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.

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Reading Between the Lines

When listening to the tone in Markus Naslund’s voice today when he was talking about the style of play of the Detroit Red Wings, he seemed happier to watch the Wings than playing for the Canucks.

He spoke of how he admires watching the Red Wings play a style of play that Naslund loves to play.  He also said Detroit has the world class players to play that puck possession style that is much a good offence as it is a good defence.

But here’s the problem with Naslund.  His goal totals were dwindling before the last two seasons.  He went from 48 goals in 2003 to 35 goals in 2004 to 32 goals in 2006 before falling even further down in goals with 24 in 2007 and 25 in 2008.

He can’t blame or even hint that Canucks coach Alain Vigneault and his defensive style of play is the reason for Naslund’s lack of goals in the past two years and, quite frankly, a lack of passion that is so blatently obvious when you watch him play or watch him in the media scrums after games and practice.

He can’t blame Vigneault because Naslund makes $6 million a year and if Naslund had the skill everyone still believes he has, he would be able to adapt.  Everyone in the league had to adapt when the NHL came out of the lockout.

Being a good player is being able to adapt to situations, whether it’s after a large hit, adapting a pass behind you in full flight, adapting to a different coaching style.

Naslund is soft.  Let’s face it.  He’s a poor choice for captain and if he does indeed come back, the first thing he should do is pass of the ‘C’ to Willie Mitchell, someone that will battle tooth and nail in the trenches, a place where playoff hockey is won and lost.

Naslund can’t do that.  If he wants to come back, he better learn to adapt, better figure out how to rekindle that passion and he better realize he got paid a crap load of money and he should put up or shut up.  Best situation possible is that common sense kicks in for Canucks GM Mike Gillis and he doesn’t decide to bring Naslund back, even for a pay cut.

Inject new life.  Naslund is not a winner, and even when he had Todd Bertuzzi and the West Coast Express, he couldn’t win.  It’s time to bring in a winner.  It’s not a matter of him being a European.  Take Detroit for example.  But Naslund isn’t the calibre of player that Henrik Zetterberg or Pavel Datsyuk are, in fact it’s not even close.

Seeing as how the Canucks organization feels it’s time for a change, then they should take that theory and not even offer Naslund a contract.  His time in this city is done.  Bringing him back will only prove that no one in this city has any kind of hockey sense.

 

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.

Keepin’ It Simple

Today, I’ve had a lot of time to listen to the radio shows and read the papers in preparation for tonight’s Canucks game against the Oilers.

The Canucks need to win their next two games combined with a Nashville loss to either to St. Louis tonight or Chicago on Saturday night to get into the playoffs.

There’s been talk of ‘this isn’t exactly a must-win game’ and there have been enough scenarios on who will get in depending on this and that to make one’s head explode.

So, I’ll keep this simple.

Just win.

If the Canucks want to make it into the playoffs, there’s a very simple solution.  All they have to do is score more goals then the Oilers tonight and then score more goals against the Calgary Flames on Saturday.

Too complicated for people?

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?

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.