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A new view...

Friday, September 02, 2011

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I'm taking over as the Ottawa correspondent for NHL.com. So, what does this mean? Well, first off, I'm part of the media again (you can stop laughing at any time). But it also means that the blog can't continue in its current form, for obvious reasons.

After giving it some thought, I've decided to use this space to write about my experiences in returning to the press box, media itself, and everything that goes along with it. I have no intention of being a (expletive)-disturber; I have to see/work alongside some of these people. I just thought I'd give a view of what it's like to return to the other side of the fence, through my eyes. I don't know how often I'll get to update over here -- I'll try to keep it regular (famous last words). In the meantime, any Senators-related stories of mine will be found on NHL.com.

Hopefully you dig the new view. If not, bugger off. See? I'm still TUC.

On paper, the trade that Bryan Murray made to acquire Nikita Filatov from Columbus in exchange for a third-round pick in this year's draft, seems low risk. Filatov is in the final year of a two-way, entry-level contract, and LW has always been a thin point for the Sens. That said, with only 36 games of NHL-level action under his belt in the past two years (and that little side trip to the KHL), you have to wonder how quickly he's going to come along. This, of course, was exacerbated by Murray's mention of Nikita's potential as a "top-six forward." Now you know how I love to get down on casino games, but forgive me if I'm a bit hesitant to take this action right now.

Murray has framed the "top-six" comment with a number of caveats -- "We're going to give (Nikita) every opportunity"; "If he's (not a top-six) we would have to look at other options", etc. In short, it actually sounds like Murray is being cautious about the matter, and how could you blame him? The Sens' history with flashy, speedy Russian forwards has been a long and woeful tale. But that hasn't stopped fans from attaching the "white knight" labels to other young Russians who have come through the system, like Alexei Kaigorodov and Ilya Zubov. Not to veer into the dreaded Cherry Day-Glo territory here, but you can't help but raise an eyebrow based on previous history...and the knowledge that Filatov has baggage (see the previous venture back to his homeland's league).

But all it took was a simple mention of "top-six", and some Sens fans seemed ready to, yet again, put all their eggs in one basket. A quick tweet by yours truly suggesting that we not pencil in Filatov for 40 goals alongside Spezza, lead to multiple battles via Twitter and e-mail on Filatov's ability, including one memorable bit of advice, which told me to "think of (Filatov) as (Alexei) Kovalev on a two-way contract." Sold! Why didn't I think of that?

It seems like Murray is prepared to temper his expectations, but I'm not sure about the fans. It's been a quite a while since fans have seen a nice combination of speed and legitimate scoring out of a single player; combine that with the need to bulk up the top end of the team, and you've set some lofty expectations for a kid who has yet to prove himself (and will need to do so within the span of next season). You may not be able to get casino reviews and subsequent action in the sportsbooks on an NHL player's future potential, but forgive me if I don't want to get down any action, regardless. And for the record, that doesn't make me a pessimist; it makes me a realist.

More later.

"Marshmallow" is one of those words I can never spell correctly, which always pisses me off. Marshmallows also once pissed off Claude Julien, coach of the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins last summer, but for an entirely different reason.

Julien was playing in a charity golf tournament, and ahead of him was a foursome with a tendency to play practical jokes. After they putted out, they would leave a single large marshmallow on the green, knowing that Julien was teeing off first and would therefore think that the "ball" was his. They pulled this stunt at least three times during the round before Claude yelled at them, "Are you guys out of f*cking marshmallows yet?" Naturally the only way one of the culprits could respond was by pulling another full bag out of his bag for Julien to see. Being a good sport, he couldn't help but laugh. I imagine it probably looked something like this:

More later.

This is my friend Seanny. 5-time Smack-Off champion, sports radio superstar and soon-to-be diabetic.

When I found out that my old friend Sean Pendergast would be dropping the puck at the AHL Calder Cup Finals between Binghamton and Houston, my head started spinning. Sure, I knew Seanny followed hockey (he's a diehard Whalers fan and even attended the Whalers' Fan Fest just this past summer). But dropping the puck against the B-Sens? His team against, well, kinda mine? (Kinda?) This was too much. I knew we had to get some action down, do something stupid or possibly both. This is par for the course when the two of us are together.

To be fair, I came up with the Bet during a fast I had to complete for a blood draw the next morning, and all I could think about was food. But how could I make the stakes relevant? Then it came to me: "Local" condiments. If the Senators win, Seanny has to drink a bottle of maple syrup on-air during his show (with photographic and/or video evidence). If the Aeros raise the Cup, I have to drink a bottle of Jim Ross'' BBQ sauce (regular, not spicy) on the phone. I imagine either feat will be accompanied by the tale of many tour stop yarns (the ones we can legally tell, anyway). With the series currently tied 1-1 and heating up again in Bingo tonight, it's anyone's guess what could happen. Stay tuned...I'm sure it'll be amusing...and possibly vomit-inducing.

Ottawa Sun Rewind - On Winnipeg

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

As Winnipeg is finally -- finally! -- awarded a team today, here's a dose of obvious from the old Sun column that I wrote in January, 2005:

Winnipeg might be a city most of us fly over and rarely think about, but at the World Juniors, some of their residents caught my attention.

The between-period segments on TSN were mildly amusing. The network showed shots of fans on the concourse, clutching medals that looked like they were pilfered from a junior high science fair, and displaying more signs than a WWE event. I was just about to flip over to The Score when I heard it for the first time:

“Go Jets Go! Go Jets Go!”

You’ve got to be kidding. How drunk were they? Apparently not so much that they didn’t know what they were doing – these weren’t regular hockey fans. These were Winnipeg Jets fans. They had a cause and a camera pointed right at them. It was a golden opportunity to get the message out.

Jets fan has been battling for nearly ten years to get their beloved franchise back. Since then, they’ve seen their former team become insignificant while it sits in an indifferent city. Now Winnipeggers have a beautiful new building, a seemingly unquenchable fan base and winters that have always lasted nearly 6 months. Why wouldn’t they want their team back – what else is there to do in Winnipeg?

One of the knocks on a possible proposal is the size of the MTS Centre. The building’s hockey seating is 15,015 people, which would make it the smallest in the NHL. However, television cameras around the league constantly display empty seats. We’re guilty of it on occasion, even in Ottawa. The Buffalo Sabres were planning to lower ticket prices for the 2004-05 season, in spite of an increase in payroll. They can’t fill the building. Quality of play is an issue, but so is the size of some NHL arenas. With a smaller building and a built-in fan base, Winnipeg could be on to something.

Obviously a restructured CBA benefits Winnipeg as well – the small markets need all the help they can get. And surely even Gary Bettman couldn’t ignore the sheer volume of Canadian fans taking over an international hockey event in the U.S. You can’t keep forcing hockey down the throats of Americans forever. It’s not lucrative, and has proven to be mostly unsuccessful.

Nearly a decade of support for a franchise that doesn’t exist – how much more proof do you need? Give the Jets back to Winnipeg.

T-shirts, hoodies and more can be found here. The designs are super simple, with no mention of myself or the blog anywhere on the gear. That's the way I like things, and I figured you'd feel the same way. If you have any special requests, hit me up and I'll add them to the store. Enjoy.

...because it's been way too long. (Yeah, yeah...I know. I'm sorry.)

Last night I had a dream that the only way I was able to get proper NHL intel was to hide under a pile of coats at the GM's meeting.

Sadly, when it comes to obtaining information from the source, bloggers often come up on the short end of the stick. That said, being associated with traditional media doesn't always ensure open doors, as I taught you here.

So, imagine my surprise when I discovered I still had enough pull in my strength-of-dental-floss reputation to persuade former Ottawa Senators president Roy Mlakar to speak with me a few weeks ago.

Why are you only hearing about this now? Well, what started out as plans for an interview meant for Puck Daddy on Yahoo! became a very candid, no-holds-barred phone conversation which lasted nearly 90 minutes.

But, here's the rub: It was all off-the-record.

Ram, for all intents and purposes, has "gone dark" since his departure from the Senators organization nearly two years ago. And after talking to him at length, it became clear that he intends to keep it that way for the foreseeable future. Not that people haven't tried to get him to talk, even in situations similar to the one I found myself in that day. He told me that several networks have attempted to chat him up casually, and he shut them all down.

Why he chose to speak to me of all people, I'll never know. Maybe it's because he still thinks of me as that goofy 20-year-old girl on the radio. (The first thing he said to me was, "I miss hearing you on 'The Jim Rome Show.'" I guess you really can't escape your past.)

I knew 30 seconds into the conversation that what we would discuss couldn't repeated in a public forum, or used for any kind of story on Puck Daddy. I thought I would be upset; perhaps I would get angry after I hung up the phone. Surprisingly, that didn't happen. Roy was obviously guarded as our conversation began, but after a while he became candid and rather emotional as he spoke (which isn't necessarily surprising, as Mlakar was/is always a passionate guy).

I actually only had three questions planned - ones that I knew would require lengthy answers. But as we talked, the walls came down on either side. I took the opportunity to ask him everything I had been wondering about, and he answered with a remarkable amount of frankness that was, in short, phenomenal. I hung up the phone with a new perspective on the team that I hadn't had in a long time.

And what did I do about it? Nothing. I kept it that way because 1) I gave Roy my word and 2) it was the right thing to do.

Sometimes I worry that I go too easy on people that I interview - not necessarily in terms of questions, but in the overall set-up. I know that I'm a people-pleaser, so I want to make sure people are comfortable, and I end up explaining a lot of how the interview will ultimately appear to the reader. In one case, I actually went so far as to write up the piece and show it to the interviewee for their approval before filing it - a move that would probably make a J-school professor's head explode. It's likely due to these reasons that I get rave reviews from the subjects when the pieces come out. And, to be fair, when readers did compliment me on my writing, they almost always mentioned my ability to be diplomatic (this was work that had nothing to do with the blog, of course).

Now as I find myself on the outside looking in, I could have been a jerk about my talk with Ram. If you don't have a regular gig, what other way is there to get noticed, but to make a big splash? I could have betrayed his trust to do this. I would have outscooped a lot of people to do so. The cynical part of me who believes that the majority of bloggers out there still lack couth and decorum knows what they would have done. I don't buy the "it's them versus us" mentality in sportswriting - traditional or otherwise. It's very much every man and woman for themselves.

But that splash isn't worth burning a source. I know that from the few years I spent writing for a paper. No offense to the ones who know better, but it's something that your average blogger doesn't have a chance to learn. And speaking simply from a personal point of view, I know it's something that, morally, wouldn't sit right with me. (Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, but that's another post for another time.)

I could've used this opportunity to get my name everywhere for a day - maybe longer. But then it would've been over. Would I gain prestige for it? Maybe. A gig? Nope. Roy's anger? Definitely. Give me my source, every time. Give me a chance for insight - a way to flesh out opinions that the run-of-the-mill blogger doesn't have access to. These are the things that make me actually want to keep writing, when more often that not, I find myself wanting to stop. In the meantime, my name can remain largely in the shadows for one day more.

Mike Fisher: Le mot de la fin

Friday, February 11, 2011

I'm glad he's gone. He wasn't a bad player, but he was never going to be what fans and the club both wanted and needed. Initial reaction to the deal? Sure, that'll do. Talk to me after a) the picks develop or b) they're flipped for something more immediate (and no, while it may not happen this year, it's not out of the realm of possibility).

Anything left to say can be revisited in this post from October 2008. Not being a fan of Mike Fisher was highly taboo for the longest time. This was around the time when a few Senators fans finally started to get it.

Enjoy and have a good weekend.


From "Monday morning Deglaze" - October 6, 2008

Sure, the regular season has started, but a lot of the talk has focused on players not hitting the ice -- case in point, Mike Fisher. No. 12 was recently thrust into the spotlight, due to the fact that his 6-million dollar groin (or "groan", as Rome would say) is acting up again. Fisher did not play in either game versus the Penguins in Sweden, and questions abound regarding the centre's off-season conditioning and overall durability.

It's a very curious thing to see fans suddenly question and criticize Mike Fisher. I say that because, well...privately, I've been doing it for years. To me, Mike Fisher is like There's Something About Mary. Remember when that movie came out? It was a fairly unassuming flick when it hit the theatres, but everyone seemingly went nuts over it. At the time, my friends were driving me crazy, telling me to go check it out. Here's what happened:

Friends: "So? What did you think? Wasn't it the best thing ever?"

Me: (looking at ground)

Friends: "Well?"

Me: "Uh...well...I don't get what the big deal is. I don't get it."

Friends: "WHAT?!? Best. Thing. Ever. What's wrong with you?"

Me: (getting defensive) "I dunno...I guess some parts of it were all right...I just don't understand why everyone loves it so much."

Friends: "Blaaargh!!! Rage...RAAAAAGE!"

Things get a bit hazy at this point. I think someone took off one of their Vans and threw it at me.

Eventually I just began to lie and said I liked it, because I was tired of having people freak out on me.

And that's what it's like to be a non-fan of Mike Fisher -- at least until recently. I had to to express my feelings covertly, during whispered conversations at the Starbucks on Hazeldean. I had to smile and nod my head in silent agreement when everyone insisted he should be the next captain of the team. I had to pretend to understand why every woman (and Don Cherry, apparently) fawns over his blue eyes and chiseled cheekbones.

I didn't get it. I never did. And now I'm mad at myself for not speaking up, because people are finally beginning to see things the way I always have.

Fisher was the one player I couldn't bring myself to properly torch in the column, and it made me bloody crazy. I'd pace in my office, willing myself to openly question his worth. He has yet to break the 50-point plateau, and he's 28 years old. Barring a miracle, it seems pretty obvious that he's peaked. The Senators paid him like a second-line centre (his front-loaded, 5-year, $21-million contract kicks in this season), but he's not capable of playing that role. A lot of that money is paying for the intangibles that No. 12 offers..and that's where the problem lies.

The good guy image. The heart. The grit. The never-say-die mentality. Sens fans have been flat-out obsessed with the qualities Fisher brings to the table, and that's what makes it so freaking hard to get on his case. Don't believe me? Consider this: In the four years that the column ran, I got flack from the Sens front office about my off-the-cuff criticism of one player. Guess who that player was? They never defended anyone else...and frankly, I leveled my guns at pretty much everyone on that team (including Daniel Alfredsson).

Here's the thing: I understand that he's a valuable player from a defensive standpoint. I respect his willingness to play hard. I get that he's a good person. I get that part, okay?

But he's not a deity, and he's not a second-line centre that will ever be worth 6-million dollars. He may not even be a captain -- that spare "A" was obviously emblazoned on Heatley's chest for a reason.

News flash: It's Mike Fisher. Stop looking for something that isn't there. He's physically fragile, offensively limited and his career has nowhere to go but down. Thank God people are finally beginning to understand that.

Question of the night

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Super simple, just answer in the comments:

If you're a Senators fan, what do you get out of watching this season's games, particularly when the team appears to be at its lowest ebb? Please be honest - I'm not looking for humour or sarcasm here.

Playing your way out of a paper bag

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A quick thought on Don Brennan's column suggesting that Ottawa Senators fans show up to games with paper bags on their heads...

Sure, it'll be good for a two-second lead-in to the game highlights on SportsCentre, but then what? In the past few years, the Senators have shown little interest in quelling fans' white noise, regardless of whether it comes in the form of embarrassment, disgust or any other visceral reaction.

In this business - and many others like it - nothing hurts more than indifference, and nothing expedites conflict resolution in a quicker fashion. Am I encouraging it? What do you think? Sure, it's obviously best to ride this mess of a season out, if only to take Bryan Murray's hand off the button during a rebuild. But there's nothing like a crowd of 10,000 or less in "Hockey Country" to show that this nonsense won't be tolerated.

So take the bag off your head, get out of Scotiabank Place, and go do some grocery shopping. Just because the Sens aren't productive doesn't mean you have to follow suit.

More later.

This. Is. Awesome.

Friday, January 07, 2011

From last night's genius via The 6th Sens, and now Malkin to the Kings has blown it up. Look out...it's the Huge Euge. You might want to go and secure any nearby brick walls.

Fact or Crap: TUC's version

Thursday, January 06, 2011

This is an idea I pilfered from my dear friend - and Sporting News Radio superstar - Sean Pendergast (um...I mean Brian Beckner...), but tweaked just a bit to make it my own. (You can take the girl out of traditional media...) Anyway, I think you'll catch on quick. Let's get started, shall we?

* Hockey ultimately benefits from Canada losing at the World Junior Hockey Championships, because competition, not dynasties, are the lifeblood of any sport. FACT.

* TSN's bloated coverage of the tournament, combined with this country's bravado (largely shouted into a vacuum of indifference) has made it difficult for me to support Team Canada. FACT.

* Team Russia's celebrations should always be watched with subtitles. FACT.

* The swearing by NHL players/coaches on HBO's 24/7 never warranted such a bombastic reaction. FACT.

* 24/7 provides completely unguarded insight into NHL players' lives. CRAP.

* The only way you're going to see the true side of a player is with a NannyCam. FACT.

* Regardless, fans are happy with this unprecedented access, and love to hear players swear because it's "fun." FACT.

* I don't get it. FACT.

* The answer to the first Blind Item in this post is indeed, Pierre McGuire. FACT.

* This idea, of course, is... CRAP.

* Chris Phillips will be traded before the end of this season. CRAP.

* Chris Phillips' trade value is far less than the bright-eyed optimists would assume. FACT.

* Erik Karlsson is proving that he can be effective at the NHL level as an offensive defenceman. FACT.

* In the process, Karlsson is picking up some very bad habits (i.e. attempting to cut a swath to the net through four opposing players, inevitably leading to a turnover). FACT.

* Ottawa Senators head coach Cory Clouston will be fired before the end of the season. CRAP.

* So will Bryan Murray. CRAP.

* Why would Mr. Eugene bother now? He'll just let them walk in April. FACT.

* A meddling owner combined with a flailing team means you'll hardly have your pick of the litter when it is time to replace the front office. FACT.

* Cory Clouston shouldn't be the head coach, but he can't be expected to get blood from a stone. The talent just isn't here. FACT.

* The Sens have hit rock bottom. CRAP.

* Talk to me when you've missed the playoffs for a good five years or so - barring a major overhaul, that's where this club is headed. FACT.

More later.