Archive for June 26, 2016

NHL Awards Didn’t Match the Hype

1167 for publication June 24, 2016

Ross Brewitt

Hey, we have a new team in the NHL. What a surprise!

Geez, the only way Wednesday’s announcements would have been shocking is if the Las Vegas bid came up “snake-eyes,” or Quebec City was thrown a bone with some meat on it.

As was often explained, the Canadian dollar is QC’s road block for the foreseeable future. Also with their population being only 520-thousand, they seem aggravated that they are considered a “small market.” Unfortunately, to use NHL terms, they are also in the “far east.” Now at 16-15, it’s a battle to be left for another day, at least until after a quick second western team is in the fold, making the East-West a 16+16 balance.

Either way, Quebec City is in for a wait, and that fading background music you hear is the old refrain, “build it and they will come.”

The NHL is presently currying favour for anywhere called Seattle. They aren’t biding their time, they’re pushing it. The present owners would prefer a new recruit formal application, they will resent an existing team simply setting up on different turf.

So the only surprise is, the Las Vegas Black Chips being the first pro anything in town. In fact the NHL looks very progressive, but before they start strutting the peacock walk, they must understand, their coming NBA partner in the T-Mobile arena will steal their thunder whenever they choose to, and the NFL will eventually be the All American king of the hill when they shelve their “fear of gambling.” We’re all aware how betting the spread accounts for much of the attention given to football.

One thing was in evidence. Once the door is opened, the other two sports      won’t be far behind. It will be incumbent on the NHL to make use of their early toe-hold, and that means winning. If you were searching for a compelling reason behind the League’s largesse in the drafting arrangements presented Las Vegas as opposed to those who went before them, look no further. There’s a need and advantage to being quickly competitive.

Yet one question I’ve voiced before is the “watering down effect.” One more team might make the divisions balance, but it also needs another 30 NHL calibre players. In hockey’s case, growth comes with a price.

In case you weren’t aware, the minor hockey population in Canada is dropping, not increasing. Fingers often point to Europe, or Russia and participation numbers, but those aren’t encouraging either, even if you agree with their figures. The result will be a decline in the per-team talent pool, plus the level of play, and it’s never a good idea to slide backward in the competition level. But it’s a concern for the future.

As for something the NHL can do immediately, I’d like to make a suggestion. Stop attempting to ingratiate yourself in the Vegas approach to your awards show.

I wrote a column five years ago, #802, June of 2011, same subject, same observations, same results with my comments on the NHL Awards presentation. Nothin’s changed except the winners.

For starters, call a moratorium on obscure celebrities and acts, showgirls with microphones, and actors/comedians/writers who only think they know the game and its environs. That or increase your “talent” budget.

Geez, even the new owner was talking about his days in Ottawa, playing “shiny hockey.” Not shinny. Shiny, as in polished shoes.

I also think it’s about time the detail people in the NHL, led by their five-star General, Gary Bettman, should insist on installing guidelines governing NHL public appearances for their star players.

First, they’re all making big money, and as such the first three in each award category should be required to wear tuxedos. If they can’t afford a tux, one must be provided by the League out of their player-fines account. Besides, there’s a tuxedo rental store in every hotel along the strip.

Patrick Kane was great in a tux, and looked like a winner.

Secondly, all players, all candidates, and fellow hockey-playing attendees, should be mandated to wear all their teeth. Specifically  while at presentation ceremonies, however long they last on the big day.

So, upgrade the show-biz performers, find ones that have an understanding of the league and the game, and present your best players in the best way possible.

After all, they are “the stars.”

Raptors? Marlies? Not Likely

1163 for publication May 27, 2016

Ross Brewitt

You’d think that with all that’s going on in the world of sport, we’d have one topic that dominates. Nope. What we do have is several fronts on the go, and for various reasons no one scene seems to hold the spotlight.

Consider the plight of the AHL Marlies, where future Leafs are planted, fed, and watered, who have foundered in the playoffs, presently down 0-3 to the Hershey Bears, a mainstay AHL team since their official beginnings in 1938, and presently the Washington Capitals top development club. Although the Marlies led all AHL teams to the finish line, Hershey won both their home games, plus the first one in Toronto, 8-2. Friday night Marlies could also be history. The knock on the team is goaltending. Look for the Leafs to be mining for goalie choices in the Entry draft.

How about the Raptors? Well, for openers, how about them showing up and being ready in Cleveland? Talk about sucking the wind out of their own sails. If both teams are only winning home games, theoretically they are about to lose. Fact is, from the get-go they had to win one on the road. From what they’ve shown to date, I don’t like their chances. The word for it is “inconsistent.”

OK, you’d think the Stanley Cup would be doing what it always does at this time, right? Leading in the TV the rankings, at least here in “Us the North.” But no, the numbers are down, from Buffalo to Boston, to Columbus, Carolina, and Colorado. Traditionally the American side is gung-ho as long as the home team is in. Our Yankee friends only support winners.

But across Canada, where fan bases are permanent, generational, and considered lifelong obligations, we’re shutout on all fronts and therefore don’t count anyway. We’ve been a winter hinterland this past season.

By doing so, we also contributed mightily to an estimated $200-million shortfall for the NHL this year. Not to worry, and Commissioner Bettman was quick to pooh-pooh this disturbing news. He’s saying, with League revenues closing in on $4-billion a year, $200-mill is peanuts. He didn’t use those exact words but it was plain, going by his “small potatoes, bigger fish to fry” mannerisms. At this point a “correctional lockout” isn’t expected for the coming season.

So as a hockey non-entity, what are we left with? We have the Blue Jays. The same team that came smokin’ out of spring training, and promptly set the seasonal tone to date by losing two regular season games in Montreal to the Red Sox. By the end of April their totals were 11 wins, 16 losses.

As of Thursday they are 13 and 11 in May. As I mentioned last week, if there’s to be a season turn-around, the coming games up to June 5th include nothin’ but Yankees and Red Sox. It may be the ideal time to make a move in 2016.

And brings me to something I thought I’d never see. Tuesday’s opening game against the Yankees, Josh Donaldson stepped into the batter’s box, nobody out, runners at first and second, and bunted. Did runners Thole and Bautista advance, yes, was Donaldson thrown out, yes. A strikeout and a pop fly later, the Jays inning was over.

Honestly, I was stunned, the exact reaction Donaldson must have expected, because not squaring around in the batters box, he was obviously bunting for a hit, and it’s not the first time he’s tried the same tactic.

But, with two on, nobody out, I don’t want the reigning AL MVP, like Donaldson, bunting in a bandbox setting like Yankee Stadium. There was a big inning there for the taking. Also, Yankee pitcher Nathan Eovaldi appeared to be hittable, and vulnerable to the strengths of Donaldson and the following top half of the Jays batting lineup.

Hero or bum, it’s a fine line.

The Jays eventually lost the game 6 – 0. Maybe on a ball bunted too hard. Next time, consider Donaldson’s advantage of surprise gone, and use those big bats.

Let Darwin Barney or Ryan Goins handle the bunting chores.