Wednesday, June 15, 2011

On the Canucks, hatred, and why I want no part of the riots

I'm a fan of the Vancouver Canucks. I have been for most of my 23 years on this planet. The team's had some tremendous highs in that time, including runs to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1994 and again this year, but they've also had some tremendous lows (the whole Mark Messier and Mike Keenan era, for one). Still, if anything's more likely to make me abandon my fandom than an awful team struggling under the mismanagement of Keenan, it's a few entitled idiots who take a loss in Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Finals as an excuse to start destroying property. I'm watching the images on CBC right now, and it's absolutely horrifying. It's that sort of hatred and destruction that's the worst part of sports, and for it to show up here sickens me.

If I could do away with one thing in this world, it would be hate. Hate not only leads to suffering, but it blinds us, convinces us to think irrationally, and tells us that whatever disgusting feelings we have are just fine, because whoever they're aimed at isn't worthy of consideration. It's hate that spawns hyper-partisanship, where fans blindly clothe themselves in their teams' colours and ignore whatever happens on the other side. It's hate that leads to messes like the football hooliganism we've seen over in Europe, or the reported attacks on Canucks' fans out in Boston (which probably happened in Vancouver too).It's hate that leads us to believe that sports are more than just a game, more than just a fun diversion, but rather some divinely-ordained way of determining that one group of people is better than another group. That's not acceptable with races, religions, political beliefs or anything else, so why should it be the case in sports?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Mad Libs, Tom Scocca, Tommy Craggs and why everything doesn't suck

It's a pity Leonard B. Stern, creator of Mad Libs, died earlier this week, as he's not around to see how his invention is still being used in the media. The most persistent offender on this front is Slate, the remarkable Internet outlet that seems to largely thrive on finding things people like and writing contrarian pieces on why they're really awful. In the past, they've taken bold stands against such horrors as pie, criticism of Creed and hand sanitizer. As Jonah Goldberg once wrote (in a piece for Slate itself, which must have set off some sort of contrarianism loop), "Freelancers especially seem to have figured out how to get through Slate's editorial defenses: Pitch a story, any story, that's counterintuitive, and someone on the receiving end will say "brilliant!" The idea seems very Mad Libs-inspired: "[Group of people] likes [noun], therefore it is [derogatory adjective]".

This approach is now spreading thanks to former Slate type Tom Scocca's new role as the managing editor of Deadspin, where he's already brought over the Mad Libs approach. In the crosshairs this time? Famed former New York restaurant Elaine's, a writer's hangout praised by the likes of Chris Jones, Kevin Van Valkenburg, Jeff MacGregor and now Grantland's Wright Thompson. If that many prominent people like something, it must be awful, right, Scocca? Right.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Taiwan makes the NHL a little more exciting

The people from Taiwan's Next Media Animation have their own take on who to root for in the Stanley Cup finals, plus how to make them more interesting. Check it out:

Best use of a tiger since John Cleese's classes in self-defence against fresh fruit:

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

The Canucks' version of A New Hope

It is a period of cold war. The Vancouver Canucks, striking from a hidden base, have won their first, second and third series victories against allies of the evil Galactic Empire. Now, they must confront the Empire itself, which has taken on the new name of the "Boston Bruins" but kept its old logo (with slight revisions). By watching footage of Boston's most recent battles, Vancouver coaches managed to steal secret plans to the Empire's ultimate weapon, TIM THOMAS, a clogging-up-space station with enough padding to deflect an entire planet. Pursued by the Empire's sinister agents, Henrik Sedin races home aboard his starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save his hockey team and restore freedom to the galaxy…



HENRIK SEDIN as Princess Leia (a twin, a key figure in the Rebellion)

ZDENO CHARA as Darth Vader (tall, violent)

DANIEL SEDIN as Luke Skywalker (a twin, capable of hitting small targets)

RYAN KESLER as Han Solo (cocky, shows up unexpectedly)

MANNY MALHOTRA as Obi-Wan Kenobi (called back into action from the sidelines)

ANDREW ALBERTS as C-3PO (tall (6'5'') and awkward)

KEITH BALLARD as R2-D2 (short (5'11''), importance underrated by many)

GARY BETTMAN as Grand Moff Tarkin (he'll blow up a rebellious market from time to time)

ALAIN VIGNEAULT as Jan Dodonna (he's picked out Vancouver's target)

CHRISTIAN EHRHOFF as Wedge Antilles (no one talks about him much, but he's crucial to the Rebellion's success)

MIKAEL SAMUELSSON as Biggs Darklighter (knocked out by the Empire, but important to getting them this far)

TIM THOMAS as the Death Star (dangerous, seemingly-impenetrable defences, but not really)



ANDREW ALBERTS: "Their forwards are heading in this direction. What are we going to do? We'll be sent to the penalty box formerly reserved for Phil Kessel or smashed into who knows what!"


HENRIK SEDIN: "Zdeno Chara, I should have known. Only you could be so bold. The NHL's discipline committee will not sit for this, when they hear you've attacked Max Pacioretty..."


DANIEL SEDIN: "What is it?"

MANNY MALHOTRA: "Your father's hockey stick. This is the weapon of a Sedin twin. Not
as clumsy or as random as a blaster. An elegant weapon for a more civilized time."


HENRIK SEDIN: "General Malhotra, years ago you almost served this franchise in the Bure trade. Now they beg you to help them in their struggle against the Empire. ... This is our most desperate hour. Help me, Manny Malhotra, you're my only hope."


GARY BETTMAN: "The NHL discipline committee will no longer be of any concern to us. I've just received word that the Emperor has dissolved the council permanently."


ZDENO CHARA: "Don't be too proud of this technological terror you've constructed. The ability to destroy a franchise is insignificant next to the power of my elbows."


HENRIK SEDIN: "The more you tighten your grip, Bettman, the more franchises will slip through your fingers."


RYAN KESLER: "I ain't in this for your Stanley Cup victory, and I'm not in it for you, Henrik. I expect to be well paid. I'm in it for the money!"


ALAIN VIGNEAULT: "Tim Thomas' goal is heavily shielded and carries pads larger than half the star fleet. Its defenses are designed around a direct large-scale assault. A small one-man breakaway should be able to penetrate the outer defenses. ... The target area is only two inches wide. It's a small hole in the padding, right below Thomas' glove. The opening leads directly to the net. A precise hit will start a chain reaction which should destroy the Bruins."

CHRISTIAN EHRHOFF: "That's impossible, even for a computer."

DANIEL SEDIN: "It's not impossible. I used to bullseye targets in my NHL All-Star Game appearances. They're not much bigger than two inches."


MIKAEL SAMUELSSON: "Sir, Daniel is the best sniper in Sweden's outer rim territories."


MANNY MALHOTRA: "Use the Force, Daniel!"


ZDENO CHARA: "I have you now."


RYAN KESLER: "You're all clear, Sedin! Now let's blow this thing and go party!"


RYAN KESLER: "Well, I wasn't gonna let you get all the credit."


Stanley Cup Finals preview: myself on the Canucks

Here's the conclusion of this point/counterpoint setting up the Stanley Cup Finals. Earlier, my old Queen's Journal colleague Mike Woods made the case for the Bruins. Here's my take on why I think the Canucks will win.

The NHL playoffs are a funny thing, and the best team doesn't always win. In fact, as I've written before, contrary to the demands of narrative, the best team probably wins about 55 per cent of the time. That leaves 45 per cent of the time where upsets happen, and the odds may be even higher in a series like this that looks like it should be close. Thus, anything could happen here. If you're a betting man or someone making predictions, though, you want that 55 per cent chance over a 45 per cent one, and that's why I'm going with the Canucks.

What Vancouver accomplished this regular season was nothing short of historic. They finished first in the NHL with 117 points, 10 ahead of their nearest competitor (Washington) and 14 ahead of the Bruins. They scored an NHL-best 262 goals and conceded a NHL-low 185 (if you're not entirely convinced of the predictive value of goal differential, it's notable that Boston's +51 was second-best in the league, but miles behind Vancouver's +77). Even an 82-game or 162-game (as in baseball) regular season may not be enough to really give us a solid indication of who the best teams really are, but it's a pretty good sample size, and it suggests that these Canucks are a pretty incredible group.

Special teams also look like a particular advantage for Vancouver. The Canucks put up a NHL-best 24.3 per cent mark on the power play during the regular season, an area where Boston particularly struggled; the Bruins were 20th with a 16.2 per cent mark. Those trends have continued in the postseason, where Vancouver's third with a 28.3 mark (behind only first-round exitees Anaheim and Phoenix), while Boston is 14th with a miserable 8.2 mark (ahead of only the Rangers and Pittsburgh). Postseason penalty killing has also been an edge for Vancouver, where they've put up a 80.6 per cent mark against Boston's 79.4 per cent; that advantage was even more stark in the regular season, where Vancouver's 85.6 per cent mark (third in the league) was notably better than Boston's 82.8 per cent (16th). As close playoff games often come down to what you can do with the man advantage, it's hard not to like the Canucks there.

Vancouver's roster is strong throughout as well. Despite criticism of goaltender Roberto Luongo, his playoff save percentage is a sparkling .920, eighth-best all time. Boston's Tim Thomas may hold an even better .928 mark, but Luongo is no goaltending slouch, and he's got plenty of support. The Canucks' defining characteristic is their depth, as in addition to superb production from Henrik Sedin (a playoff-best 21 points), Daniel Sedin (16) and Ryan Kesler (18), they're also getting key contributions from the likes of Mason Raymond (eight points) and Chris Higgins (seven points). Their defence is also deep and consistent, with everyone from Christian Ehrhoff to Alex Edler to Kevin Bieksa having tremendous playoffs. Moreover, this year has been proof that bruins can be defeated by prominent B.C. products. I think it's going to be close, as Boston's a great team too, but I think the Canucks have enough edges to take this series.

Prediction: Canucks in seven

Stanley Cup Finals preview: Mike Woods on the Bruins

To get you set for the Stanley Cup Finals, myself and former Queen's Journal colleague Mike Woods are running one of our traditional point/counterpoint pieces predicting who will win. First up, here's Mike to make the case for the Bruins. My piece on the Canucks will follow later before the series kicks off at 8 p.m. Eastern/5 p.m. Pacific today. Take it away, Mike!

After the Boston Bruins’ nail-biting 1-0 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning last week that got them a berth in the Stanley Cup final, my first thought was that the series would be evenly-matched and picking a winner would be a toss-up.

Instead, most people outside New England seem to be casting the Bruins as underdogs by a wide margin.

It’s hard to blame them. The Vancouver Canucks are rolling; they tamed the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference final’s first four games, then relied on show-stopping goaltending from Roberto Luongo in Game 5, who stopped 54 of 56 shots when his team faltered. A President’s Trophy-winning team that has hit full stride heading into the final is hard to pick against. Even EA Sports’ NHL ’11, which is 13-for-14 so far this postseason, is picking the Canucks.

But don’t count Boston out so fast. The Bruins, who seem perfectly happy playing the underdog role, bring a number of things to the table the Canucks haven’t seen yet. How Vancouver responds to them will determine who takes the cake (or, if you will, the pizza).

The series’ most important match-up is Zdeno Chara lining up against the Daniel and Henrik Sedin. The Sedins thrived, of course, against the Sharks last round, who eventually resorted to using Kent Huskins and Marc-Edouard Vlasic to shut down Vancouver’s top line, which didn’t work at all.

The Sedins had the most trouble these playoffs against Nashville. Against a strong shutdown defensive pairing in Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, the twins combined for just seven points in six games—hardly top line numbers. They were also a combined minus-16 through the first two rounds.

Chara usually plays with Dennis Seidenberg, but the Big Z by himself is as good as any shutdown pair in the league. He’s likely to disrupt the Sedins’ cycle game, which is their bread and butter.

With the Sedin twins neutralized in Round 2, Vancouver beat Nashville largely due to a superhuman effort from Ryan Kesler. The Bruins and Predators are similar teams – both feature Vezina-calibre goaltending and stifling 5-on-5 defensive play. The difference, of course, is while Nashville could barely put together one scoring line, Boston’s forward depth is on par with Vancouver’s.

Boston’s top line has been as clutch as Vancouver’s, and even their third line features goal-scoring threats Michael Ryder and Tyler Seguin, who are more of a threat to score than the Canucks’ third unit. Vancouver hasn’t had to look beyond their top two lines for goal-scoring, but that could change against Boston.

Tim Thomas and Roberto Luongo are Vezina nominees who have both experienced blips. Luongo’s came in the first round, when he was the backup goalie in Game 6 against Chicago before an injury to Cory Schneider forced him back into action. Thomas’s have been less significant: a couple of games against Tampa where he let in five goals, and that’s about it. Questioning Luongo’s playoff credentials is kind of tacky at this point, but unless he wins a Cup, those questions aren’t going away.

Thomas is a wild card in net, which is just the way he and the Bruins like it. Thomas’s flopping around in the net, reminiscent of Dominik Hasek in his prime, could prove to be an asset against the Sedins; it could also be a hinderance. Not to read too much into regular-season stats, but it’s worth noting that Thomas has won his last two games against the Canucks, stopping 96 of 97 shots in the process.

The biggest concern for the Bruins heading into the final, as it has been all playoffs, is their atrocious power play. It’s a disastrous 5-for-61 in the playoffs, and it took until Game 6 of the conference finals for them to score a power-play goal on the road. The Canucks’ penalty killing was third-best in the league this season, which also doesn’t bode well for the B’s.

On the other hand, it can be said that the Bruins’ five-on-five play has made up for their awful power play. After all, they’ve made it this far while firing blanks with the man advantage the whole way. If they can pick things up on the power play, they could have the Canucks on the ropes early in the series.

These teams are evenly-matched five-on-five squads, and this series has great potential to be the most compelling Stanley Cup final in years. It’s right to call Vancouver the favourite, but writing Boston off is a huge mistake. If Chara effectively contains the Sedins and the Bruins’ special teams get back on track, look for the Bruins to be hoisting the Cup later this month.

Prediction: Bruins in 7.