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Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Rant answers: Thrashers getting ignored; Blues, Jackets causing pain

By Pierre LeBrun

No warm and fuzzy feelings with this crew! You guys were cranky ahead of Christmas. Let’s look at some rants and thanks for the effort everyone!

moriler: Pierre, when will someone in the American media tell the real story about the Thrashers -- how ownership cares first and foremost about basketball, put an inferior product on the ice for nearly 10 years due to indifference, and only at the start of this season realized that they'll only draw fans if they make an effort to win games. The game against the Devils drew 17,000-plus -- not from fans who wanted to see Kovalchuk (they didn't show up when he was there on those horrible losing teams), but from fans who are starting to realize that this team is what good hockey looks like, and the team is actually worth coming to see now. Years of obvious owner indifference led directly to fan indifference, as it has in so many other cities (NY Isles, Pittsburgh, Edmonton, Chicago, even Detroit pre-Yzerman -- remember the Dead Wings?) -- and yet, because we happen to be in the Sun Belt, everyone clamors for our move despite there having been no actual effort made by ownership to allow hockey to succeed. Even this year we have barely made it to the salary cap floor -- and the fans know it. But this team rolled the dice on chemistry and got boxcars.

I understand that the Canadian media will never give the Sun Belt teams a fair shake, because the constant rumors of relocation are what sells in their world. But I do wish that the major American outlets would step up: Thrashers attendance has been directly due to consistent ownership indifference. It takes time to overcome that.

My take: One thing is clear my friend, it should be worrisome to any Thrashers fan to continually see NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly quoted in various media reports warning Atlanta about the future. While Daly has been very clear in saying the NHL's priority is to keep the team in Atlanta, he also has hinted at the repercussions of the market place not supporting the team. People in Atlanta should not ignore those hints. The league rarely takes that stance with any of its teams. This is a fun and exciting team to watch, they're battling Washington for the division lead and yet the club is 28th in attendance. Not good enough. Traditionally, the Thrashers have had better crowds in the second half. Hopefully that’s the case again.

Ljwinter85: Is there a reason Laviolette isn't being talked about for the Jack Adams? He's turned this team around completely and has the Flyers in prime position to make another run at the Cup. I don't want to hear about how stacked the Flyers are because that shouldn't matter. If Phil Jackson can win coach of the year awards, why can't Lavy? You can have all the talent in the world but if you can't get them to mesh and work together (HEAT) it doesn't matter. Lavy has done a terrific job with this team and putting together balanced lines. I think he deserves some consideration.

My take: Absolutely Laviolette deserves consideration. No argument here. And so does Mike Babcock in Detroit. But this is what happens when the voting comes: Coaches who get less talented rosters to overachieve almost always get more love. Pretty hard to disagree with Dave Tippett's choice last season. That's why Barry Trotz should always be in contention for the miracles he performs in Nashville. How about Joe Sacco and what he's doing with the kids and the injuries in Colorado? Craig Ramsay and the surprising Atlanta Thrashers? How about Marc Crawford in Dallas? Jacques Martin coaching his butt off with Montreal? The list goes on and on ... . Sixteen teams make the playoffs every year and I’d say a dozen coaches have legitimate Jack Adams cases. To me, it’s the hardest award in the sport to figure out.

Deffenbeard: Pierre, it's tough being a Blues fan. The beginning of the season gave us a peak at how dominating this team could be, especially on defense. It wasn't long until the hockey gods turned their back on us. Bobby Orr's first flight in hockey must have cursed the Blues. David Perron has been out for almost two months, Roman Polak is finally coming back after two months, nobody knows when Andy McDonald will return, and T.J. Oshie hopes to return before the end of the season. I hope that we will look back and say "the season really turned around when we found out that Erik Johnson didn’t destroy his knee against Detroit." We even have a rookie that isn't even considered a rookie in Alex Pietrangelo. It must be because he looks more like a 10-year veteran than a rookie. With that said, I'd like to include two positives at the end of this negativity: The Blues still sell out every game, and I still have a chance to see the first championship banner being raised to the rafters.

My take: It really is too bad how the injuries have derailed the Blues' season. They were going so good for a while. I remember putting them first overall in the Power Rankings one week. A lot of teams have injuries but the Blues were ravaged by key injuries to their very top players. That's tough to overcome. The season is far from over but either way, feel good knowing this team is building in the right direction.

jkline19@hotmail.com: As a Blue Jackets fan my wish list and complaint list is long -- but I will whittle it down to two items:

1. No. 1 D-man. CBJ have never had one, and while there guys down in Springfield who maybe can step up eventually, it is a need now.

2. No. 1 center. Help may be on the way in a year or two (with Johansen) -- but again, CBJ have never had a true No. 1 centerman. And no, Cassels and Fedorov were way past their primes when they played for CBJ.

The Maclean years are long gone yet his traces are still here. It kills me to see all the All-Stars playing for other teams that CBJ passed over in many previous drafts for guys who busted.

grrr ... OK -- happy holidays all

My take: Believe me when I say that Jackets GM Scott Howson tried all offseason to upgrade at both those positions, my friend. Easier said than done. Not sure if you've noticed but UFAs are not clamoring to play in Columbus. Which is too bad because I've been to Jackets games and I think it's a terrific NHL market, one that has been underserved by a decade of (mostly) futility. The fans deserve better there. I like Howson and I think he’s got a good plan but it won't come overnight.

fluxzito: All I want for Christmas is for the Minnesota Wild to finally realize that their plan just is not working. Their top scorer is 21st, not in the league, in the Western Conference, in scoring, and they only have two guys in the West Top 40. I thought this offense was supposed to be run and gun. It looks like the typical Wild to me. I would rather see the team rebuild like Edmonton is doing, and what Pitt did for years, (Stall, Fleurry, Crosby, Malkin). What do the Wild have to show for it? Nick Leddy (traded), Tyler Cuma (still in minors), Colton Gillies (bust), James Sheppard (bust), Benoit Pouliot (bust), A.J. Thelen (bust). I prefer watching the Minnesota Golden Gophers than the Wild. Mikael Granlund, please hurry.

My take: What, two wins in a row over Calgary doesn’t turn your crank? Hate to say it, but I pretty much saw this frustrating season coming. Didn’t think this was a playoff team and got lots of heat from Wild fans for saying so in September. Look for GM Chuck Fletcher to try to be aggressive in January and February on the trade front.

BaseballHockeyFan63: Pierre, what is it with you media types and the continued fawning over Crosby? EVERYONE gets it. He's a really good player -- top 3 in the league (currently No. 1, but we all know streaks and trends go in waves). We know he almost single-handedly led the Penguins to a 12-game winning streak. The point streak is impressive.

BUT HE IS NOT THE ONLY PLAYER IN THE LEAGUE. The day after the Flyers stopped the Penguins' streak, basically shut Crosby down (only two power-play points -- EXTREMELY quiet 5-on-5), and regained the top spot in the NHL (in just one game after the Penguins had won 12 in a row) and the headline is Crosby Continues the Streak?! RIDICULOUS. How about "Boucher Continues Hot Streak, Flyers Regain Top Spot?" Or "Struggling Power Play Delivers Late, Flyers Win?" How about focusing on something that is NOT Crosby? How about focusing on how the Flyers are something like plus-37 in goal differential on 5-on-5, more than double the second-best ratio?

Die-hard hockey fans of teams outside Pittsburgh are SICK and TIRED of the Crosby-centric NHL. I know you dismiss this notion, but I can tell you there WILL be many, many fans boycotting the Winter Classic because we are absolutely SICK of the Crosby (and, to a lesser extent, Ovechkin) coverage being shoved down our throats.

It's an old argument, but it is not going to go away until the league starts promoting other players. I understand the business aspect, but this does not help the image of the NHL, or the hockey media, being a joke.

My take: Personally, I haven't written a Crosby column this season. So I guess you weren’t referring to me. But dude, he’s the best player in the world. He deserves the attention. When you have the two greatest players ever in the history of the game, Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Orr, bringing up Crosby to me in recent conversations and both being incredibly impressed, that says it all. He’s got 10 more points than the second-leading scorer in the league. The guy’s unreal.

anblis: Pierre, I know it's "easy" to bash the refs sometimes but at times you just have to wonder what they are thinking. During the Bruins-Sabres game last week the officiating was awful on both sides. A phantom "boarding call" on Lucic led to one Sabres goal and other poor calls and "non-calls" disrupted the entire game. After Lucic is boarded himself with 2 minutes to go and no call comes, Dan O'Rouke (who was getting most of the grief all night) conveniently positions himself right in front of the Boston bench with a minute to go and calls an unsportsmanlike on the Boston bench because someone says the officiating has been a "joke."

My question/rant is this ... what purpose does that serve? No one directed profanity towards him (and I see that a lot on the ice during the game), and he had to know he wasn't having a "strong game" based on the actions of the players throughout. So with a minute to go he calls a penalty based on a comment only he could hear thus ending any chance of a Bruins comeback? Let's face it: If that occurred during a playoff game or on a HNIC broadcast to a Canadian team, Don Cherry and others would be calling for his head on a platter. Why can't the NHL office acknowledge screwups like this (by fining the ref, etc.) like they do when players cross the line? Julien rarely complains about the officiating but he said "complaining about poor calls and performances rarely changes it." What does that say about the league's office's handling of the refs?

My take: I honestly believe NHL refs are the best in pro sports. Yes they make mistakes, of course they do. They’re human. The game is 100 miles an hour. But when you compare the Big Four in North American sports, I’d take NHL officiating over the other three any day.

KooLeafs23: Pierre, my biggest problem in the NHL these days is the moronic need for players to respond to a clean hit a teammate receives by trying to fight, my point being the recent Subban hit on Brad Marchand. A clean hockey hit that for some reason Gregory Campbell felt he had to protect Marchand so he takes a penalty by trying to get Subban to fight him and then Montreal scores just 2 seconds after the PP is over. While technically not a PP goal, the PP gave the Habs’ offensive zone possession and the Bruins lost by one. What happened to the days where you go out and try to get a hit back? It happens every game now and it makes me sick how it's almost second nature by now in the NHL to respond this way. Does the NHL have any plans to try to do something about this ridiculous way the players act these days?! So frustrating!

My take: Totally, completely and whole-heartedly agree with you. Drives me crazy that players today are like that. It's become part of the culture over the last decade and it’s a real annoyance. If it's a clean hit, take your lumps and move on. And tell your teammates to also move on.

royalsgold1818: I don't understand what is taking so long for the Sutter brothers in Calgary to be fired. An obvious shakeup is needed. For starters, since Brent Sutter arrived, the Flames have been unable to play consistent hockey. A three-game winning streak is unheard of, and he has never been able to get the best out the players he is given to work with. I don't know why people think he's a good coach. All he has done is win a few world juniors, and then take a very talented New Jersey Devils team to two first-round playoff exits. Not to mention he comes to Calgary and we miss the playoffs for the first time since before the lockout. As for Daryl, the fact that he would spend all that money signing Jay Bouwmeester is ridiculous. Do you really want your top defenseman to be so soft that other players aren't scared to play against him? I guarantee other teams are happy to play Calgary, because they have no issues entering our zone because they know Bouwmeester isn't about to take their head off. Finally, we have the worst farm system in the entire NHL, and that is entirely the GM's fault. We have no young talent, and without Kiprusoff we would be the worst team in the NHL (maybe not worse than the Islanders or the Devils, but they are in a league of their own). I think it only makes sense to clean house of the Sutter brothers, let Iginla leave when he wants to go to a contender (don't ask him if they can trade him, let him bring it up, he's earned that) and rebuild for the very distant future.

My take: Could not agree more with you, pal. And I wish I had an answer for you, but I don’t. But I’d be shocked if the Sutters survive into next season if they miss the playoffs again this year. The Dion Phaneuf trade last January was a disaster. Signing Matt Stajan to that ridiculous extension made it even worse. Then flipping Ian White to Carolina this year and for what? Yikes.

SHIMS112001: How in the world is John Maclean still head coach of the Devils?? Lou fires coaches after 100-point seasons (Claude Julien 2006) and with eight games left in the season when the team is in first (Robbie Ftorek 2000). And let's face it: After last season, Jaques Lemaire was fired, he didn’t retire. This is a disgrace to Devils fans! MACLEAN MUST BE FIRED!!!!

My take: I spoke with Lamoriello last weekend. The pain in his voice said it all. This season is killing him. I am surprised Maclean has lasted. But I suspect what Lamoriello is perhaps saying is that the team on the ice is more at fault than the coach. The players that the GM signed and traded for, that is. But whether it’s this season or next summer, Lamoriello needs to find a coach that can get the best out of Ilya Kovalchuk. That must be the priority now.

LesHabs25: I have written to you before concerning my Habs but I have to take you and Scott to task after being part of that chat a few hours ago. Why do you not think this is a team that cannot keep its position atop the Northeast? First off, they don't rely on just a guy or two for all the offensive production. They get it from all four lines. Heck, Jeff Halpern has six goals already! I understand and agree with your comment that Jacques Martin is "coaching his butt off” as evidenced by the fact they have bought into his system. Allowing 72 goals has a lot to do with the goaltender coming into his own but it has to do with defensive responsibilities and their No. 1 rated PK. They have the goalie (or so it seems) for the long run. They have scoring. Maybe not as much as the big boys in the Pens, Caps or Flyers, but as proved last spring they have enough to get by (especially blocking all those shots). The defense may have taken a hit with the loss of Markov, but they now have over $5 million in cap room to go get another guy on the blue line or even a top-6 forward. Langenbrunner? Arnott? Richards? Dare I say it, Kovalev? I am a realistic Habs fan. I don't think they are as good as Pittsburgh, Washington or Philadelphia, but I think they are better than the Bruins and I do NOT see them at any point this season in danger of falling on the brink of missing the playoffs. Thoughts, mon ami? -- Robbie in NY

My take: You could very well be right, my friend. My two main concerns with the Habs are these: 1) Andrei Markov’s absence will be felt more as the season goes on. They’ve done a terrific job playing through it, as they did in last season’s playoffs, but over the course of an entire year they will miss his puck-moving abilities and PP/QB skills; 2) Scott Gomez is the team’s No. 2 center but has only 14 points (four goals) in 31 games, which is eighth on the team, even behind defenseman Roman Hamrlik. That’s not the kind of production you need from a No. 2 center on a Cup contender. The good news is his $7.35 million cap hit only carries through the 2013-14 season. Gulp.

Still, overall, all of your points are valid and it wouldn’t shock me at all if the Habs were able to hold off Boston. And keep in mind the Canadiens can use the cap savings from Markov’s injury and add some help before Feb. 28.

fbullock: Dear SantaBrun, while all teams are wanting a delivery of a shiny metallic object about 90 centimeters tall and weighing 16 kilos this Xmas, I wanted to ask on behalf of all hockey fans for a few items in this weeks rants:

1. Peace for Caps fans as the team got off the snide. See it's not 2003-04.

2. Joy for Flyers and Penguins fans, someday we'll find out who the top PA team is.

3. Good will for Fehr and Bettman. Please, for our sanity, play nicely.

4. Hope that Lou Lamoriello can figure out the cap. Maybe pay the players in pesos?

5. Wish for all fans to remember the passion of the game. No matter if your team is in Atlanta, Phoenix, etc., remember hoping for relocation only gets you so far, you still need passion from a fan base for it to survive. I believe hockey fans live everywhere, not just in cold climates.

So with that I wish all on the rant board and Mr. LeBrun a Merry X-mas and I look forward to talking up the New Year’s rants next week. To all a good night!!!

My take: What a great way to end it before Christmas. Well said!