Monday, December 19, 2011

Juste gagne, bebe


Saturday's coaching change didn't have an immediate impact for the Canadiens, nor will it matter much in the long-term without an accompanying change in philosophy. Whether it's Randy Cunneyworth or someone of more politically correct linguistic lineage, the Canadiens need someone who can find a way to make the most of each player's skill set within a team context - an approach that'll require the kind of imagination and risk-taking that were completely foreign to Jacques Martin's way of thinking...Francophone media members who actually believe that speaking French should be a prerequisite for coaching the Canadiens should be covering politics, not hockey. It must be tiring to still be fighting the Battle of the Plains of Abraham 252 years after the last shot was fired...Now that they've lost a football game, the Green Bay Packers can focus on defending their Super Bowl championship without the added distraction of pursuing perfection. The real downside is that they've lost their aura of invincibility...Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow wasn't terrible in Denver's first loss in the last seven games, but he got a lesson in poise and maturity from New England's Tom Brady, whose championship pedigree still makes him the standard by which all other NFL quarterbacks are measured, Aaron Rodgers included...House arrest for a month isn't much of a punishment for disgraced baseball home run king Barry Bonds, especially considering he'll do the time at his palatial estate in Beverly Hills. If the judge in his obstruction of justice case really wanted to punish Bonds, she should have sentenced him to 30 days at a crazy cat lady's house.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Hysteria is not a substitute for debate


Montreal Gazette hockey writer Pat Hickey's article calling Theoren Fleury a sexual abuse enabler and a hypocrite has been met with the kind of predictable, over-the-top outrage that's come to characterize public debate in Canada.
Without question, Hickey's piece is hugely provocative, but it's an opinion piece, and not only is Hickey entitled to his opinion, he's paid to express it. His article on Fleury is well-written and his argument well-presented, whether you agree with it or not. At least one senior editor had to approve the article, and on a topic as sensitive as child sex abuse, it might have gone all the way to the publisher before Hickey got the green light.
In an industry where newsrooms are increasingly run by spineless yes men who don't hesitate to throw their own people under the bus to protect the sacred brand and please their corporate masters, it's a credit to the Gazette's commitment to editorial autonomy that Hickey was allowed to express a controversial but relevant opinion. The next test for the Gazette is whether it stands by Hickey in the ensuing firestorm, which is already well ablaze, with Fleury himself leading the charge for Hickey's dismissal from the newspaper.
Hickey deserves his employer's support, if only for the sake of journalistic independance and freedom of expression. Otherwise, we've reached a place of zero-tolerance for dissenting opinion, and that's not good for anyone - not even the misguided posers in the vanguard of the thought police.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Habs fans root for failure with told-you-so mentality


Even by the cynical standards of hard-done-by 21st century Montreal Canadiens fans, the reaction to Friday's acquisition of Tomas Kaberle was extraordinarily contemptuous. They complain about the team not shaking things up, and then when the general manager makes a significant trade, they immediately trash it without waiting for events to unfold. Kaberle was a difference-maker in his Canadiens' debut Saturday in New Jersey and still couldn't get his due from a fan base whose bitterness is exceeded only by their sense of entitlement. News flash: the 1970's are over. Stanley Cup parades are no longer a rite of spring - in ANY city. Twenty-nine teams DON'T win the Cup every year. Kaberle's salary cap hit isn't the issue right now. The immediate priority is getting into the playoffs, and the Canadiens have a better shot of making it with Kaberle than they did without him...World figure skating champion Patrick Chan's lament about not being appreciated at home in Canada has some merit, but musing about returning to his ethic roots and representing China is not the way to endear himself to his fellow Canadians...If Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun already knew he had tested positive for steroids when he won the National League MVP Award last month, he did a good job of hiding it. Braun's poise, humility and gratitude betrayed no sign of knowledge that his reputation would shortly be tainted by allegations that are now under appeal, and that his spokesmen insist will be proven false because of extenuating circumstances...Due process will dispense this week with Barry Bonds, who faces sentencing on a conviction of obstruction of justice for refusing to answer questions in front of a grand jury investigating steroid use by professional athletes. Whether or not he goes to prison, one place Bonds won't be going to is the Baseball Hall of Fame - at least not without a ticket.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Loyalty, schmoyalty


Albert Pujols had an opportunity to do something exceedingly rare and noble in professional sports, but like the old grey mare, the road less-travelled ain't what it used to be.
Pujols turned down a reported 200 million dollar offer to effectively remain a St. Louis Cardinal for life, which would have allowed the three-time National League MVP to carve a Cal Ripken-esque legacy as one of only a handful of modern day athletic superstars to spend their entire career with the same team.
Pujols certainly can't be faulted for accepting a reported 10 year, 254 million dollar deal with the Los Angeles Angels, and the decision was probably less about the extra 54 million than it was about career and lifestyle considerations. He'll be 32 on Opening Day and will benefit greatly from the American League's designated hitter rule, which gives players of a certain age an opportunity to take a routine break from the wear and tear of playing in the field and still get their every day at bats. On a personal level, as much as St. Louis is a terrific baseball town that had a decade-long love affair with Pujols, there's probably not a Latin American player out there who wouldn't be more in their element living in Southern California versus a Midwest lifestyle.
Baseball players used to spend their entire career with the same team because they had to. Ted Williams, Ernie Banks, Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial and most of the rest of the one-team Hall of Famers were virtual slaves to the reserve clause, which tied them to the same team for life, unless that team decided to trade or sell them. Since the reserve clause was struck down in the mid-1970s, the pendulum has swung completely the other way, and players are de facto hired guns who move from one team to the next with little - if any - consideration for the teams and cities they left behind.
It would have been nice to be able to write a commentary about the eternal bond between Pujols, the Cardinals and St. Louis fans, but honour, loyalty and commitment can't be bought - not even for 200 million dollars.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Unfinished business for Als' Calvillo


I'm not sure why I was surprised when Anthony Calvillo announced he'd be back for another season as quarterback of the Alouettes in 2012, because it makes sense on virtually every level. I guess I was thinking about Calvillo's age - 39 - coupled with both his wife's and his own cancer scares, and how that combination of factors could make focusing on his young family more important than pursuing a football career that's already produced irrefutable Hall of Fame credentials, including three Grey Cup championships and three CFL MVP awards.
But there are other, overriding factors that make coming back the logical choice for Calvillo. One is that despite his age and health setbacks, he's still the standard by which all other CFL quarterbacks are judged. Calvillo led the league in completions, passing yards and touchdown passes in 2011, and had an almost unheard of touchdown to interceptions ratio of 4-1. He was the only reason the Als took Hamilton to overtime in the Eastern Conference semifinal.
Beyond his still-formidable skill set and leadership qualities, Calvillo is not one to rest on his laurels, and he hates to lose. Behind the modest and soft-spoken facade is a fierce competitor whose unfailing public grace regardless of circumstance belies a deep abhorrence for defeat. He measures everything in the moment, and by that measure, a first round playoff exit in his most recent game means Anthony Calvillo's work is not done.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The perfect Pack (and other Monday morning musings)


Yesterday's Green Bay-New York NFL game would have made a great Super Bowl, and it might have been the Giants' Super Bowl, because at 6-6 and mired in a four game losing streak, they're becoming increasingly marginal as playoff contenders. The Packers, meanwhile, are still on track for a perfect season, and with Oakland, Kansas City, Chicago and Detroit remaining on Green Bay's schedule, 16-0 isn't just possible - it's probable. There are some other great teams out there - San Francisco, New Orleans and New England among them - but the Packers are a cut above, thanks mainly to Aaron Rodgers, who's on the verge of carving as rich a legacy in four seasons as Brett Favre forged in 16 years in Green Bay. When character and leadership are taken into account, history might judge Favre as the Packers' third greatest QB, behind Rodgers and Bart Starr...Andrei Markov's surgeon, Dr. James Andrews, has long been considered the go-to guy for athletes with major knee injuries, but in light of Markov's repeated setbacks in his recovery, I'm starting to wondering if Andrews farmed out the Markov surgery to Dr. Doolittle, Dr. John or Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show...It didn't transpire, but had the Canadiens and Kings gone to a shootout Saturday in Los Angeles, my prediction for Jacques Martin's picks were Gill, Budaj and Cole - Bob, not Erik...Jeffrey Loria and David Samson have no shame. A decade after helping to orchestrate the demise of major league baseball in Montreal, the Miami Marlins owners are using revenue-sharing money from other teams to spend like drunken sailors on the free agent market. One can only trust that karma will eventually catch up with reprobates of their ilk, whether in this life or the next...I don't know enough about soccer to say with authority which four countries represent the Group of Death in the draw for Euro 2012, but Italy and Greece in the same foursome would have been a no-brainer for the Group of Debt.