Tragic Loss

Today should have been a where the attention of the hockey was on Game 4 of the Stanley Cup playoffs to be played on Saturday night.

Instead, it the hockey world turned its attention to a horrific tragedy, as Canucks defenceman Luc Bourdon was killed outside his home town in New Brunswick in a motorcycle crash.

Today, when our focus was supposed to be on a series just heating up in a business and that has started to gain interest again down in the U.S., we were reminded that hockey is, after all, just a game.

Hearing the news that Luc had passed away was a shock.  My dad phoned me while I was out of my office, leaving me a voicemail that told me the tragic news.  I didn’t believe him at first, but within five minutes of listening to that message, text messages and phone calls began to pour in and, in all honesty, I had to read about it four or five times on four or five different websites because I was in total disbelief.

From all accounts, Luc was a great kid.  Shy, perhaps even lost in a world that barely sleeps and moves so fast just like the game to which this lifestyle belongs to.

Through all the criticism he faced because of a slow development -keep in mind, he was only 21- the former two-time Team Canada World Junior Hockey Champion pressed on.  He re-developed his game and was poised to make a run at a starting position with the Canucks when training camp starts up again in September.

I remember his first NHL goal.  That booming slapshot we had all heard so much about.  That enthusiasm and raw emotion he displayed that only players with a true passion for hockey show when they score, especially on a beauty like that.

I think that goal demonstrated the passion he had for hockey and for life.  Enthusiastic and passionate.

Today’s news shook up the hockey world.  It was a tragic and unnecessary shake up.  Why did a kid, who loved life from all we’ve heard today, and who had such great potential as hockey player and a young man growing up in a city and a country that embraced him have to go like this?

Luc is my age.  When you’re young, you have a feeling of invincibility, and not to say that Luc thought that way and because I never even met him and it would unfair to say he thought that way, but things like this you never think can happen.

This tragedy puts things into perspective that hockey is just a game.  We rag on players, sometimes drive them to go crazy, and yet when something like this happens, we are reminded that hockey players are human too.  They have moms, dads, sisters, brothers. 

It is with great sadness that we will never see Luc progress to his full potential as a hockey player, but more importantly, to a young man.

The thoughts of The Sports Corner are with Luc’s family during this time.

Forsberg a Bust

The Colorado Avalanche  were knocked out of the playoffs last night at the hands of Johan Franzen and the Detroit Red Wings and, surprise surprise, Peter Forsberg was no where in sight.

He was injured.  Again.  In a series against the most lethal offence in the league, Forsberg was in the press box with a back injury.  He was plagued with a groin injury and a back injury in the playoffs, and as a result, missed almost the entire series against Detroit.

Now, having him in the line up wouldn’t have made much of a difference.  The Wings were going to win.  They have a more potent attack, they control the puck in every area of the rink and their defence are by far the best team in the NHL when it comes to making that first pass out of the zone.  Their goaltending is better too.  And yes, Chris Osgood is better than Dominik Hasek.

What is most troublesome about this whole situation with Forsberg is that the Avs put all their eggs in one basket.  They signed a guy with a long history of injuries that keep him in and out of the line up every three or four days, something that disrupts the evenflow of a team.

What was Avs general manager Francois Giguere thinking when he signed Forsberg for $1 million to play the last third of the regular season and only seven of 10 playoff games.  Why sign a guy who is the furthest thing from durable for that kind of money? 

Was the fact that he spent almost 10 months in his home country of Sweden while nursing a foot injury not a sign that his time as an NHL player has passed by?

Simply put, Forsberg was a bust.  His acquisition was stupid in the first place.  It was ill-advised, and there are more players out there who could’ve come into the Avalanche for less money and no one would have to worry about their durability.  Forsberg, in 16 total games with the Avs this year, racked up 19 points.  That’s not bad, but no one remembers how many points you get when you’re in and out of the press box because your constantly injured and aren’t in the line up when it matters the most.

Canucks former general manager Dave Nonis was canned for his lack of signing Peter Forsberg just days before the trade deadline and his lack of trading Ryan Kesler, Mason Raymond, Alex Edler and a first, second and third round draft pick in this year’s draft.  He got fired for sticking to his guns and not relying on a plan that has as much chance to blow up in your face as it does to succeed.  Giguere should get canned today for his taking a risk on a player that can’t get into the elevator to go to the press box without tweaking a groin or hurting his back.

Bringing Forsberg back was the stupidest decision made this year by a general manager.  It was pointless.  It was a waste of money and a roster spot that could’ve been better spent. 

New Canucks general manager Mike Gillis.  Don’t sign Forsberg.

Farewell to the Fallen

Canucks Oilers

Part of us knew it already. But part of us didn’t want to admit it. Vancouver never had enough to make the playoffs, let alone win a round in it.

But who can blame fans for this false sense of hope?

I mean, if you thought the hot blonde babe with the mini-skirt at your school was a tease, well meet this year’s Vancouver Canucks. 

Thursday night, this low-hearted squad confirmed everyone’s deep speculations and lost a must-win game to the non-playoff bound Edmonton Oilers. All Vancouver had to do was to put together a two-game winning streak for the remaining couple games to continue playing hockey. Apparently, losing six games in the last seven was the preferred route to go.

Getting back to my original point, can you blame fans for having some hope in this somewhat-overachieved team?

Canucks diehards can make excuses all they want – injuries, schedule, blah blah – but there were more ups-and-downs in Vancouver’s play this season than a Paris Hilton sex tape, if you know what I mean. And there’s no better way to describe it then to look at the schedule starting from February 16.

It was the fight-filled good-ol’-days brouhaha matchup with the Oilers where the Canucks won 4-2, uniting the city and drawing praises from even the most passionate naysayers. Vancouver added mustard to that energy by putting together a four-game winning streak, and the reigning North West division champions were on top of the world.

But that was exactly what it was: a streak.

This high reached its climax, and Vancouver lost its next four contests (twice to Colorado, once to Columbus and Chicago). At that point, emergency rooms were overflowing from the number of injuries suffered from people falling off the bandwagon. Joining them was the Canucks’ defensive unit, seriously.

Linden

As quickly as the city reached the peak of their celebration, it dropped down to despair, desparation, and disgust. But much like that afore-mentioned hot blonde babe, the Canucks toyed with its admirer’s heart. Yes, Vancouver felt a gust of wind and jumped to a three-game winning streak, followed by, you guessed it, a back-to-back defeat.

Playoff lives were being questioned and it seemed that Vancouver answered the calls, winning another three in a row. But that was it for the uphill climb as the Canucks put the ‘reek’ in ‘streak’, and dropped it’s next four. All hope seemed lost, but wait, Vancouver wanted to give its fans a little boost by putting together a dominating performance against the Calgary Flames last Sunday.

“The dream is alive!” … for one day. It’s like losing $200 at Roulette before the ball finally lands on your number, unfortunately, you only put down $2 worth of chips, giving you a winning that’s all but a miniscule fraction of your orginial loss. You think luck is finally on your side, so you keep going, but the only outcome is defeat until finally you’re out of money.

And that wallet emptied last night, as Vancouver’s crawl to a playoff berth was cut short. There’s one more game left on Saturday but win or lose, the rollercoaster ride is already over. Fan’s hearts have been played with long enough and it’s finally time for a break in the relationship. 

It’s time to say farewell to the team for a while, and maybe a farewell forever to several members of this year’s squad. We can cry, we can bitch, we can call our friends and complain all we want, but every Vancouver fan knows one thing: We will be back next season to have our hearts played with once again.

We’re all suckers that way.

Canucks vs. Oilers: Round 7

The last time the Vancouver Canucks and Edmonton Oilers played each other was just one of those nights when apparently all of hell had broken loose in General Motors Place.

The two teams combined for over 190 penalty minutes and the last minute of the game took a lot longer to play than usual because of the one…no two…no three line brawls that broke out after Alex Burrows made it 4-2 Canucks with an empty-net goal to stop the Oilers.

 Don’t expect that type of game to happen on Thursday night when the Canucks and Oilers meet for the first time since that hockey game-slash-bar room brawl back on Feb. 16.

Now don’t get your knickers in a knot just because there won’t be three line brawls.  The only reason we won’t see a repeat performance of Feb. 16 is because, right now, there is just too much at stake for both teams as they head into the final nine games of the season.

The Oilers have won nine of their last 11 games, albeit most of them in a shootout, and have climbed back into the playoff picture quietly as most of the focus has fallen on teams such the Colorado Avalanche, Minnesota Wild, Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks.  Not only are the Oilers just hanging around and going about their business with much of the hockey world oblivious to their shenanigans, but they’re doing it with the likes of 18-year-old Sam Gagne, Andrew Cogliano, Tyler Brodziak and a supporting cast of players that doesn’t include Shawn Horcoff -who’s out for the season with a shoulder injury- or Ryan Smyth or Chris Pronger, both have moved onto different teams in the west.

Give the Oilers credit.  They’re a young team for the most part, but they give you an honest effort every game and they don’t back down. 

The Canucks still remain the biggest mystery in the NHL’s Western Conference because they can go from a group of tough, ornrie, focused hockey players with one common goal to a team that looks better suited for the exhibition season.  The last two games for the Canucks have been some of their best hockey.  In a 4-3 win in Dallas on Saturday and a 3-1 home victory over Phoenix last night, the Canucks have looked in sync, they have played tough hockey and haven’t backed down from their opponents.  Compare that to the two losses in Phoenix and Anaheim last week where the Canucks looked demoralized and scared of their opponents.

For the Canucks, they have nine games remaining against nine Northwest Division rivals, so they basically get a three week head start on playing playoff hockey.

To make the playoffs, the Canucks need wins.  Thank you Captain Obvious!  The Canucks also need courage.  These next nine games are going to be the toughest hockey of the season because there is very little room for error and the price will be paid physically and mentally.

For both teams, the next game and the eight that will follow are going to be what tells us what either team has.  The Canucks have had their leadership, their grit, their character questioned almost everyday since the All-Star break, so Thursday in Edmonton will be a good way to test their metal.

There won’t be 192 penalty minutes again because neither team can afford to goon it up.  Don’t kid yourself though.  Thursday will be a hard-hitting, nasty dog fight where the winner will be determined by how badly that team truly wants to win.

Saddle up, buckle your seatbelt, get strapped in, use whatever cliche you want for Thursday’s tilt, because it’s going to be a doozie.

Outdoor Game at Yankee Stadium?

Yankee Stadium.  It is one of the magical kingdom’s of baseball.  It is known as ‘The House that Ruth Built’  and can be lubed in with Fenway Park in Boston and Wrigley Field in Chicago as one of baseball’s most sacred stadiums.

That very same Yankee Stadium is now being discussed by the New York Rangers management and New York Yankees management as a venue for an outdoor NHL hockey game.

The big issue with this notion is that the time frame for this game between the New York Rangers and an opponent to be named later is sometime in 2009 and it would look to be the final sporting event in the historic stadium.

As NHL broadcasting legend Howie Meeker always used to say. “Stop it right there!”  The final sporting event in Yankee Stadium, where the likes of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Roger Maris -to name a select few- turned that stadium into a city icon as recognizable as the Statue of Liberty, might be a hockey game?

I love hockey, and I sincerely believe it to be the greatest sport ever invented, but I can appreciate and cherish the history of another great game in baseball.

Yankee Stadium is a baseball stadium.  It would be sacrilegious to have a hockey game in that stadium in the first place, it may very well prove as the apocalypse of the sporting world if a hockey game is the final sporting event in that cathedral.  It would show disrespect to the Yankee greats who played the game of baseball in that stadium and turned it into what it is today. 

Could you have imagined if the Toronto Blue Jays wanted to play an indoor baseball game against the New York Yankees in the old Maple Leaf Gardens?  The City of Toronto and all the Maple Leaf greats -and yes, even though the Leafs are a despised organization, they have had greats- would be up in arms in disgust at this notion. 

I am all for playing hockey outdoors.  The NHL was lucky in Edmonton and Buffalo that the climate allowed for somewhat favourable conditions, and no one can argue with the success of both outdoor games in the new century of hockey. 

Should there be more outdoor games in the NHL?  Absolutely.  Should the NHL, the New York Rangers or the Boston Bruins or the Chicago Blackhawks play a game in some of the legendary ball parks of our time that where helped built by the great legends of the game of baseball?  No.  Not a chance.

As mentioned before, it would be sacrilegious.  If you believe in the Gods of Baseball, who they might be is up to you, they would find a way to make a hockey game in Yankee Stadium a disaster.  If you thought the Curse of the Bambino was bad for all the Boston Red Sox faithful, could you imagine his wrath should hockey be played in the house that He built?

Dust Off After Deadline

Just days after the trade deadline, the dust is starting to settle. The hectic – yet sort of disappointing – Feb. 26 resulted in some big names being dealt, but more importantly, several rumoured players not moving.

Olli Jokinen, Michael Ryder, Bryan McCabe, were just a few stars among those staying with their original squads as several general managers could not pull the trigger. When all was said and done, there were winners and there were losers. The Sports Corner takes a look at these teams.

Deadline Winners:

Richards

The Western Conference – It’s a broad choice but this side of the NHL really stole some star talents from the East. San Jose made a major splash by picking up Brian Campbell from the Buffalo Sabres, while the Dallas Stars won the Brad Richards’ sweepstakes. Both of these playoff teams jacked up their squads for the playoffs. Also, the league’s best team, Detroit, made their back end scarier with the addition of Brad Stuart, just imagine what the blueline will look like after Lidstrom, Chelios, Rafalski and Kronwall come back from injuries. 

Whichever team comes out of the East will be up against a very challenging opponent in the Stanley Cup finals because every contender in the West right now looks poised to claim the top prize. Early to say, but this Conference will probably repeat as champions. 

Colorado Avalanche – The day before the deadline headlined the Avalanche’s biggest move by signing UFA Peter Forsberg, bringing him back to the team where he won two Stanley Cups. This acquisition bolsters a threatening offensive unit, which is already seeing the return of Sakic, Smyth and Statsny. Colorado also got a gift handed to them as Adam Foote demanded a trade from Columbus back to his old team. It pumps this team up for a strong playoff run, and making them a legit contender.

Colorado made the most noise in their division, as the North West failed to respond. The Avalanche are desperate to appear in the post-season after failing to gain a spot last year. The addition of Foote and Forsberg will surely make a big difference on the standings for this Western squad. 

Washington Capitals – The Capitals made a statement on Tuesday. They want to be in the playoffs. And considering their moves at the deadline, they backed up that claim. Washington started off the day with a stunning trade by picking up Cristobal Huet from the Montreal Canadiens for a second rounder. Then they went out and got more offensive help by trading for Sergei Federov from Columbus and Matt Cooke from Vancouver. Washington is ready to get this team back into the playoffs, and getting support for Alex Ovechkin is a great start.

The Caps are not far out from claiming the division title and with help coming to their team after Tuesday, the possibility is high. The East should watch out for Washington, a team capable of making some loud noise when the time comes. 

Deadline Losers:

Huet

Canada – Out of the six Canadian squads, there were six moves resulting in only two players coming to the hockey nation. Vancouver got Matt Pettinger from Washington, while Ottawa got Martin Lapointe from Chicago. The Leafs made the most deals, trading away three players for draft picks. The Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames stayed quiet, while the Montreal Canadiens were probably the biggest losers out of this country. They gave away Huet for something less then his value, and could not complete a deal for Richards or Hossa, two players they were heavily rumoured to acquire.

Montreal disappointed their fans, and is putting a lot of pressure on rookie Carey Price to lead them through the playoffs. They also failed to add any offensive punch, and the same can be said about Vancouver. The Canadian teams just couldn’t match the rest of the NHL with additions needed to take them one step further to the Holy Grail. 

Tampa Bay Lightning – Although they got rid of big salary players, they did not get back what could have been demanded. A player like Richards would have landed someone like, let’s say, Huet, who is considerably better then Smith. Prospal on the other hand, only got them a weak defensive prospect, and a second rounder. The Lightnings did not handle the proposal to the best that they can, and therefore, did not get the best possible return. A quick look at Atlanta, who got a steal for Hossa, and Tampa Bay could have learned some lessons from them.

Sure, they unloaded huge salary, but Tampa Bay was not efficient enough in trading off their big stars, and could have probably garnered better deals from other teams. 

Columbus Blue Jackets – Washington in the East made a statement that they will push for a playoff appearance. The Blue Jackets, on the other hand, basically gave up any hope. Even though they are in position to get an eighth place spot, they decided to once again prep for next year. After they failed to acquire Brad Richards, they decided to trade off a couple stars on their team in Federov and Foote, instead of trying to get more help for Rich Nash.

The chances of the Blue Jackets making it into the post-season dance is pretty slim to none, and even if they manage to squeak in, they won’t make it far. It’s another disappointing season for this city, as they are the only NHL team to have not seen any playoff action in their history.

Too bad that streak will continue. 

Forsberg Back in Colorado

Forsberg

For all that it’s worth, Peter Forsberg has come back to the NHL after spending three-quarters of the season in Sweden nursing an injured foot.

The lucky, or unlucky, team that Forsberg has sided with is the 10th place in the Western Conference Colorado Avalanche.

The following is nothing against Forsberg, because he was great, and nothing against the Avs because they have won a Stanley Cup in the past decade, while the Minnesota Wild, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks have not.

This move by Colorado may look good on paper, but in reality, this deal makes absolutely no sense.

Around this time last week, Forsberg and his agent both said that it was unlikely that the Swede would return to the NHL this season due to his injured foot that has caused him nothing but trouble while trying to rehabilitate it with the Swedish national team earlier this NHL season.  Now, all of the sudden, after seeming hell bent on not coming back this season, his foot is suddenly good enough to withstand competitive hockey for the next month-and-a-half and maybe the playoffs.

One issue that makes this deal look like nothing more than a team trying to grab the headlines away from Mats Sundin and the Toronto Maple Leafs is that Forsberg simply doesn’t have the juice anymore to compete in the NHL.  If it’s not his foot, it’s a shoulder or back or wrist or hand injury that keeps the former superstar on injury reserve and thus disrupting the chemistry or flow that the players in the line-up have by bringing him in and out of the line-up.

A week ago, Forsberg believed his foot just couldn’t hold up in the NHL.  Was that not a red flag with sirens sign from the Hockey Gods that this guy is untouchable by his own withdrawal?

Forsberg

By signing a guy like Forsberg, the Avs have put all their eggs into one basket.  Whether or not Forsberg stays healthy and plays well – which in itself is a question mark for a guy who has missed three-quarters of the season with a foot injury (for those that don’t know, you need healthy feet to actually hold you upright on the ice and help propel a person in any direction on the ice) – won’t hide the fact that Colorado doesn’t have the defence or the goaltending to make a serious run at the Stanley Cup.

The Avs have 172 goals-for this season, despite missing names like Joe Sakic, Ryan Smyth and Paul Stastny.  Not bad.  Okay, here is where the old cliche kicks in.  Defence wins championships.  Well, Colorado has allowed 174 goals-against this season.  Jose Theodore and Peter Budaj have, for the most part, platooned the goaltending duties in Colorado, and although their numbers combined are terrible, they’re not good enough to compete with the likes of Roberto Luongo and the Marty Turco in the west.

Instead of looking for a quick fix and short-term inspiration by signing Forsberg, perhaps Avalanche vice president and general manager Francois Giguere may have been better off by picking up a goalie or a defenseman to help this team keep pucks out of the net.  They don’t need scoring, they need a defender.

Forsberg isn’t either, not anymore.