One thing you can’t help but notice if you pay attention to the support structure (fans) for any entertainment is that there are cliques within each and every fandom. Fans will split off any given group into factions, and the diffusing of energy can lead to groups struggling, or even going to extent. In science fiction and fantasy the filers and gamers herd together and neither herd spends much time with the media folks, the cos play and the literature folks don’t have much to day to each other, and all of them are convinced the SMOF’s are insane. With in each of those top level groups you have smaller but still significant groups.

Among sports fans, you have team fans, and fans of the sport, and then casual fans as the top level groups. Below them are fans of players, eras, coaches and styles of play. On Facebook when those factions break down, there are new groups created. The San Jose Sharks group is over 7000 members strong and growing. The largest Boston Bruins group is about 10,000 members with several smaller groups, the Montreal Canadiens language split means their are two groups with five figure memberships and then several groups with a few hundred members.

The largest National Hockey League related group on Facebook that can be found? That one is dedicated to the appreciation of Gary Bettman. In fact there are two other similar groups with large membership. The Fire Gary Bettman Movement!!!…  group boasts about 25,000 members. The similarly named The Fire Gary Bettman Movement page has eclipsed the 8,000 member mark. And the succinctly named Fire Gary Bettman page has over 6,000 likes.

By comparison, Roger Goodell who heads the NFL as their commissioner’s anti-fans have mustered less names to their cause ,about 7000 less likes for the largest page. The two largest groups don’t even contain 5000 members. If only this were as simple as 25000 vs 18000. The NFL dwarfs the NHL in viewer-ship. If we go with there being one NHL fan for every four NFL fan in north America, that just further underlines how much more of the NHL fanbase Gary Bettman has ticked off. Mix in the fact that there are more NFL cities than NHL cities, and you’re talking a level of personal animosity towards the NHL commissioner that is staggering. The percentages aren’t worth calculating. In both absolute terms and Bettman is enormously more reviled by the people it is his job to cultivate than his National Football League counterpart.

While a sports league is structured differently than a major corporation like Blackberry, there are similarities. When public sentiment turned against the founders of Blackberry, its directors and stockholders acted to protect their investments and with the hope of reversing their fortunes. Despite years of this sentiment expressing itself even at the happiest of occasions, the NHL owners extended his contract despite the lockout, which memory says is the third work stoppage of his tenure.

The question then becomes; Is Gary Bettman legitimately the cause of all the perceived ills, or is he simply the stalking goat of the owners?

One of the woes of fans, and occasionally teams over the last half decade has been the lack of ability for teams to address their teams needs by moving multiple players all at once to another team, or two teams. The Mike Richards to LA, Kovalchuk to the Devils and Phil Kessel to Toronto trades count as possibly the two biggest trades since the lockout. It’s not just the salary cap, it’s the ability for players to come back and bite you in the future, over and over, and over again.

Imagine if you will the Chicago Blackhawks in the summer after their Stanley Cup win having the ability to make big, big trades to 3/4ths of the league and knowing they would only see those players twice a year in the regular season. What would someone have paid to get Byfugelien, Versteeg and Campbell all at once? Between the three of them you’ve got the ability to take a team from lottery to playoffs. Given what the New Jersey Devils have gone through trying to return to the playoffs or the Columbus Blue Jackets in trying to make their second playoff appearance, a cap crunch like the one Chicago found themselves in could be a huge benefit for one team and not just several small impact trades.

And as every poster on every sports message board and blog dreams, three team trades could be back on the table. I just don’t remember the last there was an impacting three way trade, or any other. With the potential to rebuild on the fly quickly, what sorts of deals will we see? Will this raise or lower the value of draft picks? Some teams already rely heavily on free agents and trade pieces.  With the realignment respaing the trade topography could the Flames finally find that number once center Iginla has never had? Could the Tampa Bay Lightning find a better defense? Could some GM with a the assetts and moxie land all three (no one counts Jared, sorry) Staal brothers on one team? Could the widening of trade possiblities lead to bigger moves at the draft and start of free agency?

The NHL announced the realignment plan. Given some of the previous plans, it’s a fairly good option. But it does have several problems that just can’t be overlooked. Since the NHL has declined at this time to publish the divisional conference names, I’ve penciled in some provisional ones.

The soon to be former Northeast Division is getting the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers added to the Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs, Buffalo Sabres, Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators. For the league with the new/old playoff format, the two Florida teams finally have a chance to build the type of rivalries that exist elsewhere in the division. With both teams finally out of the lottery at the same time for seemingly the first time ever, and both likely to stay there a couple years this has the potential to be the best division in the NHL for several years. The name that occurred to just about every hockey fan upon hearing it announced is: Snowbird Conference/Division

Also in the east is the current Atlantic division, plus two teams from the soon to be defunct southeast division. The Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes are the new blood, the New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils, Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers. Any player not wanting to travel to much should sign here, three of the teams are close enough you could do the bars in all three cities in one good night. Fans and media flying to the games will have to deal with some of the worst airports in the country. Carolina is the biggest loser in this group, even with the Devils recent financial issues, and the Islanders quest for an arena, they have been bad enough not to win much over the last few years and good enough to stay out of the lottery, add that to shallow pockets and it won’t be a surprise if there is a change in ownership or location here in the next three years, particularly if the salary cap floor keeps rising. Not so obvious name for the group: Crosby, Brothers (Staal), and Crime.

Moving westward, we have the team that caused the realignment, the Winnipeg Jets, possibly the happiest team in the NHL with the realignment the Dallas Stars, and the expiring central division. While I think Columbus had a better claim to a spot in the east than the Red Wings, both will stay put and both should be content with it. Lots of wins in this group. Columbus and Nashville retain their division rivalries. Minnesota might have the biggest complaint about this as they are joining a division that doesn’t do much for them and is a lot tougher than their old one. Dallas doesn’t have to leave their time zone for every divisional road game. Chicago, Winnipeg and Detroit get a division where there fans know and dislike their rivals already. The Blues are pretty much status quo. This sets name is both obvious: Flyover Conference.

Furthest west the Pacific and Northwest remnants are the last, and group. The Battle of California’s Anahiem, San Jose, and Los Angeles lose a little without the Stars as they can now really only hope for prime time east coast games on Friday and Saturdays, which could have a revenue impact. As a bonus for all the former pacific The Battle of Alberta stays together, as it should with the Flames and Oilers, in this conference. Also joining the fun are Phoenix, Colorado, and Vancouver. There aren’t really any big losers or winners in this part of the shuffle. Naming possibilities: Funky Green Conference or Hippy Check Division.

The biggest pitfall of for attendance challenged teams is less visits from stars outside their new arrangement. The Panthers, will see Crosby and Ovechkin less. The Coyotes will see less of Toews, Kane, and assuming he stays put Weber. Ideally this will workout as new stars rise, and maybe, just maybe the NHL’s marketing figures out you don’t promote thirty teams by pushing one or two players. With eight teams in two divisions, the odds of getting into the playoffs are a bit higher. Oddly at present both of the large divisions are in the west. With so few teams getting regular east coast primetime starts I’d be nervous about the impact on ratings and hence advertising revenue.

The biggest concern marketing and attendance wise is the playoff race. The impact of two less titles, and less teams being in the hunt can’t be understated. Last year the Pacific Division lead was held at some point after October by every team. Likewise in the east the Southeast division was led by the Thrashers-now-Jets, the Lightning, and the Capitals from November forward. I can’t imagine that being in sixth place in one of these new conferences on November twentieth inspiring too many fans on who are on the fence about buying tickets for a holiday gift or spring vacation treat to go ahead and do so. Without the ticket sales, the in arena revenue disappears, and games can get blacked out. Related to this is the merchandise sales for divisional championships, and the additional money teams can squeeze out of local advertisers for winning their division(s).

Currently we don’t know how the playoffs will work and I’m not sure how reseating after each division plays, but I can’t imagine the NHL letting the possibility of say a Toronto-Carolina or Anahiem-Minnesota Stanley Cup Final come to pass. From a ratings standpoint either of those would be a huge disaster.

One positive, even if it doesn’t come to pass immediately is the four division platform lends itself to expansion readily. If for example Quebec City or the greater Toronto area gets a new team, the Snowbird Division adds a team, and the league goes about business as usual. If Kansas City adds a club, Nashville or Columbus might get shunted to the CBC. A new Hartford franchise would also slide into the CBC. Equally if the Arizona fans are unfortunate enough to have their team uprooted to the east, it leaves room for a later expansion into Vegas or Seattle.

Over the course of the last four years one thing has been constant in certain quarters. A small slice of the fans, the squeakiest and shrillest of the media, and often the most outrageous of bloggers have called for the head of Claude Julien on a platter. From the first he’s been derided as boring. He’s been called too rigid. He’s been lashed by the wagging tongue of various talk radio voices right left and center. He’s been called “too defensive” more times than anyone can count. But let’s take a look at some of those numbers.

Goals for rank:  Apparently two top five years in four is a sign of being overly conservative and too defensive minded. I did not know this and thank everyone for pointing it out to me.

Shorthanded goals: In all four of Claude Juliens years the penalty killers have been tied for or higher than fifteenth in the league. Yes, that means top half at scoring when you’re trying not to be scored upon. Very conservative.

Playoff appearances: Four of Four.

Points totals: 94, 116, 91, 103 = 101pt average.

Development of young players:

David Krejci has led the team in regular season scoring each of the last two years, and leads this years team in post season scoring.

Phil Kessel had a career high of 36 goals under Julien and has not equaled or exceeded that in two years time in Toronto despite getting about 30% more minutes per year.

Milan Lucic, thirty goal scorer.

Tyler Seguin, Young Stars selection,

Adam McQuaid pressbox to primetime player, was a +30 in the regular season, has peaked at over 19 minutes in the playoffs, was behind Chara and Seidenberg in total hits and blocked shots, despite only 67 games and was. Was 2nd among rookie defensemen in blocked shots and 4th among rookie defensemen in hits.

Brad Marchand, led all rookies and at one point the whole league in short handed goals, was fourth in regular season goals this season for the Bruins, and is third in goals scored in the post season.

Awards:

Two Northeast division titles, a Jack Adams award for best coach. A Jennings Award for best defensive team, one Vezina trophy win for best goalie, one Norris Trophy for best defensemen, an additional nomination for each of he latter two.

His bosses:

Julien was given a contract extension in the off season, owner Charlie Jacobs recognizes how the players respect him.

So for those key smashers and tongue waggers who have spent three and a half years wanting Julien fired, how about you pick on something else, he’s in a just short of invulnerable position for the next year or so.

I’ve never been a big fan of certain types of media institutions. Like other institutions where accountability is nonexistent, and who you know and what you know about them are more important measuring sticks for who gets ahead than quality of workmanship, intelligence and integrity things don’t bear much resemblance to any objective reality. When you can make reality whatever you want simply by writing it and it getting the rubber stamp of approval from someone who’s job is to make sure there’s a block of words to put between the important advertisements, you get a similar level of responsible behavior as adorn the pages of TMZ and other outfits of its ilk.

Here’s an example of what comes from the Ivory Tower for those of us not gifted with the natural ability to be allowed on the premises:

From: @Proteautype
Sent: Feb 12, 2011 9:52a

What?!?! I could’ve sworn NHLers adored fights! RT @Nicole2987: “It’s not a hockey game. It was just stupid.” -Kris Letang

sent via web

On Twitter: http://twitter.com/Proteautype/status/36437536544915456

Which is Adam Proteau’s way of knocking a huge, sprawling issue involving two entire team rosters, coaching staffs, the on ice officials and players put on injured reserve because of a previous meeting and eradicating all the complexities so it can be understood by a select type of individual. Marching in lock step with the obliteration of the complex is the removal of truth, sense and logic. In short while decrying the violence of an individual game that just about anyone can agree was over the line, he extinguishes credibility by setting up his own strawman to further decry the violence he claims to be against. Note, at best this is a self servicing claim and may just be an outright fabrication. After-all, just a short while ago he attacked someone who has been involved with hockey at every level and made his own implied threat of violence against them.

From: @Proteautype
Sent: Feb 11, 2011 10:54a

What’s gotten into Mike Babcock? Is he really saying a headshot ban wouldn’t curb physicality in hockey? Obviously, he needs more headshots.

sent via web

On Twitter: http://twitter.com/Proteautype/status/36090810319503360

As anyone knows, you get to win the Stanley CUp as a coach multiple times by accident and without any knowledge of the game. Just as you win the Jack Adams award for best coach out of pure pity, and not for any actual competence. Therefore, according to logic and consistency equal to what Proteau has displayed Mike Babcock is a pitiful coach with no understanding of the game. In truth, to any observer with the same level of intellectual firepower Proteau displays has to wonder how Babcock even has a job.

For the benefit of those prepared to defend Proteau, I’ll put it into one simple summary.  Taking things out of context, distorting them beyond recognition, all while engaging in outright hypocrisy is lower, viler and more contemptible than any sort of honest head to head goonery by and between adults. Not that anyone should be surprised by this, he is the columnist who calls Matt Cooke a victim.

Much as any hockey purist would rather see the All Star game die a death as painful as it is to watch the tepid refraction of the highest sport while knowing real hockey could be played at that very moment.  The All Star game is the shuffle footed lurching zombie that has suddenly taken the lead role in a A MidSummer Nights Dream. Just as the season is starting to settle in and teams have finally grasped their identities, just as teams are taking in that last deep breath before the run to the playoffs, and just as football is going away, right in that window between the football playoffs and when pitcher and catchers report the NHL squanders its chance to grab national attention.  Instead of an event that is designed to go for the hearts and minds of people grieving the loss of their football teams Sunday showdowns, and not yet being fed their 162 doses of “the great american pastime” there exists a heaping pile of nothing.  Since we know the All Star Game is when the NHL does it’s most impressive pandering to sponsors, thinking it will go away is foolish. So it needs to be fixed.

Some suggestions:

  • Celebrity officials. Starlets like Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift could draw young audiences and serving as linesmen would keep them in the public eye. Since most of the audience for any given hockey game is male, having them dressed in something a bit more flattering than the standard uniform wouldn’t hurt a bit. Besides, watching guys like Patrick Kane and Matt Duchene flirt with them could be highly entertaining all by itself. Having MMA stars like Urijah Faber, Carlos Condit, or Cain Velesquez as the officials would be a draw and might pull in some of the MMA crowd that doesn’t watch team sports currently.
  • Alumni or active player officials. This would be a boon to the NHL marketing department, instead of blacking out the jerseys of players who don’t get voted into the All Star game but were a part of the tv campaign have them play referee, goal judge or time keeper. Biases don’t matter since its a throw away game, and players like Andrew Ladd,  or Sean Avery could be highly entertaining with the orange stripes. Giving a nod to retired greats like Bobby Clark, Rick Middleton, Chris Chelios, Andy Moog or Patrick Roy could only provide a gateway back in to some of the people who feel the NHL’s current administration has alienated more traditional hockey fans. In either case, the celebrities, alumni and active players could be rotated out after a period.
  • Take the helmets off. Its not a real game, its not played at game speed, and no one is firing shots at 100 miles an hour. Taking off the helmets will make the players feel more approachable and for casual fans drawn into the spectacle, giving them every opportunity to form an attachment to a player and to the game is crucial.
  • Video introductions for players, similar to what you see in football. Just a short clip that gives a soundbite of info on the player, and gives the audience something they might not know about the player.
  • Make it a charity game. Allow fans to pick the charities to be benefited by each goal, penalty or save. Pick multiple charities (and not any of the NHL or franchise foundations well know charities like Habitat for Humanity or UNICEF) and let it build some buzz that way.

Any one or two of these could provide enough interest if executed properly to minimize the letdown that is the All Star Game after the skills competition and the weeks and months of build up to the game.

Today’s interview is with Scott Norton of Norton Sports, former coach and player who is now agent to a number of hockey stars present and future.

Krys Barch is one of your clients and there are reports he as been resigned to a two year deal just before free agency. Between the two of you, you must have felt comfortable with the Stars despite rumors of financial difficulty. Did these rumors play a part in your negotiations or decision to assist Krys in resigning with the Stars?

Krys has not re-signed with the Stars.  Talked re-opened, and we are optimistic that something can be done soon.  The rumors of their financial situation has not played a role in Krys thinking at any time.

Krys Barch is one of the tougher players in the game, what’s he like off the ice?

Krys is as nice a guy off the ice as he is tough on the ice.  Him and his wife have two little children, and he is a great family man who spends a lot of time with them.

The Montreal Canadiens bought out legendary enforcer George Laraque, and it appears teams see the role of enforcers as a whole is diminishing, does this play a part in the way you evaluate young players who might project strictly as an enforcer?

I think more and more you have to be able to skate and play the game.  The one dimensional enforcer is becoming extinct, thus why a player like Krys who can really skate and play meaningful minutes is becoming so valuable to teams.

Matt Climie also currently Stars property has the uphill battle of securing a job in this very crowded goalie UFA class. How do you evaluate which teams might suit him best?

At this point, we are just biding our time with Matt until July 1 and Free Agency begins.  Matt is an interesting prospect who we do not believe is even close to hitting his peak.  Most of the goalies in the UFA class are nearing the end of their careers, Matt is just beginning his.

If you don’t feel Matt Climie is likely to get an NHL contract, how soon would you begin exploring offers overseas?

Through my Russian associate, we have been receiving interest in Matt for a while now.  In the next week or two, I will have to sit down with Matt and weight out what situation is in his best interest for next season and moving forward.

For those of us who haven’t had the opportunity to see him play, can you describe Matt’s playing style?

Matt is a big, aggressive goalie.  He uses a butterfly style like so many of the top goalies today, and he is very athletic.  He handles the puck extremely well for a goalie, similar to Turco or Brodeur.

At what age do you begin to consider signing clients?

My target age has changed in the last few years.  I used to have to go after the 15 and 16 year olds to try to get the best kids.  Now, agents are approaching those players when they are 14, and sometimes even 13.  That is just too young for me and my thought process.  I have now targeted college players, and have become very successful working with guys like Climie who are college free agents.  I run Norton Sports Management as a boutique agency where I pride myself on individual attention for each client.

Kevin Dallman former Bruin, Blue, & King is one of your clients and doing quite well in the KHL, does he have any desire to play in the NHL again?

Kevin and I talk all the time about this question.  Kevin went over to the KHL a couple of seasons ago, and became a star. His game and confidence are back where they were when he played in Guelph (OHL) and was named Defenceman of the Year.  I think Kevin would like to come back to the NHL at some point, and try to win a Stanley Cup.

If you have a client with unreasonable expectations of what they should be paid, how do you reshape their expectations?
That is a very difficult question.  With any of my clients, I feel honesty is the ONLY policy.  I am very straight forward whether it be my evaluation of a client’s play or at contract time.  It is critical to an athlete’s career to realize who they are and what they need to do to get better.

Brent Sopel recently appeared in the Chicago Gay Pride parade with the Stanley Cup, was the perception of the sports worlds general homophobia a concern for any of the decision makers in having him there?

First of all, I want to say how proud I am of Brent and his wife Kelly.  This was a huge decision for them, and really was a historic day.  Brent and I spoke about this a couple of weeks ago when we came up with the idea, and we all agreed that every person deserves a chance in life.  Brent and Kelly are extremely giving people having started their own charity “Angels get their Wings”,* and the parade was just another opportunity to give back to the city and the community.
What type of information do you have at hand about a given UFA client when discussing them with teams?

Having a background in hockey and coaching allows me to talk about clients both as players and commoditites, I know each of my clients thoroughly and come negotiation time, am prepared to discuss their last game, last season and/or whole careers.

Would you describe what July 1st is like from your perspective for readers?

July 1 is an exciting day for many, many players who have waited their careers to become unrestricted free agents.  On the other side, July 1 can be the start of a very nerve racking time for players who are just hoping for another chance.  Readers have to remember that most UFA’s do not get signed on July 1, and them and their families are waiting every hour to see where their lives will be going.  It is an anxious time for a lot of families.

Any parting words?

Thank you for this opportunity to tell your readers more about myself and the wonderful people I have the good fortune of representing.

*Website under construction, stay tuned.