Morning Skate 44: Thoughts on the NHL Awards

Morning Skate 44: Thoughts on the NHL Awards

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

NEW YORK The NHL Awards voting season is always something Ive looked forward to participating in, and taken responsibly.The Norris Trophy, Hart Trophy and Selke Trophy are synonymous with hockey greatness and in a practical sense there's a lot of money, prestige and reputation for hockey people built on winning and losing the hardware. Think back just a couple of years ago at how clearly humbled Zdeno Chara was when he was named the NHLs best defensemen with the Norris Trophy in his grasp, or the pride Raymond Bourque took each time he walked up to the podium to accept his Norris over the years.Every other hockey writer Ive discussed voting with, in passing conversation or in legitimate debate, has always approached their ballot with the proper amount of examination and contemplation.So that means the thought of actually boycotting the awards vote isnt arrived at easily or haphazardly.Despite all of that, the three chapters of the PHWA (Professional Hockey Writers Association) that cover the New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers and New York Islanders have all voted to boycott this seasons award voting due to the unfair treatment doled out to former New York Islanders writer, and PHWA member, Chris Botta.Botta was barred from entering Nassau Coliseum as a member of the working media earlier this season after a series of disagreements with Isles GM Garth Snow a situation somewhat muddled by Bottas former role as media relations director for the team and his close ties within the organization before moving over to the fourth estate.The bottom line is this: the Isles have once gone to great lengths to make their organization look petty, contemptful and small in a pitiful way.While there may or may not be extenuating circumstances to Bottas situation, he is a dues-paying member of the PHWA and a handful of my fellow writers have decided to go to withhold their vote. It was admirable in theory and idealistic in fervor, but with actions come consequences that this particular hockey writer isnt willing to pay given that the NHL Awards vote and Bottas situation are two entirely different things.I agreed to vote on the NHL Awards at the beginning of the season, as I have for the last five years, and I'm holding true to my journalistic word.There are some within the NHLs rank-and-file have been lobbying for some time to take NHL Awards voting away from the writers and reporters that cover the team on a daily basis, and instead hand it to hockey operations people, team-employed broadcasters or others within the NHLs inner circle. The boycott from three chapters totaling less than 20 voters has cracked the door open for the league to review the awards voting policy, and theres a very real possibility this could be the last season Im voting for Norris, Hart, Selke and Lady Byng along with League All-Star teams.That would be a shame, but Im not expecting gigantic public outcry about this from a public that has become increasingly suspicious of the traditional media sometimes with good reason and sometimes with the flawed perception that they could do better. I support every single fellow member of the PHWAin their quest to berespected and supported by the NHL, but personallyI'm not sure boycotting a traditionalvote is the right way to go.My mother always told me not to "cut off my nose to spite my face", and that little piece of homespun advice seems pretty apt to me in this case.Hopefully a permanentaltertation to the NHL Awards votingwont be the finalcase and cooler heads prevail once the NHL assures through actions and words theyre interested in continuing independent coverage of the leagues 30 teams a necessity in todays world of 247 blogs and team-sponsored content that can sometimes only tell half the story of what'sgoing on in the locker room or behind the scenes.If the NHL isnt, well, then get used to hearing nothing but sunshine and rainbows from every hockey team no matter how good or bad the product on the ice is. If the laughingstock Islanders are that sensitive, think how some other teams higher up on the food chain perceive themselves. The hockey fan is sophisticated enough to see through that, and wants more than simply vanilla, happy and shiny hockey coverage.
There are a million roads both parties could go down this summer while meeting at the Stanley Cup Finals and again later at either the NHL Awards or the NHL Draft in Minnesota to discuss the Botta situation. Hopefully it leads to a resolution that Botta, the PHWA, NHL commisioner Gary Bettman and the Islanders kooky front office can live with that will continue a partnership between writers and hockey league thats been going on long before I came on the scene in Boston. Hopefully the writers that work diligently to chronicle the magnificent NHL action will continue to vote on the traditional awards that are so much a part of the fabric and traditional greatness of the National Hockey League. I really cant imagine it any other way, and its disheartening to learn there are many out there that very easily can.Here is the statement from the PHWA about the Bottavoting situation: As the NHLs 2010-11 regular season winds down, and with voting on the leagues awards imminent, the Professional Hockey Writers Association remains adamantly opposed to and distressed by the early season decision of the New York Islanders to revoke the media credential of a PHWA member.This is even more objectionable than the original decision itself: In the months since, league officials have refused to intervene and overrule the Islanders decision, which would serve to re-emphasize the NHLs commitment to facilitate objective and authoritative coverage from PHWA members.The media marketplace is changing daily, and newspapers and other outlets for written journalism are among those adapting. To its credit, the NHL and its teams have aggressively taken on the challenge of creating and enhancing their own coverage on several platforms, going beyond the more traditional in-house broadcasts to now include team web sites and other outlets.Yet the leagues savvy fan base understands the need for, and desires, independent and objective coverage that doesnt pass through league and team filters.
Our concern is that this decision, if allowed to stand and become precedent, signals an end to the leagues agreement that independent and objective coverage not only benefits its fan base, but the NHL itself.The PHWAs position is absolute. The splitting of hairs about the circumstances of the Islanders decision is an irrelevant waste of time. We ask that the NHL disavow the Islanders capricious decision in this specific instance, but even more important, reaffirm that barring egregious actions that would cause the PHWA to expel a member, anyway -- PHWA members will be granted access to cover its teams.Meanwhile, three of our chapters those made up of writers who cover the Islanders, New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils have decided not to participate in the PHWA voting for the NHLs 2010-11 regular-season awards. That voting selects the winners of most of the leagues major trophies and its first- and second-team all-stars.The PHWA takes seriously its role as an authoritative, objective and independent voting body for these awards, and is honored to participate in the process. It also respects and will support the decisions of individual members not to return their ballots, which the league already has distributed to PHWA members. However, the PHWA also believes that because the voting process has begun, both the writers organization and the league have entered into a mutual and honorable pact to see through the voting process for the 2010-11 awards.The PHWA is confident that with potentially nearly 90 percent of its 177 members continuing to participate, the pool of voters -- which has grown significantly in recent years is more than sufficient to maintain the integrity of the voting.In the upcoming offseason, the PHWA hopes to again meet with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and other league officials to seek clarification of the credentialing issue and to discuss the future of the PHWAs role as an independent and objective voting bloc in continuing to bolster the credibility of the leagues awards.On to the links: Ryan Lambert of Yahoo! Sports gives us what we learned this week including that an old hockey dog like Jarome Iginla still has a few things up his sleeve. Adrian Dater has a blog up for Versus.com where he stumps for Jacques Lemaire as a Jack Adams nominee out of New Jersey after the way he helped turn things around for the Devils. Paul Stastny is done for the Avalanche this season. Im surprised this didnt happen as soon as that trade with the St. Louis Blues went down. A very sad story about former Yale hockey player Mandi Schwartz, who succumbed to cancer after a courageous battle. Ryan Callahan talks to the boys at Pro Hockey Talk about making the NHL and potentially being a Captain of the Rangers someday. Maple Leafs rookieJames Reimer has been a revelation between the pipes, and James Mirtle finds that it all stems from having big time faith in himself. A good look by Jesse Spector of the NY Daily News at Gary Bettmans hour on the radio every week the only commissioner that hosts a call-in show weekly to reach out to fans both happy and disgruntled. A review from Jaspers Rink on how the Capitals are stacking up these days with the playoffs looming and the roster red-hot.Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Haggerty: Bruins would be foolish to deal away Carlo right now

Haggerty: Bruins would be foolish to deal away Carlo right now

There’s been smoke for weeks signaling trade talks between the Boston Bruins and the Colorado Avalanche, and things are reportedly heating up with the Bruins potentially reaching a tipping point with their subpar play on the ice. According to Bleacher Report columnist Adrian Dater, things may be progressing between the two teams because the Bruins are beginning to entertain the idea of trading away 20-year-old top pairing rookie defenseman Brandon Carlo.

Bruins Director of Player Personnel John Ferguson Jrwas expected to be out in Colorado scouting the Avalanche/Blackhawks game on Tuesday night, and perhaps getting a long look at players like Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Duchene and Tyson Barrie among others.

The expectation is that 24-year-old Landeskog is in the middle of these trade discussions, and that he would be one of the players targeted by a Bruins team that could use more size on the wing, and more players that can put the puck in the net. Certainly Landeskog has done that in his brief NHL career after being a No. 2 overall pick, and has four 20-goal seasons on his resume prior to a disappointing, injury-plagued current season in Colorado.

The word around the league was that talks fizzled between the Bruins and Avs previously when Joe Sakic asked about the availability of the Colorado Springs native Carlo, and those discussions hit the same crunching roadblock that Winnipeg did in discussions with Boston about Jacob Trouba.

Perhaps that has changed in the last 24 hours after Cam Neely and Don Sweeney watched their Bruins completely no-show against the worst team in the Eastern Conference, the New York Islanders, on Monday afternoon. Now one would expect that Bruins management is getting desperate feeling that a third “Did Not Qualify” for the Stanley Cup playoffs could be in their future if they don’t make a bold, swift move to shake up their dazed hockey club.

But let’s not pull any punches here. The entire Bruins management group should be fired on the spot if they trade a 20-year-old, top pairing shutdown defenseman on an entry level contract like Carlo unless they are getting a bona fide superstar in return. Carlo, Charlie McAvoy and David Pastrnak should all be young, untouchable assets for a Bruins organization that is years away from legitimately holding a chance at a Stanley Cup.

Landeskog is not a bona fide superstar. He’s a good player that’s topped out at 26 goals and 65 points in the NHL, but he’s also the Captain on a horrendous, underachieving Avalanche team over the last three years.

If the price were right for Landeskog it would make all the sense in the world for the Bruins to deal him, but it’s a giant honking red flag that Colorado is looking to unload a player like him that’s signed for a reasonable $5.5 million price tag over the next four seasons. Teams don’t trade young players like that with term unless there’s more to the story, and that’s something the Bruins would do well to consider before giving up a player that could be a top-4 shutdown defenseman in Boston for the next 10 years.

Teams like the Bruins that are in reloading mode also shouldn’t be trading 20-year-old players for 24-year-old players that have already cashed in on their second contract. That’s exactly how the Bruins can get right back into salary cap trouble, and do it with a team that’s producing far less than the Peter Chiarelli groups that were at least still making the playoffs.  

Certainly the Bruins have other young D-men like Charlie McAvoy, Jakub Zboril and Jeremy Lauzon coming down the pipeline, but none of those defensemen are in the mold of a true shutdown D like the 6-foot-5 Carlo. With Zdeno Chara in the final few years of his career with the Black and Gold, the B’s are going to need Carlo to slide into that defensive stopper role given his size, strength, wing span and willingness to do the dirty work the D-zone.

That goes beyond the simple fact that rebuilding the back end with ALL of those young stud D-men is the best way to actually build the Bruins back up into a legitimate Eastern Conference power. 

It would be a giant mistake for the Bruins to ship away a player like Carlo with the hope Landeskog can put Boston over the hump for the playoffs this season, and perhaps ease some of the intense pressure currently weighing on Sweeney and Neely. That kind of desperate move smacks of doing it for all of the wrong reasons, and that’s one way to ensure that the Bruins will never escape the web of mediocrity that they’re currently caught in. 

Haggerty: From top to bottom, still no urgency from Bruins

Haggerty: From top to bottom, still no urgency from Bruins

BRIGHTON -- The Bruins pulled the worst of their no-shows on Monday afternoon in the 4-0 shutout loss to the Islanders.

It was a lethargic, mediocre start in the first period that devolved into the bottom dropping out on the Black and Gold when they allowed three unanswered goals in the second. Then, to top it all off, they showed zero urgency or push to make a comeback in the final period. 

It was “unacceptable” in the words of the Bruins players from beginning to end with careless, elementary mistakes in the defensive zone and absolutely zero sustained push in the offensive zone despite a deceiving 32 shots on net.

So, where was the urgency for a Bruins team that’s barely ahead of the Maple Leafs and Senators in the Atlantic Division despite having played six more games than each of those two?

Apparently the Bruins were feeling a little cocky after playing a solid five-game stretch where they’d gone 3-1-1 and taken down the Panthers, Blues and Flyers while elevating their level of play. Heart and soul team leader Patrice Bergeron admitted as much on Tuesday morning as the Bruins cancelled practice and turned their attention toward righting the ship Wednesday night in Detroit.

It was frankly a little stunning to hear Bergeron admit that his Bruins team thought they could win just by showing up on Monday afternoon, but that’s exactly what he copped to in something of an apologetic way.

Brad Marchand said Monday postgame that the Bruins “just weren’t ready [to play]” against the Islanders, and it sounded like his linemate agreed with him.

“It’s about realizing that you can’t take teams lightly, or take the foot off the gas pedal for a period, for a game, or whatever. It hurts us every time we do it, so we have to learn and realize that it just cannot happen. Teams are too good and the points are too valuable for us,” said Bergeron. “You never want to do that, but at the same time maybe it was something that happened because it was a terrible start, and to not respond when they scored the goals. Maybe that’s what happened yesterday.

“As much as you don’t want it to happen, maybe we thought it was going to be an easier game than it actually was against them.”

On the one hand, it’s somewhat shocking to hear that admission from a player that’s always played with full work ethic and an effort level that’s never been questioned. But Bergeron was also a minus-3 in the 4-0 loss and was every bit as guilty as everybody else up and down the roster for the team’s most pathetic loss of the season at a time when results are all that matter.

Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising, though, because the lack of urgency on the bench is mirrored by the lack of urgency upstairs in the Bruins management office right now. Bruins general manager Don Sweeney told the Boston Globe last week that he’s considering a move with the head coach along with a number of other things to spark a team treading water, but it doesn’t feel like a major move is on the horizon with this Bruins team.

Trade talks are still in the formative, discussion stages as GMs like Joe Sakic and John Chayka are overvaluing their players looking for a king’s ransom for guys like Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Martin Hanzal and Radim Vrbata. While Claude Julien should be under the microscope with a team sleepwalking its way through perhaps a third season in a row without the playoffs, it also doesn’t feel like the Bruins are going to pull the trigger on that move until the offseason at the earliest.

This humble hockey writer still insists that this playoff-caliber Bruins team plays at times like a one that needs a swift kick in the backside. Perhaps Julien isn’t up for it after 10 long, successful years of battles with the same core group.   

So, what is there to do then besides make cosmetic moves like shipping underperforming Anton Khudobin down to Providence, or rearrange the deck chairs on a third and fourth line that it’s difficult to tell apart on most days in Boston?

If the Bruins front office wants to truly get to the bottom of their team’s lack of urgency on the ice, perhaps a look in the mirror might be in order. Because that same lack of urgency is playing out with a management group that’s watching their team sink into the Atlantic Division muck right now and seems gun-shy on making a move that could rattle cages.

“Right now where we are in the standings, we’ve got a lot of games to play but we’re still in a playoff spot,” said Julien. “We try and play with the expectations that we have, and that’s to do the best with what we’ve got. We’ve got a lot of new faces and we’re trying to build with what we’ve got here moving forward.”

Certainly nobody is talking about trading away their blue chip prospects like Brandon Carlo or Charlie McAvoy, but there are veteran players on Boston’s current roster that aren’t cut out for battling into the postseason with a young team. It’s plain to see when a middling hockey team can’t find the inspiration to go out and take care of business against a bad Islanders group on a sleepy Monday afternoon just a month after they made the same mistake against the same team on home ice.

The Bruins showed in a five-game stretch leading up to the Islanders debacle that they should be held to a higher standard - that of a team that should qualify for the postseason. But one question arose again and again watching the poorest of poor efforts play out on Monday afternoon: why should the Bruins players show any feet-in-the-fire urgency on the ice when it doesn’t feel like there’s much feet-in-the-fire urgency from upper management to improve the flailing hockey club?

Until that organizational dynamic changes, it’s difficult to see things getting much better, or worse, for a Bruins team that looks destined for the mediocre middle once again this season.