The appointment of Steve Yzerman and his gold-medal winning management team was a no-brainer for Hockey Canada headed towards the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Or was it?
The thinking being Yzerman and pals did a terrific job in putting together the blueprint for a gold-medal victory at the 2010 Games in Vancouver. But if you go back a few years, Wayne Gretzky and friends apparently did wonderful work in doing the same thing for Team Canada in Salt Lake City in 2002 and four years later came away empty handed, without a medal at all in Turin in 2006.
The thing is, Team Canada has won hockey gold twice in modern Olympics, both times with the games being played in North America. The U.S. has won gold twice as well, both times with the Games played in the U.S. Neither country has had great success with Games outside North America. The U.S. has not won gold or silver on the other side of the ocean using professionals. The NHL Canadians did not win medals in 1998 in Nagano or 2006 in Turin. Before appointing anyone to run Team Canada, maybe we need to know why that’s happened and how it can be fixed.
Maybe Yzerman is the right choice. But Hockey Canada must be prepared to understand what went wrong in Italy and Japan.
THIS AND THAT
When Brian Burke was general manager of the Anaheim Ducks he was once quoted saying: “I time my workouts so I never miss Don Cherry on Hockey Night In Canada.” ... The best way to get a Mario Lemieux interview: Erect a statue of him. In between statues and Stanley Cups, he doesn’t say much ... Randy Carlyle’s first coach with the Pittsburgh Penguins: Ron Wilson’s uncle Johnny ... Anyone heard anything from Wilson since he was fired as Leaf coach? Attempts to call, e-mail, text Wilson for an interview have gone unreturned from many Toronto media members. There’s now a pool on time and date of the first interview ... The connections between Carlyle and the man he was hired over, are many: Briefly, they were teammates with the Winnipeg Jets and for a short time Dallas Eakins played on a Winnipeg team that Carlyle served as assistant coach. Carlyle and Eakins are both “disciples” of the late Roger Neilson, with Carlyle having played for Neilson in both the AHL and the NHL and Eakins, a former Peterboro Pete, having played for Neilson in Florida twice and worked for him summers at his hockey school. One more thing: In Eakins’ first three pro seasons, his head coach was Carlyle’s longtime assistant and new Leaf assistant, Dave Farrish ... One more sixth degree of separation: Weird week for Carlyle. On Tuesday, he coached one of the first games against his former teammate, Paul MacDermid’s son, Lane. The next night, the Leafs called up Brent Ashton’s son, Carter, to play for Carlyle. Ashton, MacDermid and Carlyle all played together on the Jets.
HEAR AND THERE
Dwane Casey won’t get any serious consideration for NBA coach of the year but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t done a terrific job in his first year coaching the Raptors. While the standings don’t look like much, the Raptors have played much of the year without the emerging Andrea Bargnani and have been in position to win in the final minute of more games than they have any business being in. This is one coaching change that has made a huge difference without it necessarily translating to wins and losses ... Just one question about the Raptors: If the team is 15th in the NBA in ticket sales and 15th in average price per ticket, why are they 25th in payroll? ... I enjoyed everything about the latest version of the Don Cherry made-for-television movie, except for the inaccurate characterizations of television producer Ralph Mellanby and then Hockey Night In Canada host Dave Hodge, and the odd, needless factual mistake. But they really missed on Mellanby, who is quite the character, and didn’t seem to have much in the movie ... In his first three plate appearances of spring training, the Cuban the Blue Jays chased, Yoenis Cespedes, singled, walked and hit a home run. Both he and Yu Darvish are getting rave reviews from insiders to date.
SCENE AND HEARD
I would not have paid Mikhail Grabovski $5.5 million a year. I would have done the Harry Sinden thing and said Phil Kessel is paid $5.4 million a season and if you want to stay in Toronto, you can’t be paid more than him. I would not have given him a limited no-trade in his contract, either. If you’re giving him term, five years, and overpaying him at $5.5 million, why give up the no-trade aspect as well. Isn’t that just capitulating? ... The Leafs could find themselves in some salary difficulty depending on what happens to the cap for the coming season, especially if the general managers of the weaker financial franchises have their way. In the new collective-bargaining agreement, there is movement from some clubs to eliminate the rich teams from “burying contracts” in the minors, a la Jeff Finger and Colton Orr. The Leafs might be considering that in the future with Colby Armstrong or Matthew Lombardi, for example and maybe even Tim Connolly. But only if it doesn’t count against the cap ... It’s not fashionable to say this in the wake of his ridiculous contract, but Ilya Kovalchuk is having a longshot MVP season in New Jersey. He won’t win the Hart Trophy but he will get some visits ... Zach Parise has told some friends he wouldn’t consider Toronto in free agency this coming summer, which is interesting considering that his general manager Lou Lamoriello told me: “He’s a Devil. He’s not going anywhere.”
AND ANOTHER THING
This is purely selfish on my part, but I want Peyton Manning quarterbacking the Arizona Cardinals. It’s not that I care a whit about the Cards. It’s that I want to see what kind of music Manning and Larry Fitzgerald could make together ... I understand the Redskins giving up the farm for the opportunity to draft quarterback Robert Griffin III. I understand St. Louis trading the pick for all that future. What I don’t understand is why the Jets paid all that money to re-up Mark Sanchez when they dropped out of the Manning Sweepstakes ... Manager John Farrell says Brett Lawrie will bat seventh for the Jays this season, mostly to take the pressure off him. This will mean one thing: The Jays will have the best seventh place hitter in baseball ... When Linsanity began in New York, an NBA GM told me the time to judge Jeremy Lin is when Carmelo Anthony returns to the Knicks lineup. “They won’t be able to work together,” he predicted correctly. The Knicks, 3-7 in their past 10 games, are better off without Anthony than with him ... Why the Leafs never should have traded Keith Aulie. On Trade Deadline day, the Leafs acquired defenceman Mark Fraser from Anaheim in a minor-league deal. Had they not traded Aulie to Tampa Bay, they could have had a defence pairing on the Marlies of Aulie-Fraser. In these days of nostalgia, that has to be worth something ... Happy birthday to Ken Baumgartner (45), Mike Timlin (46) the very funny Bob Plager (69), Tom Gorence (55), Dexter Bussey (60) and Bobby Abreu (38) ... And hey, whatever became of Allan Bester?
THE MANNING GOODBYE
The end for Peyton Manning in Indianapolis was most unusual with the quarterback being released and the owner doing the releasing both crying, both emotional.
It doesn’t normally work that way in professional sport. It’s normally one or the other. But rarely is it both. Maybe that tells you more about Manning and what he meant to that franchise and what that town, that team, that success meant to him.
It never looked right when Johnny Unitas played in San Diego or Joe Namath took snaps for the Los Angeles Rams or even Brett Favre as a Jet or a Viking.
But if Manning can recover, he should have more than some game left in him. He should still be a difference-maker.
It just won’t look right, the way it didn’t look right for Unitas or Namath, who never got their days to say goodbye with so much thanks and sadness.
A LIFE WELL LIVED
I intentionally drove out of my way Saturday afternoon and honked the horn outside Herb Carnegie Arena. It seemed the least anyone could do after the passing of the inspirational man one day earlier. If you never got a chance to meet Herb Carnegie in his 92 years on earth, to hear him tell his life story, to see how many he had influenced, to understand what he had been deprived of and how much he had given back to the community, then that is unfortunate.
Carnegie could have been consumed with bitterness, having been denied his NHL dreams because of his colour. But rather than tear down, he built up, teaching life skills and hockey to those in need of it.
So many have been touched by his Future Aces program and all you have to do is walk into a local rink, preferably the one with his name on it, to see the impact Carnegie had on so many lives.
SEASON WENT WITH LUPUL
The Maple Leafs season ostensibly came to an end when it was announced that Joffrey Lupul would be out 3-4 weeks with a separated shoulder.
Before that he was playing on a bad ankle, with a wonky wrist and as the on-ice leader of a team that doesn’t have enough leadership.
This was a season of emergence for Lupul, from disregarded to all-star, from written-off to compelling difference maker.
It’s not coincidental that the Leafs started losing when he started limping and hopefully that will be considered by those voting for the Masterton Trophy, which goes to the NHL player who best exemplifies perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.
Returning from back injury, from blood disorder, from the fourth line to the first has been inspirational.
The only reason he won’t finish in the Top 10 in NHL scoring is because of games missed.
But as of Saturday, he was three points ahead of last year’s scoring champion, Daniel Sedin, who plays the same left-wing position.
And who saw that coming?