Ryan Lambert

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    Trending Topics is a column that looks at the week in hockey, occasionally according to Twitter. If you're only going to comment to say how stupid Twitter is, why not just go have a good cry for the slow, sad death of your dear internet instead?

    Earlier this week there was considerable hullabaloo about the potential for a new arena being built in Markham, Ontario, with the idea behind such a project obviously being that it could be used to lure an NHL franchise.

    And, unlike whatever is being planned in Quebec City, it seems that most involved with the potential second rink in the Greater Toronto Area aren't setting their sights on prying some struggling franchise from a dying Southern market; but rather on the prospect of getting an expansion team in the next three or four years.

    Paul Kelly, who used to run the NHLPA, said as much, noting that the "most likely" places where those teams would be located were Toronto or thereabouts, and Quebec City.

    Much furor followed because of that whole Canadian masturbatory fantasy about luring Our Game back to its motherland. Make It Seven, Eight, Nine and all that. And indeed, expansion seems really very inevitable, despite the NHL's insistence that no such plan is in place (all the spin from the lockout showed just how much you can trust a word anyone at league office says about anything at any time -- that is, not at all).

    The NHL appears to be dead set on realignment so that there are 30 teams playing in four conferences, which obviously makes very little mathematical sense, so bumping the number of teams up to 32 is a pretty handy way to sort all that out in relatively short order. It also makes a lot of sense to have those teams be located in markets that are known to support hockey rather than travailing into, say, Seattle or Kansas City, where the ability to maintain a fanbase beyond any initial curiosity residents might have is a lot less certain.

    But two things in this plan appear to be pretty stupid, or at least shortsighted.

    Read More »from Expansion seems like a very bad idea, unless you’re the NHL (Trending Topics)
  • Getty ImagesHello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.

    A lot was made about the Washington Capitals' first four games of the season, and not just because they didn't win any of them. The defense was bad, allowing 17 goals. The offense was worse, scoring just eight.

    And in the middle of it all was Alex Ovechkin, who labored through those first four games with a carousel of linemates that included everyone from Nick Backstrom and Marcus Johansson to Joey Crabb and Jay Beagle. All he had to show for it at the end of that was one measly assist, a secondary helper for Matt Hendricks in a 4-2 loss to Winnipeg.

    "What," everyone wondered, "is wrong with Alex Ovechkin?"

    It's become pretty common knowledge at this point that no one's ever going to put him up for the Hart again in his career barring some sort of miraculous turnaround, and even his staunchest supporters have to wonder what, exactly, happened to the guy who averaged 55 goals a year over the first five season he spent in the NHL. Not that his 38 goals last season is anything to sniff at, particularly given how much Dale Hunter seemed to delight in not giving him much of a chance offensively, and his time on ice per game dropped below 20 minutes.

    It seemed the hope was that bringing in a new coach like Adam Oates, who was a power play specialist as a player and therefore knows a thing or two about juicing offense, would return Ovechkin to the form that allowed him to light up the league. But it wasn't until yesterday's game with hapless Buffalo that Ovechkin and Oates finally found that old magic for a second.

    On a power play early in the third period, Mike Green fed him right in his wheelhouse at the top of the circle, and the shot was vintage Ovechkin. Low, hard, perfectly placed, unstoppable. This was the Ovechkin we want to remember, and visions of him firing home perfect one-timers from the Stamkos Spot is something most hockey fans would welcome as it danced through their heads. There was a lot of that kind of comment on Twitter as soon as the puck rippled the back of the net.

    The sad fact, though, is that these flashes of olden days Alex Ovechkin seems to be just about all we'll ever get from the guy any more.

    Read More »from What We Learned: Despite flashes of old, Alex Ovechkin is now predictable and pedestrian
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    Trending Topics is a column that looks at the week in hockey, occasionally according to Twitter. If you're only going to comment to say how stupid Twitter is, why not just go have a good cry for the slow, sad death of your dear internet instead?

    A thing that seems to be happening a lot more these days, for reasons that I don't fully understand, is coaches across the NHL handing in their lineup cards with some terribly odd starters.

    Tanner Glass, for instance, shouldn't be on a line with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal, as he was against the Rangers last Sunday. Nor should that trio be lining up across from Brad Richards, Rick Nash, and Arron Asham.

    Meanwhile, Mike Babcock might think very little of the Blue Jackets these days, but rolling a line of Dan Cleary, Jordin Tootoo, and Justin Abdelkader in Columbus seems like it's beneath a coach we're repeatedly told is among the best and most honorable in the business. Small wonder Todd Richards decided to answer with Derrick Brassard, RJ Umberger, and Jared Boll.

    Finally, isn't it odd that Guy Boucher chose to start the Lightning's Monday afternoon game on Long Island by playing 1,000-game boy Vinny Lecavalier with BJ Crombeen and Pierre-Cedric Labrie? Jack Capuano, who's been known to put some real knuckledraggers in his lineup just for the fun of it, answered with Marty Reasoner between Casey Cizikas and Matt Martin.

    Not surprisingly, based on those starting lines, what all those games had in common was that fights broke out within between one and three seconds of the puck dropping.

    Another thing they had in common is that they were pathetic.

    Read More »from Stop hockey fights off the opening draw, you’re embarrassing me (Trending Topics)
  • Getty ImagesHello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.

    Jeremy Jacobs is widely known as being the guy who makes lockouts happen.

    He's been a rather prominent figure in both of these last two work stoppages and caught a lot of flak for his role in them, being portrayed at various times as a bully even with other owners, and a condescending jerk to the players with whom he is negotiating.

    It doesn't make a whole lot of sense, that he would act this way, given that by his own admission he owns a moneymaking franchise that won a Stanley Cup and has been able to keep drafting excellent players despite high finishes under the last CBA, and is in no economic danger whatsoever. But in business, maybe you do have to be as ruthless as possible to turn a profit.

    So it was really and truly bizarre to see the man himself get up there before the Bruins' opening-day 3-1 win against the New York Rangers and defend the lockout as having been wholly necessary, and despite using the word "apologize," basically say he'd do it all over again in the exact same way.

    There were some particularly choice quotes about the players', ahem, refusal to negotiate that were just maddening. Saying things like, "I know that prior to the opening and trying to save an 82-game season, the same offer was pretty much substantially made that was agreed upon last week," is a bizarre distortion of reality even for a man like Jacobs who must have to shower in cognitive dissonance every morning just to feel like he's a good owner.

    Frankly, it's just baffling that Jacobs would make the decision to trot himself out there and give this kind of out-of-touch presser. He is universally despised in the hockey world, and when even delivering a Stanley Cup to Boston doesn't make one a popular figure, maybe it's time to lay off the let-them-eat-cake speeches.

    The worst part, though, (and perhaps the least surprising as well) was that he used the opportunity to not actually apologize, but rather to grandstand about how, as chairman of the Board of Governors, it was his responsibility to see the lockout through, rather than keep his own self-interest at heart.

    Read More »from What We Learned: On Jeremy Jacobs’ baffling, frustrating NHL lockout grandstanding
  • Get ready to watch some truly ugly NHL hockey (Trending Topics)

    Getty ImagesTrending Topics is a column that looks at the week in hockey, occasionally according to Twitter. If you're only going to comment to say how stupid Twitter is, why not just go have a good cry for the slow, sad death of your dear internet instead?

    The NHL's marketing campaign to remind fans that hockey is back is, rather appropriately, "Hockey Is Back."

    And that's true in the most technical sense possible.

    Sticklers will say it never went away, and that's certainly true because I probably went to two or three dozen college games during the lockout. You could have also caught junior games, AHL games, ECHL games, World Juniors games, or even foreign league games. But for most NHL fans, "hockey" begins and ends with the NHL, and therefore, "Hockey Is Back."

    But the thing is, no amount of apologizing from the League over the last few weeks, or discounted concessions and merchandise to get fans back in the buildings, is going to make up for loss of these first three and a half months of the season, and no one likely felt it more than the vast majority of NHL players.

    Read More »from Get ready to watch some truly ugly NHL hockey (Trending Topics)
  • What We Learned: 20 Bold Predictions for the 2013 NHL season

    Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.

    Well, the season is starting about four-and-a-half months later than any of us would have liked, but at least it's starting. For most hockey fans, who have come to the NHL in waves since the Rangers won the Stanley Cup way back in 1994, this will be their first (and hopefully last ever) look at what an abbreviated schedule looks like.

    We're constantly being told these days that anything can happen in a 48-game season. It's such a small sample size and teams can get weirdly hot or cold irrespective of their actual quality. Detroit, for instance, would have won the Presidents' Trophy through 48 games last season, but in the end didn't even win its division. Plus, you have to consider the fact that these 48 games are being played in an absurdly compacted schedule that's sure to screw with results even more. Lots of teams will make a nasty habit of playing three games in four days throughout the year, and that opens up room for fatigue, injuries and more to skew results in the weirdest ways possible.

    Chaos for the league this year. Fun, exciting, hilarious chaos.

    You can still bank on a lot of things happening as they would have in an 82-game season, of course. Evgeni Malkin will still be great. The Jets will still stink. Scott Hartnell will still fall down all the time. But overall, guessing how things go this year will be a lot tougher.

    [Also: Winners & losers in NBC Sports' 2013 NHL TV schedule]

    So why wouldn't I want to trot out, for the fourth year in a row somehow, 20 Bold Predictions for the upcoming NHL season?

    Read More »from What We Learned: 20 Bold Predictions for the 2013 NHL season
  • What I don’t get about the Brian Burke firing (Trending Topics)

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    Trending Topics is a column that looks at the week in hockey, occasionally according to Twitter. If you're only going to comment to say how stupid Twitter is, why not just go have a good cry for the slow, sad death of your dear internet instead?

    Okay so you're the Maple Leafs board of directors or whatever, and you're brand new to the scene having just bought the team a few months ago.

    This can't have been the start they wanted, what with the lockout stretching on and on and costing you a lot of money and, potentially, whatever goodwill fans might have had for you. Plus there is the fact that your new team is an international punchline and a towering symbol of futility in the face of towering budgets that, despite all the losing, are still somehow dwarfed by your incomes.

    The question I've seen from a lot of people regardng the firing of Brian Burke as Toronto’s GM is, simply, "Why now?"

    The team's baffling presser came the same day the NHL's Board of Governors ratified its new CBA, and two or three depending on who you ask before the Player's Association does the same. Camps are scheduled to open Sunday. It sure doesn't seem like the most opportune time to give your GM his walking papers. Why wouldn't you give your new guy the time to get all his Ducks in a row. If you took over the team in August, for instance, why not can the old guy then-ish?

    I understand the sentiment, but at the same time, it's not like they then immediately brought in some guy who was new to the organization and couldn't pick Morgan Rielly out of a lineup. Dave Nonis has been with the team for some time, and could be viewed as the Good Cop to Burke's Bad Cop by the ravening Toronto media members (who have pretty much embarrassed themselves by dancing on Burke's grave, though some have come off as far more petty than others, especially with regard to getting into things that may or may not be going on in Burke's personal life that are certainly not in any way any of their business).

    Nonis was by all accounts Burke's close friend, coworker and confidant, meaning that he know the ins and outs of the organization better than pretty much every person on earth who wasn't just fired by the Maple Leafs. The sudden shuffling of deck chairs may have come as a big surprise to him, but it's not as though that surprise in any way robs him of the vast experience he has in dealing with this organization front to back.

    "Why now?" as in "why at this specific point in the run-up to the abbreviated season?" Not the best question. There's not qualitative difference between telling Burke to pack his stuff Wednesday than there was in August, September, October, November, or December.

    Though I will say it's odd that it took this long to arrive at the decision. Burke never looked long for the job under a new ownership team that wanted to make an impact and a statement that it was no longer business as usual for the Leafs. Business as usual being losing a whole bunch, obviously. But even if it took awhile to decide to can him, it's not the timing that's puzzling, it's that it took awhile at all.

    Anyway, I don't know if "Why now?" really covers it so much. I think the better question is closer to, "Why now, since this is a CBA specifically designed for Brian Burke?"

    Read More »from What I don’t get about the Brian Burke firing (Trending Topics)
  • GettyHello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.

    You know when a player who really loves his team and city gets traded, and he gives an emotional speech about how sometimes you forget hockey is a business, and that sometimes makes it unpleasant?

    Let this lockout be a lesson that the same goes for fans.

    During that 113-day ordeal, you were repeatedly condescended to, taken advantage of, and lied to, by both sides of the argument. But never forget that the contents of your wallet, like one of the podded-up humans in The Matrix, are nothing but fuel for a machine that cruelly exploits you.

    As of this writing, I know of just a handful of NHL teams that actually took the time to come out and apologize to its hundreds of thousands of fans for the nearly four months of torture through which it just put them. Calgary Flames president Ken King issued a statement more or less as soon as the tentative deal was announced.

    "We're sorry," King said. "We regret what we've put them through. It's just something that you would never, ever, want to put them through. It's difficult saying that it was unnecessary, but it's something you would never, ever want to do with your core constituents."

    The Sharks and Blues both expressed their own regrets, while some teams, like the Capitals, Flyers, Canucks, Penguins, Coyotes, Wild, Kings, Bruins, and Stars issued statements or held pressers or conference calls about how great it is that the league is back — especially for the fans!!! — but not once mentioning how sorry they were about it (though the Oilers came close).

    Sorry, but this kind of apology should come standard-issue from all 30 teams, especially those like the Flames and Bruins, who certainly led the charge for a lockout despite having massive fanbases, popularity, and most importantly, war chests.

    Never forget this was a lockout. Never forget this was put upon you and the players and the sport by the owners. Never forget the two biggest engines in all this weren't poor, put-upon teams in tough markets, but rather financial giants whose sole motivation was greed and the desire to squeeze just an extra dime or two out of every dollar spent. They certainly accomplished their goal.

    Read More »from You can forgive NHL for lockout, but never forget what happened here (What We Learned)
  • Two amnesty buyouts lets dumb NHL teams off easy (Trending Topics)

    Getty ImagesTrending Topics is a column that looks at the week in hockey, occasionally according to Twitter. If you're only going to comment to say how stupid Twitter is, why not just go have a good cry for the slow, sad death of your dear internet instead?

    So Thursday morning, news broke that instead of the now-traditional single "compliance" buyout that would allow teams to get closer to the new, significantly lowered salary cap that will go into effect next season, the NHL will instead allow there to be two buyouts before the 2013-14 season.

    Man, what a terrible idea.

    While we all had a lot of fun sitting there and thinking about just which terrible contracts teams would buy out — Vinny Lecavalier? Roberto Luongo? Rick DiPietro? Ville Leino? — there was a limit to the amount of speculation. These teams were only allowed one such transaction; and depending upon the person would have to pay them either one- or two-thirds of their remaining salary as a lump sum. What's interesting is that there was generally a consensus that there probably wouldn't be too many of these moves on those major, laughably bad deals.

    For one thing, when it comes to guys like DiPietro and Lecavalier, you gotta wonder how much their teams, which reportedly aren't doing especially well financially, are actually willing to spend $27 million apiece on these guys. That's a lot of money to splash around, and while the obvious upshot of this on Lecavalier's deal, is that it gets you out from under having to cut him $30 million worth of checks over the next three seasons alone, when his salary rises to an absurd $10 million a year.

    Thinking about it, I didn't really believe there'd be much of a desire on the part of most teams to use their amnesty buyouts if they were limited to just one. Guys like Scott Gomez, Wade Redden and Mike Komisarek, who all have a year left on their bad deals, seem like obvious sacrificial lambs for their rich-as-Midas teams; but now, with two buyouts, things get more interesting, but not necessarily better.

    Read More »from Two amnesty buyouts lets dumb NHL teams off easy (Trending Topics)
  • What We Learned: Spin it all you want, but Don Fehr won the lockout

    Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.

    I understand that we're obviously not at the point where we can start lining up for tickets outside our local NHL rinks just yet, but now it's becoming pretty clear who won the lockout.

    Yeah, the NHL is going to get nothing but givebacks from the players in just about every way — a rollback of the salary cap, length of the CBA, contract term limits, and so forth — but if you're sitting there thinking that this was, in any way, a win for the league, in a symbolic sense, then you're kidding yourself. It's been said a million times that this was always a takeaway deal for the owners because the players were always going to get nothing, and Donald Fehr's job was not to make sure that they didn't bleed, but rather that they didn't bleed out.

    Where Fehr succeeded, and where his predecessors failed, was that Fehr was able to marshal the troops. The NHL leaned on these guys hard, and played a lot dirtier pool than they did the last time there was a lockout (at least insofar as I don't recall them offering the players a deal contingent upon their union's top executive not being in the room when it was signed). But Fehr said the same thing in mid-December as he had been saying in September and October: "There's a better offer coming."

    And he was, of course, always right. No matter how many times Bettman swore on a stack of bibles that this was the league's best offer, anyone with a functioning brain knew it wasn't. When Bill Daly crossed his heart and hoped to die on a hill that five-year term limits for contracts were the only acceptable thing in its eyes, most people knew that wasn't the case. But nonetheless, it must have taken a lot of wrangling for Fehr to get hundreds of players, many of whom weren't collecting paychecks, to hold firm.

    All the theater of getting Bettman and Fehr uninvolved in those owners-and-players only meetings, and the comical letters that followed from owners considered moderate about how obstinate Fehr was in all this, could have broken the union's will to get in line behind its leader. It didn't. Rather the opposite. At some point, and maybe this was the league's plan all along, the focus shifted from, "Boy don't you hate these greedy players," to, "Hey this BASEBALL guy is trying to deprive you of hockey!" The league insisted it couldn't do much better than what came out of those meetings, because of course it did. Fehr insisted the deal would do exactly that.

    Then came the leaked idea from a league executive to ESPN, which lines up very nicely indeed with the shocking brand-new offer the league extended to the NHLPA late last week. Funny how that works. And what do you know? The league made several steps toward what is now, laughably, referred to as the players' position because it wasn't trying to take a pound of flesh, but closer to, like, 14 ounces. Much fairer that way. But as we learned from Bettman in September, they don't want the CBA to come out being "too fair" this time around too.

    The owners are right about one thing: Fehr is obstinate, but wisely so.

    Read More »from What We Learned: Spin it all you want, but Don Fehr won the lockout

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