Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Professional scouting within the NHL, terrible or just inadequate?

The little I know of Washington Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau suggests he’s a pretty good guy and a pretty good coach. A career minor leaguer as both a player and bench boss, he came up to the bigs mid-year last fall and turned around the Caps’ season, making a bunch of good decisions and few poor ones to do so. He was rewarded with Coach of the Year honors and some well-deserved attention. He loves to talk and often has something interesting or funny or both to say about the game and his team. With the Capitals rarely venturing out in Western Canada, giving those folks few opportunities to see Alex Ovechkin in the flesh, Boudreau had a what I imagine was an extended interview session with a swarm of press before last night’s game against the Calgary Flames. The topic of Ovechkin vs. Flames’ rearguard Dion Phaneuf came up (the two play similarly punishing styles and have a history against each other, with Ovechkin famously leveling Phaneuf twice on one shift the last time they met in the NHL). Boudreau said something so unbelievably right-sounding but so unbelievably wrong that I was left shaking my head in disgust and bewilderment:

"I can guarantee they're going to put Phaneuf out on the ice every time Alex is out there," Boudreau said. "We just have to see how that works out. That's what makes Alex, Alex. I don't want to change him."

Anyone who has been paying even a modicum attention to the Calgary Flames for over the past year (which I would hope includes the subset of people who coach a hockey team that is less than 8-hours from playing said Calgary Flames) should know that Phaneuf is not charged with the task of playing against the opponent’s top-line. That task goes to Robyn Regehr and his partner, Cory Sarich. Yes, Phanuef’s quality of competition has improved since he entered the league and he no longer gets third-pair minutes and assignments, but it is clear and incontestable that Regehr is the first choice to play against the other team’s star offensive players. Shouldn’t Bruce Boudreau know that? If the Caps are playing the Flames, shouldn’t at least someone in the Caps’ professional scouting department tell the head coach who Ovechkin is going to face?

Sure enough, Ovechkin did not see much of Phaneuf at even-strength, despite Boudreau’s uninformed prediction. The two were on the ice for only 2.6 of Ovechkin’s 12.7 ES minutes. Ovechkin saw more of 4 other Flames defenseman (Sarich, Regehr, Vendermeer, and Acoin) than Phaneuf. Why aren’t teams spending the 10-minutes it takes to have this information before games? And why is Boudreau making garauntees regarding subjects he clearly knows nothing about? This increases my worry that Nylander will not be getting back with Semin or on the first PP anytime soon.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

photo 7 for real

Don't doublecross this guy, don't even think it. A prize for whoever can tell me what kind of bird this is. And don't just say the kind with the evil eye.

photo 7

This certainly gives new meaning to the idea of The Lizard King.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Alexei Cherepanov R.I.P.

Shocking tragedy struck today as one of hockey’s brightest future stars, Alexei Cherepanov, died during a KHL game in an inglorious and spartan rink in the Moscow suburb of Chekhov. Cherepanov collapsed on the bench late in the third period and went into cardiac arrest. He reportedly lost and regained consciousness numerous times while being tried to be revived and waiting for an ambulance, normally at the arena but for some reason having left the game early, to take him to the hospital. Attempts to resuscitate at a hospital were unsuccessful and he was pronounced dead at 10:55 pm local time. Cherepanov was 19-years old.

Cherepanov burst onto the international stage at the 2007 World Junior Championships, the preeminent junior-aged tournament, featuring future NHL and international stars. Though primarily a tournament for 19-year olds, Cherepanov led the tournament in scoring and was named the best forward by the IIHF. He was 17-years old. He went on to break the scoring record for first-year players in the Russian Super League that season, besting the rookie seasons of current and former Russian NHL superstars like Ovechkin, Malkin, Kovalchuk, Bure, and Fedorov. He was taken in the first-round of the following NHL draft by the New York Rangers, slipping all the way to 17th (largely due to the uncertainty of his moving to North America in the absence of a transfer agreement between Russia and the NHL) despite being considered among the most talented players in the draft. Following an unspectacular sophomore season in the RSL, Cherepanov began this season playing the best of hockey of his career; he was among the league leaders in scoring and had recently produced the longest consecutive points scoring streak in the league this season (at 9 games, he was finally shut out in the penultimate game of his life). He scored earlier in the game today and was by all accounts playing exceptional hockey. The day before his death saw Cherepanov realize a longtime dream: he was named to the Russian National Team.

I had only seen a handful or so of his games, between two World Junior Championships and some KHL games this season, but it was obvious to me that this was a special player. He had the raw skills necessary, but not merely sufficient, to score prodigiously: a phenomenally powerful shot, slick hands and all the dangles, and the speed to get to get to the puck and away from defenders. But perhaps most dangerously, and most required of true snipers, he had the knack to find the puck, fill the open spaces, and the goal scorer’s will and determination to go the net and finish, often with the panache and style reserved only for the greats. And the joy that both follows from and creates all that. Patrick Kane and Kyle Turris (two players selected before him in his draft) will be great NHL players for many years to come, but I think Cherepanov would have become the better hockey player and the more electric scorer. Of course we'll never know. He may not have been the once-in-a-generation-or-two talent that Ovechkin and Malkin are, but Cherapanov was a special, special hockey player that would have tantalized hockey fans for years and years to come.

Beyond my friends and family, many of my greatest joys come from hockey. And more than cheering for any specific team or outcome, I love watching great players do what they do, dance, create, work, think, feel, spin, move, compete, battle, and ultimately, play a great game. Cherepanov was one of those players who made it easy to spot the joy in his game and who brought the same out in me. Whether it was absolutely wiring the puck off one-timers that went screaming over the net, or finding the puck in his feet and flicking a backhander to the top shelf, Cherepanov played the game in the way that I fell in love with it in the beginning. I am really going to miss all the good times I would have had watching him play in the NHL and beyond. I am deeply saddened by his loss and all of ours.

The circumstances surrounding his death are troubling to say the least. The game was played in a tiny arena 40-miles outside of Moscow. The ambulance that should have been there was not and arrived 15 minutes after Cherepanov went into cardiac arrest. There is a video out there (I will not post here because of just how mind-numbingly sad it is) that shows Cherepanov receiving what looks to be very confused and disorganized medical attention on the bench. Players are looking over him while trainers who do not appear to be doctors look down at him, then up, then around, then back down. There was no stretcher to take him off the bench, rather a group of players carry him into a tunnel with his legs up and in the air and skates dangling limp. It’s a gut-wrenching scene. There are questions as to whether the defibrillators at the scene were working properly. Just outside a city that boasts more millionaires than any other in the world, a 19-year old (a millionaire in his own right) kid’s heart stopped and started several times as he went in and out of consciousness and struggled to live. Was there really nothing anyone could do to save him? Would those 15-minutes have made a difference? Could it really just end like this?

Laurie from Beyond the Blueshirts has done an excellent job in keeping up with Cherepanov's exploits this season, has a translation of Cherepanov's first and last blog entry written last week.

Rest in peace, young Alexei. My thoughts and prayers are with your family, friends and teammates.

UPDATE: A nice look-back on the ways in which Cherepanov was misunderstood as a player and a person by Gare Joyce. We'll never know just how much we lost yesterday.

UPDATE II: NY Times' Slapshot blog has the translation of a very vivid and unbearably sad account of the events from Russian journalists at the game.

Crisis Continued

Two recent pieces on economic goings on from Uncle Noam, neither of course appearing in the mainstream US press, one article from The Irish Times, which includes an interesting discussion of the current US election, the other an interview with Simone Bruno that touches on Obama and McCain as well. He doesn't go into the who-did-what and what-should-the-Tresury-have-done specifics of the meltdown because, I imagine, the broader context is more important. The Cliff Notes stab at it is essentially that the US is a state-capitalist economy (despite the mythology, Ronald Reagan was the most protectionist, anti-free trade US President of the last century), the public subsidizes enormous profit for narrow sectors of society, the financial liberalization that took place around 30 years ago predictably increased the regularity and depth of financial crises, this is largely because financial markets systematically underprice risk (a feature built in to the system), there will inevitably be major reforms of the financial system (including increased regulation), however, the structure underlying the basic institutions will not be changed. As he grimly puts it:
There is no threat to state capitalism. Its core institutions will remain basically unchanged and even unshaken. They may rearrange themselves in various ways with some conglomerates taking over others and some even being semi-nationalized in a weak sense, without infringing much on private monopolization of decision making. Still, as things stand now, property relations and the distribution of power and wealth won't alter much though the era of neoliberalism operative for roughly thirty five years will surely be modified in a significant fashion.
It's not all doom and gloom, however. Chomsky offers some important perspective:

"Politics is the shadow cast on society by big business," concluded America's leading 20th century social philosopher John Dewey, and will remain so as long as power resides in "business for private profit through private control of banking, land, industry, reinforced by command of the press, press agents and other means of publicity and propaganda".

The United States effectively has a one-party system, the business party, with two factions, Republicans and Democrats. There are differences between them. In his study Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age, Larry Bartels shows that during the past six decades "real incomes of middle-class families have grown twice as fast under Democrats as they have under Republicans, while the real incomes of working-poor families have grown six times as fast under Democrats as they have under Republicans".

Differences can be detected in the current election as well. Voters should consider them, but without illusions about the political parties, and with the recognition that consistently over the centuries, progressive legislation and social welfare have been won by popular struggles, not gifts from above.

Those struggles follow a cycle of success and setback. They must be waged every day, not just once every four years, always with the goal of creating a genuinely responsive democratic society, from the voting booth to the workplace.

Friday, October 3, 2008

An extraordinarily and historically sad day

Our government has dramatically increased the public's subsidization of the banking and financial services industry. A major victory for the business party comes shortly after another one of the coordinated, public-affairs events the business party's warring factions stage quadrennially. Some thoughts from former chief economist of the Senate Banking Committee, Robert Johnson (he also plays a mean guitar):
I think this bill, five weeks before an election, is illustrating for the American people, when there are two currencies of power—votes and money—that even at this time, when the power of votes is at its cyclical high, meaning just before the election, they are almost laughing at the American people, in the—by the nature and structure of this bill. This is a very sad result.


They can, what I would say, use the crisis anxiety of the market fragileness to, how would I say, accomplish their aims on behalf of money and do no service for the public. We have no mortgage relief in this bill whatsoever.


They always say in the headlines now, it was “heads they win, tails you lose,” like that’s something looking backwards. It’s heads, Wall Street won yesterday; tails, the taxpayer lose now. But the structure of this bill, which depends upon buying overpriced assets, means heads, tomorrow, in a recovery, the banking industry wins again, and the population, the taxpayers who supported them in this bill, don’t go with them.


[The bailout] went up by roughly $150 billion for those kinds of special pork-related projects. Now, what you’re seeing is the Congress and the Senate are daring the American people to get mad and throw them out. As David Sirota said in his first book, Hostile Takeover, this isn’t about choosing between Rs and Ds; this is about a bipartisan money machine working against the population. They’re daring you. They’re daring you to turn out in five weeks and, in essence, support challengers against incumbents, because the incumbents are the ones responsible for doing this bill.
John Kenneth Galbraith wasn't kidding when he said, "in America, the only respectable form of socialism is socialism for the rich."

Thursday, October 2, 2008

photo 6 or video 1: the world's first perfect song or how i learned to stop worrying about state-sponsored class warfare and love dogs

Many goings on lately: an absolutely enlightening piece on Democracy Now! about the House's initial failure to pass the inevitable corporate bailout (PS - Bruce Marks is my new homey); NHL heavyweight the NY Rangers miraculously though predictably come from behind to defeat KHL also-ran Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the inaugural Victoria Cup in beautiful Bern (PS - the best KHL teams equal the good NHL teams on big ice and it makes for spectacular hockey); and perhaps most importantly (at least in terms of escapism), a new TV on the Radio album this week (PS - it is phenomenal and not hyperbolic to be deemed the best album I've heard in a long time). Special recognition for my current favorite song of all-time, "Love Dog" ("lonely little love dog, no one knows the name of"): my experimentally clunky yet sincere ode to this ridiculously great song and an even more ridiculous dog: