• Pucking Around, March 10th

    by Dennis • March 10, 2012 • NHL • 6 Comments

    When I started this column I said I would just let it go wherever it took me and this week I’m thinking about ingredients and to tie it to a bit of pop culture nostalgia maybe you think back to when the Seinfeld gang were eating that delicious apparently non-fat but ultimately fattening yogurt.

    Note: I could have just said the devil will forever remain in the details but that’s just not my way.

    It’s never just about the water you left on the bathroom floor:
    quite the week for Brian Burke and the Maple Leafs; and admittedly the fortunes of the Leafs and Canadiens will always be a spectator sport for everyone in Canada. The Leafs fired Ron Wilson a week ago from this past Friday but an equally large tremor rolled through Burke’s offices the following evening. On Saturday night Don Cherry’s Coaches Corner edition consisted mainly of wondering aloud why Burke was more prone to populate his team with Americans rather than attempt to mine the vast bounty of Ontario. Now, I’m not here to say Cherry isn’t an avowed patriot but he’s also an unabashed Leafs fan and he would be happy just as long as the team was winning. The vitriol and anger expressed by Cherry had more to do with the information he emitted just prior to the rant: Brian Burke had tried to have him fired after having first complained to the NHL board of govenors and later to the CBC. In the wake of the explosion versus Burke people hurried to their computers to either A: show their displeasure in Cherry’s anti-american sentiment or B: dig up the Leafs drafting records to ultimately show that while Burke hasn’t been able to bring in established players from Ontario, they are certainly more than open to drafting from this region. All along most fans I saw missed the point: once again, as he’d done in Vancouver, Brian Burke was trying to censor the media.

    By the time the Monday papers were online I could see that a couple of journalists – no surprise there obviously – had defended Cherry and had parsed through the noise to get to the melody. But, still, that doesn’t seem to be enough support. I don’t follow all that many people on twitter but you still get exposed to enough of the masses to get the overlying reaction and what I saw were people more than willing to chalk this up to just another one of Canada’s favourite crazy uncle’s rants. Now, maybe I have more respect – and more expectations – for the media than most but I thought I wouldn’t be alone in considering Burke’s boardroom actions the true motivation for Cherry’s rant and also as a cause for more than just the usual post-Coaches Corner reaction. I will leave this topic with a brief illustration of the latest example of how Burke wants to be in the spotlight but not the accompanying crosshairs. In the pregame show Ron Maclean asked him about the challenges of trying to win in Toronto and, unsolicited, Burke listed as a reason how visiting players from Ontario always seem to play their best at the ACC. Maclean seized this declaration and asked if that was the case why not try and get more of those guys on the Leafs. Burke’s back went up – and again I’m not sure if it’s ever down – and here was a guy defiant even when having baited his own trap. There’s just no way to win with a guy like that; but, credit to Cherry for not getting worn down from the battle and for bringing the behind-the-scenes machinations to light. It might be beneficial for future young journalists to acknowledge a future adversary before they having to step into the ring with him.

    Oilers management may also like to see Obama’s birth certificate:
    The Birther movement seems to have run out of steam as of late; what with Tea Party candidates finding that politics in reality is far more difficult than in theory and high profile champion Donald Trump long having decided not to run after perhaps not so coincidentally uncovering no damning evidence while searching through the president’s birth records. Still, an old regionalism bias seems to have found new fuel with the Oilers; how else do we explain Gilbert for Schultz with the early returns being so damning? Schultz has been a decidely third pairing defenseman and on some occasions has played less than four min a game then Corey Potter. So, what are we missing? Or, what’s Schultz missing?

    I hardly ever try to defend moves by the Oilers but maybe there are conditioning issues. All things mentioned of tangible value associated with Schultz seem to have happened during the Jacques Lemaire and heading into his Oilers tenure we could see the Saskatchewan native being trusted less and less by new coach Mike Yeo; that approach seems to have been aped by Renney who right now considers Schultz to be his fifth best defenseman at even strenght. But of course he’s from Saskatchewan and though the importance of that fact cannot be quantified the Oilers truly believe it has value. Why would I mention that? Well, I’ve always been sensitive to the Oilers leanings on this matter and considering how it’s been a recurring talking point in reference to why Schultz fits the Oilers better than an obviously superior player in Gilbert it must be something the Oilers are once again holding onto. What the Oilers say and tell you about the possible merits of this trade has nothing to do with the reality presented by the hard numbers. If Schultz is a third pairing defenseman or he’s a top four defenseman with failing grades then this trade was a massive failure; because Tom Gilbert could damn near keep his head above water playing on the club’s top pairing.

    Let’s look at the age and point production of your top players first, shall we?:

    I think this deserves much more of a broader stroke and it’s something I may explore in the near future. In the sell job that is any rebuilding project the team in question will point to clubs of recent memory and success who’ve torn down and built up. Some days the Oilers are emulating the Penguins; other days it’s the Hawks. Still other days have them signing the praises of a new management model and crediting the Wings with said inspriation. The Oilers contract bargaining and pro scouting skills are so questionable that I won’t even tackle the last comparison. Truth be told I won’t really get into the on-ice comparisions with either Pittsburgh or Chicago either. What I will say is just because your AHL team has taken a huge leap forward it doesn’t portend big league success; in fact it’s arguably not even worth mentioning if the small club’s success is driven by players past the age of 25 – and probably even younger – and at a point in their careers when they will never impact an NHL game. The OKC Barons have had a great year but a look at the team’s scoring leaders show that only second year pro and soon-to-be 22 year old Teemu Hartikainen could be considered any future help. Note: his numbers from first to second year are remarkably similar and for a full 82 game season you could expect him to score 23 goals and 29 assists. Nice numbers, sure, but nothing that will make a big difference. Kids like Pitlick and Hamilton have had differing degrees of disappointing rookie pro campaigns, the netminding’s at an age as to preclude any reliance and the defense is older and NHL suspect with the crown jewel of the top six – and lord knows I didn’t say that in a serious manner – the just-turned 22 year old Colton Teubert who’s potential does not go beyond a bottom pairing defenseman and who could very well become the next Theo Peckham.

    This of course brings me to a point everyone already knew: these days most kids who will make a difference never step foot in the AHL in the first place. A look at the players that drive the engines of the Pens and Hawks reveal the same thing. The lesson is AHL standings don’t mean a damn thing if the birth certificates of the results-drivers are beginning to yellow just the tiniest bit.

    6 Responses to Pucking Around, March 10th

    1. dave
      March 11, 2012 at

      An interesting read – I dont know the dynamics well enough to comment on the Cherry/Burke thing – though if true Burke comes out with no credit (and Cherry just enhances the crazy uncle tag – that I think he half encourages)

      Are these guys as smart as their employers think they are (well I guess Cherry isnt employed to be smart in the normal journalistic sense) – which takes us on to your Oilers piece – reading the articles here and elsewhere there is so much intelligence that is expressed – can those that are criticised (fairly in the main) be that dumb – hell if I took you and Tyler and say Derek, Bruce, Scott and a scout or two you would figure I could run the Oil and still hold down a day job
      But are they that dumb – we will forget the oil change propaganda – they cant be – so why swap 77 for 15 – as you say its easy to see the figures and know the story – but there has to be something else – what is it – trade request ? ‘bad in the room’ ? P…s envy – maybe I’ve read too much Comrade Horcov on that one …….
      - but there must be another story – I kinda liked 77 – not massively but he seemed earnest and honest – but he is better than 15 – why cant a journalist dig that one out

      So the farm team – well nice for them that they are doing well – you are correct of course – if they were any good they should be in the bigs now – but for goalies and defenders of course development can be a slow process – its a rare one that comes in straight from the draft in those positions – but your point is good – its a developmental team – so develop your players there – the only hope is that the depth that we are told they have is used as chips (with lower draft picks to try and nab some decent players from unsuspecting other teams – but there hasnt seemed like much evidence of that lately

      thanks again for the read

    2. Romulus' Apotheosis
      March 11, 2012 at

      Great article.

      Couldn’t agree more that “All along most fans I saw missed the point” on the Cherry/Burke fiasco. But, I have a slightly different take on the ordeal than you.

      You are right that the news to break from this story is that Burke is a bully — that’s his persona after all — and he’s not afraid to use his bully pulpit in public, or whatever power is ceded to him in private to his own benefit. That he tried to silence Cherry and of course other all other forms of media is despicable. Like most blowhards he’s an empty suit that intimidates people through scarecrow tactics. So, yes… the news that broke was that Burke tried to get Cherry fired.

      But, I don’t think that was the story. The story, for me, was that subtending all the kabuki theatre about Ontario hockey players were two desperate, wounded predators lunging for whatever weapon lied closest to hand. Cherry saw an opening to hit an old nemesis with what he took to be a damaging narrative — something like: “Burke scorns Ontario.” The details were irrelevant. Those concentrating on the details in this case are buying in the narcissistic shell game of two playground enemies.

      The story is that Cherry spent valuable air time in front of a captive audience trying to gin up support for a very personal war of destruction. The fact that we as viewers had to trade away the possibility of interesting and insightful analysis (from anyone else… please!) for a peevish airing of grievances is a disgrace. For me, that was the story.

      As far as 15 goes… there has been a lot of speculation around the webs that Renney is waging some kind of protest with his TOI. At any rate, that (at the very least) raises the possibility that 15′s TOI may not reflect his current value to the team, i.e., the coach may be underusing his skills and therefore 15′s TOI reflects poorly on the coach more than on the player.

      • March 11, 2012 at

        Yeah I’ve heard the theory, but that pre-supposes that off-ice officials with the Edmonton Oilers are willing to sacrifice on-ice success just in order to get the upper hand in petty little grievances with individuals they dislike.

        And I mean c’mon, what are the chances anything like that would ever happen?

        • Randall
          March 12, 2012 at

          There’s no on-ice success to sacrifice at this point. If you’re a coach who’s dissatisfied with management, this would be the perfect time for this sort of protest.

    3. March 11, 2012 at

      That is as good of a reason as any I guess. Looking at the last SC’s we saw the 5/58 tandem getting a rest and 6/15 with a promotion.

      Renney has last change on Monday night so that will give us some indication of his opinions.

    4. Bill
      May 9, 2012 at

      Probably real late to comment, but I think the Ontario issue goes a little deeper. It isn’t a bland thing to complain about. Don Cherry knows his place in Leaf history and culture. A lot of Twitter types try to deny it, but Don Cherry has a place of significance in the hearts of the typical Leaf fan, and he feels that because of this, it’s more his team than Burke’s. Who is Burke, an American who got the job on a sea of hype and lowered expectations because of the post-lockout disaster that is the Leafs’ franchise, because of a Cup Bryan Murray won him, to try to force out Don Cherry, a Kingston born Southern Ontarian who has been a huge part of the fan culture for 30 years. The Ontario players are all guys Don’s known since they were little. They’re his guys, and Burke has none of them on his team. It is entirely a personal feud, but Cherry sees Ontario players as an extension of himself, and sees American/college players as an extension of Burke. Nazem Kadri hasn’t stuck on the team, Tyler Bozak has.

      I also want to point out the Mike Cammalleri situation. On July 1st, 2009, Mike Cammalleri, someone Don Cherry has known since he was a kid playing in the GTHL, walked to the Air Canada Centre to negotiate a contract with the Maple Leafs. Calgary media had said all year that he was headed for Toronto. Where did they get this information? Probably not from the Leafs. Cammalleri later said that he decided to go to Montreal on July 1st because he didn’t want to live in Toronto all year round. Why do you walk to the arena of your home town team to negotiate a contract after knowing you’re going to be a free agent for over a year and then decide to go play for their arch rivals in a different province with a different language at the last minute? He probably told everyone who would listen that he was headed for Toronto (and if you ever heard him interview in his first season in Calgary, it sure as hell sounded like he was headed for Toronto), and was embarrassed when the Leafs either made no offer or a low ball offer because he’s not a Burke type player. That off-season, before the Kessel acquisition, the Leafs were far more focused on the famous Burke type player than they currently are. They added Komisarek, Beauchemin, Primeau, Exelby, and Orr. Cammalleri didn’t fit in, and while he could’ve done with a scorer, he was chasing Kessel. This hurt Cammalleri and he went to Montreal out of spite, and Don probably knows that Burke didn’t really want him, and he’s mad on a friend’s behalf.

      But, maybe I’m over thinking everything. Who knows?

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