Sunday, May 8, 2011

Baby Eater of the Week

Can you imagine waking up every morning knowing that this guy was on your team?

And this with a broken wrist, yet.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The most wonderful time of the year

Five days into the Stanley Cup playoffs and already there have been two suspensions, more fights than I can keep track of, some absolutely beautiful plays that I've been watching on a loop (yes, Pavel Datsyuk), and Gary Bettman proving once again that he is a complete bonehead (follow the link for my take on the $500 octopus-tossing fine).

It truly is the most wonderful time of the year for hockey fans - the time of the year when even the deepest teams up front will inexplicably fall to the Montreal Canadiens, and I will find myself actually look forward to a Predators game.

The playoffs are awesome because I love a good game, regardless of who's playing, and the NHL playoffs tend to be all great games (unless you're a Bruins fan). Even despite my - let's call it general loathing - of the Vancouver Canucks (you can read about that and the many outraged Vancouver commentors' reactions it elicited here), I can't deny that game three of the 'Hawks/Canucks series was a hell of a thing to watch.

But I also am acutely aware of how little investment I have in the actual games. Really, I just want to see enough of my predictions pan out so I don't look like a complete idiot.

Of course, it wasn't always this way. There was a time when NHL playoffs meant more than just good hockey; it meant a chance for the Leafs to win the Cup. Sure, I was young and maybe naive, but that's what making the playoffs means for every single team that pulls it off: they could win the Stanley Cup.

Those were the days...

Right now I have friends from Detroit, Chicago, Vancouver, Los Angeles, San Jose, Boston, Anaheim, and Pittsburgh, all of whom are a complete wreak every time I see them. We talk about the games - the crazy saves, the controversial hits, how exactly a professional hockey player manages to get dehydrated before the most crucial game of the season, whether or not Pavel Datsyuk is actually human or is in fact a god among men - and I enjoy those conversations immensely.

But I would give anything to be watching the games with the level of anxiety I know they've all been feeling this past week. I miss the heart-stopping shots and the mind-blowing saves. I miss the stress of a sudden death triple overtime and the incredible high when your team is the one that ends it. I miss the team showing more heart than you even knew they had when they're faced with what seems like insurmountable odds and the threat of season-ending injuries. I miss elimination. Actual elimination, not mathematical elimination. The kind that breaks your heart. The kind that takes a couple of days to get over despite repeated assertions from your mother that "come on, honey, it's just hockey."

But there is something about this year that makes it all a little easier to take - the Leafs were looking good. They ended the season strong (discounting the final three games) and made a completely improbable playoff surge after the All Star break. Hell, even mathematical elimination didn't happen until their third-last game of the season - a big step up from, you know, November.

So as I watch the playoffs this year, marveling at Pavel Datsyuk being freaking amazing and hoping that Carey Price totally shits the bed, it is with the knowledge that this will be the last time I will be able to do it while seated calmly on my couch.

Because next year there is not a chance in hell I will be able to sit down.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Things that make me happy: Writing about hockey

So I realize I've kind of abandoned Gary Roberts: Baby Eater this past month or so, and I'm feeling pretty darn awful about it.

There is a reason for that, however. About a month ago, within the span of a single week nonetheless, I started writing for two other sports blogs - Neon Tommy, an online publication from the University of Southern California, and Out of Left Field, an all-encompassing sports blog one of my friends just started up.

Needless to say, it's been kind of hectic writing for all three, so I took a slight hiatus from this one while I tried to get a handle on the other two.

That hiatus is officially over; it's NHL playoffs time and I'm back in game form.

If you're interested in checking out the stuff I've written so far, I've taken the liberty of blantantly promoting and linking to my stuff below:

Neon Tommy:
My take on the Cooke suspension (Mar. 23)
The Western Conference race and parity in the league (Mar. 31)

Out of Left Field:
The Loser Point (Mar. 29)
NHL bubble teams: When will they burst? (Apr. 5) - includes my take on the Maple Leafs season
Eastern Conference predictions: round 1 (Apr. 11)
Western Conference predictions: round 1 (Apr. 12)

In the meantime, think the Kings are happy to have Justin Williams back? Probably about as happy as I am to have had two nights of playoff hockey and already two incredible overtime games. The best part? No TV timeouts.

Life is wonderful.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

2011 Stanley Cup Playoff Predictions

Quickly, before it starts:

Round 1:
Most original photo ever.
(1) Washington vs. (8) New York
(2) Philadelphia vs. (7) Buffalo
(3) Boston vs. (6) Montreal
(4) Pittsburgh vs. (5) Tampa Bay
(1) Vancouver vs. (8) Chicago
(2) San Jose vs. (7) Los Angeles
(3) Detroit vs. (6) Phoenix
(4) Anaheim vs. (5) Nashville

Round 2:
(1) Washington vs. (7) Buffalo
(3) Boston vs. (4) Pittsburgh
(1) Vancouver vs. (7) Los Angeles
(3) Detroit vs. (5)Nashville

Conference Finals:
(1) Washington vs. (3) Boston
(1) Vancouver vs. (3) Detroit

Stanley Cup Finals:
(1) Washington vs. (3) Detroit

To see my predictions in all their glory (as in, with actual reasoning to back them up),  check them out over at Out of Left Field, a new sports blog I contribute hockey stuffs to.

In the meantime, go watch some playoff hockey!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Baby Eater of the (Last) Week

Remember that game last Thursday where Timmy Brent blocked two shots in OT sending the game to a shootout where Kadri potted the winner after hypnotizing Tim Thomas with his "nifty mittens"?

Next year's going to be awesome.

In related news, the Toronto chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association just made their nomination for the 2011 Bill Masterson Memorial Trophy, an award that goes to the player in the league who best demonstrates perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to the game. Ladies and gentleman, your Toronto Maple Leafs Masterson Trophy nominee and Baby Eater of the Week is the only man in the NHL crazy enough to get in front of a Zdeno Chara slap shot, Tim Motherf'n Brent.

He also does stuff like this. No word on how close they let him get to the babies.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

An Open Letter to Tomas Kaberle

Dear Tomas,

Last night was rough. Not so much the game. The game was actually pretty awesome. Especially that Schenn goal. You've done good by him, and that goal was a testament to your role as his mentor.

Look, I know it hasn't always been easy with the two of us. In fact, you could probably even call the 2008-2010 stretch a tad tenuous. But who was the first person to admit she was wrong when you showed up to play back in October? It was me, Tomas. And I had your back, for better or for worse, when Burke didn't move you during the summer window in the no-trade clause. Sure, maybe it was partially due to not thinking the potential return would be worth the cost, but perhaps it had also finally hit me how empty it would feel when you were gone. That, and the fact that you're a really, really good hockey player.

I'm sure it's my own naivete, but after the various media circuses Burke conjured up every time there seemed to be an opportunity to move you, I truly didn't believe he ever would. So February 18th hit me hard. Over a month later I'm still trying to come to terms with it.

I didn't think I was this sentimental. I thought I knew what I wanted -- a complete turnover; a fresh start for the blue-and-white that could be only be achieved by completely jettisoning the old guard and starting from scratch with all those draft picks the Leafs didn't actually have.

But now there is no remaining vestige from the glory years of my childhood -- the time when every year could have been the year; the years I took making the playoffs for granted and instead spent my time concerned about seeding and home-ice advantage; the years that the powerplay actually scored every once in a while; the years before I ever worried about roster depth or having strong pivots.

You were a part of that. You served as a constant reminder that there was once a time when hockey didn't end in April and blaring car horns were all that could be heard in the Toronto streets. Both of us believed you could be a part of that again, believed that you could help bring the Leafs back to postseason relevance. And now you're wearing white, yellow, and black and I don't know what to do.

For all your critics, at age 33 you're 15th in points for defensemen, ahead of all three of last year's Norris finalists, and still an example of exactly what an offensive-defenseman should be. There are so many good years ahead of you, and it kills me to know I'll have to watch them while listening to Jack Edwards' truly scintillating play-by-play.

But I'm still a fairly young Toronto Maple Leaf fan, not yet jaded enough to accept the realities that make me uncomfortable. I have faith that you'll make it home one day, Kabby. And I will meet you there, no matter what the ticket price.

All the best,
Gary Roberts: Baby Eater

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Today in old news...

I've watched the video of Chara driving Pacioretty into the stanchion between the benches over and over again since last Tuesday and have read what must be close to fifty articles from all the different sides in an attempt to figure out how exactly I feel about it.  I've come up with the following:

1. It is making me very sick to my stomach.
2. It was interference gone terribly, terribly wrong.
3. I have no idea what Chara's "intent" was, nor do I think it can be discerned from watching a video at top speed. As for slow motion and freeze-frames -- it is far too easy too take any individual moment and extrapolate some minute expression on Chara's face or placement of his hand to help indict him.

I have never supported the NHL dolling out punishment based on injury, as I believe that it is the action itself that should be punished. Slight differences to body positioning at top speeds can mean the difference between a hit knocking a player off the puck or knocking him out cold.

This is why I believe that if a player is performing an action that is deemed dangerous or reckless he should be penalized, even if the victim doesn't end up missing a shift. A high stick that knocks the back of a guy's helmet and a high stick that draws blood should be treated equally by league officials, as it is the action itself that is the problem. A stick in the air poses a danger to all the other players on the ice, which is why it warrants a penalty. No room for interpretation, no question about a player's intent, just the penalty that is outlined in the rules.*

(*Unless you're Tyler Ennis, apparently.)

Of course, situations like the Chara hit, much like the head-shot issue, are not quite as clear-cut. What Chara did was interference, and was duly punished on the play. He received a major and a game misconduct, likely as much to keep him out of the game to prevent a third period gong show than anything else.

This takes us to Wednesday, when Chara had his call with the league to determine supplemental discipline. The result, as I'm sure you're aware, is that there was none. The league called the injury sustained by Pacioretty an unfortunate result to a hockey play, but believed that Chara did not act with malicious intent, and thus chose not to suspend him.

I understand this; what Chara did was no more against the rules than any other routine interference call. Pacioretty's injury was a result of where the hit occurred on the ice -- the turnbuckle between the benches. Now, I would love to see some sort of rule put in place by the NHL that acknowledges the danger that this part of the rink poses to its athletes. However, the way the rulebook is currently written, Chara was making a defensive play to keep Pacioretty away from the puck because he knew he had been beaten by the guy's speed. It was an illegal play, yes, but it was still just interference.

The controversy over the hit stems from the question of intent on the part of Chara; did he or did he not intend to injure Pacioretty, knowing - and he did know, as he is a professional hockey player and has played in rinks with the exact same structure for 13 years - where he was on the ice. Chara claims he did not, Pacioretty disagrees, and everyone else is picking sides using completely identical videos and freeze-frames as evidence.

The NHL  shot itself in the foot when it decided supplemental discipline would be dependent on the "intent" behind an action, because there is absolutely no way to know a player's intent at any given moment of a high-speed hockey game. Did Chara want to take Pacioretty out with the hit? Well, I assume so. Wouldn't any defenseman hope to hit an opponent hard enough to keep him from getting to the puck? But did he intend to cause a severe concussion and fracture a vertebra? I doubt it. Chara knew exactly what he was doing and where on the ice he was when he hit Pacioretty, but I don't believe for a second he had any idea the full extent of the damage such a hit could cause. But here's the thing: none of that should matter.

The hit was reckless given where it occurred on the ice, and should warrant suspension because of that; not because of supposed malicious intent. A player got injured on an illegal play and Chara should be held responsible. The NHL needs to implement a rule that carries a specific penalty for a reckless play that puts a player in this sort of danger, without the caveat of whatever it is Mike Murphy decides is going on in the player's head at that given moment.

The room for interpretation regarding "intent" is the very reason Rule 48 is such a contested mess. It needs to be fixed going forward, and here's an opportunity for the NHL to show that even if it doesn't know how, it understands why.