Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Alf Iafrate and other alternative hockey content

Photoshop by Josie Gold

Just because there are no actual NHL games doesn't mean we have to be starved for pro hockey-related entertainment this winter. In the event of a prolonged lockout and as a public service, I'd like to take this opportunity to pitch the following show ideas to any and all interested television networks.

- Real Housewives of Magnitogorsk: While their KHL husbands cruise the broad boulevards and gallivant in the 5 star hotels of Moscow and St. Petersburg, Olga Malkin and Ludmila Gonchar work the night shift at the iron ore smelting plant and line up for stale bread and horsemeat in the soot-encrusted shadow of the Urals.
- I Love Lucic: a locked out Boston Bruin has some 'splainin' to do after his fiance catches him in the hot tub with Zdeno Chara.
- Alf Iafrate: a bald alien with a terrific slapshot moves in with a suburban Washington family and cobbles together a couple of decent seasons for the Capitals.
- Lap Dancing with the Dallas Stars: chronicles the gentlemen's club adventures of noted ballet enthusiast Mike Ribeiro.
- The Verdun Dragons' Den: retired members of the now-defunct North American Hockey League franchise collect drug debts for biker gangs. Link Gaetz stars.
- The Biggest Loser: retired Toronto Maple Leafs argue their respective cases for having all traces of their lamentable careers expunged from the NHL record books. Co-hosted by Rocky Saginuk and Bates Battaglia.

Considering the current dearth of hockey content and what passes for award-winning prime time television these days, I have no doubt that these shows would be ratings winners.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Home is where the hut is

As a rule, I don't much care what individual hockey players have to say about the NHL lockout, because they're even less articulate about labor relations than they are about hockey, where they at least have the benefit of experience and a time-honored collection of shopworn cliches to fall back on. It only gets interesting when a Krys Barch goes on a liquor-fuelled Twitter tirade or a Sergei Kostitsyn weighs in with something so absurd that it demands commentary.
In a report from a Russian sports publication reprinted in the Globe and Mail, Kostitsyn says he hopes the NHL season is cancelled so he can continue to play for Avangard Omsk of the Kontinental Hockey League. Our man Sergei says he's had trouble adjusting to the North American lifestyle. What is it about North America that's an uncomfortable fit for you, Sergei? Is it that pesky First World prosperity, the limitless social opportunities for someone in your position of wealth and privilege, or the dearth of cousin Vasily's homemade potato vodka? Ever the discerning traveller, Kostitsyn is no fan of Columbus, Ohio, which he calls the "gloomiest" city in the NHL - as opposed to Omsk, with its backyard view of the endless Siberian steppe.
For the comforts of home - such as they are on the border with Kazakhstan - Kostitsyn is willing to give up a three million dollar NHL salary and a first class lifestyle in some of the world's most beautiful and modern cities. You might want to be careful what you wish for, Sergei, lest you get traded to Magnitogorsk, which makes Columbus look like Cape Town and Omsk look like Oahu.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Junk punches, googly eyes and other Monday morning musings

The NHL's fundamental strategy in the current collective bargaining process is tantamount to a money grab, which doesn't make the league a whole lot different from other corporations in a changing economy. The difference is that salary cuts imposed on lucratively-compensated professional hockey players for no other reason than to enrich their employer are significantly less likely to cause the kind of living standard changes experienced by middle class workers who get take it or leave it offers for jobs with workloads two or more times the relatively recent norm. None of that makes the NHL's money-grubbing any less shameless, but the wealth and privilege that NHL players would continue to enjoy - even if they settled on the owners terms - put them at a complete disconnect with fans who know real hardship at their employers' whim...Twitter and Facebook have only been around for a few years, and there's already a well-documented litany of social media blunders by pro athletes, but Alouettes linebacker Shea Emry is using the medium try to set things straight. Within 24 hours of getting kicked out of Saturday's game for punching Saskatchewan's Brendon Labatte in the groin, Emry was on Twitter apologizing to both teams, the league, the commissioner and the fans. Given the nature of the offence, it might not be enough to avert a suspension, but Emry's quick mea culpa and seemingly genuine contrition are a blueprint for social media damage control...A win is a win, but I feel better as a Giants fan almost losing to RG3 and the Redskins than I would as a Patriots fan needing overtime to put away Mark Sanchez and the Jets...The best part of Friday's NBA game at the Bell Center was the Toronto Raptors inflatable mascot. It's not that the basketball was boring - the mascot was that entertaining. Nice to see someone put more into it than a matted fur suit and a googly-eye.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

You can't spell slimy without sly (sort of)

Gary Bettman isn't anyone's idea of a dance partner, but the NHL Commissioner choreographed a beautiful labor relations two-step to break the impasse in the hockey lockout.
Since the league tabled their original summertime offer calling for a reversal of the existing 57-43 revenue split in the players' favor, the public opinion pendulum has slowly swung in the owners' direction. After an initial surge of sympathy for the players, whose most aggressive position was maintaining the status quo, the owners have made serious hay from the oft-discussed notion that 50-50 would be the ultimate meeting point and represents a fair deal for both sides, if only because it follows the formula that ended the NFL and NBA lockouts. Bettman let the 50-50 model marinate in the media for three months, to the point where it became conventional wisdom, and now that he's put it on the table, the union is under enormous pressure to take the deal. Never mind that it still represents hundreds of millions of dollars in additional revenue for owners at the expense of the players. The public perception is that it's an entirely reasonable compromise.
You wonder why Gary Bettman gets paid 8 million dollars a year? Given his talent for labor relations manipulation and what it's meant for the owners' bottom line, Bettman's a steal at 8 million.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Video review, pink overkill and other Monday morning musings

A worst case scenario for the New York Yankees is the best case scenario for proponents of video replay review in baseball. We're not talking about two blown calls against the Kansas City Royals in back-to-back games in late May. The umpiring gaffes at Yankee Stadium Saturday and yesterday were at the expense of baseball's most storied franchise in crucial situations during the American League Championship Series. After being publicly embarrassed on that grand a stage, if Major League Baseball doesn't decide to get into the 90s and more fully incorporate technology to settle disputed calls in time for the 2013 season, it'll NEVER happen...The faithful say that the Lord works in mysterious ways, and that apparently goes for the baseball gods as well. The loss of Derek Jeter, the undisputed heart and soul of the Yankees, creates an unprecedented opportunity for Alex Rodriguez to rewrite his tarnished legacy at a late stage in his career. Jeter's season-ending ankle injury leaves a leadership void that Rodriguez is more qualified than any of his teammates to fill, whether vocally or by example. Stepping into that breech and leading the Yankees to the World Series in Jeter's absence would go a long way towards rehabilitating A-Rod's image as a self-serving choke artist. So far, no good...By the way, when does Raul Ibanez become part of the "greatest Yankee of all time" discussion?...Still can't quite wrap my head around the Washington Nationals' epic collapse in Game 5 of the NLDS with St. Louis, although I took no satisfaction in it as karmic payback for the demise of the Expos. There's nothing credible or constructive in that kind of mentality - unless it's directed at the Miami Marlins, whose majority owner and team president are genuinely deserving of ill wishes for their part in the demise of the Expos...The Alouettes won't get any style points for yesterday's win in Toronto, but they're sitting pretty atop the CFL East with a four point lead over the second place Argos and just three games to go. It's been a long season fraught with injuries and inconsistent performances, but the Als are still only one win away from being one win away from the Grey Cup game...I'm all for finding a cure, but the breast cancer awareness campaign in pro football on both sides of the border has become invasive, to the point where it smacks of corporate marketing and public relations more than it reflects a sincere grass roots movement to save lives. Maybe some of the money used to pay for all that pink equipment, apparel and other window dressing would be better spent on actual cancer research...Speaking of charity, awfully decent of Don Cherry to donate his hand-me-downs to Greg Zahn.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Moneyball, schmoneyball

With the playoff demise of the 2012 Oakland Athletics, the much-celebrated concept of Moneyball remains more of a romantic Hollywood notion than it is a blueprint for a World Series championship.
Nobody's gotten more out of less in the last 15 seasons than Oakland general manager Billy Beane, who's parlayed an eye for talent and a knack for advanced statistical research and analysis into half a dozen playoff berths by low budget teams with little in the way of star power. Beane's new age approach to team-building was the subject of a best-selling book and a movie that earned six Academy Award nominations, including best picture and best actor for Brad Pitt, but in the final analysis - statistical or otherwise - Moneyball was a bigger success at the box office than it has been on the baseball diamond. None of Beane's teams has ever advanced past the first post-season round, for reasons that were amply demonstrated yesterday, when playoff heroes included Justin Verlander, Jayson Werth and Buster Posey - three players whose salaries combined are just a few million dollars shy of Oakland's entire payroll, and will eclipse it as soon as Posey is rewarded for his MVP calibre season for the Giants. No matter how smart you are with your money, it's almost always the big dogs earning the big bucks who get you over the hump.
Beane has left a lasting legacy on the game and I don't discount his philosophy as a means of getting the most bang for your buck, but you ultimately get what you pay for, which is why the producers of Moneyball hired Brad Pitt and not Pauly Shore.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Axe me no questions, I'll tell you no lies (and other Monday morning musings on a Tuesday)

The Alouettes looked like anything but a Marc Trestman-coached team yesterday at Molson Stadium. Between the turnovers on offence and the blown coverage assignments on pass defence, the breakdown in fundamentals in a loss to the league-worst Winnipeg Blue Bombers gave the Als a lot to worry about and work on just a month and change ahead of the playoffs...Lest anyone labor under the delusion that the New York Jets covered themselves in glory by keeping it close against unbeaten Texas last night, the last time I checked, close still only counted in horseshoes and hand grenades, and 14 for 31 with one touchdown and two interceptions were not even respectable quarterbacking numbers, let alone elite. The case for starting Tim Tebow over Mark Sanchez gets stronger every week...Kansas City tackle Eric Winston's rip job on Chiefs fans should be required reading for the thousands of dunderheads who cheered Sunday when quarterback Matt Cassel left the game with a concussion. The price of a ticket does not include the right to celebrate serious personal injury, unless you're completely morally bankrupt, in which case you'd be better off in a mental institution...Never mind that visiting teams have won as often as not in the baseball playoffs. The 2-3 division series format is a joke by any measure. Not only does it force the team with the better record to open on the road, the format robs that team of millions of dollars in revenue in the event of a sweep by either team - hardly a reward for a superior regular season record...Before you join the Atlanta Braves pity party, ruminate on this: the blown infield fly rule call in the National League wild card game didn't cost the Braves the game. It cost them a chance to rally from a three run deficit of their own making through three errors leading to four unearned St. Louis runs. That doesn't excuse the call, but it gives it perspective that was sorely lacking in the game's immediate aftermath...Nice to see Ryan Smyth playing right field for the Oakland A's during the hockey lockout...I'm going to start saying "exspecially", "exscape" and "all's I know" in hopes of landing a job on an NFL Sunday panel show. I just hope nobody axes me to spel.