Thursday, June 30, 2011

Minnesota Government Shutdown Affects Many

July 1 is a Friday, and it's supposed to signal the start of a festive summer weekend. The Fourth of July is a wonderful holiday, where we celebrate our nation's independence by lighting fuses that lead to small explosions and pretty colors in the sky.

In Minnesota, however, things will be tempered a bit. Come Friday, the state's government will cease operations, barring a last-minute agreement on a state budget.

There is plenty of blame to go around, but the people most affected by the potential shutdown share exactly zero percent of the blame.

Those people are the ones who suffer, because they lose their jobs. Even if it's only temporary, it's lost income for people who don't deserve to lose their income.

The sports world isn't immune to these problems. Canterbury Park in Shakopee is facing the prospect of shutting down on its busiest weekend of the year.

While entries were being taken for Saturday's nine-race card, Ramsey County Chief Judge Kathleen Gearin ruled that oversight of horse racing is not a core government function, meaning Canterbury would have to close after Thursday night's races if the government shuts down.

But Canterbury and its horsemen have not given up, and they will get a hearing in Scott County District Court on Thursday for a temporary injunction that would keep the track open.

... In Canterbury's track kitchen, on the clocker's stand and at the racing office, most conversations Wednesday revolved around the shutdown. If it happens, Canterbury could not continue racing, because the Minnesota Racing Commission -- which regulates the sport -- would close. But the commission is fully funded by the track and its horsemen, who have paid for its services through July.

Their attorneys argue that because no public funds are involved, the track should be allowed to stay open. Canterbury President Randy Sampson said he was shocked by Gearin's decision, which stated that her authority was limited to core government functions -- and declared racing was not among those. But the ruling grants the horsemen the right to appeal, which they will do.

The reality of this situation is that our politicians continue to pass the buck, refusing to hold themselves accountable for this mess. It's a mess that's been predicted by many for months, largely because we all knew these people couldn't be trusted to provide the leadership necessary to avoid it.

While the politicians pass the buck, real people are being affected. Naturally, our politicians won't lose their jobs. They won't have to give back any of the salaries they've been stealing.

(Why do I say that? Because their primary job this year -- and they've known this since the legislative session began in January -- was to avoid a government shutdown. That was the only thing they had to do. They not only failed, but they have been half-assing the effort to avoid this shutdown. In any other line of work, such a failure to perform the very basic function of the job would result in a nearly-immediate termination. In politics, these people will actually think they're doing a good job and should be re-elected when the time comes.)

It's wholly disappointing to think about all the services that will go away for the Fourth of July weekend.

Of course, it was completely avoidable. Too bad no one was able to look beyond their own interests to actually make the effort.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Andrew Brunette Does Right Thing

This post isn't about gay marriage. It's more about free speech, and the consequences that can be had when we exercise that right.

You may remember the flap created when New York Rangers irritant Sean Avery did a spot where he spoke out in favor of gay marriage.

Avery caught some heat for the spot, but for the most part, he was applauded for speaking out.

Enter Uptown Hockey.

The sports agency, run by Don and Todd Reynolds, represents a number of NHL players, including (soon to be former) Wild forward Andrew Brunette.

The group has an official Twitter account, and after Avery's commercial became public, the Twitter account became the source of incredible controversy.

Very sad to read Sean Avery's misguided support of same-gender "marriage." Legal or not it will always be wrong.

We haven't heard much from Uptown Hockey's clients since this happened, but Brunette has (quietly) made his thoughts known.

According to Michael Russo, Brunette fired Uptown Hockey and hired new representation, citing the Avery controversy as his reason for the move.

No one is saying that the family Reynolds didn't have the right to speak out on the issue. Certainly, they had as much right as Avery did.

However, the problem with being in a position like "sports agent" is that when you speak, you're not just speaking on behalf of yourself. Avery wasn't speaking on behalf of the Rangers. Or the NHLPA. Or the sport. He was speaking on behalf of Sean Avery.

When Don Reynolds, Todd Reynolds, or whoever posted that tweet hit "send," there was a part of them speaking not just for themselves, but also "on behalf" of their clients. For some, the words of Uptown Hockey -- unchecked -- are also the words of those Uptown Hockey represents.

Obviously, Brunette felt this way. Either that, or he agrees with Avery, and wasn't about to compensate Uptown Hockey for helping him agree to a new contract in free agency this summer, when their feelings on this issue are so different.

No matter what, Brunette should be applauded. Uptown Hockey didn't take into account the impact these words would have on others when that tweet went out.

Now, in a small way, Brunette has made them pay the price.

(Tap of the stick: Hockey Wilderness)

Monday, June 27, 2011

Darroll Powe Joins Wild

The jokes are plentiful, and so is the exclamation.


The Minnesota Wild traded for Philadelphia forward Darroll Powe (rhymes with "How") Monday, adding some -- sorry, Brian Burke -- truculence to a team that sort of needs more of it.

Powe had nearly 200 hits -- which means you have 200 chances to make "POWE!" jokes -- a year ago for the Flyers, and he has contributed 22 goals in his 204 NHL games.

Don't make any mistake. He's not here to score 50 goals. Or 50 points.

He's going to have a very specific role on the 2011-12 Wild. Hit people, skate hard, play two-way hockey, win faceoffs, and kill penalties.

Oh, and if Maxim Lapierre is still irritating NHL teams, he can do more of this.

If Maxim Lapierre wants to get his face beaten in again.

Powe gives the Wild penalty-killing depth, and he is a guy who can play center and wing. He's a heart-and-soul guy who plays with character. Basically, he's a more athletic and significantly younger version of John Madden, who played last season for the Wild and was generally disappointing.

With this move, the odds of the Wild being at all active in free agency took a hit. There is still the need for a veteran defenseman, but the Wild can't be expected to add a whole lot. They'll have some cap room, but it just doesn't make sense to splurge with a youth movement obviously underway.

2011 NHL Draft: Wild Provide Reasons for Hope, Excitement ... Just Not This Year

There are many ways to rebuild, reload, or just flat-out get started on something. For some sports organizations, a complete tear-down is required before anything else can be built. A good example in the present-day NHL is what is happening in Edmonton.

Others can build through their organization so effectively that they are simply reloading whenever someone leaves or retires. The Detroit Red Wings are a shining NHL example of this.

For the Minnesota Wild, the opportunity to do what Detroit has done simply hasn't existed. They've never been good enough to draw the kind of respect the Wings get. It's a respect that makes players want to sign there for less money, and it's a respect that drew guys like Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen into insanely long-term contracts to stay there.

They've also never been bad enough to do what Edmonton has done, which has included having the No. 1 overall pick in the last two NHL Entry Drafts. They've been really bad in Edmonton, and it's helped them get their team into a spot where fans are genuinely excited about the future.

Wild fans have little to be excited about after another non-playoff year and another year where they weren't bad enough to be a factor in the draft lottery. Instead, general manager Chuck Fletcher has been forced to get creative in re-building organizational depth.

He was able to take a big step towards that goal over the weekend at the NHL Draft, swinging a huge deal involving defenseman Brent Burns that netted the Wild an accomplished young forward in Devin Setoguchi, along with two top prospects.

When you look at the team's depth chart for the upcoming season, it isn't terribly impressive, to be blunt. The expectation is that youngsters like Colton Gillies, Casey Wellman, and maybe even much-maligned James Sheppard will vie for big minutes. On defense, Burns doesn't leave a bare cupboard, but someone (Marek Zidlicky?) needs to step into Burns' role as the top offensive defenseman. Perhaps this opens a door for Jared Spurgeon to become a consistent presence on the power play.

Down the line, guys like Mikael Granlund (pictured above), Johan Larsson, Brett Bulmer, Tyler Cuma, and Jonas Brodin will help. But none of these guys should be looked at as answers for the 2011-12 questions. They are future cornerstone players, but they don't provide hope for the present.

They provide hope for the future.

Granlund could be a star ... the kind of player you build a Cup run around. Larsson and Bulmer were great finds outside the first round. Fletcher has signed young free agents like Justin Fontaine and Chay Genoway to help with the depth in the short-term.

There is plenty of reason to have hope that this franchise is headed in the right direction after years of questionable direction.

Just don't look for much this year. The Wild will probably not be all that good, frustrating fans who haven't heard -- or choose not to understand what they year -- about this new direction. It's up to Fletcher, Craig Leipold, Mike Yeo, and others to make this abundantly clear.

To be good in the future, the franchise has to go through some pain now. That doesn't mean they'll lose 55 games, or have the worst record in the league, or anything remotely that bad.

It just means a playoff spot might be too much to ask for right now. And that's the last thing some fans want to hear.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

2011 NHL Draft: Brent Burns Trade Signals Real Change for Wild

In his blogging and an online chat prior to the NHL Entry Draft, Minneapolis Star Tribune ace Michael Russo made it clear. The Wild would look to trade defenseman Brent Burns, but it had to be a good deal, or they wouldn't take it.

This was especially true with the draft taking place in front of the home fans in St. Paul. General manager Chuck Fletcher isn't an idiot, and he didn't want to tick the home fans off. The previous season had already done plenty of that, after all.

As it turned out, Fletcher found a way to hit a home run, impressive considering that he was trading a player with one year left before he can walk, and he was not dealing from a position of strength. As Russo noted Friday night, Burns was the team's only tradeable asset, and Fletcher flipped him Friday for more than anyone could have expected.

The Wild traded Burns to San Jose -- along with a second-round pick in 2012 -- for forward Devin Setoguchi, college forward Charlie Coyle (the Sharks' first-round pick in 2010), and a first-round pick in 2011 (No. 28 overall, used on Saint John center Zack Phillips).

In essence, Fletcher moved a player he virtually had to trade (assuming he wasn't going to pay Burns around $5 million a season on a long-term deal), and he still was able to net a goal-scoring forward to put on his team full of pass-first players, along with two first-round picks (granted, one was a first-rounder last year, but it's not like Coyle isn't an important piece).

Setoguchi has proven he can score. He had 22 last season, and added seven more in 18 playoff games. On the Wild, he has the chance to become a star, because he immediately becomes the team's most dangerous scorer. No more second fiddle to guys like Heatley or Marleau (or up-and-coming Couture). He's the guy. And he's signed for three more years.

Coyle had a good season for Boston University, and you can expect him to play one more season there (this isn't a totally safe bet, because I heard from a few people last winter that felt he was ready to turn pro). He had 26 points in 37 games, not bad for a freshman. He also played very well for Team USA in the World Junior Championships. He'll use another year to add to his production while also adding to his bulk, making his body more NHL-ready.

Phillips was one of the better players left on the board when the Wild picked at No. 28. He was highly productive at Saint John, as the Sea Dogs won the Memorial Cup. He has to work on his skating a little bit more, but there's no reason to think he won't be a candidate for the Wild roster in 2012 or 2013. I'd expect him to play in Saint John again this winter, before taking a shot at the Wild roster. If all else fails, he'll head to Houston, and that's hardly a bad place to go.

In the end, this is probably a frustrating day for a lot of Wild fans. I hate to continue invoking the name of Doug Risebrough, but let's face it. He didn't leave Fletcher much to work with. And look at what Fletcher has done in just two years. He's infused this organization with the young talent it so desperately lacked for so long. He's found a way to make the team younger, and the farm system younger, without having the kinds of seasons Edmonton just endured.

Now, after years of spinning its wheels, the Wild finally has a clear and obvious path. There is a plan in place, as opposed to random moves, bad contracts, and a franchise too willing to let players walk in free agency with no compensation.

It might not be exciting to think about another bottom ten finish in the final standings, but there's no way of saying this Wild team will be locked into that fate. Fletcher has just added a major piece that can help the franchise compete now. With no expensive moves expected in free agency, the Wild could simply add some role players and maybe more veteran presence to their NHL roster.

Don't make any mistake. Fletcher might have lost a good player, but he won this trade. And hopefully, he won over some fans as a result of making it.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Kurt Rambis Out as David Kahn Runs Amok

There really isn't any reason to believe that the Minnesota Timberwolves are heading in the right direction, outside of the recent decision of point guard Ricky Rubio to come over from Europe and join the team, two years after he was drafted.

Basically, Rubio's decision justifies the existence of basketball boss David Kahn, who hasn't done much good in his two years at the helm.

He tends to run the team like you or I would run a fantasy team, making random trades that seemingly disregard the idea of having a basketball philosophy.

Two years ago, his first major move couldn't have been more random. After drafting Rubio and Syracuse point guard Jonny Flynn with back-to-back first-round picks in the 2009 draft, Kahn waited two more months, then hired Lakers assistant Kurt Rambis, who wants his teams to run the triangle offense.

Scratch your head. The guy drafted Rubio and Flynn, two anti-triangle point guards, then hired a triangle coach to run the team, and is now prepared to fire the coach before Rubio plays a game for the team.

Oh, and Kahn strung Rambis out for over two months after his second awful season ended.

Because Kahn needed two months to fire a coach who was 32-132.

A coach he never should have hired in the first place, given Rambis' philosophies on offense and the fact that Kahn wasn't building a team to suit those philosophies.

I'm not blaming Kahn for not buying into everything Rambis wanted to do. We all think the game differently, and we all have ideas on how it's best and most effectively played. The triangle offense isn't for everyone, because it hasn't worked much in the NBA when Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant weren't involved. As the basketball boss in Minnesota, Kahn has every right to build the team the way he sees fit, and then find a coach who does things the way Kahn wants them done. None of that is in dispute.

But when Kahn was hired, he screwed around with former Wolves poobah Kevin McHale before finally letting him go. Then he waited until nearly two months after the draft to hire Rambis, a coach whose philosophies ran counter to those of Kahn and the players he was building the team with.

Then, after 32-132, Kahn decided he needed ten weeks to evaluate Rambis and figure out what to do.

In the meantime, every other NBA coaching job was accounted for, and Kahn is left with a smaller pool of candidates than he would have had. Meanwhile, Rambis is left with virtually no real chance to find a coaching job this coming season, because there really aren't any left. It's not a pity party, because Rambis has made a lot of money, and he'll be handsomely paid for the two years left on his contract. Instead, it's a simple point that Rambis should be the one making the decision about when he will seek another coaching job. In this case, Rambis had that decision made for him by Kahn, a man who has enough trouble making his own decision, much less decisions for another self-sufficient adult.

But that's what we've come to in Minnesota. Kahn is running amok in this basketball operation, with virtually no checks or balances stopping him from doing whatever the hell he wants. It's not a good thing for what few Timberwolves fans are left out there, because before Kahn is done with this team, they'll all be longing for the days of Jack McCloskey and Jimmy Rodgers.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Weather Delay

Efforts at snark, commentary, and other things are hampered by the fact that I haven't seen the sun shine since Saturday.

If only she was right.

On the bright side, it's not snowing.

And it's sad that I have to resort to that "on the bright side" statement in June.

Monday, June 20, 2011

2011 NHL Draft: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

The NHL Draft is this week in the Twin Cities. While the big story surrounding the Minnesota Wild will be any potential maneuvering that they may attempt (more on that later this week), other eyes are on the top of the draft board.

At No. 1, the Edmonton Oilers have a tough decision. It's not that there is much question about Ryan Nugent-Hopkins' status as the draft's top player. Instead, it's the quintessential question of board versus need.

The Oilers need defensive help, and Swedish prospect Adam Larsson sits there as a very real candidate for the No. 1 pick.

But Edmonton also picks at No. 19, and reports have them trying to flip that pick for a top ten selection, possibly to pick local product Duncan Siemens, a defenseman who has -- to borrow Brian Burke's favorite word -- a lot of truculence to his game. There's also fast-rising Northeastern defenseman Jamie Oleksiak, who is the biggest (6-7) player in this draft.

In the end, I've always been a believer that -- especially in the NHL, where players don't often find their way to the NHL for at least a year or two -- you need to draft the board, not the needs.

It's a mistake I believe a lot of teams made last year, when Cam Fowler inexplicably fell to the No. 12 spot when he should have been picked no lower than fifth. Teams looked at their organizations and didn't think they needed an offensive defenseman who will eventually be able to score 15 to 20 goals a season in the NHL.

And you wonder why the same teams are in the top 10 of the draft all the time.

Anyway, the Oilers need to do the right thing Friday night. And that's not filling the defensive need with the No. 1 pick, unless they truly believe that Larsson is a better hockey player than Nugent-Hopkins.

Here are videos on the two, not that you can tell much from highlight videos. We'll start with Nugent-Hopkins.

Obviously, Nugent-Hopkins has the skills to be a star. He has hands, great hockey sense, and can score goals. His size is a concern, but it's not like he's a munchkin.

(Plus, I think Rocco Grimaldi is going to be a very good pro at some point, and he's appreciably smaller than Nugent-Hopkins. So I'm not buying into that argument.)

Here's Larsson.

Larsson has some advantages, mainly because he's spent a lot of time playing with and against older players. He could be more "NHL ready" than any other draft prospect, but that's not a certainty, and the Oilers probably can get a solid defensive prospect in the first round, even if they have to stay put at No. 19.

In this situation, coming off back-to-back horrific seasons, you simply can't afford not to trust your board. Even if you need someone else more.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Chuck Fletcher Sticks Neck Out

The Minnesota Wild have made it official: Mike Yeo is their new head coach.

The 37-year-old Yeo has an impressive track record for such a young coach, having won a Stanley Cup as an assistant in Pittsburgh, and he ran the Houston Aeros (AHL) to within two wins of the Calder Cup this year.

Mike Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune is the best in the business, and he had already made it abundantly clear that the Wild would be risking losing Yeo to another NHL team within a year or two if they didn't hire him as head coach right now.

Apparently, general manager Chuck Fletcher decided that it was not worth the risk, so he decided to take a tremendous risk.

Does that make sense?

As Russo wrote Thursday, Fletcher has more guts than a lot of people, myself included. I thought for sure that he would go the "safe" route and hire an experienced coach like former Edmonton boss Craig MacTavish or one-time Dallas coach Ken Hitchcock.

It's not that I'm a fan of retreads. I just figured that -- with the team about to get younger -- Fletcher would go with a steady, veteran coach who was willing to work and teach this young group, like Edmonton did with Tom Renney.

(Renney has done a very good job in Edmonton, I think. That's an insanely young team, and Renney has worked hard to teach and bring them along slowly, as anyone who watched the "Oil Change" series on NHL Network can attest. I don't know that they'll be ready to compete for a playoff spot this coming season, but they'll be closer.)

For Fletcher, though, it wasn't about avoiding a retread. It was about avoiding a mistake. Fletcher has two years left on his deal as general manager, and there's a very real chance that this could be the final head coaching hire he makes in Minnesota.

If Yeo succeeds, who knows how long he'll be here? He's 37, for crying out loud.

If Yeo fails, Fletcher might be out the door the same time Yeo is.

See, this isn't about Todd Richards, his job performance or his pedigree. Yeah, Richards was a younger candidate, a guy who sported zero head coaching experience when he joined the Wild. But he didn't fail because he was too young. He failed because he wasn't good enough, and he failed because Doug Risebrough scorched this organization and left Fletcher with virtually nothing to build with.

But the fact that Richards was a "no NHL head coaching experience" guy when he came aboard, and he was ushered out the door after two years with no playoff appearances, well, it left some of us assuming. And we know what happens when we assume. Doesn't mean we don't do it once in a while.

Fletcher has two years left on his deal, and it's presumed that if the Wild's new head coach doesn't get the team to the playoffs in two years, neither will come back. It would have been almost easy for Fletcher to eschew Yeo for a veteran.

Instead, Fletcher has the guts to go with the guy he thinks is the right fit.

Friday, they said all the right things. Yeo talked about the Wild playing with aggression, structure, and being smart, things they didn't always do under Richards. At times, they looked tentative, confused, and they did dumb things. For some reason, Richards ended up being a square peg, with the Wild a round hole in some sense.

Fletcher ignored Yeo's age, which is reasonable because Yeo has more coaching experience than most guys under 40. He talked about Yeo coaching a lot of the kids who will be called upon to make an impact with the Wild. No one will know better what positions to put those young players in than Yeo, who just led them to within two wins of an unexpected championship in Houston.

In the end, though, it's still quite a risk by Fletcher. He essentially took his remaining chips and pushed them all to the middle of the table. All he has in front of him now are his sunglasses and card protector.

In two years (or less), we'll have a better clue of what cards will make up the flop, turn, and river.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Game 7 Means Goosebumps

Wednesday night is the end of hockey season (unless your kid is like mine and playing in a summer league). The Stanley Cup will be awarded when the Vancouver Canucks take on the Boston Bruins in Vancouver.

It marks the first time since 1993 that the Cup will be given out in Canada (that year, Montreal beat Los Angeles in five), and the Bruins are aiming to be the first team since the New York Islanders in 1982 to skate the Cup on Canadian soil (the Islanders beat ... Vancouver).

No analysis needed here. It's going to be a grinder, probably low-scoring. Allow a soft goal, and you're doomed. Take a dumb penalty, you're doomed. Fumble a puck in your own zone, you could be doomed.

Penalty minutes will be low. The referees will do everything in their power to "let the players decide the outcome." Hooking, holding, interference, maybe even high-sticking will be let go. Just don't shoot the puck over the glass or get caught with a bad line change. That stuff won't be let go.

In the end, someone's captain -- either Henrik "Thelma" Sedin or Zdeno "No Insulting Nicknames Given Because He Could Kill You With His Bare Hands" Chara -- will hoist the Stanley Cup. If Vancouver wins, expect Henrik to hand the Cup off to brother Daniel, or embattled goalie Roberto Luongo, or mega-tough and highly-respected Manny Malhotra. If Boston wins, Chara really only has one choice for his handoff, and that's goalie Tim Thomas.

(We know forward Nathan Horton made the trip, and it has to be assumed that he will be on the ice with a jersey on if Boston wins. I don't see any way he plays. Too risky. And while it would be a corny moment to see Chara hand him the Cup, Thomas is still the obvious choice.)

And in the end, something special will happen. Maybe it's a relocated franchise treating an increasingly loud and boisterous fanbase to the Stanley Cup on home ice.

Maybe it's the underdog losing Game 5 5-0, facing elimination twice, and going on the road to win Game 7.

It could be the longtime superstar who never got to touch the trophy finally getting his chance.

No matter what happens, it will be a goosebump moment for hockey fans. It will be a special night.

The Stanley Cup has a way of doing that to people.

Tim Pawlenty Trips On Own Rhetoric

Sunday, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, now running for President, appeared on the always-friendly Fox News Sunday to rip fellow Republican candidate Mitt Romney.

Well, I'm sure he was there to rip the current President, because that's how Fox News Sunday rolls, but it turned into an opportunity to rip Romney. Since they're rivals for the right to lose the election earn the Republican nomination next year, Pawlenty couldn't turn down a chance to take a shot at Romney's health care plan when he was governor of Massachusetts.

Then the two appeared together for a Republican debate on CNN. Hilarity ensued, as Pawlenty tried to explain his shot. He didn't do well.

Enjoy Jon Stewart breaking down the debate.

This is why you have to be careful with your rhetoric. You can hear Pawlenty backpedaling while trying to tap-dance at the same time, and he's lucky he didn't fall and hit his head. That might have required care from a doctor.

Monday, June 13, 2011

LeBron James Still Doesn't Get It

And you wanted it all
Now you’re taking the fall
You don’t know why

--Red Line Chemistry, "You Don't Get It"

I'm not a huge NBA fan. Probably never will be, though it would be greatly helpful if the league put in a system that made it possible for more than about five teams to win a championship.

But if someone tells me that Miami is trailing throughout in their bid to stay alive in a series, and the Dallas Mavericks -- owned by Mark Cuban and led by the exceptionally likable Dirk Nowitzki -- are the opponent, I'll flip it on and watch.

No one outside of Heat fans wanted to see Miami win this championship. Their fans are insufferable bandwagon-jumpers, many of whom probably couldn't name three guys from the 2006 championship team. The team is led by Dwyane Wade, one of my favorite players, but no one gives him the credit he deserves for being the alpha dog. Instead, everyone wants to know why LeBron James isn't the alpha dog.

Well, folks, for starters, he's not the best player on the team. Wade is. Shouldn't the best player be the guy you run the offense through, instead of the second-best player?

James is a fantastic talent, but he typecast himself as a secondary piece the second he decided to "take (his) talents to South Beach."

That moment ended any opportunity for James to ever be considered one of the sport's all-time great players. He decided to ride Wade's coattails, instead of being a leader of his own team.

Mind you, that's okay. It's not the end of the world that someone doesn't want to be the greatest of all-time. Most of us are okay with our roles. We don't need to be the president of the company we work for, and we don't need a fancy title in front of our name to feel important. It doesn't make it a good or bad thing to want or not want those things. It's just the way we're wired.

In the case of LeBron James, he's not wired to be the best of all time. Wade? Well, he kind of is, and that's why he is the leader of the Miami Heat.

After Game 6 Sunday night, James showed the world that he isn't just a guy not wired the way Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant are. He's also a very bitter and immature fellow who just doesn't get it.

“All the people that were rooting for me to fail… at the end of the day, tomorrow they have to wake up and have the same life that (they had) before they woke up today,” James said. “They got the same personal problems they had today. And I’m going to continue to live the way I want to live and continue to do the things I want to do.”

Just remember, LeBron haters, that your life sucks compared to LeBron. Just ask LeBron, and he'll tell you.

It's the typical arrogance of a man who thought it was a good idea to knife an entire fanbase in the back on national television, and didn't bother to tell the franchise he was leaving of his intentions before said knifing.

In the world of public relations disasters, "The Decision" will live on forever. Sunday's interview will be high on the list for LeBron, because he showed again how insanely immature he is, and how far he has to go before he can ever be considered in the class of a guy like Nowitzki.

Meanwhile, as Dan Wetzel writes, Cleveland isn't hating anymore.

They're just laughing.

So are the rest of us, especially Mark Cuban.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

The Teardown of Ohio State Continues

It's been over a week since Ohio State finally had the good enough sense to tell Jim Tressel to get the hell out of town. The leader of the nation's most self-absorbed and sanctimonious football program was exposed as a fraud on the level of Lane Kiffin, only a fraud who won at least ten games virtually every year he was on the job.

In other words, Tressel was a cheater who actually knew how to take advantage of his cheating. Kiffin is just a fool until proven otherwise.

While the NCAA continues its investigation, and the Buckeyes try to find a quarterback, along with the soul they sold to win BCS games, it's interesting to read different takes on the situation.

Bill Carter of Sports Business Journal doesn't even want to call Tressel a coach, that's how low he thinks of the former media favorite.

He also tears down the notion that coaches who run opposite of Tressel should be considered heroic, or that they should be cheered incessantly for making tough decisions. As an example, he notes that Virginia lacrosse coach Dom Starsia led his team to a national championship this season, even though one of his players was charged with murdering a women's player last year, and he has dealt with disciplinary issues during this season.

This is no slight on Coach Starsia. I think he did a commendable job in which he should be congratulated — just not honored. A year ago, he provided leadership to a group of young men between the ages of 18 and 22 as they tried to understand a tragedy for which they had no experience to draw from. This year, University of Virginia lacrosse coach Dom Starsia provided the appropriate leadership expected of any college coach. Ohio State University football coach Jim Tressel did not. This year, he punished individuals with no consideration of their skill level, for behavior that was detrimental to the team.

I’ll say it again — he did what we should expect any adult in a leadership role to do. Nothing more. I hope the athletic director and the administrators at the University of Virginia reward Coach Starsia with a handshake and a smile and tell him “good job” — which would be commensurate with the job he has done. But, by no fault of his, I’m sure he will be lauded as a hero for making “tough decisions” (I would simply call them “right decisions”).

I guess you would call Coach Starsia heroic if you are comparing him with Jim Tressel. (I can’t even call Tressel “Coach”.) Tressel provided no leadership whatsoever. Himself overpaid and self-entitled, he allowed the teens and young adults for which he was responsible to behave similarly (despite the fact that being paid at all is breaking the rules and to be self-entitled will result in difficulties out in the real world — so much for college football coaches teaching life lessons!).

I could write 100 paragraphs on how disgusting I think his behavior is, but it’s a bore. To me, Tressel is a nobody. He’s a footnote. I hope I forget about him by the end of this week, though I doubt ESPN will let me. 

The ESPN part is funny, because as one-time FanHouse comrade Clay Travis noted weeks ago, ESPN was flat-out refusing to cover this story was it was breaking in front of the world. Naturally, they weren't covering it because they wanted to both protect Tressel and themselves ... they didn't break the story, so they weren't going to take it seriously.

No one can deny the hero worship we give to coaches like Starsia, provided it's in a sport we care about. The problem is that we also mix in hero worship for cheats and liars like Tressel, and then we just brush them off like yesterday's news when they're exposed.

After all, there are other cheats and liars to worship. Until they get exposed, too.

The Essence of Ryan Kesler

Ryan Kesler is a 40-goal scorer, two-way player, faceoff force, overall superb talent, and also one of the chippiest players in the sport of hockey.

Never has the last part of that been more true than the final moments in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals Wednesday night in Boston.

Given a chance to face Bruins captain Zdeno Chara man-to-man after teammate Alex Burrows started more crap with goalie Tim Thomas, Kesler backed behind a referee and then took a poke at the biggest bear.

Real gutsy, Ryan, to hide behind a referee. Just because the Sedins like to do it doesn't mean you should follow the lead.

What do they say about poking the bear? Seems the Canucks haven't figured that out yet.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

USA Hockey Proposal Hits a Nerve

Saturday, USA Hockey will vote on a proposal to ban checking at the peewee level of youth hockey. That means kids playing under the USA Hockey banner will not be allowed to throw body checks until they are 13 years old, when they are bantams.

Your first reaction to this proposal is probably close to mine, which was "This is stupid," "We can't keep shielding kids from the physical part of the game if they're ever going to learn it," or "Ugh."

But that's why you don't base a public stance on the first thing you think of in reaction to an idea like this. Sometimes, you have to read more about it.

(You don't always have to. When some guy proposed getting rid of any government service you can get online -- presumably said "some guy" wants to get rid of elections, since people can easily vote for things online -- you can react immediately to that insanity.)

With that in mind, here is some reading material on USA Hockey's proposal.


Here is a video discussing the potential changes.

I encourage you to read all of this and draw your own conclusion. It's clear through my conversations with hockey people that this idea has hit a bit of a nerve, even with those in favor of the idea.

Here are some points made by USA Hockey in the online FAQ linked above.

... cognitively, the 11 year old brain has not fully developed the ability to anticipate while multitasking. Anticipation is 50% of a player’s ability to protect himself and avoid heavy contact that leads to these serious injuries. We realize there should be contact in hockey; however, we do not want to place players into a situation where their cognitive skills are not yet fully developed to protect themselves. This is a function of brain development that players cannot “learn” by doing.


Body contact and body positioning skills are far more important for a player to acquire at the Pee Wee level and are the precursors to effective checking and playing skills as they get older.


It is not accurate to simply say USA Hockey is taking checking out of Pee Wees. The overall proposal is to increase the allowable body contact beginning at Mites and progress through Bantam when full, legal body checking would begin in games. As an example, the American Developmental Model (ADM) Red, White & Blue Hockey at 8U introduces the cross-ice environment to increase traffic and congestion and thus the associated natural body contact by simply reducing space.

The proposal would then increase the allowable body contact as players progress through Squirts and Pee Wees. Competing at the puck, angling to gain possession or stopping an offensive attack are examples at these levels. An important objective of thisproposal is to eliminate the “Big Hit” in Pee Wees where players ignore the puck and try to ‘blow up’ an opponent.

Though not allowed in games, coaches will be asked to introduce and teach full body checking techniques in every practice (~85 practices / year = ~170 total during the two years) during the two Pee Wee years. We believe this to be a better solution than what we often times see today as a single weekend “introduction to checking” clinic. The proposal is to provide players with two years to acquire the necessary checking skills in a safer environment.

There are a few big points for me. For starters, hockey associations really need to go "all-in" on the American Development Model for this to be a successful transition. As USA Hockey says, they aren't trying to take body contact out of the peewee level. And if you watch the video, there is a stark difference between body checking (no attempt to play the puck) and body contact (oftentimes done as a means to protect the puck from an opponent).

That said, it's going to be hugely important for local associations to emphasize the teaching points brought out in the ADM and mentioned in the proposal. USA Hockey doesn't want coaches to de-emphasize the teaching of proper body checking and body contact in practices. It's just as important as teaching systems or other hockey skills. Instead, coaches need to make sure they provide squirts and peewees with a base of knowledge for how to properly check, and how to do successfully backcheck or win a battle for the puck on the wall without throwing that big, intimidating hit that USA Hockey is trying to de-emphasize.

None of it works without cooperation at the lower level, and not just with certain portions of the ADM. You can't decide to play half-ice games with 8U teams half the time. It's all or nothing, or the kids just aren't going to get out of half-ice games what USA Hockey wants them to. Same goes for the suggested number of practices. Coaches need to work to get their kids the practice time necessary to learn how to play the game the right way. Following the ADM isn't exactly a bad idea in this regard.

In the end, this proposal -- which is expected to pass -- isn't getting a full endorsement from USA Hockey's membership.

In a close vote, (Minnesota Hockey) instructed its four representatives on the national board to vote against raising the age level for legalized checking from peewees (ages 11 and 12) to bantams (13 and 14).

Among Minnesota Hockey's concerns about banning peewee checking are:

• Girls would stay in boys' hockey two more years, hurting the overall development of the girls' game.

• Non-USA sanctioned programs will continue to check.

• There is insufficient time for players, coaches, officials and parents to adapt.

• Peewee coaches might not teach checking in practices, which would increase injuries among bantam players.

No one thinks this is some sort of world-ending idea, but there are some who think tougher penalties on illegal checking would do more to educate kids than this proposal will.

But in the end, I'm a believer in the idea that if coaches do what USA Hockey wants them to do, things will work out fine. Kids will learn to check the right way, and while it won't take injuries completely out of the game (nothing will do that), this proposal will make the game safer for kids under 13. Hopefully, it's a tool that can be used to keep more kids playing the game as they get older and their bodies round into form.

NHL Paved Way for Dirty Canucks to Win

In 2007, the Anaheim Ducks punched, kicked, stomped, elbowed, obstructed, and won the Stanley Cup.

Don't get me wrong. That was a very talented team, led by guys like Teemu Selanne, Scott Niedermayer, and Chris Pronger, and backstopped by the duo of J.S. Giguere and Ilya Bryzgalov. They could play with anyone.

They were also the dirtiest team in hockey.

They won anyway, because the NHL has a long-standing habit of "letting the players decide the outcome of the game" by not calling anything they don't have to call.

When you do go a man down, you can pretty much do whatever you want, provided you don't get caught with too many men on the ice, or shoot a puck over the glass from your defensive zone.

(How stupid is that, by the way? You can practically behead players while short-handed, but don't you dare put the puck over the glass. It's akin to NFL officials letting players get away with late hits whenever they want, but not missing any false start calls. That, by the way, doesn't happen, because officials in other sports actually call infractions in the playoffs.)

This type of mentality -- an obvious league-wide issue -- has paved the way for teams like the 2007 Ducks, 2010 Philadelphia Flyers, and 2011 Canucks to succeed. All you need are a few officiating bounces, and you can win games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Last year, it was the Flyers benefiting from officials turning the other cheek. Never mind that Pronger is a shell of his 2007 self in virtually every way except his ability to be a dirty player. He doesn't skate like he used to, and he's not as sharp a player as he was when he was in his prime. It's called "getting old," and we all do it. Now, instead of using his size to shield players and win physical battles, he uses his size to interfere and obstruct, and since he's Chris Pronger, he gets away with it.

The Canucks certainly have talent, just like the Flyers did last year. The Sedin twins, Ryan Kesler, Mason Raymond (former Bulldog!), Alex Burrows, Manny Malhotra (welcome back), Christian Ehrhoff, Kevin Bieksa, Roberto Luongo, and others certainly have the skill and will to win the Stanley Cup.

Of course, the good is overshadowed by the bad, especially in the cases of Kesler and Burrows. Throw in guys like Raffi Torres and Maxim Lapierre, who have skill but are about as honorable on the ice as a December day in Fairbanks is long, and you have a group that should be killing a lot more penalties than they are.

Instead, you have officials looking the other way while the Canucks cross-check and hold their way through a five-minute major penalty kill, and you have Lapierre diving all over the place while Torres throws a flying elbow that goes undetected by anyone because he was unlucky enough to miss on the attempt. To make matters worse, captain Henrik Sedin and brother Daniel have both been guilty of embarrassing embellishments during this series.

It's infuriating, really, because guys like Raymond, Malhotra, Luongo, and Ehrhoff are talented, skilled, and honest players who just don't pull this crap, and they shouldn't have to be associated with a bunch of guys who do.

Alas, that is how you win, though. It's not necessarily about who the best or most talented team is.

(Though there is no denying that Vancouver is hella talented and very deep at all positions. Very impressive.)

It's about what team is willing to push the envelope and try to get away with more BS. More often than not, teams will get away with said BS, and they'll win as a result.

This is a message you can expect the rest of the NHL to begin receiving. It's a copycat world, after all.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Richard Childress Tries, Can't Convert Kyle Busch Into Sympathetic Figure

Let's recap these events.

Kyle Busch is notorious among drivers and fans for a hot temper on the track, but also has a reputation for being one of the most charitable men in his sport ... almost always willing to help out other drivers' causes, as well as his own. Despite that work off the track, Busch is far and away the most disliked driver in the sport. It's not even really close.

Richard Childress, a 65-year-old man who owns vehicles in NASCAR's major touring series, is perhaps best-known as the man who was Dale Earnhardt's friend and car owner and now owns cars driven by the likes of Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer. He's also one of the most respected figures in NASCAR.

So when worlds collide, and Childress is the one allegedly instigating a physical altercation with Busch, what's a guy to think?

After Saturday's Camping World Truck Series race at Kansas, it was indeed Childress going all Nolan Ryan on Busch, who unwittingly was set to play the role of Robin Ventura.

We can't confirm that things went down the same way Saturday. In fact, it seems it was Childress who did all the work.

According to reports, the 65-year-old Childress approached the 26-year-old Busch in the garage area after the race, took off his watch, punched Busch in the face and then put him in a headlock.

NASCAR did their part to make it clear that Busch, who is on probation after trying to kill Kevin Harvick (possible exaggeration), did nothing wrong Saturday.

"We concluded that the driver of the 18 truck, Kyle Busch, did nothing to provoke or to cause the reactions, that in our opinion, would violate the probation," Helton said. "He did nothing that warranted the actions of Richard Childress."

Again ... Kyle Busch did nothing wrong. Nothing. Notta. He was the race-car-driver-gets-punched-in-the-face-by-old-man equivalent of an innocent bystander.

And yet people tweet stuff like this.

Oh, wait. That's me.

You get the point.

Busch is not the sympathetic figure here, even though NASCAR wants you to know he was attacked.

By a 65-year-old man.

And Childress knew what he was doing. This wasn't a heat of the moment thing, or he wouldn't have thought to take his watch off.

Yet Busch is still a jerk in the eyes of most NASCAR fans. If this can't cure it, nothing will.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Alex Burrows, Henrik Sedin Embarrass the Game

Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals was a lot of fun to watch, as Vancouver and Boston slugged their way through a classic hockey playoff pitchers' duel. It was no surprise to see these teams go goalless as long as they did, and that it took a broken defensive play and a great effort by Ryan Kesler to set up the game's only goal.

The Canucks have a 1-0 series lead after a win by the same score Wednesday, but we don't really get to talk about the fun we all had watching Tim Thomas and Roberto Luongo, or the Sedins and Zdeno Chara, or the inept Bruins power play.

Instead, we get to talk about physical play, penalties, diving, and biting.



Vancouver's Alex Burrows must have been hungry at the end of the first period.

Following Game 1, Boston Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron had a lot to say about the scrum that took place at the end of the first period, where it appeared as though Vancouver Canucks forward Alex Burrows bit Bergeron's finger.

Bergeron was talking a lot about it after the game because he was the victim in this case. Bergeron described the scenario and he talked about the three French guys that were involved in it, including himself, Burrows and linesman Pierre Racicot.

The replay showed Burrows with Bergeron's finger in his mouth as the two got tangled up behind the Bruins net, with Racicot in between the two players.

Bergeron said that he asked Racicot why he wasn't calling a penalty, and that Racicot responded by saying that Bergeron had put his finger in Burrow's mouth.

Burrows denied that he bit Bergeron.


Burrows has a past. Not only has he thrown a few cheapshots and questioned an official's integrity, but he also has pulled hair.

"That's not something I've ever had happen to me," (Chicago's Duncan) Keith said. "My little sister never even pulled my hair when I was a kid. It's kind of comical when you have a grown man trying to pull your hair on the ice."

The league likely will take a look at the incident and Burrows could be suspended.

"I don't know what the ruling is," Keith said. "I don't know if the league reviews that or not. It's pretty blatant he was pulling my hair."

The pulling of hair is prohibited and normally would draw a match penalty. However, none of the officials on the ice saw it as they were tending to ther other fights on the ice.

"I think it's silly," Hawks forward Adam Burish said. "There's no spot for that. I think that's stupid the way he was pulling [Keith's] hair. Especially a nice haircut like Duncan has. I didn't see it at the time [but] I'm sure I would have been more mad than I was already."

So with hair-pulling and biting, Burrows is now officially the NHL's equivalent of a 12-year-old girl.

Oh, and the biting incident could lead to a suspension for Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final.

That wasn't the only time Wednesday that a Vancouver player did something disgraceful to this great sport. Enter Vancouver captain Henrik Sedin.

Naturally, the officials didn't have the guts to put Henrik in the box for this awful dive. That, of course, only guarantees that we'll see even more -- and possibly worse -- diving during this series.

It's one of my great irritations with hockey at all levels. There is a rule in the book governing diving. It's rule 64.1.

Any player who blatantly dives, embellishes a fall or a reaction, or who feigns an injury shall be penalized with a minor penalty under this rule.

For some reason, though, officials refuse to call it as a stand-alone penalty, meaning that any player who wants to embarrass himself, his team, and his sport knows that the in-game price for doing so is nothing worse than a two-minute period of four-on-four play, something most teams wouldn't mind.

That's not a deterrent.

You know what is a deterrent? When Henrik Sedin wants to pretend that he just got hit in the arm by a sledgehammer swung at full force, put his derriere in the box for two minutes and give the opponent a power play. Lather, rinse, repeat, and you've created a deterrent.

By the way, Henrik has a bit of a history of this.

No player with any semblance of pride or sense of team is going to want to watch his team give up a power-play goal because he decided to cross the line trying to draw a penalty. It's simply not worth the risk.

Then again, this might not work with Boston, considering the strength of their power play during these playoffs. But you get the point.

It also might not work with Burrows. He doesn't exactly have a history of being a stand-up guy.

But, again, you get the point.

Ricky Rubio is Coming

While Shaquille O'Neal's three-years-too-late retirement was stealing all the headlines in the NBA on the first off-day of the NBA Finals, the big story was percolating in Spain.

For the first time in nearly a decade, fan(s) of the Minnesota Timberwolves have a modicum of hope for their favorite basketball team.

Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio is joining the Timberwolves this fall, according to multiple reports. Rubio was Minnesota's first first-round pick in 2009, the first draft David Kahn was responsible for overseeing. Kahn -- the butt of jokes and ridicule since he got the job -- has banked a lot of his reputation on Rubio making a difference for Minnesota, while many panned that the dynamic player wanted nothing to do with Minnesota.

Obviously, this development doesn't mean Rubio is automatically going to pan out and be awesome, and it doesn't mean Kahn still can't screw this team up some more. They do, after all, still desperately need a shooting guard, preferably someone a little taller to add size to the Minnesota backcourt (Rubio is a lot of things, and "big" isn't one of them). And they haven't had a competent center since, um ... er ... yeah.

Oh, and they might need a coach.

Could this be one reason David Kahn has waited so long to decide the coach's fate.

My hunch is this further decreases the odds that (Kurt) Rambis will be back, or greatly increases the odds that Rambis must pledge to make big changes with his offense if he does return.

Kahn and the Wolves can't risk that Rubio's game and confidence will get lost in Rambis' triangle-ish offense, as Flynn did.

That's why I'd expect them to hire a point guard-friendly coach, although very doubtfully in time for the fast-approaching draft.

My hunch is that Rambis is gone, but Kahn didn't want to pull the trigger until he knew he had Rubio in the fold. It's not about letting Rubio have a say in the next coach, as much as it is making sure you know what kind of style you want your team to play and your coach to be familiar/comfortable with.

Don't ask me who that person is. I don't know nearly enough about the game to make that kind of guess.

Many will talk about Rubio's subpar numbers in Spain. Don't let that dissuade the excitement over this player.

Rubio averaged a modest 6.5 points per game on 39 percent shooting while dealing with a foot injury. With Rubio coming off the bench, Regal Barcelona has reached the Spanish League finals, meaning it will likely be mid to late June before he can be introduced by the Timberwolves, who think he will flourish in the more wide-open NBA, where guards are allowed much more freedom on the perimeter.

"He's gotten bigger and he plays outstanding defense, and because he's a pass-first guard -- he's going to be liked by everybody who plays with him," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said last year. Krzyzewski also coached Team USA against Rubio and Spain in Beijing.

Rubio dominated the junior circuit in Europe and turned professional at 14. His flashy style and baby face made him an instant sensation in Europe and, even though his stock has dipped some this year, the Wolves are as enamored as ever.

"He's a special player and a very good point guard," Lakers forward and fellow Spainiard Pau Gasol said earlier this season. "Very unselfish. He's got great size, great length. He knows how to play the game very well. He's got a great feel for the game. He's just a guy that will get the team going and do what he needs to do."

Don't make any mistake, though. Rubio is a key pickup for Minnesota, and his development will go a long way toward determining the Wolves' chances going forward, as well as Kahn's future employment.

For Kahn, this is a huge win. He's deserved most of the shots that have been taken at him, because it has often looked like he didn't really know what he was doing. But he continued to pursue Rubio without putting undue pressure on him, and he got the guy he was looking for all along. That's a credit to him, whether you like him and the job he's done or not.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Blame for Thrashers Move Starts, Ends With Owners

Tell the people behind Bird Watchers Anonymous that the Atlanta Thrashers didn't have any fans.

Tell those fans that they didn't do enough to support this team.

Tell them they don't get your sympathy, because Atlanta isn't a hockey town, and they don't deserve to have a team near them because they dare to live where the weather is warm.

Go ahead, because I'm not going to do that. I don't feel it's my place.

Atlanta has lost their team, and those fans are sad. They're also angry, and they have every right to be, for a number of reasons.

However, for many of them, the target of their anger is not necessarily the fair or just target. It's just the easy one.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman does himself no favors. I have never really been a fan of his, because I feel that he didn't do enough to save the 2004-2005 season, and I don't think he has any real appreciation for hockey's roots (generally, Canada) or the passion of the fans in Canada.

The sport has been Americanized in a way under Bettman, and it's gone a long way toward the NHL getting a real-life television contract with NBC and Versus recently. That's a win for the NHL, because it means increased exposure and more promotion for a sport that desperately needs it. It's not ESPN, but that's probably a good thing, because it's not like ESPN did anything positive for the NHL when they had it before, and their decision to virtually ignore the league during its recent renaissance shows once and for all that ESPN only gives a crap about the NHL when they think they have a chance at its broadcast rights.

Staying off ESPN wasn't necessarily a popular decision by Bettman and the NHL, but I believe it was the right one.

I also believe the league is doing the right thing here. It pains me that Atlanta didn't have the competent ownership and corporate support necessary to make a franchise work in a "non-traditional" market. But those things aren't Bettman's fault, and it's also not Bettman's fault that the on-ice product was run about as poorly as the off-ice product was.

Eleven years of futility, mediocrity and, in the end, indifference.

Apparently ignorant of how to build a fan base, ownership made no inroads in selling the game. It had no commitment to build a minor hockey program in Atlanta the way Dallas did when the Stars first moved there. There was nothing in Atlanta to compare to the grassroots initiatives in Anaheim, San Jose and Nashville.

In those markets, kids play the game, connect with the team, drag their parents and friends to games, buy merchandise and build a bond. Homegrown players' names from Texas and California and yes, Tennessee are called at NHL entry drafts every year. Ownership made sure of that in those markets, and if those teams left, there would be a scar on the community, a sense of loss.

In Atlanta, the Thrashers leave without creating a ripple on the surface of the community.

At a recent rally, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that a couple of hundred fans showed up. That isn't a market failing; that is a market that was failed by owners.

You don't win in a non-traditional market without ownership that understands how to grow the product, both the hockey team and the company.

Money is made through corporate connections and sponsorships. It's not necessarily made through ticket sales; those only augment everything else you're doing. Or should be doing, that is.

Simply put, Atlanta Spirit Group had a duty to promote their hockey team, build a fan base, build a competitive product, and turn losses into profits. They failed in all those areas, and now they don't have a hockey team anymore.

The Thrashers' loss is Winnipeg's gain. There could be similar problems in Manitoba, as it's not like there is a ton of available corporate money. They'll sell tickets, but the arena is small, and tickets can only be so expensive.

Fans there are justifiably excited, and they'll do what they can to support this team. But if the franchise can't get the hits in the corporate community that they need, they'll only be moderately successful -- at best -- as a business. That's just how it works. Maybe True North can live with the prospect of losses, but as we saw in Atlanta, the constant losses do add up, and Atlanta Spirit Group got sick of dealing with that.

Fans are mad that Bettman didn't fight for Atlanta the way he has fought for Arizona. They're simply not the same thing.

In Arizona, the old owner tried to sell the team to a maverick, a guy the league wanted nothing to do with. The league had to fight in court for the right to seize control of the franchise, or they would have been moved to Ontario with a maverick owner the league wanted nothing to do with.

Basically, the old and prospective new owner didn't play by the league's rules, so the league took control of the team. With a city (Glendale) more than willing to shell out $25 million to make sure they still have a hockey team (more notably, so they still have a primary tenant in their expensive building that no one else would be using), the league is keeping the team there ... despite little prospect for the future and a fanbase that, while potentially able to support a team, has been given generally no reason to make more than a passive investment because there's no guarantee the team will be around in two years.

There's also the chance that this Hulsizer chap will actually get to buy the team (if the Goldwater Institute allows that to happen), and he has said he wants to keep it in Arizona.

In Atlanta, there is no local person or group with enough money and interest in the team. There is no city willing to help cover the team's losses while the search for a buyer continues.

Simply put, there is no hope.

Winnipeg has at least that much. For now.