NHL He Said, She Said: All-Star Voting, Realignment and Suspensions
What are your thoughts on the NHLPA waging its finger in the face of the NHL and dismissing its realignment plan?
Oh, and how about all of those suspensions? It was certainly a busy week for Brendan Shanahan and the NHL Player Safety Department.
These are the topics that fellow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Alison Myers and I will be discussing in Episode 2 of NHL He Said, She Said.
You might be asking yourself, "What's NHL He Said, She Said?"
NHL He Said, She Said is a weekly column where NHL Featured Columnists Adam Graham and Alison Myers each give their thoughts on the hot topics from around the NHL over the past week. They also each pick an upcoming Game of the Week that you should watch.
Ottawa Senators and the All-Star Game Voting
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Last week, the NHL released its All-Star Game fan balloting results and four of the six starters are members of the Ottawa Senators. You can see who they are and their exact vote totals by clicking here. It’s obvious from the results that the voting was based more on organizers from the host city (Ottawa) promoting its own players to its citizens than anything else.
Alison: Before I give my opinion on this, I just want to make a disclaimer. The NHL All-Star Game really doesn’t interest me at all. I look for an excuse to get out of watching it because it’s as far from real hockey as you can get. No hitting, no goaltending and no defense? If I wanted a high-scoring game, I’d watch lacrosse. But that’s neither here nor there.
That said, we did agree to talk about the fact that four of the six starters are from Ottawa, so here we go.
After reviewing the statistics for the four Ottawa players that were chosen to be starters, I can see each were chosen for different reasons. For example, Jason Spezza, who leads Ottawa with 42 points, has led the Sens in points in three of the last five seasons. He is on pace for 80 points after dealing with injuries the last two years, which limited him to identical 57-point campaigns.
If he hadn’t been hurt, who knows how he would have done in 2010 and 2011?
Meanwhile, Milan Michalek is sixth in the NHL and first on the Sens with 20 goals. He is on pace for 56 points, his best total since 2008-09, when he was a member of the San Jose Sharks. He could hit the 40-goal mark as well, which would be a career high and his best total since 2006-07, when he had 26 goals for the Sharks.
Daniel Alfredsson is Ottawa’s captain and is nearing the end of his career. He has just one more year left on his contract. His numbers are decent. He is third on the Sens with 33 points.
However, I feel he was chosen more for sentimental reasons. He’s the captain, the face of the Senators franchise. He’s also likely to be one of the All-Star captains.
Lastly, there’s Erik Karlsson. He's a third-year pro and is one of the league’s up-and-coming defensemen. He broke out last year with 45 points, an improvement over his 26-point campaign in 2009-10, and his 41 points this season lead Ottawa and NHL defensemen. This kid will be in Norris Trophy conversation.
Ottawa is on the rebound. The Sens sit fifth in the East with a 22-15-6 record for 50 points. They didn’t make the playoffs last year, and right now, they are in a position to keep playing well and solidify their spot in the standings.
So as far as choice is concerned, I can’t argue with why each player was chosen.
Fans will complain every year about who is in the game and who is not. It’s not like there won’t be opportunities for other talented players to get in. When fans are allowed to vote more than once, of course there will be ballot stuffing.
The NHL could do something about this, but something tells me they won’t. They have more important issues to worry about.
Adam: There’s no need for an excuse not to watch the All-Star game, Alison. I certainly don’t need one. It’s a waste of time as far I’m concerned as well.
However, many fans actually enjoy it. This is why it’s unfortunate that this year’s starters were determined based on which NHL franchise actually cared enough to aggressively market its own players to its fan bases. That contrasts with the fans all over North America who voted on who they feel are the best players, which is what fan voting is suppose to be about.
I already let my feelings be known about this mockery created by Senators fans in detail in an article I wrote when the news initially came down, which you can read here.
It’s just silly that the host city feels it needs to promote the fan balloting aspect of the game to the point where the mayor of Ottawa is encouraging citizens, some of whom don’t even follow the NHL, to vote for the Senators on the ballot. It defeats the purpose of the fans voting on these types of things when they’re voting for the wrong reasons, and believe me, Alison, they voted those four Senators as starters for the wrong reasons.
Do you really think the vast majority of the voters in Ottawa were breaking down Daniel Alfredsson and Milan Michalek's stats? Of course not. If they did, they would have realized that neither player is among the top 60 point producers.
I understand Spezza and Karlsson being All-Stars, but that's not the point. Senators fans would have still voted for them even if they had combined for just 20 points on the season.
With that being said, I didn’t vote because I don’t care about the game, so I really have no right to complain. That’s how the democratic process works. The problem is that too many fans don’t care enough to vote, even if they do enjoy the game.
Based on my observations from living in Vancouver, most Canucks fans probably didn’t care enough to vote either. They’d rather see the team win the Stanley Cup than have Daniel and Henrik Sedin start in the All-Star Game.
NHLPA Shoots Down the NHL Realignment Plan
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The master plan put forth by the NHL last month has been squashed, or at least put on hold until 2013, by the players union. I guess they weren’t fans of the idea. Thoughts, Alison?
Alison: The NHLPA clearly saw problems with this plan, such as some teams not having reduced travel or the fact that two conferences had eight teams while two others had seven.
With regard to travel, sure it is hard, but geographic location prevents every team from having an easy travel schedule. The Canucks are guaranteed to have a long ride anytime they aren’t going to California, for example. Meanwhile, down south, the Dallas Stars have a hike to get to Florida or Detroit. That’s just the way it is.
That said, I don’t see how reduced travel is a bad thing. Players will be better rested, which makes for more exciting hockey and perhaps healthier, less frequently injured players. If you have flown, you understand what jet lag can do to you.
I don’t see the big issue about unbalanced conferences either. Having fewer teams does not mean it is easier to get into the playoffs. If this plan were in effect today, Conference C would have the Boston Bruins, Florida Panthers, Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs in competition for higher seeds. The Bruins would be the elite team trying to defend their Stanley Cup title, and the Panthers and the Leafs would be the new-look teams trying to prove they are contenders.
Conference D would have the New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals as the top competitors. You have the Rangers finally entering discussion as one of the league’s top teams. Then there are the Penguins, trying to hold on as injuries ravage their squad. Lastly, we have the Capitals, finally finding their way after Dale Hunter was hired as head coach.
Does this sound easy to you?
I can only hope this works out for the best. Some fans are concerned this could mean the NHL is heading toward another lockout. That means the NHL will lose everything it has worked hard to build after the entire 2004-05 season was wiped out, and some fans will feel alienated. That would hurt more in the long run than long flights or having seven teams in one conference and eight in another.
Adam: Well, I don’t want to go into the details over which team would have to travel more or less because there’s no specific data on that right now.
At the end of the day, if you were a fan of the realignment plan before, you’re obviously going to be mad about this. Conversely, if you didn’t feel there needed to be a drastic change, you’re happy about this. Based on the people I talked to and listened to (fans and media members), it seemed like it was about 50/50.
My concern is with NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and what appears to be bully tactics against the players union. Here’s Daly’s quote regarding the rejection of the plan:
"We believe the Union acted unreasonably in violation of the League’s rights. We intend to evaluate all of our available legal options and to pursue adequate remedies, as appropriate."
Yikes! Regardless of whether the union did violate the leagues rights, is it really a good idea for the NHL to try to legally force the union into accepting their proposal, especially when the CBA ends this summer?
Hopefully this doesn’t hurt the relationship between the owners and the players union because no one wants another lockout.
Suspensions Are Piling Up
2012 has begun with a bang in terms of suspensions in the NHL. Four have already been handed out, seven if you include the three illegal hits that took place on December 31.
Alison: Since the start of the 2011-12 campaign, there have been 28 suspensions in the league, eight of which have come as a result of illegal hits to the head. That’s nearly 30 percent of all suspensions handed down since Brendan Shanahan took over as the NHL Senior VP of Player Safety.
I’m not going to comment on specific incidents here, but rather talk in general about this problem. Obviously, Shanahan is committed to taking this kind of stuff out of the league, and I applaud him for it. Even though hockey is a physical game, this should never mean it is OK to endanger your opponents and hit them when they aren’t in position to receive a hit.
However, in order for change to really occur, you have to have the backing of the players. It is clear that some players, such as Chicago’s Daniel Carcillo and Calgary’s Rene Bourque, do not understand how serious their actions are. Bourque has already been suspended twice this year, while Carcillo has built a reputation of running wild and injuring other players.
Until some of these players really change their game, a la Matt Cooke of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Shanahan or anyone in the league office will never be able to institute the movement to get this stuff out of the game. It’s always going to have a place, and it won’t matter who gets suspended or for how long, or who pays the highest fine.
That’s just a shame, as so many players have been set back this year because of concussions from both legal and illegal hits. You all know who they are. And the more stars that go down to these injuries, the harder it is to get excited for a game because there is that much less talent to see.
Adam: I really don’t think a lot of players are sure what’s a legal hit and what isn’t, despite the fact that the Department of Player Safety submitted clear guidelines to every team before the season started.
Take Brad Marchand of the Bruins as an example. He was given a five-game suspension for his clipping hit on Canucks defenseman Sami Salo.
Marchand writes a blog/diary for the Bruins ESPN page and his response to the hit was that he thought it wasn’t a clip. Well, Brad, the NHL Player Safety Department clearly disagrees with you and that’s why you were suspended.
I think in time we’ll see the number of suspensions and dirty hits decrease. However, this is the first year that the NHL has really taken a serious stance on dangerous hits. As a result, the players need more than just half a season to adjust. It’s a slow process, but I’m optimistic that it will get better eventually.
Game of the Week Picks
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Alison: For this week, I’m going with an old rivalry between the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings. The teams are getting back together this Saturday, Jan. 14, after playing on Sunday night in Chicago. Detroit won the game by a score of 3-2 in overtime in a contest that featured Hawks rookie Jimmy Hayes taking the first penalty shot of his career.
The Blackhawks are on a skid. They have lost their last four games, including a loss to the floundering Edmonton Oilers. However, before Saturday, they’ll get a good chance to get back on track. They face the perennially hopeless Columbus Blue Jackets and the Minnesota Wild, who started off strong but are now sliding down the Western Conference standings.
Maybe this is too obvious of a pick, but it’s always a display of exciting, highly-skilled hockey between two of the West’s top teams (Detroit is second in the conference, while Chicago sits in fifth).
Adam: Speaking of rivalries, how about the Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins on Thursday, Jan 12?
This might be the best rivalry in the NHL over the last few years.
The teams hate each other. They’ve faced each other in the playoffs in three of the last four years and there have been plenty of ugly incidents during their games. The Zdeno Chara partition special on Max Pacioretty and the goalie fight between Carey Price and Tim Thomas come to mind.
There hasn’t been a lot of physicality in the four games between the two teams so far this season, but that could just mean they’re overdue.