Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Conference Finals predictions

Well I went 4/4 in the last round, which admittedly featured no upsets so I would imagine there were quite a few others who did the same. For the Conference Finals:

Pittsburgh over Boston in 7

Los Angeles over Chicago in 6

Friday, 24 May 2013

Carrie Underwood

Country superstar Carrie Underwood played the Abbotsford Sports & Entertainment arena last night to a (I think) sold out crowd, the last show of her "Blown Away" tour that began just about one year ago. It was a real treat to see her in such an intimate venue, especially considering that she played Rogers Arena in Vancouver, just a 40 minute drive away, in October of 2012.

Full disclosure: I am a fan of American Idol, and have been a fan of Mrs. Mike Fisher since her season on Idol. Full, full disclosure: I would have voted for Bo Bice. I thought he was a sure bet rock star, and I thought Carrie would probably be a mid-level country artist. Shows you what I know. Since winning Idol, Underwood has rocketed to country music icon status, and has been inducted into the Grand Ol' Opry. Bice has all but disappeared completely.

The lady can flat-out sing. We arrived a few minutes late for the show, thanks to my lovely wife booking her business trip right over the concert (her flight arrived at the Abbotsford airport at 7:58; Underwood was scheduled to take the stage at 8. Thankfully it was only a 10 minute drive between the two venues). Underwood was in the middle of  "See You Again" when we got to our seats, and she continued to belt out hit after hit for the next two hours. One of my favorite things about this artist is her genuineness. I believe everything she says, and everything she sings. There isn't a modicum of pretentiousness to her and it shines through in her music. And despite the fact that she and her band were clearly happy that the long tour had ended (probably the most enthusiastic thing she said all night was "LET'S GO HOME!!!!!" after the final song of the encore), she played with great energy and passion.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I've had a great couple years in concerts; from up and coming pop icons (Katy Perry, Lady Gaga) to grizzled old rock legends (Winwood, Eagles, KISS, Aerosmith, Clapton), from one of the all time greats (Springsteen) to true music royalty (McCartney), it's been a pretty good run of shows. While it's tough to compare this show to any of those, it's a completely different genre and different feel, it was no less enjoyable. We had a great time.

Congratulations to Carrie on all her success. I think it's safe to say that the voters of American Idol, season 4, got it right.

Sorry, Bo.

Adventures in Seafood

When the wife is away, the husband will my case, that means three days of cooking seafood! My wife is allergic to shellfish, and doesn't like any other seafood, so I thought I'd break out a few promising seafood recipes and see what I was able to come up with. Day 1:

Maple and Brandy Glazed Salmon, on a bed of onion mashed potatoes, accompanied by asparagus sautéed in butter and sweet onion sugar.

Score: 7/10

This is the second time I've tried a "maple glazed salmon" recipe and I guess it's just not for me. It was pretty good but a far cry from the best salmon I've had in restaurants. The potatoes were absolutely superb, as was the asparagus. The salmon was ever-so-slightly overcooked, making it a bit dry, but I don't believe that was a factor in my overall enjoyment. The maple flavor is quite understated which some people might like, but I would have preferred more of a punch. I tend to lean towards big flavors in my food.

The sweet onion sugar on the asparagus is insanely good. We picked it up at Mickey's Pantry in Downtown Disney (Florida), and it is an absolutely perfect finish for grilled or sautéed vegetables. I'll have to order some more online as I can't wait until the next time we are in Florida to get more!

Day 2: Whiskey Shrimp Fettuccine

Score: 6.5/10

I love pasta. I love shrimp (in this case, they were actually Black Tiger Prawns). I don't love them together. I never order pasta and seafood in restaurants and this was really no exception. There is something about the combination that turns me off;  I can't put my finger on it. The pasta was cooked perfectly (thankfully I didn't have to have Gordon Ramsey show up in my kitchen and call me a donkey because I can't cook pasta) and the prawns were tasty. The sauce was very nice as well, so why didn't I like this more? This is definitely a case where the whole of the dish didn't add up to the sum of the parts.

Day 3: BBQ Seafood Skewers

Score: 7/10

Lobster, scallops and prawns; oh my. This was another case of the flavors being good but too understated for my tastes. They were marinated in garlic, basil, oregano and thyme, all good tastes, but after the grilling the flavors didn't 'pop'. I actually ended up throwing them onto the stove with some garlic butter and sautéing them for a minute at the end to increase the flavor.

So, all in all, not a hugely successful few days. The onion mashed potatoes were the real hero, and is something I'll definitely make again. Of course, the wife also isn't a big fan of onion, so it seems like I'll have to wait until she goes on another business trip!

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Round 2 Playoff Predictions

I actually forgot to post my Round 1 predictions, I would have had 7/8 correct, missing only Ottawa beating Montreal. Lets see how this round goes:

Pittsburgh over Ottawa in 6
Boston over NY Rangers in 7

Chicago over Detroit in 6
Los Angeles over San Jose in 5

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Requeim for a hockey team

So it's not going to come as a surprise to any of my loyal readers that I don't like the Canucks. I don't use the word "hate" much but this is one place where it's appropriate. I hate the Canucks, and I particularly hate most of their fans.

Let me explain that; I have some friends and family members who are genuine life long Canucks fans (including my wife). For those people, seeing the team meltdown is bittersweet for me. Those people deserve better than this organization has given them for 40+ years. This organization is an embarrassment to our fine city. Why anyone cheers for this team is frankly beyond me; having said that, I completely respect those people who have stuck by this organization through the bad and the bad (and the 15 seconds of almost-good that they've been given).

For the bulk of Canucks fans, a hoard of classless bandwagon jumpers (don't think so? remember the empty arenas when the team wasn't winning? You will see those again, as early as next season. And don't even get me started on TWO riots, not to mention the laundry list of things that have been thrown at me at Canucks games), I can only say this: CHOMP CHOMP CHOMP. Seeing the Sharks oust the Canucks in four games gives me a sense of euphoria that is difficult to properly explain without graphs and charts. I LOVE to see those fans suffer. I only wish I had been at Rogers Arena during these playoffs to experience it first hand.

So what exactly happened here? Since taking a 3-2 lead in the Finals against Boston a couple of years ago, this team is 1-10 in playoff games. That's not very good. So what went wrong? Well, last year they were simply beaten by a far superior team, a fact proven when L.A. showed that the "Kings are the Kings" (thanks to Doc Emrick for the quote) in winning the Stanley Cup. And although I guess it's possible that the Sharks win the whole thing this year, I'm going to go on the assumption that they won't be the third straight Cup-winning team to send the Canucks packing.

So here it is what is wrong with the Canucks.

1. Assholes in the dressing room. Bieksa, Burrows, Kesler, Lapierre, Kassian....all of these guys are major assholes. Now, we aren't in the room to see the effect it has there, and undoubtedly all of these guys aren't disliked, but I'll guarantee one or two of them are. Classless yappers like these clowns have a negative impact on morale and it's tough to go to bat for teammates who you don't respect (just ask Mike Modano, who actually threatened to retire when Sean Avery was putting on his clown show while playing with him in Dallas).

Kassian is young, and might grow up. The others don't have that luxury.

2. They just aren't that good. Let's begin with their defense which is majorly overrated. Alex Edler, who is usually their best defenseman, had long stretches of cluelessness this season (and also at the end of last year). If he can't become more consistent, there are going to be troubles. Dan Hamhuis is fine, he is what he is, a solid shutdown defender. He even created some offense this year. He was their most reliable defenseman all season, but when Dan Hamhuis is your best defenseman, that pretty much sums it up. Kevin Bieksa is so overrated I can't even believe it. All the evidence you need was shown on the play the other night after San Jose had taken a 3-1 lead, and Patrick Marleau turned him inside out, left him flopping on the ice like a trout on a boat, and scored to make it 4-1. Sure you can say that those were both bad goals on Schneider, no doubt, but if Bieksa just makes half a play there, there is no scoring chance to begin with.
And now let's discuss Jason Garrison.....nah, I'll actually leave him for point number 3. The other guys are all interchangeable AHLers. The Canucks used to have solid defensive depth in the days of Ohlund and Salo. Now this is a major weakness for them.

And at forward, it's just as ugly. The Sedins took a major step back this year, but was it entirely their fault? Let's say that the Sedins were traded to Pittsburgh for Malkin and Crosby, arguably the best two players in the world. Would that turn the Canucks into Stanley Cup winners? Hell, no. Even those guys need a supporting cast around them. The Canucks have nothing. The twins have turned an ECHL ball hockey player in Alex Burrows into a half decent player. Ryan Kesler could be the 2nd best 3rd line centre in the league (behind Pavelski, who Canucks fans probably know better than they would like to about now), but the Canucks think he's a 2nd liner. And don't talk to me about the fact that he scored 41 goals once; the league is full of guys who had one magical season (Jason Blake? Warren Young? etc etc etc). Kesler is a good defensive centre who is good for 20-25 goals. That is a very valuable 3rd line centre. And that is when he is healthy, which clearly he hasn't been for over 2 years. He is a mess, and the Canucks would be wise to not count on him for much going forward. Chris Higgins and Jannik Hansen are a couple more examples of good 3rd liners that are forced to masquerade as 2nd liners on this team. Everyone needs support to reach their best, and the Sedins haven't had it for quite some time.

3. Terrible contracts given, and moves made, by Mike Gillis. OK so maybe the Luongo contract didn't seem totally outrageous when it was given out, in the context of some of the other deals that were being handed out. But what did he THINK was going to happen? Did he think that Luongo and Schneider were just going to co-exist? Did he not think Schneider was an NHL goalie? I find that hard to believe, as it seems everyone else in the NHL thought highly of Schneider. So was he expecting to sign Lu to that ridiculously long deal, and then he'd be able to trade him when Schneider took over the reigns? Well, I guess he can do that, if by "trade" you mean "beg and plead another team to give up a used puck bag for him and take on the contract". That's terrible management. And then he goes out and signs other winners like Jason Garrison, and pays him huge money based on the 16 goals he scored for Florida last year. Before last season, he had scored a TOTAL of 7 goals. Oh, and he's a defenseman who doesn't play defense. A cap hit of $4.6M per season until 2017-18 for this guy? You must be kidding me. And Gillis traded for David Booth, an injury-prone 20 goal scorer who doesn't work hard at defense, doesn't hit, doesn't forecheck, and has a cap hit of $4.25M until 2014-15. Jesus, I wonder why this team is struggling.

And then there is Derek Roy, who the Canucks gave up a solid young asset for. Roy used to be a scorer (32, 28, 26 goals from 2007-10), but the injury he suffered in 2010-11 has sapped some of his speed. Dallas signed him in the offseason and asked him to change his game and turn into a 3rd line checker, and they were VERY happy with him, despite the fact that he scored only 4 goals in 30 games with them. Then the Canucks trade for him and expect him to flick the switch and become a scorer again? It doesn't work that way.

Some of the "outside-the-box" work that Gillis has done, such as the sleep therapy and nutritionist, are helpful moves that can make a difference in the performance of a hockey club; but it's the roster of talent that a GM is most responsible for, and this roster is underwhelming at best.

Keep in mind that the Canucks finished only four points ahead of Minnesota and Columbus. If not for a late season swoon by the Wild, the Canucks could easily have been out of the playoffs entirely; and that is with the benefit of a cream puff division where they got to feast on Calgary, Edmonton and Colorado, while Columbus had to deal with Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis and Nashville. An argument could easily be made that the Blue Jackets had a better season. The Canucks will get no such benefit next year, when Anaheim, San Jose and Los Angeles come to join them in their division. Without sweeping changes, they will quite likely find themselves out of the playoffs next season.

4. Coaching. OK I don't have any specific insight here, no particular examples of poor coaching, but all NHL coaches have a shelf life and AV has been here for quite a while. It's time to move on, and I expect that will probably happen. New blood could breathe some life, and some new ideals into the team. And a new guy will probably give some of the young players in the organization a chance to succeed or fail, and at least they'll know what they have in these guys.

So what needs to happen here?

1. Fire Mike Gillis, and find a genuine hockey man to replace him. That man will undoubtedly bring in a new coach to replace AV.

2. Trade Luongo's contract for anything you can get for him.

3. Use the amnesty buyouts to get rid of David Booth and Jason Garrison. Yes, Garrison instead of Ballard. Ballard has way more upside to become a dependable defenseman, as he was in Florida. And if he doesn't, his contract expires three years before Garrison's does.

4. Re-sign Derek Roy. Let every other UFA go. Bye-bye to "Yappy Lappy", Mason "where is the net?" Raymond, Malhotra (that one is unfortunate), Pinizzoto, Alberts, Ebbett, Vandermeer and Barker.

Roy has shown little here, but a full offseason of training should get him back to 100%. At the very least, his time in Dallas has shown he can transition into a good defensive forward if he is not able to regain his scoring touch. If he IS able to get the scoring touch back, you have got your 2nd line centre position filled with a dependable 2-way player who should be good for 25-27 goals and 75-80 points, leaving Kesler to man the 3rd line (or the infirmary, depending on his health). After scoring only 7 goals this season, Roy's negotiating power will be at an all-time low, and you should be able to get him for a reasonable number.

 5. Trade Kevin Bieksa. He has some cache in the league, and you should be able to turn him into a solid 2nd line winger. Let his inconsistent play, bad penalties, and frequent turnovers become someone else's problem.

6. Use the cap space you now have available to fill in the roster. You need a top-tier defenseman, you will have to pay huge for one, but there will probably be one available. Add in two more solid NHL defenseman, one 2nd line winger, and a dependable fourth line. You'll have to pray that Edler rebounds into a solid #2 defenseman, but he has the tools to do that. Hamhuis and Ballard can be your 2nd pair, with a free agent signee and Tanev as a reliable young 3rd pair. Corrado looks pretty good, he's a decent #7 and a couple free agents round out the corps. Eddie Lack becomes your backup goalie, and it's time to "shit or get off the pot" with the young guys like Schroeder and Rodin. Nicklas Jensen should be ready for some spot duty as well. If all goes well, and the young guys gel and can contribute, you will be back in the playoffs and maybe able to make a run. If not, well, then you will need to do the following:

7. Trade the Sedins. You certainly don't do this in the offseason, but at some point during next year if things are not going well, you are going to have to go to them and discuss options. Their contracts are up after next season and it would be ludicrous to extend them until you know what direction you are going. It would be even more ludicrous to let them play out their contracts and sign somewhere else as UFA's the next year, and you get nothing for your 2 all-time franchise leading scorers (who will be only 33 years old by the time next year's trading deadline comes around). They have no-trade clauses in their contracts, so they will have to agree, but I suspect they will be happy to leave the sinking ship if things are going poorly and winning here is no longer an option.

There you have it. I will bill the Canucks my usual consulting fee.

And, since I really don't want them to succeed, I really hope they don't take any of my advice :-)