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Bruce Dowbiggin

Snuffed-Out Flames: From Beatdown To Teardown in 18 Months

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“Sic transit gloria” There have been rude collapses in the NHL’s recent past, but few have happened with such alacrity as the Calgary Flames’ descent into hell. Two years ago this April, the Flames were favourites to beat their provincial rivals, the Edmonton Oilers, in the second round of the 2022 playoffs. The Flames had beaten the Dallas Stars with a Game 7 OT snipe from Johnny Gaudreau. Meanwhile, the Oilers had been life-and-death to subdue the L.A. Kings in their own seven-game ordeal.

For two franchises looking to make a statement, this first playoff meeting of the Alberta rivals since 1991 was perfect timing. Led by the incomparable Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, the Oilers had been knocking on the door to a long playoff run for a few years. The high-scoring Flames, meanwhile, had shocked the NHL by taking the Pacific after just one playoff series win since 2004. All three players on their top line— Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuck, Elias Lindholm—had scored 40 or more goals, while goalie Jacob Markstrom was a Vezina Trophy nominee.

Yes, there were clouds on the Flames’ horizon. Gaudreau was weeks from being an UFA. His cohort Matthew Tkachuck, was likely to be asking for a boatload of money in contract talks. Numerous key veterans would also be up for pay raises within the next two years. But a win over their Edmonton rivals could dampen that downer.

Edmonton had no such contractual distractions, having sewn up their core of McDavid, Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Darnell Nurse. It showed. The series was over quicker than anyone expected. Even Game 1’s 9-6 decision for the favoured Flames saw them blow a 5-1 lead before salvaging the game. They also led Gm. 2 by 2-0 before Edmonton mounted another (successful) comeback. In fact, Calgary’s defence would not hold leads in the remaining four games of Edmonton’s 4-1 series triumph.

As the series dragged on, Calgary’s top line seemingly could not match the speed of McDavid and the Oilers’ deadly attack. Outside his series-opening hat trick, Tkachuk had just a single assist and a -4 rating in the series. Gaudreau had just two points in the final four games while Lindholm was held to a single goal and one assist in Games 2-5. (McDavid, by contrast, ended up with three goals and nine assists against suddenly porous Flames goalie Jacob Markstrom).

For those looking for the moment this Flames’ iteration fell apart, the blown leads in Games 1 & 2 is a good place to start. Coach Darryl Sutter did not gild the lily for his underperforming stars. “It’s not being critical, that’s just true. They’re going to tell you that, too. Missed opportunities go the other way.” For much of the next 18 months, the team would go into free-fall.

In the weeks after elimination, Gaudreau walked away from a max contract offer to sign in… Columbus? That led to Tkachuk forcing the ill-fated Jonathan Huberdeau trade from Florida after refusing to renegotiate a new deal in Calgary. Having signed an eight-year contract Huberdeau then collapsed to just 15 goals and 55 points. His staggering 60-point drop-off represented one of the worst in NHL history among non-injured players between two seasons. At one point Sutter even put enforcer Milan Lucic on Huberdeau’s line.

A dazed Huberdeau fumed. He had company as seemingly the entire team feuded with Sutter. As the Flames dropped to fifth in the Pacific (and out of the postseason) the noises began about which veterans wanted out if Sutter was retained. Sutter was finally dumped, but the damage had been done for new GM Craig Conroy in his first GM job. Unless his team started fast in 2023-24 he’d be conducting a rummage sale.

The Flames did not improve off their dreadful collapse in 2023-24. (Not helped by news that forward Dylan Dubé was arrested in the Team Canada 2018 sexual-assault scandal.) Yes, some youngsters like Conor Zary, denied a shot by Sutter, have shown well. But 14-16-5 in late December wasn’t enough. Having shipped Tyler Toffoli to New Jersey earlier (stealing Ygor Sherangovich) Conroy had to find suitable deals for his departing veterans when everyone in hockey knew he had no leverage. In short order, Chris Tanev, Nikita Zadorov, Elias Lindholm, Chris Tanev and Noah Hanafin were peddled for Andrei Kuzmenko, prospects Hunter Brzustewicz, Joni Jurmo, Artem Grushnikov, and Daniel Miromanov. The deals also bagged two more first-rounders, another second, four thirds, a fourth and a fifth pick— all spread over the 2024/25/26 drafts.

In a surprise move, Conroy hung onto ace goalie Markstrom to go with remaining veteran forwards Huberdeau, Nazem Kadri, Mikael Backlund, Blake Coleman and defensemen McKenzie Weager and Rasmus Andersson. Maybe Conroy deals him at the Draft? Depending on your outlook, the team is now gamely trying to a) sneak into a playoff spot or b) hurt its draft position by playing spirited, if undermanned, hockey.

There is much potential in the draft haul Conroy has engineered (he has two first rounders and two second rounders this June), less so in the actual bodies he obtained. A safe estimate might be that the Flames will not return to the postseason till their long-delayed arena is finally completed by 2027-28. Maybe a phenom will appear— a la Gaudreau—to speed things up.

But it’s a reach to say that Flames fan watching puck drop of the Edmonton series in April of 2022 could have foreseen this teardown happening so fast and so brutally to a team that sped out to a 5-1 lead over the Oilers that night. But it did. The only thing making it worse will be an Oilers Stanley Cup win in 2024.

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor 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. Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft Years In NHL History, his new book with his son Evan, was voted the seventh-best professional hockey book of all time by bookauthority.org . His 2004 book Money Players was voted sixth best on the same list, and is available via brucedowbigginbooks.ca.

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

OJ Trial: How It Launched Cable News And Destroyed MLK’s Legacy

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It was the launch pad for CNN. The demise of Martin Luther King’s dream and Ground Zero for racial reparations in America. The O.J. Simpson trial in 1994 is now recognized as the end of civility in the United States. And the beginning of DEI.

Simpson, who died last week of cancer at age 76, was the centre of the story and, as we know now, the least of its elements. Any doubts that festered about his capability to commit a brutal murder of his wife and a friend were quashed when Simpson used his liberty to shake down a memorabilia salesman, using a gun and some muscle to get the job done.

He wandered the world before and after the eight-years-plus prison term, a ghost figure shunned and demonized by almost all. His death brought brief mentions of the spectacular career in sports and media he threw away. But Dave Chapelle sums up this pathetic figure in his stand-up.

While the entire murder/ trial/ incarceration tanked O.J.’s reputation forever it was the making of CNN, which— until the trial— had mostly been a channel you watched while killing time in airports. And, by extension, the shocking not guilty decision was the birth of the cable-news phenomenon.

Instead of investigating plane crashes and propping up bloviating politicians CNN discovered the magic of a live courtroom drama featuring one of the most famous men in America, football great and movie punchline O.J. Blowing out the concept of structured programming, CNN dedicated endless consecutive daytime hours to testimony, linked by a cast of legal figures like Roger Cossack, Jeffrey Toobin and Greta Van Susteren parsing the evidence..

When court broke for the day, CNN went full panel, rounding up ex-cops, ambulance-chasing lawyers, California psychos and political hacks to analyze the day’s events like they were John Madden analyzing Peyton Manning. People tantalized by the Bronco chase and the bloody glove couldn’t get enough of Kato Kaelin.

CNN was aided by Simpson’s defence team which trashed the idea of evidence, turning the trial instead into a referendum on the bumbling L.A. police. Soon everyone knew that detective Mark Fuhrman was a stone-cold racist and Phillip Vanatter couldn’t protect evidence if he tried. And don’t get us started on the quivering figure of Judge Lance Ito, who was bulldozed by Simpson’s crack team of Johnnie Cochrane, Alan Dershowitz, Robert Shapiro and Robert Kardashian.

The apogee of the trial was, of course, coarse actor O.J. not being able to put on the glove (if it don’t fit you must acquit). The stunned look on prosecutor Marcia Clark’s face was mint. For the hyper-liberal, mostly black  L.A. jury that was all they needed to cement the not-guilty verdict. CNN reverberated for weeks on the sugar high from the trial.

White America was largely disgusted with the verdict and said so. Prompting CNN to allege a vast right-wing conspiracy that would end in George W. Bush and Donald Trump. Soon, everyone was in on the game of choosing sides, with MSNBC And FOX News Channel going 24/7 on the racial divide in society. Pretty soon, late-night comics morphed into shills for the Left and against Bush and then Trump. Comedy was deader than O.J.’s victims.

Network profits were lucrative, however, as Roger Ailes (FOX News) and the heads of the Big Three TV news departments whipped the vote for their side. Sadly for CNN, abandoning their role as purveyor of O.J. porn for guileless wind therapist for the Obama Left was not a winner with audiences. The rabid radicals disappeared for MSNBC and the centrists just started watching Netflix. From creators of the TV news cycle on the fly, CNN is now a lame version of its old self, a tepid third in the ratings as it seeks to find a new identity.

The other big loser in the O.J. story was the legacy of Martin Luther King. While gormless lefties still repeat his pleas for a colour-blind society, the reality is that, since the OJ decision, black America has decided it can go its own way, thank you, funded by guilty white liberals and reparations from the Civil War.

In June of 2016— two decades after the Trial of the century— a documentary on the trials stirred the passions again. We observed, “King was predicting a land where colour no longer matters. A land where character and steadfastness and achievement are the highest goals. Today, the proud boast of Obama and the progressives is that everything is about colour, not character. Everyone is about check lists of the aggrieved, talking points of the hard-done-by, education camps for liberal guilt. Growth cannot be made unless it’s as the expense of someone else we hate.

Simpson was a man King might have admired in some ways, even if the ESPN producers dismissed him in their zeal to reinforce the grievance culture. O.J. had no time for those who chose to cut themselves off in their culture, who were marinating in their bitterness over racial bigotry. He chose to be measured by something larger than colour.

That he failed is more of a mark on his character than his colour.” So OJ has that going for him as he checks into his suite in Hades.

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor 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. His new book Deal With It: The Trades That Stunned The NHL And Changed hockey is now available on Amazon. Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft Years In NHL History, his previous book with his son Evan, was voted the seventh-best professional hockey book of all time by bookauthority.org . His 2004 book Money Players was voted sixth best on the same list, and is available via brucedowbigginbooks.ca.

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Bruce Dowbiggin

Sorry, Justin. Social Media Won’t Give You A Mulroney Epitaph

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The polls suck. His party is restless watching his constant gaffes. His NDP allies are similarly hoping he quits before he brings down their party, too. The public now laughs at his Happy Ways demeanour and lush living on the public dime.

It seems inevitable that Justin Trudeau is at the end of his runway as prime minister of Canada. If the polls are right, he could experience one of the greatest electoral repudiations when the federal election finally happens. Just as he replaced the dour technician Stephen Harper, Trudeau will be dismissed by the public, seen as yesterday’s man.

In desperation Trudeau has tried labelling his nemesis Pierre Poilievre as a Trump wannabe, a divisive alt-right force who would reverse the generous graft he’d bestowed on Canadians. His paid media have picked up the theme calling Poilievre’s strategy “shameful”, “cynical” and his “scorched-earth approach” is “contributing to a breakdown in overall faith in the system”. You go with that.

What makes them mad are Poilievre’s insouciant takedowns of Liberal hacks and media flacks, best epitomized by the apple-eating destruction of a lazy B.C. journalist out for a cheap score to raise his profile. A host of self-appointed press figures lost their minds. “You are not supposed to treat interviewers this way!” Since that moment, Poilievre has repeated the formula on cabinet ministers and played-out press figures.

Leaving Liberals and their wind therapists in the press to wonder what will be Skippy’s legacy in ten or fifteen years if he can’t control the messaging? Most look at the recent funeral for Brian Mulroney and the forgiving attitude from his former enemies toward Mulroney. Indeed, those who watched Wayne Gretzky and others eulogize the 18th PM of Canada as a statesman assume that this charity will eventually be extended to Trudeau.

Sure, Justin told the UN his citizens are genocidal, installed felons to cabinet posts, applauded Nazis in Parliament  and showered his pals with graft. But wasn’t Mulroney also found counting bribe money from paper bags in a hotel room? Surely the charity shown to Mulroney will also be extended to Trudeau in the fullness of time?

It would be if the media/ government apparatus that existed in the Mulroney 1980s were the ones writing the epitaphs. “Let bygones be bygones”. But this fantasy scenario misses the collapse in authority suffered by that media/ government apparatus the past decade. A collapse Poilievre has duly noted.

While they rail against Poilievre’s dismissive attitude toward them, the Conservative leader understands the new dynamic where voters— especially the young— get their information from social media, not the scrum theatre of the past, engineered by politicians and the people who followed them. If Poilievre appears dismissive of their game it’s because he knows they’re irrelevant to him.

This outrage from the Family Compact comes from people like the self-obsessed MSNBC staff who whined like babies at the thought of a GOP voice on their shows. An attitude parroted by their Canadian cousins fed money by the ruling class. No wonder Trudeau is rushing through laws to censor the internet. X hates him, and he knows it.

After years of toeing the line, however, influential journalists are suddenly recognizing the damage done by their obsessions— and the peril in which  their business finds itself. NPR Senior business editor Uri Berliner shocked many with his confession that Trump-obsessed NPR “lost its way when it started telling listeners how to think.

“Today, those who listen to NPR or read its coverage online find something different: the distilled worldview of a very small segment of the U.S. population”. A segment so deranged by Trump’s election in 2016 that it fed phoney stories about Russiagate and Hunter Biden’s son’s laptop to its audience over Trump’s term. NPR’s managing editor for news dismissed revelations over Hunter spilling the beans on Dad: “We don’t want to waste our time on stories that are not really stories, and we don’t want to waste the listeners’ and readers’ time on stories that are just pure distractions.” We know now this senior journalist helped bury a generational story.

Getting it deliberately wrong is bad enough, continued Berliner,. “What’s worse is to pretend it never happened, to move on with no mea culpas, no self-reflection. Especially when you expect high standards of transparency from public figures and institutions, but don’t practice those standards yourself. That’s what shatters trust and engenders cynicism about the media.”

As Berliner suggests, a population that understands the massive Covid deception is now dumping the news sources they long trusted. Hollywood, too, is reaping the whirlwind in cables cut from the nightly Colbert Chorus of Insanity. A worried NY Times has tried a limited mea culpa on overselling the pandemic (one of their reporters claimed in 2022 that Covid had “racist” roots), but the stain of its irresponsible censoring of any critics endures.

In Canada, no one at CBC, CTV, the Globe & Mail or the Toronto Star is even remotely close to owning up to their role in creating panic over Covid. (One prominent reporter received the Order of Canada for his support for lockdowns, vaccines). They have ceased reprinting Trudeaupian propaganda on the virus and the vaccines. But the silence on their enthusiastic support for closing of schools, the isolation of the dying and the firing of those reluctant to try untested vaccines speaks louder than any mealy-mouthed correction.

So the next time the prime minister and his media pals try to portray the earnest— sometimes plodding— messaging of Poilievre as a new Dark Age, consider the source. And then move into the future. Because it won’t be written anymore by the people who assume their infallibility.

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor 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. Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft Years In NHL History, his new book with his son Evan, was voted the seventh-best professional hockey book of all time by bookauthority.org . His 2004 book Money Players was voted sixth best on the same list, and is available via brucedowbigginbooks.ca.

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