Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Let's Talk

I remember Wade Belak because he made me laugh.

It was a fluff piece on Sportsnet, where Wade made his case for being moved up to play wing with Mats Sundin. It was about what you’d expect from such a thing - jokes about Wade’s skill, and how much better Sundin would be with Wade on the wing. He had good timing, though, and delivered the lines with a certain earnestness that made you think he might actually believe some of it. Despite the internet’s so-called ability to remember everything, I have yet to find a copy of that piece.

I remember Wade Belak because depression was (and still is) a daily part of our lives.

Wade told Michael Landsberg (himself a sufferer of depression) in 2011 that he’d been on “happy pills” for years. I’ve been on and off them, too. These days, I’m on.

I never met Wade Belak, and I don’t know much more about him, but I do know what his depression felt like. I know what it feels like to look at your life and wonder how you ended up where you are. To wonder if you shouldn’t have done more, tried harder, done something - anything - differently to be a ‘success’ in your own eyes. That’s what depression does to people. It clouds the vision, it alters the perspective.

It lies to you.

When you suffer from depression, there is no “bright side”. There is no “silver lining”. The best that is depression will find a way to twist it, and turn it against you. Got promoted at work? “You didn’t deserve it. You’re barely competent at your old job.” Meet someone new? “They don’t like you. Not even your friends like you. Go away!” You have no success when you live with depression. You only get slightly less bleak perspectives.

All of this drives you into yourself. The world is against you. No one cares about what you’re going through. No one would understand. Maybe… just maybe… you should exit, stage right.

As I said, depression lies to you.

It is an insidious thing, depression. You don’t even realize that you’re withdrawing and removing yourself from the world until you stop and realize that you haven’t left the house for anything social in weeks. By that point, you likely don’t even care - it’s not like anyone has missed you, after all. If they did, wouldn’t they have called? (They did - you let it go to voicemail, remember?)

I know this, because I’ve lived this. I spent years burying myself away in a room, away from the world, convinced that I was contributing exactly nothing. I beat myself senseless with my self-loathing, and strangled myself with my fears. Between my depression, and undiagnosed (until recently) A.D.D., my resume was a mess of short term assignments - which only fed the beast that depression is. More recently, as things in my life were seemingly at their worst, I often wondered if taking the express route down from my 16th floor apartment might not be such a bad idea.

I’m telling you this, because today is Bell Let’s Talk day and maybe someone will see themselves in what I have been through, and get the help they need. I’m saying it because for too long mental illness has been treated either as something less than real, or something that should land you in an asylum. There has been a stigma attached to having a mental illness, which only prevents people from getting the help they need.

If you see yourself in any of the above, you should talk to someone. Your doctor would be a good start. After that, you need to start pushing yourself away from the beast, as scary as that seems.
Those friends you haven’t talked to in weeks, months, years? They’re still your friends. Text them. Your family - they’ll always be family. Call them! And if you can’t face your friends or family yet, there are phone lines, online forums, chat rooms, support groups - there is someone who will listen. Who has been there, and gotten through it, and will help you get through it, too.

The point is, you’re not alone. There are many of us who know that all too well, and today is the day all of us should make ourselves known.

I remember Wade Belak because it is all I can do - he took his own life on August 31, 2011.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

The Winnipeg Jets Killed My Father

On December 10, 2011, the Winnipeg Jets played in Detroit, taking on the Red Wings in the early game of the Hockey Night in Canada doubleheader. The Jets would go on to get hammered 7-1. I know this because I watched the game. I watched while sitting in a darkened hospital room in rural Manitoba, listening to my father occasionally snore in a morphine-induced sleep.

As the game came to its sad conclusion, and the post-game recaps and interviews started, I realized that those snores I had previously heard every minute or two had stopped. My father, at age 64, was dead. While I do not place all the blame for his death at the feet of the Winnipeg Jets, I do not believe it was a coincidence that their atrocious play that night gave him the motivation to finally shuffle off this mortal coil.


My father was never a Jets fan. Not in their first incarnation, nor the current team. He was a Habs fan, start to finish. Mainly to tweak the nose of his own father – a Leafs fan.  When the Jets returned, and their first home opponent was named – the Montreal Canadiens – I was disappointed. I wanted to take dad and share the moment with him. There would be a second game, though – December 22. I set that date aside, planning on taking my dad, a man of modest means, to see his favorite team.

In October, though, the results came back. The pain in dad’s arm (which finally prompted him to see a doctor) was bone cancer. There were tumors in each lung.  The lymph nodes in his chest were cancerous. Other bones were showing signs of cancer.

Stage IV lung cancer has a median survival rate of eight months.

I knew that time was short. It was bad enough that I knew he would likely never meet the grandchild my wife and I were expecting in early March. Now, I just wanted one last memory to share with him. You see, back in April 2008, my wife had a conference in Montreal. We, along with our year-old child and my father (who was visiting) made the drive from Toronto. The hotel was near the Bell Centre, so we all took a stroll to see it.

The streets surrounding the Bell Centre were filled with people. The Habs were to take on the Flyers in game one in a second round series. Habs fans had rioted when the team beat Boston, so there was also a very visible police presence – on foot, on horses, in cars. Overall, though, the mood was jovial and optimistic. What struck me most, however, was that - unlike Toronto - there were no scalpers. Not a single person yelling about buying and selling tickets. It didn’t matter. Seriously – can you imagine the price of a playoff ticket in Montreal? I knew they would be well out of my price range.

My dear wife – bless her heart – had no knowledge of such matters, and insisted I ask around about a ticket. If it wasn’t too costly, she said, I should take my dad. What choice did I have? I started looking. I noticed one particularly sketchy looking gentleman in a white Canadiens jersey just watching the crowd.

“You know where I could get tickets?” I asked.

The man, in his mid-fifties, balding and grey, with a healthy Molson muscle glanced around the area. In accented English re replied “I have tickets. $75 each.”  Seventy-five dollars?!?!  I told my wife who looked at me with the stern resolve only a wife can give her husband and said “Oh, Yaw, you have to get them.” 

With that, the man escorted me to the bank machine conveniently located mere steps from his perch and we traded cash for tickets. Turns out, the tickets were up near the rafters, behind the Flyers net. For my dad and I, though, it didn’t matter. We were at a playoff game in Montreal. 

And what a game! Alexei Kovalev scored the tying goal with 29 seconds left and over 20,000 people roared their approval. As overtime started, dad and I were still on our way back to our seats following our intermission cigarette. We stopped at an entrance to watch the puck drop, and it was a good thing we did. A mere 48 seconds into OT, Tom Kostopouos beat Marty Biron and the Bell Centre got even louder.

Now, with my father staring Death straight in the eye, I wanted that moment again. Montreal would be in Winnipeg December 22, I had tickets, and I didn’t need to cover the game. All I needed was for dad to hang on.

By late November, his condition had worsened. He was admitted to hospital as the pain in his hips and legs was too great for him to remain mobile. Rather than spending his last days with his family in Winnipeg, he spent them in a rural hospital room.

We all knew what was coming. My dad only had one question – “Will it hurt?” This, from a guy who had been sucking up the pain of bone cancer for the last month, to the point where he couldn’t get out of his car when he went to the hospital. No, the doctor told him, they would see that it wouldn’t.  And it didn’t. The staff made absolutely sure of that. The dose of morphine increased steadily over the next two weeks, until dad’s body finally gave in.

I took my daughter to the game on December 22. Got her a jersey “just like dad’s!” Fed her popcorn and juice. Plugged her ears when it got too loud (which was often). Built a new memory.  And wished I could have shared this one last game with my father.


For dad

October 8, 1947 – December 10, 2011

Union: Yes! Why I Support the NHLPA

Before I take your questions, I think a bit of background is in order. During the 04-05 lockout, I backed the owners. Given the financial situation at the time, a cap didn’t seem to be such a terrible thing to me. By linking the cap to revenues, it also gave the players a financial interest in the health of the game and the league. In return for taking a 24% pay cut and the limitations on the cap, the players got to enter free agency a bit earlier. Overall, it worked out pretty well for both sides – revenues jumped 50%, average player salaries tripled, and the league had (finally) gotten an American TV deal. Sounds great, right?


It turns out, the league is in serious financial straits. Worse than ever. Some clubs are on the brink of collapsing. Well, if you listen to the league from July onwards, that is. Before July, Gary Bettman crowed about “another record for revenues for us (the league)” and “record ad sales, record sponsorship activation”. Go ahead, read it for yourself. 

Accordingly, the league decided that the only way to assist the clubs in need was to cut player salaries. Again. The first offer from the league was a blatantly insulting reversal of the 43-57 split, along with the elimination of arbitration, lengthening the time to free agency and limiting contracts to five years and a 5% variance on a year-to-year basis. Oh, and if the players didn’t accept it, they’d be locked out.

And this is why I’m backing the players this time. The league was doing just fine under the last CBA, but the owners got – in my mind – greedy. They wanted more, and decided that they’d just wait out the players again until the NHLPA caved in. Just like the 2004-05 lockout. It seems to be irking ownership that Don Fehr, the NHLPAs executive director, seems to have prepared the players for the eventuality of a lockout ahead of time. Overall, the players are pretty sure of themselves, and you’re not hearing near the grumbling that was heard during the last lockout. For the owners, this is bad news. They had expected for a division in the ranks, to be able to starve out some players in an effort to break the PA. It isn’t happening, and many are not happy about this.

I’ll take your questions now.

Forbes Magazine says 18 teams are losing money, smart guy. What do you say to that?

I have two things to say about the Forbes lists. First, they aren’t accurate. Also, according to the latest list, we’re down to 12 teams losing money. With that in mind, I’m going to send you to read this very good article about just how Forbes is missing the mark. (You should also follow @mc79hockey on Twitter. He’s a smart fellow).

The second point I’d like to make is a business lesson I learned very early in life: Get. A. Good. Accountant.

For instance, the movie “Harry Potter &  the Order of the Phoenix”? It took in over $1 billion in revenue. It also lost money – over $165 million. Go look and come back when you’ve picked your jaw back up. Is it really that big of a stretch to think that maybe, just maybe, those savvy billionaire owners just might engage in legal and legitimate, yet loss-producing accounting tricks? They didn’t get to be billionaires by not taking every advantage there was. I see no reason to assume that they would not attempt to massage the numbers to create a more advantageous tax situation for themselves.

That being said, accounting trickery can’t cover all the losses. I fully acknowledge that there are teams that are in trouble. Of course, in many of those instances it is poor business decisions combined with poor hockey decisions creating a vortex of suck. Of the 12 teams on Forbes list that lose money, you could safely remove San Jose, Washington, Nashville and Minnesota. That leaves eight teams that might be really losing money.

You’ll also note that the notion of revenue sharing amongst franchises hasn’t really been a big deal in these negotiations. That would mean that the owners would have to learn to share, and they don’t seem terribly keen on doing that. I know there isn’t the same pie to divide as in the NFL, but if the owners are so worried about the health of the league and these other franchises, maybe they could help shoulder some of the load? Maybe each team puts 10% of revenue into a pot, and then re-divide it out to each team? Teams at the bottom would gain some, teams at the top would lose a bit. (No, I haven’t run these numbers. I’m brainstorming).

Well, yeah, but why shouldn’t the owners get 50%? Or more? It’s their money on the line if the team loses money!

Yes, the owners take the financial risk. They also take none of the physical risk. Let me know when owners need to worry about this. Or this. Or can no longer run their business because of post-concussion syndrome.

And I’m not sure about you, but I’m not going to games to see Mark Chipman square off against Charles Wang. The players are why fans go. Remove the starting six players from every team – send them to the KHL, say – would you be as interested? Or do you want to see the best. Seeing a hockey game is easy – the AHL did quite well here in Winnipeg. Seeing the best players in the world is why we want to see NHL games.

The players are also on the hook for any downturn in revenue, too, don't forget. The linkage between revenues and the salary cap means that if crowds suddenly took a dive, they feel it in their wallet, too. The money players put into escrow disappears, and they don’t see it again.

Yeah, well, the players should just be thankful they get paid so much to play!

Most players are. What I suspect most players aren’t too happy about are about are owners who gloat about record revenues in one month, then cry poverty in another. How’d you feel if your boss talked about how business was so great, they could buy that new Corvette they’d always wanted, then told you the next month that you needed to take a pay cut “due to financial shortcomings in the company”? Oh, and your vacation time and health benefits were being cut, too. Times are tough, y’know. You should just be thankful you have a job.

The other problem is, players aren’t just guys from your beer league. They are, as I mentioned before, pretty much the best 700 hockey players in the world. The elite. How well do the elite get paid for their services, as compared to us mortals in other professions? How about, say, businesspeople? Lucky for me, Forbes has a nice list of CEO pay. Spoiler: they make a lot. In the 5-yr. category, the lowest (of the 350+ that have a 5 yr. average), is VMWare’s Paul Maritz, who made a paltry $4.15 million, and is left holding another $4.6 million in stock. (Warren Buffet is the actual bottom of the 5-yr. list, by the way, having only earned $1.9 million in that time. The $44 billion in stock probably keeps him in beer and pretzels, though.) So, if we’re going to talk about being thankful for being overpaid for what you do….

Ok, fine. But the owners and GMs need those contract limits to prevent abuse!

I’m actually in agreement with you on this one, fellow reader! The first thing that happened after the cap was imposed was for GMs to find ways to get around it. Backdiving contracts being a favorite way to reduce the cap hit. Smart businessmen exploit loopholes to their benefit - remember what I said about accounting?

Where I disagree with the owners is both in term and variance. To address the latter, I’m more comfortable with the PA proposition of a 25% move from top to bottom over the life of the contract. That is, if the top value for a year is $10 million, there can be no year lower than $7.5 million.  It gives some more flexibility than the NHLs strict 5%/year offer, yet accomplishes pretty much the same thing – getting rid of the $1 million/year “bonus years” when a player is in their late 30’s (and unlikely to play) to balance the cap hit of the contract.

The variance alone would likely curb a lot of the ridiculous contracts that have been signed (looking at you Kovalchuk!), but for the contract duration, I understand why the players aren’t thrilled about five year terms (seven if it’s the current team). For guys with star potential, that kind of term offers no stability. I also think it does a disservice to teams, as they will be unable to lock up guys for the long term / career. How would you feel, as a Penguins fan, if Crosby bolted after seven years? Or worse, after five? I don’t think the eight year cap the PA offered was so terrible. As others have noted, there are less than 100 contracts that are longer than five years anyways. I think the players would even be amenable to a sliding scale based on age – that way you could lock up someone like Crosby to age 35 and not worry about losing them to another team.

Of course, I also think teams should be permitted one amnesty buyout (that is, not counting against the cap) per year to get bad contracts off their books. That serves two purposes – one, it gets an overpaid guy off the roster and frees up cap space to bring in someone who is worth that kind of money. Two, it allows the market to correct itself in a way, by taking a highly paid “comparable” out of play. The player would likely be re-signed somewhere, at a far more reasonable rate. To prevent abuse, I also think it should only cover contracts with three or more years left on their contract.

But Donald Fehr is just in this for himself! He doesn’t want to make a deal!

Donald Fehr is no Bob Goodenow, I will give you that. For the players, that is a good thing. As I mentioned before, I believe Fehr told the players from day one that a lockout would be coming, and to plan accordingly. It follows the Gary Bettman School of Negotiating – make an offer (your “best”), add an ultimatum, and wait. Fehr just happens to be willing to play chicken with Bettman, and I think it is driving Bettman crazy that Fehr and the players aren’t backing down. The “best offer” in July has changed in the players direction on a monthly basis.

So it isn’t that Fehr doesn’t want to make a deal. He does. The players do want a deal. They just want a deal they can live with. Right now, Fehr is staring Bettman down and getting the owners to come back to the middle. I suspect that we will eventually see a deal and a portion of this season, but it won’t be the deal the owners originally thought they would get, that is for sure. The reason for that is Donald Fehr doing his job – standing up to the owners and ensuring that his constituency (the players) is prepared for what is going to happen.

Right. Fehr wanted the deal from this past week to fail. I know it!

No. The owners insistence on three different items being absolutely non-negotiable caused the talks to fail. Their hardline stance on contract length, variance and CBA term caused the failure. Fehr said the money was agreed on, which is a huge deal. And no, I don’t think Fehr was lying about that. If the money wasn’t agreed on, he would have used terms like “very close” or “in the neighbourhood”. Something that wouldn’t be a lie, but may not have been the precise truth, either. Saying there was agreement between the two sides mean just that – that they had agreed on the financial issues.

For the NHL to walk, rather than negotiate from the PAs counter-proposal is appalling. The league didn’t like the 8 year CBA (option to get out at 6)? Why not come back with a 7/9 offer? Or just eight years, with no option? And shave a bit of the “make-whole” money based on the term. See! That is negotiating. It really is that easy! The PA offered 8 year contracts? Maybe the league could have said six, with one year bonus for home team re-signings. That is why we don’t have a deal, my friend. Because Bettman can’t actually negotiate. He only gives ultimatums. When he doesn’t get a yes or no, he runs off again to prepare his next “best offer”.

My fingers are getting tired now. I may be back for a second Q&A, if this lockout drags on. Drop more questions in the comment section below.

Monday, October 22, 2012

YawAxis vs. Bettman: A True Tale

With all this CBA talk going on, I thought I'd offer a bit of a distraction. Allow me, if you will, to tell you about the time I met Gary Bettman. (I can hear your squeals of delight already.)

Our tale begins in early June 2011 with the Best Wife in the Universe - that'd be mine, in case there was any doubt. "Yaw," she says, "WestJet is has a deal to see the NHL Awards in Las Vegas. Would you like to go?" (I told you she was the best, didn't I?)

It took me all of two seconds to reply that yes, in fact, I would very much like to go. It was already confirmed that the Jets were coming back, and hockey fever was surprisingly high in the city. 

So off I went.

The Awards is just what you may have seen on TV - celebrities (or reasonable facsimiles - I don't count being on a Real Housewives of... as being a celebrity). Afterwards, there is a party by the pool where most of the nominees (and other dignitaries who are around) put in at least an appearance. We fans get a chance to say hi, get an autograph or two and generally have a good time with other fans.

So, there I am waiting to go into the theatre when who should come drifting by but Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly. Cool, I think. And then I ask the question that has been on every Winnipegers mind since TNSE announced their purchase - "Hey, Mr. Daly - any word on a name for Winnipeg?"

He stops and looks over with a grin and says "Not yet. I might hear something by the end of the night, though. Ask me again later."
"Wow. Umm, thanks. I'll do that!" 
And with that, Bill Daly wanders down the red carpet, nose-deep in his Blackberry.

The Awards come to an end, and everyone files out to the after-party. I've been mingling, meeting some people, talking hockey - Barry Trotz is happy to see Winnipeg get a team, Jeff Skinner looks younger than 18, Cam Neely still looks like he could drop me with one punch. The cup is sitting on a riser in the pool.

Yes, someone dove in the pool to try and touch it. 

And then, as I'm wandering to snag another beverage for myself, there they are - right in front of me.Bill Daly and his boss, the High Priest of Evil himself - Gary Bettman. I can't help myself. Daly told me he might have info. I have to ask the question.They both smile as they see me approach. It's a good night to be a fan, to be part of hockey. Everyone - even the Commissioner - is in a good mood. 

Which one looks like he actually wants to be there?

"Hey, guys! Any word yet on the Jets name?" A slip made out of habit. The NHL team in Winnipeg has just always been the Jets in my mind. The team hasn't actually been named yet, and won't be until draft day. 

Bettmans smile vanishes, replaced by a scowl. "You mean the Winnipeg team, don't you? No. No word." He turns and starts to walk off, Daly at his side.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Pre-flight paperwork

I will admit to being afraid of what might occur when the NHLPA hired Donald Fehr as it’s Executive Director. I didn’t like his confrontational attitude when he was in the same position for MLBs players, nor his unwillingness to get drug-testing into the game. Inflexible would have been my one word summary.

If that opinion were fact, however, the NHL and team owners would have never had to have made the absolutely laughable offer they did make to open the bargaining. The league could have waited for Fehr to make outrageous demands on behalf of the players, and then laugh at him, Instead, they take the lead in the laugh-a-thon and request a reduction in what counts as “hockey-related revenue”, a roll back on the percentage of revenue that players get, an increase to entry level contract length, and a longer waiting period until a player becomes an unrestricted free agent. Players would be facing an estimated 24% rollback on their wages. This is after a similar rollback in 2005. The NHL is asking for the farm - and the people on it, too.

If the league was still struggling as it was during the last negotiations, I could see why they would ask for this. Players aren’t on the hook for arena leases, contracts, and all the other costs associated with running a team. The NHL is not in the same position, though. Far from it. League evenues have jumped by about 50% from $2.1 billion in 2003-04 to $3.3 billion for the 2011-12 season. Here is the bargaining summed up in a nutshell:

In 2004 - “We are losing money. Players need to take a pay cut.”
In 2012 - “We are making lots of money. Players need to take a pay cut.”

In 2004, I supported the owners. A cap works for the league, and (mostly) keeps the playing field level. Yes, there are issues about the cap hits of contracts and “unlikely years”, but as shown by the consistently increasing revenues, the system in place is proving successful. The league is making money, the players are making money. The only people not making money are teams that are either 1. in non-traditional markets or 2. having multiple losing (non-playoff) seasons. People love a winner. In 2011, Forbes estimated that the bottom 5 were Phoenix, Atlanta, New York Islanders, St. Louis, and and Columbus. The first two are teams in non-traditional markets who have (or had, in Atlanta’s case) major ownership issues. The last three were steady non-playoff teams (and only St. Louis has changed that in the past season).

This tells us that if a team isn’t making money right now, it isn’t because the players are taking it all. It becomes an ownership issue - they put a team in the wrong area, or are handling it wrong in their particular market. (Phoenix, it should be noted, is still under NHL ownership.) Or they just aren’t winning. In some cases, it is both.

It is also why I’m backing the players on this round of CBA talks. Last time, they gave the owners the cost-certainty the owners felt they needed. They took payc uts. Top stars reduced their earning power in a capped system. The league is now better for that sacrifice. It just makes the owners look greedy, and ot of touch by asking for such drastic cuts when the league is showing strong growth. The players didn’t offer front-loaded contracts with tacked-on
cheap years to get around the cap. That hangs on ownership. If it is causing financial problems, look to close the loophole. Going after the players wallets for the owners lack of foresight is idiocy in its finest form.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


Now that we are well into summer, the LA Kings are reigning as champions, the draft is done and the free agent frenzy is all but over, let's look back and look ahead at where the Jets were, and where they will be going.

The season finished with the Jets a disappointing, but not terribly surprising 11th in the East. The team looked not so much lost as stunned, by the reaction they were getting throughout the year. They’d gone from sparse crowds and relative anonymity in Atlanta to a fish bowl where even the fourth liners were recognized on the street. They played to a full (and boisterous) crowd every home game. This kind of culture shock may have had a lot to do with their inconsistent performance over the course of the year.

That was then, though, and this is now. The off-season has seen some roster tinkering, so let’s look at the line up and see how the Jets are looking for next year:

Line 1: Ladd-Little-Wheeler - This line remains unchanged going into the 2012-13 season. Only Ladd had the kind of year that was expected, putting up 28 goals - second on the team - over the full 82 games. Blake Wheeler will probably not go the first 17 games without a goal next year, so he should see a rise in his production. Seventeen goals was less than the team needed from him. Brian Little put up 24-22-46, which, while respectable, was also less than the team needed from their number one center. This line will need to step up right out of the gate and prove they are, in fact, the number one line.

Line 2: Kane-Antropov-Burmistrov: While Antropov finished the year on the fourth line, he did spend the bulk of his time centering the second line. Much like the first line, it was only the left winger - Evander Kane - who had the year he should have had (30-27-57). Antropov (15-20-35) and Burmistrov (13-15-28) didn’t produce like the team needed. Period. Adding to the problem was that Kane showed a distinct lack of maturity on the ice. All it seemed to take was one good hit from the opposition to set him off and he would chase that player down to exact revenge. While the idea is right - take a number, settle it up - the timing was all wrong; that is, the moment he got back up he was looking to even the score. This inevitably led to a trip to the penalty box which is not where you want your teams leading scorer to be. Ever. Hopefully, he settles down this coming year. He’s not even 21 yet and still has some maturing to do, so there should be improvement in this area. Scoring 30 goals gets you a bit longer leash than other players may have gotten.

Burmistrov? Well, he tried. He really did. He showed a real gift with the puck, and could play keep-away really effectively. Defensively, his game was coming along. It just didn’t translate to numbers. In an ideal world, he will improve on his game and become the offensive threat people are expecting, while still building on his defensive game.

As for Antropov, it’s hoped that the addition of Alexei Ponikarovsky will help him recapture some of his offensive punch - the two played together in Toronto. I’m putting a big question mark next to that, as Antropov had 56 points the last time they were together, Ponikarovsky had 36. These are not numbers that will strike fear into opponents.

Instead, what you will probably see in 2013 is Kane-Jokinen-Burmistrov. I think the Jets coaching staff still sees some hope for Burmistrov, and his puck control will be an asset when paired with the finishing ability of Kane. Jokinen adds some size (that will be used - Antropov, even at 6’6”, plays a distinctly non-physical game) which will, ideally, open up some room for both Burmistrov and Kane. It might also let someone else lay out a hit in Kane’s name. The biggest question will be which Olli Jokinen will show up on any given night. Some days, he’s on fire, while on other nights, it seems like he is just putting in time. A harsh knock on a player, sure, but also sadly accurate. On the plus side, he had a banner year last season, putting up 23-38-61 in the full 82 games. That would have had him fourth in goals, third in assists, second in points on the Jets. If he can put up those kind of numbers this year, he’ll be well worth the $4.5M salary. Moreso if he can lay out some big hits along the way. An additional benefit - he scores more points on the road than at home. The Jets road record was a big reason they missed the post-season. More road scoring could translate into more road wins.

Line 3: GST! Do I need to say more? Actually, I do. This line quickly became the heart and soul of the club. They came to play, lunchpails in hand, every night. They got pressure when the other lines couldn’t. They even scored now and then.

Tanner Glass jumped over to Pittsburgh in the offseason.  It's likely that line will move into the fourth position, using either Patrice Cormier or Spencer Machacek to replace Glass. Either way, the GST name is gone - unless anyone knows a grinder with a last name that starts with ‘G’ that is available. If so, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff would like to speak to you.

Line 4: What seemed like a cast of thousands.

The fourth line was a dumping ground. In coach Claude Noel’s doghouse? Fourth line. Don’t fit anywhere else? Fourth line. Up from the farm? Fourth line. The list of players that appeared here is long: Eric Fehr, Kyle Wellwood, Antti Miettinen, Tim Stapleton, Spencer Machacek, Patrice Cormier, Ben Maxwell, Brett Maclean and more. In some cases, it was a case of a spare part - the other 3 lines were set, so the team needed to fill out the roster. In others - looking at you, Eric Fehr - expectations weren’t being met.  The fourth line usually only saw 3-4 minutes of ice time a game, so it wasn’t a big factor, but that sort of consistent change also means that a line can’t build chemistry.
As mentioned, XST will likely be in the fourth line slot in 2013, which means a new third line will need to be built with the “spare parts." What I foresee is Ponikarovsky-Antropov-Wellwood. Antropov gets the demotion based on a sub-par 2012 year, and it allows him to pair up with two guys he has played with (and played relatively well with). Wellwood is here because quite frankly, he is Wellwood. He’s a versatile player who played on just every line last year, saw both significant PP and PK time and ended up fifth in team scoring (18-29-47). It could be argued he was the best value in the league at $700,000. If Burmistrov falters, expect Wellwood to swap places and appear on the second line. Ponikarovsky will, ideally, add some grit and, like the rest of the line, some tertiary scoring. The XST line will still be the ‘checking line’, and this new third line adds some depth to the Jets offense.

Overall, the additions of Jokinen and Ponikarovsky adds some size and scoring depth to the team. Whether the teams gels and manages to meet those expectations is another question. On paper, though, this could translate into a few more wins for the team, which in turn might lead to the nine points the team needed to make the playoffs.

Defense: The defense will look almost identical come September. Randy Jones and Mark Flood will not be back, but they were 6-7 guys and the Jets are exceptionally deep on defense. As in 2012, these are likely pairings:

Byfuglien - Enstrom: Buff has size and offensive talent, yet lacks some defensive capability. Enstrom lacks size, but has a very well-rounded game otherwise. Peanut butter, meet chocolate. They compliment each others style, and bring an element the other is missing.

Hainsey - Bogosian: Hainsey is steady defensively and was second on the team in +/- in 2012 (+9, Kane was +11). Not exactly an offensive threat, but that isn’t why he is there. He is a pure defenseman. Zach Bogosian is a more offensive d-man, but has a pretty solid game in his own end, too. He’s also young, and his game is getting better. Like Kane, he should improve with age.

Stuart - Clitsome / Postma: Mark Stuart and Grant Clitsome formed a really hard-nosed pair when Clitsome arrived late in the year. Paul Postma may bump Clitsome to the pressbox if he shows he can handle the move up from the AHL, though.

Goaltending: Pavelec - Mason (now Montoya). Ondrej Pavelec carried the team last year. Period. A lot of the saves he made bailed the team out, and wee saves he just had no business making. He’s a number one goalie, but I don’t think he’ll be used quite as much this year.

Oddly, backup Chris Mason left for less money and a shorter contract in Nashville early in July. The pundits said it was for a better chance to win, which for a 36 year old, is understandable. One has to wonder if he isn’t rethinking his decision now with the departure of Ryan Suter. Regardless, the Jets picked up Al Montoya to fill the sport. Montoya isn’t the second coming of Ken Dryden, but he should be serviceable. He went 9-11-5 with the Islanders last year, post in a 3.10 GAA and .893 SV%. I will be surprised if he appears in more than 15 games.

As summer rolls on, I don’t see many more moves that will be made. Kane should re-sign to a very generous contract (5 years / $29M is the current rumor), but beyond that, the roster seems set. The team added some size (which was lacking last year), some more scoring (also lacking) and on paper are an improved team. A playoff team? Maybe. If they are, it will be as a lower seed (higher than 7 would be amazing), and more than one round would be a gift from above. The team doesn’t have the depth that the LA Kings did, that much is certain. The Jets are deeper, though, make no mistake. They should be able to present a consistent four lines over the season (injuries notwithstanding) and that alone should help, as will a true third line that should be able to notch a few goals(the entire GST line had 48 points last year - one more than Kyle Wellwood).

Hope you’re enjoying your summer as much as Ryan Suter and Zach Parise are enjoying theirs.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Game 3 - The Immelman Maneuver

Somehow, somewhere, this team found some heart. They found a way to change course during a game.

This is, as they say, a good thing.

Down 2-0 in the first 7 minutes, Claude Noel yanked Pavelec.  It seemed like a bit of a short hook, and you couldn't really blamed Pavelec for either goal - the first should have been blown dead before the Canes got their fourth whack at Pavelec, and the second was the result of 5 players crashing into the net.

But the swap worked. It woke the team up from what was, to that point, looking to be a repeat of the home opener - bad passes, a lack of energy, turnovers. The whole nine yards. The level of play in that first 7 minutes was just bad.

After the switch, though, the Jets played like they did against Pittsburgh. They made smart, crisp passes. They got pressure on the forecheck. They took the play to Carolina, so much so that the Canes only managed 1 shot on Mason in the last 13 minutes of the first. It also resulted in a pair of goals for the Jets, sending them to the locker room tied.

The second period was a continuation of the first. The Jets were flying, the Canes were on their heels. While the Jets didn't manage many shots, they made the most of them - 6 shots, 3 goals.

Suddenly, the home team was in control. They had a big lead! They were unstoppable!

Until the third.

The last 10 min. of the third period was a return to form. They got sloppy, they got lazy, they took penalties. A lot of penalties. It seemed like they wanted the Hurricanes to get back in the game.

The Jets held on, though. A lot of it had to do with some strong play by Mason, more than the rest of the team, though.

The Jets won't be able to count on this sort of thing regularly though. Noel's patience with a slow start will wear thin, I'm sure. If the team can't find a way to get themselves motivated and moving from the opening puck drop, it will be a long season. The coach shouldn't be needing to be find ways to wake his team up so early in the season. And not this many times, so early in the year. As a team, the players need to find a way to be ready at game time. They can't use the pressure from the crowd as an excuse - this isn't the home opener - we're past that. They should know that the crowd will be there for them, and make life difficult on the opponents (right, Brian BOO-SHAY?). What the crowd would like is a good reason to cheer right off the bat. Come out flying, come out with some energy! Come out looking like you want to be there.

On that note, it looks like Jim Slater might be on the shelf for a while. This is, bluntly, bad. Slater is tied with Wellwood for the team lead in goals. He's been one of the top three players on the team this year. His line has, night after night, been either the best or second best out there. Losing him is a big blow to the team. He brings it every single game, and losing him might take some of the spark out of that fourth line.

Talking about lines, though - as things have progressed, the second line is showing it really has some chemistry going. Burmistrov is great at maintaining possession, Wellwood is just plain puck-hungry and keeping the forecheck pressure on, as well as being a solid two-way player. Antropov just seems to click with the pair of them and - shocking to say - has been seen being a physical presence on the ice.

The first line... wel, Ladd picked up a goal, his second. A nasty knuckleball that bounced right in front of Boucher and then over his shoulder. Ugly, but it counted. The rest of the line has been starting to click and get some chances, but seem to have issues keeping the pressure on in the offensive end. Most of their chances come off the rush, and then the puck will be coming right back down the ice. There is far less cycling of the puck from these guys than the second or fourth lines.

Anyways, the team played hard for 45 minutes, and held on for a win. Let's see what happens tonight when an angry John Tortorella and the New York Rangers come to town.