Monday, April 30, 2007


How I Spent My Saturday Night

Andy: So, whaddya wanna do?
Nate: I don't know. What do you wanna do?
Andy: God, I can't think of anything.
(two minutes of silence)
Nate: If only there was an empty hockey arena downtown for us to go hang out around, hey?
(Andy spits out his drink)

Turns out we went to Suede, a hipster lounge west of Jasper and 109th. I never would have known it if I relied on the baby booming white guys at the Edmonton Journal, but the bar was packed, and the area was hopping. Even more shocking, we ran into some people who had been at Rexall that night for the John Mayer concert. They were able to travel the 7 km from Rexall to the bar, and had done so without facing hobo terrorists bent on their destruction. Furthermore, their legs weren't broken from the terribly cramped seats in Rexall, and they told me the bathrooms weren't overflowing with waste and human bodies. I was shocked, because Pat Laforge told me that "the crush space in the food and beverage area is literally crush." LITERALLY. CRUSH. John MacKinnon told me that Laforge "just finished abjectly apologizing for the Oilers' non-playoff season, for Pete's sake," so there's not a chance he would be trying to mislead me. It was obviously the people who went to the concert who were lying. Just more Edmonton rednecks trying to keep the visionary Edmonton Journal writers EIG Mayor Mandel from spending their money on things they don't understand. So I spat in the face of the rednecks, ordered my Kool-Aid at the bar that really wasn't busy (the rednecks must have tricked me on that one too), and picked up the Sunday Journal. And I lived happily ever after. THE END.


Saturday, April 28, 2007


Either/Or Else

John MacKinnon continues the assault today. It's a fine read, particularly following on the footsteps of Matt's post yesterday. You see, we have a say in the matter, people. Just read this article. We could choose to not build an arena downtown, but then we wouldn't have the restraurants, shops and bohemian lifestyles that we all desire. We could choose to just stay at Rexall, but then the Oilers wouldn't be able to draw in enough money to compete, and you'd never see another Staney Cup in this city again. Or we could choose to demand that the Edmonton Investors Group pay for it themselves, and leave us out of it the decision making process. But then we would get an arena in Viking, just like the farmland arena in Kanata. So here are your options, Edmontonians, at least according to John MacKinnon: give Mayor Mandel the right to spend your taxdollars on a new arena downtown, or live in a city where your downtown sucks, the team sucks, and the stadium is on the backlot of the Sutter farm. Make your choice: "in the end, Edmontonians will get the arena they deserve. One way or the other." There can obviously be no other alternative; no using of that downtown space for other projects that will help revitilize the downtown core, no effective management from a hockey organization, no financing of a new arena by the owners of the company that use said arena, and no chance that the mayor can keep his paws out of the business of publicly financing millionaires. Gosh. If only this story had been written ten months ago. Same goes for the McKeen and Lamphier articles. Then us non-cosmopolitan hillbillies (did I spell that right? Shucks) wouldn't have gotten all confused and such by ideas like proof, evidence, fiscal responsibility, political accountability, and good ol' integrity. We could have just divorced our wives and husbands, gathered up a mob, moved some homeless people, leveled those buildings and gotten started on a new rink already! Go big or go home. That's the best damn explanation of directing and deciding public policy I've ever heard.



Economists? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Economists.

A story from the Palm Beach Post this week on the proposed new stadium for the Florida Marlins, via Rob Neyer. Here's the point that counts:

For years, proponents have pitched the idea of a new Marlins subsidy as a way to encourage growth in the Miami economy, which in turn would generate more in new tax revenue each year than the $2 million annual cost to taxpayers.

But that theory has been disputed year after year in analyses by the state's Revenue Estimating Conference, the four economists who work for the legislature and the governor. Their take - which aligns with academic studies done during the past four decades - is that sports stadiums for professional teams bring negligible economic benefit because the attendance base is the local area.

In contrast to spring training parks, which lure out-of-state tourists who might not have come to Florida otherwise, regular-season pro teams by and large attract local fans. And these people do not take on second jobs, dip into savings or cut into spending on nontaxable items, such as groceries or medicine, to attend sporting events. That means the money they would spend for tickets, food and parking is money that is probably already being spent at restaurants, movies or other taxable activities.

Emphasis mine.

And this is the point where LT rants about Jeffrey Loria. Rightly so, I might add.


Friday, April 27, 2007


"...willing to be persuaded..."

I'm a bit reluctant to chime in on the New Arena issue; I don't want to get in Andy's way here. As all the commenters have noted, he's on fire; also, I acknowledge that my opinion is too alien to political realities to really persuade anyone.

But, what the hell. Again:
I would just like to, once again, raise the "moral" objection to public funding of a hockey rink in Alberta: a substantial segment of the population is willing to voluntarily part with their money to fund NHL hockey, so it is simply disgusting to force the remaining population to pay for it as well.

I know it seems like you can only get so far with this. Most opponents (or skeptics) of the new arena are not opposed to taxation & redistribution as a whole, but rather taxing regular people in Edmonton and redistributing it to the EIG et al. Correspondingly, most opponents of the arena are more than willing to seize on any argument which helps their case -- that Edmonton taxpayers shouldn't be subsidizing a bunch of millionaire owners and hockey players.

To those of you, I say: be warned. Once you begin arguing in earnest about the details (are the economic benefits real, or imagined? Which site is better? etc.), you've already half lost. This is illustrated nicely -- and starkly -- by the Paula Simons piece Andy linked to yesterday. I'm talking about this part:
For the moment, let's accept, for the sake of argument, that we actually need a new arena. Our current sturdy, plain-Jane Rexall Place certainly seems to get the job done. But I'm willing to be persuaded that in this age of American-style, eye-popping entertainment complexes, our simple but functional coliseum no longer measures up to its continental competition. The big emphasis these days seems to be on selling fancy-schmancy luxury boxes to corporate clients, who can write off such business entertainment expenses as tax deductions. And our old rink doesn't have enough room for hobnobbing bigwigs.

But is the city core the right place for such a facility?

This is not to criticize Simons herself. She raises plenty of objections, which is a lot more than most of her colleagues have managed. And since her piece is not about objecting to a publicly-funded arena in principle, I can't exactly criticize her for not doing it effectively. But take another look at the last two sentences of that first paragraph. Here are a few sentences that I think follow a lot more naturally than, "But is the city core the right place for such a facility?":
  1. "Remind me again: when did it become the role of city taxpayers to create more room for hobnobbing bigwigs?"
  2. "Hey, look! When we build this thing, taxpayers in Edmonton will be subsidizing corporate entertaining in two distinct ways!"
  3. "As a concerned advocate for the taxpayers of Edmonton, I must insist that the luxury boxes merely be fancy, as fully fancy-schmancy boxes would be an unfair cost for the taxpayers to bear."
  4. "And since that's the main reason why it's needed, it is blindingly obvious that we should not be using a single cent of tax money to build it."
You get the idea. Surely, there is one Edmonton city councillor who sees a political opportunity here by going against the flow. Andy, or I, or roughly two dozen commenters to this site could write him/her a wicked soundbite, gratis. Contact emails are at the top left.

INSTANT UPDATE: Looks like I should have trusted my instinct and just shut up about this. As Andy has just noted, a Journal editorial today asks the important question, and some others too. Kudos.



Sixteen Candles: Update

An unsigned editorial in today's Edmonton Journal makes some interesting, familiar points:

When, exactly, did the legitimate discussion about the merits of a downtown arena suddenly become a question of whether public money should help pay for it?

But until Mandel oversees the extension of the LRT, upgrades to transit services, an easing to the housing crunch and repairs the moonscape that doubles as city streets, harnessing any source of scarce public cash so that Northlands and Oilers owners (of which the Journal is a part) can get new digs more cheaply seems just as debatable -- or at least deserving of thorough, open debate before the train gets moving too fast.

The issue is not whether Edmonton needs a new downtown arena, it's whether the taxpayer should take a piece of the action in some way or other.

Then, with the facts in hand, Edmontonians deserve a chance to vote on it. If Mandel believes wholeheartedly, he should make it the cornerstone of his re-election platform -- a vote for Mandel is a vote for a downtown arena that includes however many millions of public dollars. Or, if he thinks such political linkage is a little on the risky side, he could consult the community through a genuine referendum question on the municipal ballot.

In the words of Marv Albert: YES!!!

Of course, Scott McKeen then goes and ruins my happy day by writing this. Guess what Edmontonians? You don't buy every single ounce of spin Mayor Mandel and the Oilers feed you? YOU ARE A PENNY PINCHING CRY BABY. That's right. Just ask Scott McKeen, who seems to know every minute detail of this plan. A question, Scott. If you already know the plan, that means somebody else knows the plan. Which then begs the question, why is there an "arena feasibility committee" in the first place? Oh, and doesn't the mayor already have a public relations staff to do this sort of work for him? Is he outsourcing, now? I have many more questions, starting with why McKeen thinks it's okay to insult taxpayers for wanting to see their money properly managed, and ending with a concern about what kind of clothes he must wear if he thinks that adding the Baccarat Casino to the stadium is the height of urbanity, but it's a Friday, and I've got better things to do than continue to point out to writers at the Edmonton Journal how terribly wrong they are. Who hasn't written on this issue yet, by the way? Isn't there, I dont know, non-manufactured news to talk about? John MacKinnon pulled a Terence Mann ("people will come, Ray") today too. Now we shouldn't think of the new arena as revitilizing the area. Nor should we think of it as just another hockey rink. Nope. Now it's all about magical synergies. And now it should be a hockey rink, swimming pool, track, roller rink, gladiator pit, and mud wrestling ring, and the building will be made of licorice, jujubes and smarties, and Edmonton is going to be the most-happiest sporting nirvana in all the world. And people will ask, "Hey, is this heaven?" And we'll say, "No, it's Edmonton." And then we'll all walk off into the field of casinos together, and fade away like ghosts.

Have a great weekend, everyone. Stay classy.




I planned on following up today with a discussion of what might happen with the 5 big guys who have one year left on their contracts (Iginla, Langkow, Huselius, Regehr, Kipper). But, I decided I need a bit more time to ponder.

In the interim: at left is a salary chart (cap figures) of the players under contract for 2007/08, including RFAs that still need to be signed (in red). Dollar figures for the RFAs are wild guesses, except in Lombardi's case. He was quoted in a story at saying that he and the team have agreed to a contract; that quote appears to have since been scrubbed. However, since the same story appeared at RDS in early April (ÞMG) -- and the number seems about right -- I'm going to assume that it's true (enough).

I'll stop you before you pick at the details (no, I don't expect Irving to bypass the AHL, for example). It's not a depth chart; it's a rough idea of where the Flames stand, cash-wise, prior to upgrading particular roster slots.

For example: Flames sign a UFA defenceman for $3.6M/yr. That would replace one of the $600k slots, payroll goes from $38.7M to $41.7M.

Salary cap is going to be $47-$48M next season; I don't think the Flames will be quite bumping up against it a la Devils, but $44-$45M seems like a decent guess for a Opening Night payroll.

Also, FYI: in terms of cap space management, there is no advantage to signing a player (e.g. Iginla) to an extension this July, as opposed to a "new" contract next July. If Iginla signed a $10M/yr X 3 year extension on July 1st, his cap figure would still be $7M this season, then $10M for each of the following 3: there is no ability to re-average, so to speak.

Thursday, April 26, 2007


Sixteen Candles

Looks like there were two more articles in today's Edmonton Journal on the proposed Oilers arena, in addition to one yesterday that I didn't bother talking about (Tyler also did a quick post a couple days ago; here is the link). I don't know if I'll ever get to retire to my Homely House in the Misty Mountains, at this rate. The first is from Paula Simons, who after getting this fiasco all started with a suggestion from "anonymous backers" in November, has now decided she isn't too sure about the idea (she put the cart before the horse, and now she's closing the barn door after the horse is already out). The second is from Gary Lamphier, who is defensively going on the offensive after arguing that a new arena would really help get poor people out of his way. Some of the highights:

Downtown sports stadiums and hockey arenas are springing up all over North America. They have been for more than a decade, in fact. Why? Because it makes much more economic sense to build such complexes in the city centre than in the 'burbs, or on the periphery of the core, where the spinoff benefits to restaurants, bars, shops and hotels are limited.

I'd suggest that stadiums have been going up because team owners have been holding cities hostage, that the city centres he talks about were already economically and socially viable before a stadium arrived, that the research done on the economic spinoff from stadiums shows it to be grossly overrated, and that really lazy sports writers and columnists who like to stay buddy buddy with teams have been using their bully pulpits to convince citizens of the cause without actually doing the hard work necessary to support their claims. But that's just me.

Talk to urban planners in cities like Vancouver, or Denver, where downtown sports palaces have helped rejuvenate city neighbourhoods and spur development. "Generally, having BC Place Stadium and General Motors Place downtown has been very positive for Vancouver," says Michael Gordon, senior downtown planner for the City of Vancouver.

You mean the senior downtown planner for the City of Vancouver thinks that the idea likely developed by the downtown planners for the City of Vancouver was a good one? OH. MY. GOD. That is just unbelievable. What a completely reliable and unbiased source. Here's my money!!!

When I tell him some Edmontonians fret that there won't be enough parking for a downtown arena, he points out that GM Place doesn't have much parking, either. And it's worked out just fine. In fact, it's been a plus. "If anything, that's encouraged people not to drive to the arena, but to park somewhere downtown. And they're that much more encouraged to go and have a bit to eat before a game, or to go to the bar afterwards and have a drink with their friends."

Hmmm. What a concept. A downtown core with actual nightlife. Ya' think there might be a message in that for Edmonton?

Yes, and I think the message might be that no one should ever listen to a word Gary Lamphier says, ever again. First off, Edmonton does have a nightlife. So does its downtown. I've stated this already, but I'm sick and tired of people like Lamphier complaining that Edmonton isn't exactly the same as other cities around the country and the world. Like downtown Edmonton resembles the opening scene of Omega Man. Downtown development is coming along fine, and there are other areas in this city where people go for entertainment. Has he stated why we need downtown to be thriving, when a twenty-five minute walk away there is already a vibrant scene? Sure, you could make the argument that more is better, but that doesn't mean it's worth spending $400 million+ on a building that will be empty for most of the year. That's a lack of imigination, which can be added to his lack of factual evidence.

Secondly, Vancouver. Here's why a lack of parking at GM Place might not be a problem. One, a SkyTrain station exists on the site. The SkyTrain was built for Expo 86, and stretches from the downtown waterfront (where it meets with the SeaBus going into North Vancouver) to Surrey. It is the "world's longest automated light rapid transit system". It would be great if we had an LRT line like that, but unfortunately we'd rather buy a hockey arena for Cal Nichols. Secondly, Vancouver has a regular bus system vastly superior to ours. Large parking depots exist around the lower mainland, where people can take buses on superlanes into the downtown area or to the SkyTrain lines. Again, non-existent here. Lastly, I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that people don't mind walking to Canucks games in January because it isn't MINUS THIRTY F***ING DEGREES OUTSIDE. I'd walk from Abbotsford to GM Place in November if the seats were good enough. Sure I'd break a sweat, but I wouldn't die from hypothermia. But unless Lamphier is planning on setting up some sort of system where I can rest in the belly of a Tauntaun on my way from Whyte Ave. to City Hall, I suggest he stop telling us how irrelevant downtown parking is (I haven't even broached the population density question, or the fact that downtown Vancouver has a much larger work population).

Yes, it can happen here too. The only thing that might stop us is our own myopia.

Okay, this enrages me. The guy advocates building an arena to chase away the impoverished and homeless, and we're myopic? Has he even considered any other plan? Have you seen it in print? Has he given any statistical evidence proving the economic benefit of a downtown arena? Has he shown that these other downtown cores he likes to talk about were impoverished areas before arenas appeared? Here are a whole bunch of questions I have for Lamphier, and anyone else who is supporting this plan. Some of them have been asked already, by me and others, but let's do it all over again.

1. The assumption of a downtown arena is that people will loiter and patron the bars and restaurants in the area before or after the game. Do we have hard, factual, evidence of this? I don't mean speculation and guessing, but hard numbers. Furthermore, do we know if people are already doing this or not, and if there will actually be a positive net economic impact on the region, or if you'll just be moving business from one area to another?

2. With the Mayor announcing the "arena feasibility committee", and the City Manager (the head of the city bureaucracy) serving on the committee, is this an endorsement by the City of Edmonton for this concept. If so, was it approved by City Council?

3. How much, if any, city money is going to be spent supporting the work of this "arena feasibility committee"?

4. Why has the Edmonton Journal not disclosed, while discussing this issue, that it has a financial stake in the Edmonton Oilers?

5. Why is the Edmonton Journal not asking the Mayor why he's skipped past the step where we actual discuss whether a new arena is needed, and are now on the step where discuss where it goes and how to pay for it?

6. Why is the Edmonton Journal not discussing the conflict of interest inherent with having three members of the Oilers organization on the committee, along with two members of Northlands?

7. Why has the Edmonton Journal not quoted a single opposing voice to this proposition in any of the articles it has published on the issue?

8. If the feds actually turn over the downtown land to the City or to Northlands, or whoever administers the new arena, what is this entity going to pay in terms of taxes or rent to the City of Edmonton? If it's subsidized below market value (as the Oilers' deal at Rexall now is), what is the opportunity cost in terms of revenue that the City is giving up by using this land for a hockey arena and not for other purposes?

9. What's the traffic impact going to be on the area? This needs to be examined both from the aspect of passenger traffic, and truck traffic that will be servicing the arena for concerts and the like.

10. Do we know where the fans attending Oilers games and concerts are coming from? Will they be more likely to use public transit to get to a more central location, or are they going to continue to drive in mass numbers to the game? Dealing with this and the previous question, what do we know about the current Rexall clientele? What will the impact be of moving their business downtown? On a similar note, will moving the arena change their behaviour or change the clientele of the events offered at the arena?

11. How many nights of the year do we anticipate the new arena being used? What are the intended uses - i.e. is it just the Oilers and possibly concerts that will make use of it, or will the Oil Kings, Rush, CFR etc. move over as well?

12. What will happen to Rexall if a new arena is built downtown? Will it be knocked down? What will happen to the rest of the Northlands site?

13. Why is the "arena feasibility committee" waiting until November or December to publish their findings? If the mayor believes that the downtown arena is such a good idea, why doesn't he demand that the report be finished prior to October, so that he can stand behind it, and the citizens of Edmonton can have their say in its findings? Is the Mayor of Edmonton avoiding membership on the committee so that when he is asked about it during the election, he can pull a Paul Martin and say that he wants to wait until the "impartial findings" of the committee are revealed before speculating on anything?

14. What is so terribly wrong with Rexall that a new arena is required? Is it unsafe? Is it dangerous? Is it under the control of the pack of wild and dangerous dogs controlling most of Canada's major cities? Or is it that the Oilers owners aren't making enough money off of it? If that is the case, why is it the responsibility of taxpayers to aid in building a new arena? Shouldn't that be the responsibility of the business owner(s)?

15. Who makes up the entire membership of the Edmonton Investors Group?

16. Has anyone looked at past evidence of building arenas in this city? Anyone taken a look in the Journal archives, for example? Were similar arguments made about the economic benefits of the Northlands Coliseum when it was built in 1974? If so, did that become a reality?



Tea Leaves

I was reminded yesterday, reading BDHS, that there are visitors to this site looking for enlightenment on the Flames, as opposed to merely fanboy win predictions and numerical assessments of who's productive. The Oilogosphere has (most notably) Lowetide to parse statements from the GM, float trial balloons, and make educated guesses as to where the Oil is headed; so, on the heels of yesterday's comments by Sutter, I might as well take a crack at something similar.

The most important thing to know about Darryl Sutter is that he has a lot of belief that he's doing the right things. I'm not saying that he's sufficiently arrogant (or deluded) to believe that he doesn't make mistakes, or that he can misjudge the full range of consequences of his decisions, but he is extremely confident that the general principles and plan under which he is operating are not only correct, but the best. So, the chances that his assessment of the 2006/07 team will be of a deeply reflective, soul searching nature are zero. The nature of the assessment will be better described as Who is fucking up my shit?

The other thing to remember is that, while he truly does have the run of the hockey side of the business -- the owners and Ken King are not micromanaging ("interfering") -- he still has bosses, and he has to answer to them. He may not get overruled on major decisions, and he may not even have to defend them per se, but he does have to explain them. And you can be damn sure he doesn't take the same evasive & condescending tone with them as he does with Eric Francis and Jermaine Franklin.

So with this in mind, let's look forward. The current Flames who are going to be UFAs on July 1st are: Tony Amonte, Jeff Friesen, Marcus Nilson, Wayne Primeau, Darren McCarty, Byron Ritchie, Brad Stuart, and Roman Hamrlik. As I see it, there's not a single player on this list who's more likely to be re-signed than to end up elsewhere.

Amonte, Friesen, Nilson, and McCarty are all destined for lower salaries than they pulled this season. I can't imagine Amonte coming back for less money in a reduced role, despite seeming to be a coach's favourite. In fact, he seems like a proud enough guy that I wouldn't be surprised if he retired, even though he's still good enough to play somewhere. Nilson just seems utterly replaceable. I guess McCarty could be back for 1 year at the minimum (he married a Calgary girl, and he needs the money), but I don't know if he's wanted.

3 days ago, I would have given Friesen the strongest chance of returning, though at a <$1M salary. Though he's a void offensively (0.82 ESP/60), he was Calgary's most effective penalty killer -- only 10 GA (and 4 GF) in 183min of PK ice-time, which is tremendous and a clear team weakness. However, he bafflingly believes that he wasn't given enough of an opportunity to contribute this season (" was a step back into becoming a defensive forward"). Maybe there's a GM out there who still sees Friesen as a "skilled forward", despite 3 straight seasons of evidence to the contrary; even if there isn't, I'd have to guess that if a small 1-year deal is all that's available to him, he'll take one somewhere else in the hopes of gaining this elusive opportunity.

I hesitate to describe Wayne Primeau as a "dime-a-dozen" player exactly, but decent 2-way veteran forwards who don't score much and take too many stick penalties are replaceable, and since he has no roots with the Flames (the obvious contrast here being Ethan Moreau), it'd be surprising if the Flames offer him a better contract than he can get elsewhere. I like Ritchie; I hope and suspect that he'll get an offer from another team. And unlike Friesen, he may actually benefit (blossom?) with a new opportunity.

Rumbles from locker-cleaning day were that Brad Stuart is interested in fielding offers as a UFA (translation: gonzo), and that Hamrlik is hoping to stay. "Hoping to stay" isn't exactly a killer data point, but I certainly think that the Flames would like to keep him provided that the terms are somewhat more favourable than the open-market terms. My general sense of the world is that veteran players who have bumped around a lot of teams in their careers and then landed in a favourable situation are more inclined to go along with such a thing, but who knows.

Core Pieces: Playfair, Iginla, Kiprusoff, Tanguay, Langkow, Huselius, Regehr, Phaneuf. Odds are, given this season's results and the quest for improvement, that at least some piece of this core will change this off-season. I'm glossing over Lombardi, Moss, Giordano, and the prospects, as they're not going anywhere unless as a piece of a bigger blockbuster. Same with Conroy, Yelle, Warrener, and Zyuzin: if they move, it's either as part of something bigger or of minor impact in and of itself.

Phaneuf is the one untouchable; he's going nowhere for any reason. At least this off-season, neither is Tanguay: for one, I can't imagine that Sutter feels like he got less than what he was expecting when he acquired him in the first place; for two, his excellent production at EV did not translate into gaudy counting numbers (weak PP production), making it tougher to get a great return for him; and for three (the clincher), it would look too much like an admission of failure.

Iggy, Kipper, Langkow, Juice, and Regehr are the guys entering the final years of their contracts. Sutter did actually provide a bit of a window into his mentality on these situations, I thought. And, since this is getting pretty long already, I'll look at that in another post.


In Defence of Northlands

***Note*** I have a rather shy friend. He/she reads this site, and has lots to say, in private, about the arena. In fact, he/she supports building a new arena, but doesn't think it should go up downtown. In an effort to be completely unlike the Edmonton Journal, and actually let opposing viewpoints be heard, here are some thoughts from what I am now deeming a "New Northlandite."

Here are some questions I would bring up that I don't think are being addressed, at least in the public debate:

1. If the feds actually turn over the downtown land to the City or to Northlands, or whoever administers the new arena, what is this entity going to pay in terms of taxes or rent to the City of Edmonton? If it's subsidized below market value (as the Oilers' deal at Rexall now is), what is the opportunity cost in terms of revenue that the City is giving up by using this land for a hockey arena and not for other purposes?

2. What's the traffic impact going to be on the area? This needs to be examined both from the aspect of passenger traffic, and truck traffic that will be servicing the arena for concerts and the like.

3. The assumption of a downtown arena is that people will loiter and patron the bars and restaurants in the area before or after the game. Do we have evidence of this? Furthermore, do we know if people are already doing this or not, and if there will actually be a positive net economic impact on the region, or if you'll just be moving business from one area to another?

4. Do we know where the fans attending Oilers games and concerts are coming from? Will they be more likely to use public transit to get to a more central location, or are they going to continue to drive in mass numbers to the game? Dealing with this and the previous question, what do we know about the current Rexall clientele? What will the impact be of moving their business downtown? On a similar note, will moving the arena change their behaviour or change the clientele of the events offered at the arena?

5. How many nights of the year do we anticipate the new arena being used? What are the intended uses - i.e. is it just the Oilers and possibly concerts that will make use of it, or will the Oil Kings, Rush, CFR etc. move over as well? According to Northlands' site, last year they hosted a record 31 concerts. Assuming all of those move over, and the Oilers play on average 50 home dates a year (counting playoffs and pre-season), and you're left with 80 days of the year filled up. If you assume that the Rush and the Oil Kings also move over, that's an additional 50 or so games (the Rush played 8 home games this year and the Dub has an 80 game season), but those will see attendance of closer to 10.000 than a sellout. I don't think you can count something like CFR because it will have an economic impact regardless of where it's held.

So let's say it brings an additional 80 events drawing 15,000-20,000 people downtown, and an additional 50 events drawing 10,000. That's an average of about 2.5 events per week in a best case scenario, and 1.5 per week if the Rush and Oil Kings go under or don't move with the Oilers to a downtown arena.

More importantly, during the summer months, when people are more likely to want to spend time loitering at a restaurant or pub before or after an event, there's going to be a dearth of activity. There are only 14 events scheduled at Rexall between now and the end of September. That's a whole lot of evenings that our arena is going to be an empty block of prime downtown real estate.

This brings up the question of what becomes of Rexall if a new arena is built downtown? Will it be knocked down? The rest of Northlands isn't moving with the arena, so it limits what you can do in terms of redeveloping the area.

Now, since it's easy to be a naysayer and complain, I've also come up with a plan for what I think should happen. Here's what I'd do:

1. Leave the Stationlands area alone.

2. I would build a new arena on the existing Northlands ground, perhaps even resting partially on the current building location, like what's happening with the new Yankee Stadium.

Here are the advantages as I see it:

• You don't have to pay or give any concessions to acquire the land.
• It respects the history of the Oilers, in that Gretzky Drive will continue to lead to where the Oilers play and the Gretzky statue will continue to stand by the home of the Oilers.
• It remains close to two major freeways (Gretzky Drive/Fort Road and the Yellowhead), so there's no need to expand the current infrastructure unlike with a downtown location.

Also, if we're serious about using the arena as a catalyst for street and economic activity, I think the current location is the best one to do so. Downtown doesn't need the arena - it's already on a serious upswing, and will only continue to improve as more residential development such as the Icon Towers on 104th and the Aurora development north of Grant MacEwan are completed over the next few years.

The location with the most opportunity for revitalization is the area surrounding the Northlands grounds. Part of this is because they are some of the most depressed areas, and have nowhere to go but up, but there are other factors, too. Now, you can argue against the economic impact of an arena, but I think we can all agree that given that what else you can do with the current Rexall site is limited, it certainly won't help to take the arena out of that area. However, the advantages of keeping it in that area are as follows:

• Two of the adjacent areas (Alberta Avenue and Fort Road) are already designated Business Revitalization Zones, and businesses and local residents and government are already working on improving the safety, image, and economic activity in those areas. Alberta Avenue in particular is becoming a more popular area for the arts community since they are being priced out of Old Strathcona and some areas of downtown. Fort Road is a bit more removed, but there are planned in-fill redevelopments for the area, and it's a short train ride to the Northlands grounds.

• These areas are going to become more and more popular for young adults, for many of the same reasons that areas north and west of downtown were for the past twenty years or so (Inglewood, Westmount, Prince Charles, Prince Rupert). For one, they have character and history, which is more important to our age group than it was to our parents. Second, they're either walking distance or a short bus trip from the LRT, which is then 5-10 minutes to downtown. At worst, it's a 15 minute drive to downtown at rush hour, which sure beats spending 45 minutes in gridlock coming in from one of the far-flung suburban developments in the Southwest. Finally, houses are still reasonably affordable, unlike most areas of the city.

• With redevelopment plans, and a potential influx of young adults with disposable income to the area, there's a lot of economic potential. Therefore, if there really is economic synergy with an arena and it's surrounding hospitality industry, there should be a critical mass capable of supporting it on nights that the arena (or other Northlands buildings) aren't in use.

I recognize there are problems, notably the sprawling parking lots and freeways occupying space. Here's how I'd deal with those:

1. Similar to the Big Dig in Boston, I would bury the through-traffic lanes of Gretzky below ground, creating a two-lane road that would feed into the parking area. The through-traffic could emerge above ground again at Fort Road. Next to the disappeared lanes I would put a multi-use trail beginning at the River Valley and connecting with the Fort Road area north of the Yellowhead.

2. Put a significant amount of the parking for the hockey arena underground. Yes, it's expensive, but people will pay for it or else they'll take the train to the game, so you needn't worry about excessive outdoor parking.

2. Redevelop the entire Northlands grounds to include commercial and residential development. This would ensure that there's day-long activity in the area, and a permanent critical mass to complement the surrounding areas and provide economic activity. The Capital Region has a burgeoning manufacturing industry, and the proximity to the freeways would make it an easy location to produce goods and ship them out. A manufacturing district would also fit well with the traditional blue-collar characteristics of the surrounding areas and the blue-collar image that Edmontonians have of their city. With the proximity to the LRT, industry and the growing arts community on Alberta Ave, you have a prime residential location. In an ideal world, this development spills over to increase economic activity east of Gretzky Drive as well.

3. The rent from industry and money from residential developments (whether you sell them off as condos/townhomes or manage them as rentals) will help support any lost parking revenue and the cost of redeveloping the area.

4. I would also replace the Agricom. The new convention/trade space being built towards the south of the grounds can handle the trade shows, and in it's place I would build a small arena (10,000 seats max) for the Rush, Oil Kings, and medium-sized touring acts. This will give those games more of a "college" feel, which is more appealing than playing in front of 10,000 empty seats.

I recognize that this whole scenario will probably be a billion dollar venture, but I don't think it will ultimately be less expensive than redeveloping the Stationlands area of downtown will be.

So, for those reasons, I think that rebuilding on the Northlands grounds is the best decision in both the short-term and the long-term.


Wednesday, April 25, 2007


Round 2

Despite zero popular demand, and the fact that I have very little new or interesting to say, here's my playoff picks:

Buffalo over NY Rangers in 7. Darn near a coin-flip. After 40 games this season, the Sabres had a 19-point lead on the Rags. After 82 games, a 19-point lead.

I'll pick the Sabres on the basis of (1) the extra home game, and (2) that their late additions (Zubrus, Stafford, Connolly) will help them more than Avery helps the Rangers.

Ottawa over New Jersey in 5. I don't trust Dany Heatley whatsoever to have a strong performance, but one way or another, the Sens are going to blow the doors off of first the Devils, then of whoever wins the other series.

Anaheim over Vancouver in 6. I'd love to be more contrarian here, but like every other hockey fan outside the Lower Mainland, I don't see how the Canucks can beat the Ducks 4 times out of 7 (outside of a bus crash, or Jan Bulis being bitten by a radioactive spider, that is).

Detroit over San Jose in 5. "In 5" is probably just stupid, but I trust the Wings to play their best game a lot more than I trust the Sharks to play theirs.

This is the year, I think, where instead of the East team beating the West on their home rink in G7, the West team (whether it's DET or ANA) just fustigates the East team (Ottawa, it says here) in 4 or 5 games in the Finals.



(Updated at bottom)
Darryl Sutter is going to be speaking to the media this afternoon at 2:30 MT. It's not one of those "the Flames will be making a major announcement" type things, as far as I can tell, it's simply a post-mortem on the season. I'll think I'll find an excuse to be in my car and tune in, though I believe you should be able to stream from the FAN960's site if you're so inclined.

Jim Playfair (now at ~97/3 to remain) did the same yesterday; I listened to most of a fairly lengthy interview he did with Rob Kerr. No, I wasn't too impressed. A general principle of mine is that when someone claims that they'll be learning from mistakes and gaining from experience, but does not admit to making any actual mistakes (let alone identify them), then they're probably just blowing smoke.

He also spent too much time (for my liking) explaining why this season wasn't actually that bad, and how most criticism was blown out of proportion (like "we were only 5 points worse on the road this year" -- I'm not too impressed with using the previous season's worst element as a benchmark). I'm really hoping that Sutter acknowledges -- explicitly -- that he had much higher expectations for this team, and that relative to those reasonable expectations, this season was a disappointment. I am fairly certain that his remarks won't carry the same relentless "we just have to keep doing what we're doing, improving on the things we need to improve on" undertone that Playfair's did.

For what it's worth (i.e. very little), I think I've accidentally mischaracterized Playfair's personality on occasion. He's not grim and uptight -- he's a likeable person (as evidenced by his treatment the last couple days from the beat writers, which has been mightly sympathetic, all things considered), and he's genuinely funny. To wit:
The day passed and Playfair returned to the school to pick up his offspring, aged 14, 12 and nine.

"I picked them up after school and I said, 'How was it?' " Playfair continued.

"They said, 'Aw, man' ... they were giving me the report on it [guff from fellow students - ed.]."

"I said, 'Hey, you guys get free tickets to every hockey game, suck it up.' "

I wish the guy exhibited more humility, though. Calmness and composure are near-universally desirable qualities in a person, but I really get the impression from him that he believes -- knows -- that this season's failures were the failures of others. He's only partly right.

If Sutter's presser is any good, I'll report back.

UPDATE: It wasn't, but here's a few quotes anyway (from memory), or descriptions thereof:
Not really what I was hoping to hear, exactly. I don't mind listening to how pleased Sutter is with himself the direction of the organization, but I was hoping for more than "it was an OK season". An "OK season" for a "very, very good team" is a top-4 finish and a loss in the 2nd or 3rd round, or at least it is if the English language still has any meaning.

However! I'm going to adjust my Playfair stay-or-gone meter back to 85/15. One of the few direct answers Sutter gave -- do you need to go out and get the players to reduce GA, get better results, etc., or do you have them? -- was We Have The Players. Part (a lot?) of that is no doubt a straighten up and fly right message to the players who will be back. But assuming that he actually believes it to a non-trivial degree, then clearly he's going to be looking critically at the coaching.

Bruce Dowbiggin borrows an interesting historical reference from Malcolm Gladwell today, and gets to the heart of the matter:
The options are these: 1) Either the messenger (Playfair) changes. 2) Or the message changes. 3) Or the people receiving the message -- the core of the 2006-07 Flames -- has to change. Trying to make the equation work on the warm notion that a year's experience will change everything is a faint hope at best.

With Darryl Sutter in charge of the program, it's highly unlikely the message will change any time soon. So scratch option 2). Which leaves changing the coach or changing the core.

Sutter's comments today, at face value, make (3) less likely, although it would appear that Dowbiggin dismisses option 4 (the warm notion) too readily; just because he (and I) see the odds of that working as "a faint hope at best" doesn't mean that Sutter does.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


We Built This City

Following up on another post I wrote today on the plans to force the issue on a new NHL arena in Edmonton, here is an editorial by Gary Lamphier in today's Edmonton Journal. It's a doozy. According to Lamphier, there is no street life in Edmonton. Activity on Whyte Avenue, the UofA Campus, and near 109 street and Jasper apparently does not exist. So we need a new arena downtown. A new arena will draw in "suburbanites to the city centre on a regular basis for hockey games, concerts and other events," where they will "patronize nearby restaurants and bars." Yes, just like they've visited all those restaurants and bars surrounding Rexall and Commonwealth Stadium over the years. Those areas are hopping.

According to Lamphier, a new arena will also get rid of the "small army of panhandlers or even crack dealers" in the downtown area. He's totally right, of course. They won't stay because of the increase in traffic and public transportation, like on Whyte Avenue. No, no. They'll flee to West Edmonton Mall and St. Albert, and bug those people. Plus, why do something crazy like invest money in solutions to poverty or drug addiction when you can spend over $400 million throwing up a hockey rink for millionaires, and then just chase those disgusting poor people away? That's a much more ethical solution, if you ask me.

Lamphier is confident that if Edmonton had an arena in the downtown area, all would be well. He lists Bloor Street in Toronto, Robson Street in Vancouver, and 17th Avenue SW in Calgary as examples of the kind of street life Edmontonians should aspire to. Reading this, I became interested in knowing the exact locations of the NHL arenas in all six Canadian markets. So I checked them all out on Google Maps, which I now provide to you.

Google Maps for all six NHL arenas in Canada

GM Place in Vancouver, built in 1995.

Rexall Place in Edmonton, built in 1974.

Pengrowth Saddledome in Calgary, built in 1983.

Air Canada Centre in Toronto, built in 1999.

Scotiabank Place in Ottawa, built in 1996.

Bell Centre in Montreal, built in 1996.

The cool thing about the Google maps is that you can move them around, zoom in and out, and work back and forth between maps, satellite images, and a hybrid. All the maps I've linked to are hybrids. I've also created a map showing Rexall, as well as the proposed new site for an arena. It is here.

Looking at these maps, and using my own knowledge and experience of these cities and arenas, some things stand out for me:

• Bloor Street in Toronto is a good distance away from both the ACC Centre and the Skydome. As it is near the University of Toronto, I'm also quite certain the street was doing fairly well prior to either stadium being built.

• I haven't been to Vancouver in a while, but if my memory serves me correctly both GM Place and BC Place are in rather remote locations, at the end of Robson. Furthermore, I'm also pretty sure any vitality on Robson pre-dates the arrival of the arenas.

• Montreal and Toronto have relatively new hockey arenas, but the Montreal Forum opened in 1924, and Maple Leaf Gardens opened in 1931. That's a much longer existence than Rexall, which has only been up for 30 years.

• My memory of the Bell Centre is that it is on the outskirts of downtown, not in the actual core.

• There were additional reasons to build new stadiums in Toronto and Vancouver, other than hockey. Both cities had to make arrangements for their NBA franchises.

• There is diddly squat going on around Pengrowth, except when the Stampede is on. The action on 17th is further west.

• Scotiabank Place might as well be in Winnipeg, its location is so remote.

These are all just random thoughts and recollections. Others will have way more insight on these arenas and these cities, and I'm actually looking for advice and feedback on it all. But if I can, I'd like to make three broad statements here:

1) Many of the social and economic centres that Lamphier and others will list existed long before the arenas were put there. In fact, I'd suggest some of those arenas were in fact put in those areas because of what already existed, rather than the other way around.

2) Rexall is not in a terribly remote location. Sure it won't be as close to the downtown core as in some other cities, but it's not as far away as some would like us to think. Furthermore, it has other benefits, such as two large freeways and an already existing LRT station on site. I am sceptical that a location downtown will ease the travel time significantly enough for anyone other than those who already live or work downtown (admitted as such, and rightly so, here). In fact, if I lived in Mill Woods, Riverbend, St. Albert or say, Lloydminster, it would likely be faster and less of a hassle for me to drive into the current site than it would be for me to drive into the already congested city core.

3) Edmonton doesn't have to be exactly the same as other Canadian cities to be vibrant, or a great place to live. The fact is, Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal will always be large, world-class cities. They have history, location, and population on their side. They are what Dr. Richard Florida calls "global talent magnets." Edmonton is never going to be one of those cities. It's a new, landlocked city of the north. It's more similar to what Florida calls a "global Austin," a second group of major world cities. It has an excellent public school system, an excellent health-care system, a world-class research University, a vibrant arts and culture scene, a large urban forest full of parks and pathways, and a tolerant and (mostly) civil population. But it's freezing here in winter, a reality Vancouver, Toronto and Calgary don't have to face, or at least not as much. The city has been built, and has naturally developed, according to that reality. It also has a large river valley that runs through it, creating planning nightmares and a false sense of distance. I can walk from my house near the UofA to Whyte Avenue in ten minutes, and to Jasper Avenue in tweny-five. Someone living downtown could walk to Jasper in ten, and to Whyte Avenue in twenty-five. Lamphier could too, if he actually bothered to try. Saying there is no streetlife in this city is bogus. Saying that you need to build a stadium to get rid of troublesome poor people and drug dealers is even worse. This city doesn't suck because it's not exactly the same as Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. Nor does it suck because Gary Lamphier can't walk to an Oilers game from his downtown condo. This city is great for a lot of reasons, and it will continue to be great regardless of whether or not a stadium is built downtown.



Taxpayers To Buy Oilers An Arena

So I guess we've gone from thinking about a rink, to talking about a rink, to getting a rink. Of course, no one has actually debated whether we really need a new NHL arena in the city of Edmonton. But why should we, right? As Jerry Bouma, president of Northlands and member of Mayor Stephen Mandel's new Gouge The Taxpayers of Alberta to Please Rich People Committee "Arena Feasibility Committee" stated today, he's behind building a new arena because "the Oilers have already said they need a new arena." Wow. Are you that easy to convince, Jerry? Well, I need someone to pay for my eventual wedding, buy me a new car, and build me a house. It would be great if you could pay for that stuff for me, Jerry. No? What if I said I really needed it, and that I was going to leave town if you didn't give me what I wanted? Would that help? Yes? Awesome.

As the link above notes, the "Arena Feasibility Committee" has been chosen by Stephen Mandel. Mayor Mandel is staying off the committee, because he is partial to a downtown site, and doesn't want to bias anything. Such an ethical guy. Instead, he's made Lyle Best--Member of the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation Board of Directors and Executive Director of the Oilers Alumni Association, amongst other Oilers entanglements-- the head of the committee. In case that wasn't impartial enough, Mayor Mandel has placed Cal Nichols and Pat Laforge on the committee, too.

Remember back in November, when the trial balloon for the EIG was first floated by Paula Simons? In that article, Simons said that Cal Nichols wanted "a thorough public discussion about any new arena, one that takes into account the interests of all of Edmonton." At the time, Nichols said, "this is bigger than the Oilers. It's about the entire community and its needs. We have to do, not what's right for the Oilers or Northlands or the downtown, but for the city." Fast forward to today, and ask yourself the question: has there really been a public discussion about this issue? I'm going to suggest that there hasn't, other than maybe on this site. Everywhere else, including the Edmonton Journal (which should be ashamed of itself), legitimate concerns around building a new arena have been glossed over, replaced with assumptions and generalizations. There have been zero discussions on how a new arena will revitilize the downtown core, considering no revitilization has occured around the existing site at Northlands. In fact, there hasn't even been a discussion on why we should even be concerned with "revitilizing" the downtown core in the first place. There have been zero discussions around major reports from the United States, which suggest that the economic impact of new stadiums to a city are grossly inflated. There have been zero discussions on how the downtown area will handle the incoming vehicle congestion, or other urban planning and environmental concerns. And lastly, there have been zero discussions on why taxpayers are to be responsible for the cost of a new arena, when there is absolutely nothing wrong with the old arena other than the fact that the owners of the Edmonton Oilers aren't making enough money for themselves off it it.

Instead, the Mayor has appointed a bunch of like-minded individuals to push through his plans for a new arena. Bouma hasn't been on the committee a day, and he's already supporting a new rink. The others will do the same. There are no outsiders on the committee, and a difference of opinion is therefore unlikely. The word "feasibility" has a whole new meaning now. This committee will not explore whether the city of Edmonton needs a new NHL arena. That has already been decided by the Mayor, the Edmonton Oilers, and the Edmonton Journal (the province of Alberta's continued silence on this issue is interesting in its own right). This committee will explore where the new stadium will be built, and how much we as taxpayers will have to pay for it. Conveniently, the committee will not publish a report until November or early December, after civic elections. In a cowardly act, Mayor Stephen Mandel won't even submit himself to the fate of the ballot box on this issue. He'll wait until afterwards to show citizens their bill.

I have another post on this issue to come tonight. And yes, I'm still posting on this issue. It was my plan all along. Worst. Retirement. Ever. I know.



Circling the wagons?

In today's Calgary Sun, Eric Francis takes a crack at defending Jim Playfair: Record speaks for itself / Playfair did enough to stay. I think he does a decent job of it; problem is, it's just not very compelling. The lede:
Fourteen games above .500.

With his club playing in the toughest division in hockey, Jim Playfair managed to guide the Calgary Flames to a 43-29-10 record as a rookie.

Few coaches in NHL history have opened their careers with such a lofty record. Yet, the masses want Jim Playfair fired.

Fair enough. There's 7 Western Conference teams that wish their seasons were as disappointing as Calgary's was.
...the truth is, there's a much bigger reason they want the former assistant to get the axe. His name is Darryl Sutter. They want him back.

Thing is, it's just not going to happen. Sutter has made it clear he has no desire to climb back behind the bench where he managed to transform the 2004 Flames into a Stanley Cup finalist.

This might be true as well; I don't cruise CalgaryPuck or hold court in sports bars, so I really don't know what the general fan sentiment is. Speaking only for myself, and the handful of other Flames blogs who (pretty much unanimously) think Playfair failed, I am under no illusions that Sutter would be the "replacement" if Nervous Jimmy was fired, nor do I think that would be the best course of action at any rate.
It's not easy replacing a local icon -- had Playfair followed Greg Gilbert or Don Hay he'd be the toast of the town.

This is just plain disingenuous. If Greg Gilbert or Don Hay had been the coach last season, and led the Flames to a NW title, then Playfair would most certainly not be the toast of the town. He didn't lead the Flames to a 20-point improvement and their first playoff spot in 7 years; he led them to a record that was 7 points and 5 places in the standings worse than last season. No new coach would ever be lauded for such a result, regardless of whether his predecessor was iconic or not.
Indeed Playfair looked tense behind the bench, a vibe the players surely picked up on. It could have played on their confidence. A handful of other coaches look far more wound up and manage to win regularly.

Yes, the Flames backed into the playoffs, were stunningly inept once they left the comforts of Calgary and were outplayed and outcoached by the Wings. Playfair deserves his fair share of heat for that.

I'm glad someone is at least pointing out that he doesn't look the part behind the bench, and that if we're noticing it, surely the players are too. I'm not sure which other coaches Francis is referring to (edited out for space limitations, shurely); I don't know them. Also, that 2nd paragraph is pretty damning; it's not like it's obvious that it should be followed with a corresponding "but..."

The one real gripe I have with this bit is the implication that the masses who think Playfair should be fired are basing it on their failure to beat Detroit in the 1v8. I'll allow that he could have and would have saved his job by winning that series, but the problem isn't the playoff loss per se: it's that they were in 8th place; they looked overmatched going into the series; and sure enough, they were.
However, surely he also deserves credit for helping the club to the most dominant home record in hockey, shaping great special teams units and finishing 13th overall in his first year as the big boss.

Since I've never seen data or a good argument proving otherwise, I agree that it's fair to balance whatever scorn you want to heap on Playfair for the road record with praise for the home record. But great special teams? They were 22nd in the NHL on the PK, that's not even good. The PP finished 11th, at 18.2% (up from 15.1% at the halfway mark); in other words, it probably was great in the 2nd half after being atrocious in the 1st half. Overall, PP success was identical to last season, and the PK went from 7th to 22nd. This is a thumbs up?
Sutter knew there would be growing pains with his young protege behind the bench.

It appeared he did well to give Playfair space to work through them and will undoubtedly sit down soon to go over how he could have handled certain things better. He'll improve.

Next year will be the last season this franchise will have the luxury of keeping both Miikka Kiprusoff and Jarome Iginla. Surely you don't want to introduce a stranger to the mix who will go through the same growing pains Playfair did this year.

I almost don't know what to make of this. Sure, I guess Sutter wasn't anticipating (or advertising) a 100% seamless transition, but darn near -- that was half the point of hiring Playfair instead of someone from outside the organization. That's one of the reasons I object to the use of the phrase "growing pains" (twice!).

The other reason is that if there's one thing that growing pains are guaranteed to produce, it's growth. Where is it? Notwithstanding a brutal 1st 10 games, the team was not any better at the end of the season than at the beginning. Lombardi had an OK season overall, but essentially got worse as it went along. Phaneuf was given more responsibility, but I don't think you could say he's a better player now than he was a year ago. What is it that you can point to -- even something small -- as evidence that Playfair really does know what he's doing, it'll just take some more time?
Next year Playfair will have a younger, faster team. Knowing the personnel as well as he does, Playfair is up to the task of finding and establishing the identity of a club that went from gritty and defensive-oriented to talented yet uncommitted to the cause.

Jim Playfair should remain coach of the Flames. And Sutter needs to give him that vote of confidence now.

Up to the task? It's possible, but not at all evident. Here's one last Francis paragraph from earlier in the story:
Sutter -- a man who has proven to have an impeccable ability to assess talent -- saw many things in Playfair that led him to believe he can win at this level as he has in the minors.

This is probably where Francis makes the least sense, because you really can't have it both ways. If the question is, "Why were the Flames worse this season than last, despite the fact that Jim Playfair is a good coach?", then the answer is that the roster was worse, isn't it? And of course that falls on Sutter, and his skills at talent assessment, team-building, etc.

Bruce Dowbiggin is taking that tack. I give him points for intellectual honesty in that respect, though I disagree with just about every observation and conclusion he makes (you lost me at "skilled forward Jeff Friesen", Bruce).

If there's one other theme running through these "Don't Blame it all on Playfair" pieces that aggravates me, it's the revisionism about the (I paraphase) "crazy-high expectations of a hockey-mad city", as if they were terribly unfair in retrospect. Nuts to that. There was, legitimately, ample reason to believe the team would be better than last season, and very little reason to believe it would be worse. They had no serious long-term injuries, and were not burdened with any disappointing individual performances.

They should have been better, from 3-7-2 beginning to 55-21 end. Can this just be explained away with, "seasons are like snowflakes"? If Playfair is returning (and right now it's about 70/30 that he is), I sure hope so.

Monday, April 23, 2007


Flames-Wings: Game 6 Review

I'll avoid rehashing the same stuff that was in the wire service recap -- better team won, shots were absurdly lopsided, Kipper was outstanding -- in favour of a few other observations:
This site is not going to be Fire Jim Playfair Central going forward, but if I had a vote, then yeah, so long. My reasoning is two-fold:
  1. I can't stand looking at him or hearing him. As noted ad nauseam here, he looks nervous and ridiculous behind the bench: the teeth tapping; the eye-bugging; the silly gelled curl. His quotes sound lifted from Dilbert's pointy-haired boss. I cannot reconcile his outward image with the qualities of a good NHL coach, whatsoever.
  2. In the words of the freshly-dismissed Sydney Ellen Wade, "total failure to achieve the objectives for which [he] was hired." If you can come up with some sort of affirmative defense of his abilities (and anything resembling "the coach doesn't take any shifts" does not qualify), let's hear it.
The site is going to slow down for a couple of months here. I'll still have a couple of season post-mortem (and looking forward) pieces, and probably take a crack at picking the remaining series as the playoffs go on (the Flames loss dropped my Rd1 record to 5-2; go Stars). There's also a couple of general posts I've been meditating on. And of course, the matter of What's up with a new Oilers contributor? needs to be resolved sooner or later; as of this moment, bet on the "later".

Sunday, April 22, 2007


Good Night, And Good Riddance


Flames Game Day

Game 6, 7PM MT, CBC. Colin Campbell's Wheel of JusticeTM has been spun, and landed on 5 games for Noodles, fines for Playfair and the Flames, and nothing for Iginla or Langkow. In terms of the Flames' chances, I'm relieved Langkow didn't get anything; I think Campbell would have been on fairly solid ground suspending him for a game or two, based on (A) the fact that Lebda apparently has a concussion, and (B) the underlying principle of you can't just go around punching people in the face, but there it is.

As for Captain Jarome Iginla, I don't feel the need to either defend or decry his actions late in the game. If they're down by 4 with a minute or two left in tonight's game, you won't see anything of the sort, but he thought it was important for himself and/or the team to get pissy. Whether it was or it wasn't will be judged through the lens of tonight's result.

I do remember this same thing happening twice during the 2004 playoffs. With seconds left in G4 vDET (4-2 L), Ville Niemenen ran Curtis Joseph (fortunately didn't hit him too hard or injure him). And G2 of the Finals (a 4-1 L) was just a monkey show of majors and game misconducts. Both times the Flames came back with wins. Maybe Iginla thinks the Flames need to play more pissed off (does this mean he doesn't want to hear any more from the coaches about playing with composure? Maybe...). It was, and is, a bit hard to watch. Then again, if he wins the Stanley Cup, they won't be asterisking Iginla's name (*played like dink at end of Rd1 G5).

Much like before G4, I'm prepared for just about anything tonight. Odds are that it's close, I suppose, though I definitely think that yesterday's result could just as easily have happened at the Saddledome. I'm guessing that the game starts extremely physical, then tails off a bit assuming neither team takes a quick 2-goal lead.

Scenarios wherein Calgary wins this series involve the Flames breaking down Detroit's D a bit for more and better 5-on-5 scoring chances, so I think I'll for that tonight:

Calgary 4 (Primeau, Iginla, Tanguay, Phaneuf)
Detroit 1 (Zetterberg)

Go Flames.


Flames-Wings: Game 5 Review

Well, if I'm lucky, I'll never have to hear again how the key for the Flames is The First Ten Minutes (and 1A, Staying Out of the Box). The lads played their best period in Detroit of this series in the first, and when Dan Cleary grabbed a bobbled puck 3+ mins into the 2nd, the Flames were working on their 3rd PP of the game, against only one for the Wings.

I truly didn't think I was tempting fate -- seriously! -- by talking yesterday about how Calgary's comparative advantage in this series is the PP/PK. But maybe I phrased something in a way that angered the hockey gods, because Detroit's PK was suffocatingly effective yesterday, and that's not even to mention the two shorties.

2006/07 Pet Concept "The Ripple Effect" seemed to be well in evidence yesterday too, to my eyes: no Regehr, so Warrener plays with Stuart instead. Warrener can't pull the same ice time as Regehr, so what basically ends up happening is Hamrlik/Phaneuf are thrown out there in every situation, every other shift... which serves to neutralize some of Phaneuf's stronger points. Dude should be hitting people, busting out on the rush on occasion, etc.: when he's playing 10 minutes a period, he just can't. For one, the mentality is all wrong, and for two, he appears to be exhausted.

When Cleary picked up that puck to go end-to-end, I thought he was a little strange; it looked like he decided right there that he wouldn't catch him, and that he should skate to the goal (take the angle and the trailer) instead -- even though it didn't look like Hamrlik was in any better position than he was. And at the end: I doubt that Phaneuf wants to go with Bertuzzi under many circumstances, but at that moment where Phaneuf has 25+ minutes in the books and Bert has 14+, there's no damn way.

Props again to NBC. I watched some of both networks yesterday, and I just couldn't believe how much more enjoyable the NBC broadcast was than the CBC. Emrick was making non-forced Slapshot references (beyond the little Hanson brothers clip they had queued up), and Pierre was in top form between the benches. Wittman, on the other hand ("and you know that Coach! Mike Babcock! won't be happy with the blah blah zzzzzz....") gets worse every year (fortunately he's only got about a decade left until retirement), and Drew Remenda has just never found his stride this whole year. Well, either that, or he's just awful.

As for the late game antics... it wasn't one of the franchise's proudest moments, that's for sure, but let's not go overboard here. Hearing the McGuire/Emrick reaction to Noodles' slash before seeing the replay, I was expecting much worse (like either Simon/Hollweg or an ankle-breaker). No word on suspension at this moment: since there was neither an attempt to "injure" nor an actual injury, I'm guessing 1-3 games (but when it comes to the Wheel of Justice, who knows). Iginla was obviously trying to start something on his last shift (and said as much afterwards), but I doubt that he butt-ended Schneider, mainly because Schneider did not drop in extreme pain with a couple of broken ribs.

The worst offense was probably Langkow's, although I'm reluctant to condemn him without reservations: the segment of the league that freaks out when they think someone is going for their knees is probably a majority. At any rate, simple fairness would dictate that if Lebda can't play today, then Langkow shouldn't be allowed to either.

Much, much moreso than after Game 2, how the Flames lost is totally meaningless set aside the fact that they lost. Seriously, can you ever remember hearing or thinking something like this in your life?
"Yeah, Team X lost Game 5 to go down 3-2, but they looked so good doing it that now I like them to win the series more than ever."

Never. Back later with a game day post.

Saturday, April 21, 2007


Flames Game Day

Game 5, @DET, 1PM MT, CBC/NBC

I should have led the G4 review with Earth to Calgary Hockey Media. I've seen most of the national guys adjust their perceptions of the Flames based on, for example, events. Calgary's own, not so much. I listened to the radio in the car for about 2-1/2 hours the afternoon of G4, and then a good hour the afternoon after, and I thought perhaps I had driven through a time portal into 2004.

And I don't mean the excitement factor; I mean that, as far as Kerr, Dowbiggin, and the rest of them are concerned, both the Flames and the Red Wings have the exact same strengths and weaknesses as they did 3 years ago, and the Flames recipe for success is identical now as then.

It was amazing, really. The craziest take -- which comes straight from the team, and explains why the local guys are on it constantly while the (say) TSN guys never mention it -- is this stuff about how the most important thing is that the Flames need to play with composure. Composure, composure, composure -- like the Flames are Hickory High, and they need to make sure they're not rattled by playing in the big gym in Indianapolis. I quote Rob Kerr from memory, yesterday:
"Would you ever, ever, have imagined that the Flames would have the special teams advantage in this series?"

Only if you were paying any attention, I guess. The Flames went from ~25th to 11th in PP rank over the 2nd half of the season, it was fantastic. Wings finished 21st. And while the Flames were one of the best 5v5 teams in the league this year, it so happens that the Wings are one of the teams that was better; they built their WC-leading record on crushing other teams at even strength.

In a fortunate coincidence since I'm tired of talking about this, it doesn't matter much anymore. It's a best-of-3: if the Wings play better than the Flames in the next 2 or 3 games they'll probably win, and vice-versa.

As for today... the Flames have to be a mile better than in G1/G2 (duh), but it still might not be enough. Aren't we due for an OT game? At this exact moment, you'd better believe I'd take that. Roman Hamrlik with the sudden-death winner. Go Flames.

Thursday, April 19, 2007


Flames-Wings: Game 4 Review

Earth to Hockey Media: in case tonight's game didn't drive it home sufficiently, it's Calgary that has the better top-end talent, and Detroit that has the better overall team game. I know that's not the typical way you look at these 1v8 things, and I certainly know it's not the way you're accustomed to viewing these two particular teams. But it's time to wake up and smell the Langkow 5-on-3 goals and realize that it's the case. This is "young Oilers" all over again. ("The plain facts of reality still haven't percolated upward to the control booth at the CBC, which continues to preach the myth as gospel almost as often as Mark Lee masturbates to photos of Steve Yzerman.")

No doubt, the Flames could have lost that game. I don't think they got outplayed, but it was certainly close enough that the Wings could have won. They got outscored 5v5 again -- by the Lang-Bertuzzi line, and no I didn't see that coming -- but they pretty much crushed the Wings PP again.

The reffing? I just read Christy's post, and yeah -- let them play. There wasn't many bad calls in the sense of, "X just got penalized for something he totally didn't do", but in the sense of actual fouls that caused harm (hurt someone or affected possession and a scoring chance), they were almost all bad calls. In the rink, you notice some things and miss out on others, so I don't even know what Hasek's penalty was actually for (air slash? dive? yapping at ref?), but Lidstrom's hooking penalty looked like nothing. The penalty on Iginla, which I'm pretty sure was the makeup call for that one (though you can't really make up for 1min of 5-on-3 with a plain-old minor), looked like nothing. This is a game, played by men, for the ultimate prize.

You'd better believe I am psyched that it's tied up, but I sure as HELL do not want this series decided by who converts their 5-on-3 chances better.

Andrea Susan played a nice game tonight. Giordano -- it's funny. When the Flames are in the lead, no, you'd prefer not to have him on. Most of tonight, I would have been happy to have seen him glued to the bench. But if the Flames were down by a goal -- like one of those crazy situations back two days ago -- then he's about 1200x as useful as David Hale. No offense Dave, hope your weird kidney thing gets better, but I don't want to see you dressing again unless the Flames have terrible injuries or are up 3-0 in a series.

I'm glad Calgary tied this sucker up, I'm glad I was right picking Langkow to score two goals, and I'm plenty glad that I'll be frightening my small children with yelling and profanity on Saturday afternoon because the game will actually matter. Go Flames.


And The Walls, Come Crumbling Down

Now that the Oilers season is over, the memory of Ryan Smyth has mostly faded, and Pat Laforge is done gouging season-ticket holders, Mayor Stephen Mandel is back on his hobby horse (great potential for an editorial cartoon there, btw, Mike). Brave man, our Mayor. Rexall is obviously so on the verge of collapsing that he couldn't avoid talking about it from, you know, February 27th until now. Of course, the local media still hasn't looked for an opposing opinion on the idea. And look what appeared in today's provincial budget:

A $429 million increase in infrastructure support over the next three years will help communities add, maintain and upgrade key community facilities, including:

• $280 million over two years to establish a Major Community Facilities Program, funded by lotteries, to assist non-profit organizations, municipalities and Aboriginal communities with building, renovating, upgrading or maintaining major community public use facilities for sport, recreation, culture and wellness.

• $80 million for capital grants to support major athletic facilities, fairs and exhibitions.

• Funding to a maximum of $69 million for the province's commitment to provide 25 per cent of the cost of the Calgary Olympic Development Association's proposed $276 million capital renewal project.

I've added a label to as many of our posts on this issue as I could find. Click on the "New Arena" link if you want more information on this issue, as well as some of the major U.S. papers written about sports arenas and "economic revitalization." Maybe someone could pass those papers onto our city councillors, so that they might be better informed on the issue. It's become quite clear that the dailies aren't interested in informing the public on the issue.



Flames Game Day

Three quick hits before I get to the important stuff:

1) Lowetide sums up the it's-a-new-day optimism Blue Jackets fans should be feeling perfectly, with the news of Doug Maclean's firing:
Welcome to the NHL, Columbus. I can hardly wait to see what the uniforms look like.

2) Alana at Hot Oil posted video last week of Hugs & Goodbyes day at Rexall, and made me laugh out loud with this bit:
So the Oilers cleaned out their lockers on Monday or, in Lupul's case, packed up the mountain of balled-up hockey tape that had been thrown at him in disgust throughout the season. Nice garbage bag, douche.

3) Glenn Healy is a terrible, terrible colour commentator. Terrible.


Now, game night! (730PM MT, CBC). I got a call last night at supper time. Rather, I got the call: the one that starts, "Hey Matt, I have an extra ticket for tomorrow night's game, and was wondering if..."

So yeah. Rather, YEAAHHHH!!! I'm going to the game tonight; I'll be in the lower bowl, in the corner on Hasek's blocker side in the 1st & 3rd. Since you're wondering, no: I won't be wearing one of the paper helmets referred to here, that made 30% of the G3 fans look vaguely like Warren in There's Something About Mary.

I'm prepared for just about anything. I can easily envision a convincing win by either team, or an edge-of-the-seater where the last goal is the winner.

Coming into the series, it looked like -- based on numbers from the regular season -- the Flames might have the edge in 5-on-4 situations, and that they were probably better at converting scoring chances into goals (whether on account of the quality of those chances, or more accurate shooting, dunno). Though not overwhelmingly by any means, that still looks to be the case to me. The key then, as such, is not so much to ensure that they outchance the Wings (or stay out of the penalty box at all costs), but to try to ensure that they are not outchanced (and ensure that they're not taking two minors for every one of Detroit's). If they can do this, then their scoring and their goaltending should give them the win.

In the Saddledome, while not assured, this is somewhere between possible and likely. I'm guessing it's another narrow Calgary victory. Langkow gets 2 goals -- one of his standard ludicrous deflection-type things, and the most exciting play in hockey. Go Flames.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


Off-day misc.

**I somehow made it through 3 games without linking to Abel to Yzerman -- shameful. There's a few good Red Wings blogs, but Bill is the Worldwide Leader. I have no nits to pick with his summary of last night's action, well done sir. He brings up Bertuzzi's general ineffectiveness; I have two comments here:

1) Flames fans: why are you booing Bertuzzi? I don't really want to pick on Flames fans specifically here (and as always with booing, it's probably 500-1,000 fans, not the whole crowd), but why? Is it still for hurting Steve Moore over 3 years ago? It's not like Bertuzzi has ever been much of a Flames-killer, and these days, he's basically a 2nd/3rd line winger of spotty effectiveness, not some sort of Georges Laraque with Joe Sakic Hands. It just seems unbelievably pointless. Save it for hooting at Hasek.

2) Here's part of a chat I had with a friend in early March. We're going to find out right-quick if I was on the mark.
me: ..I don't want to play the Wings in the 8v1 series.
Nameless Friend: I can't be the only one who thinks the Bertuzzi trade is a jump-the-shark moment for that franchise
me: Actually, my thought was that the Wings were the only franchise that could acquire Bertuzzi at all sensibly
NF: They must have thought so, but why?
me: Much in the same way that almost no other team could have hired Hasek this season. My thought is that the Wings are sufficiently mature(?) that they're not really going to be discombobulated by day-to-day injury updates. They're also not going to expect him to be a "#1 winger" the day he steps back into the lineup, AND they can handle that too.
NF: Yeah, but how do they know he's not going to be a net minus when he does get back out there? There's still no set date for his comeback. You want to be road-testing a destroyed player ten days before the playoffs start?
me: Not unless I'm the Detroit Red Wings, is what I'm saying I guess.
NF: I just have trouble imagining Bertuzzi at the end of the tournament, lifting the Cup over his head.
me: I don't know about their fans, but I have no doubt that the team will just forget about him if he can't play.

etc. etc... and I meant that last sentence both in the sense of "can't dress" and "can't be effective". Developing...

**Interesting, and substantially accurate, comments on Dion Phaneuf last night by Maclean and Hrudey. Phaneuf doesn't hit because he likes the physical challenge, per se; he hits because (A) he likes to be the aggressor, and (B) because he likes to inflict pain (there's a bit of a discussion on this very item in the comments to the previous post -- I'm with Mclea).

Applied to real life, this is basically a psychological disorder (how'd you like to be his girlfriend?), but in hockey, it's not uncommon, and isn't even necessarily a flaw.

This stuff aside (and assuming he's not concussed), I am a bit worried about Phaneuf. Dowbiggin on the radio yesterday afternoon read my mind, noting that watching NSH/SJS, it looks like Shea Weber has caught up (at least) to Phaneuf. I don't know if this is an indictment of the coaches, the player himself, or it's just the way things go sometimes -- but Phaneuf's improvement as a pro hockey player since October 2005 appears unpleasantly and regrettably close to nil. He started at a pretty high level -- and he turned 22 last week -- but it'd sure be nice to see a leap forward next season. (Last thing: obviously he had a rough night last night in every sense of the word, but he was pretty good in G2).

**Can the Flames eke out another home win without the services of Robyn Regehr, giving him 2 extra days to rehab it before he's desperately needed in G5 on Saturday? Jeez, I hope so. (Well, what I really hope is that it feels like $1M this morning, but that seems unlikely.)

**Question I'd ask if I was at the Flames scrum today: "Coach, G2 in Detroit you gave Huselius less EV ice time than any other forward; then last night, you played him almost exclusively against Datsyuk and Zetterberg. Can you explain your thinking there?"

**Dennis in the comments to the previous post, says that he'd want to see Calgary outchance Detroit by a greater margin at home to think they had a real shot at the series. I disagree, but we can get to that tomorrow. Go Flames.

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