I'm usually not one for predictions since, well, I've got a terrible track record. Just look at my Memorial Cup picks from last season. I went 1-for-4. Yikes. Similarly, I was rocked in this year's March Madness.
But when J.P. Hoornstra, my editor at HockeyPrimeTime.com, asked me to chime in with my picks for the 2010-11 National Hockey League season, well, how could I say no?
You can see all of the picks from the HPT.com staff right here. It's interesting to see that none of us agree on everything, although we come close to a consensus on a few select issues, like Alex Ovechkin winning the Rocket Richard Trophy or the Washington Capitals winning the Eastern Conference championship.
There are also some picks where I stand alone, like tabbing Tuuka Rask to win the Vezina or Jordan Eberle to go home with the Calder. But hey, there's the distinct possibility that we'll all be wrong. That's why you play the games.
But anyway, I figure that I'd share all of my picks right here so that you, the fan, can mock my poor decisions in about nine months time.
Western Conference champion: Vancouver Canucks
Eastern Conference champion: Washington Capitals
Stanley Cup champion: Vancouver Canucks
Hart Trophy: Henrik Sedin, Vancouver Canucks
Calder Trophy: Jordan Eberle, Edmonton Oilers
Norris Trophy: Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings
Selke Trophy: Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings
Vezina Trophy: Tuuka Rask, Boston Bruins
Rocket Richard Trophy: Alexander Ovechkin, Washington Capitals
Jack Adams Trophy: Joel Quenneville, Chicago Blackhawks
Executive of the Year: Rick Dudley of the Atlanta Thrashers
Comeback player of the Year: Mike Modano, Detroit Red Wings
Surprise playoff team: Atlanta Thrashers
Surprise non-playoff team: Montreal Canadiens
Agree? Disagree? Want an explanation? Go ahead and ask, I'll be happy to answer.
Every morning I try to come up with a new idea to blog about. Sometimes I’ve already been turning an idea over in my head for a day or two, other times I have to spend hours scouring websites and watching various sports channels to try to come up with a good idea.
The challenge is coming up with an original angle, something to give my readers that is new and different. Often this means avoiding topics that the mainstream media is all over.
But how can I avoid talking about the Montreal Canadiens' incredible 2-1 Game Seven victory over the Washington Capitals last night?
I’m glad that I didn’t commit any kind of National Hockey League post-season because I would have never picked the Habs to better the Capitals. In fact, if anything, I would’ve picked top-seeded Washington to sweep Montreal right out of the playoffs.
I had figured that although the combination of Jose Theodore and Semyon Varlamov has been a shaky goalie-by-committee for the Caps all season, they were no worse than the netminder hydra of Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak.
Surely, Montreal’s pop-gun offence would’ve been no match for the Washington juggernaut. The Canadiens had no corresponding Mike Green. No Nicklas Backstrom or Alexander Semin. And Alex Ovechkin? He was several tiers above any forward the Habs have on their payroll.
Heck, months ago I claimed that general manager Bob Gainey’s sudden departure from the Habs would prove to be a distraction for the seemingly playoff-bound franchise.
Well, I’m not too proud to admit that I was wrong on all counts.
Halak, of course, was money for Montreal in the final games of the series. He stopped just about everything that came his way and stymied the league’s best offence.
Speaking of stopping shots – Hal Gill, Josh Gorges and especially Jaroslav Spacek put their bodies on the line shift after shift, cutting down passing lanes and blocking half of Washington’s chances.
All that defensive effort created tons of opportunities for Mike Cammalleri, Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta. Although all three are often maligned for being relatively short (Gionta is the shortest at 5’7”) they stood tall for the Canadiens and provided a crucial spark for the Habs.
Now Montreal is taking on the Pittsburgh Penguins, the defending Stanley Cup champions, and again they’re big underdogs. I want to count them out again, say that there’s no way that their sound defensive system can create back-to-back upset.
But hey, I’ve been wrong before.
This summer could be particularly heart-breaking for fans of the Toronto Raptors as they face the prospect of forward Chris Bosh, arguably the best player the team has ever seen, leaving the city as a free agent.
Toronto Blue Jays fans can sympathize with their basketball neighbours – this summer they lost ace Roy Halladay in a lopsided trade with the Philadelphia Phillies and Seattle Mariners.
It’s a familiar story for Torontonians. One of their teams will draft a player who becomes a star, but the franchise player eventually begins to grumble and complain about greener pastures, eventually demanding a trade or letting their contract expire and moving on via free agency.
Fortunately, NBA All-Star Tracy McGrady, a former Raptor, was in town and shed some light on the topic during a shoot-around with his teammates on the New York Knicks.
“Some guys do it for different reasons,” McGrady said. “[Bosh has] been here for quite some time now, and he's personally been successful. The team really hasn't done that much.”
And that’s the problem – teams in Toronto struggle against American competition. There are two main reasons for this:
1. The taxes in Canada limit team’s options when it comes to free agency.
Any professional athlete in a major sport (basketball, baseball, hockey) is going to earn in the high six figures.
In the United States, that would put them in the highest tax bracket, where they’d have to pay about 4.3% of their annual income to the federal government.
Employees in Canada who earn more than $126,264 pay 29% of their annual income to the federal government.
That is a jarring disparity. An athlete who earns $10 million per year on the Blue Jays or the Raptors would have to pay $2.9 million to the taxman. In the United States that same athlete would have to pay $430,000.
It’s tough to compete with other teams for prized free agents when they player will be losing 29% on the dollar just for signing on the dotted line.
2. Teams in Toronto offer less media exposure, making it a less attractive option for players.
Toronto is the biggest media centre in Canada, and actually stacks up pretty well against other North American cities in terms of population (fifth largest city, eighth largest metropolitan area).
However, sports teams based in Toronto get the short end of the stick when it comes to being televised on American networks.
Without a high profile in the United States an athlete can’t capitalize on their secondary source of income – endorsements and sponsorships. For example, Chris Bosh was drafted in 2003, the same year as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony. However, Bosh doesn’t even rank in the top 15 for jersey sales, and neither does Toronto for team sales. By comparison, all of Bosh’s draftmates rate highly on the list, even though they play for teams in smaller markets.
It all boils down to money. Professional athletes lose significant amounts of income from both of their main revenue sources, which makes Toronto a tough sell.
Some of you may be wondering why I haven’t mentioned hockey, a sport that has six teams in Canada? Simple, really.
Most hockey players are Canadian, and so they’re used to heavy taxation. The second largest group of players in the National Hockey League are European, who are also used to high taxes.
Also, the fact that there are six Canadian teams mitigates the lack of coverage in the United States - ESPN can ignore the Raptors and Blue Jays because they’re the only Canadian teams in the league, but when there’s at least one Canadian team playing every night and every franchise prominently features athletes from Canada, they’ve got no choice but to acknowledge non-American teams.
As an aside, all this adds to the fact that the Buffalo Bills, or any other team NFL team, would not work in Toronto.
All this is to say that in leagues where there is only one Canadian team (NBA, MLB and the MLS) there is a nearly unique set of challenges that face franchises based in Toronto. When the Raptors, Blue Jays and TFC struggle in the standings and begin to lose marquee players, it’s probably because they’re not grappling with the reality of the market.
Sure, a team can draft a young prospect, but it’s tremendously difficult to put together a team that can contend for the championship when so many players see Toronto as an undesirable city to play in.
As you can undoubtedly tell from this website, I spend a lot of time cruising the Internet. It’s a big part of my job and also a nice way to spend an afternoon. In the fine tradition of Twitter I figured I’d start using Fridays to spotlight websites or podcasts that I enjoy visiting.
One of my favourite blogs to check in on is Third String Goalie. The format is simple. Each day, Jeff chooses a hockey jersey from his immense collection and explains the history of the sweater. Not his personal history with the shirt, but the career of the player, the history of the team and the events that were important to the jerseys’ era.
For example, in a run up to the Olympic games Jeff has been looking at team jerseys from international competition. On Thursday he wrote about his 1998 Czech Republic Dominik Hasek jersey from the Nagano games.
Jeff outlines the history of the Czech team and then goes on to explain how they fared in the 1998 tournament. Then comes the multimedia portion where he has photos of the 1998 jersey, the designs for the 2010 Czech jersey and video of the fateful shootout between Canada and the Czech Republic where Marc Crawford inexplicably kept Wayne Gretzky and Steve Yzerman on the bench.
Every article is filled with exhaustive research and funny asides. Fortunately for the reader, Jeff is a freelance photographer, a career the affords him the time and energy to pour himself into each of these pieces daily.
That's right, you can see brand new material every day of the week. Incredible! You can also follow him on Twitter.
It’s one of my favourite reads, and Jeff was kind enough to submit himself to an email interview.
JCH - How did you get started? Where did you get the idea for Third String Goalie?
I got started doing the blog because I participate in a message board called JerseyCentral.org. On the message board is a thread entitled "What are you wearing today?" It's a place on the board to show off a jersey that is separate from the "new arrivals" thread.
I found myself posting jerseys because of a significant game being played that day or an anniversary of something noteworthy, such as the anniversary of the Miracle on Ice. My explanations were getting a bit longer each time and I realized I had even more information to share than I was posting.
In addition, I have a pretty sizable collection and a desire to share it with people beyond just posting pictures of them. I wanted to explain the significance of why I recreated that specific jersey, as most of my jerseys have some sort of story to tell.
Since just having pictures of them online wasn't satisfying and I didn't want to hijack the message board thread with overly long stories, it occurred to me that a blog was the way to go.
Even before I started the blog, I had the name filed away, having come across it while reading an article in an old issue of Baseball Digest from 1956 that was a humorous glossary of terms. One of the entries was "Third String Catcher", which meant a fan in the stands wearing a jersey. First, I thought "Well, that pretty much describes me." and thought it would be a great name for a website. When I started the hockey blog, I just changed it to "Third String Goalie".
JCH -You've been blogging since May and have over 280 posts, averaging more than one post per day. How do you keep up that pace?
The combination of being freelance and the economy being lousy has give me a lot of free time. Blogging is a great way to escape reality! I do most of my writing after my son goes to bed in the evening.
JCH - What was your first hockey jersey?
My first jersey was a white Minnesota North Stars jersey from the early 80's. I bought from the team souvenir stand. It was out of stock and took forever to arrive.
JCH - What is your favourite jersey?
Hard to pick just one, but my favorite is my early 90's Soviet Red Army jersey. It's such an icon with the hammer and sickle logos, stars and name on the back in Cyrillic.
JCH - What do you look for in a jersey?
I've always liked a jersey that tells a story of some sort. Any jersey that you can put an extra patch on is desirable in my book, be it an anniversary, memorial, Stanley Cup Finals or tournament patch.
I've bought jerseys because they used a cool font for the numbers, because they came up with a great looking design, because they came up with a horrible design, because it was a jersey of a favorite player or represents a significant occurrence, like the 1972 Summit Series.
JCH - What's the ugliest jersey you've ever seen? The nicest?
The ugliest in my book is the 1995-96 Mighty Ducks of Anaheim alternate "Wild Wing" jersey. While the Los Angeles Kings 95-96 alternate "Burger King" jersey is really weird and the Dallas Stars "Mooteurs" is mind-numbingly ugly and dumb, the "Wild Wing" lacks any dignity at all. It just reeks of being designed by people with no appreciation for NHL hockey and I can't believe they even asked NHL players to wear it. Of those three, it's the only one that's so stupid that it makes me mad just thinking about it. Of course, I own two of them!
The nicest. I really liked the Dallas Stars green and black jerseys with the star pattern first used as an alternate in 1997-98 that they won the Stanley Cup in. That was such a nice looking jersey when it first came out I was able to overlook the fact that it was my old North Stars team that was stolen from me wearing it and knew immediately I needed to buy one.
I also like the classic Boston Bruins jerseys worn from the mid 70's to the mid 90's.
JCH - On your blog you advise your readers to "never, ever tuck your jersey into your pants." Any other sweater faux-pas you want to speak out against?
I'm not a fan of putting you own name and number on a jersey, but can understand the reasoning why people do it. Those people are not the ones sitting there with Thrashers Kovalchuk or Wild Gaborik jerseys today. There's no hope of any resale value in putting your own name on the back, but many people don't plan on selling theirs.
The thing that's really starting to annoy me is the number of people who could care less that they have bought a horrible, horrible Chinese knockoff. There are some that are just dreadful. I once saw a vintage Washington Capitals Alexander Ovechkin jersey were all the red parts were orange. ORANGE! The fonts were off, the colors were off, Ovechkin never wore that style. Have some pride, man.
That said, the copies are getting much better and if Reebok hadn't jacked up the price on the new, ill-fitting edge jerseys (where if the body fits, the arms are way too long) by a good 50% to $120 over the wonderful CCM 550's that were $80 AND cheapened the jerseys at the same time with screen printed, brittle shoulder patches and screen printed numbers made to look like quality sewn numbers, there wouldn't be such a market for a lower priced alternative now, would there?
JCH - How do you do all that research for each blog post?
The Internets. It's all out there waiting to be found. I do have a library of hockey books to fall back on, but most of it comes from an assortment of websites I rely on like IIHF.com. One place I go out of my way not to use are other blogs. I don't want to come across as having copied their work. Perhaps we will arrive at a similar story, having found the same information, but I do find my information on my own.
I do have to go out of my way to mention NHLUniforms.com. I bet I have visited that site every day for the last eight years.
JCH - I was most impressed with your Jan. 29 post on Bob Sauve's Buffalo Sabres jersey. How did you ever get all that detail on the players' experiences combating the blizzard?
I got lucky and found an article on SIVault.com that had the quotes in it. I don't use that site as much as I should, as I often find their information concerning factual things differs at times from other websites. For example, the number of Sabres players they listed having made the plane trip to Montreal was different that other sites. Perhaps SI originally stated "Don Luce arrived at the airport and he and 14 others made the trip". Other websites will take that and repeat is as "14 players made the trip". I assume that an article written in February 1977 based on first hand interviews with the participants will be more accurate than one created in 2007 with second and third hand information.
It's funny how often I find conflicting information. I've seen Clint Benedict credited with wearing the first goalie mask for just one, four and five games on different websites.
JCH - What are you most proud of on your blog?
That I have stuck with the idea, that my work has gotten recognized somewhat and that I've tried to bring enough variety to my topics that it will catch people off guard from time to time. Like the blizzard story for example, or the one where I discovered that the entire reason the NHL was formed in 1917 was for the four owners to rid themselves of a fifth owner from their previous league who they couldn't stand!
JCH - What do you hope your readers get out of Third String Goalie?
An appreciation for a cool looking jersey, an appreciation for a player they may not have known much about before, like Stan Mikita, an appreciation for hockey beyond the NHL, especially international hockey with the Olympics on the horizon, and an appreciation for hockey prior to Wayne Gretzky.
The NHL didn't start with Gretzky and has over sixty years of history to tell that many people are not aware of. Heck, the Stanley Cup was around a quarter of a century before the NHL even came to be. Most people have no idea that is the case.
It's my hope that each day a number of people think "Well I didn't know that before" or are reminded of something from the past they hadn't thought of in a while.
JCH - And finally... How can we get more Marie-Pier on Third String Goalie?
If I ever do a story on the Montreal Canadiens, I see if she's got any relevant videos available. More Habs equals more Marie-Pier, even if I can't understand a single thing she's said.
I try not to be too English-centric and have no fear posting videos in Latvian, Finnish, Russian, Swedish or French. I've had readers from 86 different countries, so it's nice to make them feel at home from time to time. There's something universal about an excited announcer screaming his head in Czech off after a goal that we can all understand and appreciate.