Around the League: Glendale, Cormier, Mitchell, and Playoffs

National Hockey League

NHL ShieldThings may be relatively quiet in Leafs Nation these days, but that doesn’t mean there has been a lack of excitement elsewhere in the NHL.

As such, here are a few quick takes on some of the headlines dominating the NHL landscape these days (including the Phoenix Coyotes situation, the Patrice Cormier charges, and Willie Mitchell’s controversial comments),  as well as a quick glance at the nearly-completed 2nd round of the NHL playoffs.

Latest Coyotes Developments Hardly A Shocker

The fact the city of  Glendale voted in favor of a conditional $25 million subsidy to cover the Coyotes’ operating costs next season was not at all surprising. The one thing that seemed to get lost in all the coverage — which as an aside was a perfect example of awful reporting, with the vast majority of Canadian-based reports obscuring facts in favor of a distinct ‘pro-move’ bias — is the rather obvious fact that the city benefits greatly from having a pro sports team in the first place (sales tax revenues, employment, impacts on surrounding businesses).  At the end of the day, the city found itself in a position of either paying to maintain an empty arena, or paying a set amount of the team’s operating costs to keep the arena occupied. A choice like that is no choice at all.  Of course, everything depends on the city being able to work out a tax arrangement that allows them to pay the $25 million in the first place, as Arizona law prohibits the city from subsidizing private enterprises.

Basically, one of three outcomes will come to pass:

1) One of Reinsdorf or Ice Edge buys the team, in which case Glendale would be off the hook in terms of covering any losses.

2) Neither potential owner can reach a deal, the city works out a tax/subsidy arrangement to keep the team in place, is forced to cover up to $25 million of the team’s operating costs, and this entire drama repeats itself next offseason.

3) Neither potential owner can reach a deal, the tax/subsidy arrangement falls apart, an owner in another city is found (David Thomson?), and the team moves.

If I had to guess, I would suggest a deal will eventually be worked out with one of Reinsdorf or Ice Edge (contrary to many of the gun-jumping reports, neither was ever out of the bidding – each pulled specific offers off the table only). If that comes to pass, the subsidy issue will be rendered null, the city will be off the hook for any operating costs, and the Coyotes will remain in Glendale for the foreseeable future. Sorry, Manitoba. Maybe next time.

The Case For Charging Cormier

By now you are all aware it was made official last week that, as expected, Patrice Cormier will be formally charged for his January hit on Mikael Tam during the QMJHL regular season.

Let’s get this out of the way up front: I have no problem whatsoever with Cormier being charged. I know the argument: a player signs a contract agreeing to participate in a physical sport, thus assuming the inherent risks, the game can police itself, and so on and so forth. I’ll get to all that in a moment.

First things first, we need to clear up a bit of misinformation: the QMJHL is not encouraging the pursuit of legal action against its players. Rather, the charges have been brought forth at the behest of the province. Secondly, does anyone really believe in this notion of the game somehow existing out of the reach of the law? I heard this argument made a few days ago on a particular Toronto-based radio show, and I must say it’s among the dumbest things I’ve ever heard a so-called expert suggest.

Here’s the deal.  It all comes down to reasonable expectation and intent.  When a player signs a contract, he willingly accepts the dangers which may evolve from the nature of the sport.  It is reasonable to expect that a stick may come up and hit a player in the face, or that an injury may result from a race to beat out an icing call, to cite two of many obvious examples.  But does/should any player have a reasonable expectation of being physically attacked?

Not at all – charging across the ice with the express purpose of delivering an elbow to an unsuspecting player’s head (as Cormier did) is not, has never been, and hopefully never will be a part of the game.  And therein lies what separates a “nature of the game” offense from one which may merit a legal challenge: Intent.  If evidence shows a player intended to injure another, and that the player targeted had no grounds to reasonably expect to be attacked in such a manner, the argument can be made that criminal charges are quite valid.  How should it be considered any different than assault in any other workplace, or out on the street for that matter? Because hockey is a violent sport?

There are rules which govern certain acts which come as the result of what we’ve come to refer to as “hockey plays”, certain acts that result from the nature of a game played at high speed, on skates, with sticks and armor-like equipment. And then there are plays which are not a part of the sport, which go beyond the effects of competitive emotions and into the realm of sheer stupidity – and lawlessness. Cormier, Bertuzzi, McSorley, none of those incidents were hockey plays or a part of the nature of the game. These sorts of intentional assaults are in no way an accepted part of the game, and not something inherent that any player signed up for when signing his contract. And as such, they are fair game to the courts should prosecutors see fit.

Bottom-line, this crap needs to be eradicated, and when league-based sanctions fail, the next step is necessary for those interested in not only protecting the players, but also the integrity of the game itself.  As much as I like Patrice Cormier as a player, he made a decision and now must face the appropriate consequences.  Good on the prosecutors for recognizing that, and for recognizing that beyond the pedestal so many place the game upon, it does remain only a game, its players subject to the same laws which govern the rest of us.

Willie Mitchell Unloads On NHL Disciplinary System

On the subject of questionable hits … anyone catch injured Canucks’ defender Willie Mitchell’s comments about NHL discipline? He didn’t exactly hold his feelings back, and good on him for acknowledging the elephant in the room.  There has long been a perception that the inconsistency of Colin Campbell’s decisions may be tied to his connections with GMs around the league. As Mitchell so aptly put it, it can be difficult to punish a teammate at the best of times.

Now, is that what is really going on? It would be difficult to prove, but it’s certainly not implausible.  To his credit, Mitchell presents an interesting angle on the subject that has been – to date – woefully unexplored.  Some will feel Mitchell  (whose season ended in January following a concussion from an Evgeni Malkin hit) spoke out of turn, or should represent the league in a more positive manner, but I say kudos to a guy for speaking his mind.  This is only one player’s opinion, but if one guy is willing to be this open about the issue, you have to wonder how many more share his view on this matter — even if they are too wary (or perhaps too smart) to publicly make those feelings known.

The question now is whether Mitchell will face sanctions for criticizing the NHL brass the way players and coaches do for criticizing referees. He likely will — the NHL has at least been consistent about that — but something tells me he won’t have any problem paying the fine.


Chicago / Vancouver

For the second year in a row – one year to the day, actually – the Blackhawks dismissed the Canucks in six games. For the Blackhawks, this win was proof of the value of a strong core. Notably, it was the Hawks’ supporting cast that made the true difference, especially such non-household names as Bolland, Byfuglian, and Sharp, while high-priced “name” guys like Campbell and Hossa were nowhere to be found. If those guys get going – look out.

For the Canucks, another off-season of questions looms.  Is Luongo the guy to carry this team to the promised land? The ‘Nucks have another 12 years to figure that one out. Can GM Mike Gillis find a way to get the Sedin twins a supporting cast? And will there be enough cap space left over to upgrade a defense that came up woefully short in the heightened competition of the playoffs?

San Jose / Detroit

Like the Blackhawks, the Sharks earned their victory in this series with excellent supporting-cast play, notably from Joe Pavelski and Devin Setoguchi. Joe Thornton appears to have finally shaken his playoff demons, and Evgeni Nabokov has proven he is still one of the league’s best when he gets into a groove.

Detroit, on the other hand, simply wasn’t able to come up with an answer to the Sharks’ relentless physical play. But don’t make the mistake of writing the Wings off just yet. Aside from questions about Lidstrom’s future, key players such as Datsyuk (31), Franzen (30), and Zetterberg (29) are in their prime years, and players such as Fillipula (26), Abdelkader (23) and Helm (23) are ready to step into larger roles behind them. With Howard (26) looking like a bonafide NHL starter, the Wings will be an annual competitor for some time yet.

Montreal / Pittsburgh

One of the age-old clichés of the playoffs was once again proven Wednesday night, that being playoff success is as much about great goaltending as it is any other factor.  I know it pains many Leafs fans to offer up any sort of praise toward their age-old rivals, but in all honesty there is something to be said for giving credit where it’s due (no matter how begrudgingly). Credit Jaroslav Halak with consistently proving himself to be one of the best. Credit the Canadiens’ defense for blocking shots at the incredible rate they did. And credit Hal Gill with an outstanding shutdown job on Sidney Crosby.  Yes, that Hal Gill. At least the Leafs got Jimmy Hayes for him. So, there’s that.

Boston / Philadelphia

Collapse is such a difficult word, one which is easy to use but perhaps a tad too harsh when applied to the Bruins. Boston’s decline from a 3-0 series lead to a 3-3 tie can be attributed primarily to a lack of scoring depth.  The loss of two top-six forwards would impact any team, but considering the Bruins already had trouble scoring all season long to begin with, the losses of Krejci and Sturm have been crippling.  If the Bruins are to win this series, they will need a little something more from the mystery players wearing the Bergeron, Ryder and Wheeler jerseys. It’s funny how things work out; few figured the Bruins would miss Kessel this much, but the fact remains they have nobody on their roster close to his skillset, and even fewer would argue they couldn’t use a pure shooter with game-breaking speed at this particular juncture.

Looking forward to your thoughts as always,