Final Lamentations: The Omissions and Omens of The Burke Firing.

Yesterday the axe fell, and what a commotion it caused. Like the scattering of fearful birds upon the sound of the falling blade, the media, and more so social media, were abuzz with chatter. Most of the buzz was impassioned agreements or disavowals of TMLSE’s decision to fire General Manager Brian Burke one week before the shortened NHL season begins.

Therein lies the rub methinks; it is the timing of this decision that is suspect. Leafs Executive Vice President Tom Anselmi in a press conference yesterday claimed that the new ownership consortium of telecommunication giants Bell and Rogers had come to this decision shortly after taking over last winter. There have indeed been rumblings since the summer that Bell was never fond of Burke and his influence over the Leafs’ brand.

Unfortunately, that’s how these people think. To Bell and Rogers, the Leafs are not so much a team as they are a brand; a business empire, and unfortunately for Burke, that old business saying “it isn’t personal, it’s business” is often woefully inaccurate.

Let’s, for a moment, examine this move purely in business and hockey terms. While Burke’s blustery, antagonistic attitude was controversial at times, and at other times simply irritating, he did become the most television friendly GM perhaps in the entire league. What will we do now without the long panning shots of Burke in his manager’s box every five minutes of every Leafs’ game?

The Leafs are a team with few household names, Burke was perhaps its biggest star.

Now, I would never argue that this is a healthy state of affairs for any sports franchise, but purely considering business, a TV company such as Bell can surely appreciate the importance of star power. There was not nearly this much fanfare when John Ferguson Jr. Was fired, then again that has as much to do with the bizarre timing of the firing as it does with Burke’s prominence in the Toronto media landscape

Brian Burke is, simply put, newsworthy. How many other GM’s have challenged colleagues to barn-fights? http://www.thestar.com/sports/leafs/article/1096589–leafs-gm-brian-burke-wanted-to-rent-a-barn-to-fight-kevin-lowe

In summation of this point, I find it hard to believe that Bell and Rogers thought that Brian Burke was entirely bad for the brand; if the old adage is true, and I expect for telecommunication companies it is, there is no such thing as bad publicity.

However, because a rather large part of me still wants to believe TMLSE considers hockey sometimes, let’s take a look at this firing purely in terms of hockey.

In their press conference on the matter Nonis and Anselmi talked quite a bit about the performance and trajectory of the team, and how that all influenced ownership’s decision to oust Burke. Nevertheless, would Nonis not be close in blame for this team’s failures, considering he was intimately involved in hockey operations since 2008? In fact Nonis claimed that he would simply be continuing the process Burke started in building this team.

Both Nonis and Anselmi talked about the “building blocks” Burke put in place that will presumably allow this team to continue to improve (although “continuing” is a more than slightly debatable way to put it)

This all raises the question I’ve been asking myself since yesterday, why fire Burke to simply replace him with his right hand man? This is no great ideological shift, nor is it, as is typical in sport, a response to recent failure (The Leafs haven’t played a game since last spring) or overwhelming fan outcry. So what the hell is it?

Allow me to return to the interesting timing of this firing, one week before the shortened season begins.

Anselmi said today that “there is no good time to do this”, and that ownership had reached this decision due to various factors and other vagueries he offered, not, of course, wanting to delve into the nasty business of specifics.

Interestingly, he made it sound as if this decision was reached some time ago, however they still decided to wait until three days before the presumed start of training camp to act on it.

That is the theory that has been supplied, although I find it terribly dissatisfying.

This all smacks of a recent turning point. I’m left thinking that something must have happened, some impasse must have been reached for this sudden and shocking event. And I think we all know what, or I should say who, that impasse is: Roberto Luongo.

Roberto Fucking Luongo: The Hill Brian Burke Died On (Yes, that is inextricably part of the hockey lexicon now, thank Bill Daly)

It seems to me, and this is all conjecture amongst the rumours that have been dispersed as of late, that Leafs’ ownership was eager to get a deal done that would bring the star goaltender to Toronto, and Burke was not prepared to reach Vancouver GM Mike Gillis’ demands. Burke, being a stubborn man of principle, likely flat-out refused to mortgage the future on a deal that might allow the leafs to make the playoffs this year.

We’ll see I suppose. My suspicions will definitely be confirmed if, on Sunday or Monday, when the new CBA is ratified and player movement is once again legal, the Leafs make a quick and costly deal to get Luongo.

Otherwise, it might confirm for me another rumour I’ve heard: that Burke knocked up some Leafs TV employee.

Oh, the sordid affairs of TMLSE; we don’t have championships, but at least we’ll seemingly always have that.

Perhaps there is no better image to describe both the shock, and unsettling nature of this firing than the visage of Dave Nonis, who at yesterday’s press conference looked like he was about to cry. This was not a man who had just received good news.

Word came out today that he asked the Leafs’ brass to give Burke until the end of this year’s shortened season before he was canned; Burke who was his friend and mentor, who he spent the evening prior to his promotion with at the Marlies’ game, no doubt talking about their plans for this year. He appeared as shocked as anyone, perhaps more so, and spent the bulk of his opening remarks praising Burke’s work thus far.

If this all seems strange to you, that’s because it is. This is not a typical move in the world of sport. General Managers are not fired the week before the season starts.

Nevertheless, much of the sports-media-landscape is already rushing to legitimize and falsely contextualize the move, largely because this landscape is dominated by the very entities who own the team in question. That may be the most troubling feature of these recent events: we are starting to see what a Bell/Rogers ownership team will mean for hockey in Toronto.

When the ownership of the Leafs officially changed hands last winter there was considerable debate as to whether it was good or bad for Leafs fans. I simply wondered if they would be as good for Leafs fans as they have been for telecommunication costumers, and by that I mean very bad.

Our North American sensibilities should make us innately distrust monopolies, and that’s what we have here: a sports monopoly. This new monolith controls not only every major sports team in Toronto (if you include Rogers’ ownership of the Blue Jays) but they also, by and large, own the media coverage of those teams, and thus can control the way we view and even interpret sports in Toronto to a significant degree.

While much of our domestic sports media has been busy rationalizing the strangeness of this firing, US media has been openly skeptical: http://espn.go.com/blog/nhl/post/_/id/21249/brian-burke-leafs-fans-deserve-better

As a final note, as one Leaf fan to I’m sure several others, make no mistake: no matter how much you disliked Burke and are happy he’s gone, this is not good news. This is proof that Leafs ownership is as out of touch with the hockey side of their business as ever. This is a tribe with too many chiefs. This is a room full of empty suits trying to make their mark on a piece of history. And before you go judging Burke remember he was run out of town in Vancouver as well, and all he did there was the lion share of building a championship caliber team.

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“I May Be Wrong, But…”: NBA Playoffs First Round Prognostications

Having wrapped up its “sprint to the finish” regular season, the Association now turns its eyes towards what promises to be an extremely entertaining playoffs. There are a multitude of teams who could come away with the crown this year, and I think I speak for most fans when I say that this could be the most unpredictable playoffs in recent memory. I certainly can’t remember a playoffs with this many first round series that could go either way, and it would not surprise me to see a lot of upsets here, particularly because some of the much-hyped teams (i.e. Thunder,

Heat, Bulls) have struggled down the stretch (the Thunder with general team cohesiveness, the Heat with injuries, and the Bulls with the re-introduction of Derrick Rose). All that being said, here are my thoughts on the first round playoff matchups, along with predicted winners for each series (*gulp*).

Western Conference

(1) San Antonio Spurs vs. (8) Utah Jazz

Could the Spurs possibly go out as the number 1 seed two years in a row? I’m inclined to say no. Although the Jazz possess a loaded frontcourt (Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors, and the “Underkanter”), something which gave the Spurs fits last year against Memphis, I believe the experience and depth of the Spurs can overcome the Jazz. Captain Hardass (Gregg Popovich) has somehow turned Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard into serviceable starters; and Stephen Jackson and the “Round Mound of Crème Brûlée” (Boris Diaw) – both great pickups – provide the Spurs with firepower off the bench.

These guys, along with the still-going-strong Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili have allowed the Spurs to function as the most efficient offense in the league this season (something which hasn’t previously been their M.O.).

The Jazz are a young team, and they seem to have a bright future, but I think that Popovich might literally kill his entire roster if they get embarrassed again; for this reason, I’m going with San Antonio in 5 games.

(Look on the bright side Jazz, you did hose Jersey in that Deron Williams trade last year…and they might (read: probably will) lose him in free agency this year!)

(2) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (7) Dallas Mavericks

James Harden: Apparently lost control of his tongue following the elbow from Ron Artest.


I’m really looking forward to this one. To be honest, I don’t really enjoy watching OKC: sure they have Westbrook and Durant, but too often their games devolve into free-throw competitions (we call it “Miami Heat 2006 Finals Syndrome”). On the other hand, I love watching the way Dallas plays (Rick Carlisle is a criminally underrated coach, even after winning a title). Keep in mind, last year Dallas knocked out the Thunder in 5 (I can hear the protests now: “but Matt, the Thunder are a year older and ayear better!”), and Dirk Nowitzki basically dropped a deuce all over Serge Ibaka (this boxscore is ridiculous!).

Dallas lost some key pieces from last year’s title run, but I feel that their falling to 7th place has more to do with a lack of fitness and some internal pressures (see: Kardashian, Lamar) than any deterioration or lack of talent. On the OKC side, whether or not they win depends on two things: 1) Can they pop the dent out of James Harden’s head? and 2) Can Russell Westbrook manage the team? With the constant scrutiny surrounding Westbrook’s liberal shot selection (to put it mildly), I could see OKC imploding if they lose 2 of the first 3 games, which is a distinct possibility. A lot of fanboys are going to hate on me for this one, but I just have a huge suspicion that Dallas is going to come ready to play: Mavs in 6.

(3) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (6) Denver Nuggets

Doing his best KG.


I don’t see any way the Lakers lose this series, even without Metta “the People’s Elbow” World Peace (who, to be honest, isn’t really that important of a cog in the Laker machine anyway). Denver’s a nice story, and they have an interesting assortment of players – Kenneth Faried’s tenacity and Arron Afflalo’s defensive ability have particularly impressed me – but the Lakers are BIG and Denver has nobody who can guard Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum in the post. The Lakers should be able to steamroll their way into the second round, and given that I don’t think he’ll have to do much, this should be the perfect opportunity for Kobe to work his way back into game shape. Lala-land in 5 games.

Note: this is Javale McGee’s first playoff action, so it should be exciting to see what tomfoolery he manages to get up to

(4) Memphis Grizzlies vs. (5) Los Angeles Clippers

Everyone's turning on Blake.


Full disclosure: I don’t like the Clippers. I started out on the Lob City bandwagon, but as the season drew on I became more and more tired of the constant flopping and whining of Chris Paul and the “Golden Boy” Blake Griffin. The way Griffin flops – throwing his head back and contorting his body at the slightest contact – you would think he had been hit by one of those shitty Kia Optimas he endorses, and the only thing that’s flopped harder than Chris Paul this year is John Carter (for God’s sake, Reggie Evans had the worst flop of all-time just last week: apparently this stuff is contagious). While Paul is a great player (I don’t think I’ve ever seen him miss a midrange jumper late in the game) and controls the tempo of a game like no other, the other members of the Clippers are just too limited at this point (not to mention horrendous free throw shooters) for me to predict a deep run in these playoffs. On the other hand, the Grizz are my darkhorse pick to make the finals. Marc Gasol has really come into his own the past couple years, and along with Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph forms a formidable frontcourt. Tony Allen might be the best perimeter defender in the league (he completely shut down LeBron James while playing for the Celtics in 2010); between Allen and Mike Conley, Paul will have a great defender guarding him at all times, which should slow him down. The Grizz have all the pieces to take down the Clips; in the battle between style and substance, I’m going with substance. Grizz in 6.

Eastern Conference

(1) Chicago Bulls vs. (8) Philadelphia 76er’s

Philadelphia really fell off for the middle portion of the season, and I can’t help but feel that Doug Collins (also a hardass) has at least somewhat lost the room. The 76er’s suffer the same malady as the Denver Nuggets out west: they have a lot of interesting complimentary pieces, but no true star (Andre Iguodala should not be your star player). The Bulls haven’t looked great coming into the postseason either, and Derrick Rose has looked particularly bad coming back from his numerous injuries. That being said, the Bulls are just too good to lose to Philly, and if the games are close at the end I trust Derrick Rose a hell of a lot more than anyone on the Sixers to make a big play. Bulls in 5.

(2) Miami Heat vs. (7) New York Knicks

Healthy Bosh and Wade will most likely be the difference.

Oh Baby: the star power in this series has Super Mario shitting his pants. The Knicks have been a rollercoaster all season: the uninspired play to start the season, followed by Linsanity, followed by the post-Linsanity “Carmelo ruins the chemistry” saga, followed by the “Carmelo takes over“ period, and finally the “Can Amare and Carmelo co-exist?” drama; what a ride! The Heat’s season has been tame in comparison, particularly when juxtaposed with the excitement which was last season. The Knicks are the deeper team (JR Smith, Baron Davis, and Steve Novak are all solid contributors) but LeBron, Wade and Bosh (who I tend to favour over Stoudemire at this point) will be very difficult to overcome. A lot will hinge on whether Amare and Carmelo can co-exist (they’re too similar on the offensive end). If both of them can get going simultaneously – which hasn’t really happened since they teamed up – it could cause headaches for the Heat. Tyson Chandler (who has quietly been brilliant for the Knickerbockers) could also have a huge impact if he can deter Wade and James from taking the ball inside; tactically, it would not surprise me in the least if the Knicks threw in some zone defense to dare the Heat to take jumpers. While LeBron has been his typical MVP self all season (he will win that award, by the way), Wade and Bosh have recently been hampered by injuries. The Heat could lose this series if either of those guys misses games (more so Bosh since the Heat has nobody else inside). I think this one will be close, and I fully expect the Knicks to get a huge boost from their home town crowd, but ultimately I think the Heat can pull this one out. Heat in 6 (Spike Lee loses his mind as Wade eliminates the Knicks at MSG).

(As an aside, how awesome is it going to be watching LeBron and Carmelo guard each other for an entire series?!)

(3) Indiana Pacers vs. (6) Orlando Magic

My personal feelings toward Dwight Howard aside, he is a fantastic player and a huge difference maker. Without him the Magic have no chance in this series, particularly against a sneaky good Indiana Pacers squad (who is flying really far under the radar, just the way they want it I’m sure). Free agent signing David West has been rounding into form for the Pacers, so I will be extremely interested to see if he can maintain his level of play heading into a likely second round matchup with Miami. The Pacers are definitely better than the Magic sans Howard; this series will not be close. Pacers in 5.

The Artifice of Intensity

(4) Boston Celtics vs. (5) Atlanta Hawks

Due to a better record, the Hawks will actually have home court in this matchup of perennial playoff teams. The Hawks always give me the vibe that they don’t really enjoy basketball, or give a crap in general (see their home blowout loss to the Raptors). And to be honest, home court advantage means nothing to the Hawks since their crowd seems to give less of a crap than the Hawks themselves. The Celtics on the other hand are always motivated: Kevin Garnett will surely be beating his chest and hitting his head against shit prior to game one (“He’s so intense!”). The Celtics have received surprise contributions from rookie Greg Stiemsma and second year guard Avery Bradley (let me say, you have to watch this guy play defense at the point guard position, it’s something else). Bradley’s surprise play has even led to the relegation of Ray Allen to the bench, adding to the Celtics depth. Josh Smith has had a fantastic season for the Hawks and Joe Johnson has been Joe Johnson (which is to say that he has been the most boring repeat all-star ever), but for the Hawks to win it is going to take a Herculean effort by these two. Frankly I don’t think they have it in them: the Celtics are built for the playoffs, and their depth and experience hold them in good stead. Celtics in 6.

So there you have it: my take on the first round of the NBA playoffs. Be sure to come back in two weeks and make fun of my incorrect picks! Until then, enjoy what promises to be a thoroughly entertaining first act.

Written by Matthew Davie

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Grindhouse: Western Conference Second Round Preview

As we move into the second round of this year’s playoffs, we’re bound to hear one verb a lot in the Western Conference: grind. You commentators better whip out your thesauruses now, because this Western Semi-Final features some of the most defensively oppressive teams in the league.

I sincerely hope everyone enjoyed the Penguins and Flyers imitation of lacrosse games in round one, because you might not see another goal for awhile, if you’re watching the west.

Let’s consider some statistics on each of our final four teams:

#2 St. Louis:

  • First during the NHL’s regular season in Goals Allowed per Game at only 1.89.

  • 21st in the league in Goals Scored per Game with just 2.51

vs.

#8 Los Angeles:

  • Second in the NHL in Goals Against with 2.07 allowed per game over the regular season.

  • 2.29 Goals Scored per Game. Good enough for second-worst in the NHL. That’s right. Second-worst regular season offense to the second round of the playoffs.

Forget the seeding in this match-up. It’s not second seed versus eighth seed. This is a battle between the number one and two defences (and two of the worst offences) in the NHL. The only thing that can be definitively said about this series is that it will be tight.

Does Quick have some more upset-magic left?

Neither team possesses much of an edge in goaltending. The Blues can play either Brian Elliott or Jaroslav Halak, and both will be stellar. The King’s, meanwhile, have Jonathan Quick, a Vezina candidate and criminal mastermind who is responsible for stealing their first round series against the Canucks.

As for offense, LA has some star power in Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Mike Richards, and Dustin Brown, but St. Louis has the only two players in this series who are in the top ten in playoff scoring, with Andy McDonald and Patrik Berglund, who have eight and seven points, respectively.

So what it really comes down to, both offensively and defensively, is whichever of these two hard-working teams… works hardest.

My prediction: St. Louis takes the series in 6 games, and wins at least one game by a score of 0.5-0 when the referees decide, in the 8th overtime period, that a puck stopped on the goal line should count as half a goal, and that they’d like to get home in time to see their children grow up.

#3 Phoenix:

  • Fifth in Goals Allowed during the regular season with 2.37 allowed per game.

  • 18th in offense with 2.56 Goals per Game.

vs.

#4 Nashville:

  • Tenth in Goals Against with a whopping 2.50 allowed per game.

  • An impressive eighth in goal scoring, at 2.83 Goals per Game. The clear offensive juggernaut of the Western Conference Semi-Finals.

Once again, trying to pick a favourite in this series based on goaltending is pointless. Pekka Rinne is a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, and the Chicago Blackhawks are still arguing that the league forgot to put a net in Phoenix’s end of the rink after Mike Smith finished their first round series with a 1.81 GAA and a .953 Save %.

Offensively, picking a winner is easier. But I have a feeling that if I was to ask by show of hands who knew that Ray Whitney was the highest scoring player on both teams during the regular season I’d get a crowd of full pockets. The 39 year-old finished tied for 9th in the regular season with 77 points, but had only a goal and two assists in the first round.

Nashville famously beefed up their tenth-best offense by convincing Alexander Radulov to emigrate from the KHL shortly after the trade deadline. Radulov had five points in five games against Detroit in the first round, but his elite talents suggest he is capable of much more. The Predators will likely continue to score by committee, as they did all season long, but having a game-breaker like Radulov in the line-up gives them an added edge over the Coyotes.

Unless the game goes to overtime, and then we can assume Mikkel Boedker will find a way to get the puck in the net.

With Raffi Torres serving out a life sentence in Rikers for his hit on Marian Hossa, Nashville’s top defensemen can breathe easy. No Torres means that the Predators have a clear advantage in size and physicality from the likes of Shea Weber, Paul Gaustad, Jordin Tootoo, and, when healthy, Hal Gill.

My prediction: Nashville in 7 games.

If one thing is clear about the second round, its that the excitement in the Western Conference is not likely to come in the form of crazy dangles, and highlight reel goals. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t expect excitement. It’s going to be a battle. And I wouldn’t be surprised if there aren’t a few casualties before its all over.

Written by Roy Heron.

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Philadelphia, the Beast in the East, Highlights the Second Round.

A preview of the second round in the East; if it’s anything like the first, you need not read any further.

New York Vs Washington:

Does Washington turn up the offense on New York?

New York in seven was the only series I predicted correctly (in terms of games, I also predicted NJ to win, but that’s about all I got right) and it may have been the one I went most out on a limb for. Judging by stats, Ottawa should have been easy prey for the best team in the East, but this was a New York team that was largely untested. Well, not anymore I suppose.

I think New York now emerges as a much clearer front runner, having made it through the first round where upsets typically abound (just ask Vancouver). Game seven was perhaps the Rangers’ best game, as evidenced by their near perfect defensive play in the third period. When the Sens’ need for a goal was most dire, New York shut them down. It was the exact kind of hockey John Tortorella wants his team playing, and that bodes well for the Blueshirts in round 2.

However, let’s not forget the feat accomplished by the Capitals in the first round. They lulled the defending champs into the kind of slow, dispassionate game they prefer to play, and it worked, if just barely. If they manage to repeat that effort this could be the most boring series in recent memory. But I don’t think they will.

Ottawa was most successful against New York when they committed, all out, to offensive pressure. When they tried to play New York’s tight-checking, defence first style, they couldn’t compete. Perhaps coach Hunter will make note of this and give Ovie a little more leeway to play his game, or at any rate, what his game used to be. If the Capitals’ scorers are given carte blanche to play a little more free-wheeling, this could be a more interesting series.

The Line: Rangers in 7.

Philadelphia Vs. New Jersey:

More of this in the second round?

Who didn’t fall in love, just a little, with the Flyers in the first round? With their style of play, you know, hitting everything that moves and scoring 5 goals or more each game, who couldn’t get excited to watch them? Even The Devils, world renowned for inventing the most boring style of play in hockey history, look a little more exciting lining up next to Philadelphia’s motley crew.

For The Flyers to be successful, the first thing they’ll need is goal-tending. That’s no secret. Ilya Bryzgalov’s 3.89 GAA is not going to be good enough going forward. He only looked good in comparison to Marc Andre Fluery, which is like saying a black eye looks good next to a kick in the pants. This may have been the worst goalie dual in NHL playoff history. But that’s okay, watching 10-15 goals a night was fun. However, if Philly is to be successful in the later rounds, they will need better than the worst GAA among active goalies. Mr. Universe has the ability to be great, he just needs to access that ability regularly. If he does, he’d be The Flyer’s first consistent playoff-goalie since Bernie Parent.

New Jersey however, must simply weather the storm. Philadelphia thrives off conflict, they devoured Pittsburgh largely because The Penguins’ lost their heads as a result of The Flyers sometimes questionable, always vicious play. New Jersey’s young defence core must keep their cool, and try to keep The Flyers to the perimeter. Also, to win this series, which is an uphill battle for sure, they will need a vintage performance from Martin Brodeur. Whether or not he has that in him remains to be seen.

The Line: Philly in 5.

There are my thoughts, but I strongly advise you weigh them carefully before betting your house on them, as nearly everyone was wrong about the first round, and there are many wild cards kicking around the second round.

Enjoy round two.

Written by Jesse Borg.

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The Good, The Bad, and the Disgusting: How The Playoffs that started ugly, ended much uglier.

“It’s a battle I think will always be there”. Unfortunately, Joel Ward, who scored the overtime winning goal for Washington in game 7, was not talking about hockey. He was talking about race, bigotry to be exact, and how it revealed its ugly visage by way of a barrage of tweets following his overtime heroics.

Many disgruntled Boston fans, and a few fans of other NHL teams, took to their computers following Boston’s defeat and, using language most of us think belongs to antiquity, displayed their outrage that Boston would lose, at the hands of a black man no less.

Some of you might remember that this is not the first time this year race as come up in the NHL. There was the Wayne-Simmonds-banana-throwing-incident, where a London Ontario native threw a banana at Simmonds, also a black player, while attempting a breakaway.

In both cases the offended player has been overwhelmingly gracious, but also, unsurprised. Joel Ward said, when asked about the blatant bigotry aimed towards him since Boston’s elimination, “I’m a black guy playing a predominantly white sport. It’s just going to come with the territory. I’d feel naive or foolish to think that it doesn’t exist”, which is probably true, but disgustingly unnecessary. Why should it be the case that this would “come with the territory”? – this is more than an insult I’ll remind you, it’s an infringement on someone’s rights as outlined in The Charter of Rights and Freedoms –  Why is it merely unfortunate?

Joel Ward said all the racist vitriol "didn't ruin my day". While we should all be outraged, I have to respect his swag.

This story has been, by and large, a minor one. The conventional wisdom here seems to be that we shouldn’t give such people any thought. The problem with that is, by way of our lack of consideration, these attitudes don’t change, and the behaviour stays relatively consistent. Instead we should pay this kind of thing a lot of attention, and I don’t mean wide-eyed astonishment that such people still exist, I mean outrage.

Written by Jesse Borg.

Reap What You Sow: Dwight Howard Could Lose More Than Just the Rest of His Season

Dwight Howard: All Star centre, and man-child.

Dwight Howard is a man-child and a diva.  His actions this past season have proven this, and have left a sour taste in the mouth of most NBA observers, myself included.  His indecision and lack of professionalism have brought the Orlando Magic franchise to its knees, and despite his decision to opt-in to the final year of his contract I doubt he will remain with the Magic past next season (if they do not decide to trade him first).

When it was discovered last week that Howard had a herniated disk in his back and was going to miss some games, the timing seemed extremely beneficial to Dwight. His coach, Stan Van Gundy, had just revealed (in hilarious fashion) that, despite showing questionable allegiance to the Magic all year, Howard had repeatedly gone to management and asked for Van Gundy to be fired.  Dwight had been denying this for weeks, and in fact had been pretending to be best buddies with Van Gundy in media sessions (Van Gundy reluctantly having to go along with it).  When the media revealed to Dwight that it had been Van Gundy himself who had confirmed the rumours, the look of confusion on Howard’s face was absolutely priceless.  Dwight’s ill-gotten reputation as the “good guy” face of the Magic has been destroyed, and the whole world now knows that, in truth, he’s backstabbing and conniving. So it was interesting, if not a little bit too convenient (in my opinion), that it was subsequently discovered that Howard would need time away from the team to deal with a mysterious back ailment.

(here’s the described presser/most awkward media scrum ever)

I doubt that Howard initially understood the severity of his injury; there had been talk of him possibly returning to the Magic for the playoffs.  But, rather than trying his best to rehab and make it back to help his team (and entertain the fans who pay his exorbitant salary), Howard took his injury as just another chance to hold the franchise hostage.

Sources say that Howard called Magic ownership (in the middle of a game!) and told them that he would return to the team only if Van Gundy was fired: it appeared that Dwight, ever a baby, couldn’t handle the public evisceration Van Gundy had leveled him with.

To be honest, I do not really understand the naiveté of Howard here: Van Gundy seems to me to be a very good coach, and although he can be a bit abrasive, I doubt the Magic can do much better than him.  Does Howard really think a different coach will fare better?  No, much more realistically this is just Howard building up more and more excuses for when he eventually leaves the franchise (I can already picture the ESPN special: “I would have stayed if they’d gotten a better coach”).

All this being said, you’ll have to forgive me if I feel some schadenfreude now that it turns out Howard will miss six months recovering from back surgery (note: I do not wish harm on Dwight, I am only stating the irony and karmic nature of his condition).  Earlier in the Magic circus (err, season) Dwight had refused to sign a long-term contract with the Magic; it was presumed that he wanted to opt-out of the final year of his contract (next season) and sign in a marquee destination in the off-season.  In doing so, he forfeited his right to a guaranteed boatload of money, and took the risk that a severe injury could de-rail his chances of attaining the largest contract possible next off-season.

Well, that injury has happened…maybe.  While the six month recovery period for this type of surgery is by no means concerning for Howard (he will be ready for the start of next season, wherever he is playing), the history of other players’ recovery from this surgery is.  David Robinson, former San Antonio Spurs star and one of the greatest players ever, was never the same after undergoing surgery for a herniated disk in his back.  The same goes for Larry Johnson, formerly of the Charlotte Hornets.  Most importantly for Howard, both of those guys were built like tanks, just like him.  If this surgery and the subsequent recovery have any impact on Dwight’s athletic ability (like they did to Robinson and Johnson) then his game will never be the same since he has shown very little ability to develop any sort of reliable post game.  If this happens, Dwight can kiss at least a portion of his millions goodbye.

Dwight Howard has been an unmitigated asshole for some time now.  His arrogance and childishness have been something to behold, and the circus that he has allowed to unfold in Orlando all season has been shameful.  I don’t usually subscribe to any sort of karmic belief system, but I can’t help but smirk at the fact that Dwight’s diva behaviour could lead to his losing millions of dollars (not to mention the loss of respect that has already occurred).  If it is true that you reap what you sow, then Dwight’s future harvest might be less bountiful than he’d hoped.

Written by Matthew Davie

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The King’s Justice: Bettman’s NHL Comes Down Hard On Raffi Torres


Raffi Torres Gets 25 Games For Hit On Marian Hossa.

Many who watched this week’s installment of the NHL playoffs felt that the sometimes overwhelming stream of minor, major and misconduct penalties handed down early in games were a message from the league saying, essentially, enough is enough. They were wrong. The message was received today; first by Raffi Torres, now the entire league.

Similar to the article I wrote the day after Hossa was sent to the hospital by Torres, this suspension was based both on a body of work, and a league-wide perception that the NHL has been relatively ineffectual in handling headshots until this point. I suppose we can call them ineffectual no longer.

Nevertheless, this does highlight the vast inconsistencies with which the NHL has operated this spring. When you compare Carkner’s suckering of Boyle, or Asham’s handiwork on Schenn, or Carl Hagelin’s headshot on Daniel Alfredsson (which could effectively end his career), are these offenses really, in Hagelin’s case, 22 games apart in severity? In other words, does the punishment fit the crime?

The answer? Yes and no. For the individual hit in question, of course no. Torres does not deserve to be banned for 25 games for that hit on its own. Think of it this way. If Phoenix were to make it to the Stanley Cup final, having gone to game seven in each series, he would be hoisting the cup in a suit. So, considering how stiff the punishment is, let’s be honest about what this is: on one hand it’s a league exasperated with a player’s refusal to learn from his previous mistakes and get up with the times; on the other hand, Torres has been used to serve the league’s wider ambition this week: to better police the game and stem the madness.

And oh, there has been madness. It seems as though the early theme of the playoffs has been bloodshed, and the fans’ apparent love for, or aversion to it. The TV ratings are off the charts, specifically in the Philadelphia/Pittsburgh series, which has been by far the most violent. 2.7 American viewers tuned into game three in that series, making it the most watched hockey game in America in a decade.

This puts the NHL in a precarious position, balancing on a fine line between the embrace of violence and the responsibility to maintain player safety. For the moment, with this exhaustive suspension on Torres, it appears the NHL has moved decidedly towards the latter, but who knows, it may not be long before rivalries are renewed and the blood begins to spill again. And remember, this is Raffi Torres getting 25 games. We’ve yet to see what happens in a similar situation involving a star player. The worst that’s been handed out was a one-gamer to Nicklas Backstrom for cross-checking  Rich Peverly in the face.

For some reason I doubt we’ll see even 5 games thrown at say Alex Ovechkin, who also has several suspensions, if he launches himself at someone’s head and causes a severe injury. That is the nature of Bettman’s justice: just, as long as the league can afford it.

Nevertheless, they may have gotten this one right. Now if they could only get the next one right they’d really be on a roll.

Written by Jesse Borg.

Update: here’s a link to Shanahan’s video on the matter

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Upsetting: Who’s Ripe for the Picking?

It sure can get lonely back there.

Two days ago we featured an article written by Roy Herron about “Elimination Day”, which, it turns out, was poorly titled. So now we ask:

Who’s more likely to pull off the unthinkable, Pittsburgh or Vancouver?

The unthinkable here, in case you’re just tuning into the playoffs, is coming back from a 3-0 series deficit. Or, in other words, going on a four game winning streak in the playoffs, which is no easy task.

The sheer volatility of the Pittsburgh/Philadelphia makes either team an uneasy pick right now. Whose proline picked Pittsburg by 7 goals last game I wonder? Did anyone pencil in Jordan Stall for a hat trick? This has been the most unpredictable series in recent memory, and I’d be lying if I said I knew how tonight’s game was going to play out.

However, I do have a theory. I think Pittsburgh will win IF Marc Andre Fluery gets it together and has, at the very least, a solid game. For some reason, call it a hunch, I feel he is more prepared to do this than Ilya Bryzgalov.

Moreover, I expect that if the Penguins tone down the after

-whistle-antics, like they did last game, they can play a more controlled, defensively sound game. If they support Fluery, and he plays decent, I think they win.

Of the two teams in need of semi-historic comebacks (how historic can it really be if it was done two years ago) I think Pittsburgh is in better shape to do so. Or, at any rate, they appear to be better suited for such a comeback purely by virtue of the fact that their series as a whole has been so unpredictable. And, true toform, they could just as easily go down tonight, though I doubt it.

Which brings me to “Canada’s Team”. I will spare Canucks fans the mean spirited denial that they are specifically not Canada’s Team, in the place of the more accurate account of no team being Canada’s Team;  not the Habs, not even the Leafs. That being said, I do not think there will be a miraculous comeback for “A Canadian Team”, the Vancouver Canucks.

The Canucks saw some improved play with two important additions. No one should be surprised by the team inserting Daniel Sedin, head be damned, with their backs up against the wall; no more than they should be surprised by the team’s improved play with him in the lineup. However, many of us were surprised by their other addition, or was it addition by subtraction?

I am, of course, talking about Cory Schneider. The long term implications of Alain Vigneault’s decision to switch Luongo for Schneider will have catch-22-like future implications. If they pull off the near-impossible and come back I don’t see how they can go back to Luongo. If they lose and are eliminated, I don’t see how they can keep both of them. Either way a decision will be made about Vancouver’s “goalie problem” (the best goalie problem in the league) this summer. Or maybe it has already been made.

One would assume that Vigneault will go back to Schneider, who played great, on Saturday, however, his knee has been a little jerky already. If he decides to reinsert Luongo and they lose, he might lose his job.

What seemed only a week ago as a bit of a flippant decision, to start Schneider hoping to temporarily spark his team, especially considering how well Luongo played, has now turned into “Vigneault’s Choice”, and the team will live or die by it.

They lived by it here (great use of inception soundtrack):

Nevertheless, even with Daniel Sedin and Cory Schneider playing their best, Jonathan Quick looks fairly impenetrable right now, and I expect he will steal at least one more game from the Canucks.

So, in the end, and as is typically the case for the NHL playoffs, it will come down to goaltending on all fronts. May the worst one lose.

Written by Jesse Borg.

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Oh How The Mighty Have Fallen: Elimination Night in the NHL.

Here we go. A week into the playoffs and we’ve already got our first two teams headed for the gallows. And for those of you emerging from a week-long nap, shouting “Florida Panthers!” and “Washington Capitals!” Boy, are you in for a nasty surprise.

Especially if you happen to live on Canada’s West Coast.

Yup. The Vancouver Canucks and Pittsburgh Penguins are both facing elimination tonight. And before we try and figure out which club has the better chance at a stay of execution, let’s look at what’s gone wrong so far for these two former powerhouses:

Pittsburgh

In a word? Defense.

My lack of cable television (AKA money) coupled with being too lazy to go to a local establishment to watch these games means that I’ve been watching this series in less than superb quality on various websites that offer free live streaming of sporting events (don’t tell anyone). Usually, I have to squint at the grainy picture to guess at where the puck is if its being moved around at high speeds. Lucky for me though, in any Pittsburgh-Philadelphia game, I can be sure that the puck is one of two places:

a) the back of the net,

or

b) the referees pocket while both teams use the ice for a bar fight.

Said "Bar Fight"

It’s been a wild one alright. A total of 32 goals scored in just three games. Those of you who loaded up on Penguins in your hockey pool will notice that you are doing alright despite the fact that the Pens haven’t won a game yet… Unless of course you have Marc-André Fleury.

Pittsburgh’s netminder has been a disaster so far, and if the Penguins want to limit the Flyers to less than 8 goals for once, Fleury needs to be Fleury again, in Game 4.

Vancouver

Offense.

Well, maybe that’s a little unfair. The Canucks have run into Jonathan Quick. In the last two games of the series, Vancouver has outshot LA 48-26, and 41-20, and managed just two goals combined in those games. Part of that is Quick, who has been spectacular, another has been the absence of Daniel Sedin—which ranks at about a 7.5 on the valid excuse meter. But, as is usually the case when a team drastically outshoots their opponent and fails to outscore them, a big problem for the Canucks has been generating second and third scoring opportunities. Aside from a few pointless snow showers courtesy of Ryan Kesler, Vancouver has failed to make life difficult for Quick. That has to be high on their list of priorities for Game 4.

So, which team has the better chance of surviving tonight, and forcing a Game 5?

The answer is: Vancouver.

Other possible captions include: "My head hurts this much", and "and I was like, Keith, don't shoot"

Truthfully, I wouldn’t be surprised if neither team is eliminated tonight, but in order for the Penguins to beat Philadelphia, they have to commit to changing their style of play, which clearly isn’t working so far. Someone has to stand up in the dressing room and say, “Guys, this might sound crazy, but what if we try and play defense?”

I honestly don’t see that happening. The Penguins seem to have one thing in mind at all times. Scoring. So far in this series, the puck has barely left the linesman’s hand for the opening face-off before the Penguins have put it in the Flyers net.

But the Flyers are too good offensively to be beat in a track meet. So if the Penguins are to win tonight, they will need Fleury at his best, and a commitment to defense.

On the other end, one of the things Vancouver needs to win tonight, it appears they will get. And that’s Daniel Sedin back in the line-up. So Henrik can finally stop running around like a chicken with its twin brother cut off, and the Canucks can get back to scoring.

Assuming that Cory Schneider doesn’t fall asleep from a lack of action in his own end, Vancouver should get solid goaltending, so a few good bounces past Jonathan Quick could be enough to keep them alive.

Did anyone else just hear that? Was that a collective sigh from the Vancouver Police Department?

Written by Roy Herron.

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The Ballad of Raffi Torres

I’m sure you’re all familiar with that old southern mantra; Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.

I wonder, how many times will Raffi Torres fool the NHL?

Shake it off, right?

Let me disclaim upfront: this is not merely about Torres’ hit on Marian Hossa last night that sent the Slovak to the hospital on a stretcher,  of all his questionable hits, that may have been the cleanest. This is about a body of work; a portfolio of wanton violence and skulduggery that stretches the length of Torres’ entire career. This is about consistency.

I enter the following as evidence:

and of course:

I included the last one so that you get the gist of my overall argument here: Raffi Torres makes poor choices, habitually. And each time he’s called on it, whether it’s a questionable hit or dressing in blackface, his argument is typically “i didn’t mean to hurt anyone”, which might be true. In the case of his Jay-Z get up I genuinely believe he didn’t mean for it to be racially insensitive. Still, poor choice of costume for a public figure. Poorer choice to allow your friend to put it on twitter.

As for the hits, most of them, on their own, are questionable. The question being whether Raffi was specifically head hunting each time. But all together? It’s a pretty damning collection of evidence that seems to suggest that Torres consistently targets other players’ heads.

So what to do with him this time? Suspension lengths increase based on player history, which, one would assume, will count against Torres here, and heavily. Also, I get the impression, and you might as well, that it’s high time Shanahan make an example out of someone. The perception is quickly becoming that these playoffs are a little out of control and a significant suspension here would be, depending on your point of view, a step in the right direction.

Then again, there have been worse hits these playoffs that garnered no suspensions, or at the most, suspensions of three games (Carl Hagelin on Daniel Alfredsson). What Shanahan does here may very well be the benchmark on which his career as VP of Player Safety is judged. It may even determine how long he keeps that position.

Finally there is the supposed “culture change” to consider. We’ve heard many times this year about the need to “change the culture” surrounding hits to the head in light of the concussion epidemic. Part of that culture, we’ve been lead to believe, is cultivated by the players, and it’s up to them to change it. Fat chance. As for the other part, that is the onus of the NHL, and will be changed by how they approach head-shots in terms of suspensions. In the past, this hit on Hossa, with Torres’ history in mind, may have resulted in a game or two being docked, but it feels as though that might be insufficient now. If Shanahan and the NHL are to make a statement here it will have to be an unprecedented one. It’s a go-big-or-go-home moment now.

If Torres gets more than five games the statement will have been made. Two or less? Business as usual.Three or four? A decidedly ambiguous result, which may be what the NHL would prefer.

At any rate, there is a reason that this moment has caused such a stir around the NHL and its fanbase: it’s a contentious hit. There’s validity on all sides. It’s up to the NHL to let everyone else know, finally, what kind of hit this one really is.

Written by Jesse Borg.