Behind the 8 Ball

The non-hockey market of Columbus, Ohio will have to continue waiting for a contender. No biggie, right? It has only been 12 years.

I doubt that very many people really care but the Columbus Blue Jackets are once again left to rebuild. An expansion franchise that has never really found its way in the National Hockey League, the Blue Jackets will likely be clawing its way up from the bottom of the barrel for another couple of years at least.

Unfortunately, this rebuild happened 1 year too late.

The trade for Jeff Carter in the off-season predictably did not have the desired results for GM Scott Howson. They gave up a 1st and 3rd round pick along with Jakub Voracek for a guy who ended up playing 39 unmotivated games. I have cottage cheese in my fridge that has lasted longer than that. Luckily for the Blue Jackets, Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi threw Scott Howson a bone. Howson got a 1st round pick back as well as underachieving defenseman Jack Johnson.

Nevertheless, Scott Howson messed up worse than Vince Young on the wonderlic test.

He wasted a year for the Blue Jackets that they can never get back. A year that he could have spent in full rebuild mode. Instead, Howson has had to scramble before the trade deadline to get something of value for his expendable pieces.

He traded Jakub Voracek, Samuel Pahlsson and, of course, Jeff Carter for a bunch of drafts picks. A 1st (2013 conditional), 2nd (2012), 4th (2012), 4th (2012), and a 5th (2013 conditional) to be exact.

The silver lining to this less than perfect scenario is that the Blue Jackets sit dead last in the NHL by a gigantic margin despite their best attempts to contend for a Stanley Cup this year. As sad as that is in itself, the fact that they are guaranteed a top 3 pick in the 2012 draft can be of some comfort to Scott Howson on those very lonely nights.

However, with that being said, the Blue Jackets have yet to trade their most coveted piece in all-star winger Rick Nash. His $7.8 million cap hit through the 2014-15 season, no-movement clause and all. According to Howson today, Rick Nash approached the team about a possible trade but nothing got done. Rick Nash is still stuck in the purgatory that is Columbus for the time being.

Rick Nash will be dealt eventually, probably around the time of 2012 draft. It will mark the end of a very miserable era in Columbus.

After Nash is gone, the best thing Scott Howson can do for his franchise is be patient. He thought last offseason, like the kid who spoils his appetite with the cookie before dinner, that being patient wouldn’t be worth it. He knew that getting Jeff Carter back then sounded good and didn’t think it would affect his whole team negatively. Like the kid eating his cookie before dinner, Scott Howson upset the natural order of things. He had his dessert before dinner was ready. When it is dinnertime, Howson is the one at the table who won’t be able to enjoy it.

That cookie doesn’t taste so good now does it Scotty?

They say that patience is a virtue. Not enough General Manger’s have it apparently.

The last week has shown that Scott Howson is willing to change his tune but for how long? Those Brian Burke, Jay Feester get Stanley Cup quick schemes simply don’t work like they’re supposed to. The Leafs and Flames sit at 10th and 11th in their respective conferences. Scott Howson is just going to have to suck it up for the long haul this time. It’s the only way.

The Columbus Blue Jackets have already put themselves behind the 8 ball. They can’t afford to waste anymore years.

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.

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Beginning of the End

It pains me to write what I am about to write. I wish I didn’t believe it but, right now, it’s hard to think any differently. All the signs, signals, indicators, compass’ and whatever other device you have are leading me in this direction. I have tried to convince myself this can’t be true but what else am I to believe?

Sidney Crosby is finished.

Extreme words, I know. However, Sidney Crosby is out again after what, at the most, can be classified as a soft elbow to the head from David Krejci. Watch for yourself here (skip to 1:11 for slow motion). It’s possible the first time watch the video you won’t even notice the hit. The hit occurs a few seconds into the video but it is rather inconspicuous.

Once again, Sid the Kid is day-to-day with his concussion-like symptoms but not the day-to-day that we normally associate with injuries. His status as day-to-day refers to the media’s coverage of his status, wondering when Crosby will be back on the ice. Sadly, Sidney Crosby is out indefinitely and, although he insists that he is not back at square one, you have to wonder if this last hit has put him on the Eric Lindros road of perpetual concussions.

Crosby took 11 months off. Like a Dad crossing the street with his 3-year-old child, he decided to play it really safe instead of being really sorry. I repeat, he played it really safe. Unlike the first hit from Dave Steckel that should have put him out, Crosby didn’t want to play with fire this time. In the end though, it only took a minor hit from David Krejci to put him on the shelf. This wasn’t your Scott Stevens on Eric Lindros garbage. This was peewee minor hockey stuff.

This isn’t a movie either. What doesn’t kill Sidney Crosby isn’t going to make him stronger. Each subsequent concussion makes Crosby more fragile than the Dallas Cowboys in the 4th quarter. By now it’s common knowledge to sports fans that if you’ve had one concussion, you are much more likely to have another. At the same time, it’s supposed to take more than what Krejci did to Crosby. Sid is only 24 and is already having to deal with more serious concussion issues.

Related: NHL Needs Sid the Kid

Is Crosby more prone to concussions than others? Is Crosby simply the recipient of some old fashioned bad luck?

Apparently, I’m not a doctor, as one individual was kind enough point out to me in e-mail form following one of my post’s inquiries into the nature of Ryan Kesler’s injury prior to last year’s Stanley Cup Finals. Nevertheless, common sense can tell you a lot of what you need to know sometimes. My common sense this year is telling me that Sidney Crosby is never going to be the same.

This is one of the few instances where I hope I’m not right.

I have no idea what Sidney Crosby’s doctors are telling him but the fact that he is back up in the press box watching games and sitting out of practice is as bad a sign as it gets. What’s even worse is that we are hearing the same thing coming out of Crosby’s and head coach Dan Bylsma’s mouth. According to Sid, “there is no timetable” for his return. According to Bylsma, “Sid knows his body better than anybody else” and “He’ll return to practice and playing when he is feeling 100 percent.”

100 percent took 11 months last time around.

This time around, before you can say post-concussion symptoms, the best thing that has happened to hockey since Mario Lemieux could be out of the game altogether . Unfortunately, this might be the beginning of the end for Sidney Crosby.

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.

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NHL Needs Sid the Kid

Forget the magic of Tim Tebow. Sidney Crosby returned to the NHL on Monday Night and was nothing short of magical.

It was another one of those “wouldn’t believe it if it was in a movie” moments in sports. After 11 months off from one of the most talked about injuries in NHL history, Sidney Crosby scored his 1st goal of the season on his first NHL shot in 11 months. Crosby didn’t stop there as he racked up 4 points total on the night, adding another goal and 2 assists. This was not only a special performance but it was incredibly heart-warming for anyone born with a soul.

I guess special is as special does.

Hockey is a Canadian sport though and south of the border it often doesn’t generate much more buzz than a bowling tournament featuring Norm Duke and Walter Ray Williams Jr. Okay, maybe a bit of an exaggeration but the point is Crosby’s long-awaited return from his mysterious concussion has produced more than a bit of a noise in the United States.

While the ‘Welcome Back Sid” hash tag may not have been trending on twitter as it was in Canada, Crosby’s comeback illustrates how important one man can be to the world of star-driven professional sports.

With Alexander Ovechkin in an extended slump, the NHL has been absent of a true superstar for the past half-year. No matter how good the games are, no matter how good the playoffs have been and no matter how many games the Stanley Cup goes, nothing can fill the void left by an injured superstar of Crosby’s magnitude. Unlike football and basketball, the game of hockey lacks household names. Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, that’s it.

No Sidney Crosby equals big problems.

Sidney Crosby’s identity and life is hockey. There must have been a point in the last 11 months where he thought he might have been without the only thing he has ever known. Sure, Sidney Crosby needs hockey. However, there’s no doubt that the NHL needs Sidney Crosby more than Crosby needs the NHL.

Sid the Kid is the poster boy for the NHL. He can be as exciting as a peanut butter sandwich sometimes but his ultimate good guy reputation more than makes up for that. My grandmother is as likely to have Sidney Crosby as her favourite (non-hometown) player as that greasy guy sitting at the corner of the bar. His stardom reaches all.

Crosby is a ratings booster. Everyone knows Sid.

In this day and age of ever decreasing scoring and ever increasing trap hockey, Sidney Crosby is one of the few reasons to tune into a hockey game. The only people happier right now than the Pittsburgh Penguins are the executives at NBC and Versus. If Sidney Crosby can return to the NHL as good or, dare I say, better than ever, it will be almost impossible to keep him out from being mentioned in the elite company of players like Orr, Lemieux and Gretzky. Once in a generation talents don’t come around every day.

It took quite a lengthy period of time but Crosby looks to have come back at the right time. Sheriff Shanny has finally implemented the absolutely necessary harsher punishments for head shots that was lacking from Colin Campbell’s reign. The brutal head shots and concussions to go along with them seem to have significantly lowered in number this year. Amazingly, Dave Steckel, the man who essentially sidelined Sidney, wasn’t even suspended for his actions last season.

That won’t happen anymore.

The overabundance of bad press the NHL received over its handling of the head shots situation is gone and its most important entities are now much better protected.

11 months of NHL hockey without Sidney Crosby was tough. 11 more years of NHL hockey with Sidney Crosby sounds more like it.

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.

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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.

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Luongo’s Struggles are Incomprehensible for World

No one gets it.

Sportsnet columnist Mark Spector recently wrote his open letter to the Canuck fans. Berating them for jeering Luongo after his latest struggles.

He thinks he knows Luongo. He thinks he understands why Canuck fans are angry. He thinks he gets it.

Boy, is he off.

Let’s get this straight. What the fans have done at Canuck games to Luongo isn’t fair. The sarcastic cheering and outright booing is pathetic. It may be a fans right to boo these multi-million dollar athletes but you would think as a fan you would understand that players are humans as well and that they could use your support. But it isn’t everyone. The boos and sarcastic cheers didn’t come from 18,000 strong.

Anyways, Mark Spector presents an issue that many NHL fans seem to be on board with. A hate for Canuck fans. Apparently, we look like cry babies for constantly complaining about Luongo’s fluctuating play. Spector asks does “the baby need a new goaltender?”

Yeah, in fact we do.

He points out irrelevant evidence that a high school law student would be embarrassed to see. Following his question to the Vancouver babies he writes “we thought you already had a Canadian Olympic team starter, complete with the Vezina and Jennings dress-up bundle. Can’t we just send along the camper? Or the puppy waterpark set? Oh, that’s not good enough for the Vancouver baby? They want more than that? We see.”

The worst evidence he gives has to be his mention of Luongo’s Olympic appearance. Luongo was mediocre at best during the 2010 tournament and was the beneficiary of a stacked Canadian team featuring a fourth line almost any other country would have been happy having as their first.

Besides, Luongo’s past is completely unrelated to what he is doing now. He played unbelievably in his first two seasons as a Canuck but since then he has regressed. He had a good stretch last year but came up short when the Canucks needed him most.

Related: Roberto Luongo the Ex-Factor

What’s worse though is that Spector’s narrow-minded approach ignores so many other important factors that make Vancouver fans irate towards Luongo’s play.

He fails to bring up Luongo’s utter failure as a leader and a captain. Luongo hasn’t been shy in the past to throw his own teammates under the bus in public. He comes across as a baby. Jealous of the praise Tim Thomas was receiving, Luongo decided to speak up and disrespect him. He followed his trash talk up by letting in 6 goals.

Luongo is a jerk. He isn’t endearing to most fans anymore. Canuck fans used to love him before they started to truly understand the man behind the mask. He has lost their respect.

People adore Kesler because he is a warrior. Luongo is the opposite. No one wants to go to battle for or with him.

You obviously can’t blame Luongo for assuring financial security to his great-grandchildren but it is frustrating for a fan base to see their highest paid player struggle so mightily.

Contrary to what Spector implies, Luongo is not one of the best goalies in the NHL. His Lebron-esque choking, general lack of ability to come up with a big save and uncanny aptitude at giving out freebies at the worst time don’t show up on the stat sheet.

It wasn’t Luongo’s fault against the Blackhawks or the Bruins last year. However, he didn’t steal anything. He is paid to steal games. The failure of the Canuck squad to come up with goals while dominating doesn’t excuse Luongo’s personal failure to dominate on a consistent basis.

You would hope that your franchise goaltender can be the best goalie out there on a regular basis. The goal is to expect reliability out of someone who is paid to be a difference maker. Too often he is the difference maker in the wrong way.

The Luongo apologists are everywhere north of the border. Virtually every commentator you see feels the need to defend the man. I don’t get it.

Mike Gillis came on the Team 1040, a local Vancouver radio station, to defend his goaltender. Well, of course he did. What else is he going to do for the person who he so foolishly signed to that ridiculous 12 year contract?

Gillis says that the fan reaction is a hangover from last season’s Stanley Cup playoffs. No, the Stanley Cup was just a few more bullet points on a list stretches as long as the Amazon River.

Mark Spector tries to separate Vancouver from other “normal, everyday” Canadian hockey towns. Apparently, the fans in Vancouver are worse than the same Montreal fans who booed Carey Price in the first preseason game last year following the departure of temporary folk hero Jaroslav Halak.

Preseason? Come on man!

Maybe Mark Spector should imagine if those Montreal fans were stuck with Luongo for the past few years.

There is a cultural divide between the world of hockey fans and the Vancouverites. It’s like we are from different worlds and unless you are from that world you can never fully understand the reasoning behind some things. It’s why I’ll never fully understand the why Philadelphia Eagle fans were so hard on Donovan Mcnabb.

It’s the same with Luongo. The rest of the world knows why Vancouver fans are angry with Luongo but they will never actually understand it.

Vancouver fans are no different from the rest. Despite Donovan Mcnabb’s success, his relationship with Eagle fans was very hot and cold. The Canuck faithful would kill to have Luongo playing up to a young Mcnabb’s level.

It has been 40 long years without a championship in Vancouver and Mark Spector finishes by saying “[We] want it all, and [we] want it now.”

Yeah, how impatient are we?

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.

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