There are still a few days left in the NHL’s trading window, but I’d like to take a minute to analyze the highest profile deal yet — “the Jeff Carter trade.”
If you’re reading this, then by now you know that center Jeff Carter has been traded to the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for defenseman Jack Johnson and a conditional first-round pick in either 2012 or ’13.
Contrary to where most people want to start, let’s look at this deal for the Columbus Blue Jackets first. I think this is a smart move for the Jackets, though I acknowledge that time will tell whether this is a good move.
The Move for Columbus

As I and some other people wrote in the summer, the trade acquisition of Carter made very little sense for Columbus thanks to the overpriced and over-termed (11 years, $58 million) contract that Philadelphia had just signed the player to seven months prior. The argument everyone else was making was that Jackets’ star winger Rick Nash finally had a true number one center to play with, and also that the long-term investment (paired with the acquisition of James Wisniewski’s rights and subsequent five-year deal the team gave him) signified the Blue Jackets’ intent on building a winner.

I understood the argument, but I’m a value guy, and the fact is there is not and probably never will be value in Jeff Carter’s salary cap hit. The only way Carter’s $5.27 million annual cap hit makes any sense is if over the next few years the salary cap is raised significantly and individual player salaries start going through the roof. Fat chance of that happening, since we are almost certainly going to see a lockout this summer by the owners specifically designed to achieve the opposite result.
Since Carter’s contract made him undesirable, I think it was a smart move for Columbus to move him off the books and free up some more cap space (for the next decade, remember). The team sucks on defense and mostly in net, so to have a “goal scorer” like Carter doesn’t really help you unless he makes you an elite offense. The Jackets’ 27th-best goals per game figure quashes any semi-argument that could have been made there.
The man that was sent the other way, Johnson, also carries a somewhat hefty contract, but it’s smaller and shorter than Carter’s, and in that sense Columbus benefits from the deal. Johnson’s actual impact on a hockey team’s record has been, in my opinion, greatly overstated, but if the expectation is for him to be a second-pairing guy then I think he can fill that role well enough. One problem with this rational expectation is that Columbus might need him to be a top-two blue liner, but there is at least hope that David Savard and/or John Moore, both selected in the 2009 entry draft, may pan out to be good enough top-four defensemen to compliment Wiz and Johnson. Both rookies are currently with the Jackets, although it is unclear to me how importing Johnson will affect the look of the blue line for the rest of this season. I would suspect it might not matter: this is clearly a club looking forward to next year and beyond.
Another obvious hinge that will determine whether this trade was a good move for Columbus is what happens with that conditional first-round pick. If the Kings miss the playoffs this year, then Columbus will get L.A.’s top pick in 2013. If the Kings hold on and make it into this spring’s top eight in the Western Conference, then the Jackets will get to choose whether they want that first rounder this summer or next. It would be silly to try to project how this unidentified subject’s career will pan out versus Carter’s, so let’s make a note of the existence of the pick and move on.
The Move for Los Angeles

For Los Angeles, I guess the move is alright if we’re looking at the Kings as a Stanley Cup contender in the medium term. While I tend to bash Carter based on his performance versus his contract figures, the guy is inconsistently productive. I mean that as a semi-compliment. He has some upside, which I’ve seen a few times this season in Columbus. But far more often Carter has little impact on a game, and that’s where I hate him as a $5.27 million player.
The move is also alright enough if we’re looking at the price the Kings paid. Most of the talk was that Columbus would trade Carter if they could get their next starting goalie out of the deal. Well, Carter’s in Hollywood now, and yet, so is Jonathan Bernier. If and when the Kings finally trade Bernier, they probably will be able to get that first-round pick back (or at least a second and possibly a roster player) anyway.
Losing Johnson doesn’t really hurt the Kings’ hope for a playoff run because they play a defensive style to begin with, and Johnson’s game is not conducive to keeping the puck out of his own net. In 343 career NHL games, all with the Kings, Johnson is a cool minus-90. You can bring up the fact that he plays on the power play, and yes that’s true, but dude, he’s minus-90. That includes a minus figure every single season he’s been a professional, which may mean he’ll transition seamlessly to Columbus’ playing style. Hey-O!
Carter’s move to L.A. is interesting on a personal level in two ways. First, it was Rick Nash who was supposedly on the Kings’ wish list. The idea was that overused cliché, “imagine if Nash had a center like Anze Kopitar,” and/or “imagine if Kopitar had a wing like Nash!” These “imagine the partnership” pre-trade hypotheticals are getting more tired and less reputable, since we heard the exact same assertions after Columbus traded for Carter (to pair with Nash) in the first place.
The second human element that makes this move familiar for L.A. is that Carter is now reunited with his parter in ran-out-of-Philly-dom, Mike Richards. With the top line of Kopitar, Justin Williams and team captain Dustin Brown playing pretty well together (given L.A.’s defensively-skewed style), it would be normal to assume that Carter will skate on the second line with Richards. Maybe the duo can rekindle the fire that helped them lead the Flyers to the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals. I would think not (this year anyway), since Chris Pronger is not walking through that door…
GMs Gripping: Howson & Lombardi Had to Make This Trade

Worth noting is the GM factor as well. It’s no secret that Scott Howson has done a pretty bad job of building that Columbus roster, as evidenced by their 27th-best offense and 29th-best defense this season. Perhaps what’s worse was sticking it out with head coach Scott Arniel as long as he did. It’s not that I’m an advocate of firing coaches quickly, but Arniel was eventually relieved of his head coaching duties, and only after division rival St. Louis scooped up Ken Hitchcock. Hitch has led the previously toiling Blues to within contention for the conference’s top seed. Prior to taking that job, he was just chilling in the Blue Jackets’ organization. Hiding right there, in plain sight. Howson did not have the wherewithal to make the obvious hire, and because of that he is still on the hottest of seats. Luckily for him, he got a do-over for that rather funny gaffe of trading for Carter’s contract in the first place.
The Kings, like the Blue Jackets and so many other teams this season, are also working under their second head coach of 2011-12. The old saying goes, “if you can’t change the players, change the coach.” That’s what L.A. general manager Dean Lombardi did when he brought Darryl Sutter in to replace Terry Murray. Now an attention grabbing player change has been made. If neither move works, it would logically follow that maybe the GM would be the next to go. Lombardi insists that this trade is for both the short-term and the long-term, but only the naive would not consider Lombardi’s knowledge that there might not be a “long-term” for him. Not in Los Angeles, anyway.
These moves, when analyzed as a pair of departures and arrivals, almost had to be made by the respective GMs. How they pan out may not be known until after those GMs are long gone; alternatively, this trade may be the catalyst for a very long extension for either Lombardi or Howson. Only time will tell, but the clock is already ticking louder than the promo for 60 Minutes.
The Inverse Relationship Between Contract Figures and Future Stanley Cup Shots

The last item worth mentioning for me is how taking too much can ultimately backfire. It’s a theme driven home to most of us from a young age: share, do not take more than you need or deserve, you reap what you sow, etc., etc. While I think Los Angeles is a pretty fly destination, especially for a dude with highlighted hair, the fact that Carter has been traded twice in the fifteen-and-a-half months since he signed that ridiculously inflated contract with Philadelphia only goes to show that in a league with a salary cap, it’s not all florets and no chunks to sign for way more money and years than your play warrants.
Wade Redden, Alexei Yashin, Cristobal Huet and others have been effectively blackballed from the NHL courtesy of the fact that they are incapable of contributing anywhere near the level of their overpriced contracts. Carter is still just 27 years old, but if he isn’t careful and doesn’t put it together soon, he could find himself the next victim of his own greed. I’m not saying that anybody in their right mind would turn down the offer the Flyers made to Carter, but what I am saying is that any player must understand that by agreeing to carry such a high cap hit for such a long time, said player has probably lost the comfort of just getting by. If you can’t give a contender a realistic hope at a championship, then you will play for a crap team. If you can’t give a crap team anything, then you will have only your youth as a selling point. Once that’s gone, so are you. 
Carter’s situation seems specifically like a good one now, but he’s lucky he’s still young enough to have a decent suitor. Life is give and take, and when an owner gives a player a lot of money for a long time, the owners can also essentially take away that player’s opportunity to compete for a Stanley Cup. Once it’s determined that a player’s contract is too high, that player becomes lucky to just be fodder for those teams chasing the cap floor. Carter has what might be his last best opportunity to prove that he can play up to his contract for a competitive squad. Let’s see how he plays this one.

While my summer declaration that the NHL’s Central Division was the strongest from top to bottom has been decimated by Columbus’ awful season, the other eighty percent of the division have far outperformed even my biased expectations.
As far as point percentage goes, which paint a clearer picture of the true “standings,” the top four in the Central are all in the top six of the Western Conference.

St. Louis
San Jose
Los Angeles
What does this Central Division 50+ game dominance mean? Well, very little, if we’re honest. There still will be an 8-team playoff for the right to not touch the Campbell Bowl and play the champion of the other conference for the Stanley Cup. But one thing to at least acknowledge is that if this lopsidedness continues through the 82nd game, the way the playoffs are seeded will force at least one mistimed intra-divisional quarterfinal series.
If the playoffs started today, Nashville would have to travel to St. Louis in the first round, despite the fact that the two teams place third and fourth in the conference, respectively. This is of course because Vancouver and San Jose, as division winners, are guaranteed top three seeds. I have no beef with this, and I’m not unaware that it may be the Central champ that ends up as the 3 seed. Just pointing out that the 4th place team would be on the road, and the 3rd place team would have to face a team they may have some argument for avoiding.

Defense Wins Championships?

One surprising thing to me about the order of these teams is that Chicago is bringing it up the rear, largely thanks to the fact that they’ve been taking it there every time they score less than three goals in a game. Jesse Rogers pointed this out some time ago, but as of today the Blackhawks have won only one game in regulation when scoring less than three goals. And that one game was against the Kings, where a 2-1 score is sort of like a 3-2 or 4-3 game given L.A.’s penchant for keeping the flow nonexistent.
A response to the above stat is that Chicago has the 4th best offense in the league, and therefore don’t need to win a lot of 1-0 or 2-1 games. But the fact is the Hawks are 4th in the league with 3.1 goals per game, which makes failing to tally thrice just a below average game. In the playoffs, prolific offenses tend to have to find other ways to win games that are shrunk by the better opponents and heightened intensity. I’m not saying Chicago can’t win the Cup, but they almost certainly will have to win more than one game by a score of 2-1 or even 1-0. Haven’t been able to do that so far through 53 games against the entire league. We’ll see if they can do it in less than 30 against only the best.
In an All-Star Game of Front Offices, the Central Division Would Mercy Rule Everyone Else

The stat that impresses me the most about these four teams is the one in which they’re not that prolific: player salaries.
Despite placing first, third, fourth and sixth in the west in points taken per game, if the standings were determined by blowing through cap space, only one of these central giants would even make the playoffs.
Amongst on Western Conference teams, Chicago’s payroll ranks eighth; Detroit comes in ninth; St. Louis eleventh; Nashville thirteenth. Their on-ice success may not be in total contrast with their thriftiness — as information has moved us all closer to being general managers (in our daydreams), we may have overvalued the correlation between dollars spent on players and wins.
To both comment further on the distinction that we should all make between the two paper figures and pile on Columbus, it is actually the Blue Jackets who lead the Central Division in salary cap hit this year. The Jackets have spent the fourth most on player personnel in the Western Conference, ahead of such Stanley Cup contenders as San Jose, Boston, the New York Rangers and of course, the rest of their divisional brethren.
The reward for the conservatism of Detroit, St. Louis, Nashville and Chicago? The freedom to buy this month in the trade market, for one. The ability to sign the cream of the free agent crop this summer, for two. In Nashville’s case, the latter seems more urgent, as it is their players who count for two of the premier names in the upcoming FA pool (Shea Weber & Ryan Suter). Detroit and Chicago figure to be immediately much more concerned with the former effect, as there can be only one Stanley Cup champion each year, and after all, there is only one Ales Hemsky (or Travis Moen, or…).
St. Louis is a little harder to figure out, as they are in that awkward position of being better than their name. Call it punching above their weight, quote Shakespeare or The Departed, the point is: the Blues are a contender right now, but may not be in the financial condition yet to go out and make splashes. Time will tell, but I expect the Blues to go forward with mostly the same players that have been the best team in the NHL since the hiring of head coach Ken Hitchcock.
Before the other three teams get involved in a loaded NHL Tuesday, the Red Wings travel to Glendale for a game against the Phoenix Coyotes tonight at 8 p.m. EST on NBC Sports Network. Detroit has eliminated Phoenix in the first round of the last two playoffs, and will try to improve upon their 15-14-1 road record this season.

The other day I came across a little back-and-forth blog entry on the worldwide leader of not hockey coverage concerning what the Vancouver Canucks should do with goaltender Cory Schneider. The debate is the same one that any good team has around the trade deadline: do we keep our guys regardless of position or remaining years under contract, or do we trade some guys off for added depth and/or bolstering weaknesses?
Craig Custance argued the only rational side — that the Canucks have to trade Schneider’s expiring contract this month in exchange for skating help, because not only is the soon-to-be 26 year-old scheduled for a huge raise in conflict with the team’s marriage to starter Roberto Luongo, but also because championship windows are only open for so long, and the team is obligated to stock up on as many players that can actually help in a playoff run while the squad is good enough to snatch sport’s greatest trophy.
Scott Burnside argued that the Canucks can only win the Stanley Cup if Schneider plays a decent role in doing so. He went on to state that Luongo “cannot go all four rounds” necessary to win the Stanley Cup. Folks, it’s time for some good ol’ fact exploration, myth debunking and rationality in the hockey media.

Cory Schneider’s contract is up this summer, and he’s probably the hottest name amongst young goalies ready to become full-time starters somewhere in the NHL. This means that he’s going to be offered more than his current $900,000 salary he’s making this season. How much more? Just remember that Mike Smith scored a $2 million per year contract with Phoenix last July based solely on a few good games late in the season, including one in the playoffs. Schneider’s last few years have undoubtedly garnered more confidence in his ability to guard the line than Smith’s had. So… is the number $3 million a year? More? Of course, it will depend on supply and demand, but highly coveted free agents tend to get very good contract offers.
Whatever the offer will be, the Canucks would have to be willing to match it and then be alright with blowing around or above $8 million a year on goaltending. That would be possible, but given the Canucks’ penchant for spending to the salary cap, it may lead to a rude awakening that all of a sudden leaves the team’s skaters downgraded. I know this doesn’t necessarily pertain to next season, but as it stands right now, the Canucks have the least amount of cap room this season of all 30 teams in the NHL.
I’ve written extensively about the need to spin off expiring contracts that a team knows it can’t re-sign. Despite all the man love for Schneider, this situation is no different. The Canucks are set up to compete for the Stanley Cup right now. There is no guarantee that the Sedins will be this good forever, or even next season given the way concussions are ending careers these days. Vancouver has already seen how much Ryan Kesler’s health means to their playoff successes, so why can’t people see the need for as much skating depth as possible during a war of attrition?
If trading Schneider this month can get the Canucks a contributing skater and maybe even a draft pick, the team is almost obligated to pull the trigger. When was the last time a young goaltender entered the playoffs as a backup and won the Stanley Cup? One could look to Antti Niemi in 2010, but by the time the playoffs had started Chicago had clearly chosen Niemi as the team’s number one. Unless Vancouver is planning a similar seat change, we can’t use the 2010 Blackhawks as a “see, I told you so” anecdote. On the other hand, Chris Osgood came into the 2008 playoffs as Detroit’s backup, but went on to win 14 games and the Cup. But one disqualifying piece of evidence is that Osgood had done it before. He “went all four rounds” in 1998, so he can’t be linked in with the Luongo / Schneider debate as Burnside crafted it.
Of course, the whole of Burnside’s and the rest of anti-Luongo nation’s argument is that Luongo is incapable of winning the Stanley Cup. I hate it when I’m forced to defend a person or stance that I don’t entirely believe in, but you’ve all forced me to be Luongo’s de facto apologist. Let’s take this time to get a grip, because if Luongo backstops Vancouver to the Cup this year I don’t want to hear the popular sentiment change. Here’s your chance to take in the facts and decide whether you want to be an anti-Luongo extremist or a person who acknowledges that the future is unknown and that the past indicates that a Luongo-led Cup win is entirely within the realm of possibility.
Why Do We Think Luongo is a Loser?
To debunk the myth that Roberto Luongo is a mental midget who is “incapable of going all four rounds” of a Stanley Cup playoff, it’s important to go back and figure out why we have this abstract feeling in the first place.
I remember when I used to waste my time watching college football. There was one particular game in 2007 when USC traveled to Nebraska. I remember watching the Trojans dismantle Big Red, and thinking, “Wow, I forgot that playing football really well was what USC actually did.” Over the previous five seasons, the USC Trojans football scene was surrounded by such hyperbole (“best team ever in 2005”… until they lost) and celebrity (akin to L.A. Lakers games) that I had forgotten they were at their core a highly successful amateur football team. Like when the rock star dominates the pages of the pseudo-tabloids, it’s easy to forget sometimes what the star actually does.
I think that while a lot of the Luongo hate is based in recent playoff losses, more of it is based in… we forget. Prior to 2007, Roberto Luongo had never played in a playoff game at the NHL level. But that 2006-07 season was his first in Vancouver, and it is remembered as an absolute stinker for Luongo because of the way that it ended, with him seemingly complaining to the referee seconds before allowing a soft wrister from 57 feet out.
Here’s how that ’07 playoff series ended

But even in that game, Luongo stopped 50 of 52 shots. In his first career playoff game a few weeks earlier, he saved 72 of 76 in a win over Dallas. His GAA for the 2007 playoffs was 1.77, and was accompanied by a .941 save percentage. These brilliant stats don’t account for the fact that the Canucks were beaten by the eventual champs, the Anaheim Ducks, who many still regard as one of the best teams in recent memory. But nobody cares to look up the numbers, because Luongo screwed it up. I believe this lapse in concentration has led to all of the current Burnside-esque assumptions about Luongo’s supposedly low mental strength, but most people would need some time to remember this root of the argument.
The following season was a bad one for Vancouver, as they missed the playoffs and caused the media to pick up the “blow up the team” reaction, which in some ways was followed by team brass. Some of the old guys were out, and the team started to look like its current self around the 2008-09 season. One quick note about 2007-08: Luongo had a 2.38 GAA and .917 save %. Just sayin’.
2008-09 was another good season for Luongo, as he slightly improved his regular season stats from the prior year. The playoff exit came at the hands of the young and uber-talented Chicago Blackhawks in the second round. Despite the clincher being a 7-5 win for Chicago, Luongo still sported a so-so 2.52 and .914 in those playoffs. And here’s another point: the idea that this was an upset is misguided. Vancouver had home ice solely based on winning the weak Northwest division. The Canucks gained 100 regular season points to the Blackhawks’ 104. The better team won.
The following season was easily Luongo’s worst. He brought a 2.57 and .913 into the playoffs, and put up numbers that were much worse once he got there. The 3.22 GAA was not good enough, and an .895 save % is simply never going to win Stanley Cups. But this playoff was again lost to the Blackhawks, who went on to win the Cup in a finish that surprised exactly nobody. The Blackhawks were the odds-on favorite to win the thing to begin with. And he did win the Olympic gold medal game in overtime at home, and there has never been more pressure on him than in that game.
The 2010 series against Chicago was a stinker, as only one game of the six was decided by as little as two goals. Luongo was not very good. But anyone watching the series knew who the better team was anyway. The mark of a goalie who cannot get it done is that he fails despite having the better team in front of him. No sane person would argue the 2010 Canucks were better than the 2010 Blackhawks.
Then there was last year, when Luongo put up much better regular season numbers and in doing so was a finalist for the Vezina. His playoff stats were almost equal to those from the 2009 playoff season, except this time, his team made it fifteen games further. How does one explain that? One possible explanation is that the Canucks were a much better team in 2011 than in 2009. I think that’s a big part of it. Another explanation is that 2011 was a weak year for Chicago, who lost to Vancouver in seven games after not being able to find the defending champion magic. I would even agree with that assessment.
Chicago was down last year, and Vancouver still needed OT of the seventh game to finish them off. But here’s the point — they did finish them off. And Luongo was clutch in the 2-1 win to close things out. He was equally clutch in two shutouts during the Stanley Cup Finals against Boston, one of which being the at-the-time “must win” Game 5 on home ice, where the Canucks prevailed by a goalie-friendly score of 1-0. Not a lot of mental weakness there. So why do we still spew the same tired analysis of his so-called mental weakness five years after the embarrassing playoff exit?
Because thinking is hard, and the story of life and reality is so much more comprehendible once we start using motifs and putting everybody in their box. Few people want to acknowledge that the future is unknown and many different results are possible. Ideologies are preferred by the less intellectual; extremism and bigotry are on the particularly non-thinking side of the spectrum. So here’s one that makes it easier: Luongo is a loser who always loses and therefore will always continue to lose, no matter the facts, moving parts or reality that surrounded past losses or future outlooks. There, we did it! We came to an absolute conclusion. Doesn’t that feel better and safer than contemplation?
Now that we’ve rooted out the source of the widespread anti-Luongo sentiment, let’s go fact finding.
Luongo Has Won Pressure Packed Games
We have this thing called the Triple Gold Club that includes players who have won the Stanley Cup, IIHF World Championship, and an Olympic gold medal in their careers. These players are seen as inarguable winners.
Luongo needs only the Stanley Cup to join this list.
In winning the gold medal in 2010, Luongo led Team Canada through four elimination games. The last two were 3-2 victories. The Games were in Vancouver. The entire country of Canada was demanding a gold medal and nothing less. Luongo won the games.

You think Luongo would have gotten out alive if he had lost this game?

During last year’s playoffs, Luongo was the winning netminder in two of the three games that he started when facing similar pressure. He won Game 7 against Chicago, he won Game 5 against Boston, and lost Game 7 against Boston. Before we write off that fifth game of last year’s finals, let’s think about what a Canucks loss would have meant. It was one of those clichéd “closest thing to a must-win” game. Vancouver won it 1-0. It looked like this:

And that seventh game that proved once and for all that Luongo didn’t have what it takes to “go all four rounds,” well, Vancouver scored 0 goals in that game anyway. Boston won and Vancouver lost, but the three wins the Canucks did get were largely influenced by Luongo. Show me the loss in which Luongo was the difference.
Luongo Has Gone “All 4 Rounds”
Deciding games are always the end of the chapter. Many underdog teams hope to even make the seventh game of a given series, despite the fact that it will be a road game, because “anything can happen in a one-off situation.” Fact: Luongo made it to the seventh game of the final round. Yes, the Canucks had home ice and lost. Yes, he allowed too many goals in Games 6 and 7, when the Cup was one victory away. But the argument that he “cannot go all four rounds” is not at all supported by the evidence.
Rocky & Apollo after the first fight

In Rocky, it was the Italian Stallion’s mission at the Spectrum to “go the distance” with heavyweight champion Apollo Creed. Despite Rocky Balboa’s split decision loss, he is professionally proud that he “went the distance” with the champ. A fifteen-round split decision loss is about as close as one can get to actually winning. So is losing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals.
If Luongo’s Past Disqualifies Him from “Going All 4 Rounds” & Winning the Cup, Then Everyone Else’s Does Too
If we’re going to say stupid things like, “The guy who got to the final game of the final round can’t go all four rounds,” then no other goalie who has yet to win the Stanley Cup can go all four rounds and win it either. This conclusion is of course asinine, but it logically follows from Burnside’s argument.
Here is the list of current NHL goaltenders who have shown they can “go all four rounds” and win the Cup, since we’ve determined that getting the the seventh game of the Finals is not doing so: Martin Brodeur (comical at this point), Nikolai Khabibulin (is there anyone more unlikely given age and team?), Cam Ward, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Marc Andre Fleury, Antti Niemi and Tim Thomas.
Hey, a betting man may love the idea of getting Boston, San Jose and Pittsburgh against the field when it comes to winning the Cup this year, but to say that these are the only teams that have a shot in 2012 because they’re the only teams with goalies who have done it before is so ignorant that it really doesn’t warrant all of the contemplation we’ve given it just on this blog entry. But sometimes absurd things have to be called out.
Will Luongo ever win a Stanley Cup? I don’t know, although I would say the likelihood substantially drops if this isn’t the year. But he’s capable of doing so, and let’s not forget two key facts about the way everybody analyses sport.
First, too many of us have become obsessed with the destination. Putting all of the emphasis on finishing first is a good way to promote actually finishing first, but it also causes us to forget just how hard and statistically unlikely it is for any one team or person to actually finish first, especially in a league of 30 teams with a salary cap.
Not appreciating the journey also has some insane side effects, aside from the obvious obsessing over the destination. It causes us to demand ends to stories far too quickly. Remember, before Luongo sucked and was incapable of winning, he was young and awesome and the highest goalie ever drafted at the time and “if only he could get out of Florida he could really be a winner.” He’s lived through just four playoff seasons, and only one with a legitimate Cup contending team, but now he’s done and dusted. He sucks.

Photo via
Remember when Luongo was the hot 26 year-old that just needed to get out of town?

The Buildup Always Precedes the Tear Down
I’ve yet to hear anyone point out the hypocrisy needed to declare Luongo a failure while touting the Stanley Cup credentials of Schneider. Let’s not forget that six years ago Luongo was in a similar position to Schneider. The talk was, “Man, that Luongo sure is good but he’s stuck in a hockey black hole with Florida. If only he could get out.” While Luongo had been the Panthers’ starter for a bit, in contrast with Schneider’s zero seasons as an NHL starter, the sentiment and their ages (26) at the specific point are very similar. Since finishing first and winning titles is very difficult, is there any doubt that in six years time we’ll be doing the same deconstructing of Schneider’s game, barring a Stanley Cup somewhere between now and then? Not bloody likely.
Photo via
Now Schneider’s the fawned-over mid-20s goalie that needs a new spot

I’m not sure how to prove this as “fact,” but there is no way at this current moment that the statistical odds of Vancouver winning the Stanley Cup in 2012 are noticeably greater with Schneider in net than they are with Luongo. If you disagree with me, then you almost certainly also believe that Tim Tebow is a good NFL quarterback and other various illogical, irrational, bad takes that are wholly unsupported by any critical analysis or evidence. But I’m not talking to those people, because if you’re still reading this you’re obviously a smart person capable of thought. Help me help you. Let’s clear our heads of the lazy, all too easy “Luongo sucks” garbage.
Do I believe Roberto Luongo is the best goalie in the NHL? Not at all. I’ve been a Henrik Lundqvist honk for years. Do I see issues with the way the Canucks have exited the playoffs in the last four tries? Sure. The only game in which Luongo played well and still suffered elimination was that 2007 blunder in Anaheim, with two blowouts from Chicago and one from Boston coming since. Am I picking the Canucks to win the Cup this year? I don’t think so, but we’ll see come April.
One Goalie Must be Traded this Month
My point is this: the championship window is open right now for Vancouver. It won’t be for long, if history of sport is any indication. This spring should provide the Canucks another opportunity to achieve the greatest success in hockey while offering their mobbish fan base the spiteful victory they may not know how to handle.
The move is simple. If the Canucks do not want to or cannot trade Luongo and the remaining nine years on his contract with the intention of moving forward with Schneider as the starter in the fall of 2012 and beyond, then they should definitely trade Schneider for something that will help them win the Stanley Cup in four months. If they think that letting Schneider play out the string, sit the bench (or even play) for another elimination, and sign a contract to be someone else’s starter is the smart move, they may want to re-read this sentence.
Fan sentiment changes over time, and ultimately is based solely on titles. To let Schneider walk for free in July and end up with zero Stanley Cups in Vancouver ten years from now would be unacceptable. To trade Luongo and end up with zero Stanley Cups in Vancouver ten years from now would be unacceptable, albeit popular for a short period of time. To trade Schneider now in exchange for a deeper squad that allows for a more honest run at the Cup this year while also selling the fans on the impossibility of re-signing him this summer would be by far the most acceptable move to a fan base that, like all others, is fickle, vindictive and a prisoner of the moment.
The Canucks should not give in. They hold a very valuable piece that a few teams may covet. No team ever plans on winning the Stanley Cup with its backup goaltender, and therefore, if all goes well the team will not need to use this valuable piece until they no longer own it. They are married to the man who sits in front of the player in question. The decision is obvious: sell, sell, sell. In the interest of the sporting attitude, go for it. Because what’s another playoff loss going to do for you moving forward? Nothing except more whining and riots.

The only way keeping Schneider through the playoffs makes sense is if the Canucks’ skaters suffer little to no injuries. Good luck with that.

Odds to win 2012 Most Desirable Women. These odds are based on hours of research compiled by the back room team at Tram’s Table, and are meant to be fun and pseudo-scientific looks at the likelihood of any individual person to be named the online magazine’s most desirable woman in the world this year. The list goes live on the morning of Tuesday, January 31, 2012 and these listed odds are in no way invitations or offers for wagers. Who ya got?
Sofia Vergara 3:1
Katy Perry 7:2
Miranda Kerr 4:1
Blake Lively 5:1
Olivia Munn 5:1
Scarlett Johansson 7:1
Candice Swanepoel 9:1
Brooklyn Decker 10:1
Kate Beckinsale 10:1
Rihanna    15:1
Mila Kunis 12:1
Bar Refaeli 20:1
Rosie Huntington-Whiteley 21:1
Nicole Scherzinger 25:1
Olivia Wilde 25:1
Minka Kelly 28:1
Marisa Miller 28:1
Natalie Portman 29:1
Megan Fox 30:1
Emmanuelle Chriqui 30:1
Eva Green 30:1
Kate Upton 30:1
Jessica Alba 32:1
Anne Hathaway 35:1
Zooey Deschanel   40:1
Chanel Iman 40:1
Elsa Pataky 40:1
Jennifer Aniston 50:1
Cheryl Tweedy 50:1
Candace Bailey 50:1
Amber Heard 50:1
Kristen Stewart 55:1
Irina Shayk 55:1
Emma Watson 60:1
Stacy Keibler 60:1
Emma Stone 65:1
Taylor Swift 65:1
Jennifer Lawrence 70:1
Pippa Middleton 75:1
Michelle Williams 75:1
Kate Middleton 90:1
Jennifer Lopez 100:1
Emily Blunt 150:1
Amanda Seyfried 150:1
Angelina Jolie 200:1
Field (any other woman) 20:1

Only women who were listed on the official website among 150 preliminary candidates were given odds. If your favorite is not on this list, more than likely you should take it up with them, not me. And again, this page is not an invitation or offer for wagers of any kind.

Every now and then, an idea comes along that revolutionizes a company, an industry, or even the world. I’d like to present you with an idea that will probably never come to fruition, but is worth a minute or two of contemplation based simply on the possibility that it could.
There has been a lot of talk regarding the situation on the Nashville blue line this season. More specifically, everyone is wondering when and where Shea Weber and Ryan Suter will sign on the dotted line.
One of my favorite hockey people, Jeff Marek, recently brought up an interesting possibility on his and co-host Greg Wyshynski’s podcast regarding the fates and futures of the Preds’ two young defensive studs.
All of the upcoming speculation is entirely dependent upon the mindsets and personal preferences of Weber, and to a greater extent, Suter. Since nobody who will talk really knows, all we are left to do is speculate.
The majority view is that Ryan Suter probably does not want to sign a contract with the Predators for a single cent less than Weber’s. Perhaps Suter has been the good sidekick long enough, and wants to be paid in a way that reflects the quality of player that he knows in his mind that he has been and will continue to be. Maybe there’s even a little excitement at getting away from “big brother,” in the same fashion that I believe exists with Bobby Ryan in his relationship with Anaheim Ducks teammate and fraternity president Ryan Getzlaf.
To take it a step further, maybe Suter thinks about legacy. The man is already the son of a man who helped to perform the Miracle on Ice, as well as the nephew of NHL great Gary Suter, who tallied an impressive 845 points in 1,145 big league games as a defenseman. Gary’s 1,349 penalty minutes don’t foster a legacy of Suters playing second fiddle to a big, bad caveman force of a blue liner either.

It could be that Ryan Suter wants to win Stanley Cups, which many people argue probably will not be accomplished in Nashville given the Preds’ paltry payroll policies. It could also be that he wants to go down in history as a number one, which many more people assert can never be achieved as long as Weber is on the same roster, let alone pairing. If this is the predominant emotion going through Suter’s head, then he probably will not be playing with Weber next season.
But regardless of how perpetual man’s need to be perceived as a top dog and remembered through the generations might be, not all people are governed by such insecurities. What if instead of going all Anakin Skywalker and crying about Shea Kenobi holding him back, Suter instead is moved by being half of a whole? What if he realizes how the pairing is in many ways the perfect pairing for today’s NHL? Suter shoots left; Weber shoots right. Both skate flawlessly. Weber drops the hammer to the tune of 89 hits through 42 games this season. Suter is slightly the more technical defensive player. Both have 15 points on special teams this season. Weber has 63 blocked shots; Suter has 60. They each have a responsible 26 penalty minutes this year. They both register in the plus department regularly (each has had just one minus season since being in the show, and both are scheduled to go plus again this time around). They were even drafted within hours of each other in 2003 — Suter went 7th, while Weber went 49th. And as is indicative of his slightly more threatening offensive game, Weber has 9 goals and 23 assists to Suter’s 5 and 20. The gap isn’t nearly what the “Shea Weber is by far the better player” camp would lead you to believe.
So despite being the son of a man on the 1980 Miracle team and the nephew of an all-time great, being drafted ahead of his now-more-coveted playing partner and putting up extremely similar numbers, Suter remains subservient to Weber in the minds of all the people that don’t matter. Hell, he even deferred to Brian Rafalski whilst the U.S. was cruising to the gold medal game in the 2010 Olympic Games largely behind Suter’s lockdown defensive play and smooth transitions to offense.
But what if Suter doesn’t care? What if he’s able to see the forest through the trees and decides that he rather enjoys playing with another great defenseman who is as talented and dedicated to his craft as Suter himself? Perhaps most importantly, what if Suter decides that his best chance at winning a Stanley Cup is making the move that also ensures he’ll never be nominated for a Norris? After all, playoff hockey shrinks the rink, and the teams that win are the ones that are able to play a tougher style than those that perenially flame out to lower seeded teams. What better way to keep the puck out of the net than to roll with a stud like Weber?
If Suter and Weber are open to the possibility of playing together for many more years, the question then becomes where. The first and most obvious answer is Nashville. For one, Weber is only scheduled to become a restricted free agent this summer, meaning it would be more difficult to get out of town if he wanted to do so. But secondly, the Preds have more than enough cap space to sign both players to whatever contracts they reasonably wanted. The real question revolves around whether the Predators actually have the cash to make the deals, and also whether they would want to. They have young defensemen to restock the shelves with, and it would be hard to imagine a franchise that perennially hovers around the salary cap floor to up and give $24 million or so to three players every year (goaltender Pekka Rinne of course being the third).
If the Predators can’t or won’t pay Weber and Suter like kings, and for argument’s sake we are assuming that the two would like to play together, what team could and would sign them?
At this point, many fans write this Miami Heatles-esque scenario off as not within the framework of the honor of the hockey player, but I disagree. First of all, this league is a business. Second, to go to separate teams in the name of garnering that maximum contract amount and top dog on the blue line status would actually be less “honorable” the way I understand it. It would be putting money and perception ahead of winning and professional or even personal friendship. 
Third, we’ve seen this before. Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne became so intertwined that “Kariya & Selanne” became an actual phrase in the late ‘90s while the pair sunburned opposing goalies’ necks by turning the red light on so often for the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. Pairs like these exist throughout the sporting culture — Kareem & Magic, Shaq & Kobe, Michael & Scottie, Montana (or Young) & Rice, Freeney & Mathis, Brady & Belichick, Xavi & Iniesta, or even Henrik & Daniel if we’re especially lazy. But Kariya & Selanne were a real thing; such a real thing that after Anaheim traded Selanne to San Jose in early 2001, Kariya skipped town in the summer of 2003 to chase a Cup with his bestie for a season in Colorado despite having just been to Game 7 of the Finals with a Selanne-less Ducks team. The Avalanche experiment didn’t work out for the pair, and they were both on separate teams the following season and never played together again, but deciding to take a pay cut to join forces with Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Patrick Roy and your former flame is a story that lays the foundation for a possible Weber & Suter tag team signing this summer.
So if both Weber and Suter decided to do this, where would they go? It would have to be a team that could win it all immediately and have sustained short-list relevance. It would have to be a team that not only had the cap space, but also the desire to spend to the cap while also being able to field the rest of its roster. And given their success as the liaison between a limited offense and one of the best goalies in the world, it would probably have to be a team with both its goaltending situation in good standing and substantially more offensive potential than the current Predators.
You could play around on CapGeek to try to find the perfect match, or just go the lazy route and assume that Philadelphia is the one and only team that would fit one or the other (or both, if they could just move that Bryzgalov contract…), but I believe there is one glaring match for all of these characteristics: the Washington Capitals.
If your response is anything like mine, you’re probably saying “shut up guy, you obviously haven’t done your homework as the Caps have a ton of long-term, big money contracts and there’s no way they could add two more and stay within the confines of the salary cap.” Well, actually it’s very doable. Let’s look at how it would get done.
As far as those long-term deals go, Alex Ovechkin is signed forever at a $9.5 million cap hit. Nicklas Backstrom checks in at $6.7 million for a similar time period. Brooks Laich will cost $4.5 million for five more seasons. Joel Ward is on for three more years at $3M per. After those four forwards, only Jason Chimera and Jeff Schultz are locked up beyond next season. That’s for the whole team.
The players who are coming off the books this summer are Alex Semin (who costs $6.7 million this season), Mike Knuble ($2M), Jeff Halpern ($825K), Jay Beagle and Mathieu Perrault ($1M combined), Mike Green ($5.25M), Dennis Wideman ($3.94M), John Carlson ($845K) and Tomas Vokoun ($1.5M). I know that looks like a lot to lose and/or replace, but the Caps are in the fantastic position of having 17 players under NHL contract for next season while still being just more than $19 million under the cap ceiling.
There are some questions that would need to be answered before the Weber / Suter coup could be pulled off: 1) Is Vokoun willing to play another season while being severly underpaid; 2) is Vokoun even in the Caps’ plans beyond this season, or is Braden Holtby ready to be a full-time backup to Michal Neuvirth; 3) how much do the Caps love Mike Green; 4) are the Caps crazy enough to make Semin a priority; 5) will new coach Dale Hunter force GM George McPhee (fellow Falcon, what up) to bring Wideman back; 6) how much of a raise does Carlson want, and how highly do the Caps value him; 7) are the Caps willing to force themselves to fill out the rest of the forwards on a budget akin to the wintery stages of the Oregon Trail; and perhaps most importantly, 8) do Weber and Suter believe in Alex Ovechkin?
These are a lot of questions to answer, and the mere existence of them may cause this article to look more like something that should have been published by Eklund, but I’m basing this analysis on math, reason, opportunity and absolutely no proclaimed inside information.
Let’s try to answer those questions. First, Vokoun signed with Washington last summer at an extreme discount. Most people assumed $5 million per season was a realistic price for Vokoun’s services, and that number even looked low after the Flyers inked Bryzgalov to that outrageous $5.6M-for-the-next-9-years contract. Instead, the Czech netminder took a 74% pay cut in the name of trying to do something he has yet to do: win in the playoffs. One could argue that Vokoun would probably be happy to come back and do it again next year, especially being a 36 year-old whose hourglass is getting bottom-heavy coupled with the prospect of signing the two beasts who have each blossomed since played their rookie and sophomore seasons in front of Vokoun in Nashville.
The question of whether Washington will actually welcome Vokoun back depends almost entirely on how this playoff season goes. If the lefty buckles or is usurped by his teammate and countryman Neuvirth, it could spell Czech-mate for the old guy in D.C. Perhaps the bigger issue will be whether Holtby is seen as a partner for Neuvirth or more of a tradable asset in the final year of his entry-level contract. Only the Caps know the answer to that one, but a capable and willing Vokoun can help to answer the one about Holtby in the latter.
On to Mike Green. The stocky defenseman was once hailed as the surprising new point scoring blue liner, in the likeness of Bobby Orr or Paul Coffey. Then the watchful eye of playoff scrutiny focused on Green, and it became obvious that his lack of defensive responsibility (or maybe even ability) was costing the Capitals when it mattered most. And now, we’ve moved from the “Green can’t play on a responsible, winning team” to “Green actually can’t play.” The guy has worked on his all-around game and actually gotten a little better at keeping opponents off the score sheet, but now he can’t seem to keep himself on the ice. Green has only managed to appear in 59 of a possible 126 regular season games over the last year and a half, and just yesterday underwent sports hernia surgery, which is expected to sideline him for a rather optimistic reported time frame of just 4-to-6 weeks.
I’m not trying to pile on Mike Green or act like I’m the first to say that his defense has contributed to the Caps’ recent playoff disappointments, but at some point Washington may want to decide to move in a different direction. That point would logically be in the next six months, since Green’s contract is up July 1.
Ah, the Semin thing. Just when it was universally decided that the winger is a bum, he goes and plays inspiring hockey that has some Caps fans second guessing whether telling him to take a hike is the right move. Let me answer this one: if he wants anything close to his usual $6.7 million, thank him for his services, shake his hand, and move on. If we’re considering the possibility of the Weber / Suter splash, there’s really no money for a guy like Semin, and that’s okay. In fact, if winning is the goal, I’d argue it’s perfect. And Caps fans, as much as you’re coming around on Semin right before decision time comes up, how would you feel about him knowing that bringing him back killed any chance of pulling what could be a historic defensive coup? I’m giving you this one chance to get a grip and decide if you truly want to shift the identity of the Washington Capitals hockey club. This stuff is time-sensitive too, so decide quickly and choose wisely.
Now onto the Hunter – Wideman issue. First off, Dennis Wideman has been good for the Capitals this year. In fact, he’s been very good. The D man seems to have taken past criticism to heart and actually improved his game markedly, and is no longer putting up disappointing point totals following his 50-point campaign in 2008-09, nor is he playing the crap defense that allowed him to go -33 the past two seasons. On top of his resurgence (31 points in 44 games this year, for those wondering), there is also the connection with new head coach Dale Hunter, who coached Wideman during the defenseman’s last three seasons with the OHL’s London Knights. The two seem to be good for each other, and the argument can be made that signing Weber and Suter while losing Wideman and most of the rest of the free agents might not even be that good of a trade off for the Caps. The Caps’ blue line would be rather thin after the top pairing if they were to pull the Nashville coup while losing Green, Wideman and Carlson.
Carlson himself remains a question mark moving forward. On the one hand, he’s far outplayed his entry-level contract, which expires this summer. On the other hand, he’s sort of not that amazing defensively and it’s not the Capitals’ responsibility to pay players for past performance. While Carlson is always highlighted by NBC during Washington’s numerous nationally televised games, there is the sense that the front office might be more wed to Karl Alzner, whose game falls more in line with what the Caps claim they want to become. Alzner is signed through next season, but after that the decision will have to be made on him.
Assuming Weber and Suter take about $15 million in salary cap hits, Washington would be left with about a million bucks a piece to fill out four roster spots. Additionally, they would already have Roman Hamrlik, Tom Poti, Jeff Schultz, John Erskine and Alzner under contract, in addition to Weber and Suter if our fantasy land becomes reality. That’s seven right there, albeit possibly not as deep a seven as a team would love, but certainly a serviceable corps. If they were able to move any of the other contracts, especially Hamrlik or Schultz, that would free up some more cap space to sign either Wideman, Carlson or a better forward. But it isn’t totally necessary. Besides, GMGM can surely pawn some bad contracts off on Colorado, right?
Okay, we’re almost there. We’ve parried most of the attacks on the possibility of inking both Shea Weber and Ryan Suter to contracts in the nation’s capital. Now we have that issue of having not a lot of money to fill out a few forward spots. In reality, I don’t think that would be a problem that Washington couldn’t overcome. For starters, they already have the big boys locked down. Ovechkin and Backstrom are taken care of, as is Laich, Ward, Chimera, Marcus Johansson, recent hero Matt Hendricks and Cody Eakin. Of that crew, only Johansson is a real concern, as the second-year center is stepping up large for the Caps and scheduled to become RFA in the summer of 2013. A pay raise for him is all but certain, but the possibility exists that Washington values the opportunity to bring both Nashville big boys in more highly than they do locking down a player with only second-line opportunity given the existence of Backstrom on the roster.
As far as the rest of the forwards go, it’s funny how you can usually find a solid team guy willing to play for a million bucks under the premise that his team should be awesome. They don’t have to be all that offensively talented either, as coach Hunter is renowned for his willingness to “play the shit out of” his star players (a Wyshynski quote). If fewer minutes per game are required, all of a sudden players that are lower on the NHL totem pole become acceptable fill-ins.
The numbers work themselves out. Washington signing Weber and Suter can be done. It cannot be done without making some tough decisions, but pointing that out is not exactly a counter-argument. This is life. Tough decisions have to be made all the time. McPhee has shown an ability to do just that, and it doesn’t hurt that his job security is being warmly debated. Making a move like the one we are talking about guarantees a couple of things. One, it buys you a year or two. Two, it guarantees your spot in the unemployment line if it doesn’t work out quickly. Like the great Jim Rome is always saying on his radio show, “Give me an A, or give me an F.” A coup like the one I’m talking about could turn out to be an A or an F for the franchise, but it certainly wouldn’t be a lazy C.
Speaking of which, the man wearing the C in Washington hasn’t exactly gone unnoticed or without lots and lots of criticism. In my heart of hearts, I believe that Alex Ovechkin is a winner. I’m just not sure he’s a captain. While I’ve talked about the possibility of Ryan Suter putting his pride aside and continuing with his pal Shea Weber, I wouldn’t expect the same out of Ovie in voluntarily relinquishing the C on his sweater. But it probably wouldn’t be the worst thing he could do. It also may convince the Nashville duo that he is committed to winning above all else in this league, and might even be the catalyst to the formation of one of the great squads of his time. But like I said, let’s use math and reason to analyze this game we love. No rational bone in my body feels like this is an action that Ovechkin will actually take. Therefore, we are left to wonder and speculate as to what is going through the minds of all of these individuals acting out the drama that we call pro hockey. Suter may not even want to play with Weber, let alone actually pack up the car and hit the road with him. But as interested observers, wouldn’t it be something?

We live in an age where football coaches do not know when to go for two, how to effectively use timeouts or even whether the game is mathematically over and time to take knees. The idiocracy has spilled over into the media, and unfortunately, into the pool of “readers” and listeners who get a headline and let it form their opinion of the facts of life.
Last Sunday afternoon, an online blog hosted by the Denver Post put up a headline reading “Forsberg shocker: admits Sweden may have tanked game in 2006 Olympics.” The article was written by a man named Adrian Dater, who apparently has been covering the Colorado Avalanche “since before they were even called the Avalanche.” It should be noted that he never claims to have covered the Quebec Nordiques.
The content of Dater’s article was rather thin, but it includes some quotes from Forsberg that were translated from the 2003 Hart Trophy winner’s native tongue: Swedish.
First, I’ll give the quote. Then, I’ll explain why only a moron would think any of this is controversial. It should be noted that Dater himself seemed to be saying that this story was controversial mainly in Sweden, but there’s no mistaking the title of the story.
Forsberg’s Quote
“We maybe discussed within the group will probably it is better if we do not go out and charge us too much. All knew that this was our chance. We did all that was needed to win the tournament. I think you can blame the whole system.”
What Forsberg Meant
To understand what Forsberg meant by the line, “All knew that this was our chance,” one must understand the setup of the Olympic ice hockey tournament.

The 2006 Olympic ice hockey tournament consisted of 12 competing nations. The field was split into two pools of six teams each. Every team played every other team in its pool once, for a total of five games. The top four teams in each pool advance to the quarterfinals. The winners of each quarterfinal game advanced to the semifinals, or final four, or what’s referred to in the business as “the medal round,” because three of the four remaining teams will win medals, and each team is guaranteed to play two more games (as opposed to teams that lose in the quarterfinal round and go home).
The quarterfinals are set up in a very distinct way. The winner of pool A plays the 4th place team from pool B. The #2s play the #3s from opposite pools. It’s exactly like every college basketball conference tournament that involves separate divisions.
Now, the game in question was Sweden’s final game in pool play against Slovakia. The Swedes knew that a loss meant a 3rd place finish in the pool, which normally would be a worse fate than to finish 2nd or 1st.
The other pool, however, had a bit of a shocker: Switzerland had finished 2nd, ahead of the previous two Olympic gold medal winners, Canada and the Czech Republic. So for Sweden, to finish 1st or 2nd in the pool meant a quarterfinal date with a hockey powerhouse that had more recent success than the Swedes themselves, who in fact had won the Olympic gold in 1994 — immediately prior to the Czechs and Canadians. It would have been ballsy and gunslingeresque to win the game against Slovakia and set up some sort of a “previous twelve years consolidation match,” but this isn’t pro wrestling. The Swedes’ best chance to get into the medal round was to finish 3rd in their pool, and it would take a loss to assure themselves of that spot.
Does that mean that Sweden “tanked the game” according to Dater’s headline, or “threw the game” according to gem Dan Duquette, Jr
Not necessarily, as Forsberg is never quoted as saying, “We tried to lose,” or “we wanted to lose.” He said it was “probably it is better if we do not go out and charge us too much,” which I think translates to “not go out and try too hard and expend too much energy on a meaningless game.” There’s no actual use of the words “tank,” “throw,” or even “lose.” Just a line acknowledging that the Swedish team was entering a dead rubber, which come up all the time in every league of every sport.
Even if Forsberg meant what these “professional journalists” have twisted his words to mean, what’s the problem?
We’ve already established that Forsberg never said anything in any language about throwing a game. But we also know from watching sports that a team can essentially ensure its own defeat just by the players not having their hearts in the game. It seems that even those who deemed it necessary to come out in Forsberg’s defense have admitted that the Slovakia game was meaningless.
Duquette’s article quotes Henrik Sedin, another prominent member of the ’06 Swedish team, as saying that something was lost in translation, and that Forsberg was not suggesting they tried to lose. Just maybe, that they didn’t really care to win. Um, has anyone watched the bottom 25% of teams in any league on this planet?
Sedin says, “You have to remember, too, that we were already in the quarterfinals. It wasn’t a big game for us, so to speak. So that might have been part of it.”
My point exactly. Nobody said Sweden “tried to lose.” What Forsberg and anyone with a brain knew, however, is that there was really no reason to try to win. Hence, Forsberg’s quote at the end about “blaming the whole system.”
And I know there are always going to be dumb shits out there who scream that tired old line, “you always play at 110%! You always have to go all out every shift of every game or you’re not a real athlete!” Spare me. First off, nobody can ever give 110%. It’s not mathematically possible. The reason we use that tired old cliché is that it makes us feel like we give 100% much more often than we do. Here’s a dirty little secret: most of us give somewhere between 50 – 75% toward everything in our daily lives. To give around 90% is taxing — mentally, physically and emotionally. The moments when we as humans are able to enter “the zone” and give anything close to 100% of our attention, preparation, effort and desire are so rare that they actually have their own cliché (in the zone). Nobody thinks that they’re “in the zone” for most of their waking lives unless they’re under the influence of copious amounts of blow, and even then, it’s probably not productive or sustainable. I don’t know, that’s just what my D.A.R.E. officer told me.
Sweden won the Gold Medal
Here’s another reason none of this matters: Team Sweden went out and won the entire tournament. They won the gold freaking medal in the one competition in which they were allowed to compete. What in the hell could they have done to succeed more during their two weeks in the Olympic village, impregnate Lindsey Vonn? (Easy, she was Lindsey Kildow at the time and would remain so for another 19 months, so let’s all just relax. I’m not advocating for extra-marital affairs here — just against growing idiocracy).
So, the International Ice Hockey Federation set up a tournament and laid out the ground rules for determining a winner. The Three Crowns won that tournament under those rules. So, what exactly are we talking about here?
Sportsbooks already take dead rubbers into account
The main argument in favor of making a big deal out of Forsberg’s comments is that the integrity of sport is destroyed when a competitor or team of competitors intentionally loses a game. The assumption is always that the person or persons throwing the game / match is making money by gambling against themselves and ensuring the success of their bet.
There is absolutely no way an objective and logical person can take Forsberg’s comments and make the leap needed to conclude that the Sweden – Slovakia game was thrown. Yet, there that leap is in every headline. It’s not because the language of throwing a game is there; it’s because that’s the kind of language that gets internet users to click on a link. It’s really sad, but that’s the beginning and end to this story.
It would be naive to assume that sportsbooks and bettors are not aware of the differing degrees to which a team needs to win a specific game. Only an outsider, a person entirely foreign to the concepts and tongues of sports betting, would take Forsberg’s comments in conjunction with these sensational headlines and buy into the hype. Betting lines from week 17 of the NFL are always goofy, with an 8-7 club favored to beat a 12-3 club that has nothing to play for. Lines can be 14 points different solely based on the timing of a matchup.
The Indianapolis Colts have become famous for benching their entire team late in the season, and while that creates uncertainty, the bookies do their best to adjust the lines accordingly. There’s nothing unsporting about a team using its brains to set itself up to win the championship in the best way possible. That’s exactly what the Swedish hockey team did at the end of pool play in the 2006 Olympics.
Dead rubbers happen in just about every sports competition that separates “regular season” from “playoff.” Once it is decided that the ultimate champion of a competition is the winner of a playoff, then all of a sudden the importance of each singular regular season game is diminished. Winning a top seed or finishing as high as possible is nice, but ultimately all that matters is to win the playoff, and to accomplish that, a team really needs only to make said playoff. Check out the latter parts of any North American regular season, or the end of the group stages of soccer tournaments such as the UEFA Champions League. Once a team no longer has an incentive to win a specific game, the tendency is to not trot out the best lineup or give blood to the cause. After all, why would you?
I don’t hear anybody alleging that crappy baseball teams are “throwing” or “tanking” games when they call up their minor leaguers at the end of the season to see what they’ve got for the next campaign. Nor do I hear these loaded words launched at bad teams trying to get more ping pong balls in a draft lottery; but I sure do hear joking slogans thrown around like the “Fall for Taylor Hall,” or “Suck for Luck,” to say nothing of the obvious desperation to pile up the losses by the Cleveland Cavaliers during LeBron James’ senior year of high school. So again, what the hell are we talking about here?
I cannot say this too many times: this is an absolute non-story. There’s nothing shocking about what Peter Forsberg said. There’s nothing unsporting about the way Team Sweden approached its fifth and final round robin game against Team Slovakia. And there was no seedy, dark underworld story worthy of a Scorsese film. The Swedes played the game according to the rules that were set up by administrators, and then went out and won that game.
If you don’t like the idea of “setting up your seeding,” then stop locking teams into slots and start allowing the best seed to choose its opponent. Then the #2 seed can choose its opponent and bracket slot, and on down the line. Going into the quarterfinal round of the ’06 Olympics, the first seed would have chosen to play Switzerland, and there would have been no built-in incentive for Sweden to lose its final game to jockey for the proper lower position to play an inflated Swiss team.
There are seven hockey nations that are clearly ahead of the rest: Sweden, Finland, Canada, United States, Russia, Czech Republic and Slovakia. This fact has been proven year after year in both international competitions and here on this continent with the makeup of NHL rosters. Those were the seven quarterfinalists aside from Switzerland in the 2006 quarterfinals. The same can be said for the 2010 Olympic tournament.
Frankly, nobody in this crowd would choose to face three of the others en route to a gold medal when it is possible to instead face only two. The Swedes chose to take their final game easy and end up only having to defeat two of its top-7 brethren. It should be noted that the United States was one overtime goal away from duplicating Sweden’s feat and winning the gold medal after facing Switzerland in the quarterfinals in 2010, but Sidney Crosby foiled those plans in front of the Vancouver crowd.
Lastly, anyone who wants to suggest that Slovakia needs Sweden to “tank” or “throw” a game in order for it to go the way of the Slovaks should check out the 2010 quarterfinals. Last I checked, the final score was Slovakia 4, Sweden 3. Jaro Halak and the boys were 40-to-1 to win the tournament for some reason, but sent the defending Olympic champs home in the round of eight. I wonder why nobody involved in the discourse of this topic ever refers to that fact. Probably because it would just add water to the extinguisher.

Sometimes writings take on a life of their own and go in a direction in which the writer hadn’t planned on going. It seems Richard Bachman has grabbed this blog and ran with it, at least for the time being.
For the second time in three nights, The Pen Name will lead the Dallas Stars out of their home tunnel and onto the ice in front of a national TV audience. Mind-boggling, if you ask me.
I’ve been very supportive of Bachman in his string of starts over the last two weeks, but that isn’t exactly to say I’ve gone out on a limb. The Pen Name is 4-1 as a starter since relieving Andrew Raycroft mid-game at San Jose on December 8. Tonight will be just his second home appearance after playing in five consecutive road games.

The opponent is the Philadelphia Flyers, who under normal circumstances would be heavy favorites to beat Dallas anywhere. But after the maiming over the weekend on home ice at the hands of the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins, the Flyers skated decently to a disappointing result in Colorado two nights ago.
Philadelphia outshot the Avalanche 33-27, scored 1 power play goal in its 4 opportunities, and killed off the only two instances it had of being shorthanded. But Avs goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere was just good enough to steal the shootout win, and extend the Flyers’ “losing streak” to 1.5 games (I mean, we can’t really call it a 2-gamer, now can we?). These struggles probably make HBO very happy, since the Rangers are cruising ahead of the Winter Classic, and nobody wants to see two teams in cruise control.
Phoenix will bring its road warrior hockey club into Carolina tonight for a game against Cam Ward and the last-place Hurricanes. The Coyotes rock a 10-6-1 record away from the apathetic confines of the Arena, while playing even in front of the raucous crowd (7-7-2 home record). Apologies to Coyote fans for my exaggeration; you do create a pretty good scene during playoff games, and according to your Wikipedia page, ticket sales have increased and season ticket renewals are at an all-time high.
The Hurricanes have played some dreadful hockey this season, and look poised for a high draft pick. The results haven’t come yet under Kirk Muller, but the latest in a line of NHL ’94 stars-turned-head coaches (or in Randy Cunneyworth’s case, NHL ’94 bit players-turned-head coaches) hasn’t had nearly enough time. It was nice to see the Canes were able to unload Tomas Kaberle to Montreal recently, but the fact that he was on the roster only highlighted what I believe to be an uncertainty over the direction of the club. Carolina has multiple rookies and/or prospects that many still believe to be future impact players in the NHL. What they don’t have is a calming influence on the blue line, and with the only man on the team capable of delivering that, Joni Pitkanen, out indefinitely with a concussion, things look very bleak for the Canes this season.
Speaking of bleak outlooks, Montreal heads into Chicago tonight with very few believers left on the bandwagon. Professional writers are using terms like “gongshow” and “lack of direction” rather frequently these days to describe the Habs, and it’s hard to argue with any of them. The latest uproar surrounds new hire Cunneyworth’s lack of a grasp of the French language, but I’ve never been to Quebec so I’ll save any comment on that.
The Habs will concede the game try to spark the team by starting Peter Budaj at the Hawks, who just possibly might be tired from last night’s loss in Pittsburgh. One would have to expect a Chicago victory. Corey Crawford is expected in nets for Chicago, but nothing is yet confirmed at the time I write this, and Ray Emery has started the last six games to the tune of a 5-1 record. If it is Crawford tonight, it is an absolutely huge game for him. Most people expect Crawford to be the Hawks’ goalie going forward, but the season is almost halfway gone, and at this moment it’s hard to justify Crawford over Emery. A game against Montreal at home is the kind of game that any division title contender should wish for right now.
What should be noted is that this is exactly why the Blackhawks were so smart in giving Emery a tryout, and subsequently a contract and the backup job. I urged the Red Wings to make this same move, but instead Razor Ray is winning for the rival team. Things may turn and nothing is certain, but right now, credit must be paid to Emery for persevering through his terrible hip injury and to Chicago for realizing how important he could be to a roster capable of winning another Stanley Cup, but backstopped by a second-year starter.
St. Louis will start Brian Elliott at Colorado, who will counter with Giguere. Some people will go on about the Shattenkirk trade (my ode to MvsW), but I think enough time has passed that we can evaluate a game between the Blues and the Avs in a way that includes players besides Shattenkirk, Stewart and Johnson. Since I never pick the Avs, give me the Blues. David Backes will be the anti-Paul Stastny tonight in a micro-matchup between young American centers on different sides of the slope right now.
Tampa Bay plays at San Jose tonight, and I’m not going to waste anybody’s time going into detail on a game that, quite frankly, I’m not going to watch. I expect the Sharks should get this one done at home, but the NHL, like all professional sports leagues with built-in parity, is unpredictable. Not many people may remember this or care, but this game is a matchup between last season’s conference final losers. Give the winner a bronze medal, I say.
In what’s probably the game of the night, my Detroit Red Wings travel to Vancouver for the first time this year. Detroit beat Vancouver at Joe Louis Arena 2-0 on October 13 in a game that was unexpectedly dominated by the Wings, but that was when the Canucks were still in the beginning stages of their hangover. It seems the headache is gone now, and the home/road records would suggest a Vancouver win tonight. The Canucks are 9-4-1 at home this season, while the Red Wings are a simple 8-8-0 on the road. Detroit is usually a pretty good road team, but has instead opted for an eyebrow-raising 13-2-1 start on home ice en route to another good record through 32 games (21-10-1). Jimmy Howard is confirmed as the starter for Detroit, while Roberto Luongo is expected for Vancouver. That game starts at 10 p.m. eastern time.