A National Holiday/Obsession?

Only 3:49:17 to go and I am counting the digital minutes.

The 3 pm (EST) deadline is closing and I am live blogging.

We have too much time on our hands here in Canada

Today is NHL trade deadline day and it’s an unofficial national holiday in the land of ice and snow.

In Toronto there are three competing television networks, over 20 talking heads and counting and 26 hours of combined coverage to let us know that Brendan Bell was put on waivers by the Ottawa Senators and Antoine Vermette was traded to Columbus for Pascal LeClaire and a second round pick.

Talk about putting the "care" in I don’t care."

Hold a minute, breaking news: Montreal recalled goaltender Marc Denis from Hamilton (AHL affiliate) and the Thrashers place Eric Perrin on waivers.

Now things are heatin ‘ up!

This is interesting: Flames in pursuit of Ollie Jokinen for Matthew Lombardi.

Now back to Nick Kypreos and his Blackberry.

Wait! Don’t change the channel. Darren Pang is about to say something.

Hold On! Jordan Leopold is going back to Calgary and he’s on the phone right now! TSN has him on the line. Live! Nice scoop guys.

Pierre McGuire is arguing with TSN host Darren Dutchyshen . Good television.

Let’s see what’s up with the Score Television Network.

Damn! An interview with Randy Sportak from the Calgary Sun.

Maybe The Score got the scoop. I don’t know I wasn’t watching them. I’m sure that disapoints The Score management. All that market research and over priced beer ads.

Hey! My old buddy Marty McSorley just made a cameo on Sportsnet. He’s debating the merits of Miroslav Satan. Thanks to TSN, maybe it was Sportsnet who told me the Penguins put him on waivers.

This is big.: Alex Ovechkin has a sore foot.

It’s almost noon and the waiver wire deadline is approaching.

McGuire is giving Oilers’ management a thrashing right now.

Michael Farber from Sports Illustrated, Steve Simmons from the Toronto Sun and Damien Cox from the Toronto Star are debating the fourth line of the Canucks.

Phoenix just traded Mikael Tellqvist to the Buffalo News ? For a fourth round draft pick.

Darren Pang and Keith Jones love the trade. McGuire is over the moon about it and he calls it a "positive day for the Buffalo Sabres."

Bob Mackenzie from TSN informs us at 12:03 (EST) pm that the Leafs just picked up Marty Gerber from Ottawa on recallable waivers and Darren Dreger says the Leafs might shut down Vesa Toskala for a while because of hip and groin problems.

The Leafs are practicing on live television at the Lakeshore Lions Arena in south Toronto. Where’s Vesa?

Are they going to trade him?

Had enough yet?

According to Sportsnet there is 2:46:51 left.

You can’t do that! I want my Kypreos back. He’s leaving.

The Score and Sportsnet are in commercial break right now.

Just enough time to check the weather in Slovenia.

Where’s Alan Eagleson?

Former Tampa Bay Lightning GM Jay Feaster is having a heated debate with Matthew Barnaby about Dominic Moore.

I wonder what’s gonna happen to him?
The Score says the Islanders are 2500-1 to win the Cup.

It’s 12:30 pm now and I’m going to find what’s left of my pathetic life.

2:30:10 and counting…

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Pens And Habs Fans Wage Cyberspace Battle For Votes

Due to a computer glitch, the NHL is at the centre of a cyberspace battle that rages between fans of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Montreal Canadiens.

 

The league’s All Star voting process has been tainted by fans and blog sites alike, to stuff the ballot box by any means necessary.

 

In a Nov. 11 home game against the Ottawa Senators, it was reported that the Canadiens heavily promoted all star voting during the game. One day ahead of the official start of voting.

 

When early results were tabulated, it was unusual to see all six Eastern Conference starters from the Canadiens

 

After these results, rumours surfaced that there was ballet box stuffing going on in Montreal.

 

Various news agencies investigated why the totals were so disparagingly high for Canadiens’ players while other notable stars such as Sidney Crosby, Evgeny Malkin and Alexander Ovechkin were far off in the distance.

 

So, why were the votes so highly in favour of Les Glorieux?

 

Along with legitimate votes, a user on a Canadiens fans site urged people to vote using an automated program called Greasemonkey (a Firefox extension that allows the user to take control of a specific website browser).  The program allows users to vote over and over again and this would explain why all six starters, at one point, were all Habs.

 

According to NHL voting rules, fans are allowed to vote, via internet and text messaging, as many times as they like but are prohibited from using automated voting machines.

 

“Use of automatic voting methods is prohibited,” says the NHL website. “The NHL will have in place monitoring procedures designed to prevent individuals from unfairly influencing the outcome of the voting by generating significant blocks of votes using technical enhancements.”

 

The NHL moved quickly on this and eliminated thousands of votes from Canadiens’ players, including 20,000 from Alexei Kovalev alone. The NHL took preventative measures and now the league claims that every real time vote you see has been cast by a real person.

 

Against the overwhelming number of votes, illegal or otherwise, going Montreal’s way, a popular Penguins blog site decided to do something about it.

 

On Dec. 10 fans were encouraged to vote and get Crosby and Malkin ahead of Kovalev and Canadiens captain Saku Koivu.

 

Whether this message had any effect on the vote standings is impossible to say but as of Dec. 25, Crosby and Malkin lead the Eastern Conference in voting, ahead of Kovalev and Koivu.

 

So far no rumuors of automated programs have surfaced from Pittsburgh.

 

Currently, Kovalev is third in voting; approximately 480,000 votes ahead of sixth-place Ovechkin, which brings another interesting facet to this debate.

 

The Penguins have entered into a relationship with the Washington Capitals to further drive this voting war.

 

The collective effort is called the “Unholy Alliance” and they have made it clear what their intentions are.

 

“This one time only would bring Pens/Caps fans together to try and stun the world and get A.O. (Alexander Ovechkin) into the top three of the All Star voting,” said the Pens blog site.

 

“Yes, A.O. is a jackoff, but a Sid-Malkin-A.O. line in the All Star game would be a lot of fun on almost every level. Not to mention it would completely humiliate Habs fans.”

 

This isn’t the first time that ballot stuffing and agenda driven results have been effective.

 

 Two years ago, 22-year-old Steve Schmid thought it would be a great idea to vote a hard-working, journeyman into the all star game. He chose Vancouver Canucks’ defenceman Rory Fitzpatrick. The “Vote for Rory” phenomenon was born.

 

Media outlets picked up on this and a few weeks later Canucks’ players were wearing “Vote for Rory” T-shirts. Rory’s supporters started promoting him with video montages on You Tube and soon after he was written about in publications like Sports Illustrated and the New York Times.

 

At that time, Fitzpatrick had nine NHL goals in his career. He had spent a month on the sidelines with a broken ankle and his name was nowhere to be found on any official NHL ballots.

 

On the strength of Schmid’s campaign, Fitzpatrick rose through the ranks to third in the Western Conference. He finished behind Nicklas Lidstrom and Scott Neidermayer.

 

To his credit Fitzpatrick backed out and never played in the 2007 All Star game in Dallas, Texas.

 

Any way you look at it the NHL has created a fair amount of publicity for itself. Although it’s hard to say if they wanted it through illegal voting. Judging by the desperate straits the league is in, they may take publicity any way they can get it.

 

 

 

                                                                          

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s The Deal With Cujo?

When former Leafs GM Cliff Fletcher signed back-up goalie Curtis Joseph to a one-year deal on Canada Day, visions of Cujo’s former brilliance danced in fans’ heads.

 

The Keswick, Ont. native was brilliant in his first stint with Toronto. He was a nightly highlight reel who posted three consecutive 30+ win seasons and finished second in  Vezina voting in 1999 and 2000.

 

Many have said he was the best goalie in these parts since Johnny Bower backstopped  their last Stanley Cup in 1967.

 

Joseph was so popular the city fathers should have given him the  key to the city, or, at least, named a holiday after him.

 

However, Joseph is six-years removed from his last stay in Toronto and it looks painfully obvious that he is not close to what he once was.

 

Nor should he be, but at 41 years of age, the ravages of time have finally caught up with him.

 

While the starter gets the glory, the position of back-up goaltender is often looked on as a mere afterthought. Unless you have a Martin Brodeur type, who plays 70+ games a year, it’s crucial the back-up be more than a warm body to fill the 4X6.

 

A perfect example of that is Ty Conklin. When Penguins starter Marc-Andre Fleury went down with a high ankle sprain last year, Conklin came in a won his first seven starts and went an impressive 17-6-5.

 

While nobody expects Joseph to match those lofty numbers, it seems he won’t be getting much of an opportunity to fulfill his contractual obligations.

 

Judging by Cujo’s season results (0-4, 4.12 GAA) head coach Ron Wilson let his actions do the talking.

 

In an 8-5 loss to the Bruins on Dec 18., Joseph replaced Toskala early in the first but surrendered four goals in ten shots during the second period.. When the Leafs pulled the game back to 6-5, Wilson sent Toskala back into the net to start the third period.

 

During his post-game autopsy, Wilson bristled at the idea that Joseph was near the end. Though he wasn’t exactly clear why he put Toskala back in for the third period he offered no rationale for the decision.

 

Two nights later the Leafs were in Atlanta and Toskala was sidelined with a groin strain. The Leafs called up Toronto Marlies (Leafs AHL affiliate) goalie Justin Pogge to start the game while Joseph languished on the bench.

 

A humiliating 8-2 home loss to the Dallas Stars on Dec 23., crystallized the point.

 

Toskala was the victim of a porous defensive effort. He gave up seven goals in 31 minutes of work and then was replaced by Joseph.

 

That begs the question as to why Wilson kept Toskala in net for seven goals.

 

Even the most optimistic Leaf fan wasn’t convinced of a Boston style rally.

 

So, there was no tangible reason for Toskala to hear a barrage of cat calls and jeers from the surly 19,000 in attendance.

 

Wilson has simply lost confidence in Joseph and, in Pogge, the Leafs have an escape clause.

 

The Leafs are in re-building mode and it seems obvious that Pogge is going to get a chance to play more often. Although he was returned to the minors when Toskala proclaimed he was fit to play against Dallas.

 

Pogge is a middle-of-the-road AHL goalie but Leafs GM Brian Burke lacks a soft spot for Joseph like Fletcher did.

 

Many believe that Pogge’s one-game audition may turn into a series of games.. If he performs well it may force the Leafs to make a decision on Josephs’ future with the club.

 

One potential outcome would be to buy-out Joseph and promote him within the organization, likely at a coaching level (a similar move happened last month when Luke Richardson retired with the Ottawa Senators).

 

Joseph has 449 wins, fourth all-time, and he wears Teflon in this city. However, there is no room for the hazy memories of the past. His recent performance has been sub-par and sentimentality won’t cut it for Burke and that, for Joseph, may be the deepest cut of all.

 

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trouble In The Nation’s Capital

 

Following a listless 4-1 loss to the Atlanta Thrashers on Dec. 16, a chorus of boos could be heard throughout Scotiabank Place in Ottawa.

 

It seems the fans of the Senators have finally come to the realization that their beloved team are in a world of hurt and they let their voices do the talking.

 

It should not surprise them.

 

Following a five game loss to the Anaheim Ducks in the 2007 Stanley Cup finals, the Sens opened the following season like a bullet from a gun.

 

Riding the anger of their Cup loss they opened the season 15-2, an NHL record.

 

From that point on something went horribly wrong.

 

Following a 3-0 loss to Toronto on Nov. 17 the Senators’ engine coughed and sputtered to the finish line. With the various ways to gather points in a hockey game, they still were an abysmal nine games below .500 when the season ended in mid-April.

 

They limped into the play-offs with four wins in their last ten and finished tied with Boston for eighth, two points ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes.

 

The play-offs are supposed to be a new season where the slate is washed clean and wins and losses don’t mean anything.

 

Prior to their opening round match-up against Pittsburgh, the talk emanating from the Senators dressing room was a study in the persuasive art of the cliché.

 

You know the kind of thought provoking stuff hockey players come up with.

 

“It’s a new season. Everybody is tied and we’ve just got to come together.”

 

So on and so forth.

 

Apparently they were not listening. A four-game sweep at the hands of the Stanley Cup finalists sent the Senators to the driving range before the snow left the ground.

 

This season things aren’t any better. The Sens are 12th in the East with a 12-14-5 record and they are the sports focal point in a town where government and politics rule the landscape.

 

Phone lines are jammed on the local sports radio station.

 

Irate callers play Gil Grissom by examining the cadaver that is the Ottawa Senators.

 

Dany Heatley, Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza have scored exactly 50 per cent of the Sens 72 goals.

 

They have no secondary scoring whatsoever.

 

Support players paid to score haven’t fulfilled that role. Chris Kelly (three goals), Antoine Vermette (three goals), Nick Foligno (four goals), Chris Neil (two goals) and Mike Fisher (three goals) are simply not doing their jobs.

 

Head coach Craig Hartsburg has tried many times to split the big three up and spread the offensive wealth around. More often than not Hartsburg ends up re-uniting them.

 

Last week Hartsburg said he was going to split them up permanently. This time for sure.

 

There seems to be a “why us?” type of resignation and a general malaise hanging around this team, like flies on a hot day.

 

Question: what needs to be done to shake this up?

 

Answer: there are more questions than answers.

 

There have been four head coaches since 2007 so firing the coach is not that easy. Murray fired John Paddock last Feb. and went behind the bench for the rest of the year. During the summer he signed Hartsburg to a three-year deal. With only seven months spent on his deal, Harstburg isn’t going any where.

 

To get something you must give something up. So, that leaves the big three as the only movable assets.

 

Rumour has Spezza on the trade block. Spezza is a dynamic offensive player but an $8 million (all figures U.S.) ticket and a no-trade clause that kicks in next season, the Toronto native is tough to move.

 

On the flipside, do the Senators take the chance he may blossom on another team?

 

Heatley is the highest paid player in the league at $10 million a year. He is on a sub par 30 plus goal pace but trading him gives the impression that the Senators are packing it in for the year.

 

Alfredsson has spent his entire career in Ottawa and just signed a four-year contract extension. He is on the wrong side of thirty and no team would take on that deal.

 

The most likely scenario would be to exercise a little patience.

 

Senators’ owner Eugene Melnyk thinks it takes time for the players to adjust to a new situation.

 

“I truly believe we will wind up in the top four in the conference,” Melnyk told Chris Stevenson of Sun Media. “Watch this team. You are going to be very, very surprised. We have nine new players. We have a new coach. We have a new system.”

 

Melnyk is an upbeat kind of guy but this reeks of owners speak. After all, you can’t give the impression that you have thrown up the white flag before the calendar turns. That would be suicide on and off the ice.

 

Maybe the Sens need some time to get away. 

 

They will get that chance starting Dec.23.

 

With the World Junior Hockey Championship invading Scotiabank Place over the Christmas season, the Senators begin an eight-game, 17 day road trip through the North East division and western Canada.

 

The Sens are 3-8-2 on the road and this road trip through eight cities may test the resolve of a patient owner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Will the Leafs trade Kaberle?

Before the skates were even sharpened for the pre-season, Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson, intentionally, sold his team short.

In his daily media scrums, the Windsor, Ont. born coach stuck to the Maple Leafs party line. He was convinced, or so he said, that his hockey club was at their most distressing point in recent history.

In an effort to quell the thirst of 41 years of futility, Wilson made a brilliant P.R. move with the Toronto media.

He used the dreaded word no fan wants to hear, whether it’s true or not.

Rebuild.

That word sent ice through the veins of an impatient, yet loyal, fan base.

Former general manager Cliff Fletcher was even piling heaps of misery on the club he assembled. Fletcher went out of his way to say that his team had one top six player in the line-up.

Following a opening night 3-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings, all those carefully prepared doom and gloom speeches by Wilson set the ground work for a team that isn’t as bad as advertised.

Today, that presents an interesting quandary for the Leafs.

After 29 games played, the Leafs are 11th in the Eastern Conference, five points behind eighth place Buffalo and 11th in the NHL in scoring with 83 goals, one behind ninth place Calgary.

They are neither good or bad and you can’t say they are clearly out of the play-off race.

Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) hired Wilson and Burke on the proviso that they were going to strip the team down and build it back up into a contender.

So what does new GM Brian Burke do with this team?

Does he stand pat or does he trade away assets in return for valuable draft picks?

Although there are four or five movable assets on the Leafs, Tomas Kaberle is clearly the diamond in the coal mine.

The Czech is a rarity in the league: a highly skilled, puck moving defenceman. No doubt several teams, who fancy themselves as Cup contenders, are salivating at the chance to grasp Kaberle from the hands of a new GM looking to make a early splash.

However, it’s not going to be easy to move the defenceman. He has a three year no-trade clause that won’t expire until July 1 of 2009.

The upside of moving him would be worth the effort.

Since the lockout he has led NHL defenceman in scoring with 49 goals and 169 assists, 30 points more than Sharks defenceman Dan Boyle.

Kaberle’s $4.5 million (US) salary is a bargain considering Boyle earns $6.6 million (US) with San Jose.

According to Toronto Sun columnist Steve Simmons, Kaberle has been looking over NHL rosters to see where his style of play best fits in.

Simmons also says that one possible rumour has Kaberle going to Washington for Karl Alzner and a first and second round pick.

The draft is a crap shoot but given Burke’s track record and the Leafs need to acquire assets, the risk may be worth the reward.

Kaberle has a reasonable salary and is young enough to play for three to five more years. If he waives his no-trade clause, he may find himself with a chance to win now and Burke gets what he needs for later.

Former Ducks GM takes two jobs

In what had to be one of the worst kept secrets in Toronto sports history, the Leafs have finally settled on a general manager and president.

Former Anaheim Ducks GM Brian Burke is expected to take both roles when he signs a six-year deal for approximately $18 million US on Nov. 29.

When current Cliff Fletcher replaced John Ferguson Jr. as the Leafs GM last year, Fletcher made it known that he was temporarily filling the void.

After that became clear, the rumours, of a possible successor, floated west and landed on the door step of Burke’s residence in California.

After figuring out that Burke was in the final months of a four-year deal with the Ducks, the Toronto media declared that Burke was the top choice for the most coveted position in professional hockey.

They weren’t wrong.

Amid rumours of tampering, the Leafs threw foam on the fire and went into deny mode.

All that did was fuel the fire with months of speculation that will, thankfully, come to a conclusion on Saturday night.

So, what was the caveat that brought this lousy mystery to an unsatisfying end?

For the Leafs, with a franchise value of around $320 million US and $1.9 million US in per game revenue, it wasn’t the dough.

This was about the presidency of the hockey club.

When Burke officially takes the job on Saturday, he will wrestle the power away from current president Richard Peddie.

In the hierarchy of Maple Leaf hockey, all on-ice decisions were made by Peddie, which included veto power over the GM. The dichotomy is that Peddie is a money man and not a hockey man and many believe he is the main reason for the sub par results the last three years.

With Leaf revenues increasing every year and 18,800 in the building every night why should Peddie care about the teams performance?

Peddie has painted a Picasso when it comes to taking every last nickel from the pocket of Leaf fans but he has punctured a huge hole in the psyche of “Leafs Nation.” (a marketing term used to unite Leaf fans under one banner and to increase Leaf brand awareness among immigrants not familiar with hockey. Cradle to grave as it were).

With Burke in the role of president, it is assumed/hoped that he will sprinkle his magic and transform the Chicago Cubs of hockey into winners by making solid hockey decisions.

Most importantly he has no one looking over his shoulder. He will answer to no one but his own whispers at night. Judging by some of the hockey markets Burke has worked in, he will not be motivated by revenue streams.

Vancouver and Anaheim don’t generate the kinds of cash the Leafs do and he was successful in his endeavors to produce highly competitive teams, including a Stanley Cup 18 months ago with the Ducks.

Long suffering Toronto fans have waited since 1967 to see a Stanley Cup parade wind its way through the streets of Toronto. What’s a few more years between friends in “Leafs Nation.”

Habs in Need

 Expectations in Montreal always run high.

 With the Habs in their centenary year and hosting the All-Star game in late January of 2009, the rabid fans and media, in La Belle Province, think it’s their divine right for a possible return to the Stanley Cup finals, their first since beating the Kings in five in 1993.

 With a surprising first place finish in the Eastern Conference last year, the Canadiens felt they were a couple of players away from taking the next step towards their 25th Stanley Cup.

 Habs GM Bob Gainey made two key additions in hopes of a parade down Rue Ste. Catherine. Gainey picked up Alex Tanguay and Robert Lang, via trade, and added them to a team that was second in the league with 257 goals, one behind the Ottawa Senators.

 Last year the Habs’ power play was first in the NHL. They clicked at a robust 24.1 per cent with 90 goals in 374 chances. In the play-offs their power play ended up at a dismal 14.6 per cent and that was a key reason they lost to the Flyers in the second round.

 In the post season the game becomes a five-on-five battle with mistakes and chances at a minimum. The man advantage separates the winners from the losers.

 Signing Tanguay and Lang garnered big headlines in Montreal but the loss of UFA Mark Streit to the Islanders and the loss of Sheldon Souray to the Oilers, the year before, are more damaging than any transactions the Habs have made.

 They simply haven’t replaced the points that Souray and Streit provided.

 Without Souray and Streit the Habs power play has become a major concern for Les Glorieux. Currently, the Habs are 24th in the league at just under 15 per cent.

 Included in that was a less than glorious 1-33 between Nov. 8 and Nov 18 and a woeful 6 for 55 at home so far this year.

 Every team goes through ups and downs during a season but the style of the game today places so much emphasis on special teams.

 Sometimes you’ve got to give the opposition credit but the Habs simply must do better.

 Lately the Habs have been using Lang on the point along with Andrei Markov. Lang and Markov both lack the big shot that Streit and Souray possessed. Without the big shot, from the point, teams have been collapsing down low and taking away the slot and the two-on-one play by the net.

 Judging by the nightly chorus of boos at the Bell Centre the results have been evident. Too many passes around the perimeter and a lot of hesitant and individual play by the power play units.

 The most ironic thing is that Montreal has six more points than they did last year, at this point, when their power play led the league.

 If the Habs want to make a run deep into June then Gainey has to find a way to pick up a mobile defenceman with a big shot. Easier said than done. There aren’t a lot of guys like that and the teams that have them aren’t giving them away for free.

 Maybe Gainey will wait until the trade deadline to see which teams have fallen by the wayside.

 If not, then the Habs may have to wait for another year and in the pressurized and over anxious atmosphere that is Montreal, another year could feel like a hundred of them.