Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The End of the Line for Captain Canada

A collective kick in the groin.

I would imagine that's what everybody in Edmonton and Oiler fans everywhere feel like they got yesterday. Or maybe it was a knife in the back. I can't imagine anyone who cares about the Oilers feels like they got anything out of the Ryan Smyth trade, despite getting two prospects, a first round draft pick and a fair bit of salary cap room out of the deal. No, I would imagine that this one feels like a total loss. And you know what, it probably is.

In this new cap-era NHL nobody seems to think that you can pay a player based on what he means in a dressing room or to a city. Well ask the Oilers and the city of Edmonton what they think about that. Despite the fact that I don't think Ryan Smyth is a 5 million dollar a year player, I don't have any doubts that he was worth 5 million a year to Edmonton, not just to the team but to the people of that city. In a sport played for the fans and kept alive through fan support, especially in a small market like Edmonton, how can you not overpay by $500,000 or even a million dollars to keep a fan favorite like Ryan Smyth happy, and as a result keep your all-too-precious fan base happy?

There is no doubt in my mind that Oilers fans will never forgive Oilers GM Kevin Lowe for this. I think it is widely accepted that the team had both the money and the cap space to pay Smyth what he wanted. The fact of the matter seems to be that the two sides just placed a different value on what they thought Ryan Smyth brought to the table. In the end Lowe wouldn't budge and made a trade that even he admitted does not make the Oilers a better team right now. And even if this trade does work in Edmonton's favour down the road and these two prospects work out, I still don't think Oilers fans will forgive Kevin Lowe. Even if Ryan O'Marra captains the Edmonton Oilers to a Stanley Cup in five years, Kevin Lowe will still be the GM who traded Ryan Smith.

The timing of this trade could absolutely not have been any worse either. On the day the Oilers were honouring their last "Face of the Franchise" and favorite hometown son, Mark Messier, they had to trade their current "Face of the Franchise". And because of the trade and the overwhelmingly negative response, Kevin Lowe could not even go out onto the ice to honour his former teammate, alongside Messier's other former teammates, including Wayne Gretzky, Grant Fuhr and Paul Coffey. It would have been nice if he had shown the courage to go out on the ice and stand behind his decision, but this undoubtedly would have taken away from what was supposed to be Mark Messier's night. So maybe that was for the best.

As for the game last night, Edmonton never had a chance. The combination of losing their heart and soul, coming home from a long road trip, and having to wait on the ice for a hour because of the Messier ceremony, meant the deck was stacked against them from the very start. They looked and played like a team that had the life sucked out of it, and in a way that is what happened. The next 20 games or so will show whether the team can bounce back somewhat and salvage some of their season.

But I can't see that happening.

The Oilers were probably not going to make the playoffs this year with Ryan Smyth and they're certainly not going to make them without him.

On a slightly unrelated note: How good did Edmonton look in the Old School jerseys last night? For someone who grew up watching the Oilers, those jerseys brought back a lot of memories. How is it even remotely possible for those throwbacks not be Edmonton's third jersey, or even their regular jersey for that matter? If they had instituted the throwback as their third jersey and gotten rid of that abomination they have now, I guarantee you they would have had enough money to sign Ryan Smyth from jersey sales alone. Edmonton has seriously dropped the ball here. They should have taken their cue from the Buffalo Sabres and gone retro. I mean how good do those throwback Sabre jerseys look. Classic.

As an Oiler fan I was talking to this morning pointed out, maybe the saddest thing about the Ryan Smyth situation is that the Oiler fans never got a chance to say goodbye to the player they loved so much. Before the Oilers recently left on their longest road trip of the season I don't think there was any belief that a deal with Ryan Smyth wouldn't get done.

But there was no deal and now he's gone, having not had the chance for a final farewell.

Of course people are saying, Kevin Lowe included, that there's a chance Ryan Smyth could sign back with Edmonton as a free agent in the summer. If I were an Oiler fan I wouldn't get my hopes up. With everything that's happened in the last couple days I'd be very surprised to see Ryan Smyth in an Oiler jersey again.

Sometimes you just can't go home again.

Monday, February 5, 2007

The NHL - Doesn't It Just Give You a Headache?

The NHL is fast running out of time.

I think that much is becoming pretty clear.

This is a league that only about 10 or 12 years ao was one of the most popular sports in North America, perhaps second only to the NFL. And yes, this included the United States as well, where as we all now know, relevance is absolutely essential for the success of a league with 24 of its 30 teams south of the 49th parallel.

Now in the U.S the NHL is broadcast on a network called Versus that I don't think many Americans get, let alone have heard of. And let's be honest, most that do get Versus aren't tuning in to it to watch hockey. But I'm not writing this to lament the NHL's lack of a real television contract or its total inability to sustain a fanbase in the U.S. I'm writing to address what is quickly becoming a huge problem in the NHL, the problem of head injuries and concussions.

Over the past few years the NHL has shown either their total lack of interest in dealing with the problem, their total inability to deal with the problem, or their total refusal to acknowledge this as a problem. It is definately one of these things, and probably all three. But the fact of the matter is that more and more players are having to deal with head injuries each week it seems. As of this writing, according to NHL injury reports there are at least fifteen or so NHL regulars out with concussions (and the number is probably much higher than this). And while these injuries may get classified as 'Upper Body' injuries, they are much different from a shoulder separation or a broken hand. Head injuries and concussions can easily be career ending and forever affect a person's quality of life (just ask Keith Primeau, Pat Lafontaine and Brett Lindros). But despite their seriousness, no steps have been taken by the NHL to protect its players.

But now you're saying to yourself, "what could the NHL possibly do to stop this, they can't make a hit to the head with a shoulder illegal. You can't have different types of bodychecks being legal and illegal." WELL WHY NOT?!?! As it stands now, hitting from behind, hits involving the stick, hits with the elbow, and hits where a player 'runs' at another are all deemed to be illegal and result in a minor penalty at the very least. How can hits to the head not be added to this list? Does the NHL think that a hit to the head with an elbow versus a hit to the head with a shoulder are really that different? It is absurd that one is legal while one is not. From what I've seen many, many concussions are the results of legal hits.

As a comparison, the NFL, much to its credit and benefit, has outlawed hits to the head of its quarterbacks, as well as banning a player leading or hitting with his helmet. Does this just make too much sense for the NHL? As well, the NFL has outlawed the hitting of a defenseless wide reciever, when he is in a position where he can't defend himself. This is another rule that the NHL absolutely has to adopt. How is hitting a player, especially with a blow to the head, when he is not in a position to defend himself considered a legal play? People will say that putting these types of rule changes in the NHL will just take the hitting out of hockey and make it no longer fun to watch. Well, A) Can anyone argue that these types of rule changes have taken the hitting or physicality out of the NFL? I thought not. And, B) Does anyone get any enjoyment out of watching a player laying motionless on the ice and taken off on a stretcher because he had his head down for a split second? We always hear commentators and the players themselves say of plays where players are injured, "You never want to see a guy get hurt out there." Well then how come nobody is talking about how we can cut down the number of times we have to hear that expression in a season?

There is another aspect of this argument that cannot be overlooked. The NHL as a league does not shoulder all the responsibility on this issue. The players themselves must also take some responsibility. It seems as though players have less respect for one another than ever before. Whether it's Chris Neil taking a run at Chris Drury's head, after Drury had already passed the puck and was looking in the other direction or Niklas Kronwal leaving his feet to plant his shoulder under the chin of an unsuspecting Joffrey Lupul (both excellent examples that have happened in the last week - with both players on the receiving ends of the hits ending up with concussions). These types of hits are totally unnessecary and add absolutely nothing to the game of hockey.

In order to get any credibility as a relevant sports league back, this is one of the problems (and yes, there are many others) that the NHL must deal with. Right now in the United States, the NHL is at best a niche-sport and at worst a blood-sport, that people tune into to get the same things they would get out of a UFC event or NASCAR. It has been very sad to see the NHL reduced to such a level and perhaps even sadder to see the league have no idea or no desire to change for the better. The time has come for the NHL to take a look in the mirror and see what it has become. The players now are simply too big, too strong and have too much equipment for nothing to be done about this. One step in the right direction, back towards credibility, would be for the league to have a little accountibility and start taking an active interest in protecting its players.

Thursday, February 1, 2007


"All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing."
- Edmund Burke

The idea behind this quote was the impetus for this blog. In recent years it seems that professional sport has moved further and further away from the fans and become a totally corporate enterprise. Even though professional sport is supposed to be about providing entertainment for a fan base, it often seems like we do not have a voice when we see things going wrong with our beloved sports leagues, whichever they may be. This blog was created to give sports fans a voice. And while this change in sport is of course not 'evil', what follows will be sports fans having the chance to do something and say something about a situation that at times seems all too futile.