Hockey Headlines

Thursday, 25 May 2017

The Hockey Show - Episode 244

The Hockey Show returns tonight with some more Survivor: NHL Playoffs exit interviews as we get caught up in that pool. With Game Seven going tonight between Ottawa and Pittsburgh from Steel City, one of Tom or Barry will be doing an interview in the near future as well. There's been a pile of stuff happening all over the planet when it comes to hockey, so we'll talk about all the major news stories, hit on a few fun stories, and get everything caught up after a few weeks of fun interviews! Make sure you cozy up to the ol' radio tonight for The Hockey Show!

As you can see above, the field has thinned out a little from the last time one of these images was posted. Because of this, we'll catch up with Matthew, John, Adam, Al, and Derek to have them deliver their teams' respective exit interviews. We'll also preview Game Seven tonight and pick winners, chat a little about the surprising Nashville Predators and their resiliency without their top-two centermen, recap the IIHF World Championship with respect to how shootouts to determine gold medal winners are dumb, talk some overseas news as Russia begins to make some noise, and we'll cap off the show by talking about the twelve teams who will alter their look for next season under the Adidas logo.

Honestly, there's no reason you should ever miss the show because you should have already downloaded the UMFM app. It's the easiest and most convenient way to listen to any of UMFM's great shows any time of the day, so go get it! Just follow this link on your iDevice or this link for your Android device and get the UMFM app! It's never been easier to tune into The Hockey Show or UMFM! Download the UMFM app today, and don't miss any of our great programming or shows!

If you're all over social media, we try to be as well! Email all show questions and comments to hockeyshow@umfm.com! Tweet me anytime with questions you may have by hitting me up at @TeebzHBIC on Twitter. You can also post some stuff to Facebook if you use the "Like" feature, and I always have crazy stuff posted there that doesn't make it to the blog or show.

Tonight, we talk Game Seven, the final three, one shootout, the second Wild Card team, twelve new looks, and Russian numbers only on The Hockey Show found on 101.5 UMFM and on the UMFM app!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Russian Belt Tightening

I'd like to say that I'm shocked, but the reality is that I'm not. You shouldn't be shocked either when I tell you that today's news of the KHL cutting two teams from its membership finally happened. For a league that has had numerous reports of players not being paid, potential franchises leaving over costs, and owners and sponsors unable to keep up with the US dollar amidst the falling price of the ruble, the writing was on the wall and it was only a matter of time. Today, the announcement came from KHL president Dmitry Chernyshenko that the league would contract Metallurg Novokuznetsk while allowing Medvescak Zagreb to walk away as they had promised in March. 29 teams are now 27, and the cuts being made don't appear to be stopping any time soon.

Again, I'd like to say that this is a shock, but I wrote about the possibility of the KHL making drastic changes in November. Today, the money problems that were discussed back then have become the reality we see before us today. Chernyshenko stated that the reasons that prompted the league to contract Novokuznesk were their 14-46 record from this past season and small crowds attending the games - two factors which often sees the latter as a result of the former. What makes this contraction a little more puzzling, however, is that Novokuznetsk was still making player transactions as recently as two days ago!
I have no idea what Alexei Tkachuk's status is at this moment in terms of who owns his rights, but it seems he's getting screwed over in a big way with this decision by the KHL. Again, it seems strange that the team is still making deals when contraction was clearly on the table, but this is Russia where the inexplicable often happens in the business world.

The other team that is leaving is Croatian team Medvescak Zagreb who finally made good on their promise to leave the KHL. It seems that for the last few summers, the threat of Zagreb leaving the league was always in play yet they always wound up playing another season in the KHL. In March, however, the club announced it would be joining the Austrian-based EBEL league for next season, finally cutting its ties to the Russian league where it always seemed it was behind in payments to players, staff, the arena, the league, and a host of other vendors. It appears they will keep the majority of their roster intact during the move to the EBEL, including Canadians Alexandre Giroux, Derek Smith, and captain Mike Glumac.

The other major piece of news that was floated by Chernyshenko today was that the league will also contract three more teams next season to reduce the field to 24 teams total. The Associated Press reports,
From 27 teams next season, the KHL will cut three more for the 2018-19 season, Chernyshenko said. A statistical rating system measuring teams' on-ice ability, their finances and crowd appeal will be used to determine who quits the league.
In total, the league will have reduced its footprint in and around Russia by five teams by the time the 2019-20 season starts based on the fact that teams are struggling. While they were once a socialist country when they went by the USSR name, it appears that there will be no help given from the league or the other 24 clubs, some of whom have budgets that rival small countries.

I read through the statement put out by Chernyshenko on Tuesday about how he views the finances of the KHL. You can read that report here, but there are some glaring issues he brings forth in his statement that should be addressed sooner than later when it comes to keeping the KHL viable.
"Such support for sport is a task for us all, but few would argue that it is the professional leagues and clubs which supply the personnel for our national teams. And professional sports should aspire to be financially sustainable. The KHL has just returned a profit for the third year running, but on average 52% of the clubs' budgets derive in some way from state funding, and not all the teams spend this money in a way that justifies these subsidies. As a result, the League has developed a set of measures designed to raise the level of competitiveness and to increase demand for the product."
Obviously, having a financial solvent and stable league is good, so good on the KHL for turning a profit three years running. However, the point Chernyshenko makes about 15 of the 29 clubs getting operating money from some state-funded source should worry the pants off Chernyshenko. If taxes and utilities are keeping half the teams in the league afloat, there's a serious issue with the accounting and funding of these teams. I fully understand that taxes and bills are a certainty in life, but we've seen industries fall in countries like the US that were once thought to be impervious to these perils. This should have Chernyshenko looking for other sources of income for his league and teams or ways to control the spending, and he addresses those methods two paragraphs below this one.

However, he continues,
"We are also increasingly active in attracting some formidable new member clubs. A recent example is Kunlun Red Star of Beijing, whose arrival has seriously expanded our marketing prospects in terms of raising additional income. With our product – a League set up in Russia with headquarters in Moscow – we can and should be pulling in revenue on the Asian and European markets. We are doing this. Our television rights, our main source, have already been sold to 28 countries, and we need to increase that number."
This isn't good enough. Two teams have already been set adrift and three more will join them, so the number of markets clamoring for KHL hockey is shrinking. I don't know what "formidable member clubs" he is boasting about attracting, but the league already tried and failed in Croatia and the Czech Republic as well as within its own borders in Russia. They might be able to get into Sweden or Great Britain, but that will only strain the league's finances once more. And if the league is already televised in 28 countries, there aren't a lot of remaining countries left to which they can sell KHL hockey.

Chernyshenko goes on to say,
"At the same time, however, we must reduce costs, and we can do this by lowering the wage ceiling. Tomorrow the KHL Board of Directors has its meeting, at which we shall discuss these measures. It might be necessary to make some unpopular decisions, but we cannot please everyone. Clubs that are unable to meet certain criteria will have to search for openings in other leagues, but the overall effect will be the release of funds from the budget, especially in the regions. These measures are aimed at improving all hockey operations and enhancing the prestige and quality of the League as our product. And the funds which will be made available, including the funding our clubs receive from the state, can be directed at strengthening the national teams. In tackling this issue, we will cooperate closely with the Russian Hockey Federation."
So not only is contraction seemingly the best way to manage costs, improve hockey operations, and enhance the "prestige and quality" of the KHL, but lowering the salary cap - which never seems to be enforced anyway - is also a good way at curbing the growing costs. This seems like the old USSR again - suppress wages and control growth so a few can benefit greatly! Honestly, if the KHL had enforced the salary cap from the beginning, there wouldn't be an arms race between three or four clubs when it comes to winning every year. When SKA St. Petersburg and Metallurg Magnitogorsk go 29-7 in the playoffs - including 5 of those losses coming in the final against one another - there's a problem. Both teams were 12-1 entering the final, and neither team was challenged along the way. They are consistently two of the top teams in the KHL and arguably boast the most talent of any of the KHL squads. I expect these two teams and CSKA to cruise through the regular season once again next season.

In the end, there will be no changes until all the money filtered into the Big Three starts getting spread to teams like Lada Togliatti, Amur Khabarovsk, and Ugra Khanty-Mansiysk followed by the strict enforcement of a lowered salary cap so that some of the smaller teams can catch up to these powerhouse big spenders. Secondly, there would have to be strict penalties in place for these big-spending teams so that if they did exceed the salary cap, they would be hindered moving forward. I'm not sure what could be done in this case - fines would have no effect when these teams are sometimes spending 800% more than the low-budget teams - but perhaps there would be loss of draft picks or loss of cap space for the following year in the same amount that exceeded the cap. Either way, these big-spending teams are more the problem than the solution right now when it comes to evening out the playing field.

Lastly, stop expanding. Until the KHL can get its house in order, expansion stops immediately. Chernyshenko talked about reducing costs, yet wants to add teams in far-off countries. The contradiction in this method is astounding if this is how the KHL believes it will strengthen itself, and I'd suggest that the KHL is turning more into a Champions League than an alternative to the NHL by looking outside its borders for more clubs to join the league. Fix the house before making additions. It's the only way to get stronger.

Out of all this, the only question will be which three teams join Metallurg Novokuznetsk and Medvescak Zagreb as former KHL teams. My guess is that HC Sochi, Slovan Bratislava, and Dynamo Riga are the most likely to be under the gun with this new calculation system, but we'll see who the three will be next summer once the calculations are done. Despite Chernyshenko stating about the missed payments to players from clubs that, "“The KHL will not stand for this," it seems he's only making things worse for a number of teams, players, and communities by either contracting their clubs or not helping them to attain some sort of parity with the free-spenders.

When all is said and done, the numbers don't lie, and the only guaranteed number for next season's KHL is 24. Good luck with that.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Going The Distance

Craig-bleepin'-Anderson.

If there was one reason why the Penguins will host the Senators in Game Seven in Pittsburgh, Craig Anderson is the reason. Anderson stopped 45 shots in the must-win game to extend the series to Thursday where the Senators will look to win the best-of-one game now. To say Anderson was huge in this game would be doing him a disservice because he was the only reason why the Penguins weren't out to another big lead like they were in Game Five.

"You know, as far as tonight, you just try to stay in the moment as best you can and focus on the baby steps," Anderson told reporters. "One shot at a time, and the big picture takes care of itself when you worry about the details."

The details, if you're keeping track at home, is that Anderson's performance pushes this series to a Game Seven where neither team has a particularly great record. The Penguins are 9-7 in Game Sevens, but are 3-7 at home in the final game of a series. The Senators, on the other hand, are 0-5 in Game Sevens with a rather spectacular 0-4 record on the road. Pittsburgh dropped their second game of the playoffs after scoring first, so there's some hope that the Penguins can score first in Game Seven. They have just one win when their opponent scores first.

Pittsburgh is hoping for the same effort they got tonight and on Sunday when they trounced Ottawa 7-0 at the PPG Paints Arena. Ottawa is looking to weather the storm and capitalize when they can just as they did tonight. Only one will advance to host the waiting Nashville Predators on Monday.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday, 22 May 2017

Predators Feast On Ducks

I don't eat a lot of duck. Besides me not being particularly fond of removing majestic waterfowl from our wetlands for conservation reasons, I simply have no interest in buying the meat. That being said, it seems that Nashville has acquired a taste for duck after sending the Anaheim Ducks back to California with nothing to show for their cross-country migrations. Nashville will make their first Stanley Cup appearance in franchise history after downing the Ducks in six games, but this should have been expected after the first few minutes in Game Six.

It didn't start well for the Ducks when Austin Watson banked a shot in off Brandon Montour's skate 81 seconds in.

With the insanity sparked early at Bridgestone Arena, the Smashville fans really got on Jonathan Bernier.
From there, former Milwaukee Admirals captain Colton Sissons elevated his play after being promoted to the top line as he notched his first career hat-trick in helping lead the Predators over the Ducks in six games to advance to the Stanley Cup Final. Anaheim's Cam Fowler had tied the game at 3-3 with 11:08 to go in the third period, but it was Sissons' dagger with 6:00 to play that gave Nashville the lead they would never relinquish. Two empty-net goals later, and the crowd in Nashville nearly blew the lid off the arena.

"It feels so good," Sissons said in a post-game on-ice interview. "Listen to this crowd. Our fans are amazing, a great group of guys. We just believe in ourselves. That's all it is."

Peter Laviolette will now see the Stanley Cup Final with a third team, becoming the fourth coach to achieve that dubious distinction and the first since 1994. For Laviolette, he's 1-1 in Stanley Cup Final, winning with Carolina in 2006 and losing to Chicago in 2010 while with Philadelphia. He joins Dick Irvin, Scotty Bowman, and Mike Keenan in that highly-regarded group, but Laviolette had a much different view on his "success".

"Probably means that I got fired a lot," Laviolette joked. "I'm fortunate to be here working and fortunate David Poile gave me a job. And when you do that, you're not thinking about things like that, you're just thinking about coming to work."

Is there any doubt that the blue-collar approach that Laviolette takes to his job hasn't rubbed off on all his players? You can certainly point to the fact that Nashville arguably has the best top-four defencemen in the NHL along with an elite netminder who can steal games when needed, but they also have four lines that can play whatever style of game they are asked to play. Whether it be a scoring role, a checking role, a grinding role, or anything else, Colton Sissons is the personification of this hard-working, do-whatever-it-takes team when it comes to their success. Normally a third-line centerman behind Ryan Johansen and Mike Fisher, Sissons jumps to the top line and bags a hat-trick. Not bad for the kid's first spotlight moment of the playoffs!

While it certainly can be said that the strong Nashville defence deserves some consideration for the Conn Smythe Trophy, I'd be inclined to look deeper in the zone at Pekka Rinne. Rinne was outstanding in this series just as he's been all playoffs as he stands with a 12-4 record. He stopped 172 of 186 shots in the six games, including 38 of 41 when Anaheim looked like they were gaining momentum throughout Game Six. His rebound control has been outstanding throughout the three series, and he handles the puck in his own zone like a third defenceman, often looking like he's daring forecheckers to try and take the puck from him. Had it not been for some incredible goaltending from Rinne in the first and second periods, we might be talking about a Game Seven right now. He's earning his keep in these playoffs without doubt.

And let's not forget the ever-present Sixth Man in Nashville. The fans are rabid about hockey in Nashville, and they party from morning until, well, next game. From celebrity anthem signers to celebrity towel wavers to the mass of fans that assemble outside to watch on the big screen, the atmosphere in Nashville may be unmatched in these playoffs. The "All Your Fault" chant shows how into the game these fans are, and they're serving notice that Nashville's barn is one of the hardest places for opposition teams to play. As Anaheim head coach Randy Carlyle stated last week, "You see these elderly women out there with a sledge hammer taking a pounding at a car that's got a Ducks logo on it... those are the kinds of things you look to, that passion that's been developed in their market."

There was some worry in the building when the Ducks began to chip away at the lead, but it seemed to evaporate with Sissons' hat-trick goal to give the Predators the 4-3 lead. From there, it was effort and fan support that carried the Predators into the Stanley Cup Final as the Ducks couldn't muster another goal in their comeback. While I wouldn't say that Nashville was the favorite going into the series with the Pacific Division champions, the early goal tonight followed by the solid team effort to stake the Predators to a lead had to have the Ducks worried. By the time the final horn sounded, it turned out that their goose was cooked.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Out In Treherne

I'm lucky enough to spend my Sunday in Treherne, Manitoba where I'll be umpiring a ball tournament for the local hockey team known as the Treherne North Stars. It's a rather small town about 90 minutes from Winnipeg to the southwest, but it is a quaint and friendly town with lots ot offer the road-tripping souls who make their way here. While I have yet to start writing Travel Blog In Canada, there is a hockey tie-in as one player from Treherne has gone on to play under the bright lights of the NHL. That player is none other than Florent Robidoux.

I wrote about Florent last year on the same weekend, so I'm not going to do that twice. What I do want to talk about is the senior men's North Stars team who wears the North Stars' uniforms proudly. Check out this photo of Treherne's finest hockey players!
That is outstanding! That photo was grabbed off the North Stars' Twitter page after the North Stars downed their arch-rivals in the Notre Dame Tropics at the annual Winter Classic. While that "classic" gets less press and TV people to it, the action on the ice was pretty insane as per reports with the North Stars coming out on top via a 4-3 margin!

I'll admit it here, folks, that I'm happy to support any team who goes full North Stars on the ice. When the NHL North Stars changed their jerseys to the generic black-and-green "Stars" uniforms, I was pretty disappointed. Granted, I'm pretty disappointed with most teams who ditch colour for a black jersey in hockey, but that great logo and green jerseys were iconic. Modano, Propp, Tinordi, Casey, Beaupre, Ciccarelli, Gartner, Parise, and Masterton are all names who wore the great starred-N during its time in the NHL.

Of course, that got me thinking of the other great logos we've lost in relocations of NHL franchises. Along with the North Stars, we've seen the Nordiques, the Whalers, and the Jets' original logo in moves during the 1990s, and it got me to thinking about which logo did I miss the most? There were some great logos in the 1990s that moved, so I wanted to ask you, readers, on which logo you missed most. In saying that...
Which NHL logo do you miss most?
Minnesota North Stars
Quebec Nordiques
Hartford Whalers
Winnipeg Jets
While I don't have the funds to license any of the above logos, I'd like to see all four make a comeback at some point. I know the NHL is making serious coin off the Whalers logo in sales, but that only goes to prove that these four logos may be as popular or more popular than current logos. Have your say in the poll above, and we'll check the results in a few weeks!

My time out in Treherne saw me up at 4:45am, on the road by 6:30am, in Treherne by about 8:15am, and back home by 9:15pm. It was a long day, but I had a great time and I'm already looking forward to next year's tournament. Because of my day, though, I missed the 2-1 shootout gold-medal win by Sweden over Canada (and I really want to grumble about shootouts deciding gold medals, but alas) and the Pittsburgh rout of Ottawa in their Game Five 7-0 win. There's still a ton of hockey to be played, but gimme your vote in the poll!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!