Archive for October, 2008

Sean Avery no star in Dallas

Posted in Detroit Red Wings, Lethbridge College Endeavour Column, NHL, Pittsburgh Penguins on October 29, 2008 by Scott Schmidt

First published in the Lethbridge College Endeavour, Oct. 29, 2008

Why is it every time I turn around someone is telling me what a fine hockey player Sean Avery is?

And if they aren’t saying how good he is, they’re at least claiming the importance of his presence on a team. It baffles me to the core every single time because there is literally zero evidence that either statement is accurate.

The fact the only decent team he ever suited up for (Detroit) publicly discarded him because they couldn’t stand him apparently isn’t enough to convince people. So, without further wasted ink, here is the Shmitzy Says: If that guy didn’t flap his uncontrollable gums at every micro-phone that orbited his enormous head, nobody would have a sniff who he is, um, column.

Now I could spend the entire piece discussing the stupid stuff Avery says on a constant basis, like “nobody cares about Jarome Iginla” or “fatso-Brodeur has no class”. I could remind you Avery thinks French-Canadians are weak and inadequate and then list all 18 players from La Belle Province who saw the score sheet more than he did last season.

If I was really in the mood, I would give a sermon on how Vogue magazine is not a viable workplace for anyone harbouring testosterone, but I’m not going to do that. I’m going to stick to the statistics. While simply exposing his embarrassments would be extremely satisfying and side-splittingly hilarious, doing it won’t prove my point.

First of all, Avery’s stats are so consistent they’re almost automatic. That would be a great attribute if it didn’t mean less-than half a point per game coupled with more- than three times as many penalty minutes than games played.

By definition, those numbers should put Avery in the heavyweight division of the league. I know his fans say he has great hands and a good on-ice vision, but numbers never lie, and his numbers make him an enforcer.

The only problem is enforcers are usually big, and Avery couldn’t reach the 200-pound mark if he was allowed to wear that ridiculous fur hat he loves so much during the weigh-in. What is that, a muskrat?

Even if he could throw some weight around, which he doesn’t possess, how would that make him an essential piece to a winning puzzle?

The top-30 penalty getters in the NHL last season all had one thing in common, and it wasn’t just an inability to settle disputes through rational chitchat and a handshake. Not one of the top-30 so- called tough guys played for the Stanley Cup winner.

Granted, two of them played for the Cup finalist Penguins, but neither Georges Laraque nor Jarkko Ruutu played significant roles in the run.

The point is the role of the enforcer has lost major importance since the days of self-policing hockey. Having an undisciplined bruiser skating around looking for something to run into all the time doesn’t win hockey games anymore.

Senseless aggression is fun to watch and killer for fantasy pools I’ll admit, but it’s useless. No one — especially diehard Canadians — likes to hear it but being barbaric is a secondary characteristic and most heavyweights attend playoff games in a suit.

However, Avery plays whenever he is healthy so he must have more to offer. Judging by his salary, let’s hope there’s something extra in him somewhere.

While most of the league’s bullies get somewhere between $500,000 and $1 million for their prowess, this guy pulls in almost $4 million for his penalty box parade.

There is no way to hide it; $4 million is goal-scorer territory.

By the way, he has a career-high of 15 goals and makes the same kind of money as guys like Milan Hejduk, Derek Roy, and Brian Gionta. It’s also interesting to note his salary is well over $1 million more than Henrik Zetterburg receives.

But there is really only one fi gure worth mentioning when offering perspective on Avery’s pay cheque.

Sean Avery is a bigger cap hit than Evgeni Malkin.

The prosecution rests.

Calgary Flames an obvious burnout

Posted in Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames, Florida Panthers, Lethbridge College Endeavour Column, Los Angeles Kings, NHL on October 22, 2008 by Scott Schmidt

First published in the Lethbridge College Endeavour, Oct. 22, 2008

Jarome Iginla is still the best all-around forward in the world and Dion Phaneuf will win multiple Norris trophies before his career is over.

OK, I had to get that out before I risk entering the southern Alberta witness protection program.

Here it goes.

The Calgary Flames are exceptionally over-rated and I don’t understand why, except to say they have two superstars and four years ago the sun shined in a spot only tanning beds should see and they almost won the whole thing.

Since then, the media experts have pegged Calgary as an elite team that will contend for the Cup every season and — as the horrendous start the red and black have had this year will attest to — the team has grossly underachieved.

The truth is, the team really hasn’t underachieved at all. They simply don’t match up with the style of game that exists in the wake of the 2005 lockout.

When the league came out that debacle, the Flames were an obvious choice to win the division, which they did, and go on another lengthy playoff˝ run, which they didn’t. Anaheim took care of them quickly and, while the Ducks were certainly physical, they were a stronger skating team and made the Flames look tired.

Then last season, the big, gritty Flames looked like bright red pylons as the speed and skill of the league consistently took the play to them. Sure, No.12 and No.3 meant a playoff spot, but we all know how that finished up.

The top four teams in the NHL last sea-son were all speed-based, puck-possession teams and two of them faced off in the Cup final. How do the Flames counter that for this year?

They drop two fast, skilled guys in Alex Tanguay and Kristian Huselius, both of whom are o˝ to excellent starts with their new teams. But that’s okay because Todd Bertuzzi’s in.

You have to appreciate an entire contingent of fans that once despised the clumsy forward, somehow finding all of this love and praise for him. I mean, he has scored five dazzling highlight reel goals so far — cough, cough. Of course, he also has five textbook-Bertuzzian minor penalties, one of which had him on a timeout while the Oilers were scoring the winning goal on Friday. But holding penalties are certainly no sign of a slow skater.

Mike Cammalleri is a solid acquisition, but he’ll be a while quenching his thirst after the Los Angeles heat dried him up last year. Matthew Lombardi does skate about 100 km/h, but unfortunately that’s about 98 clicks more than his skill level.

So they’re not very fast, and not overly skilled, but at least they have great team defence. Actually, last season saw them fall to 15th in the league in that area so GM Darryl Sutter addressed the issue in the o˝ season. Who am i kidding, I can’t even say Jim Vandermeer without laughing, and at this point they are ranked 29th in the NHL in goals against, while the entire team except for Daymond Langkow is a minus.

Which brings me to the tissue paper wall that seems to have formed between the pipes by the name of Miikka Kiprusoff . I like this guy; he’s funny in interviews, his mannerisms on the ice are always entertaining, and he’s a class act. He just can’t stop the puck very often and I think as the puck-stopper, the act of actually stopping the pucks can never be overemphasized.

Let’s recap: the scoring of goals is over-rated and the prevention of goals is over-rated. Why not go for the trifecta?

Head coach Mike Keenan is so over-rated, no man-made machine can measure the level anymore. He’s been coaching in the NHL since 1984, with just one Cup, and you can bet he still sends Mark Messier two Christmas cards for that gift.

While he has taken four teams and three franchises to the finals, look at what hap-pens to organizations after he King Kong’s his way through them?

He left Philly in ’88 and they were among the worst teams for five years until the trade for good ol’ porridge-head Lindros.

After he helped sell the future in Chicago and get them one unsuccessful shot at a Cup, they turned awful until around, um, now.

The Rangers missed the playoff’s for most of a decade after their Cup and the Blues were in the sewer until John David-son took over as president.

Keenan did, however, trade Roberto Lu-ongo for Todd Bertuzzi while at the helm of the Florida Panthers, so I guess he is a great fit in Calgary.

Ten questions to ponder on the NHL this season

Posted in Calgary Flames, Detroit Red Wings, Edmonton Oilers, Lethbridge College Endeavour Column, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, NHL, Ottawa Senators, Pittsburgh Penguins, Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks on October 8, 2008 by Scott Schmidt

First published in the Lethbridge College Endeavour, Oct. 8, 2008

Let’s get the obvious over with.

The Red Wings are ridiculous and will probably win the whole thing again, and the Leafs are terrible and will miss the playoff s again.

Now, for your debating pleasure, 10 questions the media can’t and won’t stop asking about the NHL this season:

1. Will Montreal be a legitimate contender for the Cup?
In a world without Detroit, the Habs are the most skilled team in the league on paper. The talent pool under 25 in the organization is getting so good GM Bob Gainey should start feeling embarrassed soon.

While the “experts” want to talk about whether Robert Lang and Alex Tanguay are good fits, Alex Kovalev, Andrei Kostitsyn, and Thomas Plekanec will be tearing defences apart. Depth wins, and the Habs are drowning in skill at every position. They are a contender now, and for multiple years. If anyone disagrees, Georges Laraque is prepared to come by and convince you.

2. Are the Oilers as good as the media, especially just north in Alberta, think?
Probably not — yet. However, this team is Montreal two years ago.  The skill of their youth is unbelievable. Sam Gagner and Andrew Cogliano are just the tip of the composite stick; Kyle Brodziak, Ladislav Smid, and Robert Nilsson join a corps to watch for a long time. Fans might not enjoy the division crown just yet — though don’t count them out — but they will love watching the Oil’s speed and skill skate circular grooves around the bigger, tougher Flames for a long time.

3. Will Todd Bertuzzi rejuvenate his career in Calgary?
Actually, he might. The only thing is the fans and media seem to think rejuvenation for him means 40 goals. Well, let me disclose a little-spoken-of tidbit: he’s done that once. Everybody talks about this guy like he’s an offensive powerhouse.

He’s entering his 13th campaign and only two of the previous 12 were offensively strong. But the media pounded his big, tough presence into our brains for those two years and now we still talk like he’s a superstar.

Never was, never will be. Let me pound something into your brain: he’s a career minus 26. He could, however, put up 25 goals and 50 points if he plays with No.12 enough. Of course, I could probably score 20 playing with Iginla.

4. Will Pittsburgh prevail over the exodus of players it has faced?
They won’t be the same and will fall back to the pack.  Their depth took a serious hit with losses like Ryan Malone and Marion Hossa, among others. However, don’t start applying for a second student loan to bet against them; they might not finish first, but Crosby and Malkin are enough to keep them in the running.

Scoring 100 points in this era can get you an Art Ross trophy. Having two guys who clear the number is just cocky.

5. Will Markus Naslund become his old self with the Rangers?
See Todd Bertuzzi.

6. Will Mats Sundin play in the NHL this year?
No one cares anymore, but the media won’t let us move on so I’ll say sure. Why not let another veteran sit out half a season and then handpick the contender they want to join. Nice rule.

7. Can Ottawa return to its days of being an elite team?
The short answer is no. The long answer is absolutely not.

8. Will Tampa Bay go from worst to first?
It’s unlikely that this will happen, but like Edmonton, look out for these guys in the very near future. Stamkos and Lecavalier will commence boggling minds momentarily, and Mike Smith will slide in quietly as a very solid net minder.

9. Will Roberto Luongo make a good captain of the Canucks?
This is is just bizarre. He might be a good leader, but if you’re asking your goalie to be the captain, how horrible are you expecting to be?

And, now, finally, the question we will hear discussed the most:

10. Will the NHL expand to Europe?
As ridiculous as it sounds, the answer is probably. There are many hockey people who think it will not only happen, but it is a good idea. TSN’s Pierre Maguire and the Score’s Steve Kouleus are two of those people. Maguire mentioned a flight from Montreal to Frankfurt, Germany is only one hour longer than one to Los Angeles. Of course, he didn’t mention what their plan is for teams traveling from Los Angeles to Frankfurt, but maybe it would involve a rocket ship.

Enjoy the year.

It might be time to update the major league

Posted in Lethbridge College Endeavour Column, MLB on October 1, 2008 by Scott Schmidt

First published in the Lethbridge College Endeavour, Oct. 1, 2008

Baseball is a game clearly built on tradition.

We know this because Major League Baseball won’t let us forget it.

The biggest names of the game are always the ones that played before anyone watching the sport was alive, or old enough to know what they were seeing. The league looks at these legends with such admiration that it borders worship.

I wasn’t there or anything, but I don’t think any of them walked on water, and if they did it was probably just winter.

I’m all for recognizing greatness of the past, but I feel baseball honours that greatness by trying to keep the game from changing with the times.

Every major North American league has made rule changes to adapt with changing times, but baseball has kept its rulebook virtually the same for more than a 100 years.

Keeping the old fashioned game play is one thing, but MLB doesn’t seem too eager to update any part of the game and could use a crash course in the 21st century.

Until two months ago, an utter refusal to allow video replay assistance for botched calls caused controversy multiple times every season. Yet even the CFL — and its two super-duper camera angles — instituted this before baseball. Thankfully though, commissioner Bud Selig finally received a wakeup call — whether it was a smack in the forehead or a bucket of ice water poured on him in his sleep is irrelevant — and last week saw instant replay used in a ball game for the first time.

As it turns out, the universe didn’t implode on itself.

Now that they are rolling, it’s time to try their luck with something even more dramatic than utilizing 50-year-old technology to get calls right.

It’s time to change the playoff format.

The introduction of the wildcard teams in the mid-nineties was a start, but it’s not enough to see the league truly prosper. I love the races for playoff spots as much as any ball fan, but eight spots for 30 teams is not a healthy number when you consider what some clubs are up against financially. If the league attempted equality of franchises in any way whatsoever, then eight might work, but equal opportunity is not in the MLB dictionary.

Simply put: the rich get richer, and the poor, well the poor wear Kansas City Royals logos on their jerseys.

The league could help this by bringing in a salary cap, but that’s not likely when the top payroll, and most powerful franchise, aka the New York Yankees, pays out $184 million more than the bottom one, so why couldn’t they increase the number of playoff teams to give less fortunate organizations more hope?

My proposal is simple: cut 10 games off the 162-game schedule and put six teams from each league into the post season. The top two clubs would have first-round byes, and the 152-game schedule would account for the extra playoff series played between the other four, as weather already hinders the start and finish of ball season.

In the current system, at least half the teams’ fans have no real reason to watch any games after July, unless they’re diehards, but if two more spots were opened (four overall), all 30 teams would remain hopeful for much longer.

Yes, teams would have five fewer home games to build revenue, but considering only playoff-bound teams get decent attendance in September anyway, overall league attendance would increase.

The Yankees organization, for one, would hate this idea (though it might have been right up their pinstripes this season), but I have a feeling they would still muster up a profit somehow. Maybe their next payroll would have to squeeze under $200 million, but they’d find a way to keep the bank from foreclosing on their fancy new ballpark I’m sure.