New York Rangers

Consistency Meets Ignorance

Colin Campbell spun the Wheel Of Justice this afternoon and it landed on “0 Games” for Penguins forward Matt Cooke for his dirty, blindside “shoulder” to the head of Bruins forward Marc Savard.

You’ve seen the video, if you want to watch it again you can do that in my previous post.  I’m not in the NBC business of milking video to hammer home a point.

Via Twitter, TSN’s Bob McKenzie passed along Colin Campbell’s comments on why there would be no suspension for Matt Cooke. There’s a big comment here that just infuriates me as a fan of the game and as a lover of all things common sense.

Colie Campbell explaining his decision now. Said it was a matter of consistency. No suspension for Richards. No suspension for Cooke.

The man who makes his rulings about as wide-ranging and inconsistent as possible is preaching consistency as the reason why there’s no suspension.  It’s things like this that make me feel as if Lewis Black is actually the lead writer for the NHL. This kind of explanation comes from the guy who handed out what was ultimately a six-game suspension for Sean Avery for making crass comments about his former girlfriends,  meanwhile allowing players that seek and destroy players with dirty hits to the brain to get a pass comes away as something Black would ramble about after his “if it weren’t for my horse” story.

If for nothing else, Matt Cooke has helped Mike Richards of the Flyers out a lot because his hit on David Booth of the Panthers now looks a lot nicer in retrospect.  At the time, I railed against Campbell to do something to set the tone that shots to an unsuspecting player shouldn’t go unpunished:

It’s at a time like this where maybe, just maybe, sitting down a high-profile team’s captain down for more than a few games might send the message that the league intends to be serious about protecting its players.

The league didn’t intend to be serious and instead fell back upon the five-minute major penalty and game misconduct that Richards was assessed to be penalty enough for the Flyers captain.  This is where I’ll draw on this penalty for comparisons sake with Matt Cooke.  Cooke didn’t receive a penalty for his hit and a lot of fans, because of that, have claimed that Cooke’s hit was “perfectly legal” and that’s why the league couldn’t do anything about it.

Pardon me folks, but if that kind of hit is legal, then how come Richards got booked for doing essentially the same thing but more in line of an actual hockey play? See how interpreting the rules is a fun game for everyone? By that standing, Richards got nailed on one of the new rules the NHL instituted and that hit was instead used to hold up to the rest of the league that, yes they’ll call major penalties for interference if the hit is bad enough.

Well… Where’s the consistency then with Cooke’s play?  Cooke blatantly went after Marc Savard, had every intention of clipping him in the head (whether with his shoulder or his elbow, I don’t think it mattered which) and did so knowing full-well that Savard had no idea the hit was coming. At the least, David Booth knew Richards was going to hit him he just had a microsecond to prepare himself for it.

Does this make Cooke’s hit legal though?  Look into your own hockey-loving soul and tell me what you come away with. Put yourself in the shoes of the objective observer, or the fan of the guy who got knocked into next week. What does your gut tell you when you look at that play? If it tells you that it’s OK and that Marc Savard should’ve known better… I don’t know what to say to you, I would just strongly advocate on behalf of the rest of the world to please stop watching hockey and most certainly stop talking about the game to other people.

If you thought the bad choices ended there, don’t worry the real slap in the face to fans of common sense comes through later on.

[Campbell] Said if this hit happens next season it is a suspension. And if it’s a repeat offender like Cooke, the suspension will be stiffer again.

Now I may not be a rocket scientist here and I may subscribe to the “chaos theory” and have a dark humor, but all I’m gathering from this is that the rest of the season and playoffs are open game for interpretive checks to the head as long as you’re in the neighborhood of the play.

Do I think this will happen? Signs point to “no” but what’s going to stop some other player with a checkered past and questionable nature from taking a run at a guy that’s been killing his team on the scoreboard now? He won’t get punished for his transgression and Jebus help us all if it happens in the playoffs where players traditionally get a slap on the wrist for dirty hits.

The real idiocy of this though, and amazingly enough, it spins back to Sean Avery again somehow. The NHL can’t get a ruling made on shots to the head until next season yet when Avery was dancing and putting on a show in front of Martin Brodeur in the playoffs, a ruling was made before that series between New Jersey and New York was even over that if a player was to conduct themselves the same way they’d earn a minor penalty for it.

Explain to me how the NHL Rulebook couldn’t get something penciled in under “roughing” immediately for clocking an unsuspecting player in the head. This type of thing, where we’ve already seen at least two high-profile ugly incidents just this year, has to wait until next season. What the fuck kind of boneheads do we have in charge around here that something that protects the players, the league’s top investment and main commodity, has to sit on the back burner while bureaucracy takes over to allow it to clear all channels.

From Colin Campbell, to Gary Bettman, to all 30 owners to the figment heads of the NHLPA to the general managers I ask this:

What’s the fucking hold up?

The NHL wants to preach consistency and that’s fine, that’s their right to do so.  In my defense, I’ll throwback ignorance in their face. They’ve ignored these hits in the past, they’ve left them unpunished or not punished strongly enough and in some cases they’ve gone so far as to hide behind a rulebook that’s been left wide open to interpretation as it is to claim that a hit is legal. It’s not consistency the league is rolling with here, it’s cowardice and now they’re turning this whole thing into a PR stunt to make it look like they’re doing their job.

This stuff is already in the rulebook if you want it to be there. Remember the big “re-do” of the rules the league did after the lockout ended in 2005? None of those rules were new at all, they were always there and were never enforced. Instead, the league slapped a coat of paint on things and told folks, “Hey look! We’re going to call these things now! SEE! WE CAN DO IT RIGHT!”

The league felt Sean Avery was making a mockery of the game with what he did to Martin Brodeur so they instituted an addendum to a rule that already existed (unsportsmanlike conduct)  immediately and then proudly showed it off to everyone during that series that it would never happen again.  Same rules, new paint.

So now next year there will be a rule about targeting a player’s head. The rules are already there, be it interference, charging, elbowing or roughing but this new coat of paint and supposed stiffer punishments for offenders and repeat offenders are going to be what they’ll all pat each other on the back over for doing their jobs when all along they’ve been asleep at the wheel while officials both on and off the ice have been too feeble or beholden to old standards and lunkhead thinking to do jack shit about it.

It’s embarrassing all around and it says a lot about the state of the game when the fans have spoken out in a more coherent way than the league’s been able to.  Fans might be crazy, they might go out of their mind, they might say things a bit more colorfully and less PR-friendly… But a lot of times they get it, and seeing guys getting carted off the ice because another player took it upon himself to potentially ruin another man’s career gets everyone’s dander up.

We get it that hockey is a powerful and strong game, but we also know it when there’s a loose cannon running around out there with ill intent for everyone else on the ice.  We get it when that player has to face up to the consequences of his actions. What we don’t get is when those who are supposed to be smarter about these things and know better than us “common folk” can’t seem to put it together.

Photo courtesy of Matt Freed – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Pirates Setting Sail For Albany?

I am by no means an AHL blogger nor much of an AHL fan, but when stories about the local team come to rise, I can’t help it I get involved and have to write a little bit.  This time, rather than a team departing Albany and leaving fans out in the cold, it’s one coming in from elsewhere and attempting to do their part to fill up the Times Union Center.

While Times Union Center general manager Bob Belber has been playing coy about which team(s) he’s been in contact with about potentially moving to Albany to fill the void by the soon-to-be Charlotte Checkers, the Times Union has actually done something productive and asked some questions and gotten a few sources down to find out that it may be the Portland Pirates who will be bolting out of Maine to move a little bit closer to their parent club in Buffalo.

To quote the TU:

The Pirates managing owner, Brian Petrovek, attended a game at Times Union Center Friday. In an interview with staff writer Pete Dougherty, Petrovek would not directly discuss moving the team to Albany, but said the team is exploring options and addressed how hockey could work in the Capital Region.

At the moment, the Pirates are just one of a handful of teams who may or may not be looking to get the hell out of their current Dodge meanwhile others already have (from Springfield, MA and Albany respectively).  So what does this mean for Albany?  The TU is already asking folks for comments on their site about whether they should keep the name “River Rats” or not and that’s a logical progression given the circumstances.

The upside to this situation is that it helps out the Adirondack Phantoms who, without an Albany team to play rivals with, would’ve been left alone on a virtual island in the middle of the Adirondacks with no real rival to deal with.  Travis over at Broad Street Hockey looked into this a couple weeks ago and came up with some keen observations.

Long term, though, a strong rivalry with a team in Albany is a major player in hockey succeeding in Glens Falls. The current incarnation of hockey there isn’t expected to last longer than the next couple of years, as the ownership is on record saying that the ultimate goal is to get an arena built in Allentown, PA.

Obviously that sounds ominous but that’s been the goal all along when it’s come to the Phantoms in Glens Falls.  Don’t act shocked here folks.  As Travis states in his piece, there’s the possibility that there’ll be a boost for the Phantoms without a team in Albany, but when you look at the Phantoms attendance numbers this year, there’s not a whole lot more they can do, the team is doing great in Glens Falls.

If there’s no local rivalry to spice things up, you’d have to worry about the potential adverse effect it would have on the Phantoms.  If things go bad, Phantoms ownership wouldn’t wait a moment to just pull the plug and wait for their arena to materialize in Allentown, Pennsylvania so there’s certainly something at stake here for the people in Glens Falls.

As for the situation in Albany, the better way to look at things is how could this possibly seem like a great situation for the Pirates franchise.  Portland averages a little over 4,100 fans per game in Maine and the River Rats haven’t averaged that many fans in a few years (05-06 they averaged just over 4,000 per game).  Is Pirates management that unhappy with the situation in Maine or is it just a case of doing the bidding of the parent organization at play here?  I’d suspect the latter is the case here.

A few hundred fans does make a bit of a difference  but what is likely being banked on here is the allure of having an actual New York State team being the parent club. This move will bring a few more fans out to the arena in Albany so that effect can’t be discounted. After all, the River Rats were the farm team for the not-so local Devils for years and the really not local Hurricanes for the past few and if you can find a tried and true Hurricanes fan here in Albany I’d like to meet them. I know Devils fans exist in this area for sure now and that has everything to do with the success of the Rats early on as well as the excellent players who have at one time called Albany home. That’s the expected and natural effect of having a farm team in another area and that’s why this move would make 1,000 kinds of sense for the Sabres/Pirates.

The Sabres already have an established fanbase here and a lot of that is due to them having a sweet cable deal with the Madison Square Garden network that airs a hefty number of Sabres games in the Albany area, sometimes booting the Rangers (and Devils and Islanders as well) off of their own network in most of upstate New York.  For the Sabres it’s created a new set of fans across upstate New York mainly thanks to the inabilities of the Rangers and Islanders (and occasionally the Devils) to hold new fans interests. Moving the farm team of the Sabres to Albany, right in the heart of the newly created Sabres viewership, could provide an unexpected boon to the potential Albany franchise, something I’m sure Bob Belber at the Times Union Center has been sure to mention a few times to Pirates GM Brian Petrovek.

Olli Jokinen to the Rangers

You’re already aware that the Calgary Flames and New York Rangers have made a rather dubious trade.  The Flames sent Brandon Prust and Olli Jokinen to New York for Ales Kotalik and Christopher Higgins.  Stan Fischler thinks it’s a steal for the Rangers meanwhile Flames bloggers are trying to figure out why GM Daryl Sutter went and got Ales Kotalik.  SBN’s Matchsticks and Gasoline tried to put together the case for Kotalik (due $3 million a year for the next two years after this one) but basically said he’s doomed to a future of being a healthy scratch.   Never mind the impact of Christopher Higgins, who now finds himself on his third team in less than two seasons and was playing pretty miserable for the Rangers this year.

Of course, the focal point of this is on the Rangers, as far as media goes.  The Rangers are mired in a scoring funk and found a team in Calgary desperate to rid themselves of a guy they thought was going to spark Jarome Iginla but turned out to not do anything of the sort.  In a much similar situation, the Rangers are desperate for scoring from anyone else aside from Marian Gaborik and figure that the change of scenery for Olli Jokinen will be the spark they’ll need to climb back up the Eastern Conference standings.

I dig Olli Jokinen.  He’s a creepy looking dude, he reminds me of New York historical folk lore characters and he gets fired up when it comes time for the Olympics playing for Finland.  Perhaps this is what Rangers coach John Tortorella is banking on happening with the Rangers.  At the very least, Jokinen’s contract ends after this season and the Rangers won’t be paying him (or Ales Kotalik) anymore.

The logical break down here is simple though.  Is Olli Jokinen better than Chris Higgins and Ales Kotalik?  Yes, absolutely.  Brandon Prust, for all that he does, is just another guy to fight Aaron Voros and Donald Brashear for pugilistic ice time.  As it was, Kotalik wasn’t seeing the ice anymore in New York so he was dead weight (another brilliant off-season signing by GM Glen Sather) and Higgins was wildly underperforming.  Jokinen’s stats aren’t mind-blowing (35 points in 56 games for Calgary) but with the Rangers he’s a marked improvement and helps the Rangers out salary-wise with an expiring contract.

As for Calgary, I’m at a loss for words.  After making a very beneficial trade with Toronto two days ago unloading the over-hyped Dion Phaneuf  for half of Toronto’s scoring forwards, the Flames get caught up in the excitement of making trades and continued on with the Rangers obtaining one guy who may not perform well (Higgins) and another they have no idea how he’ll work out (Kotalik).  Life is a lot harder in the Western Conference and Calgary was feeling the heat to do something to secure a playoff spot while other teams fighting with them, so far, are standing pat.  I’m not sure if Calgary beating others to the punch is going to help them out, but if chemistry develops quickly it’ll pay off big time as other teams hovering around the 7-11 spots in the West are all figuring out ways to shoot themselves in the foot with better accuracy.

At the very least, the best I can hope for out of this situation is to maybe get an e-mail from Olli’s wife like Puck Daddy did.  Please don’t skimp on the criticisms, Mrs. Jokinen.

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