Monday, February 27, 2006

What We Have Learned

It has been an interesting two weeks with the Olympics happening over in Italy. There were plenty of stories that went on and right now, why not reminisce about the past two weeks and what will come from the Games and down the playoffs stretch.

1. From Goats to Gold: After the ever publicized Tommy Salo/Belarus debacle in the 2002 Olympics, the Swedes were hell-bent on getting back on their feet in the Olympics. After a bump in the road against the Russians, the Swedes were able to hop on the back of Henrik Lundqvist and ride their great goaltendings and offensive performances from the likes of Peter Forsberg and Daniel Alfredsson, the Swedes were able to get rid of the ghost from Olympics past.

2. North American Flop: The play of the United States and Canadians have proven that the dream teams aren't usually the best way to go. With the underachieving of players like Jarome Iginla, Mike Modano, Dany Heatley, and Bill Guerin, the push for changes in both organizations have been a little more vocal from fans and participants alike.

3. Alexander The Great: It seems that Alexander Ovechkin's stellar performance in the Olympics have help him cement his spectacular rookie season thus far. No matter which broadcast you watched, the announcers always seemed to point out his amazing play and where he was on the ice. Add that to his 5-goal performance throughout the tournament, there are some who think Ovechkin is the best player in the world right now.

4. NHLers in the Olympics: With the injuries to Dominik Hasek, Mattias Ohlund, and Joe Sakic, the debate is raging on whether or not the NHL should allow players to participate in the Olympics past the 2010 Games in Vancouver. With the grueling schedule that has been laid out for this year and the amount of injuries that have happened in the regular season, it was a surprise so many players play as much as they did. It should be interesting to see how this all develops, but I doubt we'll see NHL participants past 2010's Olympic Games.

It was another fun, festive, and freaky Olympics. Though we aren't sure where the NHL will wind up; there's a good chance that the Olympics will be just as exciting if amateurs were to play in 2014. Of course, there have been many people talking about suspending the World Junior Championships and having the junior players play in the Olympics, but that will remain to be seen. I'm sure many Junior teams would be opposed to that, but thems the breaks, I assume.

But, the best thing about the Olympics ending is that the NHL is going to go back to business. With almost every team having 25 games to play and the trade deadline around the corner, you know that it's going to get very hectic and should be an even better game to watch as there are plenty teams out there battling for the top-8 spots. It's Faaaaaaaantastic.

This has been ScottyWazz. Take care of yourself and someone else. PEACE!!

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Should They or Shouldn’t They: The NHL/Olympics Dilemma

Since the 1998 Nagano Olympic Games, the NHL, NHLPA, and International Ice Hockey Federation have been in an agreement where the players of the NHL would be able to go to the Olympics and play for their country. However now, after three Olympic Games, it seems like the NHL is rethinking its stance on the issue entirely.

Many reports on the situation have stated that the NHL may not support its players going to the Olympics past the 2010 Games in Vancouver, British Columbia. Deputy commissioner Bill Daly has said that many factors, including length of the break and injuries, are going to be reviewed before a decision is made regarding participation by the NHL past 2010. NHLPA chief Ted Saskin has not mentioned anything past 2010 saying he does not want to speculate anything at this point. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement requires the NHL’s participation up to 2010.

However, it seems the hot topic for debate on message boards and in some news articles is whether the NHL should participate into the Olympic Games.

Most of the concern was highlighted following the injuries to Dominik Hasek and Patrik Elias, which put them out for the duration of the Olympics. Add that to Joe Sakic’s minor fracture and the instability of many players with nagging injuries during the NHL season, and you have yourself a recipe for pushing a NHL general manager and owner over the edge.

The NHL counters by saying that the Games are great exposure of the NHL and its players. However, contrary to that, there has been no link between NHLers being in the Olympics and higher ratings on TV or bigger interest in the NHL once they come back from the Olympics. Even though the NHL wants exposure of their players on an International stage, the NHL and NHLPA have yet to decide on when the next World Cup of Hockey will be, after stating that the event in 2008 will not be played.

In addition to all the mayhem off the ice, it seems that on the ice it doesn’t make much difference who’s on the team. Perfect example of that is Switzerland, who is carrying three NHL players, shutting out Canada, who has 23 players from the NHL. Of course, the similarities between that win and the “Miracle on Ice” were drawn, but without the political turmoil involved. What do you expect from a neutral country like Switzerland??

When polling to the masses, there are many out there who believe, since the NHLers are the best, they should be there and represent their country. Some have pitched the idea that the World Junior Hockey Championship should be put off in Olympic years to allow those athlete’s to participate in the Olympic Games. However, it seems the majority believe that allowing professionals participate in an event that was originally made for amateurs was a bad thing to begin with and getting them out of there couldn’t happen sooner. It really varies from person to person, but most believe the NHLers should call it a day in 2010.

Of course, getting out of the games is purely from a standpoint from the NHL owners and executive staff. The players enjoy going to the games and many love when they compete for their country. When they have to withdraw from injuries, you can tell that the players don’t want to, but they have to. Yet, when an injured player, like a Peter Forsberg, goes over to the event, you can bet that their bosses back stateside are holding their breath every time he hits the ice. However, there are some players who saw the light, like Miikka Kiprusoff, Markus Naslund, and Sergei Fedorov, and then they often get flak from their country’s newspapers for not taking part.

The upside for the players is that they are able to play for their country, which is something many of them could only imagine when they were younger. In addition, they are able to play throughout the break, which does not allow them to get rusty. However, the downside to playing a lot is the fatigue factor, yet, if they have great conditioning, it probably is not a factor.

The end all be all is what should happen when the topic comes up again?? Quite frankly, it would probably end up being better for the game if the professionals were out of the Olympics. The thought process behind that is we are seeing many nations with little to no NHLers on their rosters pulling out big moral, and sometimes actual, victories against the NHLers. In the past few seasons, countries like Belarus and Switzerland play the role of spoiler for many of the contending nations. For those countries to do something like that on the International platform, it could spark new interest in the game in those countries.

The only problem could come from what happened in the 1970’s where the Soviet Red Army would field a team of “amateurs.” Of course, those players were above and beyond the caliber of hockey players that most countries would have in the Olympics, but somehow they were able to do something like such. If the amateurs were going to be put back in the games, the International Olympic Committee and International Ice Hockey Federation would have to clearly define what is and is not an amateur.

The debate rages on and will do so until a final decision is made. Everyone will get their say and everyone will think of a way to make it right. Whether it’s keeping the NHL in, pulling them out, or limiting the amount of professional players there are on a roster. It is a good thing too, because it will take up some time when there are no NHL games on. Personally, I think taking the NHLers out would be a good thing. Not because they don’t deserve to be there, but they already have plenty of notoriety. The Olympics should be about giving other the chance to let people notice them and let them receive some accolades for the time being.

In addition, it will give more hockey fans a chance to see double the hockey action during that time. In the end, the fans are what the hockey community should really be looking after.

This has been ScottyWazz. Take care of yourself and someone else. PEACE!!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Operation Shoot-Me-In-The-Head

It's been just two days since this story broke, but I'm already sick about hearing about "Operation Slapshot" that the New Jersey State Police has set-up. God Bless them for doing their job, but the media has just taken it and let all hell break loose in an attempt to make their coverage better than the other. I'm so effing tired of hearing about this, especially when all the facts are sketchy at best. Especially some people talking about how this is all another black eye for the NHL and all this other crap, which couldn't be further from the truth.

Though Rick Tocchet has been fingered for allegedly supplying the money for an illegal gambling ring in the Philadelphia/South Jersey area. Now, his lawyer, Kevin Marino, has said that the charges against his client are "categorically false and irresponsible." Marino went on to say, "We deeply regret the attorney-general's precipitous charges and are appalled by the media frenzy. Mr. Tocchet will fight the false charges with the same grit and resolve he displayed during his illustrious playing career."

To help start their damage control, the NHL has hired the Unabomber prosecutor, Robert J. Cleary to conduct an internal investigation. The NHL wants all their bases covered for a worse case scenario that could arise.

Now, the story goes, and the flow chart shows that alledgedly, Rick Tocchet and former New Jersey State Trooper James J. Harney were partners in this ring, which included at least six bettors from the NHL, as well as "a Hollywood actress", whom is alledged to be Janet Jones-Gretzky, wife of Wayne Gretzky. Also, some reports have said that there is a connection to a "crime family" in the Philadelphia area. How close that connection is has yet to be determined. When asked, Tocchet has stated it had nothing to do with hockey, but it was mostly professional and college football and basketball.

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Now, here is where I start to rant and rave-- so strap in.

If there is nothing to do with hockey what-so-ever, who cares?? I mean, really-- how is this a bad thing for the NHL as a whole?? All this shows to me is that there are some high-profile people who made a irresponsible and irrational decision. As long as there is nothing dealing with hockey at all, then I don't see how this is a big issue and a black-eye for the NHL. However, if there is evidence showing there was some NHL betting or information-- then that's where the crap hits the fan. However, there has been no evidence of that, even some leaks that there was absolutely no NHL hockey involved during this operation.

I'm just sick and tired of people jumping to conclusions. Lyle Richardson of Spector's Hockey agrees. Lyle has said this is a knee jerk reaction by the media in a "shoot first, ask question later" kind of thing. That point is very true, mainly because everyone wants to get the story first. Lyle even went as far as saying that if there is no proof of hockey gambling, it would not be as big of a black eye as the media hyped it up to be. "Bottom Line: Unless it is proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that these people activly bet on hockey games, it is not a black-eye that is going to hurt the NHL," Lyle finished.

The NHL has done the first good step by granted Rick Tocchet an indefinite leave of absence, in which, he won't be able to have any contact with League or Club Personnel, Tocchet won't be reinstated until the Commissoner has said so, and his terms could be modified at any time. By distancing themselves from Tocchet, that's one less headache they will have to worry about. Though it is a small headache, it's still a headache nonetheless.

The bottom line in all this is that this is very sketchy and preliminary right now. We don't know in what capacity Tocchet had to do with it, though he has acknowledge something like this has existed. The whole Mob connection, we don't know if it is a direct connection or if it is a fourth cousin of a friend, who knows the "crime family." Also, we don't know what the hell will come out of it. With such harsh critique given to this case, Harney and alledged bettor James A. Ulmer are out on bail right now, awaiting their day in court.

So, until I hear something concrete, one way or the other, I want to ask all the media and fans to stop blowing this whole thing out of proportion and don't immediately think that everything is bad in the NHL. Of course, no one really cares about the NHL until something bad happens (Bertuzzi, Heatley, Lockout), so it really shouldn't surprise anyone at all.

This has been ScottyWazz. Take care of yourself and someone else. PEACE!!

Friday, February 03, 2006

In The Line Of Fire

When you look at the Pittsburgh Penguins, you can't help by feel bad for the young talent on the team. Of course, Sidney Crosby will be fine and probably take this as a learning experience, but there's another First Overall Draft Pick on that Penguins that this whole season could actually scar and almost shell-shock, which could stifle an otherwise promising career.

Personally, I can't help but feel sorry for Marc-Andre Fleury, the promising young goalie for the Pens, who has really had to suffer because of the lack of defense that the Penguins have. After having a rough go about his first NHL stint where he went 4-14-2 in 22 appearances; MAF pretty much was sent down, first back to his QMJHL squad in Cape Breton, then to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, to pretty much retool his playing ability. Of course, in both instances MAF did fairly well and came out with an 8-1-1 record in Cape Breton and a combined 36-21-4 record in a season and some extra games with WBS. After seeing this and realizing that throwing their money down the toilet would have been a little bit more useful than actually signing Jocelyn Thibault, the Pens called up MAF on what could prove to be another "fun" journey for the 21-year-old goalie.

Though his record, 6-18-3, doesn't really reflect it; Fleury has given Pittsburgh enough chances in net to win, but the Pens rarely capitalize on those chances given to them. With his .900 save percentage and 3.23 GAA, he could actually be a quality goalie, if he were to get some goal support for him. In his 29 appearances, Fleury has gotten just under 2.5 goal per game from his own team. This includes eleven times that the Pens score one goal or less and only three times that they have score over five goals. With support like that, who needs another team to pelt you with just about 31 shots a game. To his credit though, I think Fleury is just happy to know he has a spot on the Penguins for now.

When he was first drafted, Fleury was smiling from ear-to-ear, but you know when he saw how deep he'd be in it when it came to the team in front of him, I'm sure that smile diminished pretty quickly. But, it's no fault to Fleury. He could still be considered one of the best goalie prospects out there, but he has no support on defense. Fleury is making the best of a horrible situation. Had the Penguins actually addressed their defensive woes (and I don't mean picking up Sergei Gonchar who is a winger trapped in a defenseman's body), then they probably wouldn't have the issues the are having. Of course, that could also mean that Fleury would still be in the AHL, but that wouldn't be really bad when you think about it. At least he would gain confidence by winning night-in and night-out.

However, much like Josh Harding in the Minnesota organization, there was only so long you could hold back Fleury. He has all the talent in the world, but it seems to be going to waste in the Steel City.

Should the Penguins get the first pick or a top-5 pick, the focus shouldn't be on offense anymore. They have enough fire power to take over a small European Nation-- you hear that Luxembourg?? Instead, the Pens really should look at some of the top defensive talent out there. With blue chippers like Erik Johnson, Bobby Sanguinetti, Yuri Alexandrov, and Ty Wishart, the Pens have a bevy of options to choose from in growing the defense and make sure that they won't have to worry about it in the future.

Plus, giving a little help out to MAF for when he takes over the Pens goaltending duties....more so....wouldn't be a bad thing either. The Penguins have a bright future with their young talent. Now, whether it'll be in Pittsburgh or even with the Penguins namesake is yet to be seen, but they'll be good when all their youngster mature and play as one cohesive unit.

This has been ScottyWazz. Take care of yourself and someone else. PEACE!!