Reid Fischer's World of Rants

Looking at the sports world through orange colored glasses

Posts Tagged ‘National Hockey League’

The NHL Drops The Ball Again

Posted by mizzou1028 on May 28, 2009

I love hockey.  I think in most years the Stanley Cup Playoffs are infinitely more exciting than the NBA version.  This year is an exception with the Nuggets making it to the Western Conference Finals (I’m looking forward to being at the Pepsi Center tomorrow night for game six against the Lakers and enjoyed being there for game three), but if the Nuggets don’t win their series against the Lakers, hockey will take over the TV in the Fischer household during finals time.  The Stanley Cup Finals rematch between Detroit and Pittsburgh should be thrilling theatre, and needless to say should be an intense, fierce, competitve series.  Thing is, the NHL keeps shooting itself in the foot, making the games difficult for the average fan to see.

Check out the schedule for the Stanley Cup Finals:

Game 1: Saturday at Detroit 8 p.m. EST on NBC

Game 2: Sunday at Detroit time TBA on NBC

Game 3: Tuesday at Pittsburgh 8p.m. EST on Versus

Game 4: Thursday, June 4 at Pittsburgh 8 p.m. EST on Versus

Games 5-7 TBA

Now, looking at this, it’s no wonder the NHL is widely considered a second tier professional league.  It should come as no shock that ESPN and other national outlets don’t give more than five seconds thought to the NHL.  I have several issues with this schedule:

– First, look at the date of game four.  This is going directly opposite, wait for it, GAME ONE OF THE NBA FINALS.   DUMB DUMB DUMB DUMB DUMB!!!!!!   It won’t matter one bit that the Wings-Penguins series will likely be 2-1 one way or the other heading into a very pivotal game four.  It won’t matter if it’s the most exciting game of the NHL season.  It won’t matter if it’s a four overtime classic.  ESPN and other networks will go gaga over the start of the NBA Finals, with no fewer than 100 analysts on site, and the NHL coverage that night will pale in comparison.  (We were going to show you the hockey highlights with Barry Melrose, but wait!  Sasha Vujacic is at the podium for the next 15 minutes!) Meanwhile, the day before and after will have neither hockey nor basketball.  It makes no sense for the NHL to try to go head to head with the NBA in a battle they’re guaranteed to lose.   Gary Bettman should be fired for this scheduling snafu alone.

– Further, the aforementioned game four (and game three) isn’t even on network television, hell it is on VERSUS, a channel a lot of people still don’t know even exists!  I have Comcast and can find it in the very convenient location of channel 73, not exactly a prime slot for the championship of a major sports league.  I have stayed in numerous hotels where the channel lineup stops before 73, and I still hear lots of tales of fans unable to even locate the channel.  All seven games of the finals should be on NBC, period, end of story.  Perhaps NBC is to blame for some of this as well.  Maybe they’re not willing to show all seven games I don’t know.  If that’s the case than perhaps the NHL ought to be shopping for a new network partner.  After all, NBC embarrassed the league big time during the ’07 playoffs when they cut out of an Eastern Conference Finals game (Buffalo-Ottawa) before overtime to show Preakness coverage.  NBC also ignored the NHL altogether during the second weekend in May to show golf.  Still, it is inexcusable for a league that fancies itself as a major player to have two of its best games all season relegated to a channel that is way in the wild blue yonder on the television landscape.  Stanley Cup Finals games should not be relegated to Versus under any circumstances.  Gary Bettman no doubt made a colossal error after the 2005 lockout when he took the cash from then-OLN instead of the offer from ESPN to show games.

– I have serious issues also with games 1 and 2 being on back-to-back nights.  While I think the NHL did right to move the start of the series up from the scheduled start of late next week to avoid a week long layoff, playing games on back-to-back nights is just a horrible idea.  Players will be incredibly fatigued, and it will have a potential to denigrate the overall product that the league is trying to sell.  It is also interesting to note that no time is yet set for game two.  Knowing NBC, it wouldn’t shock me if they were trying to persuade the league to have game two in the late afternoon instead of in prime time.  That would just be the capper, subjecting the league to a day game after a night game.  No risk for injury there!  It is incredibly embarrassing for the league that NBC would rather show “I’m a celebrity, get me out of here!” on Monday night than game two of the Stanley Cup Finals.  I’m not making this up, that is what is listed on Monday night on NBC.  If this is the reason the Red Wings and Penguins are being subjected to back-to-back games in the Stanley Cup Finals, shame on NBC and shame on the NHL for allowing it to happen. 

I think the NHL should receive equal treatment to the NBA in terms of the media coverage, but I’m well aware that I’m in a significant minority on that.  I think a lot of this is on the NHL for not marketing itself very well and not giving casual fans much of an opportunity to see their product.  Every time I think there is a ray of hope for the NHL, they take two steps back with something dumb like the setup of this year’s finals schedule.  I’m not sure what the solution is for the league, but coming soon I’ll have a post with some ideas of steps the NHL can take to get back in the mainstream again.

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Hockey anyone?

Posted by mizzou1028 on May 23, 2008

How many of you out there know that the Stanley Cup Finals begin tomorrow?  Is anyone out there aware that this could be as exciting a series to decide hockey’s champion in quite some time?  There is no question that hockey has been an afterthought on the sports landscape for quite some time, particularly since the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season.  It is hard for the game to get exposure when the national telecasts are relegated to Versus instead of being on ESPN, especially when many fans still have a hard time finding Versus on their cable system, or in some cases still haven’t heard of the channel.  ESPN is much more interested in pumping the NBA on Sportscenter, making a big show of the NBA playoffs while giving the NHL a tiny fraction of time, even with the Finals being on the horizon.  In some ways I can’t blame them, of course they’re going to promote games that they broadcast.  That being said, the lack of coverage given to the NHL is downright alarming sometimes.  I have a hard time finding just a simple highlight many times during the regular season.  The networks say this is because hockey ratings are low, but I say it’s a two way street.  Ratings are going to be low if people are not familiar with the product.  Blame of course falls on the league marketing department as well, but it can’t help the NHL that it’s listed below NASCAR and golf on ESPN.com.  As a fan of the game, I want to see it given the treatment of the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball in terms of national coverage.  It is my hope that this Stanley Cup Finals matching the Red Wings and the Penguins, a matchup with considerably more sex appeal than the previous three combined (Ducks-Senators, Hurricanes-Oilers and Lightning-Flames before the lockout), will be a kick start of sorts for the league.  I believe this matchup is quite a bit more entertaining than the NBA Eastern Conference Finals between the Pistons and Celtics, and will be compelling enough that the casual sports fan will want to at the very least take a look.  If nothing else I have two words that makes this series a must see: Sidney Crosby.

In short, Crosby is by far the best player in the league.  He’s already in his third season with the Penguins despite being just 20 years old, and has already scored 99 regular season goals in his young career.  He is arguably the best player the game has seen since Wayne Gretzky.  I got the chance to seem him in person in November when the Penguins made an early season visit to the Pepsi Center to play the Avalanche, and needless to say he lived up to the hype, scoring two goals, both in spectacular fashion.  If the NHL were smart, they would be promoting his presence in the Finals everywhere because if they can get people to watch this series which is guaranteed to be exciting, the league just might be able to actually take some positive momentum into next season.  The fact that he and the Penguins are going against the best team in the league in Detroit makes the series even more compelling.  The Red Wings have plowed their way through the playoffs, and as one of the league’s Original Six franchises carry a lot of cachet to the series themselves.  This is not a ho hummer matchup folks, this will be a series that will be exciting because of the players on the ice, but also because it matches two of the more popular franchises in the league, two teams with a lot of tradition who have large fan followings compared to other teams. 

For the record, most experts are picking Detroit in a runaway.  I am picking the Penguins in seven, not because I just want to go against the grain, but because I think people are taking the Penguins for granted.  Sure, they’re young, but no one so far has had an answer for not only Crosby, but also for Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal.  The Red Wings have dominated this postseason no question about it, and have all kinds of firepower themselves with Henrik Zetterberg leading the way.  I do believe that they would have had a tougher second round matchup against Colorado had the Avalanche not had half their team (literally) sidelined with various injuries and ailments (Full disclosure: I am an Avs fan, and while I don’t think they necessarily would have won the series, it would have been minimum six games had the Avs been healthy).  The player that really tore up the Avs, Johan Franzen, is out for the first two games against Pittsburgh and maybe more with an injury, so the Wings will be down one of their top playoff scorers.  Granted, the Wings rolled through the Dallas Stars without him, but the Stars don’t have near the offensive prowess the Penguins do.  The Penguins have rolled through their competition too and so far their so called playoff inexperience has not been a problem.  I see no reason why it would suddenly affect them in the Finals. 

Seriously, do yourself a favor and watch this series.  It might just make you (and the networks) realize that hockey belongs with the major sports.  Anyone who knows me knows I watch and follow the NFL, NBA, and MLB very regularly, and I love each of those leagues.  I just don’t feel that any of them are infinitely more exciting than the NHL to the point where hockey should be considered second tier.  To me, the NBA and NHL should be equal in coverage based on the time of year each league plays.  Particularly if the NBA Finals is Spurs-Pistons and the boring brand of basketball that comes with those team’s styles, it shouldn’t be a mystery to any sports fan why Wings-Penguins would be more exciting.  If the Penguins can win this series, perhaps Sidney Crosby can lead the NHL renaissance. 

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The Glass is Half Full

Posted by mizzou1028 on May 2, 2008

I guess it’s not really a surprise that things came to such an abrupt end for the Nuggets and Avalanche this week.  The Nuggets at least gave something resembling effort in their final game on Monday night, and even though they didn’t win at least they seemed to have a desire to not go down quietly.  I still stand by what I said that changes need to be made in the offseason, although I am somewhat encouraged by George Karl saying he’s going to change his approach next season and be more demanding.  It will be interesting to see what direction the Nuggets take as they try to take that next step.  As much I want them to start by unloading Kenyon Martin, it is also realistic to say that no other team will want to absorb his ridiculous contract.  While the team’s quick exit is disappointing, it is better than the 11-71 days.  Hopefully with Karl’s new approach they can figure out what it takes to win a playoff series. 

On the surface it may seem like the Avalanche gave up last night as they got swept by Detroit.  To think I had (only very very briefly) contemplated shelling out $100 a seat last week to see the renewal of the Avs-Wings rivalry.  The Avs do get a pass in many respects for their quick exit against Detroit because they were after all missing half their team in game four.  Heck, just the Avs scratches on Thursday night would be a pretty darn good team.  I don’t think it’s at all a stretch to say that the series could have easily turned out differently if the Avs had a healthy Forsberg, Stastny, Smyth, Wolski and Svatos.  None of them were anywhere near the ice last night because of injuries.  It is also fair to say that Jose Theodore trying to play game one while battling the flu did nothing for his confidence the rest of the series.  That being said, the Avs were clearly not in the same league as Detroit.  The Red Wings were clearly the best team in the Western Conference all season and that has not changed in the playoffs.  It will be interesting to see what roster moves the Avs make this offseason, starting with Theodore, who does have a big contract.  It is hard to say whether or not he is the answer in goal because he did such a fabulous job in the first round against Minnesota and then did a complete 180 against Detroit.  I also hope that Joe Sakic elects not to retire and comes back for another season because he still is a terrific player and has a lot of hockey left in him.  The Avs took a step forward this season after missing the playoffs last year, and hopefully next year with a healthier roster they can take another step. 

I had promised some thoughts on the NFL Draft.  The pessimistic side of me is slightly annoyed that the rival Chiefs and Raiders seemed to clean up.  The Raiders scored a terrific running back in Darren McFadden, but it will be interesting to see if he actually helps them win more games.  The Raiders have certainly made a big splash with a number of their offseason moves, but it remains to be seen whether they have the leadership to make things work.  I still say the game has passed Al Davis by and that somehow all of their flashy new pieces will not fit together to make a puzzle.  As for the Chiefs, I am still trying to figure out how Glenn Dorsey fell into their lap at number five.  Dorsey seemed to be the unanimous choice for best player available, a defensive tackle who dominated the line of scrimmage at LSU and is expected to make an immediate impact in the NFL.  That steal highlighted what many seem to think is a great draft for the Chiefs.  As for the Broncos, most of the so called experts don’t seem to think they did as well.  While it may not have been a flashy draft, I think they did a good job drafting for need and filling holes.  Mike Shanahan seemed genuinely excited about this draft class, and while of course every coach is going to say they got the guys they wanted all along, Shanahan’s statements somehow seemed more believable this time.  For him to declare Ryan Clady the starter at left tackle from day one is unusual.  Shanahan is typically of the “let them come in and compete” mode.  That right there tells you how much Shanahan is sky high on Clady.  The pick made tremendous sense in the first round because the Broncos need to replace the retired Matt Lepsis at left tackle.  Not to mention Lepsis had a down year last year, so the Broncos want to be sure their franchise QB is protected.  Their second pick also made a lot of sense in Virginia Tech wideout Eddie Royal.  While the Broncos signed Keary Colbert and Darrell Jackson in the offseason and seem crowded at the position, Royal is a great pick because has the speed to make an impact as a kick returner.  The Broncos’ dead last ranking in starting field position had as much as anything to do with their 7-9 record last year.  Now, I’m not saying Royal is going to be Devin Hester, but if he can help the Broncos improve in that area, it will go a long way toward making them a better team.  I also love the selection of Arizona State running back Ryan Torian in the fifth round.  Torian slipped because of health issues, but if he can get healthy, he is the perfect fit the Broncos’ running scheme.  He’s a no nonsense runner and isn’t afraid to get tough yards late in a game.  With Mike Shanahan’s track record at finding running backs, there is no reason to suspect that Torian couldn’t be a huge steal in this draft.  

Truth be told though, the bottom line when trying to evaluate a draft is you can’t.  It will be minimum three years before we can go back and really evaluate how good or bad the Broncos or any other team did in this draft.  I remember hearing great things about Marcus Nash when the Broncos took him in 98, or hearing how George Foster was supposed to be the anchor at left tackle, or how Willie Middlebrooks was supposed to be the cornerback the Broncos were missing.   The draft is a small part in the overall picture of building a championship team, although it is becoming and more important to be able to find guys that will fit into your plans for many years so you don’t have to fill all those holes through free agency.  Call me crazy, but I am starting to get optimistic about the Broncos’ prospects in 2008, even if they still do need to find a kicker. 

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UGH!

Posted by mizzou1028 on April 28, 2008

This has been as bad a sports weekend for the teams that I follow as I can remember.  This does not take into account the Broncos draft, which I am actually fairly pleased with (more on that later – but it might have to be in a future post).  The events in the Denver sports landscape this weekend might not really stand out on an individual basis (think the Broncos’ loss to Jacksonville in the playoffs in January ’97 – none of these single events, or even as a group, come close to comparing to THAT debacle).  That being said, it cannot be argued that anything went even remotely right this weekend for the Rockies, the Nuggets or the Avalanche. 

The Rockies have not had a great April.  Of course, they had an awful April last season and made the World Series, so it’s way too early to hit the panic button.  However, this team has now lost 7 of 8 after getting swept by the Dodgers in LA this weekend.  On Friday night starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez couldn’t even make it out of the third inning in a game where the Rockies’ offense had given him four runs of support in that time frame.  The Rockies eventually lost the game in 13 innings after many failed opportunities offensively (including Matt Holliday hitting into an inning ending double play with two runners in scoring position in the 9th).  On Saturday Mark Redman got lit up for TEN runs in the first inning!  Imagine walking into a bowling alley, thinking to yourself that it’s a  nice bonus that TVs everywhere you look are showing the game while you’re going to bowl, then seeing a Dodger grand slam sail into the night sky the first time you look at the screen.  That’s a glimpse of my Saturday night.  The second time I looked at the screen I saw it was still the bottom of the 1st and the Dodgers had already put up a 10 spot.  Needless to say I wanted to throw up.  Then there was today’s game.   Jeff Francis pitched extremely well, surrendering just two runs in seven innings while striking out six, and the Rockies had chances to win.  Thing is, the offense never capitalized.  In a 2-2 game, Troy Tulowitzki continued his struggles (batting a whopping .157 – OUCH) by grounding into a double play with the bases loaded in the 8th, and then the Rockies left runners at 2nd at 3rd in the 10th.  Enter Manny Corpas, who was given a contract extension in the offseason after doing a great job in the closer role last year.  He has lost it this season after blowing four saves already.  Corpas actually pitched a scoreless ninth today after giving up two singles, so it wasn’t entirely unreasonable for Clint Hurdle to leave him in there for the 10th.  This proved to be a bad idea: a four pitch walk to Rafael Furcal, a walk to Mark Sweeney (who has exactly 0 RBIs and is batting a horrid .063 this season), then runners at 2nd and 3rd after a sac bunt.  After Hurdle elected to intentionally walk the red hot hitting Russell Martin to load the bases, Corpas could have redeemed himself with a double play groundout.  Nope, he gave up a sharp single to James Loney, and the Rockies got swept.  Now, a 10-15 record is certainly no reason to hit the panic button especially after last year, but right now they can’t even see the taillights of the division leading Diamondbacks.  It’s no coincidence Arizona made a big offseason splash in adding elite starter Dan Haren, while the Rockies made no big moves to the roster.  Granted, the Rockies did spend some money to keep their own players, including Tulowitzki (who will rebound).  Still, it seems like maybe they stood and watched while other teams around them got better.  To be fair, they’ve been on the road much more often than they’ve been at Coors Field, and that 22 inning marathon in San Diego can’t have helped.  Maybe a friendlier May schedule will be the catalyst for a turnaround.

As for the Nuggets, I feel bad saying this but I really don’t care to watch Monday night.  There were times this season where this team had really re-awakened by NBA interest.  They have the ability to compete with anyone in the league, and a 50 win season is an impressive accomplishment.  As tough and competitive as the Western Conference is, I really thought it didn’t matter where anyone was seeded because all eight teams were good.  It is clear though that this team will never win when it counts unless major changes are made.  The Nuggets have given three lackluster performances against the Lakers in this playoff series.  Check that, lackluster may be a kind way to describe game three at the Pepsi Center.  There is no reason for Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson to go 10 for 38 from the floor in a playoff game, many of the shots from point blank range.  The players’ body language says this series has been long over, right from the technical fouls  Iverson took in game one due to frustration.  From what I have seen, there are only three players who have consistently played hard in this series: Linas Kleiza, Eduardo Najera and J.R. Smith.  It is not a coincidence that Nuggets have held up best when these guys have been on the floor, even if that’s not saying much.  Anthony has given absolutely no effort whatsoever on the defensive end, and while Iverson has shown up offensively for the most part, his defense hasn’t been much better than Anthony’s.  There is a reason why Anthony’s draft class mates LeBron James and Dwayne Wade have both reached the NBA Finals while Anthony has never made it out of the first round.  They are leaders, and he is not, pure and simple.  Anthony has never understood that being a complete player means giving full effort in all areas, including the defensive end.  I’m wondering if it’s time to chuck out Anthony, let Iverson finish his career with a true contender, and try to put the team’s resources into building a true winner.  For the Nuggets to have the kind of payroll invested that they do, they need more results than an annual first round exit.  The Nuggets are missing a true veteran leader who can bring the talent together, a guy who does not constantly need the ball in his hands to succeed, someone who can lead by example.  It is clear that the Anthony-Iverson experiment isn’t working.  Both guys continually need the ball, and while they both get their points, their presence together has not led to the same results as other top duos in the league.  Or better yet, think of the Duncan-Parker-Ginobili trio in San Antonio.  The Spurs have stockpiled championships because these stars can all play together and each understands his role.  Maybe it’s time for the Nuggets to blow up the roster with the exception of Kleiza, Najera and Smith and start over.  They have way too much money tied up in Anthony, Iverson, Kenyon Martin and Marcus Camby to settle for these kind of results.  Maybe George Karl isn’t blameless either, but I’m never one to think a new coach will solve anything, especially in the NBA, where the players run the show anyway.  I remember when the Nuggets were 11-71 and a complete embarrassment, so I do appreciate a 50 win season and a playoff appearance.  I also expect some semblance of progress, and this will be the fifth consecutive first round playoff exit, with the Nuggets never winning more than one game in any series.  I know there’s another game left, but it’s clear the chance of the Nuggets winning this series is zero percent.  Let’s just say if I was a season ticket holder, there would be zero percent chance of me renewing my seats for next season unless major changes are made this offseason.

Now, surely Avalanche-Red Wings should be fun right?  For years this was the premiere rivalry in sports.  Not just the NHL, but in sports.  Every playoff series these teams squared off in during the late 90s and early 2000s was extremely intense.  The rivalry had everything: bloody fights, close games, great players on both sides, nasty trash talk and a true hatred among the fans.  In recent years as the Avalanche have faded into relative mediocrity and the NHL has faded into complete obscurity, the rivalry has died.  Despite the fact the Avalanche don’t stack up well with the Wings as a six seed this year, I still couldn’t contain my excitement for this rivalry to be renewed with another playoff meeting.  Surely an intense Avs-Wings series could at least be some small help in getting the NHL back on the mainstream sports landscape right?  How could you not get excited about Sakic, Forsberg and several of the old names squaring off against their nemesis?  Well, that too is short lived.  Forsberg has missed the first two games of the series with an apparent groin injury, and the Avs have been outscored 9-4 in losing the first two games of the series.  Jose Theodore has proved he is no Patrick Roy, having been angrily yanked from the first two games after giving up four goals in each one (all in a total of less than four periods of playing time in the two games).  The Avs look hopelessly outmanned, and while I was not at all familiar with the Wings’ Johan Franzen, I now despise him as much as I despised Darren McCarty in the old days after Franzen has lit the Avs up for five goals in the first two games.  Maybe a return to the Pepsi Center Tuesday will help the Avs, after all this is still a seven game series and the Avs have a chance to even things with a couple of wins at home.  It’s not quite like the Nuggets where the chance is zero percent.  Still, goaltending is what wins playoff series, and Theodore is shaky at best right now.  As great as he was in the first round against Minnesota (and he basically won the series for them) he has been awful in round two.  Will Peter Budaj be in net for game three?  The fact that this is even a question does not bode well for the Avalanche.  One thing in hockey though is that a playoff series can turn on a dime.  It actually happened for the Avs against Detroit in the 1999 second round.  Detroit blasted the Avs in the first two games at old McNichols Sports Arena, only to see Colorado win four straight, including three at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.  The Avalanche can only hope that history will repeat itself this week, and that they don’t end up following the Nuggets by getting unceremoniously broomed out of the playoffs. 

At least the Broncos had what appears to be a good draft.  That discussion will be saved for another time, because it doesn’t seem quite fair to lump that with a depressing weekend of bad sports all the way around.  That is, unless the rest of the weekend is an omen and these guys all prove to be busts in three years.  Hopefully that won’t prove to be the case. 

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