Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Your 2009-2010 Washington Capitals Preview

So as you’ve probably noticed from our Season Preview looking at all the other teams, everybody has questions hanging over them heading into the season. Reading previews for the Caps heading into 2009-2010, most question the Caps goaltending and defense. The Caps are starting off the season with a 3-headed monster in net; Jose "Alvin, Simon," Theodore, Semyon "the Saviour" Varlamov, and Michal "Bebe" Neuvirth. Unless something downright crazy happens, Theodore won’t be here next year and could be gone at some point this season for a variety of reasons. That would leave two rookies to carry the load and stop acting like a rookie has never ever in the history of the NHL backstopped a team to the Stanley Cup. While it has been awhile since the Caps have not had a settled #1 goaltender heading into the season, there is simply too much talent in net right for this position to be a total failure, though there will be those who will quickly point to it if things don't work out.

The defense on the other hand is better than advertised. No, they’re not a shutdown defense, but they get the job done. We admit, we never thought a team that had Pavel Kubina as a shutdown defender could win the Cup, yet that’s exactly what happened in 2004. As much as we rag on John "Coach's Pet" Erskine Bowles, the Caps really don’t have better options at this position and must make do with it. General Manager George McPhee tried to get Chris Pronger from Anaheim but properly balked at the high asking price. Remember he tried to land Zdeno Chara too but he wasn’t interested at the time. Though you have to wonder if that would still be the case today.

The thing however that everybody needs to remember is that there were questions about the goaltending and defense heading into last year and yet in spite of them the Caps; cruised on into another division title, racked up 108 points in the standings, and despite facing a bad and obvious hose job, got to Game 7 in the Second Round and should have advanced further in the playoffs. For all the yelling and screaming about this team, from the fans McPhee must be doing something right considering just two years ago the Caps had their second consecutive 70 point season and are now considered serious contender for the Stanley Cup.

Don't get us wrong, there is some legitimate concern on the back end, but that isn’t what we see dogging the Caps heading into this season.

First of all, do the Caps have enough maturity to win? We happen to think that the biggest problem the Caps had in the First Round against the Rangers was a lack of maturity which is why they fell behind 3-1 and needed seven games to advance. While there are fewer rookies and second year players in critical positions this year, this team is still very young in its core. Alexander "Slappy" Semin, is the oldest of the bunch and he’s going to be 25 in March. The players need to stop worrying about their goal celebrations, hair styles, automobiles, and partying and need to concentrate on winning. Yes, part of what makes this team so much fun to watch is their youthful enthusiasm. We happen to think that they can keep a good bit of it but still bear down enough to win it all. The Caps could really use serious veteran leadership to help this come along. While having Sergei (#3) Fedorov around was nice, it was clear that his effect on the younger players had waned as last season wore on. People also forget he too was rather flamboyant in his youth, though not to the extent of some of our guys.

Secondly, to the Caps have the desire to win? You might think that is the same as maturity but it isn’t. Those of us in the D.C. area know very well what you get when you have a team that talks about winning more than actually doing it. And the best example we can come up with in terms of desire is an NFL Greatest Games we sometimes come across. It chronicles the 1983 NFC Championship game between the Washington Redskins and the San Francisco 49ers. The Redskins won that game 24-21 after blowing a 21 point lead in the fourth quarter to earn a trip to Super Bowl XVIII. The 25 yard game winning field goal with 40 seconds left was set up by two controversial penalties on the Redskins final drive of the game. In the special that runs on ESPN and NFL Network from time to time, members of the 49ers state that their anger over losing that game the way they did spurred them to an 18-1 record and a Super Bowl XIX win the following season. We’ve all heard about the angry text messages that Bruce Boudreau received after the Penguin Scum were handed the Cup back in June, do the 2009-2010 Caps have the same anger that the 1984 49ers did? If they do, this could be a very special season in D.C. But make no mistake, desire will have to be just as a big part of this as maturity and luck because unlike some teams in the NHL, the Stanley Cup will not be handed to the Caps on a silver platter. The Caps are going to have to earn every bit of it should they end up winning the Cup this season.

So how do the Caps get there? Well first they’ll need a strong start out of the gate which won’t be easy with their early schedule. Four of the first five and six of the first ten opponents made the playoffs last year and are expected to be in the playoffs again this year. Non-playoff teams Toronto and Nashville won’t be easy games either, at least at the start of the season. While we don’t expect anybody to take the Caps lightly, the Caps need to lay out early this year that they are serious about winning this year. The Caps will also need continued focus all season long which also won’t be easy with key players heading off to the Olympics in February and others wanting to join them, how much of a distraction will that be? And while the Caps can’t backslide down the stretch like they did last year, though a tougher schedule at the end of this season should prevent that, they also can’t play lackadaisically like they did against teams like Tampa and the New York Islanders all too often a year ago. Furthermore, the Caps have to stay healthy, too many injuries started to pile up late in the season and in the playoffs last year. With the salary cap and waiver process, the team’s depth will eventually take a hit. Though we will admit, there’s not much the Caps can do about injuries other than wish for good luck and fast healing.

The NHL likes to run a marketing slogan, is this the year? After spending the first three years on this pathetic excuse for a blog downplaying the Caps chances and expectations, this year, we aren’t. Folks, there’s no hiding it, this team is good, very good. It isn’t perfect, no team in this league is, but the 2009-2010 Washington Capitals have the best chance of winning the Stanley Cup since the Caps teams of the mid-1980’s. And while the offense is as good as it has ever been, this is not a team that is going to blow opponents out 12-2 every night. And we guarantee you a stretch of poor play at some point this season with some mind boggling losses thrown in for good measure. We might even have to pull a Houdini act in one round of the playoffs to get by. But folks, there’s no reason not to expect the Caps in the Stanley Finals this season nor should we be laughed at for having dreams of a Stanley Cup parade down Pennsylvania Avenue in June 2010.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

2009-2010 NHL Season Preview Part II: The Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division:

New Jersey Devils: (51-1; 106 points; 1st Atlantic Division, 3rd Eastern Conference, 5th Overall; Lost in the First Round):
Joisey has proven that they can win in the regular season with just about anybody in their lineup so we give them credit by recognizing that. The playoffs however are a completely different story. How much more does Martin Brodeur have left in the tank?

Pittsburgh Penguin Scum: (45-37; 99 points; 2nd Atlantic Division, 4th Eastern Conference, 8th Overall; Awarded Stanley Cup):
Make no mistake folks, this is still a joke of a hockey team that will only get as far as slanted officiating will take them. How will the Penguin Scum respond when the officiating evens out? Better yet, how long before Canadian Diving Team Captain, Lowblow Secondary Assist Cindy Crosby torpedoes another coach?

Philadelphia Flyers: (44-38; 99 points; 3rd Atlantic Division, 5th Eastern Conference, 9th Overall; Hosed out of the First Round):
We give Ed Snider's boys credit, they're going to fit that square peg into that round hole one day. The talent bleed continues in a vain attempt to recapture magic that last occurred in Philadelphia 36 years ago. Can they stay out of the Penalty Box long enough to win games?

New York Rangers: (43-39; 95 points; 4th Atlantic Division, 7th Eastern Conference, 12th Overall; Lost in the First Round):
All full season of Tortorella should not be boring to watch on Broadway with Sean Avery and Donald Brashear on his bench. How long before Tortorella turns Henrik Lunquvist into a head case?

New York Islanders: (26-56; 61 points; 5th Atlantic Division, 15th Eastern Conference, 30th Overall; Did not qualify for the Playoffs):
Another year on the rebuild as the John Tavares hype machine gets going. Does this franchise have enough leadership in the front office to ever turn things around?

Northeast Division:

Boston Bruins: (53-39; 116 points; 1st Northeast Division; 1st Eastern Conference, 2nd Overall; Lost in the Second Round):
Still the best team in their division by far but it is a very weak division. Can they replace the offense lost by Phil Kessel's departure?

Buffaslugs: (41-41; 91 points; 3rd Northeast Division, 10th Eastern Conference, 18th Overall; Did not qualify for the Playoffs):
They stopped the talent bleeding this year which is a good thing. No we don't consider Maxim Afinogenov talented. Will they have enough to get back into the playoffs?

Ottawa Senators: (36-46; 83 points; 4th Northeast Division, 11th Eastern Conference, 22nd Overall; Did not qualify for the Playoffs):
After a horrific start to last season, the Senators started to turn things around before the season ended. Now that Dany Heatley is gone, how much further will the Senators go?

Montreal Canadiens: (41-41; 93 points; 2nd Northeast Division, 8th Eastern Conference, 13th Overall; Lost in the First Round):
After failing in many different pursuits last year and over the summer, the Canadiens have put together an overhauled roster. Can it gel quickly enough to compete in a compact Eastern Conference?

Toronto Maple Thug Leafs: (34-48; 81 points, 5th Northeast Division, 12th Eastern Conference, 24th Overall; Did not qualify for the Playoffs):
Clearly unable to beat teams on the ice, they've opted for the "beat them in the alley" approach this season. Will this circus be bad enough to end the Ultimate Fighting on Ice sideshow in the NHL?

Southeast Division

Washington Capitals: (50-32; 108 points; 1st Southeast Division, 2nd Eastern Conference, 4th Overall; Hosed out of the Second Round):
When will you guys learn?

Carolina Hurricanes: (45-37; 97 points; 2nd Southeast Division, 6th Eastern Conference, 11th Overall; Hosed out of the Conference Finals):
The closest thing the Caps have to a rival in their division. Don't be fooled however by their deep playoff run last year, they should have been eliminated in the First Round. Has Cam Ward become merely ordinary?

Atlanta Thrashers: (35-47; 76 points; 4th Southeast Division, 13th Eastern Conference, 27th Overall; Did not qualify for the Playoffs):
We don't put them here because we like what they did over the summer and we think they're an improved team. We think that Florida regressed that badly. What will the Thrashers get in exchange for Ilya Kovalchuk on March 3rd, 2010?

Florida Panthers: (41-41; 93 points; 3rd Southeast Division, 9th Eastern Conference, 14th Overall; Did not qualify for the Playoffs):
Tie broken out of the playoffs in the Eastern Conference, they would have made it out West, the Panthers were forced into a roster overhaul with a departing GM and Free Agents. Will they ever find a way forward?

Tampa Bay Lightning: (24-58; 66 points; 5th Southeast Division, 14th Eastern Conference, 29th Overall; Did not qualify for the Playoffs):
They can't possibly continue to be this bad can they? Yes, they can.


Monday, September 28, 2009

2009-2010 NHL Season Preview Part I: The Western Conference

Well Ladies and Gentlemen, ready or not, the NHL Season is almost upon us and we have to admit, we're not ready for it because after the summer we've had, we're just going to have to start drinking...

But we digress so let's get this started in the usual predicted order of finish....

Central Division:

Detroit Red Wings: (51-31; 112 points; 1st Central Division, 2nd Western Conference, 3rd Overall; Hosed in the Stanley Cup Finals):
In what has to be the best division, top to bottom, in the NHL, somebody is going to have to prove that they can knock Detroit off before we go with anybody else here. Can they get through the Western Conference again though?

Chicago Blackhawks: (46-36; 104 points; 2nd Central Division, 4th Western Conference, 6th Overall; Lost in the Conference Finals):
A young up and coming team about to be derailed by serial salary cap mismanagement. The rehabilitation project over; can they not only meet lofty expectations but pay off the "all in" bet made by management this year?

Columbus Blue Jackets: (41-41; 92 points; 4th Central Division, 7th Western Conference, 16th Overall; Lost in the First Round):
Give Ken Hitchcock credit for getting this franchise headed in the right direction after years of floating around. They deserved a better fate in the playoffs last year but should learn from the experience. Can Steve Mason keep it going?

St. Louis Blues: (41-41; 92 points; 3rd Central Division, 6th Western Conference, 15th Overall; Lost in the First Round):
Came seemingly out of nowhere to make the playoffs after being considered also rans before the season started and a disastrous start once it did. While there's plenty of veteran leadership, that's just another way to say that the team relies on too many old players past their prime. They should contend for a playoff spot but will they actually grab one again?

Nashville Predators: (40-42; 88 points; 5th Central Division, 10th Western Conference, 20th Overall; Did not qualify for the playoffs)
Missing by three points, the Predators saw all of their division rivals make the playoffs leaving them the only team out. They're hoping that better health will be the difference this season but their division has improved making the sledding tougher. Will Trotz and Poile survive another non-playoff season?

Northwest Division:

Calgary Flames: (46-36; 98 points; 2nd Northwest Division, 5th Western Conference, 10th Overall; Lost in the First Round):
So much for the Mad Mike Keenan experiment. That lasted only one year. In spite of Keenan, the Flames almost won their division despite increasingly shaky goaltending and a disappearing offense. Luckily they have a blueline that is strong enough to carry the team. What were they thinking getting Olli Jokinen though?

Vancouver Canucks: (45-37; 100 points; 1st Northwest Division, 3rd Western Conference, 7th Overall; Lost in the 2nd Round):
Well, there's no hiding it anymore, Roberto Luongo is not a playoff goaltender. Though, like Calgary their blueline is rather solid, but can they score enough goals to seriously contend?

Edmonton Oilers: (38-44; 85 points; 4th Northwest Division, 11th Western Conference, 21st Overall: Did not qualify for the playoffs):
In comes Pat Quinn but, players still don't want to go out there if they have a choice. That should provide Quinn enough motivation to get the players going but is it enough to make the playoffs?

Minnesota Wild: (40-42; 89 points; 3rd Northwest Division, 9th Western Conference, 19th Overall; Did not qualify for the playoffs):
Gone is Jacques Lemaire and the neutral zone trap in spite of falling two points shy of the playoffs. Gone will be Minnesota being that close to the playoffs because is the offense minus Marion Gaborik really good enough to open things up in the Western Conference?

Colorado Avalanche: (32-50; 69 points; 5th Northwest Division, 15th Western Conference, 28th Overall; Did not qualify for the playoffs):
Finally Joe Sakic retires and the Avalanche can pay full attention to rebuilding, provided they can drive a stake through the Forsberg rumors. Though, where exactly is this team going? Is Joe Sacco the Head Coach going forward or just a placeholder?

Pacific Division:

San Jose Sharks: (53-29; 117 points; 1st Pacific Division, 1st Western Conference, 1st Overall; Lost in the First Round):
After the least surprising first round upset of the 2009 Playoffs, gone is Jeremy Roenick which immediately improves San Jose's chances. In comes Dan Heatley which offsets removing the Roenick albatross. When will San Jose learn?

Dallas Stars: (36-46; 83 points; 3rd Pacific Division, 12th Western Conference, 23rd Overall; Did not qualify for the playoffs):
We happen to think there's too much talent in Dallas for the Stars to miss the playoffs again. Sean Avery is gone as are many of the veterans who couldn't stay healthy enough last season to help the team out. How much damage did Brett Hull's turn in the GM's chair do?

Anaheim Ducks: (42-40; 91 points; 2nd Pacific Division, 8th Western Conference, 17th Overall, Lost in the 2nd Round):
Good news Ducks fans, the rebuilding project has started with the departure of Sean Pronger, the bad news is that the goaltending is up in the air and next season is going to be painful. Did the Flyers overpay enough for Pronger to shorten the transition?

Los Angeles Kings: (34-48; 79 points; 5th Pacific Division, 14th Western Conference, 26th Overall; Did not qualify for the playoffs):
Simply put, do the Kings have enough to come out of a wild Western Conference to contend for one of the last two playoff spots?

Phoenix Coyotes: (36-46; 79 points; 4th Pacific Division, 13th Western Conference, 25th Overall; Did not qualify for the playoffs):
The Coyotes have a real coach behind the bench now, but still lack real ownership or direction. There isn't much to work with here but how much will the off-ice distractions effect the team's play on the ice?

At some point tomorrow, the Eastern Conference...


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Ticked Off

Ever wonder why Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder tries to “control the message” about his football team by purchasing radio stations and forbidding twittering of his practices? Ever wonder why he doesn't grant interview requests anymore? Wonder why we refer to them as the (Com)Post even when they aren’t brazenly trying to get Democrats elected in the Fascist Commonwealth of Virginia?

Look no further than last week’s two-part Redskins expose that the (Com)Post ran.

Part I was rather harmless and can be easily summed up as high pressure on the sales staff to sell tickets lead to people taking shortcuts by dumping them on ticket brokers. Basically, applying the tried and true methods of Susan O'Malley to paper your house. The salespeople who took shortcuts got what was coming to them and seem to be no longer with the Redskins which only makes sense considering the advertised length of the waiting list for season tickets.

But in Part II the hatchet was brought out by James Grimaldi and he did a job that would make Lizzie Borden blush. We have to think the noted media ethicists at the On Frozen Ombudsmen were on this like the cheap suit the one On Frozen Bozo wears during his blubbering appearances on Washington (Com)Post Live. But we wouldn't know, we've been banned from reading that blog. (Though on a side note, interesting isn’t it that people who bitterly complained about the lack professionalism of a particular institution are so willing to “bed down with them” when it boots their profile. Tells you something about them huh???) And we mention this because you know it is a bad article when the following people jump to the defense of the Redskins in this situation. First of all Steinbog valiantly tries to re-focus the conversation and point out facts that his own colleague can't keep straight. Then Tom Knott tries to inject more sanity into this whole situation. Finally, well documented Redskins hater Peter King has trouble piling on this story.

The whole thing is lead off with the story of a Granny who, after reading the whole article, we learn that quite frankly, has bigger problems than a $66K collection from the Redskins. This woman is more than $100K behind on her mortgage. Will (Com)Post dispatch another writer to pen a similar story about a bank throwing a 72 year old woman selling her lamps to stay afloat out of her home? And it doesn't end there, she has other cruel and heartless creditors calling her all day. Now, the Redskins have gotten credit for backing off but the damage of course has been done.

However, a vast majority of the people profiled by the (Com)Post simply got caught buying more than they could afford. Seriously, are we supposed to feel sorry for a guy like DHS investigator who signed a contract knowing full well he wouldn’t be able to fulfill the terms? And getting back to Knott’s point; ALL tickets for sporting events are luxury items, whether they're "on the field dream seats" or nosebleeds. Numerous people drop their season tickets because they can no longer afford them. Are these people being taken advantage of by the owners? We think not. As a matter of fact, there were Redskins Season Tickets in our family for over 20 years until the tuition payments our parents were making finally caught up. The tickets were dropped and none of us felt like victims then, or now.

Redskins Premium Seats have long been available to anybody willing and able to sign the contract. Furthermore, the idea of long-term contracts was started by the late Jack Kent Cooke, NOT Dan Snyder. As a matter of fact, the Caps, Bullets, Nats, and Terps do the exact same thing with their premium seats. The idea of contracts is not out of the ordinary the sports world and in many cases, is the catalyst to get a new building built as is the case with the Phone Booth. Revenues from the Club Seats and Luxury boxes are dedicated to paying off the loans taken out by Dishonest Abe Polin to build it.

Now, we're not saying that the Redskins are totally blameless here, for instance
selling to the mentally disabled is another example of the of high-pressure to sell more than anything else. Also given the lengths people go to these days, you're never really sure somebody is telling you the truth about themselves. Furthermore, we don't like the accusations of changing the contracts after they've been signed. That's bad business no matter who does it.

But our favorite are the people willing ping the Redskins for going after a guy convicted of embezzlement. Commonly is it $$$$$ that is being stolen in an embezzlement scheme. So here's a guy who stole $$$$$ from other people to pay for his tickets. This isn't a guy who "fell on hard luck," this is a guy WHO BROKE THE LAW. And embezzlement isn't a crime that is "victimless" or you can commit "without knowing." People had $$$$$ stolen from them by this guy and he knew what he was doing. But the Redskins are jerks for going after this guy while the Nats, who BTW are owed by people lambasted for being cheap SOB's, are praised to the nines for giving him free tickets.

If that doesn't show you the depths of Snyder Derangement Syndrome, then our friends, nothing ever will.

But what Grimaldi does that angers us the most was his challenging the Redskins at every turn in the article. When David Donovan, the Redskins General Counsel, mentioned other NFL teams sue fans who renege on contracts; he went and called the 31 other NFL teams and got some sort of comment from 18 of them to disprove the Redskins point. He even went as far as to call the other local franchises to embarrass Snyder and Donovan. Nate Ewell of the Washington Capitals later “walked back” his comments in the article because he clearly didn’t understand the situation he was being asked about. Given the nature of this article, we have to think that Grimaldi wasn't too forthcoming about the situation he was describing to Ewell which is why Ewell had to walk back from his original comments. (And for the record, the Caps cannot sue Club and Suite patrons at the Phone Booth, Dishonest Abe owns all of those.)

However, when Donovan stated “Everyone that you can find who was unhappy about the negotiation, I could find you 12 where the fan was appreciative and grateful at the efforts we went to to work out the situation.” Grimaldi doesn’t bother to check that out. He also didn’t check out Donovan’s claim about James Nesbitt either. Nope, he took us back to Granny to pull on our heartstrings some more.

Finally about the double dipping charges, it doesn’t bother us because these people reneged on contracts and incurred further costs to the team. The idea that they should get something after being forced to live up to their end of the deal just seems wrong to us. Furthermore Donovan pointed out, getting a judgment doesn’t mean you’ll get paid.

Finally, we're tired of those who say, "yeah the Redskins have the right to do this, but it’s bad PR.” As Peter King pointed out in a roundabout way, club and suite revenues are very likely being used to service the debt on the loans taken out to build the stadium. So of all revenue streams the Redskins have, this one is by far and away the most important because imagine the headlines if the stadium in Landover gets foreclosed upon. Furthermore do we really want to set the standard that you let people filch on their debts because you would look bad trying to collect it? That's a recipe for financial chaos folks and we've had enough of that already.

But with Snyder Derangement Syndrome this bad, it's no wonder he goes to the lengths he does to “control the message" about his franchise. And we can't blame him.

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Sunday, September 06, 2009

Desert Dogged

We have to give Jim Balsillie credit for one thing. He has single handedly prevented NHL observers from having nothing to talk about this summer. But that's about the only good thing this scumbag has in his dealings with the NHL recently.

First of all, credit goes out to James Mirtle who has done an outstanding job of chronicling and following the Phoenix saga and Jim Balsillie's activities surrounding it. Without Mirtle posting the documents for us to read and sift through on our own, particularly the Daly declaration of the NHL's 0-26 vote against Balsillie, we would be left in the dark about why the NHL so strenuously opposes him buying an NHL team.

And that's because from where we sit there are basically two forces at work right now. #1. Only the Canadian media is paying any attention to this story while Balsille wraps himself in the Canadian flag. Balsillie has been handed a huge assist in this whole battle by Canadian media outlets like TSN who have used the graphic to the left in their ongoing coverage of the Phoenix saga. We seriously wonder what the preeminent media ethicists over at the On Frozen Ombudsmen have to say about this. (But we can't because we've been banned from reading that blog.) But it should be noted that Daly has made it clear that it does not oppose franchise relocation nor are they opposed to another team in Canada. The NHL has a serious, and we think rather a legitimate problem with Balsillie. If you bother reading the Daly declaration above, you'd know that he's been gunning to move a team to Hamilton since he tried to acquire the Penguin Scum and an unwillingness to follow league rules as it related to relocation and put a pen to paper to agree to abide by those rules.

Furthermore, there is Exhibit C from Craig Leipold which illustrates Balsillie's actions in Nashville and is further illustration of his disregard for the rules. He is, to use the term, a "Billionaire Bully." He nudged the Predators towards bankruptcy and then demanded total secrecy from Leipold while the transaction was being worked upon. A truly neutral party would ask themselves, "why would they insist upon this?" Furthermore, Balsillie violated the signed agreements between him and Leipold. Why would the NHL want a person like this in their ranks?

To our knowledge, Balsillie has never answered these allegations against him and has chosen to attack the character of current and former NHL Owners instead. It should be pointed out that guys like Bruce McNall and John Spano ended up in jail after purchasing NHL teams and the NHL is not in the business of forensic accounting. While there is certainly some owners that the NHL wished they had never had in league (our favorite still being the initial Japanese owner of the Ning that Gary Bettman never met during the time he owned the team from 1992-1998) it doesn't change the fact that Balsillie acts as if the rules do not apply to him.

But the largest force behind the push for Balsillie to take over the Coyotes and move them to Hamilton is the anti-Gary Bettman sentiment which has reached a fever pitch with this whole Phoenix saga. We happen to believe that if Bettman were willing to accept Balsillie as an owner and pave the way for him to move the Coyotes from Phoenix to Hamilton and/or Winnipeg, many NHL fans would be decrying the move. They would point out the obvious that neither Hamilton nor Winnipeg currently has an NHL size arena. And in the case of Hamilton, they would note that putting three teams in one market is overkill and bad for the third franchise much like the struggles the New Jersey Devils have in a New York market occupied by the Rangers and Islanders.

But nope, the self-appointed hockey purists have used this occasion to once again claim the utter failure of Bettman's "Southern Strategy" and use it as proof positive that the NHL needs to move teams back to Canada or eliminate them entirely. Never mind that one of the self-appointed hockey purists goals is to get the NHL back on ESPN and that reducing the league's profile in the lower 48 while raising it above the 49th parallel would be counter-productive towards that goal. Also don't look at attendance issues in the past ten years in cities like Pittsburgh and New York. Those weren't a "failure" of league strategy. Furthermore, pay no attention to the bankruptcies in Pittsburgh, Ottawa, and Those too aren't an indictment of the local market's ability to support a hockey team.

And how quickly us Caps fans forget our old friend Larry's love letter to A.O. just two years ago now; begging him to go somewhere where his talents would be appreciated and put on display in one location that was sold out 41 times a year. Is anybody now talking about taking the Caps and/or A.O. out of D.C. because of a lack of support? If they are, they're idiots because as we've seen time and time again, success at the box office has more to do with success in the standings than anything else. Sure there are always exceptions but unless a franchise can become an institution in its market, their fortunes at the box office will rise and fall with its win-loss record.

Of course, the fact that the Coyotes are seeing their ticket sales dwindle and their sponsorships dry up is directly related to Balsillie attempting to backdoor his way into the NHL. Would you sign up to support a team in a crummy economy that is not likely to be around much longer? But when the judge clearly states that there is no precedent for him to do what Balsillie is asking him to do (hand over a sports franchise to an potential owner that has been rejected by the league he is seeking to enter) it looks as if Balsillie is going to end up losing this battle with the NHL in spite of the NHL's constantly shifting positions.

While that certainly would not be very satisfying to the anti-Bettman forces and all patriotic Canadians, we here at Bleatings From a Caps Nut respectfully offer this suggestion. We all know that there is bad blood between the two sides here and sometimes the only way to get rid of that bad blood is to have the two sides fight it out mano a mano. Furthermore, most self-appointed hockey purists are also Ultimate Fighting On Ice Fans so let's satisfy their blood lust by having Balsillie and Bettman have a good old-fashioned hockey fight at Arena. And to really hype things up, let's have Balsillie and Bettman dress up in goaltender gear for their fight because we all know that fan go really bonkers over goalie fights! But we feel as though we must add this one caveat to the fight. In the spirit of Bettman's beloved gimmicks, each combatant can only throw one punch at a time and must allow the other party to throw a punch before they can throw their next one. The winner of the fight gets control of the Coyotes and has carte blanche to do with them as they wish. Because let's face it, this is probably the best and quickest way to bring an end to this Phoenix saga which has gone on long enough and shows no sign of ending anytime soon.

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