Leaf Spot

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Puck Paddy is, unfortunately, a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, and has been since 2011. Every once in a while, he needs to vent.

Leafs Coach Randy Carlyle Canned

Leafs fans and media alike have lit up Twitter within the last 90 minutes as Toronto have fired Randy Carlyle after a turbulent three seasons in charge. Carlyle took over from Ron Wilson at the end of a mid-season collapse in 2012, and was at the helm for the infamous play-off first round implosion in Game 7 against Boston in the shortened season of 2012/13.

While there appears to be much joy in Leaf-land right now, to me they are are over-blowing what is at best a small step on what is destined to be a long and painful journey for this much-tortured hockey franchise. The reality is that the core of the Toronto Maple Leafs has been rotten for a long time, and it will take a generational coach to take this team to anything beyond it’s absolute maximum ceiling of a second-round playoff berth (and that is VERY wishful thinking at this stage).

I don’t think many in the hockey media were surprised to see Randy Carlyle go, and although there appears to by sympathy towards him, it’s hard to argue that this is not one of the moves the Leafs had to make, whether it be sooner or later. But the fact remains that this is a team that did not practice what Carlyle wanted to preach. It’s been argued for the longest time that Carlyle chose his lines incorrectly, leaning on the Kessel/Bozak/Van Reimsdyk line excessively and not blooding any of the young Marlies who had shown potential in the AHL, but the reality is that was not his remit. Carlyle knew that when Brendan Shanahan came in as President in the Summer of 2014 and subsequently fired his assistant coaches that he was next in line. It wasn’t within Randy’s best interests to blood youth and try to build something for this franchise long-term because he knew he needed results, and he needed them fast.

Considered one of the “old school” of hockey coaches, he didn’t seem to role with the Leafs management clear move towards advanced analytics when putting together his lines, and most saw it as a matter of time before the inevitable occurred. The Leafs puck possession stats continued to plummet, and as soon as they left the Air Canada Center for their extended road trip, this team were quickly found out. Couple all of this with the fact that there is a all-world draft class in 2015, as well as some big name coaches potentially on the market at seasons end and you have yourself the perfect storm.

So what next for TML? Dave Nonis, as nice a chap as he seems to be, must know that now he’s the next in line. He offered the huge deals to Kessel, Phaneuf and Clarkson (all of which are beginning to look a little worrying) and was involved in several other key deals that has formed this core of players which just look unable to make any significant progress. He’s been a part of the organization since the Brian Burke era prior, so whether he likes it or not, he has to wear a lot of the blame for this debacle of a team. He is, however, a good soldier, and appears happy to let Brendan Shanahan take the reigns as defacto General Manager. There may be a place for him still in the organization, but his decision-making powers need to be removed if they haven’t been already.

The main problem is the players, and the difficulty there will be in moving them. Starting at the top, Dion Phaneuf has just not worked out as captain of this team. He has been miscast as a number one defenseman, shows no aptitude towards leadership, and has a very difficult contract to offload. He is a good hockey player and a useful piece on a good team, but he is not someone you can build around. Not here. Not now.

David Clarkson was just a terrible evaluation by Leafs management, and will be a noose around the neck of this franchise for six more years. 5.25 million per in cap space is wasted on a third or fourth line winger who is a black-hole of offense. This is the most egregious decision of the Nonis tenure and will be put forth as Exhibit A by anyone who wants him out of the organisation. It would be a miracle if he was traded for anything more than a bag of pucks, and I’m sure Shanahan would bite your hand off for that if they could offload him now as a salary dump.

The Kessel/Bozak/Van Reimsdyk axis of evil appears to have lost a lot of it’s goodwill it had accrued over the past two seasons after about ten shoddy performances. The trio are unquestionably talent going forward, but their clear lack of desire to back check or fight for the puck is case and point of what is wrong with this team right now. They’re an all-killer line but not willing to do what it takes to do what needs to be done to help your team win. Of those three, JVR is the most tradeable asset with a reasonable salary and cap hit, propensity for goals, young and not too much term. Bozak is one a lot of the Leafs fans would be happy to see go, but it’s hard to imagine that happening as the rest of the league don’t seem to rate him like the Leafs do. And then there’s Phil.

I have been a Phil Kessel lover for a long time. The guy is electric on the ice. He produces goals, he generates goals around him for his line mates, he’s excellent on the power play, and he does not miss games. Ever. He might even be able to handle the scrutiny of the most intense hockey media in the world pretty well too in that he just does not care. But recently the guy has been a terrible influence on this team. His lack of work ethic, his selfishness in defense and his lack of willingness to lead the team by example off the ice is what exemplifies the problem in Toronto.

For me, the issue is the core of players that have been selected by the previous management regime. This team has had three years to figure it out, and they haven’t. They’ve showed they’re not able to deal with the pressure when the going gets tough. Kessel, Bozak, Lupul, Phaneuf, Franson, JVR, Clarkson, they have all been miscast as key cogs on a team building towards a championship. Independently they are all really good players that would probably perform well if they went their seperate ways (with the exception of Clarkson, that dude is terrible). Together, they can’t get it done. It’s sad, but it’s true.

Here is a core the Leafs need to evaluate, and quickly. Kadri, Reilly, Bernier and Gardner. Can you supplement them with a couple of the guys aforementioned? Lupul and JVR, perhaps? I don’t have a problem with keeping a couple of those guys around. But Dion has to leave, as the figure-head of this 5 year malaise. Bozak has to go if you want to spark some life in to Kessel. Maybe even Kessel has to go if you don’t think your young players are going to learn what it takes to be a top professional with him as the star player. But the reality is that this team needs a fresh start, and I’m not one to throw that kind of conjecture around very often. They’ve been through too many meltdowns now. They can’t do it.

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Paddy’s Impressions: 2

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“Paddy’s Impressions” are the random musings of what is going on around the National Hockey League according to one misinformed and misguided Irishman who’s still trying to get to grips with the game while living in the biggest hockey market in the free world.

It’s been a while! Howya doin? While the frequency of writing has tailed off a bit, the level of frantic hockey-watching has shown no such downturn. As we approach the holiday period, the season has well and truly began to take shape.

Edmonton: Suck Town, USA

Oh, Edmonton. Woe is thee.

If there’s one thing the Oilers can do better than anyone else, it’s tank. Continuously. Forever. And then some more. Three first overall draft picks in a row, followed by another one and a half inept seasons? That’s impressive tanking. Of course, the problem with tanking that effectively is that eventually you need to come out the other side of it a better team. Instead what we’re witnessing now is season after season of terrible hockey punctuated by an unforgiving Western Conference schedule that is sticking the knife in repeatedly. Six years after tanking, the Oilers are now in pole position for Conor McDavid, the prized of prized possessions.

Last week, they fired beleaguered head coach Dallas Eakins, a competent chap who clearly was the wrong man at the wrong time. Craigy McT, Oilers legend and current GM, has decided to dip his toe behind the bench alongside their minor league head coach on an interim basis to get a closer look at the steaming pile of crap he has inherited and assembled. Conversation has shifted towards trade talks, with one notable rumour being Taylor Hall deemed “un-coachable”, much to delight of the circling Boston Bruins, but the general consensus is that no major changes are coming with their trade assets unless someone blows their socks off with an offer. Inexplicably, Edmonton are now positioning themselves for another top draft pick…and McDavid/Eichal should be very, very afraid.

What’s up with Boston? 

A team with the pedigree of Boston probably shouldn’t need to panic, but with a couple of months of sub-par performances under the belt, and one of their key players beginning to show his age, there are some concerns that the Boston Bruins as they currently stand are going to struggle to make an impact in the East like most pre-season prognosticators thought they would. Tyler Seguin’s rebirth in Dallas is beginning to make GM Peter Chiarelli look bad, and the effective salary-dump of Johnny Boychuk to the Islanders has not only dropped their defensive depth, but has elevated a fellow Eastern to boot. Principally, it’s the goal scoring that has taken a hit. Being solid at the back-end stands to teams in the post-season, but ultimately the Bruins are amongst the lower scorers in their conference and need to think about this going forward. Rumours are Taylor Hall is in play and the Bruins are interested, but you get the feeling their one top player away from propelling themselves into cup contention again for another run.

No longer on an Island

The Islanders stayed under the radar this off-season as they prepared for their last season on Long Island before moving to Brooklyn, and they’ve somehow managed to position their franchise remarkably well in so doing. The pundits more astute than I were smitten with the additions of Kulemin and Grabovski (two former Leafs that I am rather familiar with) while Leddy and Boychuk at the back-end significantly upgraded a blue-line that now calls itself one of the strongest in the East. Their excellent home record has them where they are today, which may be troubling considering it wont be their home for much longer, and they’re beginning to look like the surprise package of the 2014-15 season. Still a long way to go, but they’ve got a solid core that would be a difficult out if they make the post season.

TnT: Tyler & Tarasenko

Two hyped young stars of the 2010 NHL Draft Class have risen to the top in the 2014 part of the 14/15 season: Tyler Seguin of the Stars and Vladamir Tarasenko of the Blues. As if the Western Conference didn’t have enough star power, why not add these two players in the list who are likely to cause havoc from the mid-West onwards for the next ten to fifteen years. Seguin’s reputation in Boston lead him to Dallas where concerns for unmatched potential were very legitimate, but it seems the trade was the reality check he needed in order to flourish. He now stands with 25 goals, five ahead of his nearest rival, and is legitimately in the conversation for MVP as we approach the halfway point of the season. Vlady Tarasenko has also landed on his feet with his performances in a St. Louis Blues team that are well able to support his push for top team honours this year, and his 20 goals this season keeps him in touching distance with Seguin as he is preparing to take his team deep in to the play-offs. Top draft pick that year Taylor Hall, please see above.

That’s all for now folks, enjoy the holidays and watch some hockey!

Bottom’s Up! Is Tanking Fair?

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    Bottom’s Up! Is Tanking Fair?

As I’ve eluded to in recent posts, the NHL 2015 rookie draft is destined to be one of the most anticipated since Sydney Crosby’s in 2005. The reason? Connor McDavid. The kid’s good. Need another reason? Jack Eichel. Also pretty good.

The term “Generational Talents” is what has been bandied about amongst pundits in North America for the last few months, and if you check these kids’ credentials over the past few years, you can see why.

Of course, these talents haven’t just sprang out of nowhere. In Canada, McDavid has been spoken about for years as “The Next One”. 2015 was always threatening to be a banner year, and so far he hasn’t disappointed. He has made a mockery of the Ontario Hockey League playing against men with far greater experience than he. All this is to say that if you were going to have a bad year, then let it be now.

Enter the Buffalo Sabres.

When Puck Paddy sat down and watched them get abused by the Toronto Maple Leafs, only then did he realize the extent to which this team has attempted to “rip the hole out of their arse” for 2015. To get dominated by the Leafs is bad situation, because the Leafs are not a particularly good team. Of course, it’s just one game so there’s no point in getting too excited….but they took 10 shots. 10. Against a team that habitually give up 40 against average teams.

While this particular level of ineptitude is a little surprising, Buffalo has been positioning itself since last season for this draft. In fact, it was almost exactly one year ago when they bailed on their interim coach and GM to bring in Pat Lafontaine as President, who subsequently hired Ottawa’s Assistant GM Tim Murray to lead them in to what was promising to be a big rebuild. Lafontaine only lasted a few months, but Murray began a massive asset-stripping exercise by off-loading former all-star goalie Ryan Miller, Captain Steve Ott and perhaps their most prized forward, Thomas Vanek, all for first round picks in 2015.

Hmmm….2015 you say? Interesting…

Who can blame a team like Buffalo for doing this? Despite being a dwindling city in terms of influence in the United States, it has always been a solid hockey market with a good fan base. They’ve also had a pretty good team during the Ryan Miller years, and although they didn’t cement it with a cup, they have been in the cup conversation up until relatively recently. Now they’re going through the infamous “rebuild” that North American sports teams can do thanks to the glorious social equalization process that is known as the Draft.

This rebuild, or “tanking” as they say ‘round here, has long been seen as the most effective way to take a franchise to glory. Sure, you could go other routes such as trades and free agency, but there are inherent problems with both of these alternative approaches: a bad team generally can’t trade because they don’t have much worth offering to another team, and the reality is very few (if any) top players ever make it to free agency because franchises just don’t let these guys out the door without offering them the mega bucks. Both trades and free agency can certainly fit nicely in to a franchises short-to-medium term frame, but the foundation has to come through the draft.

The thing about drafting in the NHL is that you have control of your asset from anywhere from 6 to 9 years. They’re restricted from signing elsewhere without heavy compensation, and generally you can get them at vastly reduced wages that can free up all-important cap space. You can develop their abilities, promote them, empower them, and make them key cogs in the future of your franchise. Sure, a free agent may not be enamored with kicking it in Buffalo when he’s got LA knocking at the door, but the young draftee doesn’t really have a choice in the matter. He has to learn to love his new home.

Of course drafting is not an exact science. To develop a prospect and project how good he’s going to be is pretty hard to do. 2015 sounds like it’s different, though. McDavid, Eichel, and a host of other youngsters are flooding this years’ draft, and even if you aren’t “lucky” enough to land yourself with one of the big two, your likely to have yourself a fine prospect.

There are a number of problems with tanking, though. It demeans the competition, the opposition and, most importantly, the fans. It’s the fans that pay to support their team and they’re clearly being offered an inferior product. It is the great conflict of supporting a bottom-feeder. One step back to take two steps forward. There’s no fear of relegation like you would have in soccer, for example, so there are no major ramifications besides damaging consumer sentiment. In a hockey market like Buffalo, where there aren’t much alternative forms of sporting entertainment, sentiment is not likely to take a dramatic dip. That might be harder to sell in the likes of Chicago, Pittsburgh or New York.

Buffalo is an ideal candidate to tank. A small city, under the radar, with not a huge amount to lose. They’ve proven they’re loyal as they’ve continued to follow their Bills through NFL obscurity, and while being a good hockey town, they’re not about to go insane at a terrible season and implode internally. It’s on the cards. Everyone has spoken about it. And everyone’s ok with it.

That is hard to do in other markets, most notably the one I am currently living in. The idea of Toronto throwing away a season in the hopes that they can win the draft lottery and rebuild around Connor McDavid is laughable, even if that is the right thing to do. Toronto has too much to lose. Revenue, viewership, consumer sentiment. Toronto has to compete. They’ve had bad years alright, but they’ve just been poorly run. They are not afforded the opportunity that Buffalo has in 2015.

Talk of rule changes and alternatives have been thrown around by the league, and I would expect that to happen at some stage. At the moment, the draft lottery gives the team that finishes last the highest percentage chance of winning the number one pick, but I would expect that lottery system to evolve in to something that reduces the chances of the worst team to get the best player. It’s not within the leagues interest to allow a race to the bottom amongst ailing franchises, because the reality is some of the “non-traditional” hockey market teams may not care about McDavid or Eichel. And the last thing the league wants is for a future star to end up in Florida where nobody cares.

A Day Late & A Buck Short – GambleBlog Season Preview

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Something you must know about Puck Paddy….he likes to gamble away his hard-earned currencies on sporting events of all types. Currently, he has money tied up in golf, soccer, NFL, basketball, baseball, rugby…and hockey. Below is GambleBlog, a betting preview on the NHL’s upcoming 2014/15 season, and where you might find some value this season.

GambleBlog

Being one of only but a relative few Hockey fans hailing from Western Europe, I feel compelled to flex my muscle and pretend like I know more than you about the NHL just because I understand Icing. And, you know, it’s probably true that I do know more than you, but it’s only because you probably don’t care about Hockey. Where I make my mistake is that I feel like prominent sports books from the British Isles are as ignorant about the game of Hockey as your bog-standard Joe Soap, thus making me think that I am capable of beating the bank.

As you can probably tell by the fact that I’m actually writing a blog instead of sitting on a beach somewhere in South-East Asia basking in my millions, that this is something I am not capable of.

So how can I help you? I will do it the way I help myself: by watching copious amounts of hockey and listening to analysts discuss the potential outcomes for the upcoming season, and try to identify gaps between North American discourse and Europe book-makers.

Easy.

Furthermore, if I do end up getting things wrong (and by “if” I mean “when”) I can at least look back and blame the analysts for not knowing what they’re talking about. Of course, if they did know what they were talking about, they too would be on a beach in South-East Asia basking etc. etc. etc.

So without further ado, here is my gambling season preview!

Eastern Conference

Euro Sportsbooks love themselves some Boston Bruins to chalk down the East, and with good reason. The team has been a consistently solid performer for the past five years and have the pedigree of champions. Goaltending, a key ingredient to any top-tier team, is up there with the best as Rask continues to demonstrated, and the blue-line, lead by the beastly Zdeno Chara, has been solid for a number of years now. They’re a team built for the play-off’s and have great depth across all four lines, but the best price you’re going to see right now is 7/2. To me those odds are not great and would rather wait it out and see if they stray to about 6’s during the season.

The reason I say wait and see if they stray is because of Pittsburgh. The allure of Sid and Malkin lighting up regular season opponents every couple of days will result in heavy betting from those who see the big stars and think “who can beat them??”. Frankly, until Pittsburgh show they can get down and dirty with teams in the play-offs again, I want nothing to do with them. But they are a classic regular season superpower, and their current 5/1 price will certainly come in if they do what they are very capable of doing, and start to dominate their conference. That will push the value elsewhere.

Speaking of value, I like two value picks to start the season: Montreal at 8/1 and Tampa Bay at 10/1. Montreal could, and probably should have made the Stanley Cup finals last year but for an unfortunately-timed Carey Price injury. However, Carey Price may have been the top goaltender in the play-offs to that point, and with the gold medal of Sochi 2014 around his neck, he has proven top-tier talent. PK Subban is now signed on and committed, and although the team hasn’t made many significant additions over the past year, they’re a solidly built franchise moving in the right direction. Perhaps crucially, they may have Boston’s number, and for a legitimate top 3 or 4 team in the conference, 8/1 looks like a pretty good deal to me.

Tampa Bay is a team a lot of analysts like the look of this year, and at 10/1 they are nicely priced, but you would probably prefer a little more value here. A year of fully-fit Stamkos would be a welcomed addition, and they’ve made some nice additions through free agency that should offer a bit more depth to their roster. Stamkos’ goals and Bishop’s goal tending will be what really counts, though, and we’ll have to see if they’ve learned anything from last years whipping from Montreal in the first round of the play-off’s.

Want an outside bet? Why not the Blue Jackets? A lot of the league fell in love with their rousing effort against the Penguins in round one last year, and if Bobrovski and Ryan Johannsen keep their high-standards, they should be able to continue making an impact this year. Scotty Hartnell, noted Pittsburgh agitator, will also add a veteran presence to the team, and so those are a couple of feisty moves to get excited about, so at 16/1 CBJ could be worth a punt.

Eastern honourable mention needs to go to last years conference champion NY Rangers, but nobody is getting too excited about them this year. I love their coach and I love their goaltender more, but I also can’t help but feel they over-achieved last year and could regress to the mean in 2015. Rhyming, bitches.

Safe Bet: Boston 7/2 (but wait on it a bit)

Value Bet: Montreal 8/1

Western Conference

The Western Conference….Fuck Me.

Pardon my French.

It’s a behemoth. The talent is so disproportionate that there’s almost no point in betting on a team to win this conference directly because you might as well just bet on them to win the Cup. Of the last five years, Boston are the only team to have broken the cycle of Western dominance. Of course they’re capable of doing it again, but it might be worth your while going all-in, in that case. While Chicago and LA are 4/1 and 5/1 respectively to win the West, both teams have won the cup twice in four years, so perhaps the 8/1 and 9/1 available prices are what you want.

Last season, the Anaheim Ducks looked mighty during the regular season and play-off’s. They raced off to an impressive start and kept a tidy pace throughout an extremely difficult division. Perry and Getzlaf ascended to top 10 talents in the league, and each played integral roles in winning Gold at Sochi for Canada. They are, and presumably remain, Beasts. The recent signing of Ryan Kesler, a proven performer down the years for Vancouver, is a big name addition that may be one of the keys to their season. The unknown of goal tending is potentially the major concern, but Gibson is a highly-rated young stopper who showed great promise when drafted in during the post-season run last year, so at 13/1 for winning the cup, I think you’ve got to like that price, especially if they start hot again this year. Lest we forget, they took the eventual champions to Game 7 last year too. This team has a lot to prove and might be well positioned to do it in 2015.

If you want an outside hot tip then why not try Minnesota? Like Tampa Bay, Minnesota have made a few under-the-radar moves (if you call signing top-tier free agent Thomas Vanek under the radar) and could be nicely positioned to cause a bit of a ruckus in 2015. The last two years their progress has been halted by Chicago, and so that is an obvious hurdle they will need to overcome if they do want to progress, but in saying that this is a team that may be building towards a crescendo of success, slowly building quality talent and gaining invaluable experience. The West is a very hard conference to win, no doubt, but at 12/1 to progress three rounds, and 20/1 for the overall honours, I’d be tempted by that. Like Anaheim, the questions are primarily centered around goal-tending, which is problematic. But that’s why they’re 12/1.

The honorable mentions can extend almost to every play-off team from last year with this division. My American Father, Puck Daddy, sounds like he is interested in St. Louis for 2015 success and it’s hard to doubt they’re credentials, but for me the value isn’t there for a team that’s yet to beat a prominent team. Not saying it can’t happen, but just saying there’s no value there. San Jose are obviously a contender as well, but how can anyone feel good after their post-season collapse last year? Consensus on Colorado is that there’s a possibility of regression this year, which is very possible given their exception 2013/14 year, but the reality is there’s something to be said for about six of the Western Conference teams this season, so pick your poison.

Safe Bet: Toss a coin between Chicago and LA

Value Bet: Minnesota Wild at 12/1

Top Goal-scorer

The Rocket Richard trophy, awarded to the top Goal-scorer in the NHL yearly, could be changed to the Ovechkin award if he keeps at his current clip. The man has won it four times, including twice in a row, putting him second favourite behind one Stephen Stamkos to chalk it down in 2015. Either are solid bets to be honest, and if you expect Tampa Bay to be even better this year (like I do) then perhaps betting on the favourite isn’t a bad idea.

But where’s the fun in that!? Personally, I would be interested in Sidney Crosby at best priced 12/1 to take the award as it’s a good price for a man largely considered the best in hockey. Of course, what should give you pause is that he has never actually won the trophy outright by himself (tied with Stamkos one year) but with doubt surrounding his status as an all-time player, I would be interested taking a punt.

If you’re looking for a real outsider, as someone who watches Phil Kessel score a consistently large amount of goals, you get the feeling that he has a 50 goal season in him. Rarely injured and takes a heck of a lot of shots, at 25/1 you’re looking at a potential top 5 goal-scoring talent who tailed off towards the end of last year.

Safe Bet: Ovechkin 4/1

Outside Bet: Crosby 12/1

Best Defenseman

The Norris trophy is awarded to the best Defenseman, who according to Wikipedia “…demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the season”. This award has been a bit all over the map since stand-out Red Wing Nik Lidstrom surrendered the aware in 2008 (although he did nab it back for one last go around in 2011) with Duncan Keith the only other man to take it twice in the last six years. Duncan Keith is again going to be a top contender this year, with Shea Weber and Zdeno Chara always there or thereabouts.

For me, you can look no further than Drew Doughty. He is absolutely unquestionably going to win a Norris Trophy at some stage, and with the LA Kings still a super-power, it’s just a question of whether they are going to do enough in the regular season to win the award. Anyone who watches him play cannot deny his ability to go forward, and with an extremely strong supporting cast around him, he’s only going to look better this year. 7/1 is a nice price for such a good player.

Former champion P.K Subban is another guy I expect to have a strong year. He won the award two years ago, earned himself a beefy new contract and will excel in the Eastern Conference if he continues to lead a strong Montreal team towards the top of the standings. He’s a bit better at marketing himself and 14/1 for a recent for winner is another tasty figure.

The reality is this award is a bit all over the map and there’s a lot of potential contenders, so if you like the cut of someone’s defensive prowess then go for it.

Safe Bet: Doughty 7/1

Outside Bet: Subban 14/1

Vezina Trophy

In many ways, this award can generate the most heated debate as goal tending metrics have not advanced the same way other positions have. There’s a bit more interpretation as to what constitutes a great goaltender and who actually deserves to win it, and recent trends have been towards some of the biggest names in goal-tending, between Tukka Rask, Lunqvuist, Miller and Tim Thomas (when the latter two were actually good)…

The obvious candidates are two prior winners, Rask and Lunqvuist, who again benefit from being in the favourable conference to save many shots. Jonathan Quick, a goal-tender I love, has got to be under consideration as well. For me, the main man needs to be Carey Price. For the year 2014, there has been nobody better in my estimation, beginning with the Olympics and going all the way to his injury in the play-offs. He was the main reason the Bruins went no further, and if he continues at this pace then I can’t see anyone beating him out at 15/2.

My slight outsider again comes from the East, and also focuses around a slightly under-the-radar pick. My feelings towards Tampa Bay are now out there, and if they’re to have the season that some analysts project then their goaltender Ben Bishop needs to be strongly considered. Last season he was probably in pole position until his injury, so at 8/1 I’d like my chances again. Honourable mention to Miller in Vancouver…although I don’t know why….

Safe Bet: Carey Price 15/2

Outside Bet: Bishop 8/1

MVP

Look, people love themselves some Sidney Crosby. I get it. He’s pretty good. He romped to the award last year and is prohibitive favourite again for 2015. It could be a very safe bet. Center’s do have a strangle-hold on this award, unless they perform great feats of scoring (see Ovi & Corey Perry) so there’s a formula for success here. But here I go again getting on the Tampa Bay bandwagon…

Look, I don’t think Tampa Bay are going to become the NHL’s next great superpower. Far from it. I’m just saying they’re playing in a weaker conference, they have a couple of big names and they’re building towards something. Stamkos is a top 5 player in the league, though. People are ready to crown him after last season’s return from injury. 6/1 for Stamkos to win the Hart Trophy, I like it. He fits two key criteria for the aware: he’s a center and he scores a heck of a lot of goals.

There has been a buzz about Anze Kopitar in LA recently too which has to be acknowledged. He doesn’t grab many headlines but he is a really excellent player. 14/1 isn’t a bad shout but he’s kind of the hockey hipster pick. Am I a hockey hipster? I suppose I want to be, I write a hockey blog and I’m from Ireland, where we call it Ice Hockey…

Want a real good player at a real good price? Then consider this scenario: Sidney Crosby, notorious for getting headaches, get’s a headache. He misses a few weeks. Weeks turn to months. Pittsburgh’s headline-grabber out of the picture for various reasons. But wait…the Penguins are still winning games? How is this possible without their best player? Oh that’s right, they have that great player Evgani Malkin dragging them towards success.
I’ve just described 2011/12 to you. Geno won the Hart that year. This year he’s 40/1. Tempting…

Safe Bet: Stamkos 6/1

Outside Bet: Malkin 40/1

Puck Paddy Series: Picking your Team – Part 1

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NHL Hockey: A New Fan’s Guide to Picking your Team

I have a certain amount of envy towards you, the new hockey fan not living in North America. You are the unspoiled virgin of hockey observers. Innocent. Pure. You probably don’t know many of the second-tier players in the league, or even the names of all 30 teams, how cute! You are one of the lucky ones.

Does it sound like I’m being condescending? Well it should, because I’m a Toronto Maples Leafs fan, an original six franchise and financial powerhouse of the league. And unfortunately for me, despite not being born here, I landed in this market five years ago and surrendered myself to Leaf Nation. I’ve signed the papers, I’ve sang the anthem, and I’ve put my hand on my heart and swore to the gospel according to Burkey. It’s too late for me. Don’t cry for me, I’m already dead.

But you! There’s hope for you. Maybe you’re living in Europe without a real clue of where to look when it comes to hockey. Perhaps you’re on these isles and have the NHL on your doorstep, but are not ready to tie yourself to the local franchise just yet. Or maybe you just haven’t found “The One” and just want to coalesce with Sydney one night, Ovi the next, and maybe have a three-way with Toewes and Kane in Chi-town the night after, only to leave before they finish the third period (we’re still talking about hockey, right?)

Well allow me to help you with your decision! Below is an idiot’s guide on how to pick your NHL team, written by an idiot, for idiots. Please enjoy.



THE ORIGINAL SIX

A term used to describe the first six founding teams of the NHL. Fans of these teams have appear to have an inflated sense of importance in the grand scheme of the league, and also have inflated historical cup victories due to the fact that they had limited competition back in the day. Those six are:

1) New York Rangers

Reigning Stanley Cup finalists. Currently, a relatively likeable team with a good coach and a sexy Swedish goaltender who radiates class, both in front of net and in front of the camera. Old-style jersey gives them a classic look that’s hard not to like, but of course it’s New York so they’re going to grab some headlines even when they don’t deserve it.

Likeability Grade: B

2) Boston Bruins

Aka the Big Bad Bruins. Boston are an unapologetic bunch of thugs who are well organized and have a lot of very good players, but perhaps no “star power”. Success is almost guaranteed if you support the Bruins, but you will also potentially be lumped in with the stereotypical “Mass-hole” crowd normally associated with sports teams from this region. If you don’t care what other people think and respect well-run, solid hockey teams, this is for you.

Likeability Grade: C minus

3) Chicago Blackhawks

Perhaps the closest thing to a modern-day dynasty in the making. Two cups in four years, and could have made it back-to-back this season but for being thwarted by their dynasty-rival LA Kings. Similar to the Bruins when it comes to how right their front office has been, but with a bit more star-power. Potential to be seen as a band-wagon jumper if you follow, but there will be still plenty of success to look forward to in the future even after two cups in the bag.

Likeability Grade: A

4) Montreal Canadiens

Somewhat a black-sheep of the league, Montreal is the team with the most decorated history, and perhaps the most rabid fan base. On the ice, they are a couple of years in to a resurgence and have potential to be cup contenders over the coming years. A few troublesome players make them a little hard to warm to.  The whole francophone thing may or may not be your cup of tea. I wish I moved to Montreal.

Likeability Grade: B

5) Toronto Maple Leafs

Financial powerhouse, most historically mismanaged team in the league, and a beleaguered fan base that are unable to afford to attend the games due to the corporate monster that is this franchise. Few redeeming qualities except for the fact that you may be able to get on at the ground floor of a team that be starting to show signs of figuring it out, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. If you like to know pain, here’s your team.

Likeability Grade: F

6) Detroit Red Wings

Detroit’s plucky underdog story continues despite their twenty-plus year streak of making the post-season. Former superpowers who are beginning to show signs of waning, this team has a culture most franchises would kill for. Hitching to this wagon may not look smart in five years time, but Hockey Town has been through worse. Datsyuk alone can be worth the price of admission.

Likeability Grade: A minus.

Tune in over the coming week for more.

Culture Change – An Introduction

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An Introduction

I am a thirty year old man born and raised in Ireland. You know what they didn’t have in Ireland in the 80’s and 90’s?

Ice Hockey.

That’s right, I called it Ice Hockey.

Ok, they probably did have Ice Hockey in the 80’s and 90’s in Ireland. But you know what, I lived there, and I watched a lot of sports. I watched a ton of soccer. Loads. I watched rugby. I watched tennis, I watched golf, I even watched a little bit of Gaelic Games (a lot more people watched it than I did too). I even think I watched some American Football sometimes! But I didn’t watch Ice Hockey. Because nobody watched Ice Hockey. Didn’t know where to find it, didn’t really know what it was, didn’t really know anything about it except for the occasional computer game that would make it’s way across the pond.

I watched a lot of soccer, all the time. I couldn’t get enough. Our ESPN-equivalent poured significant investment in to marketing and TV deals, which meant the best players started moving to England, and it was on ALL the time. I was an impressionable kid, Ireland’s recent global success on the world football stage was infectious, and I stuck to it like glue. It was entertaining, and important, and social, and fun to play, everything I wanted.

I supported Nottingham Forest, a team located one sea and a 70-minute plane journey from my home town of Dublin, and I supported them for practically no reason at all. When I was seven, I played organized mini-soccer and the team I was put on was Nottingham Forest. Unfortunately for me it coincided with perhaps their final moment of national glory, and they also happened to be grooming Ireland’s next great international soccer star. I say “Unfortunately” because Forest lost the game that happened to be their last final moment of glory, they sold their next great international star, and subsequently went in to a tailspin of many relegations, economic difficulties, and ultimately a twenty-year state of irrelevance from which they still show no sign of overcoming.

It set me up nicely for my move to Toronto in later life. 

Growing up around a game such as soccer gives you an understanding of it on a level beyond your own recognition. I’d like to tell you it’s a good thing, but it probably isn’t. You formulate opinions based on the norms you’ve experienced down the years. You spend years and years listening to people’s opinions, either on TV, or your friends, or in the pub, and despite your best efforts some of it sticks in your mind. You form prejudices against players, teams, managers, fans. You get bitter, disenfranchised and cynical about almost everything that happens as money, celebrity and commercialization of the game begins to infiltrate what was once for you a kick around in the park.

So where does Ice Hockey fit in? For me, it didn’t until about 2011. I moved to Toronto at the end of 2008, and being so inclined to watch sports, I obviously picked up that this game was kind of a big deal for Canadians. This would have been around the time the world juniors in 2009 was occurring, and I was taken aback by the interest-levels of Canada’s involved in a Junior tournament. I subsequently went to the Black Bull on Queen Street in Toronto where there so happened to be a game between the home-town team and Montreal. It was interesting to watch for about 30 seconds until I realised that I could not really see the puck.

In early 2009, I can confirm that the Black Bull pub did not have HD Televisions. They have since rectified this situation.

I was greasing the wheels of interest in the game, but was making some rookie errors along the way:

  1. I kept calling it Ice Hockey. A Canadian work colleague of mind informed me that “Stop calling it Ice Hockey. It’s called Hockey. You sound weird when you say Ice Hockey.” Made sense. Hockey, to me, was the hockey they play without ice, and with a ball, and it was on turf. No, not ball hockey. Forget it…
  2. My future-wife and I turned up to the Air Canada Center on a game night in early 2009. We innocently walked up to the Ticketmaster booth and I said with a completely straight face “Two tickets for tonight’s game, please!” To be fair to the ticket lady, she at least pretend to check her computer for two tickets side-by-side, and didn’t laugh in my face.
  3. Such was my interest to tick the Toronto Maple Leafs off my bucket list that I went to the final home game of the 2009 season, a meaningless April game between the Leafs and the Buffalo Sabres. I paid $60 Canadian to sit in the worst seat in the house, by myself, for a game that didn’t matter, and to watch players who I didn’t know do things I couldn’t explain. And I didn’t understand Icing.

It was at this stage that I decided that Hockey and I just weren’t going to work out. And that was ok. I still had my European sports to follow, I understood and enjoyed NFL, and basketball seemed a little more digestible. At least I can see the basketball! Hockey was too hard. Everyone in Canada was too far along with the game, they knew too much. They knew what Icing was, they could see the puck, they understood why a team would just slap the puck in to the opposite team’s corner instead of just hold on to it. Furthermore, nobody was going to explain the game to me on television or on podcasts because they didn’t have to, nor should they. The prerogative is on me to learn it, not for them to explain it to me.

Part of my problem, too, was that I didn’t want to be the European Hockey equivalent of the North American Soccer Guy. Man, do I hate that guy. The North American Soccer Guy is the guy who thinks they are an authority on soccer, simply because he is the one-eyed man in the land of the blind. I can’t stand listening to that guy because I think he doesn’t understand the game the way I do. I arrogantly disregard what comes out of his mouth because he has a weird North-American twang to the way he says things, and I’m a grizzled European football fan who thinks I’ve seen and lived through it all. I assume he can’t teach me anything about the game because how could he? I’m from Ireland, he’s from North America!

Not good out of me. Not good at all

It’s because of this prejudice that I have made the foundation of this blog around my disclaimer: I may not know what I am talking about. I’m not from around here. I can’t play hockey. I’ve only been watching it for about three years. Heck, I’ve only really been watching the Leafs for about 3 years, so that’s even worse! I don’t know all the players, I don’t understand advanced stats, and although I think I know most of the rules, there’s probably a few I still don’t quite get (like seriously, what’s the deal with the trapezoid?) But what I want to try and bring is a fresh perspective. I don’t think it’s often sports pick up mature fans who are moved by it the way I know I am moved by Hockey. It might not stand for anything, and it might not bring you anything new, but then again sometimes a fresh perspective can go a long way.

After recently attending a Toronto FC soccer match, I decided that how I’ve approached the North American Soccer fan was wrong. They’re enthusiastic, eager and willing to support their team through thick and thin, and there’s a lot to be said for that. I want to bring that to my blog.

But just so you know, I may not have a clue what I’m talking about.