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Sochi Olympics: Hockey Boycott? No. The Best Protest Is Attending

When one undertakes a political act such as a boycott, they do so with the intention of making a change happen. If there is no reasonable chance that the act will make the desired change happen then the act itself becomes self serving and, in the end, will do more harm than good.

I'm no expert on the Russian psyche, but I have read enough literature, history and current news to be of the firmly held belief that an act such as boycotting the Olympic games will do absolutely no good. Russia will not bow down and change itself, the Russian people will not rise up and demand the change and the world's media is already yawning, frying more potent fish.

The whole idea of a boycott is a lame horse. What is the eulogy? "There, you take all the gold medals! That'll teach you!" Frankly, I think we ought to go and whoop the pants off the buggers. Now that would teach them.

The greatest preemptive pressure that could have been brought to bear against Russia has already been brought - public opinion has been shifted, public outrage stirred and more people are aware of the problem now than were before the talk of boycotting began. In fact, a boycott, would be something of a pressure release. There are more people waiting to see "if someone will do something" like the Tommie Smith and John Carlos salute at the 1968 Olympics than there are people calling for a boycott.

Human Rights SaluteThe 1968 Olympics Black Power salute was an act of protest by the African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos during their medal ceremony at the 1968 Summer Olympics in the Olympic Stadium in Mexico City. As they turned to face their flags and hear the American national anthem (The Star-Spangled Banner), they each raised a black-gloved fist and kept them raised until the anthem had finished. Smith, Carlos and Australian silver medalist Peter Norman all wore human rights badges on their jackets. In his autobiography, Silent Gesture, Tommie Smith stated that the gesture was not a "Black Power" salute, but a "human rights salute". The event is regarded as one of the most overtly political statements in the history of the modern Olympic Games. wikipedia
As with any major protest or disruptive political action, the potential gains must be weighed against the potential losses: will the immediate benefit, if there is one, provide enough of a step forward to compensate for any back steps it will cause.

In this case, my opinion is that no, it will not.

I read a comment on a message board yesterday to the effect that the American and Canadian hockey teams should boycott the Sochi games because, in a phrase, "that would teach them". The premise being that Russia so loves hockey that a stay-at-home-on-principal act by two of their natural rivals would really get under their skin.

Why yes, it certainly would. Would make them very cranky. All the Russian athletes and all the Russian people would be mightily upset. And still, nothing would change except that hundreds athletes who have spent their lifetimes waiting for such a moment won't get to go live it. The laws will still be what they are and Russia will move along as it always does, inexorably, to its own tune and with little regard for the pointy stick of international opinion.

Which is not to say, of course, that we should all go "well, that's that, then" and just accept whatever injustices come our way but it does mean that more useful means of bringing about change must be considered. A boycott will, frankly, probably cause a tremendous backlash of bad will back here in North America where the issue of human rights, in the context of sexuality, is still having its own growing pains.

If, for instance, Smith and Carlos had boycotted the 1968 games, we would have a footnote in history about what didn't happen, instead of a living historical reference about what did happen. A boycott is the ultimate passive-aggressive act. It's the sort of neener, neener that, in this case, takes hostages and that's a bit of a no-no, a kind of human rights violation in itself.  And probably not at all a step forward.

Let's face it: it's not like anyone living in North America has not heard of the issues of "gay rights". It's not like any of us live in a bubble - virtually every one of us, by way of our own provincial, state and federal laws and the bodies that create them, has been made aware of the issue. There will be no eureka moment in North America ... just a collective groan as the people not personally affected realize the last four years of training, waiting, anticipating and working towards something has been for naught.

As politically incorrect as this might be, the issue isn't one most people would be willing to make such a great sacrifice over. Sure, in principle we all believe in the equality of human beings - but the issue of the rights of  the GLT community is one best fought in the individual domiciles of the people affected. It's not ready for road trips - it hasn't even learned to drive on the streets of its own hometown yet.

I say that the movement risks damaging itself by talking about a boycott, that it risks polarizing the home crowd even further, that it has no business messing in international politics when it has yet to conquer its own domestic ones. It brings us back to the first argument: that it will do no good.  Not that it's wrong or "uppity" but that it will do no good and might, in fact, do harm.

Even as I write activists in Toronto are meeting to discuss a boycott.  Whether Canada should engage in one. Kevin Beaulieu, the executive director of Pride Toronto, in an interview Thursday, said, "With Russia preparing to host the Olympics, which means a commitment to human rights, there's an opportunity here to bring the spotlight on what's happening, particularly in this country, and try to make a change."

Yes. Absolutely. This is definitely an opportunity in the Sun Tzu mold. One that should be capitalized upon. But not with a boycott. I can't say that I am aware of any major boycott that has successfully changed anything.  Sit ins work. Sit outs don't.

So, no Boycott.  The financial, political and personal loss would be staggering and the gain minimal or non-existent.

Which is not to say that protests should not be made.

Abraham Lincoln, the great American emancipator, said, "To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men."  And he was right. We should not pretend that we think it's all hunky-dory just so we can get a seat at the Olympic table. We should not gloss over the human rights violations taking place - this is a global village and we are all responsible to one another.

While both Canada and American Olympic committees have come out and stated that they expected all athletes and Olympic support people to comply with the local laws while in Sochi, that they will condone no acts of outright civil disobedience on Russian soil, the mere presence of people of the homosexual community will serve as a de facto protest.

Propaganda is a form of communication aimed towards influencing the attitude of the community toward some cause or position by presenting only one side of an argument. Propaganda statements may be partly false and partly true. Propaganda is usually repeated and dispersed over a wide variety of media in order to create the chosen result in audience attitudes.

As opposed to impartially providing information, propaganda, in its most basic sense, presents information primarily to influence an audience. Propaganda often presents facts selectively (thus possibly lying by omission) to encourage a particular synthesis, or uses loaded messages to produce an emotional rather than rational response to the information presented. The desired result is a change of the attitude toward the subject in the target audience to further a political, religious or commercial agenda. Propaganda can be used as a form of ideological or commercial warfare.wikipedia

It is important to keep in mind that Russia's laws, the laws under scrutiny, regard the propaganda related to the "homosexual issue" and not the "issue" itself. Being gay is not illegal. Engaging in creating or spreading propaganda related to the issue is. The sticky bits will be in the interpretation of the word "propaganda".

But what could be less "propaganda-ish" than a living, breathing human being who refuses to deny what they are?

As Dashiell Bennett says in The Atlantic Wire this morning, "But one thing we can do is expose Russians to more gay people and prove that they just regular people. Or extraordinary athletes. What could be more powerful ("propaganda" even?) than for a gay athlete (or straight supporter, like Nick Symmonds) to win a medal, shake the hand of a Russian Olympic official, and walk away with their head held high?"

You don't stay away ... you go. And you go proudly. You don't need to advertise your pride or engage in political acts after you're done your ski run or hockey game or curling match.  You just need to do them well. You can tell people all you want that you're every bit as gifted, good and deserving as the next  person. But it's better to show them, don't you think?

And, to be honest, the Olympics are the wrong venue for overt political protests. They steal the spotlight from the people who have worked very hard to get there. In a way they, make a mockery of the event itself.

We have to do it like Jesse Owens did. He showed them. He showed them good.

As Phil Ochs said, "In such ugly times, the only true protest is beauty.

The protest, the greatest protest possible, is going.

Previously: Daniel Alfdredsson: I Said, He Said, They Said

Daniel Alfredsson: I Said, He Said, They Said

Daniel Alfredsson gives something back to Senator fans - whether he means to, or not.

Originally published at TheHockeyTalk

I laughed when I heard  Puck Daddy's Greg Wyshynski call the former Ottawa Senators Captain, Daniel Alfredsson, a "serial disparager" on Conor McKenna's TSN 690 (Montreal) radio show today.

He was making a reference, in the context of an interview Alfredsson gave today regarding how it was that he came to leave the Senators, to Alfredsson's rather pessimistic interview as the Senators faced elimination heading to Pittsburgh in the 2012-2013 NHL playoffs.

When asked if his team had any chance of coming back from a 3-1 series deficit, Alfredsson replied, "Probably not."

Although that has been dissected, discussed, debated and deliberated, to within an inch of its shelf life, the general consensus seems to fall into one or more of the following catch-alls.

  • Alfie was tired and depressed right after a loss. Give him a break. And besides, he was right.
  • Alfie is an honest, straightforward fellow, and he spoke what he saw as the truth. And besides, he was right.
  • Alfie, as team captain, was supposed to toe the party line. He should have kept his negativity to himself because that just psyched his team out. Even if he was right.
  • Alfie needs a haircut, that bandanna or hair ribbon or whatever it is that he wears looks ridiculous. But he was right about that business with the Pens.

I remember watching that interview, having just watched the game. Part of me applauded the honesty of the comment; living in a world of PR department approved sound bites tends to make an actual bit of raw truth stand out like a daisy in the orchids.

I like daisies.

And a part of me cringed; visibly, physically cringed. Like when someone says "Well, you'll never be a model." Well, of course, I won't be a model. But I don't particularly want to hear that, do I? No one expected the Senators to make a come back. Apparently, not even the Senators.

But we're supposed to be treated to PR-speak and told about the plucky (or "pesky", in the case of the Sens) nature of the underdog team, about how no one is quitting, about how it isn't over until it's over. A few weeks later Dan Bylsma of the Pittsburgh Penguins was in an identical spot (facing playoff elimination, down even more low at 3-0 against the Boston Bruins than the Sens had been at 3-1 against them), gave an interview and reminded us of the Canadian Olympic team's 2010 gold medal victory which had come after four must-win, elimination games.

"In the Olympics to win a gold medal for Canada, they've got to win four games, four elimination games," Bylsma said and rattled off the teams the Canadians had to beat, tapping his finger with each name, "Germany, Russia, Slovakia and the U.S."

And then, as if he had a PR lady stuffed in his hankie pocket, he concluded with, "And that's what we're at right now."

Now, that's how it's done. Hidden in that was the rally cry, "If they could do what they did, we can do this."

Hidden only a little farther in was the Sidney Crosby nugget. It's not a large leap across the logic chasm to conjure up the image of who scored that game winning goal. The PR lady approved subtext was, "And that guy plays for us."

Thing was, we all knew that was a load of horse-poo. We all knew the Pens were done. Well, anyone who had ever watched a playoff series before knew. But there is an accepted script for these moments and Bylsma followed it like a boy scout. And as hopeless as most Pens fans were, they allowed themselves to drink the magic kool-aid (just a sip, mind you) that coach Dan was handing out in little paper cups.

Because there is the possibility. Always the possibility. And if that is true, and it is, a positive mind set is a very important thing. So, the bottom line is: not all truth is important to speak. Some truths should, in fact, not ever be spoken. Like that time you told your spouse that those pants did make them look fat. How did that work out for you?

So, Alfie was right. There wasn't much of a chance, really, was there? Public relations is one of those wonderfully inconsistent areas where the truth rarely ever sets you free. In this case, it boxed up poor Daniel Alfredsson who is, after all, a hockey player, and not a public relations maestro. He spent weeks, weeks, punching his way out of that mess of cardboard. In the world of Google, where the "front page" news changes faster than most people blink, any news that sticks for weeks is either important, controversial or prurient.

Only John Tortorella could have possibly said anything more controversial or just plain wrong. At least Alfredsson didn't say something like, "Well, if that slacker Spezza hadn't gone AWOL on the back check, we might be in better shape."

Really, he just said it like it was. His idea of the truth.

Alfredsson's little PR faux pas would be long forgotten by now, only to be brought up by trollish non-Sens fans and other types whose last recourse is usually a "your mama" insult.  Except that in July UFA Alfredsson shocked EVERYONE and signed a one year contract with the Detroit Red Wings rather than return to the Senators for his final season(s). Ottawa was the only NHL team he had every played for and he had been the captain for fourteen years.  

If the comments during the playoffs were strike one, what followed was strike two.  In a phone interview following the announcement,  Alfie indicated that he and the Sens couldn't work out a deal and that he went to Detroit in order to have a better chance to win the league championship.

"It pretty much came down to a selfish decision," he said. He wanted to win a Stanley Cup.

"Ouch," said every Senators' fan and every standing member of the Senators team.

Alfredsson has apparently decided PR is for the birds. That speaking the truth is more important than speaking the other feel-good, inspiring sort of stuff we prefer in our sports heroes and politicians. Alfredsson, apparently, is very fond of saying things like they are.

And today, he said some more things "like they are". At least as they are from his perspective. If you believe him to be an essentially honest human being, and evidence points to that fact, then whatever Daniel Alfredsson said today, he believed was the truth.

Who Said What To Whom ... Wait ... What?

When Wshynski commented that Alfredsson was something of a "serial disparager" he was not engaging in hyperbole.

Alfredsson is either batting a thousand or he just struck out, depending upon your perspective. He's either the most steadfastly honest and straightforward human being who ever lived (and one who can't seem to get the whole idea of soft-shoe) or he is really angry at the Ottawa Senators. Or both.

In his third brush with the Ottawa media in the last three months Alfredsson, typically, stepped right into the thick of it with his opening statement, "When I did my last contract for four years ending in the 2012-13 season, I was asked to help the team manage the salary cap by adding on a extra year to my contract."

He paused for a breath and the gathered media went "uh oh". Eyebrows shot up. People stopped texting. Expecting a somewhat generic "it was great, sad to leave, will always have a soft spot" prepared announcement, it seemed the sort of thing where the real good information came in the media scrum that follows.

But Alfie was not going to pass on this breakaway.

He went on to say, "I agreed. Each side fully expected I would retire and not play the 2012-13 season."

Did he just admit to an act of "bad faith" inside of the NHLPA-NHL CBA? Did he just out himself and the Senators for cheating? For conspiring to circumvent the cap? Did he just air a bit of dirty laundry? Did he just stick it to the Ottawa Senators?

Why, I think he did.  Whatever his good intentions, whatever his desire to be honest, that sounded a little more like the "he said, she said" that happens in divorce courts. He didn't want the fans, his fans, to think he had simply abandoned them. He wanted them to understand that he wanted to come back.

He admitted that it had been a mistake to have said that he thought it was more likely he could win a Stanley Cup with Detroit. He said that the real truth of the matter was that he had not been able to conclude a business arrangement with Ottawa and, furthermore, this was a situation that had been going on for two years. He, essentially, said he'd been fucked around and that his response was to head out to pastures where he felt wanted and appreciated.

The bottom line was two-fold.

  1. The Sens did not want to pay him enough money or make good on their "debt" to him - that he had played a year for the Senators longer than either of them expected and had not been paid properly for that last year.
  2. When he asked for an amount that would balance that out ($7 million per season), they countered with an offer that was insulting to him ($4.5 million)

It's all very under-the-table and shadowy and tells us that the same things that have always gone on are still going on. What Alfredsson admitted to, publicly and on record, amounts to circumvention of a ratified CBA and is one of those truths we might all be better off not knowing.

Like a lot of people, Tyler Dellow, @mc79hockey, agrees that it's a circumvention and has a very interesting take on a similar case involving Calgary.

Wrote this on circumvention when Keenan said the Flames did it with Kipper. Applies equally to Alfie: http://t.co/GnBLN68GGM
— mc79hockey (@mc79hockey) August 15, 2013
The NHL, as it turns out, is not terribly interested. According to Sportsnet's Chris Johnston, Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly agrees that the agreement between Alfredsson and Ottawa is, in fact, circumvention, but that the practice was "rampant" under the last CBA, and that the league doesn't think looking backward is productive.

There was more. It got a little strange after that, with Bryan Murray of the Senators responding publicly, blaming it all on Alfredsson's agent not giving him all the information.

TSN has a very good report of the matter of who said what and where the fingers are pointing.

As Wyshynski said, "What upset me was how Ottawa decided to hit back."

Apparently the Senators are taking a page from Alfie's book and are going to speak their truth. Much more of this "telling it like it is" and we'll all need an aspirin and a long nap.

Hearts and Minds

Now they're just battling for hearts and minds. Aflie doesn't want the Senators' fans to think badly of him, to lose faith in their team, to lose the goodwill he has spent nearly two decades of his life earning.

He wanted them to know it wasn't about a Stanley Cup. That it had been about honour and respect. That he had felt abused. That he left because the had not been dealt with fairly.

The Senators don't want their fans thinking they're shady, dishonest characters who mistreated a beloved Captain. So their side of the story must be told. The tilt must be adjusted.

The fan reaction seems mixed.

From TSN:

Glad to see! Alfie moves on, Murray and Melnyk are spurned and deservingly so!
Wow! Murray is honest to a fault in all his dealings and so it is no surprise he is 'disappointed' to hear what Alfredsson said today. I would think disappointment plus. Maybe this is another agent smoke and mirrors like what Eagleson did to Bobby Orr. Points to consider: Looks like J.P. Barry needs to answer some questions.
From NHL.com's coverage titled "Alfredsson: Contract impasse led to Ottawa departure":
i actually think melnyk is the one who screwed up and does not want to take the fall. he keeps going back and forth and what could have been done. earlier, stating that they could not have afforded both and now saying they could. guy needs to keep his emotions in check. he is losing credibility.

Would, Shoulda, Coulda

Alfredsson had more to gain than a clearing of his reputation amongst his loyal fans. Despite the actual result where the Senators look a little wiseguy-ish, I doubt very much Alfredsson's intentions were punitive. I doubt very much he was interested in risking their reputation in the course of saving his own.

In fact, I don't think he said what he said to aid his own reputation.

In case it was missed in the first go-around, he wanted to make sure everyone knew that he thought well of the Senators, that he thought they could win a Stanley Cup, that they had, in his estimation, a bright future.

He wanted to set the record straight, not so much to make the Senators' management look bad, but to make the team itself look better. He wanted the people who had supported him for the past fourteen years to know that it had been "just business". Nothing to do with the quality or prospects of the team.

As much, one expects, for the teammates he leaves behind, many of to whom he was a long-time mentor, as for himself. As much for the fans who had felt disheartened at his remarks about going to Detroit, not disparaging in themselves, but disparaging in implication, as for himself.

It is impossible to know, of course, what motivated Alfredsson to be so honest when a little less detail would have served the same purpose. It is hard to know why he chose to be so very specific in his explanation when something more superficial and PR-correct might have been said.  One suspects that Daniel Alfredsson simply doesn't know how to split the fine hairs on the truth like the PR people do.

The only way to lend credibility to the soft-shoe phrases about the future of the Ottawa Senators, about how he still believes in them, if you're a fundamentally honest human being, is to tell the truth.

Maybe, in his mind, it was his final "captainly" act.

Or maybe he simply couldn't stand the reality of one comment posted to NHL.com.

You either die a hero... or live long enough to see yourself become a villain.
As the NHL has gone on record as saying they are interested in pursuing it and each of the Alfredsson and Ottawa Senators camps have had their say, let's hope this whole issue dies an unceremonious death. Unless the NHLPA wants to make an issue of it, and I doubt they will, it has nowhere else to go that isn't just about pointing fingers and playing the blame game.

Don't Scratch The Rose Colored Glasses

Everyone should hope it gets over with soon. While there's still talk on the major hockey boards about "hometown discounts" and playing "for the love of the game" that get's pooh-poohed pretty quickly.

As one fan noted:

Why make this whole situation into a big deal. We all know, from the lockout, that hockey is mostly about business.

These situations force the cold-hard realities onto fans who don't really want them. They want to believe their hockey heroes do things because of an all consuming passion for the game, for the love of their team, for the satisfaction of their fans. They want to believe that team owners are evil overlords with stacks of gold bullion in every closet.

In the big scheme of things, it's better for the Senators that people blame management. They're the unfortunate necessities. The suits in the press box. The "team" is the players and the ice surface. The jersey and the logo. People can hate the management and love the team. Daniel Alfredsson was the team and  he can be forgiven for having had enough of the evil overlord.

Although the Senators have been known to carry things to a bizarre extreme, they should let this dog lie. Take their lumps and move along. If they pursue a course that seems bent on discrediting Alfredsson or anyone connected to him, they will lose a lot more than the time wasted doing it.

In a strange and convoluted way, Daniel Alfredsson gave the Senators and their  fan base something back today, however ill-advised or unnecessary. He endorsed them.

And the Pollyanna in me thinks that is exactly what he intended to do.



Originally published at TheHockeyTalk




Previously
 James Neal has Sidney Crosnby's Back: He Skipped the Line, Too

Pittsburgh Penguins: Five Small Changes That Will Pay Big Dividends

Pittsburgh Penguins make five small changes that add up.

Originally published at: thehockeybrain

I used to think Ray Shero's management style could be summed up as having a sort of military precision. Turns out the guy is a guerrilla, complete with face paint and camouflage. We've been waiting for the twenty-one gun salute and he's been sneaking around behind us the whole while.

While the fan response to their earlier-than-expected ouster from the Eastern Conference Final seemed to fall squarely in between "blow it up" and "stay the course", it looked like the Pens were going to plaster themselves with status quo tattoos, hunch down and try it one more time.

Giving head coach Dan Bylsma a contract extension within days of the Boston-Pittsburgh series' sad end was like a signal flag that said "we are not worried" and a slew of re-signings and extensions followed that cemented their roster into place with fine-print glue. Bylsma immediately  endorsed beleaguered goal tender Marc Andre Fleury as his go-to guy and the fans sat around in various states of shock, frustration, confusion and anger.

I wrote an article a while back on Marc Andre Fleury where I twisted all over the place to compare Ray Shero's management tactics with Sun Tzu's The Art of War and then another where I made some predictions on what we would see from the Pens in the upcoming season.

But while we've all been scratching our heads and wondering why they didn't "do anything", they have been, in fact, doing a lot. It's like paint daubs - one or two here are there are indistinct little marks. It's not until you put them all together that an actual picture emerges.

The Five Little Things

In a classic case of the sum is greater than the parts, the Penguins have done five little things that add up to five very big things.

1. Removing Murray, Morrow and Iginla

2. Adding Matt D'Agostini

3. Adding Harry Zolnierczyk

4. Adding Jacques Martin as an Assistant Coach

5. Removing goalie coach Gilles Meloche

What does this all add up to?

They've Gotten Younger

With the release of the Free Agent Rentals Douglas Murray, Jarome Iginla and Brenden Morrow and the additions of 26 year old Matt D'Agostini and 25 year old Harry Zolnierczyk the Pens got a lot younger. Last year they were the oldest team in the league at an average age of 29.56. From this year's roster-as-it-sits they're at an average age of 28.19 which brings them down four spots. More significantly the average age on their offense comes down from 30.9 to 28.1. League average in 2012-2013 was 27.31

Quant Hockey Average Age of NHL Teams

Average age of NHL teams, 2012-2013 season: Quant Hockey

Doesn't seem like much, I know, but the average decline in production is very sharp from age 27 onwards. There's no easy way to apply the data usefully across the board for the Pens' roster, but those two years of average age could translate into a meaningful number of goals scored.

Points per game average by Age

Points per game average by age. Screen shot from Arctic Ice Hockey.

Direct Gain:  Better production from their top six either directly (individually) or as line units.

They've Gotten Faster

One of the interesting things about the Penguins, noticed most obviously in their series against the Islanders, is that they were, as a whole, fairly slow, especially for a "run and gun" style of offense which relies on both speed and quickness.

Bringing in D'Agostini who is known for his speed and, if reports are accurate, moving Simon Despres, Matt Niskanen and Beau Bennett up to full time roster spots will make the Pens a lot faster. Again, if you subtract the relative speed handicap that Murray, Iginla and Morrow all brought with them, add in the three names above, it's a major shift in speed in both the top and bottom end.

To put it home: speed was what the Blackhawks used to get around the Boston Bruins' trappish style. Without speed you cannot do either of the two things that work best against tight defensive teams (which are long N-S passes and dump and chase).

The speed factor is likely to pay the biggest dividend in the 2013-2014 season.

Direct Gain: More fluid lines who can all move at the same speed, longer periods of puck possession, ability to adapt to opposition defensive tactics more readily, reduced time in the neutral zone. In short, a better ability to "play their game". It is useful to note that last season the Penguins suffered a rather drastic drop in puck possession numbers and ranking - going from top 2 to bottom 15.

They've Gotten Tougher

Bringing in Harry Zolnierczyk and adding Depres and Niskanen (and/or possibly Bortuzzo) to the roster increased the tough factor by an exponential degree. Zolnierczyk, of course, is the big piece; he is as close to an enforcer as you are likely to  find in today's NHL. He also is noted for his speed so if he is needed to be on-ice with one of the top two lines, he will be able to keep up to the play even if he cannot add much to it, offensively.

Direct Gain: It is better to "be tough" than "act tough" which is what the Pens did against the Bruins. Players who are not usually noted for throwing their weight around were doing so and the result was a loss of flow and a bad use of assets. Instead of skating around them and using their superior passing skills, the Pens tried to out-hit the Bruins. Added to the decreased age, the faster skaters, this added toughness gives the Pens their most balanced roster since the last Stanley Cup. Bonus gain is, of course, the ability to defend Crosby and Malkin a little better from the dirty play that often comes their way.

They've Gotten More Defensive and Flexible

First, they brought back Rob Scuderi who is amongst the most responsible defensemen in the league. Between he and Orpik they will have a solid stay-at-home partner for their more offensive minded, puck moving defenders such as Despres and Letang on the top two lines.

Second, they hired Jacques Martin to assist Dan Bylsma. While Martin is often called a "defense-first" coach, in fact he has done very well with fast, offensive teams (see his record in Ottawa). He is noted for insisting on defensive responsibility from all players, especially forwards, and for an ability to adjust his team's play to deal with opponents who bring a tight, defensive game.

Direct Gain: We are likely to see more "200 foot" games or, at least, more "200 foot" play from all forwards, a better ability to make in-game adjustments and an increased intensity on the blue line. In short: better defensive play.

They're Actually Addressing the Goaltending Problem

By removing Gilles Meloche, whether it was his "fault" or not, as the goaltending coach is the counterpoint to their denials that they have any sort of problem with Marc Andre Fleury. Clearly they see the problem and they are going to attempt to address it directly.

Direct Gain: Either Marc Andre Fleury will get better or he will get gone. This seems to be his last chance, if all the signs are pointing accurately. They're fine for this year if they don't overplay Vokoun - if MAF has another play-off meltdown then Vokoun can handle the net and they can deal with Fleury in the off-season.

Ray Shero is out there somewhere saying, "You are learning, Grasshopper."


Previously: Why Teemu Selanne Could Go Jetting Back To Winnipeg

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