Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Superstar, So What?

Recently the new CFL commissioner Mark Cohon announced that he plans to market the CFL through the marketing of the leagues superstars. As much as I think that the CFL is going in the right direction with their emphasis on marketing to grow the league, I don't think that putting all the emphasis on the superstar players will solve all of the league's problems.

I think that the league is missing a step in its marketing planning, and it really does depend who they are targetting because if they are targetting those who already follow the game or even the casual fan, they will have no problem with appeal. But if they are looking at getting to fringe fans, before the league can start marketing their superstars to their communities, they need to build up products in each city that are worthy of having their superstars bragged about. They can't have franchises with internal conflicts and players getting arrested and they can't have franchises going out of business.

The CFL needs to clean up the league on all front, start marketing the game to its communities through history and excitement of the game and then once they have buy in, they can start to market their superstars. Without a solid team foundation, there are no superstars.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Patrick White - A Steal?

When I first heard Dave Nonis call Patrick White's name as Vancouver's first round selection in the NHL Entry Draft this past Friday in Columbus, I thought to my self, Patrick Who? With the likes of David Perron, Michal Repik and Oscer Moller still available at that point, I was certain that the Canucks scouting staff had yet again failed to judge young talent. Without even knowing much about him, I thought his career potential was Ryan Kesler at best and Nathan Smith at worst. To say I wasn't thrilled about the selection is a major understatement. But the more I read about this kid, the more I like him. I have also been very impressed with the way he conducted himself in the few interviews I've heard. Here are some encouraging quotes I've gathered from several people that have seen him play.

"White is incredibly strong with the puck. In last year's state championship game, Roseau head coach Scott Oliver instructed his players to try and play off White, because of his ability to bounce off of checks. White also has a hard, accurate shot which allows him to score a lot of goals. He is also responsible on his own end of the ice, which should make him even more attractive to NHL teams."

"White will head to the University of Minnesota next season. Whichever team drafts him will likely want White to play at least 2 or three years as he develops physically. White has a great deal of strength, but there is a big difference between being high school-strong and NHL-strong, and it takes time to build that strength. White projects to a solid two-way player that can be a solid finisher on a powerplay. White is one of the more complete players in the draft, with no glaring weaknesses. It will just be a matter of how he continues to develop."

"I really like White. I have a feeling he will end up on the gophers top line with Stoa and Okposo. He does everything well. He has the strength and smarts to make things happen. What i like about White the most is his willingness to shoot the puck. Some snipers in the making have the shot but do not shoot. White loves to shoot the puck. He likes to be that guy. I think he will be a steal where he was picked. Supposedly he is taking classes at the U already to work out with team and get early chemistry. He says and does all the right things. I hate to to cross compare stats but Sam Gagner had 11 goals in 40 some games in the USHL last year. This year White had 8 goals in 12 games."

"It's no secret that the Wild like Minnesota high school talent and Minnesota collegians. With White, they'd be getting both as he's headed for the University of Minnesota in 2007-08. However, this wouldn't be merely a public relations selection. Minnesota needs a future first-line center and White fits the bill--albeit a few years down the road. This pick seems like a natural."

"Can be a downright scary player to go up against when his game is on. Had a nice debut in the USHL and his short stay there leaves the mind open as to what he is really capable of. When he’s motivated, he can go out there and control games with his speed and mental game. Can go end to end at a moments notice when he turns on his afterburners. Again, consistency is a problem but not something “scary” enough to warrant dropping him out of the top 30."

"Minnesota : Lots of hometown players in this draft, and some of them are good, and still available. One of them will be quite good, and could turn out as the best sniper of the draft. His name, Patrick White. His shot is great, his release is fast, his shot is deadly accurate. Add to that good skating, good two way game, and you have a complete player. Will need time to reach the NHL, but he’ll be a good one."

"Pat White. Seen him as high as top 10 and as low as "who is Pat White." Totally carried his HS team to back to back state tournament appearance in what i think is the toughest section in the state to begin with. Took second both years. Plays well at both ends. Hard to knock off of the puck. Great shot. Loves to fish out pucks down low and take them out front and bury it. Possible 2 way sniper."

"I watched him play at the MN State Hockey Tournament. He was the leader of the Grand Rapids team. He's a very smooth skating player. The bottom line is he's a gamer. He simply took over the three games I watched him play. He's scores the important goals, very clutch. The knock on him is he can drift in and out of games which I saw at times. However, with the game on the line there wasn't anybody as clutch as him."

"The best stick handler in the draft besides Pat Kane."

"On the other side of the ice, the more I see Pat White, the more I'm convinced he'll be a first round draft pick next summer. He had another great performance. Even though he was held off the scoresheet, he was still making his presence felt on the ice."

"He's a very strong two-way player and can really dominate along the wall with the puck -- very strong kid. Give him three years at Minnesota and I think you'll find yourselves very happy with this pick. I know as a Gopher/Wild fan, I'm loving the fact White's here for the next few years, but now with Vancouver taking him, it's too bad he'll get to eat up the Wild down the road."

"He was also the AP Player of the Year in the state of Minnesota. He won this award over, among others, Ryan McDonagh, who of course went earlier in the first round to Montreal."

"He's a smart two-way center with great puck sense. His poise with the puck is exceptional and his best trait is his ability to draw the opposition to him and then break the defense down by threading the needle with a slick pass. He's also a precise finisher with a quick and accurate shot, especially in tight. His skating is deceptively good and his defensive game is underrated."

Friday, June 22, 2007

Sixes Wild

July 1st is still over a week away, but the free agency signing frenzy has already begun in the NHL. With Canada Day and the date at which players at the end of their contracts become free agents fast approaching, NHL GM's are trying with great fervor to re-sign their impending UFA's before other teams have a chance to offer them contracts.

The signings by the Flyers and Pantehrs in the last few days are by-products of the new NHL, the new CBA and the salary cap era. Last season, we saw the Edmonton Oilers lock up one of their young stars, who (with Ryan Smyth's departure) is now their franchise player, Ales Hemsky to a 6-year contract. This type of contract allows for teams to keep the cores of their franchise for a long period of time as an attempt to ensure a continued high level of competetion. The player is guaranteed long-term security while at the risk of not being given a raise for a good season until after the contract expires while the team is risk of paying a player so much even if they don't produce in years upcoming.

While this could have been now in the old-NHL, it was rarely seen notwithstanding the crazy Alexei Yashin type deals. But the Islanders did many crazy things, so we will discount them. The Oilers deal with Hemsky made sense to me, and to go even further so did the decade-long deal that Rick DiPietro of the Islanders received. What is puzzling to me is why teams are now starting to sign lower level players to long-term contracts at high prices. Hemsky's deal saw him get what was fair market value for his performance, over a long period of time. Again, player security and low future cap hit for the team. But when the Flyers signed Scott Hartner to a six year deal worth over four million a year, both of the reasons to make a six year deal were thrown out the window. Hartnell, a 20-goal scorer and a second line player (at best) may not ever produce more than he has, and may even begin to decline in production in the new-NHL. The Panther's did the same with Nathan Horton signing him to a six-year deal, Horton hasn't done much to prove himself in the NHL and guaranteeing him six-years without proof of superstardom may prove to be foolish.

I guess the point is that some GM's are beginning to focus more on their salary cap's over a long period of time, rather than the actual hockey. Sure a player making the same six years from now may be a good deal, but that is only if he is a better (or atleast equal) player than he was at the start of his contract.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

2007 NHL "Mock" Draft

I have taken a lot more interest in this year’s NHL Entry Draft than I have in years past. I have probably taken a little too much interest in this year’s draft considering the fact that I am spending a large portion of my time trying to figure out who the Canucks will draft, if Kyle Turris will go first overall or if Alexei Cherepanov will drop out of the top 10, when in reality I should be studying for my Socials Provincial exam which oddly enough falls on the same day as this year’s NHL Entry Draft. I definitely didn’t want to let all my extensive research go down the drain, especially when it comes at the expense of my Socials mark, so I thought why not give The Press Box Blog viewers a sneak peak of what I think will go down Friday in Columbus? As a result of everything I’ve read and heard along with my obvious knowledge and intelligence, I assembled this “mock” draft of the 1st round, exclusively for The Press Box Blog viewers. Enjoy!

1. Chicago Blackhawks: Patrick Kane
The Blackhawks truly believe that Kane is the best player in this draft class, and it doesn’t hurt that he’s a good old American kid and will indisputably put fans in the seats. Will fit in perfectly playing alongside Jonathan Toews down the road.

2. Philadelphia Flyers: Kyle Turris
With Kane out of the picture, there is no doubt that Turris is the best player available at this point. Turris has said that Philly has talked to him more than once and Flyers General Manager Paul Holmgren described him as “very competitive and smart.” Has the potential to become a Steve Yzerman type player and remember, you heard him on The Press Box.

3. Phoenix Coyotes: James Van Riemsdyk
Van Riemsdyk offers the whole package, and when the Coyotes pretty much need help in all facets of their organization, James is a no brainer. Doesn’t hurt that the Coyotes have had a tendency of drafting American born players.

4. Los Angeles Kings: Karl Alzner
Los Angeles has a plethora of skilled players up front but aside from Jack Johnson they don’t have much on the back end, and while Alzner may not be the absolute best player available, he’s pretty close to it and I think far and beyond the best defenceman available.

5. Washington Capitals: Alexei Cherepanov
The Capitals will be willing to take a gamble on this skilled Russian. Alexander Ovechkin has a lot of say in what this team does and he will convince George McPhee and the Captitals’ scouting staff to pick Cherepanov, even though the Russian Transfer Agreement is still up in the air.

6. Edmonton Oilers: Jakub Voracek
While they were thinking about taking Sam Gagner from London, the Oilers feel that Voracek would turn out to be the overall better player. Voracek impressed everyone in his first year in North America and has good character and determination. The Oilers feel that he possesses too much upside to pass on. Many teams have him in their top 3.

7. Columbus Blue Jackets: Sam Gagner
Gagner will undoubtedly be a solid NHL’er. Has good blood lines and has an amazing skill set. Gilbert Brule and Sam Gagner will provide a dynamic one-two punch down the middle for the foreseeable future.

8. Boston Bruins: Keaton Ellerby
In the past, the Bruins have always chosen the best player available, but in a draft that is so wide open, they felt the need to draft this big physical two-way defenceman to solidify their back end.

9. St. Louis Blues: Mikael Backlund
The Blues are looking for a skilled forward, and while I feel Hamill or Esposito would be the better choice, the Blues always seem to end up with a European, Backlund being a pretty good one at that.

10. Florida Panthers: Zach Hamill
In the past, the Panthers have had the tendency of drafting players from the CHL, and they believe Hamill is the best player available. While they already have many skilled forwards in the system, the Panthers’ scouting staff has seen a lot of this kid in the WHL and is ecstatic that he is still available. Another future star that you heard first on The Press Box.

11. Carolina Hurricanes: Angelo Esposito
While the Canes would have preferred Alzner or Ellerby; they feel that Esposito has the raw offensive upside to become a superstar in the NHL. While the Canadiens made a strong push to trade up to draft the local hero, the Canes feel that Esposito is by far the best player available and are very excited to see him develop.

12. Montreal Canadiens: David Perron
While the Canadiens would have much rather drafted Esposito; they feel that Perron is the next best thing. They haven’t been reluctant in drafting French Canadians in the past and they feel that Perron took huge strides of improvement this season. They believe that Perron will keep on getting better and better in the years to come.

13. Toronto Maple Leafs: Logan Couture
The Leafs were thrilled that hometown hero Logan Couture was still available at 13. They feel that he is by far the best player available and will work even harder to achieve his goals playing with the Leafs.

14. Colorado Avalanche: Lars Eller
The Avs’ scouting staff yet again comes up with a gem. I haven’t read one bad thing about this kid; has good size and strength along with an amazing offensive tool set, should be a solid NHL’er.

15. Edmonton Oilers: Ryan McDonagh
The Oilers were looking for a defenceman and they felt that McDonagh was the best player available. Offensive defenceman with good size and strength; he too made some major strides this season. May be one of the steals of the draft.

16. Anaheim Ducks: Kevin Shattenkirk
The Ducks are very pleased with the selection of Kevin Shattenkirk. With Niedermayer’s retirement looming, the Ducks all of a sudden don’t have a lot of depth on the back end. Brian Burke has had a tendency of drafting American born players with his first round picks (Bobby Ryan, Ryan Kesler, RJ Umberger).

17. New York Rangers: Michal Repik
The Rangers were very impressed with Repik’s play in the WHL playoffs and the Memorial Cup. They feel as though he is the steal of the draft. Repik will fit in nicely with New York’s surplus of European players.

18. Calgary Flames: Colton Gillies
Darryl Sutter and the Flames turn some heads when they pass up on the Brandon Sutter. But they feel that Gillies is basically NHL ready and is a guaranteed 3rd line player, with the potential of becoming a 1st or 2nd liner. Gritty kid from the west; will fit in perfectly with the flames rugged style of play.

19. Minnesota Wild: Nicholas Petrecki
A big rugged stay at home defenceman with good speed that would be an ideal fit on Jacques Lemaire’s Wild. They feel that Petrcki was the best player available.

20. Pittsburgh Penguins: Brandon Sutter
The Pens had both Gillies and Petrcki ahead of Sutter on their list, but they feel as though Sutter will be a certain 3rd liner in the NHL, with the potential of becoming much more. The last name doesn’t hurt either.

21. Phoenix Coyotes: Bill Sweatt
Gretz and the Coyotes were very surprised when Sweatt was still available at 21 as they had him much higher on their list. The best skater in the draft with a lot of offensive upside. Phoenix yet again ends up with an American born player.

22. Montreal Canadiens: Jonathan Blum
The Canadiens were very impressed with his composure down the stretch with the Vancouver Giants; a great puck moving offensive defenseman, with under rated defensive abilities.

23. Nashville Predators: Brett MacLean
Put up 100 points with Oshawa this past season, but it remains to be seen if he was just feeding off John Tavares’ greatness. Nonetheless, MacLean has produced at every level and the Predators were delighted to select him.

24. St. Louis Blues: Maxim Mayorov
The Blues feel that this Russian is the best player available and is way too good to pass up on. The Blues had Moyarov much higher on their list and have no problem drafting him, even though there is no guarantee he will come over to North America.

25. Vancouver Canucks: Oscar Moller
The Canucks got the kid that they really wanted. Dave Nonis and the Canucks scouting staff saw a lot of him playing in Chilliwack of the WHL; is a good gritty player with a nose for the net. A perfect choice for the Nucks with their lack of depth at center. Yet another Swede joins Vancouver’s organization.

26. St. Louis Blues: Thomas Hickey
The Blues were once again surprised that Hickey was available this low; drafting 2 skilled forwards with their previous picks, they felt that this defenceman would be the perfect selection. Should make a nice pairing with Erik Johnson.

27. Detroit Red Wings: Joakim Andersson
The Red Wings will yet again draft a Swede, and yet again draft a very talented one. They feel like Andersson is already a top notch defensive forward ala. Samuel Pahlsson and they feel that he has a lot more to offer offensively.

28. Washington Capitals: Max Pacioretty
The Caps would have liked to draft a defenceman, but they feel that Pacioretty is definitely the best player available. They didn’t think he would be around at 28 but were very thrilled that he was. A prototypical power forward with deceptive speed and a developing defensive game.

29. Ottawa Senators: Tommy Cross
The Sens’ really like this kid from Boston College, they feel that if he ameliorates his offensive skills, he will undoubtedly become a top 4 NHL defenceman. Rumor is that the Sens’ are looking for a North American defenceman, and Tommy Cross would definitely fit the billing.

30. Edmonton Oilers: Akim Aliu
The Oilers are well aware of all the questions surrounding this kid’s attitude and behavior, but there are no questions surrounding his raw skill. The Oil are counting on the Gagners in London of the OHL to not only help Aliu develop as a player, but also as a person.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Too Much Fun League

It had been said by pundits time and time again that with the NFL's strict policies and regulations on and off the field, the league had gone from the best professional sporting league in the world to the 'No Fun League'. Well, it seems like the players in the NFL heard those critics and didn't agree. In fact the players really must love their league because it seems like players have taken offense to what the critics had to say.

Over the past few years, many NFL players have taken it upon themselves to right what they believe to be a wrong accusation. The NFL is not the 'No Fun League' it is in fact the 'Too Much Fun League' and the players have proved it through their recent actions. It really is hard to believe that the NFL, the uncontested best-run professional sports league in the world, can have so many dysfunctional players and yet still be the superpower that it is.

Every week we see someone like Micheal Vick, Adam Pacman Jones or Ricky Williams tangled up in a big mess with dogs, drugs, cops or estranged lovers and no matter how severe the crime, the punishment rarely seems to be punitive. It's common knowledge that celebrities and professional athletes are treated differently when it comes to the law, but players in the NFL are taking it to another level. It's almost as if some of these players live two lives: a football life and a life breaking the law. Imagine what the league could be if those immature players who take advantage of their status start clean up their act. The NFL is beginning to punish player with lengthy suspension, exemplified by the year-long suspensions received by Williams and most recently Jones. But of course, as long as these players are putting fans in seats and money in the pockets of the owners and leagues they really will never be treated as a human being before pro-football players, and suspensions are all they will continue to receive.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

A Night Amongst the Stars

The 2006-2007 NHL Awards take place tonight in Toronto and like every other year, this year there is plenty of debate taking place over who is going to win each award. It can be argued that each award has more than one deserving candidate and that can only lead to many being disappointed once the hardware is given out.

The five major awards being contested are the Hart (League MVP), the Vezina (Best Goalie), the Jack Adams (Coach of the Year), the James Norris (Best Defenseman) and the Calder Memorial (Rookie of the Year).

The Calder Memorial Award is an interesting one. After last year's Crosby/Ovechkin showdown, this year's give away may not be as high profile but may be more competitive. Nominees for this award are the Pittsburgh Penguins' Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal and Paul Stastny of the Colorado Avalance. Each young phenom did great things this past season. Malking scored hilight reel goals time after time and led all rookies in scoring while Staal was sixth in rookie scoring but played a large role on the team's penalty kill and led the league in short handed goals. Paul Stastny was not as flashy as Malkin or Staal, but he did end up second in rookie scoring thanks to his impressive twenty game point-scoring streak.

The James Norris Award has been anything but competitive in recent history. Out of the last five years, Red Wing Niklas Lidstrom has won four time and guess what, he's up for it again. Along with Lidstrom, now Stanley Cup Champions Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger are nominated. It would be irresponsible to discredit Lidstrom on account of his competitiors winning the Stanley cup, but one would think that Anaheim's successes were due in large part to the tandem they had on D and this would render either Niedermayer or Pronger worthy of winning the award. The award will likely go to Niedermayer as he led all defeseman in points while Lidstrom and Pronger were fifth and seventh respectively.

The Jack Adams Award is awarded to the top coach in the league but this award may be the toughest to judge. This year's nominees are Buffalo's Lindy Ruff, Vancouver's Alain Vigneault and Pittsburgh's Michelle Therien. Although Ruff did a great job with the Sabres, it is apparent that Ruff's team had the most talent throughout the roster. This coupled with his win in this category all but eliminates him from contention in my mind. This leaves the two frenchmen Vigneault and Therien. Vigneault took a Canucks team which missed the playoffs the year before and was completely revamped with 14 new players on the roster and led them to a division title and a second round playoff berth. Although Vigneault's feat is astounding, the league and writers may see Therien's as more so. The Penguins' bench boss led his team from last place in the Eastern Conference last year to fifth place this year and a long-awaited playoff appearance. Vigneault did more with a lesser team, but Therien made a more drastic improvement.

The Vezina Trophy is given to the best goalie. Genearlly this award is based on stats. This year there are four nominees. Martin Brodeur, Roberto Luongo, Mikka Kiprusoff and Henrik Lundqvist. Brodeur seems like a shoe-in for this one, he lead the league in shutout with 12 and set a new league record for wins while having a steller GAA and Save %. Luongo would be a close second, but his stats do not compare to Brodeurs.

Finally, the Hart Trophy. The player who is judged the most valuable player to his team. Martin Broduer, Roberto Luongo and Sidney Crosby are up for this one. Many in the West would say Luongo deserves to win as without him, the Canucks would have gone nowhere this past season. Although the same could be argued for Brodeur, it could also be said that the Devils had a more talented team than Vancouver. This leaves Sidney Crosby, who as a 19 year-old, led the NHL is scoring setting a league record as the youngest player ever to do so. Sure there will be the argument that Pittsburgh was loaded with kid phenoms, but the fact remains that without Crosby that team would have go nowhere fast.

The Lester B. Pearson award is given to the Most Valuable Player voted on by the players of the NHL. Crosby, Luongo and Vincent Lecavalier (led the league in goals) are on the ballot. Crosby doesn't have the best reputation amongst his peers, but I doubt this will take many votes away from him. Lecavalier has Martin St. Louis on his side and often worked as the second half of a tandem. Most players in the league believe that Luongo is the best goalie in the league and without him, the Canucks would have been a basement dwelling team.

As you can see, there is much room for debate and controvery. This means only one thing: an exciting night in Toronto and that is more than we can say about the city during the NHL season.

Here are my predictions for all awards:
Hart - Crosby
Lester B. Pearson - Luongo
Calder - Malkin
Norris - Niedermayer
Selke - Pahlsson
Adams - Vigneault
Byng - Sakic
Vezina - Brodeur

Catch a debrief on the NHL Awards on this weeks upcoming show of The Press Box at