with Matthew Ryder

Welcome back for another edition of End to End. This week saw a shocking development on Long Island that warrants some discussion, and I’ll also touch on who I believe is the best goalie in the NHL today, as I’ve recently heard a similar debate and I’d like to toss my own two cents in there. Let’s get it started.

The Forecheck

Straight up, to put it bluntly, Isles’ tough guy Chris Simon should have gotten fifty games for his slash to the face of Rangers’ forward Ryan Hollweg. That’s coming from a writer who hates the new style of game, misses when tough guys could solve problems themselves on the ice, and wishes that toughness still mattered in hockey. If I was Colin Campbell, it would have been fifty games without pay, and then a secondary hearing to decide if Simon was fit to return to action.

What Chris Simon did was unquestionably the worst thing I have seen in my career watching or covering hockey. I’ve never seen such blatant recklessness with a stick, much less such blatant recklessness with such serious intent to injure. He simply drew off and hacked Hollweg in the chops. There’s nothing more to it than that. I don’t care how many ways you try and slice it that he’s a “great team guy” or that “he just snapped,” this was a hundred times worse than anything Steve Moore has even had nightmares about, much less what happened to him. Simon deserves to sit for fifty without pay for his actions, plain and simple.

Now, the NHL will argue that they’ve come down hard on Simon with what amounts to roughly a twenty-five gamer. The fact is that they didn’t come down nearly as hard as they should have. Simon’s a repeat offender playing in a league that only gets American press when something goes wrong, and the wrongness of this act is seriously an all-new low in hockey. An all-new low in the game should equate to an all-new high in suspended games, and once again the league has been caught with their shoelaces tied together, falling down and looking stupid.

I like Chris Simon, I like the way he plays the game and I understand that he is actually a great locker room guy. But none of those things should stand to let him off the hook for hacking a guy in the face, as Hollweg literally could be dead today. Unfortunately, in today’s NHL, where hooking and holding are often comparable to suspendable offenses, the league has lost priority again and have given the perpetrator of one of the worst on-ice incidents in hockey history little more than a slap on the wrist.

The Backcheck

I’ve seen a lot of debate recently over who is actually the best netminder in the NHL today. Consensus seems to be that it’s a three horse race between Miikka Kirpusoff in Calgary, Roberto Luongo in Vancouver, and of course Martin Brodeur in New Jersey, and I can’t really argue any of those choices, but they’re all there for a reason.

Each of those three is a great NHL goaltender in his own right. As a guy who can give you the huge save every time you need it and never lets in a bad goal, I’ll take Kiprusoff any day of the week. As a workhorse who never seems to tire and has that quiet intensity and leadership, I’ll take Luongo. For longevity, for being the best goalie of all-time, and for being a guy who will always win the big game, give me Brodeur. Each one has a lot to offer, but to say one is truly the best is not giving the proper respect to the others. They all offer a particular quality that isn’t easy to find, and for that they are all invaluable to their teams.

Other guys who deserve recognition around the league include Cristobal Huet of the Habs, Ryan Miller of the Sabres, Marty Turco in Dallas, and Rick DiPietro on Long Island. Every one of those goalies is very close to becoming a Vezina winner, and while they aren’t there yet, each name will be talked about for years to come. Not to mention Senators’ keeper Ray Emery, who can stop pucks every bit as well as he can throw a punch.

Overall, if I had to pick one goalie out of all those names, I’d still go with Marty Brodeur though. He might be a bit older, he might not be the same guy he was ten years ago, but at the end of the day he just wins. You know he’s going to win forty games for you, you know he’s probably going to dress for seventy starts, and he’s been there before. His knuckles drag on the floor when he enters the room because his hands are heavy with Cup rings. I like Kipper, I respect Luongo, and all those other guys are the foundation of great future netminding in the NHL, but give me the guy who’s done it before every time I need a win. End of story.

That’s it for me this week, thanks for reading. Any questions or comments can be directed to matthew@fogdevils.com. Talk to you all in a week.


With the season’s biggest roster shuffle now almost a week old, it’s time to reflect on who came out on top and who saw the wheels come off of their season. Hence we’re here for this week’s edition of ‘End to End,’ where I’ll look at the winners and losers of Deadline ’07. Let’s get it going.

The Winners

My first winner of the deadline the Vancouver Canucks, who made subtle additions in Bryan Smolinski and Brent Sopel. Both are solid NHLers, and Sopel in particular is a great addition as he stabilizes the blueline as a good puck-moving defenseman with underrated offensive abilities. Smolinski offers a nice option down the middle, and considering that the Northwest saw little-to-no impact movement, the Canucks didn’t do anything to diminish their chances of keeping the division lead to the end of the line.

My second choice as a deadline winner is a no-brainer. The Pittsburgh Penguins, loaded to the gills with young talent but little toughness, went out and added two grizzled veterans to the mix in Gary Roberts and Georges Laraque. Roberts is a born winner and a dressing room influence rivaled by few in hockey, and Laraque is the toughest customer in hockey who has also become a respectable player this year. A quiet, under-the-radar acquisition of goaltender Nolan Schaefer puts the Pens not only in contention for their division down the stretch, but maybe for a lot more in June.

However, for me, the biggest winner of Tuesday’s deadline dealings had to be the New York Islanders. They kept their star winger in Jason Blake, cherry-picked another team’s star in Ryan Smyth, and added a guy with the potential to score ten times between now and season’s end in Richard Zednik. For everyone, myself included, who figured the only thing Garth Snow could be worse at than stopping pucks was managing a franchise, the crow is being served around the same time the Isles clinch a playoff spot.

The Losers

I’m of the mind that the first loser of the deadline was the Montreal Canadiens. For a team that was so hot early on, they had holes in their lineup and those holes have been exposed more recently, hence their slide. They gave up on a veteran defender in Craig Rivet and got back an okay prospect and a draft pick in return, and only managed to pick up a terrible goaltender off waivers to solve their netminding conundrum. They should’ve looked at Dainius Zubrus as possible size down the middle, or at least made a pitch at bringing Yanic Perreault back into the fold. The Habs did nothing to help their playoff chances, and might not realize it until they’re golfing in early Spring.

The second deadline bust for me is Minnesota, who hardly did anything ‘wild’ on Tuesday. The addition of Dominic Moore is erroneous, more or less a deal to say they did something, and considering that they’re in the heat of a playoff race they probably should have made a move. Another scoring forward would have been a great fit, possibly making a pitch for Bill Guerin or Bryan Smolinski could have helped things out there. I picked the Wild to win the Cup in 2007, and I’ll stand by that in principle, but they disappointed me on Deadline Day.

Still, the biggest disaster of the 2007 NHL trade deadline comes out of Edmonton, where Ryan Smyth was traded to the New York Islanders for prospects and a draft pick. To give away the face of your franchise in a hockey-mad market when there was only a few hundred grand separating the two sides, the team has to swallow its pride and scrape the cash together to keep Smyth in town. The move symbolizes years of what has now been proven to be BS by the Oilers and other small-market teams, who claimed that if there was a salary cap they could afford to keep their stars. “I promised Mess I wouldn’t do this” were the words that echoed the heartbreak of one generation of Oilers fan, and now the day ‘Smitty’ landed on Long Island has struck a deep wound in the psyche of the modern Oilers fan. It will be a long time before the healing can begin.

That’s it for me this week, hopefully you enjoyed my analysis of the winners and losers of the deadline this Tuesday past. For the record, honorable mention as a winner goes to Toronto, who added veteran depth down the middle in Yanic Perreault, but more importantly locked up Darcy Tucker long-term. A loser who didn’t make the official list but deserved recognition in my opinion was Atlanta, who seemed to just randomly jab at the panic button as they overpaid for Keith Tkachuk and Alexei Zhitnik instead of leaving a pretty good roster alone to work its way out of the mess it created. Unless the Thrashers win the Stanley Cup this year, I think Don Waddell will be fired as GM because he’s just not getting results. Contact me at matthew@fogdevils.com with any questions or comments, I’ll talk to you all in a week.


Welcome back for another edition of End to End. This week finally saw an NHL game with some spirit when Buffalo and Ottawa threw down, and I can’t help but discuss it below despite the fact that the media has beaten it to death. Also, there’s a certain plug who has impressed me so far this season, and I think it may be time to come clean on my secret enjoyment of his play. Let’s get it going.

The Forecheck

You know what was great? As in seriously the best thing I’ve seen since the lockout ended? The Buffalo-Ottawa saga of this past week. I really mean that, the NHL hasn’t seen something that entertaining in a very long time, and for every dummy who thinks it’s stuff like that that will kill the game, look no further than your water cooler for proof that that’s what people want. For the first time in a long time, an NHL game was front-and-centre for a reason other than the new rules, poor attendance, hated officials, or economic foolishness that no one really gets anyway. And that, folks, was very refreshing.

My opinion on it all is that the Chris Neil hit was 100% clean, but Lindy Ruff had to respond somehow. The way he chose to do so, referring to the immediate retribution of a goon squad matching up against the Sens’ top line, was probably a bit much, but his heart was in the right place. Bryan Murray was justifiably upset, but when you look at a guy like Dany Heatley, who is six-three and well over two hundred pounds, standing around with his gloves on while his goalie does all the fighting, maybe the Sabres shouldn’t receive Murray’s entire wrath.

Now, as for that goalie. I’ve liked Ray Emery for a while, ever since he proved more valuable than Dominik Hasek last season. I also love that he stuck it in John Muckler’s craw by outplaying Martin “The $11-million Backup” Gerber this season and taking what was rightfully his – the starting job in Ottawa. After this past week, I like him that much more. He steps out to the blueline and lays the beating of a lifetime on Marty Biron, then turns around and takes on arguably the biggest goon in the league in Andrew Peters, and fights him to a draw. And laughs at him the whole time. All this with a bad wrist, no less. That is old time hockey, hockey the way it should be, and it was absolutely fantastic.

Furthermore, I love that Saturday night wasn’t dictated by the league. I guarantee there were warnings about showing too much life at Scotiabank Place, but the two coaches said to hell with it and let their boys off the leash. Brian McGrattan got retribution on Peters, and Chris Neil defended his own actions with a pasting of Adam Mair. It was great stuff.

All this proves what I’ve believed for a long time, and that is that old school hockey will still outsell the new breed any day of the week. Ottawa’s hot streak a while back drew little more than a collective sigh from the city, however the brawl on Thursday led to a sellout and what amounted to an absolute zoo of fans at the game Saturday. Everyone was talking about the incident and looking forward to Saturday, and maybe, just maybe, they were thinking back fondly on the game the way it used to be, and thinking that it was a lot more fun to be involved in when emotions and physicality didn’t take a back seat to man-babies who are afraid of their own shadows but can skate faster than players from two or three years ago.

So thank you Ottawa and Buffalo. Thank you for showing some life, showing some grapes, and showing people how great the game can be when it’s played with some emotion. I don’t want to see this type of thing every week, but I’d love to see the passion it produced a bit more frequently. That’s just good entertainment.

The Backcheck

There’s a guy who has taken more crap since 1998 than maybe anyone I can think of. To tell you the truth, I’m pretty high on the list of people who’ve crapped on him. But seeing him play this year I’ve realized that, when healthy, he’s not only a serviceable NHLer, but I’d go so far as to say that he’s actually pretty good. That guy is Maple Leafs’ forward Nik Antropov.

Antropov will never be confused with Danny Briere, as the massive Kazak forward lumbers around the ice like a dinosaur and his dangles are about the quality of some bantam houseleaguers playing shinny on a pond. However to be fair, he has improved significantly over time and is starting to arrive as a legitimate contributor on the team’s top two lines. He thinks the game well, is strong defensively, works well on the boards, and is virtually unstoppable around the net. In fact, his stats may have been aided by the obstruction crackdown more than any other Maple Leaf.

Don’t get me wrong, he’ll never live up to the billing of a tenth overall draft pick, especially when you consider that impact players like Alex Tanguay, Robyn Regehr, Brad Richards, and even Shawn Horcoff were taken afterwards, but the more time that passes the more appreciative one can be of what he brings to the table.

So I’m going on the record in saying that my days of hating Nik Antropov are over. He’s not really that bad, and if he could stay healthy I think he might have a couple of very good seasons in him. Still, Richards or Tanguay would probably look better in blue and white…

That’s it for me this week, thanks for reading. If you’re looking for me I can be reached via email at matthew@fogdevils.com. Talk to you all in a week.


Welcome back for another week of ‘End to End’ here at Spector’s Hockey, and it’s actually the first week in a very long time that I can recall having two blockbuster deals to analyze. Given that this column is usually a two-parter, the number of blockbusters this week fits in nicely, so let’s get it started.

The Forecheck

The first big move of the week came when the Phoenix Coyotes officially bailed on skilled forward Ladislav Nagy, accepting less than market value from the Dallas Stars in order to get something for the impending unrestricted free agent. The end result was Mattias Tjarnqvist becoming a Coyote, and bringing over Dallas’ first round draft pick with him in exchange for the dynamic Nagy.

For my money, Phoenix dropped the ball here. Had they have waited, they could have gotten something much better than Tjarnqvist, and very likely still would have received a first round pick. As it stands now, they’re stuck with an average-to-bad NHL forward, and a low first rounder in a draft that isn’t thought to be overly deep. Not good management.

As far as Dallas is concerned, they basically robbed Phoenix blind here. Nagy is an offensive gem that not many people appreciate given his playing in a non-hockey market, and if they’re serious about winning this year then the exchange of Tjarnqvist for Nagy is something straight out of a dream. If they can manage to retain Nagy after this season, even the cost of the draft pick won’t be so profound, as not many people believe the ’89 birthyear to be overly strong as far as prospects go.

So right now I’m going to say that this trade was a total fleecing of the Phoenix Coyotes by the Dallas Stars. Once again it shows that Mike Barnett is a terrible general manager, and as much as people say Gretzky’s not a good coach, Barnett is nothing to write home about in his own right. That said, I guess Mattias Tjarnqvist could become a forty goal man and make me look like an idiot. It could happen...right?

The Backcheck

Next up for the week was the end of the ongoing Peter Forsberg saga, as the Flyers traded their captain to Nashville for Scottie Upshall, Ryan Parent, a first rounder, and a third rounder. Another big move, one that made the entire first half of the season almost worth the wait, and one that looks like it could work out for both sides involved.

For Philly, they get great return on a guy who wasn’t coming back anyway and probably doesn’t have much time left in the NHL as it is. Upshall isn’t a bad player, he simply never got a chance to play on a team that has a ridiculous amount of depth up front, and he may perform for the Flyers. Parent is seriously one of the best defensive defense prospects out there today, and his skating ability will allow him to be a punishing player in the NHL for a long time to come. The draft picks are both nice additions for a team trying to rebuild, and when you break it down and include Upshall and Parent, the Flyers actually landed three first-rounders and a third for Forsberg, which is great return.

Concerning Nashville, they immediately get better, and they were already scary good to begin with. They had questionable depth at centre, but now have a one-two punch of Forsberg and Jason Arnott, which is as good as any out there. Forsberg is a warrior, one of the best playoff performers ever, and will make the Preds a serious Cup contender as soon as he laces up the skates. When one looks at the fact that Nashville has added him at no immediate cost, it’s a great deal for them.

In conclusion, both sides in this deal probably got what they wanted, and both are better for it. Applause to both teams for identifying a need and filling it, and I fully expect the deal to work out for all parties involved.

Alrighty folks, that’s it for me this week. If you care to contact me you can do so via email, matthew@fogdevils.com. Talk to you all in a week.


Greetings folks, welcome back for another week of End to End action. My apologies for last week’s absence, there was an all-day commitment that required my presence, as well as a Superbowl party that I couldn’t pass up. Regardless, I’m back this week to discuss the disaster that was the 1999 NHL Entry Draft, and also how the enforcer is suddenly back in people’s good graces. Let’s get it started.

The Forecheck

Man 1999 was a bad year for hockey. Don’t believe me? Look no further than the NHL draft to see the proof. After a discussion left me wondering about recent NHL draftees, I stumbled across 1999 and I was absolutely shocked at the results. Some people are saying 2007 is a shallow draft, but 1999 makes it look like the Pacific Ocean in terms of depth. Allow me to break it down for you.

To begin, know that there were 272 players taken that year. Of that 272, only 38 are or were regular NHLers. Out of those 38, only four are impact players. Those players are the Sedins, Martin Havlat, and Henrik Zetterberg. FOUR impact players out of 272! That’s only 1.4% of players taken in that draft! HORRIBLE! To put it in perspective, fifteen guys taken in the first round alone of 2004 have already begun taking regular shifts in the NHL!

Sure there are a few decent guys who were taken who couldn’t be considered impact guys, name like Mike Commodore, Barrett Jackman, Frantisek Kaberle, and Martin Erat, but that’s still only a total of eight guys worth mentioning. Out of the 28 guys taken in the first round (this was pre-Columbus and Minnesota obviously), twelve have played less than 100 NHL games and eleven have packed it in altogether. That is an atrocious number of busts, especially when you consider that Erat, Kaberle, and Zetterberg weren’t taken anywhere near the first round, and Commodore was only a second rounder.

Seriously, that was one of the worst drafts in history. Patrik Stefan went first overall, and he is awful. If you want to talk about bad drafts, I suggest you do a little homework on 1999, you’ll be the toast of the town when you can pull out classic plugs like Scott Kelman to prove how bad things were.

The Backcheck

Remember how everyone was hating on enforcers for the past season-and-a-half? Well watch them all backpeddle now folks, because Sidney Crosby got hit a few times so it’s time to find Peter Worrell’s phone number. Suddenly the talk is no longer of how goons don’t deserve to live, much less play hockey, now it’s all about finding goons to go to war with one another so Sid the Kid can play the game unscathed. That, in itself, is why this new improved pro hockey game makes me want to puke.

It’s time for people to accept that there is a need for tough guys in hockey, there always has been and there always will be. It drives me up the wall that only when Sidney Crosby gets hit is it time to discuss the value of a guy who can rattle a few cages. While I’m not a big fan of the Pens, I will state that they are as good as any team in the wide-open Eastern Conference, and the addition of a tough guy might actually put them over the top. I’m not saying kids like Crosby or Evgeni Malkin are afraid out there, watching them play I’d say that’s the furthest thing from the truth, but a tough guy could secure the space those kids need to put that team over the top. Bet they wish they weren’t so quick to dismiss Andre Roy now, hey?

Again, it’s the follower’s mentality of hockey that is just too much to handle though. When one dumbass comes out and says goons are obsolete, every media outlet going takes it and runs with it just so there’s something to talk about. Now, when Crosby gets smacked around and one guy suggests maybe the enforcer isn’t so bad, the hockey world jumps on board and tough guys become the hot commodity again. How else could you explain Colton Orr’s Gretzky-like celebration for a second star performance the other night? Something tells me it had a lot more to do with his violent checking and spirited scrap than it did with his awful backhand that would have been stopped by most Atom-B keepers.

The bottom line is that it’s time to stop talking about things just to talk about something. Accept that tough guys are as valuable as any other player, and move on. Don’t analyze everything so much, just accept it and get over it. The NHL’s biggest problem is that too many idiots work for the league and the media following the league, and they condemn parts of the game without thinking. Then when that same part of the game looks important (such as the enforcer in this case), they have to pull their feet out of their mouths and cover it up. No other league does it, no other sport does it, it’s strictly a hockey thing and it’s just one more thing that’s crippling hockey.

That’s it for me this week folks. I got kind of ranty there at the end, my apologies. If you’re looking for me I can be reached at matthew@fogdevils.com. Talk to you all in a week.


Greetings folks, welcome back for another edition of End to End. My thanks to those of you who took the time to email me regarding last week’s column, both to those who respectfully thought I was crazy and to those who agreed with my rant. With that out of the way, I’ll get back on track with a regular column this week, in which I’ll discuss the NHL’s deal with YouTube, and also the NHL’s All-Star celebrations. Let’s get it started.

The Forecheck

I have to admit that, as much as I think the NHL has faltered in most of its business decisions since the lockout, the deal that the league has signed with popular internet video hotspot YouTube is a brilliant move. In becoming the first major sport to officially sign on and allow the site to use its highlights, the NHL has made a forward-thinking, cutting-edge move that has no obvious downside.

To begin, the move instantly gives the league major exposure with a credible company. YouTube has caught on like wildfire over the past year or so, and you can literally get anything from a Chinese guy singing the Backstreet Boys to the newest Dave Chappelle skit to, now, NHL highlights, streamed right to your desktop. NHL highlights are on the main page at www.youtube.com, and you basically can’t miss them upon firing up the site. Given the nature of YouTube users to click first and ask “what the hell was that?” after the clip is over, having hockey highlights available should help to increase incidental exposure significantly.

The other reason that I like the move is that the NHL is the first major (if you still consider it to be so) league to come on board with YouTube, and I don’t foresee it to be the last. Upon Google’s purchase of YouTube, the once-small company instantly gained credibility and financial clout, which means that it isn’t a bad partner to have if you’re the NHL. The league has gone into territory where they are alone, but instead of being alone because they’re dealing with a group that no one else wants (refer to the OLN television deal), they’re alone because they smartly jumped on board with a growing phenomenon before other leagues do the same.

So in conclusion, great move by the NHL to partner with YouTube. Expect the move to work out favorably for the league in the near future, and also for other leagues to follow the NHL’s lead in getting on the internet highlight trolley as well.

The Backcheck

This week past saw the first NHL All-Star game since before the lockout, and to say that it disappointed would not be an understatement at all. Now, for a week straight, the debate has raged on as to whether or not the whole weekend should even take place, or should it simply be scrapped in favor of a mid-season break. Now I’m going to weigh in with my own views on the matter.

First off, the only reason that there is an “All-Star Weekend” is because that’s what the NBA does and everyone knows Gary Bettman is a basketball man at heart. The fact is that the YoungStars game in the NHL is pointless, because the NHL does a terrible job of marketing their young stars. The NBA, on the other hand, does an incredible job of marketing its young stars, so their YoungStars game is actually worth watching because people know the names of the players. The NHL could have the “Who’s That Guy?” game, complete with a Jed Ortmeyer-Denis Hamel-Jeff Taffe line, and it would have the same effect as having the YoungStars with Malkin, Kessel, and Staal. Either do a better job of marketing your young stars, or scrap it altogether.

When it comes to the Skills Competition, the biggest problem is that the players aren’t really showing their skills. I actually can’t remember a worthwhile dangle in any of the shootouts I saw in the Skills Challenge, and that made it suck. Like seriously, the most exciting move I saw was Rick Nash missing a one-handed backhand, which is just sad. If you’re going to put these guys out there to show off, let them show off. No one wants to see twelve consecutive guys walk in and shoot low blocker side, get some dangling and some other actual skills in there, or scrap that too.

As far as the game itself goes, exhibition games in physical sports are actually awful and there’s basically nothing you can do to change that. Look at the Pro Bowl, the NFL’s postseason All-Star game. The NFL is the most successful league in the world, and their all-star game is crap because the sport is so physical, which is the same problem the NHL has. If you can’t hit guys or play with some degree of sandpaper, it’s not entertaining. Add to that the fact that everything is being done at half speed and with half a heart, and it makes the game borderline unbearable. Then again, it doesn’t help when names like Bouwmeester and Perreault are in the lineup while names like Jagr get to go home and watch on television.

So what’s my suggestion to solve this NHL All-Star conundrum? Basically, I would suggest that the league gets rid of the YoungStars game if they aren’t going to put huge money into marketing the kids that are in the game (which they won’t). I would also suggest that the league keeps the Skills Competition, but tells the players to attempt to actually entertain the fans instead of doing everything to win in as conservative a fashion as possible. As far as the game goes, you basically have to take it for what it is: a boring, heartless display of guys going through the motions. There’s nothing you can do to change that, it’s always going to be that way, so you either have to abolish it or live with it. Those are just my suggestions though, I’m sure the league sees it in a very different light.

That’s it for me this week. If you’re looking to get in touch you can do so via email, matthew@fogdevils.com. Thanks for reading, I’ll talk to you all in a week.


Welcome back folks for another edition of End to End. I’m sure you’re all fixing pretty bad after a one month layoff, my apologies for things taking longer to get back on track than originally anticipated, things actually got more hectic over Christmas than usual and the spillover is still being felt. However I’m back for the second half, hopefully without delay, so let’s get things going here.

By now you’re probably used to seeing my two-part column here, and you’ll see it return to normal next week. However this week, it’s time for me to take a stand and get some stuff off my chest – stuff that couldn’t possibly be jammed into a two-part column. The purpose? Frankly, I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more. So here we go with my rant of hostility towards the NHL, my apologies if it becomes incoherent or you don’t like what I have to say, but I don’t think I can keep writing about hockey until I vent. Let’s do this.

So much is wrong with hockey right now that I literally don’t know where to start. Lots of the things are things I’ve been ranting and raving about for years now, others have more recently begun to grind my gears. The first thing that springs to mind are the new, streamlined jerseys that RBK has designed, much to the chagrin of every hockey purist currently out there. The idea of butchering classic NHL threads that have been around for a hundred years just to generate marketing revenue and try to turn hockey into some space-age freakshow is pathetic, disgusting, and completely infuriating. Fans hate it, players hate it, and I’d be willing to be most owners and/or governors hate it, but as long as their salary cap keeps making them money they won’t say a word about anything, especially not something as ‘unimportant’ as jerseys.

Which leads me to my next problem. Non-hockey people in non-hockey markets viewing the best game in the world as nothing more than a source of income, and the league itself developing the same attitude under the Great Bettman’s watchful eye. I’m so tired of the talk of the salary cap, and escrow, and “linkage,” and every other stupid phrase suits in the NHL have come to rely on so heavily in the modern world of hockey. Businessmen don’t make good hockey men unless they knew hockey before they knew business because they’re only concerned about the bottom line, and they’ll pull the plug tomorrow if they aren’t satisfied with the cash flow. Yet places like Atlanta, Florida, and even now possibly Kansas City, are granted a kick at the can to run an NHL franchise because of corporate dollars and big business in the area. The rinks are half empty (on a good night in some cities), but the teams are there because the cities are known as hubs of corporate money. Newsflash: if the corporate money isn’t going towards the team, it doesn’t matter how much is floating around the town. The team and the money are totally separate entities, so stop relying on US markets that are full of money but don’t have an interest in the game. Put teams where hockey sells itself (Winnipeg would be a good start, much like Minnesota and Columbus were good moves) and then let the league build some respect.

Seeing as I’m on economics here, I might as well talk salary cap. Long story short, terrible idea that has been poorly executed and that has exposed the lockout for what everyone knew it was from the get-go: an excuse for Gary Bettman to flex his muscles and show that he could stop the hockey world at will. ‘atta boy Gary, you sure showed those greedy players what’s what. Now, instead of lots of guys getting fat contracts they don’t deserve, you have lots of guys getting fat contracts they don’t deserve that handcuff GMs and have an adverse effect on a team’s chance to win. Sweet plan, wish I’d thought of it. The cap has proven to act as a magnet for spending (as has been documented by countless sports economists along the way), which means that teams are still paying out big dollars and inflating their payrolls, they’re just all on even ground now. The stupid contracts and overpaid players are no longer found in only Toronto, New York, or Detroit, now they’re spread across the league. I think it says it all that upwards of half the league currently pays out more in salary in the new, “fiscally responsible” NHL, than they did in the old. “throw money at every problem you have to make it go away” NHL. Wasting money in a regulated fashion is still wasting money, and that’s why when the next CBA negotiations come around it will be time to look at serious changes to the salary cap, if not total abolishment. I mean, for all the talk of how the cap would save small market teams and allow them to be competitive, the 2004 final had two small market teams, Carolina made in 2002, and few of the big spenders from the old days (New York, St. Louis, Toronto) have been anywhere near the Stanley Cup in ages. Now it’s just spreading the financial incompetence around instead of letting a handful of stupid teams overpay, which one could argue actually hurts the league more than it helps.

Attendance. Attendance in the NHL right now is down, and that tells you exactly what people think of the league. No hooking, no holding, no fans. Looks to me like the NHL didn’t see that one coming. Rinks around the league are struggling to get to three-quarters full, but there are a whole host of excuses coming from the NHL front office as to why this is an acceptable practice. I think it speaks volumes about what people really think of the way hockey is being played today, no matter how much Bettman and his monkey squad have said that their “surveys” tell them otherwise. Here’s my question: why not make these “surveys” public so everyone can truly see how much people love the NHL? If the feedback is so resoundingly positive, where’s the harm in letting everyone see them? I’d bet my salary for the next ten years that these surveys either a) are telling the NHL’s front office that their league is a gongshow or b) don’t even exist to begin with. The only unwaveringly positive talk I hear about the NHL today comes from the media, particularly TSN and The Hockey News, who have so much invested in the success of this new game they literally cannot afford to call it anything less than a godsend.

Something else I have to vent on is the physicality of hockey, and in turn what is happening to it. Everyone makes fun of ‘goons’ now, it’s become practice in modern hockey coverage for the tough guy to become a whipping boy and the butt of every joke you can come up with. Well I’m tired of it. It adds nothing to your game to belittle a certain style of player simply because he isn’t flashy or because his name isn’t Crosby. You don’t turn on NFL coverage and hear the announcers carving up an o-lineman or watch baseball and hear the color guy chirping middle relievers for no reason, so why does hockey feel the need to pick on tough guys? The fact is that it’s stupid and it mostly comes from people who have never been involved in a hockey fight, thus having no real appreciation for how hard of a job it truly is. Nonetheless, it completely fits the bill for the NHL’s seemingly neverending quest to remove physicality from the game. For ages it was fighting, which has been hit hard since the lockout, and they’ve now moved on to headchecking and how “stars” (read: Sidney Crosby) are treated. Here’s a concept: if you skate with your head down and get hit, that’s your own fault. If you go to the tough spots on the ice, which is an aspect of Crosby’s game I both admire and respect, and get hit – it doesn’t matter what your name is – that’s your own fault too. Stop bellyaching over fighting and checking, because the alternatives, such as stick fouls and other such dirt, are far worse.

All this brings me to my final point in this rant, and it pertains to changing the game. I don’t like change, although I can understand the need for change in some instances, but the NHL takes it too far. Everything you see on the ice is now subject to change without notice, nothing is sacred. Rule changes, equipment changes, changes to markings on the ice, changes to how the refs call a game, all important parts of modern hockey, all of which frustrate me on a nightly basis. But I am going on the record right now in saying that the biggest mistake hockey will ever make, should they choose to go this route, is increasing the size of the nets. The idea is so incomprehensibly stupid, such a hair-brained scheme, that I can hardly believe a professional hockey league is looking at it. It’s actually beyond me. All these changes make it look like the NHL is simply scrambling to find a quick-fix solution to its problems, as though it’s just jamming at buttons on the control panel, desperately hoping that the right combination lights up and people will start caring about the game again. But I will say this right now, and I mean every word of it, if the NHL goes to bigger nets they will lose me for life. I will never take in another NHL game live or on television, and I will stop writing about the game permanently the day they make that announcement. Such a change to the very fiber of hockey is embarrassing, unnecessary, and completely ridiculous, and it’s one that I refuse to accept.

So folks, that’s it for my rant on the NHL and how bad it has become. For those who read my work weekly, you know that I hated the New NHL from day one, but I tried to give it a fair shake coming into this season. I attempted to stay away from overly negative columns and tried not to get too wrapped up in what I don’t like about the game and what it’s become, but after half a season I simply couldn’t go on without speaking my mind on things.

My apologies again to those who don’t agree with me, or who don’t like what I have to say about the NHL, it’s only my opinion. If you care to contact me with something constructive (that means not regurgitating other columnists views and explaining why they’re better than mine, or writing me four pages of general hate mail), feel free to send me an email at matthew@fogdevils.com. I’ll talk to you all in a week.


Welcome back folks for another week of ‘End to End’ here at spectorshockey.net. This will be my last column until the new year, as I’m taking some time off over the holidays to relax and get ready for a long winter that should see my St. John’s Fog Devils fighting for a playoff spot in the QMJHL’s Eastern Division. This week I’ll be abandoning the regular format to chat about the World Junior Hockey Championships, particularly my medal picks as well as who I think will finish where in the tournament. Let’s get it started.

10. Belarus: It seems like Belarus is one of those three or four teams that ends up as the toast of Tier II in international competition, but they’re still so far behind any of the real hockey nations in the world that they end up being smoked when they move to Tier I. Winning a game will be an accomplishment for this squad, but don’t expect it to happen.

9. Switzerland: The Swiss are a team on the verge of breaking into hockey’s international ‘Elite Eight,’ but they haven’t yet developed their junior program enough to be any sort of contender at this level. They play a very systematic game, try to limit their mistakes, and hope to squeak out a low-scoring one-goal win, a plan that will be aided by the talented Reto Berra in goal, but their lack of a true impact player outside of the crease will hinder their success.

8. Germany: A hockey nation that has come a long way in a short time, the Germans are quite similar to the Swiss in that they are a defense-first, team-first club that doesn’t have the ability to rely on a single star to get things done. They always manage to pick up a win or two in these tournaments to stave off being relegated, and I can almost guarantee that they’ll do it again this time around.

7. Slovakia: They have a solid core of forwards, but the blueline and the blue ice could pose a problem for Slovakia this time around. Without a stud defenseman or a goalie that can steal games, there is the potential to get smoked every night. That said, the potential is also there to win all your games 8-7, which is probably what Slovakia is hoping for, but I’ll be surprised if they end up with any more than a seventh place finish.

6. Sweden: Sweden has some talent up front, but they never seem to come together at the World Juniors for whatever reason. The ‘Killer B’s’ of Bergfors and Backstrom are both all-world talents who have the ability to control a game, but once you get past them it’s hard to find a consistent secondary scoring threat. The blue and gold will go as far as the B’s will take them, but don’t count on them collecting any hardware this time around.

5. USA: USA hockey has produced some good players over the years, but it’s in this tournament that we get to see their best teams. The WJHC is always a showcase for America’s approach to best-on-best competition, assembling the best players in the country and bringing them together year-round to maximize chemistry when the tournament comes around. This is the last year in a cycle that produced some of the best US junior teams of all time, and a lack of scoring will probably put them out of the medals, but with a strong defense corps and pretty good goaltending this team might surprise.

4. Finland: The Finns have proven over the past few years that they are now officially a force to be reckoned with in international competition. The World Cup, the Olympics, the Worlds, the WJHC, all tournaments that had people hoping they didn’t land a date with Finland in a game that mattered. Their passive forecheck frustrates opponents and it seems as though they always capitalize on the mistakes their gameplan has them waiting for. Their attention to detail is matched only by their passion and ruthlessness when it comes to playing the body, and if they can spread the offense around they could very likely sneak into the medal standings.

3. Russia: The enigmatic Russians have no longer got names like Ovechkin and Malkin on their roster, but they always seem to put on a good show in the World Juniors. There is very little available on this year’s Russian junior team, which is pretty much par for the course when it comes to the Red Army. Nonetheless, I can guarantee you they will be competitive and anything less than a medal will be a disappointment, as they come to the tournament every year with aspirations of winning gold.

2. Czech Republic: Simply put, the Czechs have it all. Great goaltending, a very solid defense, and an explosive group of forwards that includes players like Michael Frolik, Jakub Voracek, and Peter Kalus. I expect the Czech Republic to have a pretty easy time of things in the round robin, as they have the best team in their group by a mile, and they should use that time to grease the wheels for a run at gold. If I was any team in this tournament, I would be very concerned about a date with the Czech Republic, because they have some of the best junior talent in the world on their 2007 WJHC roster and they’re coming to win it all.

1. Canada: The return to junior prominence has been a long time coming for Canada, but it touched down with the 2005 team in North Dakota and it should continue on for at least another year. After winning gold on home ice in 2006 with a group of underage players, they now boast the most experienced team in the tournament and are going to be tough for any team to handle. With a host of kids who played pro at some point this season or last, including captain Kris Letang and defensemen Luc Bourdon and Marc Staal, it’s not going to be easy for Canada’s competition. Balanced scoring up front and great leadership across the board should help to cover up an inexperienced (albeit talented) goaltending tandem and secure WJHC gold for Canada once again.

That does it for me this week, hope you all enjoyed reading. Thanks for a great 2006, it’s been a good one and I owe a lot of that to those who support ‘End to End’ and keep reading what I have to say about the game. Have a safe holiday, I look forward to returning in 2007 for another year of hockey talk.


Welcome back for another week of hockey talk, folks. This week I’m going to look at two players in particular, Leafs’ captain Mats Sundin and the increasing trade talk surrounding him, and Vancouver centre Brendan Morrison, who will be the subject of the question “what happened to this guy?” Without further adieu, let’s get it started.

The Forecheck

Recently, the Leafs have gone on a desperate slide, losing seven straight games and looking unbelievably inept during most of the efforts along the way. They’ve been repeatedly thumped by teams who are reveling in mediocrity, Boston being the best example, and have seen the younger and/or less talented members of their squad exposed on a nightly basis. A byproduct of this unfortunate collapse has been trade talk surrounding captain Mats Sundin, as people begin to suggest it may be time for the hulking Swede to move on and free up some cap space for Toronto, almost as a last sacrifice for the organization he has carried for the past decade plus. I’m here to tell you now that if John Ferguson chooses to make that move, it will be one of the biggest mistakes in the history of a franchise that is known for screw-ups of epic proportions.

Regardless of the fact that Toronto is not likely to win a Stanley Cup this year, or probably within the next five years, a trade of Sundin is not the answer. He is the face of the franchise, one of the best leaders in the NHL, and the only true impact player on the Leafs’ roster. He has proven to be the only man alive who can get something out of Nik Antropov when the fragile Kazak isn’t on injured reserve, and he has spent far too long carrying the Maple Leafs to simply be kicked to the curb. Just think back to the number of overtime goals, game-winners, or big plays that Sundin has made over the years, particularly during the Pat Quinn era, when he was at his best. He has long been one of the NHL’s most complete players, and to trade him now would be idiotic.

I’m totally aware that he’s thirty-five years old and that his salary is a big chunk of the Leafs’ payroll, but the fact is that everyone else out there is aware of that too – including other NHL general managers. Only so many teams are going to have the combination of cap space and interest required to make a move for Mats, and given his age and vast salary, I can’t possibly see how Toronto can get fair value for him. Do you move one of hockey’s best leaders and clutch performers for a group of draft picks, minor league talent, and one young gun? I don’t think so, but I think that’s what you’re looking at in return for Sundin. He’s too old to get a franchise player in return, but he’s too good to accept anything less. And therein lies the problem in Toronto. If the Leafs move Mats Sundin, it’s basically impossible to get market value for him, because they won’t get a twenty-something superstar in return, and anything less would be nothing more than a salary dump.

Trading the face of the franchise for prospects and draft picks is unacceptable for any team in my opinion, but in the city of Toronto it could result in a riot. That’s why, if I’m the Leafs, I’m not even thinking about moving Sundin. He’s been there too long and he’s worth too much to pawn off on another team for a cluster of junior stars and draft picks that might net one or two capable NHLers in seven year’s time. It’s time for the team, the fans, and the media in Toronto to accept that the organization needs another five years of solid drafting and building before it’s competitive for a Stanley Cup again, and moving Mats Sundin isn’t going to make that happen any faster.

The Backcheck

I was recently watching the Vancouver Canucks, something I rarely do given the time difference, and I was absolutely shocked at how bad Brendan Morrison has gotten. Does anyone else remember when he was the key cog in getting pucks to his all-world wingers, Todd Bertuzzi and Markus Naslund, and just how terrifying that threesome once was? After seeing Morrison play a full game this season, his efforts from only three seasons ago seem like they happened in 1987.

Vancouver is playing a more defensive-minded system this season, now that Bertuzzi is gone and the Sedins are really the only consistent offense on the roster, and that probably hasn’t helped Morrison’s totals. That considered, if he was a true offensive talent in the NHL, he’d be carrying the team’s offense regardless of the system the club is implementing, which indicates just where Morrison is right now in his career. It seems as though all offensive flair is gone from his game, almost as if when Bertuzzi took off for Florida he robbed Morrison of his playmaking skills on the way out.

Realistically, things haven’t changed enough for Morrison to plummet as he has. He still has an elite scorer on his wing in Markus Naslund (when the two play together, of course), and a solid grinder in Matt Cooke. There should be enough there for a talented NHL playmaker to rack up a few points, and yet Morrison has completely vanished. He’s become an overpaid sloth, making over three-million a season to go out and not score. The killer for Vancouver is, it wasn’t that long ago that he was worth that three-million-plus, as he was the lynchpin in a very potent offense.

It looks like a lot of people were wrong about Brendan Morrison, myself included. All along it seemed like he was just as much a part of the remarkable chemistry his line had, and that if he were gone the others would suffer. Now it looks as though he was a guy who was simply in the right place at the right time, stuck between two of the NHL’s best. I can’t help but sit and wonder what would have happened if another young centre had been given the chance to play between Bertuzzi and Naslund. Would we be sitting here talking about how great Ryan Kesler is? Would Henrik Sedin have been a star three or four seasons earlier? I guess we’ll never know. But one thing we do know is that most teams in the NHL are stuck with at least one guy who is killing their cap by being paid too much to do too little, and right now that guy in Vancouver is definitely Brendan Morrison.

That does it for me this week. If you’re looking to get in touch with me you can do so via email, matthew@fogdevils.com. Thanks for reading, I’ll talk to you all in a week.


Welcome back folks for another edition of ‘End to End’ here at Spector’s Hockey. I’m fired up this week about two topics that have to do with the new, “fan friendly” approach to broadcasting hockey games, and what has come of them. So with that said, let’s get it started.

The Forecheck

This past week saw the ultimate creation of debate for the sake of debate, when TSN got a copy of the NHL’s reigning heavyweight champion and current Phoenix Coyotes’ winger Georges Laraque mic’d up and discussing going for a scrap off a draw with Raitis Ivanans of the LA Kings. It actually led to not one, but SEVERAL roundtable debates on fighting in hockey – not that that’s a new fad – and how it’s relevant to the game when it’s staged, as the Laraque-Ivanans tilt (apparently) was. The consensus seemed to be, once all the windbags who’ve never played a competitive game in their lives were done talking, that this was another reason fighting deserved to go “the way of the dodo bird,” to quote one windbag in particular.

Now, since the NHL returned from the lockout, the only thing that has been taking a beating more than fighters in hockey is the action of fighting itself. Enforcers have been labeled one-dimensional goons who don’t deserve to live, much less play the game. They are essentially the scum of the earth, a species that did not evolve with the rest of us and are still stuck in the world of the Neanderthal. The act of fighting has been cast as a useless, pointless, waste of thirty seconds or so, and it seems every expert out there is 100% sure no fan wants to watch a scrap. Well I’ll tell you now that I don’t like Don Cherry, but he’s darn tootin’ when he says you can look at the fans when the mitts hit the ice if you want to see what it is they’re interested in.

So with everyone so down on fighting, and the release of Laraque’s good-natured challenge to Ivanans, pugilism in hockey has once again taken a hit. Analysts are condemning this as nonsensical showmanship for the sake of it, claiming that such actions were unheard of in the past, but they are truthfully dead wrong. As long as there has been hockey, there has been the phrase “you wanna go?” and there always will be. Fights have happened off the faceoff forever, and they always will. This incredible revelation of mic’ing up a player only to hear him issue the challenge has apparently opened people’s eyes to the fact that most fights are prearranged. Well, duh. Did you think before microphones that two fourth liners who hadn’t been on together all night had any reason to fight other than that it’s their job? That’s why Georges Laraque is in the NHL, ditto for Ivanans and any other tough guy in the league – those three little words, “you wanna go?”

It’s no different than a professional fight, such as boxing or UFC, when the combatants come to the centre of the ring (or octagon) to receive their marching orders from the official and touch gloves. Then, once the fight is over, it’s all hugs and raising each other’s hands. There is a code of honor among men who fight for a living, be it in the ring or at the rink. Yet no one dumps on professional fighters who don’t wear skates, which is why this whole thing is idiotic. It all links back to the fact that nearly every analyst on TV now has simply become a shill of the NHL. If the league says it wants to downplay fighting and play up speed, you get to listen to why Georges Laraque is a goon and the Buffalo Sabres might be the best team in NHL history. No word on the fact that Andrew Peters usually sits on the Sabres’ bench all night in case he has to do the same job Laraque does in Phoenix, because the league is focusing on Buffalo’s speed and skill to sell the hockey.

The bottom line is that fighting, and fighters, will always have a place in hockey. You can say all you want that they don’t, but they do. Coaches will never completely rid themselves of the tough guy – they may eliminate the tough guy who is more goon than hockey player, ala Peter Laviolette in Carolina – but they’ll always have that character who can chuck the knuckles. Otherwise you’ve got your Iginlas, Lecavaliers, Ovechkins, and Thorntons breaking hands on helmets and missing twenty games, and that doesn’t often appeal to coach-types.

With that considered, also be ready for more mic’ing up of tough guys in the NHL. If Laraque provided this much fodder with his personable invitation for Ivanans to join him in a dance, I’m sure the media will look to land another such incident on record so they can continue the crusade against fighting in hockey.

The Backcheck

I’ll tell you what I didn’t like. Calling the game from ice level in Friday’s game between the Sabres and Rangers. Sure, the league wants to become more fan-friendly and interactive, and this might be a way to do it, but when do we say enough is enough? Why not just invite the fans to play the game themselves? I just don’t understand what the motivation for such a move is, as though announcers being at ice level has any real relevance to the common fan sitting at home. To me it’s just another stupid stunt by TSN so they can over-hype it, show it too much on SportsCentre, and then say “look what we did!”

I think it cheapens the game when you give the media such over-the-top access to what’s happening. There isn’t any reason to put the play-by-play combo between the benches, and there REALLY isn’t any reason that the commentators should be hanging over the boards to interview the coaches during stoppages in play. It’s one thing to interview a manager in baseball between innings, because he’s not doing anything, but it looks incredibly stupid when Lindy Ruff and Tom Renney are trying to roll their lines and are talking to Glenn Healy about it in the process.

However, some genius at the NHL office thinks this is what fans want to see if the game is going to sell. Cameras in the dressing rooms, interviews during the games, play-by-play at ice level, all should help sell the league and the sport. Well NHL genius, you are wrong. No one is tuning in to hear Tom Renney’s take on managing his lineup halfway through the second period, they are tuning in to watch hockey. That point, unfortunately, is lost on the NHL, and when networks like TSN are right there coming up with insanely exploitative ideas, such as those they have been proposing since the end of the lockout, it’s a recipe for disaster.

So please, for the sake of the fan who’s been loyal to hockey his whole life, long before any of these ridiculous concepts came along, make Friday the last time for calling the action between the benches. I know that’s not going to happen though, because anything that’s done once and doesn’t result in a death will likely be done again, especially when it comes to stupid ideas that someone out there sees as catering to fans. Thanks again for this gem, NHL, you seemed to have outdone yourself once again.

Anyway, that’s it for me this week. On a side note, I received an email from one of my readers this week, and he requested that I make mention of this in my column, so I’m putting the links below. Check them out:



Thanks for reading folks. You can reach me at matthew@fogdevils.com if you have any questions or comments. I’ll talk to you all in a week.


Welcome back folks for another edition of ‘End to End’ here at spectorshockey.net. Hope all my readers to the South enjoyed the Thanksgiving weekend and are now looking forward to the next big holiday season, which is shockingly less than a month away. Anyway, this week I’m going to be chatting it up about headshots in the NHL as well as the league’s coaching carousel. Here we go.

The Forecheck

I’m really getting tired of seeing everyone up in arms every time there’s a big hit in the NHL these days. It seems to me that if some clown gets caught in the trolley tracks, it is inevitable that within twenty minutes of it happening it’s on every sports channel and all the suits sitting at the desk are questioning the hit. Let me put an end to all the debate right now with this one statement: the hits are clean, so stop talking about them.

I understand the temptation to question these hits when a guy gets wallpapered and it takes the medical crew fifteen minutes to scrape him off the ice, but the fact is that all of these hits people are discussing are clean, and the injuries have just been a byproduct of a thunderous check. Whether or not someone is hurt should not be part of the equation for debating whether or not a hit is clean, as the two things are not related. A guy can get hurt on a clean hit, it happens, so why question it? You all wanted more speed in the game, well speed is going to produce bigger collisions when they happen, and bigger collisions between men as large as the average hockey player are going to produce injuries, so it’s time to jump in the bed that the new NHL has made for itself.

The three big ones that come to mind are Robyn Regehr on Aaron Downey, Raffi Torres on Jason Williams, and Willie Mitchell on Johan Franzen. People were analyzing the Regehr hit like it was the Zapruder film when it happened, and the same goes for the Mitchell hit on Franzen recently. However, the worst one has undoubtedly been Torres on Williams, which was subject to an in-game analysis by the TSN game crew as Williams was being carted off on a stretcher. Only adding to the fact that it was way overblown was that Williams’ worst injury was a cut on his cheek, and he did not miss any significant action at all.

What people need to realize is that every big hit is not arbitrarily a head check. If you hit a guy in the chest and he goes down because he’s hurt, it doesn’t become a head check because he’s hurt. It just means that he’s hurt. I’m so sick of looking at hockey analysts on TV showing the same tapes of a big hit twenty-five times just so they have something to debate. Just appreciate the physicality of the game, acknowledge that it was or wasn’t a clean check, and move on. It does nothing for anyone involved to rake it over the coals the way big hits are being raked recently.

The Backcheck

This week hockey fans witnessed another chapter in the neverending saga of professional hockey, that being the hiring-firing carousel of life as an NHL coach. The man to ride said carousel: Ken Hitchcock. The team to pluck him: the Columbus Blue Jackets.

It never ceases to amaze me that when a coach gets the axe his phone starts ringing almost immediately. To me, I just don’t understand how someone can get fired for doing a crappy job only for someone else to go “this guy is the guy I want.” It just seems to me like if he was worth having, why would he have been fired in the first place? I mean in Hitchcock’s case he was coaching a team in a weaker conference to a record that was (to my best recollection) only one point greater than that of Columbus at the time he was hired. In fact, come to think of it, the Flyers have been significantly better since Hitchcock was canned, meaning he was probably much worse than the current Philadelphia record would suggest. So what’s the rush to hire him?

In my estimation the rush is that Columbus, like every team that fires their head coach in midseason, wanted a guy that they figure will be able to just pick things up and go. They don’t need new blood and a change of pace from the ‘old boys club’ that is the NHL coaching fraternity, they want a guy with “experience” and a history of production. Whether or not that guy has proven that in today’s game, where offense and speed win over attention to detail and defensive-minded hockey, he’s ineffective, he still gets the job because he’s been at it forever.

I’m of the mind that the best coaches are produced by long stretches of working to get to the NHL – or back to the NHL for that matter. Look at some of the best in the game today as examples. Lindy Ruff toiled in the minors and as an assistant before landing with the Sabres, as did guys like Randy Carlyle, Jim Playfair, and Michel Therrien. Others, such as Tom Renney, Ted Nolan, and Paul Maurice, were cut loose and went without work for long stretches before coming back to the show and making things work with their new clubs. These men learned the hard way that NHL jobs are hard to come by, and you’d better be ready to adapt and produce if you don’t want to be working at a hockey school in Miramichi for the rest of your life.

So, sorry to give you the gears for the second straight week Columbus, don’t expect the Hitchcock thing to produce immediate results, or possibly even long term results for that matter. Waiting for work for a month is not the same as waiting for a year, and the production on the ice will reflect that when Hitchcock’s stale, stagnant, defense-first philosophies firmly entrench the Jackets in the basement once again this season. Wait for a guy like Andy Murray, Larry Robinson, or Pat Burns if he’s healthy and looking to get back into the game, to come into town and make something happen, because they’re the guys that will be coaching like they’ve got something to prove. And so the carousel will continue to turn.

That’s it for me this week folks. If you’re looking to contact me you can do so via matthew@fogdevils.com, otherwise thanks for reading and I’ll talk to you all in a week.


Welcome back for another week of hockey chat here at ‘End to End.’ With the World Juniors just around the corner, I’m going to discuss the likelihood of Jordan Staal joining Team Canada at the event, as well as the beginning of the end of an era in Columbus. Let’s get it going.

The Forecheck

To tell you the truth, I’m of the mind that Jordan Staal shouldn’t even be in the NHL this year. Forget that he’s had a decent start and doesn’t look out of place, those points are erroneous. The fact of the matter is that he wasn’t even a dominant junior star before joining Pittsburgh, and was only chosen second overall because of his name and the potential that came with it. I’m not saying anything bad about Staal or Pittsburgh in that regard, it’s not a bad pick at all, I’m simply stating that he probably wouldn’t have went as high as he did if Eric didn’t already have a Cup ring and Marc wasn’t one of the most feared defensemen in major junior hockey.

Nonetheless, he’s in the NHL, so my opinion on his being there or his draft position is irrelevant. But I pose this question: for the four weeks it would take for Staal to play on Team Canada in the World Junior Hockey Championship, will he play in Pittsburgh or will he play in Sweden?

I think it would be a good step in Staal’s offensive development to release him for the tournament. He’d get first-line minutes and powerplay time where he would very likely be the quarterback instead of an afterthought. Instead of being the kid that’s just happy to be there, he’d be expected to lead by example and produce big totals in the tournament. Sure, the competition of the WJHC is no contest for that of the NHL, but more icetime for Staal and a good showing at the tourney could do him a world of good. Look at the difference in Eric upon his return from a lockout-induced AHL stint. He was a different hockey player. It’s not on the same scale, but it’s the same principle.

For what it’s worth, I’d be totally shocked if Pittsburgh let Staal go. He’s shown so far this season that he can play at the NHL level and not look ridiculous doing so. I just think for long-term gain with the kid, the World Juniors might be the best place for him this December. I guess we’ll all just have to wait and see what happens.

The Backcheck

Everyone was picking the Columbus Blue Jackets to make the playoffs this season and shake the reputation of also-rans that has haunted them since their inception. Not this guy. I said they were going to have one more year of hardship before they finally clued in, cleaned up the organization, and made it to the postseason. So far, I’m ahead of the curve on Blue Jackets predictions for the year, and I don’t think I’ve ever watched a full game emanating from Columbus.

Columbus dumped head coach Gerard Gallant early last week, the first move of what I’m figuring to be many. Gallant was a cross between a players’ coach and a maniac, which is a paradoxical combination that theoretically should not lead to wins. That theory was proven to be true with the Jackets’ lack of production so far this season, hence he has been replaced on an interim basis by assistant coach Gary Agnew. So with that in mind, I’m going to elaborate on my preseason prediction of the turmoil in Columbus, and try to predict the next move.

Next up, in my estimation, will be the desperation trade for an overrated guy that doesn’t help half as much as the hype would indicate. I could see a situation like Brendan Witt going to Nashville last season or Owen Nolan coming to Toronto pre-lockout in Columbus, just an overrated veteran guy that people talk about like he’s going to completely change the world for the Blue Jackets. We all know how those stories end, and if you don’t just check the last time either the Preds or Leafs hoisted the Cup to get your answer.

Once that fails – and rest assured, it will fail – Doug MacLean will say all the right things that a guy about to lose his job usually does. He’ll say they’re still close, or that injuries were a factor, and then he’ll focus on the good young talent and how they got another good season of experience. Then he’ll get the axe, and it will be totally justified, as they probably do have the talent to be a playoff team this season, but they won’t because the front office is making poor decisions. It’s happened a thousand times in this game, a guy loses his job because the team he’s running isn’t playing up to snuff. Sports is a results-driven industry, and no results equals no job.

Columbus will be okay in the future, but this season should prove to be the last of the Doug MacLean era. He hired the wrong coach, made the wrong moves, and ultimately will end up on the wrong end of the playoff race. It’s an unfortunate reality that men lose their jobs so frequently in the NHL, but a reality nonetheless, and I fully expect that the Columbus front office shuffle will continue over the next several months. I guess MacLean will always have Florida.

That’s it for me this week. Huge shout-out to the new UFC welterweight champion of the world, and Quebec product, Georges St. Pierre for his domination of Matt Hughes Saturday night. It’s about time someone stomped Hughes, and it’s even better that the guy who did brings the belt to Canada in the process. If you care to contact me I can be reached by email at matthew@fogdevils.com. Thanks for reading, I’ll talk to you all in a week.


Welcome back for another week of ‘End to End’ folks. I got some good reaction from people regarding my column last week, in particular the segment on Russians in the league, so thank you for your opinions. As I always admit, I like to hear from my readers, so never be shy about dropping me an email. With that said, I’ll turn my focus to this week’s topics, which include the no-longer-invincible Ottawa Senators and the fact that the NHL has dropped the ball again, this time regarding their awful schedule. Let’s get it started.

The Forecheck

The time has come. Ottawa is officially no longer an NHL powerhouse. No matter how much people don’t want to hear it, the Senators are a long way from contending for the Stanley Cup, and are actually far closer to a long-overdue organizational overhaul. For those who had them pegged to win it all this season (AGAIN), observe how quickly the wheels have fallen off the Sens’ bus in 2006-07.

Martin Gerber has been a total bust, which was unexpected but completely deserved considering that Ray Emery should have been given the starting job outright from day one. Teams have figured out how to keep Spezza and Heatley in check, and Daniel Alfredsson is once again proving why he is not captain material at the NHL level. Guys like Mike Fisher, Antoine Vermette, and Chris Neil were all expected to contribute offensively and none of them really have. The defense is a lot better on paper than it’s been on the ice, and the result is the worst Ottawa Senators squad in recent memory.

As I’ve said all along, Ottawa’s problems begin in the front office with John Muckler. He’s done a terrible job since coming to town, yet people still praise his work for some unknown reason. You could make the argument that it’s his pedigree from Edmonton in the eighties that gets him by, but I’d also like to point out that it’s not the eighties anymore and teams need a guy who wins now, not won twenty years ago.

Chemistry is lacking, and the team is beginning to rot. Look at Chris Phillips’ recent on-ice outbursts, smashing his stick on the ice repeatedly after multiple games in which he took a selfish penalty with very little time left. The Sens just aren’t the Sens anymore, they aren’t the same team they once were and they are in bad need of a shakeup.

My suggestion is fire John Muckler as soon as possible and make Bryan Murray the GM. Murray built the majority of the Ducks team that has looked so good so far this season, and has proven he knows how to construct a team full of young talent. Let him hire his own replacement behind the bench and then let the Senators regain their glory.

I said all of this late last season, and I stand by it. I also said then that Alfredsson needs to go, and I still think it today, only now a lot more people believe it too so it’s more likely. Stay tuned to Ottawa regardless of your feelings though, because Eugene Melnyk is getting antsy and it could be mighty entertaining for people on the outside looking in.

The Backcheck

Most people are pretty confident that the NHL has become a more fan-friendly league in its post-lockout form. My own personal opinions on that aside, it is obvious that they have dropped the ball by not immediately changing their moronic schedule after the first round of GM meetings, and they need to reverse that trend at the next set of meetings this season.

The fact is that nobody cares about team travel or how tired a club is, they care about seeing variety. I ranted earlier in the year about how the new schedule was failing to produce rivalries despite the attempts to ram them down fans throats, and I’ll further that by saying the schedule is failing on a whole other level. The fact that most teams out west don’t ever see the Ovechkins, Crosbys, Staals, or Malkins, while back east fans are deprived of the Thorntons, Iginlas, Phaneufs, and Nashs, is an absolute farce and is the main reason the schedule needs to be changed.

For the record, I don’t think the league will change its schedule. I think it’s a huge mistake, but I think they’ll keep things as they are. That won’t sit well with fans, but the NHL thinks they have a cushion from fan backlash because the on-ice product has improved from years past so they’ll roll the dice. Thus, they won’t listen to the people they should, and alter the schedule to allow more of a variety of opponents. However, given that the NHL literally employs professional schedulemakers to MAKE SCHEDULES, I don’t buy any excuse about travel or anything else about why this divisional schedule is so fabulous. Those guys should be able to make any trip relatively sensible, given that making schedules is their job.

After years of dropping the ball on key issues, this is a great litmus test for how fantastic the new NHL is both in terms of giving fans what they want and improving the on-ice product. Let the fun begin folks, they’re on the clock now…or the calendar.

Alrighty that does it for me this week. Drop me a line at matthew@fogdevils.com if you care to discuss anything, I’ll be back in a week’s time.

The opinions expressed on this page are of the author, and in no way reflect the views of the NHL, it teams or players. All material in End to End copyright (C) 2007 Spector's Hockey. Reproduction of this material in whole, or in part, without consent by the author or Spector's Hockey is prohibited.