of you on the ice and laugh at you behind your back.

Now Neil does take his fair share of cheap shots. He's not exactly a clean player, but for McGrattan to suggest that it was his job to protect Neil and "fight all his battles for him the next time" they played the same team implies that a) Neil doesn't know how to fight and b) McGrattan somehow was actually able to play his way into the Senators' lineup once every blue moon. His game totals actually decreased in each of the three seasons he was with Ottawa (to a low of 38), while Neil earned himself a regular shift and a reputation as a timely contributor on offense (as well as a cheap-shot artist).

For the record, according to, McGrattan has a regular-season record of 28-17-8, for a total of 53 fights. Neil has appeared in 112 dating back to the 2001-2002 season. Since McGrattan first got into the league in 2005-2006, Neil has fought 55 times. During McGrattan's time with the Senators, he fought 37 times, while Neil did 26 times. In those 26 fights, Neil actually fought several tough customers, including Hal Gill (who's not a fighter, but is still huge), Tie Domi, Aaron Downey, Darcy Hordichuk, Paul Gaustad, McGrattan's other soon-to-be teammate in Thornton, and, my personal favourite, Donald Brashear, a bout with which Neil actually did McGrattan's job for him and not the other way around.

Jealousy is an ugly emotion. It's even uglier on McGrattan. Now, admittedly that's due in part to his brutish appearance. But that gives him little right to talk smack about another player when it's become abundantly clear that Neil is right when he says he's only trying to make his way back into a regular role in the NHL.

The Bruins next play the Senators on November 13 in Boston, and I'm sure Neil will be happy to oblige McGrattan should he come looking for a fight. After all, that's what ex-teammates tend to do for one another... that is if McGrattan actually gets a chance to play.

The Real Reason Tomas Plekanec is Getting Paid $5 Million Per Year

I bet you thought it was to score goals... Nope. It's apparently to take long shifts in the hopes of seeing an opposing odd-man rush develop and then skate back into the defensive zone to just get a stick on the shot in the hopes of earning high praise from some TSN commentator desperate to give the network's Canadian viewers something, ANYTHING, to cheer about in a God-awful effort against the Columbus Blue Jackets. And let me tell you: No one does it better. The good news, Habs fans? He's yours for the next six years!!! The bad news? Teammate Jeff Halpern plays about the same game, has just three-less points, and is earning $600,000. If only that difference in pay or some part of it could have gone towards keeping a certain goaltender this past off-season.

Showing up Your Old Team 101: Score Your First Career Hat Trick Including the Game-Winner in a Game in Their Building

Vancouver Canuck Raffi Torres may never have been thought of as a legitimate scoring threat during his career, but let me tell you: on that first goal of his against the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday night, definite shades of Happy Gilmore. It's somewhat fitting that he notched his first hat trick against the Oilers, the team for which he played four seasons and with which he had his best one, scoring 41 points back in 2005-2006. In fact, all things considered, the most surprising thing about last night's game isn't necessarily the hat trick. I was just wondering what the hell Torres was doing on the Canucks' power play. Any chance head coach Alain Vigneault moonlights as a psychic?

November 2, 2010

"John Wilkes" Booth's Character Assassination of Jaroslav Spacek

Many might not remember, but it was actually Montreal Canadiens defenseman Jaroslav Spacek that ended the Florida Panthers' David Booth's season last year. Hell, all due respect to Booth, but after suffering his second concussion of the season as a result of the above hit, HE may not even be able to remember. Still, that didn't stop Booth from making Spacek look like a fool seven months after the fact on Saturday night, by forcing him to take him down, giving him a penalty shot.

Apparently, partly due to Spacek's remarkable inability to make like Superman and Arnold Schwarzenegger in Eraser by catching Booth and covering up teammate Roman Hamrlik's mistake, he will likely be sitting for the Habs' game Tuesday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets. It's funny how hockey works. Had Spacek been able to poke the puck loose with his stick in the middle of his best Georges St-Pierre impression in taking Booth down, he would have been thought of as a hero for the next 30 seconds. Instead he was the scapegoat of an entire game the Canadiens couldn't really afford to lose. That's even taking into account the fact that the Habs lost 3-1 and Booth's game-winning goal on the penalty shot didn't even make that much of a difference when all was said and done.

Granted, Spacek hasn't exactly played his best recently, so his overall punishment will apparently be press-box duty on Tuesday with renowned own-goal scorer Ryan O'Byrne, which is kind of like being forced to hang with your one idiot cousin when his parents come over to visit yours. It's not that he's mentally challenged, but just the things he says and does kind of make you wonder just enough to make you really uncomfortable and have to walk on eggshells around him so as not to set him off. In O'Byrne's case, that would mean I guess just really sucking... and stealing purses. The good news is he's already got a helmet to wear just in case.

Alex Picard, who has somehow overtaken O'Byrne on the team's depth chart (will the wonders never cease?), will reportedly take Spacek's spot in the line-up, playing alongside Andrei Markov. And the Habs as a whole will play another team they should beat, at least if they want to think of themselves as a legitimate playoff team and not a one-month wonder from last April. The season is still in those early stages, during which the bad teams still haven't separated from the good ones, but it's fair to say that few realists expect the Blue Jackets, despite their 6-4 record to be in the thick of it even two months from now. But on any given night anything can happen... except O'Byrne actually playing a half-decent game. Mr. Spacek, meet your peer group of one:

"Maybe these will be more effective than my stick."

For a Guy that Looks Like a Red-Headed Stepchild, Hartnell Has Done Alright for Himself

Philadelphia Flyers forward Scott Hartnell is one of the most-hated guys in the league... and it's easy to see why, not because he doesn't give up on plays like on the one above, Monday night against the Carolina Hurricanes, but because he also looks like that one bully you had growing up that would steal your lunch money and torture you incessantly, but who ended up a loser for lack of any actual bankable skills. Only Hartnell is making over $4,000,000 this year. What an ass.

Henrik Proving His Name is Sedin and not Semin

In many ways, Washington Capitals sniper Alexander Semin has a lot in common with the Vancouver Canucks' Sedin twins. They're all red-headed, they each make their livings lighting the lamp (which is also red), and as a result they're also each insanely rich. However, it's still hard to picture Semin being able to score this goal, as Henrik did outwaiting New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur on Monday night. For starters, as evidenced by his lack of success in the first round against the Montreal Canadiens last playoffs (44 shots, 0 goals), he seems to lack the wherewithal to actually show up during crunch time. Coincidentally, Semin is also tied with the twins' former linemate Markus Naslund in terms of career shootout percentage with a relatively woeful 32.26%. Just a little food for thought pertaining to a guy whose star fell faster than fellow-Canuck Alex Burrows like a ton of bricks when the referee's watching. A glimpse into the future perhaps for the Cap?

November 1, 2010

Sarich Can't Find a Hole Deep Enough to Crawl into

Like San Jose Shark Dan Boyle just before him in last spring's opening round against the Colorado Avalanche, Calgary Flame Cory Sarich relived the worst nightmare possible for an NHL defenseman on Saturday night. And, no, it wasn't the one involving Dan Cloutier as the team's starting netminder, although that would be pretty bad in its own right.

No, Sarich put the puck in his own net, and, unlike Steve Smith of the Edmonton Oilers in 1986, or Chris Phillips of the Ottawa Senators in the 2007 Stanley Cup Finals, he didn't have the old "put it in off the goalie" excuse going for him. Sarich outright shot the puck in his own net.

What's funny is that heading into this game, the Canadian media had been praising the Calgary Flames as being an offensively dynamic team and saying that the Washington Capitals had better watch out. Apparently, even Canadian television underestimated just how offensively dynamic that Flames could be. The end result of the game was a 7-2 blowout loss that cemented the Capitals as legitimate contenders behind the goaltending of Michal Neuvirth and their newly awakened offense (although it remains to be seen if it can stay awake) - and further highlighted Calgary's shortfalls and inconsistencies.

Sarich wasn't the only reason the Flames lost, but he is the funniest one. It remains to be seen if trigger-happy general manager Darryl Sutter will go out an re-enlist the help of Al MacInnis. Better yet, Smith played a few seasons for the Flames too. If there's ever another disaster you want to relive in the vain of Olli Jokinen and Alex Tanguay...

Daniel Briere: a Height-Challenged Thug if There ever Was One

On Saturday, with the game out of hand, diminuitive Philadelphia Flyers forward Daniel Briere decided to save some face by trying to disfigure opponent Frans Nielsen's. The only problem was that his team was the one leading 6-1 when he opted to cross-check Nielsen off a face-off deep in the  New York Islanders' zone with one minute left to play. The face he was trying to save was thus not his team's but his own, adding an unneeded element of selfishness to the already cheap shot.

The above highlight pack (care of P.J. Stock and the CBC) adds some context to the situation, for instance:

1) A so-called questionable hit by Islander Trent Hunter on Flyer Andrej Meszaros that, according to Stock, helped to stoke the fires in the game... although the score was already 4-0 at the time of the boarding major.

2) Nielsen talking smack to Briere just before the incident in question. God knows just what he said, but I'm sure it had something to do with Briere being listed as a generous 5'10", 179 pounds. Nielsen is listed as only  5'11", 172 pounds, so clearly either Briere slipped a little something, something to the guy who was in charge of taking his measurements, or some weird black-hole-like phenomenon caused Nielsen to appear a whole foot taller than Briere in the above footage. Seeing that, as if by the grace of magic, Briere was able to deliver the cross-check square to Nielsen's jaw, it must be number two, I suppose.

In any case, two things are absolutely clear: Briere needs to get suspended and goalie Rick DiPietro trying to take off his gloves and take him on afterwards is the picture that should be in the dictionary beside the definition of hilarity. It doesn't get much better than that.

Briere isn't exactly the cleanest player on the ice, which may surprise a few people. In fact, he's been suspended before, which may surprise a few more. In 2006, he got two games for high-sticking then-Boston Bruins defenseman Brian Leetch and in late 2009 he got three games for leaving his feet to meet Colorado Avalanche defenseman Scott Hannan eye-to-eye and then promptly knocking him down with a late hit, the league clearly not understanding the lengths Briere must go to just to say "hi" to another living person. How unpersonable and unsympathetic can one corporate body with three separate offices in North America be, I ask you? The commissioner is garden-gnome-impersonator Gary Bettman, after all!

The Nielsen hit is also but one cheap shot Briere has doled out in retaliation over the years, including this one on Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin in late 2006. Ovechkin had hit him from behind a few weeks earlier in a much publicized incident, leading few to believe that Briere just accidentally mistook Ovechkin's groin for the puck.

It would seem that if you wrong Briere, it won't be karma that will get you back, but he himself. If you look at the highlight pack from Saturday's game, you'll also notice that just before Briere hit Nielsen, Islander Trevor Gillies, ever the scientific genius trying to prove the existence of gravity by pushing him over, was the one who likely got under Briere's skin initially. Evidently, Briere? Not so much a pushover despite the physical evidence. It's actually become readily apparent that that cute chipmunk-like exterior appearance of his is actually a defense mechanism of sorts that lulls prey in with a false sense of security. Just when they least suspect it, Briere attacks like the mongoose he really is. He's just that vicious, or that tall rather, to be accurately compared to a mongoose.

Anyway, Briere needs to get suspended for this latest incident, not so much because of its severity, but because doing otherwise sends the message that it's okay to do stupid things born out of selfish reasons. Hockey is a team game and Briere time and again has been proven to think only of himself. The league here has a chance to let him know that this won't be tolerated, even if any supplementary discipline taken is under the guise of disciplining the action and not the motivation.

Columbus Blue Jackets forward Rick Nash earlier this season got fined for cross-checking Calgary Flames defenseman Mark Giordano. Briere's was worse for the simple reason that it was premeditated. As such, the league is justified in suspending him here. And it should... and Briere should learn to grow a thicker skin. I mean, getting upset at what are likely jokes about his height? That's so elementary school. I mean, he does look the part, but still...