Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Law and Order: NHL

New York, NY

Pro hockey has undoubtedly the best post-season of any pro sport. The games are nearly all competitive, the level of play rises exponentially and the rules ratchet up the pressure to incredible heights.

Every bounce counts, every penalty is a chance to deliver a knock-out blow.

Which is why the Rangers are fucked. To borrow a phrase from Turkish in “Snatch,” “Proper fucked.”

Mr. Black is never “that guy,” the fan who thinks that referees, a league and fate is conspiring to keep his team from reaching their God-given levels of greatness. But in this case, the facts are all too telling.

It’s easy to make Brendan Shanahan the whipping boy of the NHL, especially after three weeks of seemingly random suspensions handed down. While Shea Weber and Matt Carkner get no penalties for moves only endorsed by the WWE, Carl Hagelin gets four games for an actual hockey play. (I will admit, it was a borderline illegal play did deserve a penalty during the game and at most a single game suspension.)

Let’s take a look at some of the more questionable decisions, your honor:

Exhibit A: Hagelin’s Suspension
Really no need to talk much about this one.

Outside of Rafi Torres’ 25 game suspension, this has been the harshest penalty levied by Brendan Shenanigan over the course of the playoffs. At first glance, Hagelin wouldn’t seem to be such an important piece, but his speed and aggressiveness has been the engine that drives the Blueshirts’ first line and you only have to see tape of last night’s game to realize how much they missed him.

Exhibit B: The Phantom Goal of Game Six
This is actually a case of the Rangers getting triple-screwed, and was my “JFK” moment. Not only was the goal off of an obvious kick by Chris Neil, but he also should have been called for goalie interference. In fact, “interference” isn’t the right word, it’s more goalie “spinterference” since Neil pushed Lundquist 180 degrees around when he skated into the crease.

Last but not least, the referee actually spoke to the NHL during the review of the play, which is not allowed per a change to league rules. According league rules, you can’t use video to review “interference” but you can use video the look for a puck kicked into the net. The officials called the goal good on the ice, but reviewed the tape to see if the puck was kicked in:

Looks like the puck changes direction to me, so Neil should be credited with the goal. But nope, Spezza still gets the goal on the score sheet.

How is that possible and why doesn’t the NHL release a statement to clarify what they saw on the video? It seems the ruling was that Neil didn’t touch the puck, the on-ice refs blew the call on interference, and the goal counts. Which adds up to awful refereeing.

Seriously, people, there was a second gunman on the grassy knoll. It was Brendan Shanahan. Makes me miss Colin Campbell. (Never thought I’d type that.)

Exhibit C: Milan Michalek Kicks Dan Girardi
Check out the video again to see Milan Michalek kick Dan Girardi with his skate. This is one of the worst offenses in hockey in my opinion, since if you connect the possibility of a major laceration is sky-high. I’ve seen it twice and neither player was able to play for at least three months.

The league reviewed the tape and “warned” both player and the GM. That, to me, is recognition of wrongdoing. I mean, why warn someone for something accidental. So the league says “do that again and you’ll get suspended.”

But in the mean time, an illegal play with intent to injure on a New York Rangers player merits just a warning. No double standard there, right?

Which brings us to:

Exhibit D: Matt Carkner Goes Postal On Brian Boyle
One game suspension for this:  WWE Highligts from MSG

The only two things Carkner doesn’t do is hit Boyle with a folding chair and jump off the top rope and deliver an elbow smash. During this melee, Brandon Dubinsky comes to his teammate’s aid and gets tossed out of the game.

In summary, we lose a second line forward and they lose an unskilled defenseman. Not exactly a fair trade. But hey, how do you define fair?

Exhibit E: Chris Neil Hits Brian Boyle
In a hit strikingly similar to Rafi Torres, and more vicious than Carl Hagelin, Chris Neil laid out Brian Boyle with a shot to the head.

Let’s see:
-       High hit. Check.
-       Leaves his feet. Check
-       Results in injury. Check.

All the makings of a four game suspension, minimum. It’s justice time, time for Sheriff Brendan to keep law and order on the ice.

And word from Toronto is….nothing.

The defense rests, your honor.

So some fairly one-sided decisions against the Rangers, and I’m feeling like there’s a bit of a conspiracy happening here. I’d fully expect the fine for Lundquist’s comments on the referees to come down from the league office very, very close to game time, just to get into his head pre-game.

But will it all work? I don’t think so.

I’m hoping that similar to “Snatch,” thinks work out well in the end. Our own little group of gypsies get pissed off (looking in your direction Richards, Gaborik, Staal and Callahan) and lay some serious smack down on the Senators. Hopefully they can come out hot and get an early three goal lead (after all, two goal leads aren’t safe with this team) and put the Senators away. Then ride the bunker mentality all the way to the finals.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Why I Am Leaving The New York Knicks

by Mike D'Antoni

TODAY is my last day with the New York Knicks. After almost four years with the team — first as a desperate attempt to exorcise the demons of Isaiah Thomas, then coaching a team gutted by a trade engineered by an owner so inept that Donnie Walsh couldn’t work for him, I now believe I have worked here long enough to understand the trajectory of its culture, its people and its identity. And I can honestly say that the environment now is as morbid and lethargic as I have ever seen it.

To put the problem in the simplest terms, the interests of winning games has been sidelined in the way the team operates and thinks about playing basketball. The New York Knickerbockers are of the world’s most iconic, important and loved basketball teams and it is too integral to the sport to continue to act this way. The team has veered so far from the way that Willis Reed, Bob Bradley, Red Holtzman, Clyde Frasier, Patrick Ewing, and Larry Johnson played that I can no longer in good conscience say that I identify with what it stands for.

It might sound surprising to a skeptical public, but culture was always a vital part of the Knicks’ success. It revolved around teamwork; integrity, a certain swagger, and always doing what it took to win. The culture was the secret sauce that made the franchise great and allowed us to earn our fans love in spite of never having the right parts to win a championship since 1973. Even when the team was winning, it was always about making money, but with an owner who’s sole achievement is inheriting the DNA of a cable magnate, this desire to make money while winning as been gone for too long. There is really no pride and belief in the organization. I am sad to say that I look around today and see virtually no trace of the culture that seduced me into working for this firm for four years. I no longer have the pride, or the belief or the actual attention of our biggest star.

But this was not always the case. For more than a week I coached a team through our grueling offensive system. I was the coach of a team which won more games than any other franchise for ten whole days, and our highlights were played on ESPN for every show, including NFL 32. Last month, I managed the summer intern program in offense and passing for the New York Knicks and kicked off the phenomena known as “Linsanity.”

I knew it was time to leave when I realized I could no longer look my star player in the eye and implore him to run the offense. He was sitting at the end of the bench, head hidden under a towel.

When the history books are written about the NBA, they may reflect that the current New York Knicks owner, Charles Dolan, and the star, Carmelo Anthony, lost the love of basketball’s Mecca on their watch. I truly believe that this decline in the team’s prestige represents the single most serious threat to its long-run survival. Well, maybe only Charles Dolan. Carmelo will probably be traded when Phil Jackson gets here.

Over the course of my career I have had the privilege of coaching some of most underachieving teams on the planet. Teams whose lack of achievement is dwarfed only by Team USA in 2004, which oddly enough, Carmelo Anthony was also on. My teams have scored more than Van Halen in 1982, and I have always taken a lot of pride in offense, even if it means completely ignoring defense. This view is becoming increasingly unpopular at Madison Square Garden, especially among “natural scorers”. Another sign that it was time to leave.

How did we get here? The team changed the way it won games. In fact, we actually won consistently for the first time in decade’s only weeks ago. Knick basketball used to be about stars that actually won games, setting a pick here and there and doing the right thing. Today, if you make enough money with the Knicks (and are not currently an ax murderer or JR Smith) you will be promoted into a position of influence.

What are three quick ways to become a leader? a) Come to the team as a high-priced free agent. New Yorkers are so starved for a good team; they’ll ignore any past demons in your personality or on your medical report. b) Be born here. Even if you weren’t actually raised here New Yorkers love a native, even though none of them are natives. c) Find yourself sitting in the post, begging for the ball even though the offense is based on movement and passing.

Today, many of these leaders on the team exhibit a culture quotient of exactly zero percent. I attend film sessions where not one single minute is spent asking questions about how we can score more efficiently. It’s purely about how we can get the most “offensive touches” or “more shots because I’m a playmaker” even though the player is shooting under 40% this year. If you were an alien from Mars and sat in on one of these meetings, you would believe that passing the ball was not part of basketball at all.

It astounds me how little senior management gets a basic truth: If players don’t win, they will eventually stop working at all. It doesn’t matter how much you pay them.

These days, the most common question I get from players is, “Do you follow me on twitter?” It bothers me every time I hear it, because it is a clear reflection of what they are observing from their leaders about the way they should behave. Now project 10 years into the future: You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that the player sitting quietly at the end of the bench isn’t just ignoring your coaching, he’s tweeting about where he’s planning to go later to meet some groupies so he can send out pictures of their butt on the Internet.

When I was a first-year scout I didn’t know where the bathroom was, or how to tie my shoelaces. I was taught to be concerned with learning the ropes, finding out what a high pick and roll was, understanding the salary cap, getting to know players and what motivated them, learning how they defined success and what we could do to help them get there.

My proudest moments in life — being the second pick in the second round of the NBA Draft, winning a Coppa Italia with Bennetton Treviso, being friends with Steve Nash, also known as Coach of the Suns — have all come through hard work, with no shortcuts. The Knicks today have become too much about contracts and not enough about achievement. It just doesn’t feel right to me anymore.

I hope this can be a wake-up call to James Dolan. Make basketball the focal point of the Knicks again. Without fans, you will not make money. In fact, you will not exist. Weed out the future bankrupt players that can’t play as a team, no matter how much money they make for the team. And get the culture right again so people want to get excited for championships, not free agents. People who care only about making money will not sustain this team — or the trust of its fans — for very much longer.