Hockey Headlines

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Not Sure About This Jersey

Bruce Saurs, the longtime owner of the Peoria Rivermen, passed away on July 10 at the age of 88. Mr. Saurs purchased the franchise on July 1, 1989 after the team suffered a $1 million loss as an IHL team, and he never looked to sell from that point on. There were highs and lows in the history of the Rivermen, but the one constant was in the owner's box as Mr. Saurs never once considered selling the franchise he rescued. He was an icon in a city whose hockey franchise put it on the map.

Losing Mr. Saurs affected the community, the players, and the staff that had seen the owner bring championships to the Illinois city. Under Mr. Saurs' watch, the Rivermen posted a pro hockey record 18-game winning streak in 1990-91, won the 1991 Turner Cup, and he facilitated a deal to be the St. Louis Blues' primary and exclusive farm team - the first such deal for an IHL team. He was a pioneer in the minor-pro hockey scene, and his legacy will not be forgotten in Peoria.

To honour the man who kept hockey in Peoria through the IHL, the ECHL, and the SPHL, the Rivermen will hold "Bruce Saurs Hockey Weekend in Peoria" on the opening weekend of the SPHL season on October 24 and 25 against the Huntsville Havoc. The Rivermen will wear special jerseys to honour Mr. Saurs, and they will look like the following image.
Now, you might be looking at that sublimated image on the uniform and asking, "Who is that?" That image is the Peoria Journal Star's picture of Saurs drinking from the IHL's Turner Cup during the 1990-91 season. That's a great memory to immortalize when speaking of Mr. Saurs, but I'm not entirely sure it should be worn on a jersey. That just seems a little creepy to me.

There's no doubt that without Mr. Saurs' vision and dedication to the Rivermen that this franchise may not even exist today. He legitimately deserves to be remembered for his legacy in the city of Peoria. However, this memorial jersey seems a little tacky.

I don't know - maybe I'm way off on this one. Maybe this is an appropriate memorial for the man who kept professional hockey alive in Peoria. Maybe this is the best way for a man who loved the game to be remembered by the players and fans who loved the team he kept in Peoria. Maybe I just don't know what is appropriate when honouring the memory of a man who did so much for his community.

Personally, auctioning off these uniforms after the game is nice, but the gesture would be so much greater if the team had decided to give a portion of the proceeds to Mr. Saurs' favorite charity. However, that's not mentioned in the press release, so the team is profiting directly off Mr. Saurs' passing. Sorry, but that is simply wrong to me. Some may say it's the last act of giving to the team he loved so dearly, but it just comes off as wrong in so many ways.

Rest in peace, Mr. Saurs. You were a dedicated hockey man who gave a community professional hockey when it appeared that they were going to lose their team. No one will forget your contributions, but it seems like you deserve more from the team to which you dedicated your life.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday, 15 September 2014

Confirmed: Pas De Brodeur

Let the world exhale: Martin Brodeur will not be signed by the Montreal Canadiens! Ok, that's not a revelation by any means, but after the suggestion by RDS analyst Vincent Damphousse that Montreal was considering signing the 42 year-old netminder, GM marc Bergevin decided to lay the issue to rest by making a comment. He didn't have to say anything, so the fact that he made a statement with regards to this issue is nice to see. After all, the fate of at least three goaltenders hung in the balance with Brodeur being mentioned as a Canadien, so having the GM speak out should give everyone a little relief based on his comments.

"I already have three goalies on my team, I don’t want four."

That solves that problem, and I commend Marc Bergevin for doing the right thing. Sure, it would be nice to have the Quebecois goalie come home and tend the nets for Les Habitants, but he has exceptional goalies in Carey Price, Peter Budaj, and Dustin Tokarski. As I wrote in my argument against signing Brodeur, "I don't know why everyone is so excited to see Brodeur in the bleu-blanc-et-rouge when both Budaj and Tokarski are just as good and are willing to sit behind Price". I stand firm behind that statement.

The Canadiens have shown a commitment to the three men who took them to the Eastern Conference Final last season, and it's the right decision. There is no second-guessing to be done because the only time Brodeur was linked to the Canadiens in any sort of seriousness was in July. After that, it apparently wasn't something Bergevin was considering. Nor should he.

Sometimes, the right thing to do isn't the most popular. In this case, there is nothing wrong with the unpopular decision. No one in Montreal will even remember these events if Price, Budaj, and Tokarski play as well as they should this season.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Not The Best Answers

TSN's Bob McKenzie sat down with Winnipeg Jets' general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff to discuss his team as the Jets enter Season Four in Winnipeg. If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know that I already believe the Jets are mathematically-eliminated from the 2014-15 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but I thought it may be important to read the GM's comments to see where this ship is going as they bail water this season.

I'll publish a number of comments made by Cheveldayoff, and follow those up with my thoughts. I'll give Chevy credit: he has a vision that he continues to cling to in the face of this looming season but I'm not sure if he'll be here to see it through, though. For example, in his first question Bob McKenzie asked Kevin Cheveldayoff what the Jets need to do to make the playoff for the first time in Winnipeg.
"We need to take a step in a lot of different areas. I think the draft-and-develop model that we have said we are going to employ, we've got Trouba and Scheifele that are products of that. Both had good starts last year to their pro careers and obviously we're looking to them to continue to take steps.

"We were the third-youngest team, I think, in the National Hockey League last year and we're probably roughly going to be around that again. When you are that young collectively you're looking to take steps in a lot of areas. We've made a commitment to a very young leadership core and we believe that as those guys can grow and keep moving together that that is ultimately going to be our strength down the line."
So, um, where does Cheveldayoff actually answer the question about what the Jets need to do with respect to making the playoffs?

Essentially, this answer could be used for about twenty NHL teams. Every single NHL team wants to see their youth improve to the point where they are perennial playoff contenders. With the exception of having Trouba and Scheifele on other rosters, there was nothing that Cheveldayoff identified that will help the Jets make the playoffs this season. He never actually answered the question, and I'd be very worried as a Jets fan for both the outcome of this season and the long-term success of this franchise led by Kevin Cheveldayoff.

He tossed in the following piece at the end of the second question after Bob McKenzie identified the challenges that lay before his team in the coming season with respect to the other teams in his division that not only made the playoffs, but significantly improved themselves in becoming Stanley Cup favorites with their off-season moves.
"We've made obviously a substantial change in the philosophy of the organization when we hired Paul Maurice. And we're really looking forward to having him at the helm from training camp right at the beginning of the season. We think we've seen a lot of players that played very well under Paul and we're looking forward to having him at the helm right from the start."
EXCUSE ME? Your answer was a philosophical change that removed a coach that went 80-79-18 with a guy that went 18-12-5 to close out his first season, and you call that a "significant change"? While a five-game improvement between the two coaches is indeed improvement, it's not the improvement that Chevy needs over a season to make the playoffs. This change comes from changing the core of the team, and the GM has yet to do that. They have paid the core players handsomely, but there is no doubt that the Jets have yet to see the desired results in the standings. So while the Jets can talk about all the experience that Maurice brings behind the bench, there is still a significant drop-off in the results they receive on the ice from their players and in the standings.

Bob McKenzie goes on to ask about the goaltending the Jets have seen, and how it would be fair to say that the goaltendng "needs to be a lot better" over the course of the season.
"We have to earn the opportunity to get to the playoffs. Certainly with Ondrej, he knows that he's a year older, he's a year more experienced, and he's going to have to look at those challenges that he faced last year and grows from them and grow with them."
So rather than just saying yes to a question to which the world know the answer, Chevy protects his highly-paid starter who consistently turns in back-up numbers. Rather than saying yes and challenging his starter to be better, he protects his incumbent by softening the blow by including him in talk about how the whole team needs to be better.

While that's nice to say, the reality is that perhaps Ondrej Pavelec's best simply isn't good enough. That's not say that he can't improve, but it could be why his statistical performances have trended downwards rather than upwards since team moved to Winnipeg three years ago. Perhaps Pavelec has lost a step in his game which is why his statistics have declined. That's not to say that he can't improve to be a good goaltender one more, but rather that he isn't now what he once was. Why is that a negative? Why can't a GM motivate a player by calling him out when they NEED his to play better?

Cheveldayoff also tip-toed around Blake Wheeler's comments where he seemingly called out the team and singled out Evander Kane.
"From what I understand those comments certainly came in the context of... we all have to. 'We' meaning the players. I think we all have to, and I think... there's a level where they can be better. I don't look at those things as any one individual thing. It's a matter of there being a lot of players on this team that do care, and they're going to put their hearts on the line."
Really? Does this GM even watch his team play? There were more than a few players who appeared to sleepwalk through games in the last three seasons. It appeared that this team was a collection of individuals most nights as opposed to being one team moving in the same direction. The guys he brought in - Devin Setoguchi, Alexei Ponikarovsky - have visibly been somewhere else mentally when they wore Jets' colors, and the same could be said for guys like Evander Kane, Nikolai Antropov, and Dustin Byfuglien most nights.

Paul Maurice has a big job to do during training camp to get all 22 players on the same page when this season starts. If some players don't buy in, it's up to Kevin Cheveldayoff to pull the trigger on acquiring someone who will buy in so that this team becomes bigger than its individual parts. And Chevy's trade track record is one where he won't do that.

Bob McKenzie asked about the free agent signing of Mathieu Perreault and what he will mean to the Jets this season.
"He's a real good complementary player to a lot of different things. He's good on faceoffs, he's got some good quickness in his short game, and (age-wise) we think there's still room for growth in his game, so we're excited about having a bit of a different look down the middle with Bryan Little, Mark Scheifele, him, and a healthy Jim Slater... we think we'll be a much deeper team there."
Deeper? Perreault replaces the departed Olli Jokinen. I'm not sure how they get deeper down the middle, especially when Slater has been hurt for the majority of the two seasons. Who is ready to step up if any of those four get hurt? Nic Petan would be a nice fit. Eric O'Dell would be a candidate for a promotion. But the Jets have the same problem as last season: zero NHL depth. Maybe Chevy sees something I don't, but I don't see any additional depth whatsoever.

McKenzie asked Cheveldayoff about the potential to make a trade if needed.
"We have certainly explored that avenue on several different occasions and I think it's not a matter of if you want to or don't want to, it depends if the timing is right and you have a willing partner that makes sense. Certainly it is not something that we are averse to. When the time is right something will happen."
WHAT?!? The only thing that Cheveldayoff has successfully traded for have been draft picks. Even in saying that, he has dealt away more draft picks than he has acquired. His track record of inactivity with regards to acquiring NHL talent is the defining role he has thus far as a GM. So what the hell is he talking about?

Look, the interview was done with a very innocent tone on Mr. McKenzie's part, and I respect the fact that he can't go ripping into a GM. I know that Mr. McKenzie is extremely knowledgeable regarding all facets of the game, though, so I'm not sure how he sat there without breaking into laughter as he bit his tongue. Mr. Cheveldayoff's answers to Mr. McKenzie's answers were, at some points, nearly delusional.

I hope the Jets prove me wrong and have a monster season that results in a playoff spot, but I'm not sharing in the delusion. I can't understand how Mr. Cheveldayoff sees this team as a playoff team unless he still believes he's managing an AHL team. Currently, they are not even close to being an NHL playoff team.

If you believe they are, you might be qualified to be an NHL GM.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday, 13 September 2014

What Does The "E" Stand For?

Some may look at these boots and figure that the ice crew in Dallas will be wearing branded rubber boots this season. That is not the case. No, these boots belong to the newest member of the Dallas Stars family. The Stars held their annual fan festival today, and they unveiled their newest addition at the event. The reason there wasn't a major announcement is because this new addition will spend more time off the ice than on it, but he should bring smiles to kids faces if they don't turn and run in the opposite direction.

Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to introduce you to Victor E. Green.
You may be asking what Victor E. Green is, and I have to admit that I can't tell you. He's furry, he has hockey-stick shaped antennae, it appears he has some sort of bird's nest on his head, and he's a Dallas Stars fan.

In all seriousness, he's apparently some sort of alien - Stars? stars? get it? - based on his bio picture. His birthplace is "a galaxy far, far away", his roommate is the Zamboni, his relationship status is "alienated", and his favorite movies are "ET, Monsters Inc., and Wall-E". The Stars are really stretching on this mascot, but I appreciate them tying everything together - primary color, logo, and mascot - in one package, albeit a rather strange package. He looks less like an alien and more like a furry, bipedal, four-limbed insect.

That being said, kudos to the Dallas Stars for trying to reach out to the younger generation and for producing an immediately-recognizable marketing tool. Dallas has been playing to sections of empty green seats in the American Airlines Arena for far too long, so hopefully Victor E. Green can start getting some of the younger demographic to prompt their parents for tickets to the hockey game so they can spend time laughing and interacting with Dallas' newest teammate.

Fans of the Dallas Stars took to Twitter to voice their opinions. It seems that Victor E. Green is already polarizing fans to either love him or hate him.
Look, there's nothing wrong with Victor E. Green on the surface. Sure, it might be hard to determine that he's an alien without that biography sheet, but there are lots of mascots out there that don't necessarily fit into their teams' overall marketing plan. The Winnipeg Jets have Mick E. Moose. The Toronto Maple Leafs have Carlton the bear. The Dallas Stars have Victor E. Green. Not so different, is it?

You can pile on the Stars for having a weird-looking alien as their mascot, but let's make one thing very clear: if you spend that much time worrying about the mascot and you're older than twelve years-old, you're going to miss a great season of Dallas Stars hockey.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday, 12 September 2014

Jets Get Gaudreau'd

Johnny Gaudreau came into the NHL with the Calgary Flames with a little hype about what he could do with a stick in his hands and skates on his feet. The 2014 Hobey Baker Award winner was a star with the Boston College Eagles in the NCAA and helped the USHL's Dubuque Fighting Saints win the Clark Cup championship in 2010-11. Of course, Gaudreau played in his only NHL game last season in the final game of the season, but he scored his first NHL goal on his only NHL shot to date. Again, the kid is pretty good at hockey.

The Calgary Flames' prospects rolled into Penticton, BC for a rookie tournament with a few other teams, and they met up with the Winnipeg Jets' prospects tonight. Johnny Gaudreau suited up for the Flames in tonight's match-up, and he showed why the Flames are pumped to have this kid in their lineup this season. Check out this goal.
That is a backhand shot that came out of nowhere with very little room, and he went shelf over Connor Hellebuyck's shoulder in impressive fashion! Jets defender Nikolas Brouillard also looked like a pylon in his rather feeble effort to knock the puck off Gaudreau's stick, so he deserves to be mentioned in Gaudreau's pretty goal as well. No offence to Brouillard, but that's the style of defensive play that will have him back with the QMJHL's Drummondville Voltigeurs pretty quickly.

"[Morgan Klimchuk] hopped off the ice there," Gaudreau told Aaron Vickers of the Calgary Flames. "A lot of credit to him just hopping off and letting me get a little breakaway. I just stuck it between a guy's legs and took a little shot on net. Luckily it went in.

"I saw the little scrum next to our bench and saw a puck pop out as I was getting off the bench. I just tried to get it to the net. It was a nice little move there and I just tried to get it in the net. Hopefully I can keep going."

Make no mistake about it: Johnny Gaudreau is a solid player. If you need to get your Flames jersey customized, he looks like he could be the next Iginla in Cow-town.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!