Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Divorce Gets Messy

Daniel Alfredsson held a news conference in Ottawa Thursday that most of us thought would be a mere formality. I was sure he'd stay on the high road and say his thank yous to the city and its fans, then say a few nice words about the charities he supports. Most believed he wouldn't say anything further about contract negotiations with the Senators and why he left for Detroit.
That couldn't have been more wrong.

Alfredsson came out guns a-blazing and explained to us exactly his side of the story. He spoke of his community work then explained how he had helped the Sens manage the cap (an admission of circumventing the cap, by the way). Once the foundation of sympathy was laid, he outlined how badly his contract negotiations had gone, setting the table for his shift to Motown.

This was a very different Alfredsson than the one who called in from Sweden the day he signed with Detroit on July 5. That guy spoke mainly of how this was something he was doing for himself, something selfish, as he wanted to go somewhere to try and win a Stanley Cup before his career was over. There was no tone then that seemed to say, 'after all I've done for the Sens, this is how they treat me? By lowballing me in my final year? Screw this.' 

But that was the Alfie we saw Thursday. A man on an island, possibly torching his bridge to NHL employment in Ottawa. No spin doctoring this time, just giving his version of the events. 
Sens' GM Bryan Murray wasted little time responding, connecting with Ottawa Sun, feeling as if he'd been thrown under the bus. From Bruce Garrioch's article:

Murray confirmed Alfredsson asked the Senators for a one-year deal at $7 million or a two-year deal at $12 million. The club offered one year at $4.5 million. “I can say this: I’m disappointed,” said Murray. “It seems Alfie isn’t totally informed of what went on. That had to do with J.P. (Barry) didn’t tell me the truth during the week. He kept saying ‘I can’t get in touch with Alfie. I will get back to you with a number.'"

"I offered $4.5 million. I said, ‘Both of us hopefully are flexible and we will talk.’ (Barry) said he would get back to me. I just took for granted that would happen and it never happened. I never heard back. I have not heard from J.P. since the $7 million offer."
Murray says the two sides never spoke again until Alfredsson informed Murray he was signing with Detroit. 
This was Barry's take on the situation:

“We made multiple offers and invited them to negotiate. They provided a number (probably the $4.5M) on the weekend prior to July 5 and said this is all they can do due to internal budget restrictions. It wasn't a market offer in our estimation. They wanted Daniel to take a below market deal again after he had done the same several times previously and we didn't feel that was appropriate."

"Daniel and I spoke every day during the process at length. Essentially, the Senators wanted us to present lower offers to them and that is not how the process works.”

Lowering your offer is certainly part of how the process works. You came up with a ridiculous number ($7M) and now you present a slightly lower number. Barry may be saying here the Sens weren't making any offers to close the gap, instead just sitting back and rejecting each of Alfie's new numbers. Go lower. Mmm, nope. Lower. Lower....

At worst, someone is lying. At best, it's a failure to communicate. This divorce didn't have to happen. Murray maintains they eventually could have worked out a deal comparable to the $5.5M Alfie received in Detroit, a saw off point between the 2 offers. I fully believe that. 
We'll never know exactly why the deal didn't happen. But let's first point out that Barry is also Dany Heatley's agent. After the Heatley case, Barry and Murray probably don't have a great deal of time for each other. Very likely a part of this story. 

With Alfie and Murray alone in the same room together, I bet this would have been an easy negotiation. But when you get distance and cash-hungry middle men involved, things can go sideways in a hurry.

Divorce is especially sad when you know neither side really wanted it. But it's too late to reconcile now. Both have moved onto new partners – Alfie with Detroit, the Sens with Bobby Ryan. 

I think one day Alfie and the Sens will see this saga for what it was – a series of unfortunate events – and reunite in some fashion.  It'll be good for both sides.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Melnyk Chimes in on Alfie

Senators owner Eugene Melnyk has shed some new light on the Affaire D'Alfie. In an interview with the Ottawa Citizen, Melnyk confirms Daniel Alfredsson not only wanted a big raise but wanted assurances that the club was going to add more talent to the roster.

Melnyk was unable to do both, which led to Alfredsson's decision to sign in Detroit. “You can't have it both ways,” Melnyk told the Citizen. “You can't say, 'Well I (Alfie) want this for me, but I want you to (also) do this with me and the team.' It's 'which one do you want?'”

Melnyk says it came down to this: The Sens were willing to spend the money to keep Alfredsson but the owner wasn't willing to spend any further to bring in the new talent that the captain coveted. So Alfredsson left for Detroit, where he believed there was a better chance to win.

At that stage, of course, the Sens pulled off the Bobby Ryan trade with Anaheim. Sens fans now fantasize what it would have been like to have both Ryan and Alfie on this year's team. But Melnyk's explanation effectively throws Alfredsson directly into that trade. To get Ryan, the Sens had to say goodbye to Alfredsson, Jakob Silfverberg, Stefan Noesen and a 2014 1st round draft pick. That's a huge loss of talent and potential. So with Alfie now included, let's re-examine what happened on July 5th.

If you're an optomist, you celebrate Ryan's four 30+ goal seasons and assume he'll get 40+ playing with Jason Spezza. You'll say Alfie is near the end, Silfverberg is soft, Noesen will be a third liner at best and the first rounder won't be that great since the Sens probably won't draft early next summer.

The worrier sees it much differently. Alfie is the face of the franchise and was still the Sens best player in the playoffs, Silfverberg is about to break out, Noesen brings a much needed edge, and plenty of great players were drafted late in the first round. And what of Ryan? For all the talk of his pure goal scoring ability, he finished with just 11 goals last season, 93rd best in the NHL, and just one better than Silfverberg.

Coming in hot? Not exactly. But Ryan will be very quickly on the hotseat if he doesn't produce.

I think the reality, as it often does, will end up somewhere in the middle. Ryan likely won't be as good as the optomist thinks. However, he won't be as mediocre as he was last season in Anaheim, where head coach Bruce Boudreau shuffled him up and down the lineup. Ryan will get top 3 minutes every single night in Ottawa. In Anaheim, Ryan was 5th among forwards in average time on ice.

From a strictly hockey perspective, it was okay to turn the page on Alfredsson.  Not only will he be retiring soon, he was the leader of a team he'd completely lost faith in. He said he didn't believe they could come back in the playoffs vs. Pittsburgh. He basically left the team because it wasn't good enough for him.

I'm not sewing my captain's “C” over top of a heart that it isn't in it anymore.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Sports Parents Gone Wild!!

If you have a child in competitive sports, chances are you're a pretty competitive person yourself. Nothing wrong with that. It's one of the things that helps a person excel in this competitive world. But the leap from being an involved, competitive parent to becoming an involved, competitive jackass isn't a big one.  We all have occasional negative thoughts.  "Why is the coach doing this and not doing that?"  But it's not about what we think.  It's what we do.

I've seen all sides of it now.  Parenting, coaching, officiating, managing.  I've done it and loved almost all if it.  For those who've just entered the minor sports arena for the first time (and for the veterans who need a reminder) I've assembled a list of the worst mistakes sports parents make.

1) Not shutting up.

The golden rule for sports parents during games: cheer and support. Communicate nothing to the athletes except unconditional support.  If it’s not cheering, it’s hurting your team.

This one is so crucial we need to break it into four categories.

1a) Yelling at the ref.

Refs are going to make poor calls, especially inexperienced refs who are developing just like your kids. Verbal abuse will certainly influence them - but not in the way you’d like.  The next time there’s a close call, do you think the team that’s been abusing the ref is going to get that call? What kind of example are you setting? If your 8 year old is watching her 11 year old sister play, would you tolerate the 8 year old screaming at the referee? Of course not. You’d be embarrassed and immediately make her stop.

Consider the story of a group of soccer parents in Bethesda, Maryland. They were verbally abusive to a referee and were recently ordered by their league to stay away from the first two games of the season. A referee was brought in exclusively to ensure these parents stayed at least 100 yards from the field, where they needed binoculars to see their daughters play.

The ban stemmed from an earlier match where one parent yelled at the ref, and others piled on in an “aggressive” tone that culminated with one yelling at the referee’s daughter, “Your father should be fired.”  The story made national headlines.

If I were still refereeing (and I have no desire to return), I would give one warning to parents.  Then I would stop the game until the offending parent leaves.

99.9% of the time the referee is trying his/her best.  It's fun to win but, really, does the result of the game/match really matter so much that you'd rage at another person like that?  Would you do that anywhere else for any reason?  Just remember, that medal, plaque or trophy you wanted so badly will very shortly be forgotten, stuck in a closet gathering dust.

1b) Negative Feedback/Humiliation

I see parents and coaches doing this all the time.  It's the quickest way to get a child to dislike you and the sport.  It also kills their confidence.  Don't do it.  You wouldn't speak to a peer like that.  It's no good during the car ride home.  It's even worse when they're humiliated in front of their friends.

This whole sports experience is meant to build a child's development and confidence.  Confident kids become confident successful adults, who make great decisions.  Don't take that away because they didn't play a game well in their childhood.  If they make a mess of a play, it's not a reflection on you.

Be careful of the big laughs too. Let's say a child misses an easy goal on an empty net. A parent makes a joke like, "Hey Dave, that's how you used to play." The joke was only directed at Dave.  Dave is an adult who can take it.  However, the child only heard the big laughs right after his mistake and thinks all the adults are laughing at him.

1c) Coaching from the Stands/Sideline

I think some parents misunderstand this instruction.  They nod their head when the coach tells them not to coach from the sideline.  Then they yell, "Go get it! Don’t stop! Rush with it! Get back! Pass it! Shoot!"  Guess what?  THAT'S COACHING!!!

Say none of those things. You may think you're being supportive but you're not.  You're undermining your coach and confusing your child, who may be doing exactly what the coach told her to do.  You're also enraging the coach. If your child IS doing the wrong thing, let the coach correct it.

Cheer your head off.  Way to go!  Good job!  Good try!  Applaud when an injured player gets up. That'll do nicely.

1d)  Standing too close to parents on the other team

Inevitably, you will hear a yahoo parent from the other club ignoring the advice listed above.  My best advice is, stay as far away as possible so you can't even hear them.  Nothing makes your blood boil faster than an opposing team's parent who verbally attacks players or parents on your team.  This happened in Tweed at a Bantam C hockey game in March.  BANTAM C!

2) Not respecting the coach and his/her decisions.

This is especially important this time of year with emotions riding high at summer tryouts.  The first thing to keep in mind is that, while coaches have input, it's usually a team of evaluators that have decided on the roster.  It's definitely tough being cut.  You and your child aren't just being cut from the team, but from perceived circles of friends.  No one likes being excluded from anything.

The good news is, the next team down has great kids and parents too.  Remember most of these sports relationships are fleeting anyway.  Ask any parent whose child graduates from club sports.  How many sports parents that they saw almost every day do they actually stay in touch with now?  Not many.  The best friendships will endure no matter what.

But for now, you're upset.  Don’t email the coach or leave angry voice mails. You might say hurtful things you’d never say in person. Give it 24 hours then talk to the coach in person.

Once you respectfully chat face to face, you might understand. Even if you don't agree with it, you'll probably come away thinking, "Hmm, I hadn't thought of that.  I guess I sort of understand.  I guess he hasn't really got it in for my child after all." As with referees, verbal abuse of the coach will never improve your child's situation.  Be sure to ask what the child needs to work on for next year.

Once you're on your team, it's the same rule.  If you have a problem, cool off for a day then approach the coach in person.  Don't share your complaints with other parents. That just gets everyone worked up.  I've seen teams become so toxic like this.  One parent complains to another that the coach failed to do something.  By the time this info reaches the 12th parent on the team, the information has morphed into - "Hey, I heard the coach is a serial killer."

Obviously, if your coach's behaviour is truly over the line (sometimes coaches go wild too), you need to discuss this with the appropriate director of your association.

3) Never giving your child time away from the sport.

Many parents figure their kids need that extra edge so they keep them in it 12 months a year, even when the rest of their team shuts it down.  It's almost a crime against childhood.  The rink is a great place to be but it's difficult to fully experience their wonder years when they're never more than a few hours from their next ice time.  I hate seeing kids pulled away from the cottage, pool parties, or a 15-kid game of hide and seek, because they had a 6:30pm practice on July 7th.

Just think about how loudly you’d complain if your child’s elementary school cancelled summer break. You need to give your child some down time from their sport to recover, mentally and physically.  You hear stories of burnout all the time.

That said, I understand that AAA players cannot shut down for 5-6 months a year anymore and expect to stay on the top team.  I wish they could.  But a couple of months of down time won't hinder development.  Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

4) Never volunteering.

Are you the parent that never pitches in to help manage, fund raise, organize, book the hotels or be a general volunteer? Right. You don’t have time. Seems lame.  Guess what?  Those who are volunteering are also extremely busy. But they want to help make their child’s team experience a better one and stuff doesn't get done on its own. If you're the never volunteer parent, maybe take a second look at how you're perceived by others. If you never help out and you wonder why that other parent always seems a little cold toward you, you may have your answer.

5) Not letting anyone know you'll be absent.

Unless you give at least half a day's notice, it’s like giving no notice at all. Coaches are making plans for games or practices based on the number of kids they're expecting. You obviously don’t need their permission to miss – but it’s extremely helpful to give them as much notice as possible.

Speaking of absences (and this primarily affects summer sports), if you know your child will be on holiday for 8 weeks during the season, why did you have them tryout for a competitive team, displacing another child who really wanted to make and commit to the team?  Family time obviously and definitely comes first but it's a bit selfish to tryout for a team you don't have time for.

6) Taking things for granted

Please just revel in the joy of having a healthy, happy child who's playing a sport you both love.  It's magic.  Not all parents are so blessed.  Think of the parent of the child with a drug addiction.  Think of the parent whose disabled teenager has trouble feeding himself or going to the bathroom.  Think of the parent whose child died young.

Now, after thinking about that, how in the world can you be angry because it didn't go well at soccer tonight?  WHO BLEEPING CARES?  Embrace them and savour every moment.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Crosby vs Chara? Adorable.

The Boston Bruins have drawn first blood in the NHL Eastern Conference Final, going right into Pittsburgh and taking down the Penguins 3-0.  One of the more notable moments in the game came when Sidney Crosby got talkin' tough with Zdeno Chara. This brings up the hockey code again.  Chapter 5, Rule 6:  Big tough players like Chara are not allowed to fight star finesse players like Crosby.  However, if I had written this phantom code book, I would revoke the rule the moment the star player starts yapping, glaring and shoving.  You want to be a star player protected by the "code" then mind your own business.

Crosby is very lucky it didn't go down exactly like this:

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Season That Was

The Ottawa Senators' season comes to an end.  The badly absent author wanders around his home, trying to come to terms with things.  He finally manages a positive spin.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Full CSI:Ottawa on Karlsson's Season Ender

A promising Senator season took a big hit with Jason Spezza's season ending back problems. But fans stayed optomistic.  There were still many other good things.  And they still had Erik Karlsson. 

All that changed last week.

Karlsson's lacerated achilles and ensuing surgery will keep him out for the rest of the NHL season. It was one of the more emotional moments in Sens history. It also touched off great debate among hockey fans and media. Did Matt Cooke do it on purpose? It seems like most people outside the city of Ottawa believe he didn't.

Wretched character that he is, I don't believe Cooke ever said to himself, “Well, I'm in position to cut Karlsson's leg here, so I will!” I don't, however, think it was a total accident. A total accident is when there's no one to blame. Like the case in Edmonton last year, where Corey Potter accidentally stepped on Taylor Hall's face in warm up.

At the time of the Karlsson injury, Cooke was attempting to pin Karlsson up against the boards. However, he did so with all the famous Cooke recklessness and all the precision of a 170 pound Atom-aged player.

Here's how that move is done safely and legally. As you bodycheck a player into the boards, you freeze him there for a split second then roll or turn their upper body so their chest up is facing against the boards. At the same time, keeping your skates on the ice, you move your knee up against the boards between the opponent's legs. Your weight is all on your outside leg, pushing in.

That's it. At no time, under no circumstances, does this skill call for the things Cooke added to the mix.
  1. Begin by hooking your opponent's stick up over his head. (On the contrary, players are taught to keep their stick on the ice to acquire the puck after the pin).
  2. Get your lead skate 12 inches off the ice.
  3. Get your lead knee up into the player's lower spine.
  4. Get your weight onto the leg nearest the boards.
  5. Slam your skate down and hope it's in the right spot to make the pin, even though you now have no idea where your opponent's legs are.
Cooke's skate is off the ice because he's hooking Karlsson. Picture how your front foot would come up if you were a fisherman hauling in a big catch. So, because he's reckless, Cooke still tries to enter an attempt to pin with his skate in air. Bad plan. Reckless. The play started recklessly and it ended recklessly.

I've heard analysts argue, “Come on, recklessness happens in hockey all the time. You can't punish recklessness or we'd be suspending everyone!”

Reckless (adj.) = Indifferent to or disregardful of consequences. Uh-huh. So you don't want to punish players who fail to think of consequences? Because it's common? That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard.  It's exactly what's wrong with the NHL justice system and its general mindset.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Tough Enough?

It's been an interesting start to the Senators' season.  In January, the Sens were all-world, grabbing 11 of a possible 14 points.  February has been comparatively awful.  The Sens have 3 of a possible 10 points in 5 games, scoring just 7 times in the process.

Most people say the loss of Jason Spezza to injury is now weighing heavily on this team.  That's definitely a big factor.  But some are starting to wonder if the loss of Matt Carkner and Zenon Konopka to free agency has also taken its toll.  Maybe the team has lost too much toughness, and in the process, some of its swagger.

I'd argue Ottawa's current toughness level is about on par with Chicago, which still hasn't lost yet.  The difference is the Hawks scorers are scoring. And healthy. The way Ottawa's was in January when we marveled at the speed and heart of this team.

Toughness helps, no question. But you've got have USEFUL tough guys like Chris Neil. If you're a one dimensional thug, you're just wasting a roster spot most nights.

Buffalo is here tonight.  The Sabres will likely dress enforcer John Scott again.  He'll get his 4 minutes, he'll slam into the boards, missing Karlsson by about 8 feet and go sit down.  He'll be an asset 2 or 3 nights this winter when games get crazy but that's about it.  Is Boston cowering and struggling because Scott destroyed Thornton? The standings say no.

UFAs Corey Perry and David Clarkson, who deliver both skill and toughness, will be on everyone's wish list this summer.