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Bruce Dowbiggin

Can’t Catch This: The Avs Take The Pace Higher And Higher

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After watching this year’s turbo-charged NHL playoffs perhaps it’s time to amend the old cliché to now say “lack of speed kills”. If there’s one takeaway from the Colorado Avalanche’s Top Gun performance en route to a Stanley Cup it’s that you can’t win in today’s NHL without blazing speed.

Led by their superstar burner Nathan MacKinnon and freewheeling defenceman Cale Maker the Avs have blitzed opponents. The Avs quickly shellacked Nashville 4-0, averaging over 5 goals a game. St. Louis proved a tougher nut to crack, pushing Colorado to 6 games, including two OTs before succumbing. The dazed Edmonton Oilers— with generational star Connor McDavid— fell in four, surrendering over 5 goals per game to the Avs’ whirlwind.

And now two-time defending champions Tampa Bay are holding onto the ropes after getting swept in Games 1 & 2, the second a humiliating 7-0 thrashing of the Lightning and their star goalie Andrei Vasilevsky. The Bolts had been 9-2 in the second game of a series dating back to 2020, but it did them no good.

How are they doing it? Blitzing, unrelenting speed and pressure from McKinnon, Makar, captain Gabriel Landeskog, Mikko Rahntenen, Arturi Lekhonen, Andre Burakovsky, Valeri Nichushkin  and Devon Toews. So confident are the Avs that they’ve been able to hide their very average goaltending duo of Darcy Kuemper and backup Pavel Francouz. Their puck possession in Gm. 2 was daunting, keeping the Lightning to just 16 SOG.

Also impressive is the Avs’ use of the 180-foot game to escape their own zone carrying speed into the opponent’s end. This stretch passing is a revelation seen more and more— Edmonton, Calgary and Toronto employed it this season— but Colorado’s use— keyed by MacKinnon— has been devastating to opponents.

We postulated in February that goaltending might sink the Oilers and Maple Leafs And while Mike Smith tried his damndest to torpedo the Oilers it was Edmonton’s inability to keep up with Colorado’s blitz that doomed them. Toronto’s Jack Campbell held on gamely against the Lightning, but Toronto’s offensive firepower was blunted by Tampa’s grit and experience.

It is clearly a new day in the NHL when grizzled coaches like Darryl Sutter, a longtime proponent of clutch-and-grab, concede to speed. The Flames thrived on breakout passing and using the 180-foot game. Unfortunately Sutter couldn’t replicate the regular-season firepower of Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk against McDavid’s brilliance.

So if track-meet hockey is the future what does it say for the Canadian NHL franchises who went a 29th season without a Stanley Cup? Are any of them prepared to unleash the whirlwind next fall? You can probably eliminate Montreal , Ottawa and Winnipeg from the equation. Their time is a ways off.

Toronto: The Leafs were the biggest failure of the season, failing to win their conference or division despite a star-studded lineup. As such they drew Tampa in Rd.1 and it was Peggy Lee time. “Is that all there is?” The Leafs have elite players, but they also have a fanatical fan base that wants to win yesterday.

But the Avs should serve as an example of the patience you need. McKinnon was drafted in 2013, Makar in 2017. Other parts— including coach Jared Bednar— came slowly. There were painstaking losses in early rounds of the playoffs. But now, nine years after MacKinnon, they seem ready.

Yes, moves need to be made in Toronto. The question is can coach Sheldon Keefe assemble the elements, convince his team he’s got the plan and use his weapons to blitz slew-footed opponents?

Edmonton: No doubt the Oilers have impressive parts. MacDavid was transcendent against L.A. and Calgary. Zak Hyman bolstered the second line scoring. But with elite sniper Leon Draisaitl hobbled the Oil were boat raced by the Avs. With their top-heavy payroll and wobbly goaltending, can they find speed in the bottom two lines to break through? Can young coach Jay Woodcroft get a system that emphasized the speed we saw on occasion against Calgary?

Calgary: As mentioned, the Flames looked to be disciples of dashing hockey till the Oilers exposed their second and third lines, and Jacob Markstrom fell apart in nets. Worse for the Flames is the free-agent status of their marquee star Johnny Gaudreau, who has yet to announce if he’s gong to stay or go home to the U.S. Northeast.

Gaudreau’s high-speed dexterity pushed players like Tkachuk and Elias Lindholm to great years. It’s hard to see them spreading the rink without the dynamic Gaudreau engineering the offence. The Flames are also not a young team after adding veterans down the stretch who failed to move the needle. They could push for a Cup with Gaudreau or start to re-tool without him.

Vancouver: The Canucks missed the playoffs and it’s hard to see this roster finding a MacKinnon or McDavid gear next year with no premium draft picks available. Quinn Hughes looks poised to be as Makar-style D man in the future, but the forward group is a hot mess beyond Elias Petterson and Bo Horvat. It’s a long way from 2011 fior Vancouver fans and this won’t help the recovery much either.

So for Canadians looking at a likely candidate for a Cup in the near future, put your money on the Leafs and hate yourself for doing so.

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com). The best-selling author was nominated for the BBN Business Book award of 2020 for Personal Account with Tony Comper. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s also a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. His new book with his son Evan Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft Years In NHL History is now available on http://brucedowbigginbooks.ca/book-personalaccount.aspx

BRUCE DOWBIGGIN Award-winning Author and Broadcaster Bruce Dowbiggin's career is unmatched in Canada for its diversity and breadth of experience . He is currently the editor and publisher of Not The Public Broadcaster website and is also a contributor to SiriusXM Canada Talks. His new book Cap In Hand was released in the fall of 2018. Bruce's career has included successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster for his work with CBC-TV, Mr. Dowbiggin is also the best-selling author of "Money Players" (finalist for the 2004 National Business Book Award) and two new books-- Ice Storm: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Vancouver Canucks Team Ever for Greystone Press and Grant Fuhr: Portrait of a Champion for Random House. His ground-breaking investigations into the life and times of Alan Eagleson led to his selection as the winner of the Gemini for Canada's top sportscaster in 1993 and again in 1996. This work earned him the reputation as one of Canada's top investigative journalists in any field. He was a featured columnist for the Calgary Herald (1998-2009) and the Globe & Mail (2009-2013) where his incisive style and wit on sports media and business won him many readers.

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Bruce Dowbiggin

The Most Dangerous Man In Canada: Emmanuel Goldstein Reborn

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Emmanuel Goldstein was once an important member of the Party but became a traitor. Although he was sentenced to death, he escaped and formed the Brotherhood, an organized body of rebels committed to the destruction of the Party and the party’s way of life.— George Orwell, 1984

For Canadians who think that rising commodity prices, carbon tax increases and corruption of the federal government are their biggest concerns, we have news for them. If you listen to the bien pensants of Canadian media, the greatest threat to the nation is Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre.

Just sample the ad hominems aimed at the man who has a 20-point lead in polls for next prime minister. “Pierre Poilievre is pretending he doesn’t know how his job works because it makes it easier” (Globe & Mail). ”Why is Pierre Poilievre so angry?” (Macleans) “Canadians deserve better than this nonsense… There’s a difference between passion and churlishness” (Hill Times). And this barb from Liberal member/ House Speaker Greg Fergus’ event :“Pierre Poilievre and the Conservatives propose reckless policies that would risk our health, safety and pocketbooks.”

Even the compliments are back-handed. “Canadians don’t seem to hate Poilievre like they used to: Widely despised upon winning the leadership, Poilievre is now winning ‘preferred prime minister’ polls” (National Post). No wonder floundering Liberal leader Justin Trudeau just keeps the hits coming at Poilievere. “Are we a country that looks out for each other … or do you go down a path of amplifying anger, division and fear?” Scary, kids.

Look, partisanship comes with the territory in politics. Nastiness, too. Even in Canadian political coverage. Fine. But this welter of Poilievre loathing comes in the wake of a decade of collective Trudeau amnesia from the self-appointed keepers of the flame in the fourth estate.

Listening to a recent podcast featuring three bonafide Canadian establishment media grandees gave us a hint into what has been remembered and what has been forgotten. It doesn’t matter which three (I’ve admired all three at one time or other.) . They’re now largely interchangeable in their complacent attitude of Keep Calm & Vote Justin. .

The first— and perhaps most significant— thing you get from listening is the blithe acceptance of politics-as-usual in the time of Trudeau the Younger. The collapse of the old order of doing business in Canada since PMJT was elected in 2015 is never discussed in Ottawa’s polite company. Canadians’ distrust in their authorities the past decade is all so much conspiracy talk.

Specifically, there is a black screen where the Truckers Convoy should be. Federal Court Justice Richard Mosley’s found that “there was no national emergency justifying the invocation of the Emergencies Act and the decision to do so was therefore unreasonable and ultra vires”. ( Ultra vires = actions beyond the scope of the law.) In a rules-based society this condemnation of the extraordinary suspension of civil order in February of 2022 would have forced a change in government— if not a self-examination of society.

But, white-washed by the purchased media, Trudeau’s abrogation of the rules of civil society was made to disappear after Justin waved his regal hand. Which made what happened during Covid— the closure of society and the criminalization of dissent— inevitable. You’d think forcing citizens to take an untested vaccine at the risk of losing their job, their freedom, their health (now known to have been dangerous to many) would be preeminent in the discussions.

Nah, it’s all about Pierre the Petulant. The panelists discussed Poilievre as a divisive force, a threat to the Ottawa orthodoxy. None mentioned that the PM, who condemned his own voters as genocidal at the U.N. on the strength of rumours alleging murdered native babies, might have to reckon with his patented falsehoods. No, Trudeau is treated as if he’s Mitchell Sharp.

Blithely dashing off such bias-as-fact CBC’s news writers arm their listeners with information that doesn’t compute in a world that doesn’t work. (CTV News, once a sober option to CBC, is now running a close second in hysteria. CTV hosts regurgitate Hamas death tolls that even the New York Times acknowledges are highly inflated. )

The tell in media complicity is the repeated use of “climate change” as undeniable fact or the “religious right” as a substitute for extremist movements. Echoing politicians who wouldn’t know El Niño from the El Mocambo, highly respected commentators enforce the late-‘90s ban on any scientific skepticism of King Charles or Al Gore as weather wack-a-doodles. Condemning the faithful as conspiratorial (unless it’s Islam) targets a large chunk of Poilievre’s base.

This casual bias is also easily found in your garden-variety CBC Radio newscast. The feckless announcer refers to Ireland, Spain and Norway recognizing “The State of Palestine”. There is not today nor has there ever been a state of Palestine. Palestine was a British imperial construct until Yasser Arafat conjured up this faux-state. Until the 1960s, the people of this region held Jordanian passports. But out goes The State of Palestine to the ears of a gullible nation.

This reinforcement loop is epitomized by the craven re-naming of Toronto squares and roads associated with Henry Dundas and universities named for Egerton Ryerson. A noisy clique pounded home their blatant falsehoods about Dundas and Ryerson through the media portal. Now panelists who should know better pass on the lies as if reading from a restaurant menu.

There are also prerequisite references in newscasts to hot weather elsewhere in the world being attributed to Climate Change by “experts”. Is that Al Gore Climate Change? Michael Mann Climate Change? Greta Thunberg Climate Change? The one where celebrities make predictions that don’t come true but CBC neglects to fact check?

And don’t get us started on #LGBTQ issues which are spoken of on CBC with reverence while Christian churches burning is just the price of doing business with Poilievere. Needless to say that all this agitprop has hardened into casual panel talk by people who used to know better.

How did Poilievere get so hated in the first place? The general public has only recognized him the last year, so any previous impressions were shaped by the PMO and the water carriers they own in the media. When reality met Chrystia Freeland’s mythology, the public was baffled at the gap between the pictures painted for them and reality.

But, being Canadians, most just shook their heads and muddled on. The Left has learned to adjust to that old line, “When the fact becomes legend, print the legend”.

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the publisher of Not The Public Broadcaster  A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. Now for pre-order, new from the team of Evan & Bruce Dowbiggin— Deal With It: The Trades That Stunned The NHL & Changed Hockey. From Espo to Boston in 1967 to Gretz in L.A. in 1988 to Patrick Roy leaving Montreal in 1995, the stories behind the story. Launching in paperback and Kindle on #Amazon this week. Destined to be a hockey best seller. https://www.amazon.ca/Deal-Trades-Stunned-Changed-Hockey-ebook/dp/B0D236NB35/

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Bruce Dowbiggin

Lather, Rinse, Repeat: Recycling Coaches In The NHL

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“The world will ask you who you are, and if you do not know, the world will tell you.” Carl Jung

As long as you’re willing to re-locate frequently the job of NHL head coach has a fair degree of job security. Even when you get fired it seems there’s a ready appetite in some other town for a skill set you have just failed at.

Latest evidence that failure has an I and U in it: Having canned Sheldon Keefe after a lengthy (note: sarcasm) five years at the helm of the Toronto Maple Leafs, club management scoured the bushes to find former player Craig “Chief” Berube, who has previously hung his coaching shingle in Philadelphia and St. Louis, where he won a Stanley Cup as an interim coach.

Chief wasn’t the glamour name (we were praying for Bruce Boudreau.). If the idea is how do the Leafs motivate their four mega-millionaires, he’s more like Mike Babcock than Sheldon Keefe. He won’t look at players’ cell phones, but he will give them that old-time religion. Knowing Chief from his Calgary days we’d say he can probably take the Toronto fishbowl.

(For those with long Leafs’ memories Berube was part of a famous trade in 1992 to which we devote an entire chapter in our new book Deal With It. He went west to Calgary while Doug Gilmour headed east to Toronto in the massive 10-man trade. While the Leafs “won” the trade, only the maligned Gary Leeman and journeyman Jamie Macoun won Cups– for teams other than Calgary and Toronto.)

But we digress. Sometimes it seems that NHL teams would rather lose with a known commodity than win with someone bold and unconventional behind the bench. While almost 30 percent of NHL players are European there have only been two European heads coaches, none in the past 20 years. Why? NHL owners are risk averse. And the league is a fraternity of forgiveness for guys you played junior with.

A brief ramble through the 2023-24 coaching roster shows several peripatetic bench bosses, led by the inimitable John Tortarella, who wore out his welcome in Vancouver, Tampa Bay, NY Rangers and Columbus before Philly curiously decided he had something left to offer. Let’s also not forget Lindy Ruff, who was pink slipped in Buffalo, Dallas, New Jersey and the NY Rangers— and now has been resurrected in Buffalo as a “fresh voice”.

Some retreads are getting results. Peter Laviolette has the Rangers into the third-round of the 2024 postseason, after gigs in Carolina, Philadelphia, Nashville, Washington (pause for breath) and the NY Islanders. Paul Maurice, currently guiding Florida in the playoffs, has had two stints with Carolina, plus Toronto and Winnipeg. Peter DeBoer, whose Dallas Stars are odd-on faves to with the 2024 Cup, has also coached Florida, San Jose, New Jersey and Vegas.

You want more? Rick Tocchet was head coach in Arizona and Tampa Bay before getting the perch in Vancouver. Travis Green, newly hired in Ottawa, has previously been found wanting in Vancouver and New Jersey. We could go on.

The king of the coach-for-life carousel is the just-retired Rick Bowness who finally called it a day in Winnipeg after the Jets were eliminated this spring. How long has Bones been knocking around? He was the coach of the expansion Ottawa Senators in 1992, one the worst five teams ever by NHL standards. Wonderful man who also spent stints as an assistant in cities in 30-plus years around the continent.

There are more. Sitting in the green room, polishing their pregame speeches are the well- travelled Boudreau, Dallas Eakins, Gerard Gallant, Todd McLellan, Claude Julien and Mike Yeo. Heaven forbid someone might still ask one of the Sutters to saddle up again. Brian (St. Louis, Chicago, Boston, Calgary), Darryl (Calgary, L.A., Anaheim, San Jose and Calgary again) and Brent (Calgary, New Jersey) have been perennial NHL coaching prospects for decades.

So take, heart, Sheldon Keefe. Joining Keefe in looking for a rebound job are Scott Arniel, Jeff Blashill, Jeremy Colliton, Kevin Dineen, Phil Housley, Kirk Muller, Davis Payne, Todd Reirden, Joe Sacco, Brad Shaw, Geoff Ward and Trent Yawney. Good company.

Don’t cry too hard for these coaching candidates. Unless they have years left on contract (Keefe has two) most wait out the time between head-coaching stints by accepting assistant-coach positions. The ranks of assistants contain a second tier of talent, also ready to go at a moment’s notice.

There are a scant few who’ve hung on in one town. Jon Cooper has been in Tampa since 2013, a Methuselah stint in today’s terms. Rod Brind’Amour has managed to avoid the chop in Carolina since 2018. But the reality is that, since the start off the 2023-24 season alone, there have been 13 head-coaching changes in the NHL. Go back to January of 2023, and 19 of the league’s 32 teams have changed coaches.

Which brings us back to the original idea: “Is there no one in international hockey who knows anything?” We won’t profess to be coaching talent scouts, but the idea that no one working outside North America can meet the job description better than some— if not most—of the coaches mentioned above beggars the imagination.

One final note: If you’re looking for an explanation of the coaching carousel and its recent frequency, look no further than Gary Bettman and his salary cap obsession. By forcing a hard cap on teams he’s concentrated the money— and the power— on a few players per team. When a coach is pitted against his stars it’s a no-win proposition.

The Leafs stars used their power to get Babcock fired. And it’s been repeated on other teams. While Keefe didn’t lose his Core Four he also couldn’t get them to win in the postseason. For that he got the chop— and a premium place in the next coaching carousel.

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the publisher of Not The Public Broadcaster  A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. Now for pre-order, new from the team of Evan & Bruce Dowbiggin— Deal With It: The Trades That Stunned The NHL & Changed Hockey. From Espo to Boston in 1967 to Gretz in L.A. in 1988 to Patrick Roy leaving Montreal in 1995, the stories behind the story. Launching in paperback and Kindle on #Amazon this week. Destined to be a hockey best seller. https://www.amazon.ca/Deal-Trades-Stunned-Changed-Hockey-ebook/dp/B0D236NB35/

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