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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The world of hockey at year end 2005

Look, today, as soon as possible, at the following link. Better yet, in case it changes, here is a picture of the link. There at the bottom of the East Division, Eastern Conference is our old friend the Philadelphia Phantoms, better known to Chicago fans as the Phucs.

It must have been a wild year indeed for the two teams that fought for the Calder Cup last year to be near or at the bottom of their division. The time has come, I think, to take stock of this year, or at least of the last few months in this season.

Minor league fans expected many of their teams to change significantly as players moved to the NHL, however, the tightening of the rules on veterans has significantly effected the Wolves and I expect the same can be said for some other teams as well. (The Phantoms, the Senators, the Penguins?) Minor league fans may support a “development league,” but do we need to be reminded of this by having our vets move on to Europe or the ECHL or retirement? The top management of the AHL has a development league mentality. They support changes that hurt teams that are independent of and successful despite their NHL ties. For my money, I want a minor league team that is stable and successful despite what happens to the NHL affiliate. More on this in a minute.

My money is just as good if it is spent on minor league hockey or college sports or an annual trip to Vegas. The continued tightening of the vet rules are leaving me cold. It hurt this year hard. Not only did the better players move to the NHL, leaving many new faces on the ice, but some old faces are gone. It was bad timing. The Vet rules could have been relaxed this year. Last year was the best year ever in the AHL. Why? There was superior play led by veterans and NHL level players. But, the AHL wants to avoid a repitition of this. Their management apparently wants the good AHL player material to be young prospects. They are choosing to enforce rules limiting AHL teams from using too many vets. I grade this D.

The fact is, the enforcement of on-ice rules sucks. Our teams are all playing as if Harry Dumas were calling the game. It’s strict enforcement to the point where the game is being broken up and the flow interrupted. Harry Dumas calling every game? The games he officiates aren’t fun when they go your way. Relax some of the interference calls. Let’s keep it in perspective, would it have cost a shot on goal?

My solution in the AHL is to add another set of eyes on ice and relax some of the calls. First, statistically, when you have three people calling, versus four, the calls are most likely to be better balanced. Second, the officiating is missing some calls that should be called. This, in turn, leads to the calls for better officiating. And, finally, if the AHL is a development league for officials, as well as players, the league should be striving to reach the NHL level too. You’ll need to spend more money here Dave Andrews. C+

I have to support the rules changes otherwise. The game is more open and faster. It is more exciting to see a game that would be put away last year still have potential this year. No more clutching, holding, defensive playing hockey? A grade of B.

The shootout? Yuck! Count me as among those who hate it. I don’t want to go to a hockey game and spend 60 minutes of terror to have it end in a skills contest. Count this grade F. If the teams test themselves for that long and can’t determine the better set of men, it is a tie.

Changes to goalie equipment, goalie movement, etc. This set of rule changes is great. Unfortunately, there was a price to pay, many injuries among the goalies who were not in shape. But a hockey game is exciting to watch because of the rules changes. “How did he stop that?” is no longer an empty phrase. I was watching a game two or three nights ago and the goalie came out to the circle to freeze a puck. He got a penalty for interference. A+. Yes, great change.

There is one more change which the Shanahan think tank suggested during the lockout, one minute minor penalties during OT. Games shouldn’t be decided by officiating. We approach football if we let that occur. Here is a link to an article by sports writer Jamie Fitzpatrick on the Shanahan think tank.

The real question at this point isn’t what is the overall grade. The real question is what is the experience like versus the previous year? That’s how season ticket holders and other fans decide to spend their money. Is the experience better or worse? In general it is better. However, I dread the coming post season.

The Wolves, last year, were dogged by accusations of buying their way to the Calder Cup because of a deal that brought two players from the Florida Panthers, through San Antonio, to their roster: Steven Wiess and Jay Bouwmeester. The deal, which was cut in early March 2005, was priceless, Wiess and Boumeester played for the remainder of the season with the Wolves, their appearance started the development of the Black Aces squad at the Wolves. These Black Aces are players who had played for the Wolves, getting them to a point to compete for the Calder Cup, but were not allowed to play in the post season due to a limit of dressed skaters. (A link to an article on the Black Aces).

The Black Aces squad appears on any team that is competing in post season play. There is some discussion among some Wolves fans on the negative effect of the signing of Weiss and Boumeister on the 2005-6 team. You’ll need to read between the lines on the thread I’m linking to, Did you give up yet?, but the questioning of the Wolves organization is clearly there.

Now, the point of this five paragraph intro, where is the integrity of allowing players who have never played with the team in the regular season, or only played after the clear day roster, to play in the post season? If the Bouwmeester and Weiss deal was questioned and it occurred before the clear day roster announcement, what about the juniors who appear in post season or at the very end of the regular season? Help me understand that one, please? Once again, my money is just as good if it is spent on minor league hockey or college sports or an annual trip to Vegas. I want to see the same post season team on the ice as I’ve seen during the regular season. I want the winner of the Calder Cup to be the same team that brought them to post season play.

There is usually a Black Aces group on every team. That’s the team I want to see play, the one dressed and the one not, from regular season play. Not a team padded with last minutes PTOs and junior call ups. Development league, shlevelopment league. Calling up players to pad the roster is good for the team, and leaves a bad taste in the mouth of fans. Change the rules to stop it. If a player hasn’t played by the clear day roster deadline, they cannot play in the playoffs.


Patrick Kissane said...

I'm posting my own comment here. Brent Severyn, a radio color analyst with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks and a former proplayer has a different take on the new rules. His blog is at http://www.hockeyfights.com/articles/206.

Anonymous said...

Meanwhile in the North: The Moose are still keeping up with the
Griffins, even though they keep yo-yoing players to Vancouver. Amazing!
Even more amazing is that Syracuse is not sucking (like Albany and
Binghamton) and the Bulldogs are in the basement.

There is a billboard just outside Scranton on Rt. 81 with a HUGE
picture of Bonvie. The trouble with the Phantoms is that they don't have a
player with as much character and class as Bonvie. Hey Pucknut... time
to roll out the B-Sens/Phantoms fight videos yet?

Great post Patrick!

Winnipeg Johnny

Michael said...

I whole-heartedly agree with the support of a league and it's fans that are sick of seeing so many abuses with the changes.

I wrote a little about this late last summer in my own blog.

70 years for the AHL is still going strong.