• I realize this is a first-world-fan problem, but the 2016 World Cup of (men’s) Hockey isn’t technically the “best on best” tournament that it advertises to be. Don’t get my grumpiness wrong, I’ll be watching as I have every true best on best tournament since I could crawl up to the TV, and (hopefully) cheering another victory for Canada (as I celebrated in KEEPING THE TORCH).

    Best on Best tournaments are a rare prize for hockey fans, because unlike the World Championships and pre 1998 Olympic tournaments, all hockey players from the top 6-8 hockey nations are made available by all hockey leagues. It has only happened twelve times before—

    Canada Cups: 1976, 1981, 1984, 1987, 1991

    World Cups of Hockey: 1996, 2004

    Olympics: 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010, 2014

    —and so has exciting significance to hockey fans (especially, he grins, Canadian Hockey Fans, who have seen their heroes skate around with the trophy eight times while the Soviet Union, USA, the Czech Republic, and Sweden, have won the Best on Best face off once each).

    But this year will be slightly different: along with the top 6 hockey powers (Canada, Russia, USA, the Czech Republic, and Finland), the NHL and NHLPA godfathers of the tourney have also invented two amalgamation groups, Team Europe, and Team North America. The former will be a collection of the best European players not born in the big four European countries that qualified, whereas the latter will be made up of the best Canadian and American players under the age of 24.

    It’s a brilliant idea (as it intriguingly expands the flavour of the competition), but it means that Team Canada and Team USA will not have automatic access to their best players, but instead, they will only be allowed to choose from their top players who are 24 years and older. This will not hurt Canada too much because they are rich with talent in that age group; in fact, I suspect the only one of the young stars who might have made the senior team would have been super rookie, Connor McDavid. The USA, meanwhile, is not as wealthy in the over-23 category, but is greedy of talent amongst the younglings, and so may be losing out on three or four names that could’ve improved their chances.

    Meanwhile, all five European Teams have been given access to their full age range of talent. Any holes in their 23+ pool can be filled in by newbies.

    And, even though, in this case, Canada is not significantly hampered given its unmatched depth of 24 and older stars, the European countries are not being punished for their lack of similar depth.

    Meanwhile, I think the Team Europe idea is masterful (it’s great to give fans from non-powerhouse countries a chance to watch their favourites in such an elite battle), and that collaboration team in no way hurts the other European squads, as they won’t lose any players to it.

    However, the tournament’s set up of a young stars team that draws its membership only from North America is clearly a disadvantage to Canada and especially the United States.

    One possible solution to this disparity would have been for Canada and the US to be given first dibs on those young stars, but then (A) the young stars team might not be competitive enough, (B) Canada might just grab McDavid when they otherwise wouldn’t to lessen the chance of North America beating them, and (C) it would have been awkward for North America to wait for their betters to pick their entire team before selecting theirs.

    Thus, the only way to make the under 24 team an equitable offering would be to make it a true young stars team comprised of players from anywhere in the world.

    That solution would have at least leveled the playing surface such that each national team (as well as Team Europe) was limited to the same elderly demographic of talent.

    But I still see two problems there:

    (1) It would still cease to be a Best-on-Best tournament as lots of stars from around the world would be relegated to the kids’ team (even though the loss of talent would be shared, certain countries, like the US, would lose more of their best players than others), and (2) it seems strange to me to force players to compete for an age-based team instead of their national squad. Most young hockey players watch their national heroes and hope to join them one day. But this young stars offering puts athletes like McDavid in the position of potentially eliminating his own country from the competition.

    The solution to me, then, would have been to quash the young star idea, and instead to have two “Team Europe”s made up of two separate geographical amalgamations of players who grew up outside the big six countries.

    And, if it was really important to the World Cup organizers to get young stars like McDavid involved, they could require every team in the tournament to have at least one player under a certain age on their roster.

    As it is, if either Canada or the USA doesn’t win, they have something to complain about.

  • It all started with referee-requested video review. As video quality and viewpoint abundance has improved, sports such as football and hockey wanted to take advantage of their many unblinking eyes to get crucial calls right.

    But, as the technology has continued to advance, sports leagues realized that there were unlimited matters that could be sent to the video adjudicators to consider. In football, it was not just whether a player caught the ball, but whether he had full control before his feet were out of bounds. The subsequent concern then became whether such constant reviewing and editing of all in-game referee decisions would slow the games down to the point of making them dull for fans.

    It was then that the notion of player/coach challenges burst into our sporting consciousness.

    For instances, tennis players and football coaches were given a finite number of challenges in each contest, such that they could request a video review of certain referee decisions. But, if their inquiry was proven wrong, it would cost them one of their challenges (and in the case of football, one of their valuable timeouts as well). Thus the challengers had to be frugal with their review requests and not spend them unless they were either confident or dealing with a crucial moment in the competition.

    Perhaps to the surprise of the sports leagues, they quickly discovered a strange consequence of these participant challenges: the option added to the intrigue of their broadcasts because the question of whether a participant should challenge became part of the strategy of the game, and in turn something for the announcers to discuss with us between plays.

    For professional football leagues such as the NFL and CFL, coaches’ challenges have been especially effective as entertainment-enhancers: football is a sport that it is divided into many individual plays that rarely last more than ten seconds.  As a result, the bulk of the broadcast is made up of the space between plays, where the strategy of the last iteration is up for scrutiny. Adding in the element of “challenges” has improved the nuance and significance of those discussions.

    Similarly in tennis, where players can question line calls just after they happen, challenging has added a dimension to the between-play contemplations: players are analyzed not only on their level of play, but also their ability to wisely risk their challenges.

    And so all was right and entertaining with video challenges in sport until the NHL tried too hard to get in on the scrutinizing of action.

    Unlike football and tennis, which are made of short bursts of excitement punctuated by long pauses for analysis, hockey is a fluid competition. This is a crucial distinction. In football, each individual play is so short-lived that all challenges of questionable calls happen directly after they occur.

    Such immediacy of fact-checking is important for athletic competitions to avoid becoming “Schrödinger’s sport” (à la that wacky philosopher’s strange thought experiment in which he claimed that a neglected cat in a covered box was both alive and dead at the same time). That is, if a play were allowed to continue indefinitely past the point of a possible referee error, we would be living in a strange Schrödinger-like condition wherein the play would be both happening and not happening at the same time. So, even though the play would have been ruled admissible by the on-field referees, we the fans would be in the constant position of wondering whether a long-earlier missed call could cancel out all of what we were witnessing in the present.

    To avoid this quantum state, when tennis players think their opponents’ shot has been erroneously called in, the skeptical player must stop the action immediately (and risk the point) in order to acquire a review: they cannot continue playing, and then retroactively request a video peak after the fact.

    Consider, in contrast, then, whether either of the NHL’s two new coaches’ challenge options lead us to action that is both happening and not happening.

    (1) Coaches can now challenge whether a goal occurred in concert with the goaltender being interfered with.

    This is an understandable question to which we want the right answer every time. If a player illegally bumped into the goalie, then that is not only relevant to whether a goal should count, but it is a question that is asked immediately after the infraction. Well done, NHL: Schrödinger is kept at bay here.

    (2) Coaches can now retroactively challenge whether a play that led to a goal was “on side” (that is, did a player enter the attack zone before the puck did?).

    In this case, a play can be mistakenly ruled on side by the linesman, and can continue for an unlimited amount of time without intervention. If, however, the attacking players eventually succeed in their daunting mission to score a goal, the opposing coach can turn back the clock as far as necessary to check whether one of the goal-chasing players was a millimetre off side. Thus, Schrödinger is suddenly dominating our sport!

    If, that is, the off side team manages to score a goal, then the game wasn’t actually happening because the goal will be called back, and all of the consequences of the play we were watching for, say, a minute will be irrelevant (and the game clock will be reset to the point of the linesman error). However, if the defensive team takes the puck away from the attackers, and manages to do something beneficial for their side (even scoring a goal), then the game was in fact being played all along. The defensive coach gets to hold onto this quantum challenge for as long as the play remains in their defensive zone or a goal is scored.

    For more specific examples, when one team has earned a two minute power play, every second is potentially beneficial, so when one of these quantum off sides occurs, the defensive team can watch the time tick down with no risk of being scored against. One of the attacking players may try out a brilliant maneuver that he’s been saving for a crucial moment, and he may succeed, only to find out that the game wasn’t actually happening when he unveiled it.

    Such a challenge option goes against the spirit of our viewing of the game. When a play is on or off side by a smidgen, the flow of the event is essentially the same whether a foot was on this or that side of the line. If the off side intervention is called as it happens, then so be it: the line was technically crossed illegally. But, when the play is allowed to go on, and we fans think we’re watching a play that’s been legitimized by the linesman’s call, our hearts and eyes are excited by each scoring chance. To have such a play finally achieve a brilliant success, only to retroactively employ a ruling that was missed much earlier, the game we are watching becomes a continuous Schrödinger conditional.

    An analog in tennis would be if players were allowed to retroactively challenge foot fouls. That is, when serving, tennis players aren’t allowed to touch the service line with their feet, so if the umpire catches the tiny infraction, then the play is stopped, and the player loses a serve (fair enough), but if said line judge misses the foul, then the wee advantage in foot position is not essential to the ongoing play. So to watch Federer make a great diving volley, only to have the play cancelled on the grounds that twelve shots earlier he nicked the line with his foot would be a sporting (and entertainment) abomination.

    Moreover, note how the retroactive off side checking only benefits the defensive team and never the offensive team. That is, when linesmen make the mistake of calling a play off side (when in fact it was on side) to the unearned benefit of the defensive team, there is no recourse whatsoever for the offended offensive team. The coaches can’t challenge that bad call because the play has already been stopped, and so we’ll never know what might have been. Many wonderful goals surely disappear from possibility each year because of this type of linesman error.

    But, given that we’ll never know when such exciting results would have occurred, there is much less embarrassment for the on-ice officials if they accidentally help out the defensive team.  (In contrast, if they erroneously allow a play to continue, when in fact it was off side, and the offensive side scores a goal, the replays will damn them because of the knowable consequences of their error.)

    Thus, it is already in the referees’ best interest to err on the side of guessing in favour of the defensive side if they’re ever unsure (and, in a game that happens as fast as hockey, such difficult close calls present themselves frequently).  As a result, many exciting offensive plays are stopped in a league that is already wishing it could talk its coaches into being a little less defensive-minded.

    (As I argued in DEFENDING THE NHL, I think off side is an unfortunate rule because it disrupts the flow of a game that is currently dominated by a defensive structure, such that goalscoring is now at a dull 2.50 goals per team per game compared to 3.53 in 1992-93 and 3.95 in 1981-82. Thus, I submit that the NHL should get rid of the rule altogether. The similarly structured sports of basketball and lacrosse survive without off side and are much more exciting as a result. But, since the NHL is unlikely to remove this entertainment-hindering rule, it should at least avoid giving all of the benefits of close calls to the defensive side.)

    At some point this season, there will be a moment that means a lot to the home ice fans: a player will score the greatest goal of his career, a long-time fan favourite will achieve a milestone marker, or a team will find victory in overtime to get into the playoffs, and then the fans will hear the dreaded words: “The opposing coach is challenging [whether a minute ago there was a technicality that could retroactively overrule the play].” I’m not sure I want to be watching when that happens.

  • As evidence for my claim in THE HUMBLE LIE that Canadian humility could be more reputation than truth if we continue celebrating self-celebrating in schools and Olympic coverage, I would like to provide me as an example. You see, although I do not believe in beating one’s own’s chest, I will now get close to it by over-cheering for the success of my own country’s hockey dominance at the 2014 Olympics and, in fact, the majority of best-on-best men’s and women’s hockey tournaments. (My commentary regarding boasting in my previous post was all just a segue to my joy in this regard.) Canada is the best at hockey, and has been for a long time as demonstrated by the following results.

    MEN’S BEST ON BEST ICE HOCKEY TOURNAMENTS*:


    *Olympic Hockey Tournaments prior to 1998 were not “best on best” entanglements because the NHL (in which a majority of the world’s top players have long made their living) did not yet lend its workers to the Olympics every four years.

    1976 Canada Cup
    1. Canada
    2. Czechoslovakia
    3. Soviet Union
    4. Sweden

    1981 Canada Cup
    1. Soviet Union
    2. Canada
    3. Czechoslovakia
    4. USA

    1984 Canada Cup
    1. Canada
    2. Sweden
    3. Soviet Union
    4. USA

    1987 Canada Cup
    1. Canada
    2. Soviet Union
    3. Sweden
    4. Czechoslovakia

    1991 Canada Cup
    1. Canada
    2. USA
    3. Finland
    4. Sweden

    1996 World Cup
    1. USA**
    2. Canada
    3. Sweden
    4. Russia

    **This was a controversial victory. Canadian born and raised star Brett Hull (son of retired Canadian star Bobby Hull) played for the USA because he hadn’t (yet) been good enough to make the 1986 Canadian World Championship team.  Since he officially had dual citizenship because his mother was American, he thereafter played for the USA (even when he subsequently became a superstar and was good enough to play for his home country), and he refused to ever again try for Canada since they were so mean not to select him when he was starting his career. (Brett Hull’s picture is now included in most dictionaries next to the word “petty.”) Canada was up 2-1 in the championship game when Mr. Hull scored a goal that was patently illegal because his stick was at shoulder height when he touched the puck. (One’s stick cannot be above four feet to score a goal; based on Hull’s height with skates on, his head had to be approximately 2 feet long for the goal to be legal. We know Hull has a big head, but that seemed too large even for him.) Strangely, however, the goal was allowed. Later, another dual-citizenship born-and-raised Canadian, playing for the USA, Adam Deadmarsh, scored a game-breaking goal on a clearly offside play. Pundit/ranter Don Cherry of Hockey Night in Canada has suggested that then Boston Bruins’ GM (and former coach of Canada’s team in the 1972 Summit Series) Harry Sinden persuaded the officials to allow the Hull goal to stand because he thought it would improve American interest in hockey. I have no idea if that’s true, but something strange was afoot (“askate”?).

    1998 Olympics
    1. Czech Republic
    2. Russia
    3. Finland
    4. Canada***

    ***For the first time in history, Canada did not make the championship game. It should be noted, however, that Canada was eliminated in a game that was tied 1-1 after one overtime period, and which Canada was dominating (in terms of scoring chances). The epic match was stopped by international rules and decided on a shootout (which is akin to deciding a basketball game via a free throw shooting contest, or a baseball game via a bowling contest between pitchers to see who can throw the most strikes).

    2002 Olympics
    1. Canada
    2. USA
    3. Russia
    4. Belarus

    2004 World Cup
    1. Canada
    2. Finland
    3. Czech Republic
    4. USA

    2006 Olympics****
    1. Sweden
    2. Finland
    3. Czech Republic
    4. Russia

    ****I have no excuse for our absence on the podium for this one. As my sister Tarrin said at the time, it seems we forgot to pack a goal scorer for this tournament. If only Team GM Wayne Gretzky (who had brilliantly sired the previous two championships, and had played for Canada’s best from 1981 through 1998) had decided to select then rookie scoring star, Sidney Crosby, we might have faired better. Oh, look at that, I had an excuse, after all.

    2010 Olympics
    1. Canada
    2. USA
    3. Finland
    4. Slovakia

    2014 Olympics
    1. Canada
    2. Sweden
    3. Finland
    4. USA

    OVERALL IN 12 MEN’S BEST ON BEST TOURNAMENTS:
(Giving 4 points for 1st, 3 points for second, 2 points for 3rd, 1 point for 4th).

    1. Canada (8 x 1st, 2 x 2nd, 1 x 4th): 39 points
    2. Soviet Union/Russia (1 x 1st, 2 x 2nd, 3 x 3rd, 2 x 4th): 18 points
    3. USA (1 x 1st, 3 x 3rd, 4 x 4th): 17 points
    4. Sweden (1 x 1st, 2 x 2nd, 2 x 3rd, 2 x 4th): 16 points
    5. Finland (2 x 2nd, 4 x 3rd): 14 points
    5. Czechoslovakia/Czech Republic (1 x 1st, 1 x 2nd, 3 x 3rd, 1 x 4th): 14 points
    7. Czechoslovakia/Slovakia (1 x 2nd, 1 x 3rd, 2 x 4th): 7 points
    8. Belarus (1 x 4th): 1point

    WOMEN’S BEST ON BEST ICE HOCKEY TOURNAMENTS:

    1990 World Championship
    1. Canada
    2. USA
    3. Finland
    4. Sweden

    1992 World Championship
    1. Canada
    2. USA
    3. Finland
    4. Sweden

    1994 World Championship
    1. Canada
    2. USA
    3. Finland
    4. China

    1997 World Championship
    1. Canada
    2. USA
    3. Finland
    4. China

    1998 Olympics*****
    1. USA
    2. Canada
    3. Finland
    4. China

    *****After four straight Canadian World Championship victories, the Americans took the first ever Olympics in which women competed for ice hockey gold. It was a stick-breaker.

    1999 World Championship
    1. Canada
    2. USA
    3. Finland
    4. Sweden

    2000 World Championship
    1. Canada
    2. USA
    3. Finland
    4. Sweden

    2001 World Championship
    1. Canada
    2. USA
    3. Russia
    4. Finland

    2002 Olympics
    1. Canada
    2. USA
    3. Sweden
    4. Finland

    2004 World Championship
    1. Canada
    2. USA
    3. Finland
    4. Sweden

    2005 World Championship
    1. USA
    2. Canada
    3. Sweden
    4. Finland

    2006 Olympics
    1. Canada
    2. Sweden
    3. USA******
    4. Finland

    ******This was the first and only time (so far) in history that the championship game was not played between Canada and the USA. I might have felt bad for the Americans if I wasn’t so glad to have a less scary gold medal game to watch.

    2007 World Championship
    1. Canada
    2. USA
    3. Sweden
    4. Finland

    2008 World Championship
    1. USA
    2. Canada
    3. Finland
    4. Switzerland

    2009 World Championship
    1. USA
    2. Canada
    3. Finland
    4. Sweden

    2010 Olympics
    1. Canada
    2. USA
    3. Finland
    4. Sweden

    2011 World Championship
    1. USA
    2. Canada
    3. Finland
    4. Russia

    2012 World Championship
    1. Canada
    2. USA
    3. Switzerland
    4. Finland

    2013 World Championship
    1. USA
    2. Canada
    3. Russia
    4. Finland

    2014 Olympics
    1. Canada
    2. USA
    3. Switzerland
    4. Sweden

    OVERALL IN 20 WOMEN’S BEST ON BEST TOURNAMENTS: 
(Giving 4 points for 1st, 3 points for second, 2 points for 3rd, 1 point for 4th).

    1. Canada (14 x 1st, 6 x 2nd): 74 points
    2. USA (6 x 1st, 13 x 2nd, 1 x 3rd): 65 points
    3. Finland (12 x 3rd, 7 x 4th): 31 points
    4. Sweden (1 x 2nd, 3 x 3rd, 8 x 4th): 17 points
    5. Russia (2 x 3rd, 1 x 4th): 5 points
    5. Switzerland (2 x 3rd, 1 x 4th): 5 points
    7. China (3 x 4th): 3 points

    I hope no one disagrees that Canada is to hockey what Brazil is to soccer/football.

  • During the 2014 Winter Olympics, I noticed a tendency of Canadian commentators to describe Canadian athletes of a humble disposition as “typically Canadian.” This annoys me for two reasons:

    (1) It seems to me that we have helped ourselves to this favourable designation by virtue of how American media (movies, TVs, journalists) tend to refer to us. The official cartoon analysis of Canadians by Americans is that we are humble, polite, and reserved (which delights me as a Canadian because I value those traits); however, while I’m pleased for our country to be complimented by our neighbours in this fashion, I think that it is problematic for us to assume its accuracy, given that it’s just one country’s subjective and generalized assessment of traits they have witnessed through binoculars.

    Similarly, while I have no trouble with Americans teasing Canadians for our allegedly frequent use of the term “eh,” I am distraught when Canadians join in with “Oh Canada, eh?” t-shirts meant to entertain Americans by climbing aboard this joke as though we, too, have noticed our “eh”ing predilection. In fact, I don’t think it’s something we often do or notice about ourselves, so why do we act as though this American observation of some of us is our defining idiosyncrasy? To my ear, when we try to impress Americans by making the same joke about ourselves that they would provide, we look as though we have no understanding of ourselves beyond the limited perceptions of our big sibling.

    (2) More importantly, I loathe the Canadian pundits’ description of Canadian athletes who are polite and humble as “typically Canadian” because it is conceited for us to describe ourselves by such terms. In fact, I notice that the Canadian pundit description of Canadian athletes as examples of typical Canadian humility has become a stepping stone for the same athletes to identify themselves by these complimentary terms, which, in turn, undermines the accuracy of the humble designation. A truly humble person, after all, would not boast that they are humble (as I’ve recently learned from Uriah Heep in my reading of Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield).

    Similarly, I was miffed one day as I listened to CBC’s “Definitely Not The Opera” host Sook-Yin Lee discuss a feminist argument that one reason women in general don’t make as much money as men is because they are too humble and don’t put themselves forward (for promotions and raises) as much as men do. The uber successful and assertive Lee instantly helped herself to the benefits of the generalization as though it were a universality that by definition included herself. While officially she teased herself (and other women) for the being too modest for their own good, she seemed in fact to be delighted to cast herself in the role of the humble person who would have achieved more if she hadn’t been so soft spoken about her own accomplishments all the time. She had landed in the best of all worlds: she was able to give herself credit for humility while simultaneously boasting about it; and she did so without a tinge of irony in her voice.

    This bragging about humility worries me because as the self-celebration movement continues to dominate Canadian schools (where students are assured of their awesomeness regardless of achievement), I fear that Canadians’ reputed modesty will increasingly become a designation in name only.

    After Canada’s impressive 2014 Winter Olympic medal collection, Sportsnet offered up a video essay by one of their pundits, Arash Madani, who indicated that the equally prolific Canadian work done at the 2010 Vancouver games had “changed us” (apparently, by his reverent voice when noting it, for the better). While serenaded by uplifting music, he proclaimed that we now felt okay about going beyond our “typical Canadian” humility and “beating our chests a little” when our athletes climbed a podium. I think that Madani might be confusing the cheering for athletes with the boasting about them (which isn’t necessarily the same thing); however, the fact that he, and other pundits, are complimenting Canadian fans for being more cocky worries me. While Canadian pundits seem to take pride in Canadian humility, they also apparently take pride in Canadians taking pride (in our athletes). We can’t lose. We either get to celebrate ourselves for being modest, or celebrate ourselves for learning to appreciate ourselves more.

    In short, I wonder how long the perception of Canadian humility (that we seem to enjoy) will continue if we do not nurture it with behaviours to match.

    P.S. If you’re skeptical of my complaint that there is a trend within Canadian media to boast about Canadian humility and manners while simultaneously celebrating Canadians for building their self-esteem, keep an eye out for a Canadian coffee commercial with the following script:

    FEMALE VOICE A: Welcome to Canada.

    MALE VOICE A: Canadians are so nice.

    FEMALE VOICE B: So polite.

    CANADIAN GEESE: Sorry… sorry… sorry… sorry… sorry… sorry… sor–

    FEMALE VOICE C (above an image of Canadian citizenship ceremony): So welcoming.

    MALE VOICE B: We’re definitely not confrontational.

    MALE VOICE C: But we don’t let anyone push us around.

    MALE VOICE D: You throw the first punch…

    MALE VOICE E: We will drop the gloves. Oh yeah.

    FEMALE VOICE D: I’d say we’re brave.

    KIDS VOICE A: We’re confident with who we are.

    MALE VOICE F: We’re unapologetic.

    FEMALE VOICE E: Unless we’ve done something wrong, then we will apologize.

    KID VOICE B: Canada rules!

    MALE VOICE G: We grind it out.

    MALE VOICE H: We go for it!

    WOMAN IN CAR (driving under overpass with “Go Canada banner”): Awesome!

    MALE VOICE I: We totally rock this nation.

    FEMALE VOICE F: In Canada, we love what we love.

    MALE VOICE J: And we don’t care who agrees, or disagrees.

    MALE VOICE K: Especially when it comes to coffee.

    MALE VOICE L: We like ours…

    CUSTOMER A: Good…

    CUSTOMER B: Honest…

    CUSTOMER C: And simple.

    CUSTOMER D: Thank you very much.

    FEMALE VOICE G: This is our Canada.

    MALE VOICE M: And this… this is our coffee.

    TITLE CARD: Our Canada. Tim Hortons Logo. Our coffee.

    In sixty seconds, Mr. Hortons manages to mix equal parts boasting about our gentle nature with bragging about our other (alleged) good qualities. I couldn’t have satirized the state of media affairs better, myself. I realize that Canadians shouldn’t necessarily be responsible for how an advertiser depicts our collective state of mind, but generally, I think, advertisers are attempting to tell us what they’re confident we want to hear about ourselves. I hope they’re wrong: I hope we’re no so easily manipulated by our egos.

  • On this day of hockey mourning in Vancouver after our leading hockey nemesis, Chicago, beat our second-in-command hockey nemesis, Boston, for the Stanley Cup, I’d like to distract our sorrow with imaginings of how to improve the game itself.

    Consider this: the NHL’s most well-fueled offence this season, the Pittsburgh Sidney Crosbys, averaged 3.44 goals per game. They were eliminated from this year’s playoffs by the aforehated Boston Bruins after scoring a shockingly low 2 goals in four games. The old motto “offence sells tickets; defence wins championships” was in excellent form as this sleep aid of a playoff series ended.

    The NHL knows it has a problem and is planning a few minor changes to give the ticket-selling offence a better chance of winning a championship. To create more room for the players in the offensive zone, the NHL will reduce the size of the irrelevant back side of each goal, and to create more openings between the goalies and said net, the NHL will attempt to reduce the size of the goaltending equipment (which overprotects the goalies into looking like giant marshmallow men). Sounds good to me, but when the problem is as oppressive as the NHL’s most exciting team only managing two goals in four games against the Boston Bruisers, these solutions are akin to throwing a mousetrap at an attacking shark. It’s time to go radical.

    Here, then, are some ideas (that will never happen) that could save the NHL from its own defence.

    In its elimination game, Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby (who should have won this year’s league MVP) made a magnificent pass to teammate Evgeni Malkin (last year’s MVP); the latter received the set up, and instead of smacking it immediately at the net, he maneuvered brilliantly around the supersize (6’9”) defenceman Zdeno Chara, but, upon realizing that he was beaten, Chara slid feet first in front of the play and, by the skin of his skate, managed to block the puck from arriving at the open net that Crosby and Malkin had provoked.

    In the next playoff round, Boston utility forward, Gregory Campbell similarly dove in front of a puck, which in turn broke his ankle on impact. This happens often as players are expected to “sacrifice their bodies” for the sake of restricting goals. So here’s an idea: maybe we should get rid of such dangerous and excitement-dampening dive-based shot blocking.

    It is a means of stopping goals that would not be missed: best case scenario, it stops a brilliant play; worst case scenario, it breaks the player who dove in the way (as in the time superstar Steve Yzerman blocked a shot face first).

    I understand that sometimes it can be exciting when a player chasing a shooting player dives from behind and sweeps the puck away. This could be allowed because it would be the defender’s stick that would be doing the work. However, stopping an offensive play by using oneself as a 7-foot horizontal barrier should not be allowed. Thus, any shot blocked by the body of a fallen player would be a penalty. So new rule:

    (1) ANY PLAYER WHO BLOCKS A SHOT WITH HIS BODY (WHILE THE BODY IS ON THE ICE) WILL BE PENALIZED.

    Meanwhile, when an offensive player finds an empty path to an opposition goalie but is yanked down from behind by his enemy, he is given a penalty shot whereby he gets a free attempt on the goalie with no defender. Strangely, though, in the original play, if the offensive player had been unimpeded and his first shot rebounded back to him off the goalie, he would have been allowed a second shot at the puck, whereas on a penalty shot, he’s only allowed his first attempt. Therefore, the penalty shot is a lesser breakaway than the one that was illegally taken away! So new rule:

    (2) REBOUND ATTEMPTS ARE ALLOWED ON PENALTY SHOTS

    Minor penalties in an NHL game put the infracting team down a player for two minutes. Thus, if one has one-goal lead with only a few seconds to go, and breaking a rule will allow a team to save a goal, they’ll surely do it because they’ll only be penalized for the few remaining seconds of the game. So, new rule:

    (3) ALL PENALTIES IN THE LAST MINUTE WILL BE AN AUTOMATIC PENALTY SHOT

    During an NHL game, if a defending team panics because they’re in trouble and shoot the puck all the way down to the opposite end, “icing” is called, and the puck is brought back to where it was and the fatigued defenders have to stay on the ice, while the offensive team can swap in fresh legs. Good rule. Strangely, though, when a team has been penalized for breaking a rule, and so are short one player, they are allowed to ice the puck without the above rejoinder. Why? New rule:

    (4) ICING IS STILL ICING EVEN WHEN A TEAM IS PENALIZED.

    Presently, coaches are the biggest cause of the defence-first strategy in the game. Coaches would rather win a game 1-0 than 7-6 because it allows them to feel more in control. Thus, we need to start rewarding teams who win with offence. New rule:

    (5) WHENEVER TWO TEAMS ARE TIED IN THE STANDINGS, THE FIRST TIE-BREAKER WILL ALWAYS BE THE TEAM WITH MOST GOALS.

    Currently, regular season NHL games are rewarded in the following way:

    Win in regulation time: 2 points
    Loss in regulation time: 0 points
    Win in overtime: 2 points
    Loss in overtime: 1 point

    This means that, if a game is tied near the end of regulation time, it is in the best interest of both teams not to take risks – that way, they can each collect their safety overtime point. To avoid this disincentive to charging for a last minute goal, new rule:

    (6) POINTS WILL BE AWARDED IN THE FOLLOWING WAY:

    WIN IN REGULATION TIME: 3 points
    LOSS IN REGUlATION TIME: 0 points
    WIN IN OVERTIME: 2 points
    LOSS IN OVERTIME: 1 point

    Presently, players such as the Boston Bruins’ affectionately identified “super-pest” Brad Marchand swings his stick around during games in such a way that it looks like he’s just being a little careless, when in fact he knows that he’s creating space for himself by being dangerous with his stick: “Oops, did I hit you in the face?” He sneaks in these sharp maneuvers in ways that are difficult for the referees to detect in the speed of the game. So, new rule:

    (7) AFTER EACH GAME, REPLAYS WILL BE USED TO ASSESS ONE-GAME SUSPENSIONS FOR ANY DANGEROUS STICK BEHAVIOUR.

    I’m saving my most radical for last. Currently in the NHL, no player can enter the offensive zone ahead of the puck. This means that exciting plays are often stopped in their development because a foot was in the wrong place. Enough! Lacrosse has no such offensive restrictions, and it has much higher rates of scoring. New rule:

    (8) GET RID OF OFFSIDE!

    Finally, I’d like to defend a couple rules already in place:

    Presently, if a defender shoots the puck into the stands, he is penalized. Don Cherry and other soft-hearted media members have shouted down this rule because they say that the player didn’t mean to shoot the puck out of play. Well, as I argued in my post, “LETTING THEM PLAY CUTS BOTH WAYS,” who cares? It takes skill to get the puck out of the defensive zone without also knocking it into the stands; so, even if the players didn’t mean to do it, they lacked the skill to avoid it. Let’s reward skill, and not the players who luck out by accidentally knocking the puck out of play.

    Moreover, I call rotten cherries on this one: NHLers love the motto “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying,” so of course, if there is no disincentive to purposely shoot the puck out of play (but merely an unwritten rule that one shouldn’t), then players will simply pretend to do it accidentally. So keep rule:

    (9) IF A PUCK IS KNOCKED OUT OF PLAY IN THE DEFENSIVE ZONE, THE PLAYER DELAYING THE GAME IS PENALIZED.

    During penalty shots, some players have taken to “spin-o-ramas” in which they lead the goaltender one way, and then circle with the puck to the opposite side of the (hopefully empty) net. Most fans love it. But there are rumours that the NHL is planning on taking the play out of existence because technically the puck has to be moving forward at all times during a penalty shot. Rubbish! Goalies win about two thirds of penalty shot attempts, there’s no need to take away the most exciting play in their rival’s arsenal. Keep rule:

    (10) PLAYERS CAN DO WHATEVER THEY WANT ON A PENALTY SHOT.

    Thank you for reading this far regarding these ideas that will never be a considered. I thought it was worth a shot (even though I knew it would be blocked).

  • I’ve waited a few days to publish these Olympic musings for fear of sounding like a sour-viewer, so let me say first:

    Congratulations, Olympics 2012! I was as addicted to watching you as much as the next fairweather rhythmic gymnastics fan. So the following rant does not come from an anti-sporting place. Instead, my concern is with some of the group think blathered by various Olympic commentators.

    (1) We need more money for our athletes!

    During and after every Olympics, we hear broadcasters noting how relatively little public money goes towards the raising of our athletes. The group think here is that winning on the world stage is a priceless commodity that we must always pursue at increased cost. I am compelled by the assumption that success in world sports encourages the rest of us to use our running shoes more often, which in turn may improve public health. Great, but, given that every country is competing for the same role model positions, in order for us to win the top spots, we may need to increase our funding beyond what it’s worth in public health benefits. At a certain point, therefore, it may be more economical to divert some of that sport budget to creating new rec centres.

    I’m not saying that we shouldn’t put the money towards athletes: that may be the most effective way to promote health (and community spirit, etc), but I am weary of broadcasters who assume that anything less than dominance on the podium implies insufficient investment. That’s the tricky thing with competition: the other countries may be trying to buy success, too, and sometimes we’ll cancel each other out.

    (2) It’s unfair that some athletes don’t get paid as much as others!

    It’s an unfortunate bout of bad luck that certain athletes are born into a skill set (or gender) that doesn’t tend to make much money or fame in sport. On the one tax bracket, the world’s greatest basketball player, Lebron James, is a many-millionaire who is recognized wherever he goes in the galaxy, whereas the globe’s greatest rower, No Namath, is too obscure to be worth my googling energy. Bad luck. But that’s just capitalism. If your product is popular enough with fans, then you get to be rich.

    The Olympians (and gushing commentators) who complain that they work just as hard as the wealthy athletes are making an appeal to merit-based-pay in an economic system that has nothing to do with equal pay for equal effort or worth. I’d love if if it were feasible to pay people for how hard they work instead of how commercial their efforts are, but those advocating for such a system should bare in mind that, if we truly did pay everyone according what they deserve, then, by actual merit, nobody would make millions of dollars per year.

    (3) We should support our Olympic athletes every year, not just during the Olympics!

    Why? Once again, if we’re cheering for people based on how hard they work or how talented they are, then we should go applaud foreign aid workers and physicists. Olympians are great athletes who perform muscle-defying feats, but the fact that sport is cheered on more than other professions is an accident of taste, not a right of talent. If we’re not entertained by these athletes during non-Olympic years, then I see no obligation to purchase their product any more than we’re hungry for it, as much as we may admire them.

    (4) Usain Bolt is the world’s greatest athlete!

    Congrats to Bolt for his unprecedented sprinting success at these and previous Olympics. (And he seems like a nice person who does a lot for his impoverished homeland.) However, I’m confused by why Bolt is considered by many commentators (including himself, it seems) to be the world’s greatest athlete simply because he’s the fastest in the most famous speed-contest. First, I see no reason why his speed at running is more impressive than Michael Phelps’s speed at swimming, or No Namath’s speed a rowing. Personally I find all three competitions to be incredibly boring (when the athletes aren’t sprinting for medals), but I admit that, by sheer power, they are awesome. However, when measuring athleticism, why are other abilities such as skill, flexibility, agility, endurance, and even creativity not also worth consideration?

    If we must crown a top athletic discipline, the obvious choice is gymnastics, which requires its athletes to combine almost every possible athletic aptitude in order to complete their seemingly impossible (and incredibly diverse) feats.

    I realize that these Olympic matters may be trivial (except how much money we spend on our athletes), but I think that they are a microcosm of the sort of assumed agreement that lives in more significant political discussions. Commentators notoriously gravitate to the easy, uncontroversial notions that ultimately limit our ability to creatively solve society’s ills.

  • It has come to my attention that Lebron James, star of the NBA and my blog some months ago, has, on his second try, won the championship he coveted when he left Cleveland to start an all-star team in Miami. Many people, including SethBlogs, disliked Lebron’s communication style during the defection. Please note, however, that most of his critics nevertheless acknowledged that Mr. James was still probably the best player in the league, and that his new team—-however he found his way to it—-was likely going to dominate the sport.

    I was thus surprised, on viewing the telecast leading up to James clinching his glory, that the legendary basketball star, Magic Johnson, merrily anticipated that if James won the title, everyone would forget about his controversial behaviours in the past. “Everyone will love him,” Magic said with a grin.

    “But,” I yelled at my TV, “we never doubted that he would win! Our issue with Lebron was never with his basketball skills!”

    Nevertheless, upon winning the championship, Mr. James was brought onto the talk show, The View, whereupon one of the hosts asked him what he had to say to his accusers now.

    “Well,” he beamed, “I think I’ll let [my NBA championship trophy] do my talking for me.”

    And the audience laughed with delight as though no one could ever criticize the star again.

    So let me see if I understand this. If it’s true that Mr. James behaved badly, then it was only contemptible so long as he wasn’t a champion. But, upon achieving victory, his behaviour off the court is no longer contestable?

    PROSECUTOR: Mr. Cheatem, is it true that you falsely represented your company’s holdings?

    CHEATEM: Yes, I did, but in my defence, that made my company millions of dollars, and I was named Broker of the Year in my office.

    PROSECUTOR: Why didn’t you say before that your scheme was so successful?! I would never knowingly insult the behaviour of someone who won! Congratulations. I move for a dismissal of all charges.

    I’m not saying that James is as bad as a fraud artist. In fact, the star was uncharacteristically gracious when he received the big trophy. I don’t even blame him for his silly answer to the soft question he received from the View people; it was too easy a slam dunk answer for him to pass up. But I do hope there is resistance among his critics to the notion that winning absolves someone of wrongdoings related to their character. (Unless James wins again next year: in that case, what more do we want from him, people?! ;))

  • Dear CBC Sports:

    Unlike many snobby viewers such as your Don Cherry (who lament the lack of standard hockey violence), I enjoy taking in the NHL’s annual lighthearted skill-a-thon known as the all-star game. In contrast with those who can’t bare the uncharacteristically free-wheeling pace, I appreciate the players’ efforts to entertain me with lots of fancy goals. And why not?! The intensity-connoisseurs get their way every other game of the year, can’t we skill-fans have this one moment on the scoreboard?

    Apparently not, CBC, since you decided – not unlike the heinous broadcasters who earned my recent rant THE ART OF BROADCASTING: A NEW YEAR’S FOLLOW-UP via their coverage of the 1987 Canada Cup – that the game wasn’t interesting enough to keep the fans’ attention. So, instead of providing the usual exciting live-action commentary (“he shoots, he scores,” etc.) from your expert broadcasters, you spent the game showing off your mic’d up technology and access to the players by interviewing them while the game was being played! “So, Bobby,” your announcer asked one all-star while another was about to score the goal of the game, “how are you enjoying the game so far?”

    These meandering mic’d moments might have been interesting if they weren’t muting the coverage of the play I’d tuned in to witness. I’ve ranted it before, and I’ll rant it again: there’s nothing wrong with these alternate perspectives, but there’s also nothing wrong with recording them and waiting till a break in the action to show them to us. Patience, my broadcasting friends. When you impose your instant-access distractions on the live action, instead of accentuating your fans’ experience, your broadcasting toys take precedence over the game that brought us to your channel.

    I think the problem here, CBC Sports, is that you recognize that social media is a big thing right now – and so you want to harness it’s all-access power – but you don’t quite understand why it’s so successful. So let me clarify: yes, this new everybody-tweets world means we’re used to hearing the everyday thoughts of previously inaccessible celebrities. But that doesn’t mean that, in the middle of our maiden viewing of the new movie, Battleship Vengeance, we want Johnny Superstar to tweet across the screen how he completed that big stunt. That would actually disrupt our experience. Save that stuff for when we’re not concentrating on the plot (like on a separate Twitter feed or in the DVD Special Features).

    As it was, CBC, your version of the 2012 NHL all-star game became a fast-paced Facebook after party before the game was even over and I did not like it.

    Good day to you, CBC Sports!
    SethBlogs

  • I couldn’t have said it better myself in my April 2011 blogging, “THE ART OF BROADCASTING,” when I noted that sports broadcasters sometimes let their yearning to be artistic (and to use all of their broadcast toys) block the subject they’re supposed to be covering.  For instance, some hockey broadcasters enjoy showing us exciting events of the game from a camera positioned behind the defending team’s net (instead of the standard and all-illuminating side-overview shot).  Now, if the hockey game were an art show, I would tip my sherry to the broadcast poets, as their keyhole view offers us an unusual, mind-bending visual.  The problem is that, for earnest hockey fans, this perspective-shifting angle corrupts our ability to follow the play itself (which may, in fact, have been the basis for our viewing in the first place).

    As I have pleaded with the hockey broadcasters many times, I wish they would save those unique shots (and disruptive close-ups of players with the puck) for replays and special after-game compilations, but during the game, relax, and let me watch my favourite sport from the perfect vantage point and leave me alone about it.

    But it gets worse.  I’ve recently broken open my copy of the greatest hockey ever played, the Canada Cup 1987 tournament, featuring the Great Wayne Gretzky, in his prime, setting up the Magnificent Mario Lemieux in his early-career awakening.  The first game has already left me hollering at the director, who in the heart of the play, enjoys stepping away from the action to show us live shots of the Canadian coach watching!  Now I’m not particularly interested in watching someone else watch a game at the boringest of times, but in the middle of the greatest hockey ever played, I certainly don’t want to be staring at someone else staring at what I would in fact like to be witnessing!

    All of this is relevant to New Year’s Eve, because it is a day in which many sports broadcasters enjoy presenting to us their “plays of the year.”  Unfortunately, those assigned to put together said plays are not necessarily sports fans, but seen instead to be music video and editing specialists, and so they pack the imagery that would have entertained on its own with stops and starts and assorted effects to wow our artistic eyes, while leaving our sportsfanship unsatisfied.

    I know that it is too late to stop this year’s exhibition of sports broadcasting artwork, but I would like to make a New Year’s Resolution by proxy to sports broadcasters to excommunicate this distracting editing from all future sports presenting.  This request carries with it the same obligations (and guilt in failure) as a resolution made for oneself.

    (I think New Year’s Resolutions by proxy are going to be the next big thing: this way you can make plans to better the world without having to do the work on the other side of the resolution.)

    Merry Nearly New Year from all of us at Sethblogs!

    P.S. For more Sethblogs discussion of Broadcasting interference in the future, see NHL ALL-STAR GAME: UNCOVERED.

  • This may seem like a small matter, but I think it is a symptom of how many in our media unduly segregate their subjects into only black or white. Consider the following fallacious phrases that I have witnessed in the media:

    “Is the new gas tax going to help the environment or is it another burden on families?”

    “Are boiled lobsters animal cruelty, or are they good eating?”

    Um, why can’t it be both?

    Use of such ridiculously black vs white phrases is so prevalent in our media that I have come to the speculation that the use of false dichotomies may be taught in broadcasting and/or journalism schools:

    PROFESSOR: All right, what you need to do for every issue is ask the audience to choose between the top hope of each side of the argument.

    STUDENT: What if the answer is somewhere in the middle?

    PROFESSOR: Boring! Remember: Black or white will excite! Grey won’t pay!

    STUDENT: Right, I forgot.

    PROFESSOR: Memorize it!

    STUDENT: So how do we do it?

    PROFESSOR: Okay, give me a significant government policy.

    STUDENT: How about the recent plan to build a major new transit line?

    PROFESSOR: Good, what’s a possible benefit of this policy?

    STUDENT: That it’s good for the environment and will reduce congestion.

    PROFESSOR: Okay, and what’s a criticism of it?

    STUDENT: That it’ll cost lots of taxpayer money.

    PROFESSOR: Perfect! Here’s your headline question: “THE NEW TRANSIT LINE: ENVIRONMENTAL HERO OR MAJOR TAX BURDEN?” Now everyone has to move their philosophy to one side or the other!

    It is the popular media’s craving for the simplicity of definitive answers, I suppose, that provokes them to invoke false dichotomies – in spite of the fact that false dichotomies are among the great enemies of logic. To quote myself in the Twitter version of SethBlogs: “You either agree that false dichotomies are a blight of human communication or you believe in violence against puppies.”

    Which brings me to my very important hockey-based point. Well-known hockey player, Ryan Smyth, who grew up in Edmonton, Alberta and has played most of his hockey career for the Edmonton Oilers, is famous for his ability to go into the tough areas in front of his opposition’s net to score goals. Hockey pundits, therefore, categorize him as a tough-nosed veteran player and nothing more.

    No hockey commentator whom I’ve heard has noticed that, when he’s not in front the opposition’s net, he moves like the most iconic and distinct Edmonton Oiler skater of all time, Wayne Gretzky. I’m not saying that Smyth possesses the Great One’s magic skills (who could?), but his stride and passing motion look more like the all-time NHL scoring leader than any player I’ve ever seen.

    This should not be surprising given that Smyth would have learned his love of the game while Gretzky was winning Stanley Cups for his city’s team, and so the young Oiler fan might have patterned his style after his hero. Smyth lacks Gretzky’s bounty of abilities, obviously – perhaps part of the reason he added a toughness to his repertoire since he couldn’t score 200 points a season like his idol – but Ryan Smyth, in spite of being a lumbering skater, is—-to my eye—-one of the best passers in the league.

    And yet TV announcers who follow him always seem surprised when he provides a great pass—-I’ve never heard them acknowledge that it’s a regular part of his skill set. I guess they’ve long answered the question: “Is Ryan Smyth tough in front of the net or is he a great passer?”

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