Sunday, September 30, 2018

Habs Roll The Dice on Kotkaniemi, And So What?



  The last time the Montreal Canadiens had a first round pick on the season-opening October roster in his draft year goes all the way back to 1984, when Petr Svoboda took a regular shift as an 18 year old rookie. The circumstances were exceptional - and political. Svoboda was a Cold War defector from behind the Iron Curtain, so it’s not as if the Habs could have sent him back to Czechoslovakia, where Svoboda would have been summarily assigned to the Bourgeoisie Running Dogs of Gulag Archipelago League. The American Hockey League was an option, but a ridiculously deep Montreal blue line that included Larry Robinson, Rick Green, Chris Chelios, Ric Nattress and Craig Ludwig provided insulation sufficient enough that the Canadiens decided to keep Svoboda, who went on to enjoy a long and productive NHL career.
   Which brings us to Jesperi Kotkaniemi. For the first time since Svoboda 34 years ago, the Canadiens are going against conventional hockey wisdom and opening the season with their 2018 first round pick (third overall) on the NHL roster. Given Kotkaniemi’s excellent training camp, the hand-wringing over the decision has been relatively muted, with most of it coming from media “experts” regurgitating decades-old talking points about whether an 18 year old can hold up to the rigors of an 82 game schedule. I can only imagine what a farmer, coal miner or oil rig worker thinks when they hear about “the grind” of first class travel, star treatment and lucrative compensation to live a childhood dream. 
   That’s not to say the travel and the physical nature of the game don’t take a toll, and I understand the thinking behind giving young players more seasoning at the minor league level. But there are exceptions to every rule. Kotkaniemi looks NHL-ready, and the Canadiens have a nine game window to decide whether he’s mentally and physically equipped for the long haul. 
   This being Montreal, the obsession with how the Canadiens are handling Kotkaniemi is to be expected but it's still vastly overstated. Ultimately, only a handful of people have a substantial stake in whether Kotkaniemi succeeds at all: the player, his family and the team executives and coaches in charge of overseeing his development. No one else's life will be altered in any substantial way, whether his hockey career flourishes or he goes back to Finland and herds reindeer.  The media should be grateful for the story line, and all the rest of us have to do is sit back and enjoy the show. 

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Here's your hat, what's your hurry?

    I’m not a Bob Cole fan.  When you grew up on Danny Gallivan’s “Savardian spinorama”, “larcenous save”, “dipsy-doodling over the line” and “stepping out rather gingerly”, Cole’s “oh, baby”, “everything is happening” and “what is going on in Pennsylvania?” make for a pale imitation. Gallivan was a wordsmith - a master of the English language. Cole is barely literate by comparison. His play-by-play has been characterized by rambling incoherence and inarticulate bluster at the best of times. That said, I understand the appeal to the generation that grew up with Cole. Whatever his failings as a broadcaster, he is the soundtrack of their youth, and to criticize him is to diminish their earliest and fondest hockey memories. 
   As the curtain prepares to come down on his Hockey Night in Canada career - now in its 50th season - there is no denying Bob Cole’s status as a Canadian legend. It’s unfortunate, however, that he is being forced out. It’s also his own fault. He could have retired gracefully, on his own terms, some years ago when he started to lose whatever once passed for his fastball. But he hung on for dear life and complained publicly and bitterly when he was passed over for Stanley Cup playoff broadcasts last spring. The sour grapes were unbecoming for a professional of Cole’s stature and bespoke an attitude of ingratitude from someone who has led a charmed existence. Hopefully, when Cole is given the opportunity to say goodbye on Canada’s grandest media stage this season, he will do so with humility, grace and a prepared script. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Who signed off on THAT?


   If the Philadephia Flyers' objective was to scare the living bejesus out of the next generation of would-be season ticket holders, they've succeeded beyond anyone's wildest nightmares. The new mascot unveiled by the Flyers yesterday looks like Youppi!'s crystal meth-addicted cousin and begs the question, "Who was at the meeting where that was approved, and were they also on the pipe?" For the record, the new mascot's name is "Gritty", although "Creepy", "Itchy" or "Grody" would all have been more suitable monikers.
   Also, for aspiring comedians, it's useful to note that while my 1970s Twitter reference to the late former Flyer Cowboy Bill Flett was engaged by a handful of my 9300 followers, Nashville hockey writer/broadcaster Justin Bradford went viral with a far more clever 2018 reference despite fewer followers. Current and topical outshines dated and obscure every time, kids.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Leafs media bootlickers already in nauseating mid-season form


   I have nothing against Toronto Maple Leafs fans.  I really don't.  Even the 40-something guy in the Wendel Clark jersey careening drunkenly through the Bell Center corridors bellowing "Go Leafs go!" after spending the better part of a month's salary on overpriced beer and table dances at Chez Pareé has my grudging respect, because he's part of a larger collective of unconditional fidelity.  Leafs fans are loyal to a fault, which has allowed the franchise to stumble through half a century of futility without suffering economically.  Unlike Montreal Canadiens fans, who turn on their team like rabid wolverines at the first sign of things going south, Leafs Nation is unfailingly true.
   I am less tolerant, however, of the Toronto-based national sports media, whose insufferable pro-Leafs bias alienates millions of Canadian hockey fans outside the southern Ontario bubble.  The Leafs fanboys and fangirls at TSN were vomitous right out of the gate this weekend when @TSNHockey tweeted "And there it is - John Tavares scores his first goal at #MapleLeafs camp."  Seriously.  "And there it is", like it was some kind of watershed historical moment, on a par with "And there it is - the Allies breach Hitler's Atlantic Wall on #DDay" or "And there is it - Jonas Salk perfects the #poliovaccine".  He scored a goal in a training camp scrimmage, ffs.  Keep your shorts on.
   After decades as a perennial laughingstock, the Leafs have built a great young hockey team.  I'm excited for them.  I'm excited for their fans.  But the unprofessional cheerleading from national media groupies who have the platform(s) to foist their obnoxious pro-Leafs agenda on the entire country is why the rest of us are so loathe to wish them well.



Sunday, September 9, 2018

Serena's Hubris Hardly Worthy of Applause (and other Monday morning musings)


   One of sport’s greatest champions risked leaving an indelible stain on her legacy Saturday. Serena Williams’s emotional meltdown in the women’s final at the U.S. Open would have been unbecoming in any professional setting, let alone on a stage as prestigious as the championship match at a Grand Slam tennis tournament. Leaving aside whether her exacerbation with the chair umpire, Carlos Ramos, was justified (which is debatable because Ramos acted well within his mandate), Williams upstaged what should have been a milestone celebration for 20 year old Naomi Osaka, who was reduced to tears by the Serena spectacle when she should have been celebrating the biggest moment of her life.  Williams briefly reclaimed the high ground by shushing the crowd when they tried to shout down the trophy ceremony, but lost it again when she used her post-match news conference to bemoan the (*yawn*) patriarchy.  Her media sycophants actually applauded in the interview room, underscoring yet again the decline of journalism from the pursuit of unvarnished certitude by dedicated truth seekers to a transparent exercise in agenda-driven distortion and virtue-signalling.  Whatever her flaws, Williams has been an admired and respected champion throughout her career, and she wouldn’t lose face to offer up a belated mea culpa for grandstanding at the expense of an opponent who deserved better...Under the circumstances, the Canadiens got a more than respectable return for Max Pacioretty.  The lame duck Habs captain and impending unrestricted free agent was traded to Las Vegas early today for left winger Tomas Tatar, center and 2017 first round draft pick Nick Suzuki and a second rounder in 2019 - an impressive haul considering the Canadiens were known to be shopping Pacioretty and that he has indicated he won't negotiate a contract extension in-season.  What remains unknown and could finally come out in the wash now that the relationship is severed is why Montreal management soured on Pacioretty, who - publicly, at least - has never comported himself as anything other than a consummate professional...Somebody who’s older than 14 and not high on crack needs to approve the pre-game music playlist at College de Valleyfield CÉGEP football games. Big Sean’s “I Don’t Fuck With You” blared from the PA system during the warmup for the Noir et Or’s Saturday night tilt with the John Abbott College Islanders, replete with non-stop f-bombs and n-bombs to make it easier for Grandma and the kids to sing along.  It was the sporting event equivalent of playing the Rodeo Song for the first dance at a wedding reception...I’m not in the Colin Kaepernick camp on how to effect positive social change, but I won’t be setting any of my belongings on fire unless I have insurance and an alibi.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Habs Twitter Takes a Lick From Marchand

   

   Douchebaggery has gone mainstream.
   Unfettered by regulatory restraints and contemptuous of longstanding professional standards and ethics, “cutting edge” online media is blazing a trail of lowbrow twaddle that makes the supermarket tabloid rack look like a repository for Pulitzer Prize finalists.  My personal favorites (and by favorites I mean they make me want to take my own life) in the precipitous decline of journalistic integrity are VICE and Buzzfeed.  VICE, which actually does some quality journalism, are the masters of self-sabotage.  It’s equal parts appalling and discouraging that an organization that produces powerful and compelling journalism like VICE’s Russian Roulette series on the civil war in Ukraine is also responsible for articles like “The Five Times I’ve (Literally) Shit My Pants” and “We Asked Some Girls About How They Masturbate”.  Buzzfeed doesn’t even bother trying to emulate VICE’s occasional forays into relevant journalism, opting to focus exclusively on the sensationally trivial.  How better to dispense with the notion of credibility than churning out such vacuous pablum as “11 Delightful Poems Found in Pornhub Comments” and “This Artist Imagined Famous Women in History on Their Period and It’s Beautiful”?  (I’m not making any this up, but I’m not linking the articles because that would just be feeding the beast.)
   All of that is the long way of getting to this: while VICE and Buzzfeed are products of their time, no individual or organization - no matter how venerable or respectable - is immune from the siren song of online dipshittery, not even the (deep breath) Montreal Canadiens.  
After the Boston Bruins were eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs Sunday, the Canadiens official Twitter account took a thinly veiled shot at Bruins forward and noted licker-of-faces Brad Marchand.

   In and of itself, the tweet was marginally clever and relatively inoffensive, but it’s the source that matters here more than the content.  If I’m Canadiens owner Geoff Molson, everything my franchise does publicly should be filtered through the Beliveau Standard; in other words, is it in keeping with the class and distinction consistently demonstrated by the most universally admired and respected individual ever to represent the CH on and off the ice?  The short answer here is no.
   Along with straying from a century-old norm for propriety, the cracker-of-wise behind the Canadiens Twitter account made the mistake of leading with their chin as well as their thumbs, and Marchand willingly obliged.
   Final score: @Bmarch63 1 @CanadiensMTL 0
   Look, I get that it’s 2018 and we live in edgier times than when Jean Beliveau was saying and doing all the right things while routinely parading the Stanley Cup down Ste. Catherine Street.  But change for its own sake isn’t always change for the better, and an iconic brand that was built on honour and dignity is something to be trifled with at its own peril. 

Sunday, July 3, 2016

The P.K. trade: disappointing but understandable


    One of the most telling tweets in the immediate aftermath of the P.K. Subban trade didn't come from a journalist or a teammate or anyone otherwise involved in the day-to-day machinations of the Montreal Canadiens.  
   It came from a chef.

   David McMillan is the co-owner and public face of what is arguably Montreal's trendiest and most renowned restaurant - Joe Beef (along with upscale sister properties Liverpool House and Le Vin Papillon).  He's a star in his own right, and a straight shooter with strong convictions.
   Reading between the lines of his tweet, it's not unreasonable to speculate that the celebrity chef at a favorite haunt of wealthy young hockey players witnessed some behind-the-scenes dynamics that journalists aren't privy to, and garnered some insight from unguarded conversations over several bottles of fine wine.  McMillan's tweet didn't betray anyone's trust, but it reinforced the theory that Subban put himself before the team.  
   And really, what logical reason was there to trade Subban if he hadn't become an untenable presence in the organization?  An immensely talented player entering his prime athletic years should be untouchable.  Add to that his enormous and almost universal popularity among the fan base and the unprecedented commitment to the community in the form of a $10 million dollar fundraising initiative for the Montreal Children's Hospital, and it's unthinkable that the Canadiens would send such a team and community pillar packing.  Unless...
   The racism trope doesn't pass muster in explaining the trade.  I don't doubt for a minute that there's latent racism among some who don't even realize that their dislike for P.K. is rooted in an outdated mentality, but hockey is a business, and an asset of Subban's caliber isn't surrendered on the grounds that he's "uppity".  As much as the notion of the self-confident black man not "knowing his place" no longer applies, neither should behavior detrimental to the greater good be excused or rationalized by playing the race card.
   I was as surprised and disappointed as most Canadiens fans when I heard that Subban was traded.  Shea Weber will be an excellent defenceman and leader for the Habs, but P.K. transcended the game and was part of the fabric of Montreal.  That's what makes it sad.  But as P.K. himself said when he was asked about trade rumours, "where there's smoke, there's fire".  There were smoke signals aplenty that Subban had outworn his welcome, and that whatever his talents and contributions on the ice, they were no longer worth the aggravation.