A For Vendetta

The regular news from tonight’s NHL action will read that Vancouver lost a tough game against Nashville at home 3-2.  The real story came out after the game when Canucks irritable forward Alex Burrows dropped a tactical nuke-sized bomb saying that referee Stephane Auger approached him during warmups saying… Botchford from The Province has all the pertinent information.

“It started in warm-up,” Burrows said. “Before the anthem, the ref came over and said I made him look bad in Nashville on the Smithson hit and he was going to get me back tonight.  When Smithson hit me sideways he said ‘I saw the replay you had your head up and weren’t really hurt and you made me look bad and I’m going to get you tonight.”

The game Burrows is referring to is a game from December 8th, also against the Predators, where Jarred Smithson received a five-minute major for charging and a game misconduct in a game Nashville also won 4-2.  In last night’s game, Burrows was dinged for three penalties in the third period, two of which most folks are describing as “dubious” including a diving call that was not matched up with the usual accompanying penalty on the other team.  Suffice to say, there’s some red flags here.

The fun part of tonight’s affair is that the Sportsnet cameras caught what might be part of the smoking gun on video.  Have a look.

Obviously it’s impossible to tell much of what’s being discussed here even if you can read lips, it’s just six seconds of video.  The fun part of this incredible accusation by Burrows is that it’s gotten folks all across Twitter to dig into Stephane Auger’s past to see if there are any other heated discrepancies and… You could say there’s a few and you don’t even need to check out games outside of this season to find some, two of which were games that were discussed right freaking here.

The first example is a game where his officiating partner Dennis LaRue took the heat for wrongly disallowing a Brad May goal against the Dallas Stars, a dubious decision considering it ended up costing Detroit the game.  The other game occurred when Philly’s Daniel Carcillo cold-cocked Matt Bradley and Auger awarded Washington an unprecedented nine minute power play against the Flyers.

If you want to dig even deeper, both the guys at Kurtenblog and Twitter fan MsConduct did some instant Internet research to find other complaints against Auger in the past, including one instance where Coyotes forward Shane Doan lost his cool and Auger accused him of using an ethnic slur against him.

With all of this stuff popping up all over the place, another bizarre call by Auger on Burrows shows that the dislike for each other may go back even further still.  Take a look at this video from last season.

Burrows was given a five-minute major for cross checking and a game misconduct for what amounted to basically nothing aside from Patrice Brisebois overselling a sort of hard hit.  If I were Alex Burrows, I know I’d question an official’s ability if he’s handing out major penalties like that like they were candy.

Alex Burrows’ vision of what referee Stephane Auger actually is.

Let’s get to the heart of the matter here though:

Alex Burrows has made a very damning accusation, one that is tantamount to accusing the official of fixing the game.  Burrows is no angel, he plays a game on the edge of being legal and illegal.  He’s got a history of questionable hits and plays and he’s most certainly got a reputation amongst the players and the officials.

Stephane Auger, as is being unearthed even more as I write this, has a history of questionable calls and now has a very serious allegation being made against him, one where he’s even caught on video speaking with Burrows before the start of the game.  This is a situation where the league has to do every bit of due diligence imaginable because the credibility of the game is being questioned. One thing that Gary Bettman cannot do is follow the example of his big brother in the NBA, David Stern.

In April 2007 when San Antonio Spurs superstar forward Tim Duncan called out referee Joey Crawford, Stern, ever the mediator, suspended Crawford for the remainder of the regular season and playoffs while fining Duncan $25,000 for slamming an official.  Duncan received two quick technical fouls, one while he was on the bench laughing with teammates, and was ejected from a game that ended up costing San Antonio the second seed in the playoffs.  Crawford was reinstated the following season and he promptly managed to make a no-call in a game between the Lakers and Spurs that cost the Spurs Game 4 of their series, an error so egregious the NBA apologized for it.  Some consolation.

Gary Bettman and NHL head of officiating Terry Gregson cannot screw the pooch on this matter.  If it turns out to be absolutely true that Stephane Auger said this to Burrows before the game he absolutely must be fired from the league.  To have a referee go rogue like this and take it into his own hands to decide how he’s going to call a game and be purposefully slanted against one player on the ice puts that player’s team at an instant disadvantage and makes the game immediately unfair and destroys the competitive balance.  If an official wants to take the game into his own hands in such a way, that’s an official that no longer needs to be affecting outcomes of games with their biased judgments.

If it turns out that Burrows was butt-hurt for blundering through the third period and Auger just happens to be a very mediocre official and Burrows opted to throw him under the bus because he flat out hates the way he calls a game then Alex Burrows better have a second career option waiting for him because if he thinks the calls are working against him now he hasn’t seen anything yet.  Is there a referee in the world that would give Alex Burrows the benefit of the doubt for anything after leveling a complaint like that and it turned out to be false?  No friggin’ way.



But if Burrows is telling the truth… The NHL spin doctors better be prepared for the enormous public relations nightmare that awaits them because every official is going to go under the microscope.  If you thought the rules crackdown after the lockout was rough on teams, the rules reinforcement that will go down through the fallout of this situation is going to be eerily similar.  After all, there can be no appearance of favorites and there can be no complaints anymore.

Stop The Insanity – Get Rid Of This Rule

Insane.  Just watch.

I thought about this rule a lot yesterday given the wacko spin-job the NHL tried to put on the whole mess with Brad May’s “no goal” against the Dallas Stars. The sport being what it is decided to one-up itself in a game between two severely struggling teams in Carolina and Toronto. This situation happens in overtime and bones Toronto out of an overtime victory, one which they couldn’t secure in the shootout because, you know, somehow winning a game in overtime and in the shootout is viewed as the same fucking thing.


The conclusion I’ve come to on this bogus “intent to blow the whistle” nonsense is that it’s a crutch. It’s a crutch for the officials because God forbid they make a definitive call in a game or do their job effectively. This has to end. Play to the whistle or don’t play at all. Simple as that. I know why the “intent to blow” clause is in the rule books, I understand it perfectly.

No more though. Referees are going to drag their asses in games and pretend that they’re bigger than the game itself? Too bad, your time has ended. The fact that more fans are getting to know the names of officials for all the wrong reasons isn’t a good way to seek out fame. People know Kerry Fraser because of his stupid hair but they also know him because he botched a call in the 1993 Western Conference Finals. People know Don Koharski because then Devils coach Jim Schoenfeld called him a fat pig and asked him to have another donut. They don’t know Don Koharski because he’s a swell guy or a good official, that’s crazy. People know Bill McCreary because he’s got a porn star mustache and can’t help but be the center of attention in any game he works.

Stop the insanity already. I want a couple of things out of officials. I want consistency and I want accountability for their actions when they decide they’re better than everyone else.  Consistency is already an impossible thing to get out of any game so I’m shit out of luck there, at the very least I should be able to get officials that don’t think they’re bigger or better than the game itself.  It looks like we’re all screwed there too.

GaryMcMahonHe intends to blow each and every night.  Mission accomplished.

The NHL has to get rid of this bogus ghost rule because any time it comes into play it’s a cop out of the highest order.  “Well, I wanted to stop play, but I was too damn slow to do it.”  What a joke.  Two nights in a row now games have been botched because of this referee crutch.

Get rid of it.

(Much thanks to Jeffler on Twitter for being lightning fast in pointing the video out on YouTube)

How’s That Versus Dispute Going Gary?

Any progress with that little DirecTV-Versus dispute Gary?

Just curious since, you know, the longer this goes the more pissed off fans of teams all over the country will get about this.  I guess this means that the NHL doesn’t care unless playoff games get affected.

Never say that Lil’ Gary never gave you nothing, fans.  Actually, you should say that.  Often.  What is Herr Bettman doing to help out?  Well… He told Empty Netters of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette what he was doing to “help” out.

“Yes I’ve been involved. I’ve been talking to both sides repeatedly. I even tried to mediate a deal to get the games on for last night and DirecTV didn’t seem all that interested in responding and reaching out to Comcast and Versus. Remarkably, I’m pleased to see the ratings were up last night nevertheless. But if you’re a DirecTV subscriber, you’re most immediate recourse, the most satisfaction you can get, the thing you have the most control over is your relationship with DirecTV.”

Wow, great work there.  So rather than work with their corporate broadcast partners at Comcast, Bettman has, instead, opted to go the slam route by proxy considering that Comcast has been busy with newspaper and sign propaganda while DirecTV is busy with propaganda of their own.  Of course, if you’re to believe what Comcast has to say a deal should be easy to broker.

Yes this dispute continues to be all about super rich jerkoffs trying to squeeze more money out of one another in some fashion, but the big jerkoff in all of it is happy to sit on the sidelines while his corporate partner still does all the heavy lifting.

The NHL does a lot of great things for the fversusans including being the one major sport that keeps in touch with the fans via blog allowances for press credentials and Twitter, but in this situation where it boils down to games being watched live the fans are getting boned the hardest and it’s everyone’s fault but the fans.  Comcast wants more money for their subpar network (supposedly), DirecTV wants to tell Comcast to sit on it and rotate (definitely) and Gary Bettman waits for them to play nicely even though that hasn’t even come close to happening as of yet.

If college football season and the NHL being in full swing (both major programming chips for Versus) haven’t gotten Comcast and DirecTV together for an agreement, I sincerely doubt the United Football League is going to patch things together for them for viewership.

So what now Gary?  Fans are getting pissed off, but not quite pissed off enough to force action.   It would seem that it would be your move now but inaction seems to be the correct action, right?  Weak sauce.

bettman-B&WOust This Man

Thanks For Playing: Phoenix Coyotes

I feel bad about writing this one.   I like the Coyotes.  I like Coyotes fans (and yes, they do have fans).  I like what GM Don Maloney has done on what amounts to be a bare-bones budget/being under Gary Bettman’s thumb.  Maloney has also been able to do pretty well in the draft for the Coyotes and it shows with their current lineup.

All that aside, the ownership fiasco that’s been covered ad nauseum elsewhere across the Internet and semi-ad nauseum here has derailed any kind of happy thoughts about this franchise.  Of course, on the eve of the start of the season, things have come to a head and Judge Redfield T. Baum has declared that both Jim Balsillie’s and the NHL’s bids for the team are no good and have thrown out Balsillie completely by saying that the NHL has every right to decide who they want to own a team.gretzkycoach

With that fiasco aside for the time being, it’s time for the team to hit the ice and the product they’ll hit the ice with isn’t overly terrible especially now that one of the people more responsible for the lack of forward development is out of the way, part of the collateral damage of the mess with Jerry Moyes.  That person being former head coach Wayne Gretzky.

Gretzky was a no-show for training camp this year, leaving assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson in charge.  Also tossed out was goaltending coach Grant Fuhr and replaced with former Hartford Whalers super goalie Sean Burke.  Former Blue Jackets coach Dave King was brought in to be an assistant coach to someone and then finally a foregone conclusion was reached when Wayne Gretzky announced he was stepping down as coach of the team.

Much the same way that Odin Mercer at SBN’s Five For Howling feels, I too think this is a move that was overdue and will help the team.  After all, the old saying goes, “Those who can’t do, teach.”  Well Wayne Gretzky did everything in the NHL and there’s not another player alive right now that sees or plays the game at all the same way that Wayne did and every person that walked into the Phoenix locker room had to be starstruck having him as the coach.  After all, he’s only the greatest hockey player of all time – how do you handle getting instructions and teaching from a guy that sees the game on a completely different level than every human being alive?  You don’t, that’s how.

wile-e-coyoteDon’t worry, help has arrived… But it’s going to take time.

Enter new head coach Dave Tippett.  Tippett is the former coach of the Dallas Stars and for six seasons he lead the Stars to the playoffs, peaking in 07-08 in the Conference Finals and then indescribably getting the boot after failing to lead the Stars to the playoffs last year, and that’s after the Stars were stuck with a miserable start of  the season by Marty Turco and that whole Sean Avery thing.   Tippett gets the job done, Tippett teaches winners and better yet, young guys won’t totally crap their pants every time he barks out orders.

With all that aside, I like how the Coyotes are made up and I have enjoyed what they’ve been doing for the last couple of years now.  The Coyotes and the Kings are my not-so-secret crushes in the NHL and while the Kings don’t have the off-ice problems (and may actually get Gretzky back in some capacity) they too have been able to capitalize on years of poor play and making the draft work for them.  The Coyotes have been doing the same thing but just haven’t been able to land a guy as awesome as say… Anze Kopitar.

Instead, the Coyotes have loaded up on highly-touted young forwards.  Peter Mueller, Martin Hanzal, Mikkel Boedker, Kevin Porter and Kyle Turris (currently in the AHL) make up a great group of talented skaters up front that Desert Dogs fans have been patiently waiting to blossom.   Among them, Porter should get his first real shot to break out this year after spending last season riding the bus between Phoenix and San Antonio.

Guys like Mueller and Hanzal are the “veterans” among them and Boedker had a solid first season last year.  Turris is the interesting guy to watch as he’s touted as the guy with the biggest upside and the most talented of them all. Yet last year he spent his time getting sent up and sent down to the AHL and this year he’s starting off the season right out in San Antonio.  GM Don Maloney said that he wanted to see how Turris would develop and with him coming off back surgery in the off season, perhaps going to San Antonio to start the year might not be the worst idea.

Then what to do about the center spot?  After all, who is going to be there to play alongside blue-collar man of the franchise Shane Doan?  This is where the Robert Lang signing comes in.  Lang is coming back after an injury-shortened 2008-2009 season with Montreal and while he did not participate with any team in training camp, the Coyotes and Maloney used this as an opportunity to bring in solid scoring veteran.  Savvy move indeed and it takes the pressure off the front office to play the shuttle game with Turris this year, provided Lang can stay healthy.  Adding Lang to another crafty free agent signings like Taylor Pyatt, Vernon Fiddler and Lauri Korpikoski and suddenly the mix of youth and veteran leadership up front doesn’t look so bad.  Peter Prucha and Radim Vrbata (returning from a year wrought with moving from Tampa Bay to the Czech League) add depth to the forwards and provide a full line of Czech Madness (with Martin Hanzal centering).

What about the defense though?  Ed Jovanovski is still here and youngster Zbynek Michalek continues to improve.  Veterans Adrian Aucoin and Jim Vandermeer were acquired in the offseason and help add some steadier veteran play on a blueline that remains mostly unspectacular with Kurt Sauer and Keith Yandle filling out ranks.  Sami Lepisto gets to play the part of the plucky youngster looking to carve his niche in this group of veterans.

In goal, Ilya Bryzgalov is the man – plain and simple.  His stats last year were a bit subdued but on a team that played as sketchily as the Coyotes did last year… You can understand why.  Should things for Bryzgalov go sour, the backup situation isn’t quite so appealing as the Coyotes signed journeyman Jason LaBarbera to back him up.  Al Montoya lurks in the AHL waiting for anyone to slip up so he can attempt to fulfill the prophecy as a first round selection to play goal.

Should the Coyotes goaltending come down to calling on either LaBarbera or Montoya for an extended period, perhaps getting the Vancouver Canucks on the phone to ask about Cory Schneider’s availability might be a good plan of action.

Much like I said last year in talking about the Los Angeles Kings lack of opportunity to make the playoffs, I make this choice for failure with resignation because I like what’s happening here, at least on the ice.  I like the young make up of the team, I love the youth that are in place, I’m a fan of Ilya Bryzgalov and I’m a huge fan of the Dave Tippett signing for the coaching position.  So why won’t they make a run at a playoff spot?  It’s the Western Conference and they play in what may prove to be one of the toughest divisions in the NHL.  Anaheim and San Jose will fight to the death for the top spot, Dallas should be more improved and Los Angeles is on the verge of upsetting the balance in the West.  Phoenix, for now, is going to have to tough it out this season.

With that said, this may also prove to be the team that by the end of the year, they could be threatening to prove me wrong if everything breaks correctly.  Most publications and prognosticators are eager to write off the Coyotes (except for the Two-Line Pass that haikus them in eighth) completely based upon what’s happened off the ice and while I admit I’m doing the same thing here… If the Coyotes go all St. Louis Blues on me and prove me wrong I’ll happily eat my bowl full of crow.

Jim & Gary: The Final Showdown

jimandgaryfaceoffA true summer blockbuster if there ever was one.

There have been many classic showdowns in history.  Dorothy and the Wicked Witch of the West, Gargamel and the Smurfs, G.I. Joe and COBRA.  Hell,  Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker as well as Batman and The Joker even managed to do it over the course of two different movies in each series.

It only seems fitting that with today (and tomorrow) being Franchise Auction day in Phoenix that there’s only two bidders left for the team now that Ice Edge Holdings has dropped out of the auction.  A real mano y mano showdown in the Old West, fitting of a Spaghetti Western.  Of course, in this movie, we’ve got the henchman from Face/Off going up against Billy Barty.  That’s the beauty of the NHL, they give rise to the thoughts of many of the greatest talents of Hollywood.

Enough has been made of this ridiculous vendetta-driven (by both sides) duel for the Coyotes already and Balsillie, to his credit, is putting Gary Bettman and his NHL bid in a very bad place as far as public opinion goes.  After all, Balsillie raising his offer by $30 million dollars makes even the most casual of NHL fans and non-fans alike wonder what in the blue hell Bettman and the Board of Governors have against a guy so obviously desperate to own an NHL franchise.


Jim Balsillie vs. Gary Bettman… In Hollywood

These wonderings and out-loud thinking I’ve done over and over and over again here and you folks know where I stand.  I’m pro-Balsillie as an owner, I am pro-having another team in Canada and I am pro-sticking it to Gary Bettman and making him have to deal with it.

The peril for me is that I am also pro-Phoenix and pro-Coyotes if for no other reason other than the fans that DO care about the team there.  The fans are almost always the folks caught in the middle of millionaire in-fighting in sports, Lord knows we know enough about that being the saps that are fans of the NHL.  The dedicated thousands in Phoenix have been wrongfully taken for a ride by their gutless puke of a soon-to-be former owner Jerry Moyes.  While I don’t blame Moyes for trying to sell the team, the guy has the ability to handle delicate situations about as well as a five year-old wound up on Pixy Stix would handle sitting still.

What sucks most for the fans in Phoenix is that the guy they’ve got to rely on to help them out is the diminutive dictator whose pride and miserable plan for domination of southern culture is on the line with the Coyotes.  The same guy who, if he and the NHL do succeed in winning the auction and the courts, is going to spin the team off to someone else to let it be their headache and marketing toy, to someone else that will likely be forced to move in the future no matter how hard they try to make it work in Arizona.

I don’t say that to break out the hyperbole and be a worrywart about the matter, but the NHLs plans if they win don’t exactly look all that sparkling and they’ve left themselves a lot of ways to get the hell out of Dodge.

In other words, the league has no intention of assuming this lease (for obvious reasons) and is apparently using a “transition services agreement” in order to leave it in Moyes’s hands for up to nine months after closing. Prior to the termination of that TSA, the league “may elect in their sole discretion to treat any Glendale contract as an excluded contract” and “the sellers [Moyes] shall be entitled to reject such a contract.”

The issue here for the judge will be that the NHL’s bid could easily become a relocation one by June, 2010, depending on how negotiations go with Glendale. What the league’s really after here is to buy time to find more suitors for the team and put pressure on the city to capitulate to its demands.

So the NHL is stalling so they can hand pick their own future criminal they approve to be owners.  After all, if it’s already broken why try to fix it?  It’s so much easier to just to throw rocket fuel on a smoldering fire.

The people in charge of the game seem to wonder why the sport gets laughed at.  At least with the other three major sports the criminals are on the field easily deposed of and not in the owners box where they continue making everything more corrupt and broken.

It’s far too late/early for me to let this nonsense get me riled up and thankfully the festivities in Phoenix operate on western time.  If you’re not on Twitter, first of all why not?  Secondly sign up immediately so you can follow along with those who will be in attendance on Thursday and Friday for the auction and hearings. For what it’s worth, CBC’s Tom Harrington reported on Twitter last night that Friday will be the day to be there as both Balsillie and Bettman will testify and be cross-examined.  What I wouldn’t give to witness this.

Here’s a list of the folks to follow in the next two days (if you’re not already):

@brahmresnik – Brahm Resnik is a News 12 anchor in Phoenix who has been instrumental in covering things with the Coyotes.

@TheYotesDiva – Founder of Save The Coyotes and avowed Jim Balsillie hater.  You’ll love her if you’re pro-Coyotes.

@OdinMercer – The head man and guru of SBNation’s Five For Howling.  Oh yeah and he’ll be hosting a courtroom drinking game while following along with the proceedings on Twitter. Giddy up!

@JeffMarek – Jeff Marek is a CBC sports reporter offering solid straight-forward reports with a slight bent for Balsillie.

@reporterchris – Chris Johnston is a reporter for The Canadian Press. You can bet that he’ll also be rooting for Jim Balsillie.

@cbctom – Tom Harrington, another CBC reporter in Phoenix to cover things.

@HKYFN – Larry Halliday, a devout Coyotes fan who has been dedicated to keeping fans on Twitter up to date on things and a true credit to hockey fans in Arizona.

Now you’re all set and if you’re not following me yet, well why don’t you just go ahead and do that already, mmkay?

Sailing The Financial Failboat In Tampa Bay

I’m going to quote a piece from David Shoalts of the Toronto Globe and Mail and I’m going to remove who they’re talking about and I’ll quiz you after it to ask you who you think it’s about.  Pretend it’s a really bad mad lib.

(noun) took money improperly from the (other financial operation) and its investors in order to pay for his share of the (NHL franchise), according to a member of the real-estate development’s executive committee.

Reading something like that, given the recent history of upstanding owners in the NHL and all, doesn’t really help clear up who this could actually involve, right?  After all, it could be Phoenix with Jerry Moyes.  It could be another story about Boots Del Biaggio and his ham-handed work with the Nashville Predators.  Perhaps it’s a long dormant story about John Spano, former Islanders owner and how he’s enjoying life as a convicted felon.

Or… It’s about one of the knucklehead co-owners of the Tampa Bay Lightning and how he used money from his Bear Mountain Resort in British Columbia, Canada to help pay for his stake in the team.

garytpirTampa Bay Lightning – Come on down!  You’re the next contestant on The Price Is Wrong!

It’s quite amazing that characters like Barrie and all of the others I mentioned previously have all managed to pass the NHL Board of Governors sniff test to be an owner, yet Jim Balsillie, the guy actually with money, is always left out in the cold.  It’s just silly.

Adding to the fun of this nonsense with Barrie, Bear Mountain and the Lightning is this analysis from Tom Benjamin of Canuck’s Corner.

Palace Sports and Entertainment – owned by the estate of Bill Davidson – had been trying to sell the team for a year before Koules emerged in the spring of 2008. Unfortunately, Koules had neither the money nor the partners to swing the deal. Even after hooking up with Barrie, Koules could not get financing. It is a mark of how desperately Palace wanted out that they agreed to temporarily carry the mortgage. After Koules failed again to get alternative financing, the arrangement became more than temporary.

It now appears that Koules and Barrie’s falling out happened when the team ran out of money early in 2009 and Barrie couldn’t answer the cash call. Koules (and the league?) carried the Lightning through the season. If the news reports are correct, Koules is back knocking on the Palace door because Len Barrie has to be bought out, because the team will probably run out of cash at some point during the season again, because Koules doesn’t have the money and because Koules can’t borrow it anywhere else.

Yes, that’s right – the eccentric pair of Koules and Barrie could end up sticking the former owners of the team with the bill because their money pot could be empty.  More from Benjamin:

What can Palace Sports and Entertainment do? I’m sure the executors of Bill Davidson’s estate want out of the hockey business, but they have a substantial amount of money at risk. If Palace goes along it will be becarepomanuse the alternative is bankruptcy and they will be effectively repossessing the team.

Imagine being the folks in control of Bill Davidson’s estate and having these two losers showing up on your doorstep to say, “Uh, well, if you don’t give us a hand with this problem, this problem is yours in a much bigger way.”  Damned if you do, really bent over a barrel if you don’t.

I don’t think Bill Davidson had being a post-mortem repo man in mind for the afterlife.

As always, the man bringing things to life on the Internet of this situation is From The Rink’s James Mirtle, and Mirtle has been on top of these slimy worms since the get-go in Tampa Bay, just check this list.

This time around, Mirtle comes out guns blazing on this situation with graphs and everything to show that the problems with Tampa are just the tip of the iceberg for our good friend Gary Bettman.

All that said, my guess is there are really only nine or 10 NHL teams which make a significant profit on the hockey side of things most seasons, with roughly another 10 breaking even depending on their playoff success. It’s amazing that, even with a cap that is effectively only about $47-million** after escrow, the economics of hockey are broken, with the perennial losers (like the Coyotes) doomed to incredible losses.

** N.B. Nine teams were spending more than that in 2001-2002.

Sounds like an incredibly fun situation around the league, doesn’t it?  Meanwhile, the NHL is busy putting in a bid for a financial albatross in Phoenix to keep it out of the hands of one over-zealous BlackBerry guru.  I don’t think that the NHL wants to really get overly involved in this kind of do-gooder action while trying to save face for what appears to be failed market experiments.

I’ve stated since the beginning that what’s happened with Tampa Bay isn’t a failure of the NHL.  Tampa Bay was a successful market and one that was thriving… Until Tweedle-Barrie and Tweedle-Koules took over and made hockey in Tampa Bay a joke.

From the chasing out of John Tortorella to the hiring of Barry Melrose and how they’ve curiously handled their player moves the last two off seasons, you have no need for further evidence as to why the fans in Tampa Bay have stopped showing up in the crazy numbers they once did.  After all, would you pay crazy NHL prices to watch a team with no direction, no leadership and no respect for its new fanbase?  Absolutely not, especially when the owners have no idea what they’re even doing.  Bill Davidson and Palace Entertainment knew what they were doing but then again, Davidson had it going on with the Detroit Pistons as it was.

Tampa Bay was once, briefly, a very successful NHL market and it can be again but not until Koules and Barrie are gone and should things shake out grimly there it could be a very ugly situation very soon for the Lightning.  Maybe these jokers shouldn’t have thumbed their nose at college hockey and brought down the wrath of the hockey gods.

Or maybe they should’ve actually had money to make a purchase instead of being shifty real estate shysters.

Time Can’t Move Fast Enough

Two weeks.

We’re two weeks away from the start of NHL training camp.  Summer is damn near over, children both young and old alike are headed back to school and then there’s others who have shown that they’re really not grown up at all.


You know what this makes me feel like?

I’ve even got the same dress and everything. It’s amazing really.

What’s not helping matters there with all the secrecy of the NHLPA and their motives in booting the now former boss Paul Kelly are statements like these from Atlanta Thrashers superstar Ilya Kovalchuk, courtesy of Dmitry Chesnokov of Yahoo’s Puck Daddy via Twitter translated from Russia’s SovSport (God Bless the Internet!):

Kovalchuk calls the current CBA “dumb;” says “players lost on all counts.”

And this beauty:

Kovalchuk says that during the lockout there was a split among players who started looking for a new boss behind Goodenow’s back.

Sounds like it’s going to be a party in the near future doesn’t it?

It’s hard to believe that there’s a group of guys dumber than the NHL Owners and Board of Governors with Gary Bettman on their leash, but it appears that the NHLPA wants to vie for the crown.  What the firing of the very likable and pacifying Paul Kelly spells out is doom in the future and Kovalchuk’s comment about how the CBA works against the players and that they “lost out on all counts” is mind-boggling, especially since the owners, who indeed thought they won have seen their own supposed victory fall down around their ankles.

The players can see what’s coming on the horizon though.  They see that the gravy train has ended and that the salary cap is going to fall next year and with it the cap floor.  They know already that the owners will be looking for assistance for their own bad management (AGAIN) and the players know that they’ll be made into the villains in all this by the shyster owners.

With all that said, everyone is feeling queasy about what this means for the future.  While this year will go fine and without a hitch (provided no one gets hurt during the Olympics), this will cloud things up immensely for the following seasons so long as the NHLPA hires a hardliner that they’re supposedly looking for (so says Kevin Allen of USA Today on Twitter).  While the owners have made it nearly impossible to like anything that they do given how Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes has acted towards his own team and market to the Board of Governors attitude and actions towards Jim Balsillie, the players association fires right back with a dumpster full of stupid of their own feeling like they’re getting the short end of the stick.

Unreal.  Both sides of this idiotic operation continue to feel like they’re the big men on campus when it has somehow not dawned on them that they’re not even the big fish in the major league sports pond.  The owners locking the players out for a full season was bad enough and should’ve continued to make both sides suffer for their malfeasance towards each other and the fans yet in a couple years time we’re likely to see the same storyline unfold all over again.

I’d lecture using old clichés about how those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it,  but why bother.  If the players want to play hardball with the owners who are likely going to look to correct the “mistakes” they made in the last round of collective bargaining… Have fun.  You’ll all be playing in Sweden and Russia again to help bide the time while your newly elected union head butts heads with the most stubborn bunch of backwards curmudgeons this side of the nursing home.

Go ahead and get locked out for a year or two and see who’s left to care when you come back.  The fans have better things to do than wait for potentially equally moronic sides to come to an asinine agreement over who gets to have more money.  This time there won’t be quirky rule changes to be made to help win people over instantly.  This time distractions won’t work.

This time, fans will have something better to do with their time and money.  Just test it out and see if it’s a bluff.

I dare you.

Bettman’s Pet Project Wets The Bed

I was reading a link from the Los Angeles Times this weekend, you know, a newspaper – those things that used to be the staple of American media but have quickly become obscure thanks to the Internet.

This article talked about how there’s a fun dispute going on between DirecTV and the Versus Network in that Versus wants to charge the company more money to carry their programming and DirecTV doesn’t want to pass that buck along to their customers.

Since DirecTV doesn’t want to add any costs for their customer base and Versus, to this point, has been unwilling to move off their demands, DirecTV is going to drop Versus from their system on September 1st.  According to the ever-reliable Wikipedia (cough), this would mean 18 million DirecTV subscribers would not be able to see Versus.

If you’re a diminutive commissioner of a niche sport failing miserably to take advantage of the immense amount of talent in your league… This is not good news.

Robert Mercer, director of public relations for DirecTV, said: “Versus’ overall ratings are poor and have not increased nearly enough to justify what we’re paying them, let alone the significant increase they’re asking for.

“It is a significant rate hike and the deal is discriminatory because Versus is not offering the same package options as other distributors.”

All right that sounds shady as hell, why would Versus play hard ball with DirecTV?

Versus is owned by Comcast, a cable carrier that competes with DirecTV. Versus responded in a statement released Friday that said it has added “many marquee properties” and has become “the fastest-growing sports cable network in the country.”

And there it is.

This is just a mega-corporate pissing match where Comcast is looking to bone over their competition by trying to juice them for more money.  This kind of arm wrestling between cable stations and companies is nothing new at all, just ask the NFL about how their network is doing dealing with Cablevision.

Then again, this turns out to bversuse really bad PR for the NHL when their hand-picked cable network of choice is booted off of DirecTV because DirecTV doesn’t want to cave into their demands and subsequently helps feed the anti-Bettman-esque sentiment from our media friends north of the border.  The anti-Bettman stuff I dig here guys, but saying that while a cable company thinking they’re wearing the daddy pants when they’re stuck in Garanimals is pretty short-sighted.

What this battle between Comcast/Versus and DirecTV points out is that Herr Bettman’s plan of leading the charge to help overthrow the Disney/ESPN sports programming empire is falling well short.  Hell, the reason the Los Angeles Times picked up the story about this struggle is because of the effect it has on broadcasts of Pac-10 college football, not coverage of the Anaheim Ducks or Los Angeles Kings.  The Kings and Ducks are combining for ONE appearance on Versus for the entire 2009-2010 season (November 9th Los Angeles @ Chicago).  Apparently Versus wasn’t tuned into or turned on by Gary’s plan of NHL Non-Traditional Market Manifest Destiny.

One of the few things I gave credit to Bettman for after his “lockout to end all interest in the NHL” was insistence to stick it to ESPN for their snickering and boorish coverage of the lockout.  Problem there being that ESPN was already the only sports show in town worth bowing down to and it’s only gotten worse now.

What kills me here is Comcast/Versus’ company line for Versus being the “the fastest-growing sports cable network in the country.”  Well of course you’re the fastest growing sports cable network, you’re the only one that’s going on the “broad appeal” plan of attack and your only competition is the 50 metric ton gorilla named ESPN.  If you’re running a cable provider and you have the choice between filet mignon from the best restaurant in the city and week-old meat parts from butcher in the alley, the choice is pretty obvious.

Do I like what Versus is doing to try to broaden its appeal?  Sure.  Embracing the WEC and its mixed-martial arts fighting is amazingly a step in the right direction because it offers something gaining in popularity that ESPN doesn’t have.  Working out some kind of partnership with the UFC and their seeming monopoly on MMA would go a long way to helping the network, but I think Dana White and UFC can do whatever  the hell they want to and make bank at this point. Carrying college football is also a solid move but there’s got to be more than just these things to go around. The NHL is the jewel of their network and right now the NHL doesn’t have the swagger to make things happen business-wise.

Versus, for the time being, has to be content with just being the niche sports network and it this economy, Versus doesn’t have the kind of programming nor the following to be able to boss anyone around, never mind the kings of satellite broadcasting at DirecTV.

If Comcast thinks that this is the right time and the right way to pick a fight with DirecTV by using Versus as their bargaining chip then that’s not going to turn out well for Comcast or DirecTV subscribers that actually want Versus, all the while the NHL is at the mercy of Comcast to get this figured out somehow.  While Comcast doesn’t exactly lose out all that hard in this battle (they do have other rather successful networks in E! Entertainment Tengblomelevision and G4) Versus is their sports programming horse and keeping it sight unseen by up to 18 million people does them no favors.

That said, getting that monthly fee from each of those subscribers would certainly help Comcast to pay for more hair care products for Brian Engblom and to make sure that the Versus crews can travel further west than St. Paul, Minnesota more than a few times in a given season or even travel to Canada sometimes.  I hear they like hockey up there.

It’s all too amusing to see that Gary’s pet project to make Versus the new overlords of cable now somewhat hangs in the balance, at least for this season. I wonder what kind of face he’s making while he has almost no control over this…



Now let’s see if Gary has any stroke to help put this mess to bed, but considering even Paul Tagliabue and Roger Goodell don’t have the ability to help smooth things out with the NFL Network issues with certain cable providers, I’m not going in the with the highest of expectations for Lil’ Gary to help out this situation with Versus.

Jerry Moyes to Gary Bettman: Up Yours

Yesterday was a huge day as far as the Phoenix Coyotes saga goes as the NHL and Jerry Moyes headed to court to hash out this whole bankruptcy issue. When they got there, however, the big dust up was over who, exactly was in control of the team to decide it’s future.

And you thought this would be easy, didn’t you?

Apparently since that entire issue is still a sticky mess, like I was talking about a little bit here the other day, Judge Redfield Baum said, “Screw you guys you’re going to mediation.” Well not quite like that, but he did say that’s how this thing will get squared away.

In the aftermath of that decision as well as the choice by Judge Baum to have a relocation hearing in June just a week ahead of the draft has turned this already ample PR game into a sideshow of Bearded Lady proportions.

The good news out of this for fans in Phoenix is that their team probably isn’t going anywhere next season. The bad news is that their maybe/maybe not owner Jerry Moyes is busy scorching the earth to make it impossible for anyone with the money needed to make hockey in the desert work to make the investment.

“Even a winning team would not stop us from losing money unless we received some concessions,” Moyes said in his letter.

He made no apology for trying to abandon the Phoenix market by selling the team to Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie, whose $212.5 million (all figures U.S.) offer is conditional upon moving the franchise to Hamilton.

“I have a responsibility to all of the creditors of this business,” said Moyes. “No one other than Canadian businessman Jim Balsillie’s company has offered enough to pay the creditors, which led to my initiating a court-supervised sale process. This process will be open and transparent, and all offers current and future must be fairly examined; guaranteeing an equitable offer.”

In other words, Moyes had this to say to Gary Bettman for butting in on his attempt to backdoor Jim Balsillie into owning and moving the franchise:

Dear Anyone Trying To Keep Hockey In Glendale: Up yours!

Unfortunately for Jerry Moyes and NHL fans in southern Ontario, the NHL and Gary Bettman are always able to unearth someone who wants to keep the show around locally. In this case, word has come out that Coyotes minority owner John Breslow wants to right the ship in Glendale and keep the team there.

Well if that ain’t a spike strip on the highway for the trucking magnate.

Of course, since Breslow is a bit late to the party and given how well him stepping up to save the franchise in Arizona would work out for Bettman, you’ll have to forgive me if I worry about his full-fledged financial credentials.

After all, the last guy that stepped up this big to keep a team in a struggling market seemed to have some issues of his own.

I certainly don’t think that Breslow is a crook here, but this is the bed Herr Bettman has made for us by putting his faith in people who are scumbags, scam artists and all around pricks.

That’s not even taking into account Len Barrie and Oren Koules in Tampa Bay who have made it their mission to ruin Tampa, Florida as the shining example of how the NHL can work in a non-traditional hockey market.

I know that sounds goofy and all, but the attendance figures speak for themselves in the case of the Lightning.

2009: Lightning were 22nd in average attendance (out of 30) filling up at an 85.6% rate and over 16,497 per game.

In previous seasons?

2008: 8th (18,692 per game)
2007: 3rd (19,876 per game) filling at 100.6%
2006: 2nd (20,509 per game)
2005: No Season – Thanks Gary

Forgive me if I don’t completely buy into John Breslow being the knight in shining armor for the Coyotes because Gary’s track record in being able to pick a winner is less-than stellar.

Even better still is that Jerry Reinsdorf was the guy Bettman was pushing as the guy who would get the sweetheart deal even though his plan was to fire Gretzky and move the team to Las Vegas in two years.

That makes me wonder if Bettman refers to Reinsdorf as “Boots” just out of habit. You know, since Boots Del Biaggio’s whole plan with the Predators was to supposedly move them to Kansas City yet Bettman was completely unaware of all this.

What a joke.

Bettman’s Cloak and Dagger in the Desert

It’s quite amazing what this hurricane of scheisse that is the Phoenix Coyotes and Jim Balsillie Dance has done for the appearance of Gary Bettman the commissioner.

To the folks in Canada, he solidifies his position as the most hated man in the country by continuing to apparently deny Canada their seventh professional hockey team. Never mind that 15 years ago Canada used to have eight, that’s beside the point here. Canada wants to bring a seventh team back “home” and Jim Balsillie is their cult leader at the helm.

Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not against Canada getting another team or two – I want it to happen and I want it to happen badly. My issue is with Jim Balsillie going about things the absolute wrong way to make it happen. That’s all. I think Jim Balsillie would be the most fun owner to join the “club” in a long, long time and would help draw more attention to the league and for good reasons.

I maintained a couple of weeks ago when this story broke that there was something really wrong with how things broke down with the situation in Phoenix and while onwer Jerry Moyes being desperate to get out of owning an NHL team that’s bleeding money is part of that and Jim Balsillie looking to grossly overpay for a team and move them back to his home is key here, there are other parts to this story that aren’t getting the airtime or notice and guess who that all falls on?

That’s right: Herr Bettman.

Who am I not going to take issue with here are the folks in Phoenix who are the tried and true fans of this team and are caught in the middle of this mess like kids in a divorce settlement. There’s only one way the kids really win out here and that’s if their parents can reconcile and get a solution worked out and that doesn’t appear to be on the horizon.

After all, when you’re a fan in this situation you’re completely helpless and you have to hope that a solution that works well for you can be had. Let’s face it, this is an ugly and dire situation in Phoenix and a team that loses this much money isn’t marketable to other owners in it’s current location and a solution to make money has to be found to be able to pawn it off to some other sucker, I mean owner.

What sucks about this situation for the fans in Phoenix is that their hero is also the guy looking to save his own skin and why he’s operating a sick sort of cloak and dagger operation.

80s movie reference so deep Dennis Miller is at a loss for words.

Leave it to Gary Bettman to play the part of the parent who bad-mouths the other parent to the kids to show how much he loves them while saying things to his attorney (PDF), in this case Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, that contradict those sentiments completely.

It would figure that Bettman would manage to find a way to drag fans that had their team run away from them as part of the Great Southern NHL Manifest Destiny and get them all excited all over again all in a means to save his own skin while chapping the ass of the guy that’s looking to fork over nearly $100 million dollars more than what’s being asked of others for a team that’s been losing $30-$40 million a year.

It would also make sense that Bettman would make sure to keep it a big secret that the NHL has been in control of the Coyotes since November 2008 while it sniffed around to find other potential owners of the club.

Meanwhile, in this story from AZCentral.com dated April 29th, the Coyotes denied that the NHL was in control and that everything else was just fine. Well who in the world would ask them to stay hush-hush about this because it might hurt the prospect of finding new buyers for the team?

Oh, right.

Look at this quote, it’s amazing considering that it would just be days later the truth would be revealed.

Coyotes President Doug Moss refuted that report late Wednesday night, saying the league has not assumed control of the Coyotes.

“We are not reporting to the league,” he said. “We report to (owner) Jerry Moyes. I’m dealing with things in my area, the business side, and Donnie (General Manager Don Maloney) is dealing with the hockey side.

“It’s business as usual. He’s preparing for the draft. I’m preparing for next year on marketing and sales.”

This is stunning that a team could just spin the tires in the mud like this. This portrays the Coyotes management acting like the Wizard of Oz after they’ve looked behind the curtain.

This means that since November, since the second month of the season, the NHL has been pulling the strings of the Coyotes, a team that wasn’t fully out of the playoff hunt until there was about a month left to go in the season, you know, around the trade deadline when Phoenix started lopping off valuable baubles like Olli Jokinen and Derek Morris.

The catch here is that Coyotes GM Don Maloney isn’t a sham of a general manager and was able to get a nice return or else everyone’s red flags would be waving all over the place, especially after how well Olli Jokinen and Derek Morris worked out for the Flames and Rangers respectively. It still doesn’t sit well with me that a team that was still within a distant shot of the final playoff spot decided to pack it in rather than empty both barrels and go for the playoffs.

It’s all water under the bridge now and Phoenix will help load the youth coffers in the draft yet again, something that a smart and wealthy person will recognize with the Coyotes. Something that one disturbingly wealthy Canadian has already recognized and is willing to throw money at anything possible to bring his team home.

If I’m on the board of governors and I’ve got some wild-eyed Canadian crazy man who is busy sponsoring just about everything that he can on the United States network that covers the NHL (that being NBC) and even starting up websites like Make It Seven to serve as the PR mouth of his operation… Isn’t that the kind of attention-getting guy you want to have on your side rather than working against you?

Instead, the NHL chooses to look at Balsillie as an enemy combatant looking to horn in on their Good Time Fun Club any way that he can. Balsillie thinks that money can buy his way in and the owners tell him to get lost, meanwhile Bettman operates behind the scenes to try and play the role as Savior of the Coyotes meanwhile coming up with a contingency plan that finds a way to stick it to Balsillie and still find no one interested in buying the team to even move them to Winnipeg or Kansas City or anywhere else.

Well, maybe Jerry Bruckheimer can be convinced to bring them to Las Vegas for that other AEG tie-in, but that’s just an even goofier side-plot.

Is this really how things operate in the big grown-up world of professional sports? Amazing.

What’s hilarious here is how the public relations game played itself out from the get-go. Balsillie rides in to save the day for Jerry Moyes and his failing and bankrupt empire and Balsillie is set to ride off to Canada.

Meanwhile Bettman and gang step in to say that’s not going to happen (and legally that’s absolutely correct) and rather than be completely upfront about the situation in Phoenix all along, the league says all is well and that everyone will stay the same. And yet, all along, Bettman is searching around for someone to swoop in for the save (namely Jerry Reinsdorf) and keep the team in Phoenix so he doesn’t suffer an epic PR hit for taking a team out of Canada and moving them to the desert where they ultimately failed and then had to tuck tail, literally, to move back to Canada.

Got all that? I’m sure there’s a run-on sentence in there somewhere.

Unreal. No one is being truthful, at least no one was before all of this shit was thrown into the fan, and now that attention has been turned to the entire fiasco the scramble is on to save face and make sure no one is turned off to the NHL… at least in Phoenix.

Canada? Yeah, well, they’re the ace in the hole Gary can count on. Canadians love hockey no matter what and they’re not going to give up on the game. He can suffer the PR hits in Canada all he wants because he knows that Canadian fans aren’t going anywhere and that they’ll stick to the NHL for life. For fans in Winnipeg, Manitoba or Hamilton, Ontario they’re going to be watching the Maple Leafs or Flames or Oilers every Saturday night on CBC and all season long on TSN whether there’s a team in their backyard or not.

The Canadian NHL Fan is the closest thing Bettman has to a sure thing in his operation, they are his easy money. Getting more money out of Canadians by putting another franchise there doesn’t excite him, especially if it means a team playing in an arena that doesn’t pass the sniff test (like Copps Coliseum in Hamilton) or one that doesn’t hold as many folks as they’d ideally like to see (MTS Centre in Winnipeg).

What can’t Bettman afford to do? He can’t afford to do what David Stern did so egregiously with the Seattle Super Sonics and just pick up stakes and move to an out-of-the-way place like Oklahoma City all while giving Seattle the finger and lecturing them about how to cave into the NBAs demands.

After all, we’re not talking about the Coyotes demanding a new arena they’ve got that in Glendale with Jobing.com Arena. We’re talking about a team that is bleeding money in a market that, media-wise, didn’t give a damn about the Coyotes until they were about to run out of town and leave a hulking monument to failure in their backyard.

Bettman and the NHL can’t afford (literally and figuratively) to have an empty year-round Jobing.com Arena stand as their legacy and run out of town screaming leaving one of the United States largest cities franchise-free with any and all of the fans they had left behind pissed off and hating the NHL forever. This isn’t the kind of situation that happened when the Cardinals of the NFL left St. Louis for Arizona only to have the Rams move from Los Angeles to St. Louis later on.

If the NHL leaves Phoenix, this is what they’ll be doing: Not just burning the bridge down, but blowing it up.

There may be a lot of fans in Phoenix and surrounding cities that love hockey, but they will never trust nor care about the NHL ever again should they leave town and every bridge out of town would be exploded and set ablaze to never come back to again. Phoenix would be Gary Bettman’s failed experiment in expanding the NHL to new and unthinkable locations.

This is what is at stake here for the NHL and the fans in Phoenix, Scottsdale and Glendale are all caught in the middle. Bettman’s e-mail to Bill Daly expressing his thoughts of going back to Winnipeg are a sign of fear.

After all, if things cannot be sustained or saved in Phoenix you might as well bring the team back home before exploring something new and different in Canada and deal with the legal wrangling that would have to take place with the Maple Leafs and Sabres not to mention potentially screwing Jim Balsillie out of his wishes to join the ownership club.

If Bettman were to take the Coyotes back to Winnipeg, he’s viewed as a hero and a humbled one for righting a wrong and bringing a team back to Canada and back to a place that once had a much beloved franchise. If things are saved in Phoenix, then it’s all status quo and the financial eye just locks in on the Coyotes even more for the time being and the new owners that come in get to play the part of saviors all at Gary’s urging.

The only thing that will stay constant in all this is that Jim Balsillie will not be the knight in shining armor for southern Ontario because that’s the side in all this that everyone wants no part in…

Unless your name is Jerry Moyes and there’s $215 million at stake in the matter for you.