February 16, 2020

Another Gretsky? And This Time It's Spelled Right

In my 45 years as a sports fan, I have never seen an athlete quite like Wayne Gretzky. His name is synonymous with greatness, dominance and classiness unlike almost any athlete in any sport.

For an athlete of such rare stature, his name is also frequently misspelled. Heck, he even played a game with the New York Rangers with his GRETKZY emblazoned on his jersey. You'd think everyone would have had his name down by that late stage of his career.

But by far the most common misspelling was GRETSKY. And it drove me nuts. I'd see fellow elementary school classmates spell it that way. Often with the S backwards to top it all off.

But I would often see it in newspaper articles and I have even seen it in early 1980s book spelled Gretsky. I assume these authors wrote the original manuscript in crayon and good copy-editing caught the backwards S.

Maybe I'm just an anal speller. Or maybe its the Scrabble player in me. I quite enjoy Scrabble. And though it would be an illegal word, I don't think there'd be any better play than GRETZKY on a Scrabble board. (I actually came close once. I believe I had GRZKY all on my rack but couldn't do better than that.)

So now, 20 years after he left the ice, Wayne Gretzky is one of the most celebrated athletes ever. And, much to my amazement, it seems everyone knows how to properly spell his name.

Then comes this news from ESPN:

That's right. There another Gretzky in hockey. Only now the spelling GRETSKY is correct!

It seems this Gretsky, not unlike Wayne's brother Brent who briefly played for the expansion Tampa Bay Lightning, is more there as a publicity stunt than as a true hockey prospect. He's a 23 year old rookie in the KHL. He hadn't scored a single point in his eight games played, but fans love the name and voted him in to the KHL All Star Game. 

Do read the ESPN article on Slava Gretsky, the "other" 99. It's a fantastic read. Even Wayne loves the story and is rooting for the kid. He talks about his family origins back to Belarus and wonders if he might actually be related to the newest KHL celebrity. Wayne also talks about how the name Gretsky became Gretzky when the family first came to North America. 

February 12, 2020

Sedins Honoured In Vancouver

It's no secret that I am a big fan of the Sedin twins, two of the most unique and talented players in the history of the game. I am very lucky to have had a front row seat over the years.

Their creativity was as thrilling to watch as a Pavel Bure rush through the neutral zone. Their game featured subtlety that true hockey fans appreciate. They did not have massive speed or brawny force. No, they were intellectuals on the ice. No change that. They were artists on the ice.

It still baffles me that any questioned their toughness. To any fanwho ever did that, I immediately would question their knowledge of hockey. And still do. Because these guys were as tough as they were creative.

Tonight will be a special night in Vancouver. Soon to follow will be their Hockey Hall of Fame induction.

February 08, 2020

Canucks, Linden Need To End Estrangement

Trevor Linden returns to Rogers Arena and the Vancouver Canucks on Monday night, though it seems his relationship with the franchise remains very frosty.

Linden was let go as President of the franchise in 2018, after a weak four year run on the job. Though owner Francesco Aquillini suggested the split was amicable, it seems that is far from the truth. Linden, the fan's favorite son, remains estranged from the franchise.

Now Linden's removal as President is perfectly justifiable.  Perhaps Linden should never have been placed in this position to begin with, as he seemed over his head as a raw rookie in such a demanding job.  That's bad on Aquillini.

The bottom line is the results weren't there. The results have been much more favorable since he left? Coincidence? Maybe. Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes' arrivals have fast tracked the Canucks rebuild faster than anyone could have imagined.

There have been rumblings that Linden was perhaps too involved in the rebuild process, and wasn't letting GM Jim Benning do his job with enough autonomy. The President is supposed to be the great over-seer of everything, but can not be a micromanager. He is to set the vision and keep the ship on course. But he does not have to be involved in every player transaction.

Of course we will never know how the inner workings of the management structure really worked. Had Linden had the benefit of Petterson and Hughes' arrivals he'd probably still be there. But since he left Benning and the Canucks have seemingly touch a lot of right buttons.

But Linden is not there. And like Pavel Bure, the Canucks greatest superstar, Linden is estranged from the franchise. That's never good.

Part of this estrangement is on Linden himself. He needs to be that franchise icon. Not for Francesco Aquillini. Not for the Canucks. Not even for himself. He needs to be what the fans want him to be. He will always be the fan favorite, but he has to give the fans what they want for that to happen.

That starts on Monday night when the Canucks celebrate their greatest players this week with Markus Naslund, Stan Smyl, Linden, no Pavel Bure, and now the Sedin Twins. Bure is a different cat, but hopefully this is the beginning of the healing process for Linden and the Canucks.

January 30, 2020

Player Feuds

The Battle of Alberta lived up to it's billing last night, as the Calgary Flames beat the Edmonton Oilers 4-3 in a shootout.

But all eyes were on Zach Kassian and Matthew Tkachuk as they looked to settle their differences. The two did fight in the first period and otherwise were well behaved.

This is good for hockey. Hockey needs villains, and both Kassian and Tkachuk fit the bill.

It has reminded me of several great rivalries in the past.  I'm thinking of Eric Lindros and Scott Stevens. Ulf Samuelsson and Cam Neely. Louis Sleigher and Jean Hamel. And of course, the not so great. I'm talking Todd Bertuzzi of course here. Maybe that's where I should include Claude Lemieux and Kris Draper too.

What is your all time favorite player vs player feud?

January 26, 2020

Women's Hockey and the 2020 NHL All Star Weekend

As a kid, I loved the NHL All Star game.

How could you not? It's the only chance to you get to watch the best hockey players in the NHL play together on a dream team. I used to take my hockey cards and dream up teams. Gretzky with Mario. Hawerchuk with Goulet. Bourque and Coffey on the same blue line. It could never happen, except for on NHL All Star Weekend.

As an adult you come to realize that the game is a farce. The players are not exactly trying that hard. There is little at stake and even less physicality. In fact it resembles pond hockey more than a NHL game. So I stopped watching the All Star game long ago. It's for the kids. For the rest of us, it is what it is.

On Friday night I turned on All Stars Skill Competition and found myself really quite enjoying the festivities.

The two marquee events - the hardest shooter and faster skater - were fantastic. The accuracy shooting was a little awkward but always intriguing. The grand finale was a little hokey, with the players shooting at targets from high above the ice. But it was fun.

But do you know what I enjoyed most? The 3 on 3 women's hockey game.

It was fantastic hockey with wonderful hockey skill on display. It left me wanting more. And all the talk about the eventual and inevitable NHL sponsored women's league left me wanting more. I want to see more of Marie Philip Poulin and Rebecca Johnston and Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson.

I think what I liked best about it was the fact that the game is a little bit slower. I love the breathtaking speed that the NHL is played with now, but slowing the game down a touch, where quickness is more important than all out speed, made me want to see more of it. The women's game has always been different than the men's game. It has to be different to successfully put the comparisons aside.

The only bad part about the women's game was that it was 3 on 3. The women do not play 3 on 3, so as great as it was it could have been better. The strategies involved in 3 on 3 were foreign to these athletes. You could tell they were gassed by the end of the periods, perhaps underestimating just how taxing the 3 on 3 game must be.

I really hope the NHL puts together their inevitable women's league by next season. I do believe they have a plan ready to roll out when the time is right. It's far too complicated for most of us to understand, but the NHL will continue to wait until the failure of the NWHL for legal reasons. They will continue to wait, as will most of the athletes who are boycotting the NWHL in hopes that it fails.  These hockey stars not playing for two seasons is detrimental to women's hockey. They need to be on the ice and ready to star when the NHL's new league opens. The sports market is ready for it.

January 21, 2020

Can Canucks Make The Playoffs in 2020?

Will the Vancouver Canucks make the playoffs?

Well things look decent at mid-season. The Canucks entered their All Star break in first place in the Pacific Division and on pace for 95 points. 95 points should leave them knocking on the wild card door if they don't make it in based on divisional standing.

At the beginning of the season I was skeptical that the Canucks could make the playoffs. I was on record as saying that an awful lot of things would have to go right for the team to make it. 

Now at the All Star break I'm more optimistic that they can, and it is because an awful of those things that had go to right have done exactly that.

The Pacific Division has proven to be weaker than thought. San Jose has completely bottomed out. Calgary and Las Vegas have had rough patches. Edmonton seems not quite ready to emerge despite the amazing play of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Arizona has been a mild surprise but they are very dependent on goaltender Darcy Kuemper.

The revamped defense is improved. Tyler Myers and Oscar Fantenberg have provided solid minutes, while Jordie Benn, surprisingly to me anyway, has not. But bottom line the Canucks defense comes down to healthy (more or less) play from Alex Edler and Chris Tanev (who looks the best he has in years) and Quinn Hughes.

I had said Hughes would have to have near the rookie impact this season that Elias Pettersson had last season. Hughes has done exactly that which bodes very well for the Canucks for the next decade.

Let's get back to Pettersson in a second. The blue line is improved yes, but time and time again the Canucks have been bailed out by MVP goaltender Jakob Markstrom. The Canucks have a very interesting decision to make soon given that Markstrom is a soon to be UFA and will cash in nicely. Rookies Thatcher Demko and Michael Dipietro (on the farm team) have been fantastic but neither are ready to take over. Can the Canucks afford Markstrom given their tight salary cap situation? And the Seattle expansion draft further complicates things.

Now on to Pettersson. He has not regressed at all in is second season. I don't think he has wowed offensively in quite the same way this year, but his output is strong. And more importantly his overall game is rounding into shape very nicely.

The importance of JT Miller's addition can not be understated, and same can be said for Tanner Pearson, too. Both have really aided the Canucks young scoring stars. Brock Boeser and, surprise, surprise, Jake Virtanen and, at times, Adam Gaudette, are proving to be exciting young pieces. 

Bo Horvat is the jack of all trades who continues to be hampered only by the continued absence of veterans like Brandon Sutter and Michael Ferland. One of these years Captain Bo will finally get his chance to shine rather than having to do all the heavy work.

The team can score, though defensively they can only go as far as Markstrom will take them. Maybe they can get guys like Sutter and Ferland and Antoine Roussel rolling for the stretch drive. Their heavy games will be needed to make the playoffs and certainly in the playoffs.

Will the Canucks make the playoffs? I am certainly more cautiously optimistic at this point of the season compared to any other point in the past number of years.  Hopefully they can do it before a summer of interesting decisions forced upon them by their salary cap mishandlings. 

December 30, 2019

Alexander The Great

Just how good is Alexander Ovechkin?

This from Steve Simmons:

The great Alex Ovechkin has had 10 seasons of 45 goals or more, which is more than remarkable in this day and age The nine active scorers who follow him – Patrick Marleau, Sidney Crosby, Eric Staal, Joe Thornton, Steven Stamkos, Evgeni Malkin, Jeff Carter, Corey Perry and Zach Parise – have had 10 45-plus scoring seasons as well – when you combine all of them together.

Here's more from Simmons