Archive for December, 2011

Coaching in Montreal presents unique demands

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Randy Cunneyworth, the Canadiens’ interim coach is probably glad to be on a six-game road trip as it takes him out of the firestorm his hiring sparked in Montreal. (Photo by Brian Jenkins/Icon SMI)

By Stu Hackel

Fewer and fewer things in this world make sense, it seems, especially at first glance. The real essence of stuff often lies beneath the surface, requiring examination and context to become clear. The appointment of Randy Cunneyworth as coach of the Montreal Canadiens and the outcry among Quebec’s Francophone majority because he cannot speak French qualifies as one of those things.
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  • Published On Dec 20, 2011
  • The red line debate

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    The parade of concussions and players visiting the NHL discipline czar, continued with Rene Bourque (top) plastering Brent Seabrook on Sunday and adding more fuel to the debate about how to stop the carnage. (Charles Cherney/AP)

    By Stu Hackel

    With concern growing in the hockey world about a spike in concussions during the past few weeks, the wide range of proposed solutions has included restoring the two-line offside pass — “bringing back the red line,” as many hockey people say, although the line hasn’t been removed, only the old offside rule that was based on it.

    But it’s very questionable whether the consequences of restoring it would be worth what might be gained.
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  • Published On Dec 19, 2011
  • What doomed Jacques Martin in Montreal?

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    By Stu Hackel

    It’s doubtful that Canadiens GM Pierre Gauthier woke up Saturday morning, picked up a copy of Red Fisher’s story in The Montreal Gazette and decided to fire coach Jacques Martin. But if you need any explanation as to why Gauthier pulled the trigger, the venerable Fisher — who has covered the Canadiens since 1955 — tells you all you need to know.

    “The morning numbers Friday showed they were ranked No. 10 in the Eastern Conference with a 13-12-7 record (and they were 11th on Saturday — SH). Clearly, it is not where the Canadiens wanted to be awaiting a six-game road trip following Saturday’s game against New Jersey….

    “Ten of the Canadiens’ 13 victories have been in regulation time, two in overtime and one in a shootout. On the other hand, 12 have been lost in regulation, two in overtime and five in The Gimmick. A team winning only 13 of its first 32 games is facing an uphill climb in terms of making the postseason.”

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  • Published On Dec 17, 2011
  • Can NHL do more about concussions?

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    The Flyers are showing signs that they’ll remain competitive after the loss of captain Chris Pronger, but the NHL still has work to do in preventing harmful head contact. (Christopher Szagola-US PRESSWIRE)

    By Stu Hackel

    When the Flyers traded for Chris Pronger during the 2009 draft, GM Paul Holmgren said, “I made it sort of clear I would like to get a hammer, a guy who makes life miserable for the other team. This is one of those guys.”

    Today, that hammer is broken, perhaps for good.
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  • Published On Dec 16, 2011
  • Sutter’s L.A. decision, big ice, and the NHL’s shootout sickness

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    Darryl Sutter has salvaged struggling teams as a coach, but his firebreathing approach takes a toll. (David E. Klutho/SI)

    By Stu Hackel

    UPDATED, DEC. 24: It appears that former Flames coach and GM Darryl Sutter has now decided to join the Kings as their new bench boss, according to Rich Hammond, who is the club’s official blogger. All that is preventing Sutter from taking over is immigration issues that are expected to be ironed out early this week, when it will become official. Is this a good hire?

    Not according to Eric Francis of The Calgary Sun. Francis notes that when Sutter took over coaching the Sharks in the late ’90s under then-GM Dean Lombardi, the team’s record improved for five consecutive seasons. Then, when Sutter took over as the Flames’ coach, he turned that franchise around as well, “pushing a rag-tag bunch of muckers to within one game of the Stanley Cup Final in 2004.”

    But Francis adds, “In Calgary, his act as a miserable taskmaster who couldn’t differentiate between winning and being a human being, wore thin with the players who were thrilled he finally booted himself upstairs to be GM.

    “The question is, can his ball-breaking, reign-of-terror approach work in today’s NHL?

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  • Published On Dec 15, 2011
  • HBO’s new 24/7 series debut sparkles

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    John Tortorella, the fiery and often profane coach of the Rangers, is a prime attraction in this HBO series. (Fred Greenslade/Reuters)

    By Stu Hackel

    HBO’s 24/7 miniseries on the Rangers and Flyers premiered Wednesday night and it is just as good as its ground-breaking predecessor on the Capitals and Penguins last season, which is to say, very good.

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  • Published On Dec 15, 2011
  • Crosby again the face of the NHL’s entrenched concussion problem

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    Sidney Crosby has become a case study in hockey’s myriad dangers, how vulnerable players can be, and how difficult it will be for the NHL to further prevent concussion incidents. (Photo by Gene J. Puskar/AP)

    By Stu Hackel

    Sidney Crosby sat calmly at his dressing room stall on Monday, a Penguins cap pulled low on his brow and casting a shadow over his eyes. In a chipper tone, he described his condition as “not bad.”

    Frequently smiling, Crosby patiently answered questions from those huddled around him about his latest injury, which is being called “concussion-like symptoms.” He believes he is not as seriously injured as when he was originally concussed last January by a combination of blows in two consecutive games, and he restated what had been known for a few days: that he had passed an ImPACT  test of his brain activity, which ruled out that he had suffered another concussion.

    But he ominously added, “The ImPACT isn’t everything. You’ve got to listen to your body, too.” He said there was no time frame on his return.

    So the NHL’s fleeting feel-good story of the first half of the season has now ground to a halt and you have to wonder if it will transform into a recurring nightmare. There have to be legitimate concerns that Crosby is now one of those players who becomes highly susceptible to concussions after suffering one, that a series of them could be ahead, and his once-sunny future is now at least partly cloudy.

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  • Published On Dec 14, 2011
  • Kings’ backslide cost Murray his job

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    Terry Murray

    Terry Murray had the highest winning percentage (.560) in Kings history. (Mark J. Terrill/AP)

    By Stu Hackel

    Back in mid-September, we ventured a list of five NHL coaches whose jobs looked to be in jeopardy. Two of them, Davis Payne and Bruce Boudreau, were let go earlier this season and now a third, Terry Murray, has been relieved of his duties by the Kings. Only the Maple Leafs’ Ron Wilson from that list appears to be safe as the Flames continue to meander under Brent Sutter with a record nearly identical to that of Los Angeles.

    So the firing of Murray on Monday afternoon hardly ranks as a surprise. For those who follow the team, a Los Angeles Times story on Monday morning indicated the skids had already been greased.

    Murray was something of a savior after he took over the Kings at the start of the 2008-09 season. They cut their losses by six in his first year, then made huge strides, improving by 22 points as he guided them to their first playoff appearance in seven seasons in 2009-10. They flattened out last season, but now things seem to going in reverse.

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  • Published On Dec 12, 2011
  • Chris Chelios tops stellar USA Hockey Hall class; Lokomotiv returns

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    Chris Chelios’ resume more than stacks up against any other American-born player. (Frank Gunn/AP)

    By Stu Hackel

    Is Chris Chelios the greatest American-born player in hockey history? Good question. Perhaps he is.

    Chelios will be inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame during a ceremony in his hometown of Chicago tonight, and he’s among a truly stellar group of inductees — perhaps the best class ever for this Hall — that includes the highly underrated defenseman Gary Suter, power forward Keith Tkachuk, broadcaster Mike Emrick and Flyers owner Ed Snider.

    In The Chicago Tribune today, Steve Rosenbloom makes the case for Chelios as the best player ever produced in the U.S., admitting that while he wasn’t the greatest skater, passer, stickhandler or shooter, no one has ever combined skill, smarts, leadership, toughness and longevity the way Chelios did.

    Rosenbloom elaborates on this — it’s worth reading — and makes a very strong case for Chelly.

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  • Published On Dec 12, 2011
  • Sale of Maple Leafs creates Canadian media colossus

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    Air Canada Centre, home of the Maple Leafs and the NBA’s Raptors, is just one piece of a $1.3 billion transaction, the largest in North American sports history. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/US PRESSWIRE)

    By Stu Hackel

    With much talk about content and iconic brands, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) was sold today by its longtime majority shareholder, the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan (or “Teachers,” as it is commonly called), to a partnership formed by two competing media conglomerates, Bell Canada/BCE Inc. and Rogers Communications, and the current minority owner, Larry Tanenbaum.

    Just how this will impact the Maple Leafs, the NHL’s most profitable club and crown jewel of the empire, as well as the other MLSE clubs — the NBA’s Raptors, the MLS Toronto FC, and the AHL’s Marlies — is an open question.  There is much skepticism in Toronto that the new ownership of the Maple Leafs’ parent company will translate into a championship. More than one observer noted that there was hardly a mention of the Stanley Cup during today’s press conference announcing the billion dollar-plus transaction.

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  • Published On Dec 09, 2011


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