For the Fans

Nashville is music city, not hockey city.

That’s why the Nashville Predators matched the 14 year $110 million offer sheet for Shea Weber.

After another highly successful campaign in 2011-12, the Predators lost Ryan Suter to the Minnesota Wild in free agency. Suter was one-half of what was possibly the NHL’s best defensive tandem. Nashville couldn’t afford to lose the other half.

Since coming into the league in 1997, the Nashville Predators have predictably struggled to build a solid fan base. A lack of star players, good results and knowledge of hockey have all been factors that have hurt the struggling franchise.

The results have been changing though. The Predators have made the postseason in 3 straight seasons. Accordingly, their fan base has been increasing.

People in city of Nashville actually know hometown professional athletes other than the ones who play for the Tennessee Titans. Shea Weber is one of those guys. His missile of a shot and intimidating physical presence isn’t completely unnoticed anymore. However, lose Shea Weber and the Nashville Predators would have been left with not much more than Barry Trotz’s odd shaped head.

Profit is still eluding the franchise but attendance, TV ratings and corporate sponsorships are all rising for the Predators. In the regular season finale, they sold out their 25th consecutive game, a franchise best and counting. TV ratings for local broadcasts grew from a 0.4 rating in 2010-11 to a 1.0 rating in 2011-12. Also, private sponsorships at the arena have increased by 25% since CEO Jeff Cogen was hired in 2010.

Impressive…for hockey in the south.

Considering the Nashville Predators have finally started to build their franchise into a viable business, it would have been very difficult to convince their new and growing fan base to believe in the team if they let Shea Weber go. For a team that features one of the most boring teams in hockey, they couldn’t chicken out on Shea Weber for financial reasons alone.

From a hockey stand point, Shea Weber’s contract is questionable at best. But from the Predators stand point, he is a necessity. Weber is the face of that franchise. Other than Pekka Rinne, the Predators lineup is devoid of anything close to a star player unless you count Mr. Carrie Underwood. Nashville might have been able to compete for a playoff spot without Weber but this move is not mainly about competing.

The Nashville Predators don’t want to be the Florida Marlins of old who saw the likes Josh Beckett and A.J. Burnett leave because they became too expensive to keep. They can’t be seen like that to their fan base if they want to keep on growing as a franchise. Not after all they have been through in the past 15 years.

Yes, it has taken 15 long years for the Nashville Predators to get to this position. Cutting ties with Shea Weber would have been like heading back to 2007, when Jim Balsillie was trying to relocate the team to Southern Ontario. As good as Pekka Rinne is, it would have been a big blow for Nashville fans to see Weber in another uniform.

Nashville’s fans are some of the rowdiest in the league regardless of their uninspiring roster. But even they need something to get geared up about because David Legwand, Martin Erat, Sergei Kostitsyn and Patric Hornqvist don’t exactly get the juices flowing.

With the return of Shea Weber, Nashville fans can now look forward to another promising season.

Should they have expected anything less?

Also, please vote for me to become Canada’s Next Sportscaster! I am one of the 24 finalists and I need your votes. It only takes a few seconds. Just follow the link: http://www.drafted.ca/finalists/chris-ross/

You can follow me on Twitter @paintstheblack and subscribe to Painting the Black to get the latest posts. Agree? Disagree? You can e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com or reply in the comments section below.

Defence First, Ratings Last

NBC’s ratings were up a whopping 50% mid-way through the first round of the NHL playoffs. Savour those ratings NBC.

While the first round has featured such gripping matchups as Penguins-Flyers and Washington-Boston, the Western Conference has seen, to put it nicely, its more defensively aware teams succeed. The St. Louis Blues, Phoenix Coyotes, Nashville Predators and L.A. Kings have all prevailed against offensively superior teams.

Thus, the problem associated with modern day hockey.

Defence is being rewarded and offence is being punished. While the NFL and NBA continue to make the game easier for high octane offences, the NHL is devolving. Teams heavily reliant on goaltending and sound defensive strategy are reaping the benefits of the NHL’s slow but steady return to the obstruction and hooking that made hockey almost unwatchable in its pre-lockout years.

While Tom Brady throws touchdown after touchdown and Blake Griffin, well, throws down, the NHL highlights are featuring save after save from robotic…sorry, technically sound goaltenders. I like a great save as much as the next guy, but enough is enough. Actually that’s probably a lie, goalie saves are overrated.

Nevertheless, the NHL is now going to have to make it through these Dick Cheney waterboardingly painful Western Conference matchups.

There is not one team left in the Western Conference that plays an entertaining brand of hockey. The West will be riding their new defence first motto all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. No matter what, some team that you couldn’t pay most of America to watch will have a very good chance at hoisting Lord Stanley.

The defensive mindset issue has been getting out of hand recently. Peter Laviolette boldly stood up to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 1-3-1 trap system during the middle of the season. I wrote about the lack of goal scoring plaguing the NHL in late October and what they should do to fix it.

Goal scoring is still a big problem. The average goals per game in the NHL has decreased once again in the 2011-12 season and is at its lowest average since the 60′s. The goals do not stem from a lack of shots as that number has kept steady for the past half century.

The players are bigger and faster, the goalies are just too big and there’s not enough room out on the ice for skill players to be skill players. Defensive hockey is not a bad strategy, it’s just boring. In no way am I saying that we should be blaming the coaches for implementing this brand of hockey.

Blame the NHL for allowing this to develop.

This is the NHL’s problem and they seem content with ignoring it. I guess they figure if they ignore it, the problem will go away, you know, like headshots.

The fact that the defensive teams are being rewarded for playing their watching grass grow on a sunny day style of hockey is not good news for hockey fans. It is possible that this year’s playoffs could be chalked up to an anomaly but it appears to be more of a trend than anything else. If this trend does continue, more and more General Managers will be forced to build their franchises around goaltending and defence rather than skilled offensive players.

The Washington Capitals for years have been an underachieving playoff team despite their ability to be one of the most exciting teams in the NHL on a nightly basis. The Chicago Blackhawks won a Stanley Cup 3 years ago but have been ousted in the first round the last 2 seasons after losing a considerable chunk of their Cup winning core. The Vancouver Canucks are still without a championship in their history despite being one of the best offensive teams.

The leading regular season scorers of the Western Conference teams advancing include 39 (soon to be 40) year old Ray Whitney (77 points), Anze Kopitar (76 points), Martin Erat (58 points), and David Backes (58 points). The 2nd leading scorers for both Ray Whitney’s Coyotes and Anze Kopitar’s Kings have less than 60 points. It also isn’t coincidental that the Predators and Kings have 2 of the 3 Vezina nominated goalies for the 2011-12 season.

The cliché defence wins championships could not be more true at this moment in time for the NHL.

I said in late October that the NHL would be best served to significantly reduce the size of the goalie’s pads in order to help buck this trend. Not enough to compromise the safety of goaltenders obviously, but enough to make a difference for goal scoring in the NHL.

The effect that poor goaltending can have on a series was on full display in the Pittsburgh-Philadelphia series in the first round. That type of goaltending is rare in this era of the ridiculously sized and robotic, R2D2-like goaltenders. Smaller pads would make the unpredictable excitement of the Penguins-Flyers series more of a common occurrence.

Mike Smith, Pekka Rinne, Jonathan Quick, Craig Anderson. They have been the story of the NHL playoffs so far. The Great 8, Alex Ovechkin, was benched for the entire 3rd period of the Capitals game 4 victory because coach Dale Hunter felt that would be best for preserving a 1 goal lead. He was right.

Fantastic. Just…fantastic.

Right now, there is a fork in the road and the NHL is clearly headed down the wrong path.

NBC brace yourselves. This is going to be a long month.

You can follow Chris Ross on twitter @paintstheblack and subscribe to Painting the Black to get the latest posts.

Agree? Disagree? You can also E-mail Chris at cross_can15@hotmail.com or reply in the comments section below.

Peter Laviolette The Brave

The 1-3-1 trap system of the Tampa Bay Lightning

Peter Laviolette is a rebel. He will become a hero.

Like all great rebels, Laviolette isn’t going to be well received by all. Like all great rebels, Laviolette made a bold and daring statement. Unlike all great rebels, Laviolette is fighting for a just cause.

He made his stand on Wednesday November the 9th of 2011. Write it down, take a picture, watch the video. The day will go down in history.

In an era of low scoring, big pads and boring trap defences, Peter Laviolette decided that enough is enough. To counter the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 1-3-1 defensive scheme, Laviolette told his defencemen to hold the puck in their own end and wait until a Lightning player came to get them. So they did it and no one came. After 30 seconds of holding onto the puck, the refs blew the play dead. Laviolette wasn’t phased. He did this a few more times in the 1st period.

To boot, Laviolette strategically chose to implement this plan, which I’m sure he has been concocting for a while, in front of the Lightning faithful. Away from home, to a chorus of boos, the Flyers held the puck in their own zone while the faithful Tampa Bay soldiers held their ground.

Peter Laviolette is frustrated and I don’t blame him.

Although trap hockey has been “around as long as the game itself” as TSN Hockey Insider Bob McKenzie noted, the strategy has grown in popularity among coaches over the past decade. It has helped play a big part in the dull neutral zone dominated hockey we see on a day-to-day basis.

The Minnesota Wild’s, Nashville Predator’s, New Jersey Devil’s, Tampa Bay Lightning’s, St. Louis Blues and Columbus Blue Jackets of the world used to be few and far between.

But, as you can see from that extensive and incomplete list, trap hockey is far from uncommon in today’s NHL.

It’s sad that the epidemic has gotten so bad that Peter Laviolette felt he had to force his men to stand down and refuse to play the game they are paid to entertain us with just to make a point. It shouldn’t take a defiant act like this for the NHL to take notice. Darren Dreger, another TSN Hockey Insider, suggested that this 1-3-1 system will become a major topic at next week’s General Manager’s meeting. Bob McKenzie said that they have been talking about doing something for a while but haven’t gotten around to it.

Until now.

You can’t blame the coaches for trap hockey. They want to do whatever is best to keep their job.

This is the league’s problem to fix and, at this point, it doesn’t matter if it takes a rebel like Peter Laviolette to make them finally take notice.

Once again, this all goes back to the entertainment value of the game that the NHL, at times, seems to understand as much as I imagine Stevie Wonder does. Remember the ridiculously illogical skate in the crease rule preventing legitimate goals from a goal starved league? Remember the excessive hooking and holding that was left in the game for far too long?

Let the players play they say. That type of sweep the dirt under the rug attitude is exactly what is wrong with the league. Peter Laviolette rolled up the rug and threw it out the door last night. The dirt left out in the open for Gary Bettman and his lackeys to see.

Trap hockey is a big part of the reason why goal scoring is down in the NHL. I wrote a couple of weeks ago that the only solution to more goals is to reduce the pad size of goaltenders. I should rephrase that to the only easy fix to more goals is to reduce the pad size of goaltenders. Little did I know that an NHL coach would have the stones to implement such a defiant act.

It is quite possible that a pad size reduction would cause a lessening of trap hockey among coaches as goals would be easier to come by from longer distances and tougher angles.

Nevertheless, the solution to a quick fix to more goals may be easy but eliminating trap hockey is not. Finding a similar to the NBA 3 in the key type or the elimination of a zone defence is not nearly as simple in the game of hockey.

Personally, I don’t have a definitive solution but it would be well worth the NHL’s time to explore all possible options.

Up and down, run and gun hockey should not be a luxury that is enjoyed only on special occasions.

Best known in Vancouver for his West Coast Express line, Stanley Cup winning coach Marc Crawford said that “fans don’t want to watch that type of a system where nothing is happening. I think unfortunately this is absolutely something that the league will have to address.”

Can I get an amen!?

It is wrong for the NHL or fans to resist the Peter Laviolette led revolt. This is for the greater good of the game and the league. Laviolette made a mockery of trap hockey and truly exposed its massive flaws for everyone to see.

Today, Peter Laviolette is one brave rebel championing for an NHL that doesn’t feature garbage hockey on a regular basis.

One day, Peter Laviolette will be the brave rebel who began the shift back to real, entertaining hockey.

One day, Peter Laviolette will be the hero.

Agree? Disagree? If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, please feel free to reply in the comments section below. Or you can e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com. Also, follow me on twitter @paintstheblack and I will happily return the favour.

Subscribe to my blog too and you can get the latest posts such as What Else Should We Expect?

NHL Referee Conundrum

Consistency is arguably the most important quality of a referee. It’s too bad the 2011 NHL playoffs have been mired by inconsistent reffing.

The new rules after the lockout were supposed to free the game up for the skill players of the league and they have done just that. No more ticky-tacky hooking and grabbing. The elite players were allowed to be elite players again.

The early rounds of this year’s playoffs were a different story. It went back to the old rules. They might as well have had the police out on the ice because you had to assault someone in order to get a penalty.

Fast forward to the third round and suddenly the game has switched back to the regular season. In fact, at times it has been worse than the regular season. Penalty after penalty being called as players are constantly marching in and out of the sin bin. A player losing an edge seems to be enough to warrant a tripping call.

The players have no idea what to do. First they can get away with murder and suddenly a tap on the shin is a penalty.

There has been no consistency among each crew and frankly I’m sick of it. You all should be too.

Honestly though, the consistency line should be drawn where they call it during the regular season. All the hooking, holding and tackling should be out of the game. Let’s not give the game back to the grinders.

I don’t mind all the penalties as long as that’s how each crew is calling every game. Players need to at least know how the game is going to be called.

The Nashville-Vancouver series featured bad hockey. Not only are the Predators one of the most boring teams in the NHL but their defensive style was catered to by the referees who decided to lock up their whistles and throw away the key.

The San Jose-Vancouver series, on the other hand, has been dominated by the referees. Game 4 had the Sharks receiving 5 penalties in the first 25 minutes while that was followed by 3 consecutive 5 on 3 power-plays for the Canucks. The difference is astounding between what we saw in the first couple rounds of the playoffs.

I guess the NHL is consistent in its own way though. Their remarkable ability to consistently waver on key issues is always quite impressive. I mean, if they can’t set a precedent with the oh so important problem of head shots then why should we expect any standardization with their refereeing?

Related: NHL Head Shots

I was ready to call conspiracy in the Chicago series and prior to the 3 consecutive 2 man advantages I was ready to call conspiracy in game 4 yesterday. Well, it looks more like a product of bad reffing.

The NHL is your typical deadbeat dad. For some reason you always expect something more from them even though you realize that will never get anything. I have no idea why I still expect change for the better.

The great extent of this mounting problem isn’t realized by most people. Colour commentators and analysts should not be content with what is happening on the ice. Laughing off bad/non-calls and on a rare occasion pointing out a mistake sure isn’t going to invoke any change.

For fans to realize the problem on the ice, the one’s calling the games need to make it their business to show what is wrong with the refereeing. Once an outcry comes from fans and analysts maybe the NHL might start to listen. Okay, that might be a pipe dream of mine but it still shouldn’t be alright for people to be oblivious to or satisfied with the officiating.

The NHL has enough trouble generating an American audience and this year’s inconsistent garbage we see from the referee’s is enough to turn the casual fan away from the game. Fans have to know that this isn’t how the game is always played.

Call a penalty when it is a penalty. Sounds simple enough right?

Don’t let them play or call an excessive amount of penalties. The rule book is there for a reason so how about we have everyone follow it for a change?

It will not only make the game better for the players but more importantly it will make the game better for the fans.

Update: It didn’t matter because the Canucks took game 5 and are off to the Stanley Cup Finals. However, I failed to mention in the article below that the way the referee’s still call the overtime period is absolutely insane. On top of a game that was refereed exactly opposite to game 4, the overtime period featured 4 blatant penalties of San Jose’s and 1 blantant penalty of Vancouver’s that were not called. 2 obvious high sticks and 3 trips that my 85 year Chinese Grandmother could have seen. This isn’t an anomaly for the NHL because when it comes to overtime the whistles are put away. These refs decided they didn’t want to “decide” the game like they did in game 4 but they decide the game just as much when they choose not to call those penalties. Call the game the way you call it during the regular season. Call the game the way that you called it in the 1st and 2nd period. They’re lucky that they were in Vancouver and it took 3 brutally missed calls to get the “refs you suck” chant out of the stuck-up, corporate crowd. This is not the way that the 3rd and overtime period should be called yet the referees continue to stick to their old ways. I said it below but I have to say it again. Enough is enough, this has to change.

Agree? Disagree? If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, please feel free to reply in the comments section below. Or you can e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com. Also, follow me on twitter @paintstheblack and I will gladly return the favour.

Subscribe to my blog too and you can get the latest posts such as Hierarchy Established?

NHL Trade Deadline Culture Change

Brad Richards headlined the not traded list following this year's NHL Trade Deadline

Even though the 2011 version of Canada’s second Christmas ended up being more like my great aunt’s birthday party, it may have signalled the beginning of a new culture in the NHL.

The NHL and NBA essentially switched positions this year as it was the NBA drawing headlines from a flurry of deadline deals. Generally, the NHL trade deadline is filled with intense madness as the clock strikes 3, with every Canadian sports channel and website giving you up to the minute updates and analysis on the most recent happenings around the league.

The lack of flare from this year’s trade deadline could be explained by the short supply of marquee and impact players on the trading block. That’s the easy explanation.

It seems to me though that the increasing acquisition of rental players by teams in recent years not translating to playoff success has led General Managers to realize the downfall of selling the farm for 2 months of a star player that you will most likely be unable to retain in the off-season. It has become apparent that, in the new millennium, past Stanley Cup Winning teams have not been forced to make major acquisitions in order to take home a title.

Whether it’s the inability for the acquired player to mesh well with the current roster, the team’s roster simply not being good enough, or luck being the cause of the failure of rental players, NHL front offices have taken notice.

This year’s most prominent moveable asset was soon to be free agent forward Brad Richards of the Dallas Stars who currently sits 8th in league scoring. The Dallas Stars are very much in the playoff race, sitting at 8th in the Western conference coincidentally, and the dilemma of trading or keeping Richards had caused the price for the Star forward to be quite steep.

The New York Rangers, who were rumoured to be the front-runners in the Brad Richards sweepstakes, would have had to pay a pretty penny to attain him. It didn’t happen. The Rangers decided to continue with their strategy of building around their young core of players.

Well, it’s about time.

In 2008, deadline day acquisition Marian Hossa was a key component in the Pittsburgh Penguin’s run to the Stanley Cup Final. It sure worked out for the Pens in 2008, but more often than not we see the teams that take on rental player’s finish their season more like Peter Forsberg and the Nashville Predators did in 2007. The Predators gave up Ryan Parent, Scottie Upshall, as well as their 1st and 3rd round picks for Forsberg and were eventually ousted by the San Jose Sharks in the first round. Through the beauty of hindsight we see that in actuality the trade was not all that bad. Nevertheless, it’s the process that counts not the result.

The overwhelming amount of failed deadline day shake-ups appears to have had a significant effect on the NHL. Teams are starting to place more importance on keeping prized prospects and quality draft picks while acquiring the steady, bottom 6 players that could be that slight difference between Lord Stanley and a 12:30 tee time.

Even the Toronto Maple Leafs and Brian Burke have shifted gears. Prior to the common insanity that accompanies the trade deadline, Burke traded away proven current NHLers Tomas Kaberle and Kris Versteeg in exchange for prospects and draft picks. Much to everyone’s surprise, Burke stood pat on deadline day.

There was only one striking trade this year with Dustin Penner’s tenure in oil town coming to a close. The Los Angeles Kings gave up first round draft pick Colten Teubert (13th overall) in addition to their 1st and 3rd draft picks to attain the 28-year-old power forward.

The number 1 seed Vancouver Canucks acquired Christopher Higgins and Maxim Lapierre, a couple of veteran depth forwards, in return for some minor prospects and mid-round draft picks.

This feeling of the need for a top defenseman or renowned forward seems to be slowly deteriorating and the 2011 trade deadline could very well be the start of this changing philosophy around the NHL.

Agree? Disagree? If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, please feel free to reply in the comments section below. Or you can e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com. You can also follow me on twitter @paintstheblack and I will gladly return the favor.

Subscribe to my blog too and you can get the latest posts Is the NFL Combine Overrated?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,080 other followers

%d bloggers like this: