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?

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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.

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Flyer Shocker Reeks of “Same Old, Same Old”

Mike Richards and Jeff Carter

And just when it seemed like someone was finally getting it.

Philadelphia Flyers GM Paul Holmgren looked as though he was going to be a pioneer. The GM who decided enough is enough and it’s time to end these ridiculously lengthy contracts.

I guess you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

After trading the two cornerstone players of the Flyers franchise in Mike Richards and Jeff Carter for young prospects and draft picks, Holmgren went out and messed it all up. He signed goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov to a 9 year, $51 million contract. He got rid of two bad contracts in order to make room for one really bad contract.

Richards who had 9 years left on a 12 year contract and Carter who has his new 11 year contract extension kick in next season both were shocked by a deal that came completely out of left field.

Apparently NHL GM’s enjoy torturing themselves. These contracts are like a bad marriage. The one’s that last only because there’s a kid involve. It’s great until you realize the person that you married isn’t the same person anymore. However, by the time you realize it you’re tied down.

Signing long contracts to avoid a cap hit is no different.

According to sources, the Flyers weren’t happy with their franchise cornerstones. The work ethic that garnered them their lengthy extensions was falling. They were partying too hard. Rumours have been floating around for a while. Richards and Carter had changed. The marriage was failing.

It was amazing that Holmgren found a way to get out. He got a good return on his unwanted investment while the value was still high. Holmgren received ultra-prospect Brayden Schenn, Jakub Voracek, the 8th overall pick, Wayne Simmonds and a 3rd rounder. Brilliant.

For some reason Holmgren reeled himself back in.

The Flyers have desperately needed goaltending though. Of course that’s what Holmgren is thinking. But the amount of foolishness involved in committing 9 years to a 31-year-old goalie is almost unimaginable. History is repeating itself again in the National Hockey League.

Did he not witness the Vancouver Canucks suffer at the hands of their $64 million man? Does Holmgren not even comprehend the lost motivation and deteriorating play of his former stars upon receiving their long contracts?

Obviously this old dog doesn’t get it.

Neither does anyone else in the NHL.

Related: Note to NHL GM’s – This is Getting Out of Hand

In an attempt to set his team up well for the future, Holmgren unknowingly has devastated it. The cap space opened up by the departure of Carter and Richards was necessary to free up room for Bryzgalov. Consequently, the signing of Bryzgalov will hurt their chances of locking up their future stars like Brayden Schenn, Claude Giroux and James Van Riemsdyk.

Good thing the Flyers don’t have to worry about that right at this moment. Phew.

These GM’s keep going back to the same bad girlfriend. The guys that will always find a way to get with the same type of girl no matter how bad it has been. The guys just never seem to recognize it.

Is Columbus GM Scott Howson brain-dead for not noticing that Jeff Carter’s scoring totals have dropped significantly in the last two years? Is he brain-dead for not noticing that the Blue Jackets don’t have the team to contend despite now having a first-line center to play with star winger Rick Nash?

You would have thought that the disastrous contracts of past years would make these GM’s a little more shy.

For all we know, maybe the names Wade Redden, Scott Gomez, Brian Campbell, Vincent Lecavalier and Rick DiPietro don’t ring a bell to them.

Clearly, a disaster of Vesuvius proportions will have to occur to make NHL GM’s realize the error of their ways.

The Tim Thomas fountain of youth isn’t experienced by many. I wonder if Bryzgalov has access to it.

A large part of a players motivation stems from the fact that he has a contract looming in the future. The Flyers put the trust in Carter and Richards that they had enough character not to lose that motivation. It didn’t work out.

Why should we believe it will work in a different city?

The Flyers themselves are once again trying to build from within but this go around they are stuck with an aging goaltender. It won’t be an overnight maturation for their young guns to get the Flyers to the point where they are true contenders. By that time, they’ll see that Ilya is not the same goalie. He won’t be the man they thought they had.

He’ll be older and not nearly as sexy. It is what is to become of all these nonsensical contracts.

They should think like Hugh Heffner instead. Trade ’em in when they’re older and breaking down. Well, at least don’t pay them as much.

Someone will eventually come in and change the landscape of the NHL. A new dog will show everybody new tricks. All the old dogs will wonder why they never bothered to learn.

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.

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