DKM Hockey Podcast

Friday, August 24, 2012

In your dreams...

I often have a recurring hockey nightmare.  I dream that one day I make it all the way through camp and sign a contract with a pro team.  Then one day, I get a call from the big club to pack up and meet the team on a road trip in Detroit.  I arrive at the rink, no time for the equipment staff to do anything else other than throw my name on the back of a sweater and prep my uniform.  I'd open my gear bag that had magically followed me from Gwinnett to discover I didn't pack my skates.  The other players in the dressing room look at me like I'm a giant knob.  I wake up relieved, sweating.  But I had made it...

Oops, these are kind of important.

Then the other night as I was falling asleep, I had my ear buds in and I was listening to music.  Maybe it was the Talking Heads or something, but in this hockey dream I was suddenly the owner of the Columbus Blue Jackets.  How did I get this wife?  Instantly and out of nowhere, I was now the owner of a team that had lost money every year since the last lockout.  Now, it was September 16th and the NHL owners voted 29-0 to lock out the players.  But in this dream, everyone perceived me as the Blue Jackets owner from the beginning of franchise history.  I had no recollection of anything I had done as the owner of the CBJ.  The office at Nationwide Arena was frantic about the one-day-old lockout.  The media was everywhere, cameras were in my face.  Everyone in Columbus was buzzing over what would happen to the NHL now that it was locked out.  I quickly retreat from the press, and ask the team President, Tom Selleck, to schedule an immediate meeting with key staff members to review how I had obviously voted for the lockout. 

As I sat alone in my office waiting for everyone to gather in the executive room next door, I quickly run through my head what I must have done last time.  See, this team made money before the last lockout.  Back then, the CBJ were new, they were fun, and the arena was rocking.  Then, for something called 'cost certainty' I took my miserable arena deal that Lamar Hunt said would never work, and voted to lock out the players.  An entire season was lost, an entire cog in the downtown economy flopped, and the Columbus Blue Jackets got cost certainty.  But now it's 2012, and the team I own hasn't made a dime since 2004.  What have I been doing?  There was suddenly a knock on my office door.  Tom Selleck had gathered the staff together.

I walk into the board room and stand at the end of the rich mahogany table rimmed with looks of intent.  I ask the head of the marketing what would happen to attendance if there was another lock out.  I knew hockey seating capacity at Nationwide Arena was 18,136.  Average attendance for the 2003-2004 season was 17,396.  After the last lockout, the 2005-2006 season, average attendance was 16, 796.  Not a bad decline attendance.  If there was another lockout, attendance shouldn't be negatively affected too much, right?  Last time we did ok.  "Not so fast," the VP of marketing says. She pointed out that average attendance in 2007-2008 was 15,146 and then 13,495 in 2010-2011.  The attendance numbers were running downhill.  My VP of marketing suggested that while the was an uptick in attendance in 2011-12, the Blue Jackets are coming off of the most uninspiring season in team history.  Not the lasting memory to leave a dwindling fan base with.  She said, "I reminded you on the 14th that with attendance dwindling, it might not be prudent to reduce the number of games played, or dare I say it, eliminate the season.  Especially since the arrival of Sir Urban Meyer will already be a challenge to attracting the average fan before January."  My VP of Marketing is none other than Margaret Thatcher.

Standing there, I thought to myself that maybe a lockout won't be so bad.  The team losses from last season are rumored to be an 8-figure number. Certainly it won't cost us that much money to not play this year.  Then Paul Newman, the VP of Finance, coughed to get my attention; almost as if he were reading my mind.  He opened his briefcase and slid one of the dead seas scrolls across the table to me.  I unrolled it and it read, "Franklin County Approves Purchase of Nationwide Arena" in German.  Yes - the Dead Sea scrolls are written auf Deutsch and contain Blue Jacket's headlines.  "So What, Regg" I said.  Then Paul Newman pulled from his brief case the new lease agreement the team has with Nationwide Arena and a copy of the Buser Report.  He set them on the table in front of him like pieces of evidence in a murder trial. 

"So you really want to screw the folks who just bailed you out.  The county gets a sweetheart deal in purchasing the arena trying to protect the tax revenues from that place outside called the Arena district.  The first thing they do after buying the arena is cut you a check for $10 million dollars a year by way of no rent payment.  Oh, and not to mention those six storm troopers from Nationwide over there in the corner now own 30% of your team too.  They also happened to give us a 52 million dollar loan while you nance around your steel mills. They are actually paying $2.8 million dollars a year to keep their name on the side of the building."  I look at him strangely.  Newman continues, "It's been rumored that you walk around your office at 'Worthington' muttering that you dare the players to call your bluff on a lockout this time.  Did you think what a lost season, or part of a lost season, might do to the folks who just gave you a hand?  Maggie over there just told you attendance is already down, and did you forget about the All Star Game?  You've got to be a pretty big a-hole to vote for a lockout when your county, the county that just bailed you out, could really benefit from hosting an All-Star game this year.  But no, you were hell bent on taking out your red ink on the players, weren’t you?”

As a man known for his subtleties, his words were profound in the board room.

 Yikes - the All Star Game.  But what's in it for me?  Because other than some new boards for Nationwide Arena, the Blue Jackets don't get much in return from the NHL All Star game. I mean really, there isn't going to be a player from the team playing on the All Star team.  And if the fans do vote Jack Johnson to the All Star game it would be like voting Matt Moore to the NFL pro-bowl along with either Manning boy, Aaron Rogers, Tom Brady, and Ben Roethlisberger.  Ugh.  The All Star game.  The media buzz, the player buzz, the outpouring of income to Franklin County in the form of hotel tax, sin taxes, and tax taxes. Oh, and National Sports Spotlight on Columbus that doesn't involve NCAA infractions.  But hey, the Blue Jackets really don't have much to gain from the All Star Game - Just the people who bailed me out not five minutes ago and saved me $10,000,000 a year.

Then sitting at the end of the ridiculously long table in the board room sat my girlfriend from the 3rd grade.  She was quietly crying.  Confused, I asked who the heck she was supposed to be.  "Your Team's Biggest Fan" she said.  I asked her why she was crying.  "Because you'll just expect that I'll come to a game same as it ever was.  You're betting that my love for your team will be so strong that I won't care how long hockey is gone.  But you're right. I will come back, but shame on you for just expecting that.  It's just like 3rd grade all over again!"  She squealed as she ran out of the conference room.  As she left, I noticed her "Est. 2000" T-shirt.

Thank God is was my girl friend from 3rd grade.  I was kind a jerk to my girlfriend after college - she may have stabbed me had she been in this dream.

There was nothing I could do, it was September 16th.  My employees all thought I was a real jerk for locking the players out, costing the very county who just bailed me out hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Not to mention directly affecting the lives of the 10,000 people who earn a living from the arena district.  What was I thinking?  I was left speechless.  Alas, the damage had been done.  Disgusted, all the employees left the room.  The last people to leave the board room where the six storm troopers from Nationwide.  As they walked out past me, each of them speared me in the stomach with the butt of their blasters.  Everyone hated me.  What had I done?  Why hadn't someone talked some sense into me?  Where was the leadership?

Walking out the door ashamed at myself, I flipped off the lights and noticed Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh sitting in a kingly chair just outside the conference room in the hallway - all by himself.  He was listening to one of this father-in-law's speeches during WWII.  I asked him what he was doing there and who was he in my dream.  Slowly I began to wake, but not before he answered my question.  "I am the NHL Commissioner," he said smiling softly.  “I am largely unknown to most people and play no meaningful role in the empire I control.  I let the aristocracy run things their way and speak up when it serves me best.  Most people don't know who I am, but in your psyche, I knew that my complete irrelevance to the hardships facing the NHL would best be manifested as an insignificant figurehead who only speaks at awards ceremonies."  For those keeping score at home, Prince Philip - Duke of Edinburgh, is married to the Queen of England - The perfect metaphor for Gary Bettman.  He takes no responsibility for anything that goes wrong with the empire, but celebrates its growth and always gets great seats.

I woke up saddened that I had done nothing to repay the people and folks who had been loyal to a floundering franchise.  Laying here I realized that it was only August 24th, and despite this clich├ęd dream of a Hollywood script, I had time to make a difference.  Even if every other owner in the NHL was going to vote for a lockout, I was going to vote against it.  I had to do something SINCERE to the folks who stood by me and helped bail out this money losing team.  I would vote “no” to lock out the players.  I had no real credibility with the owners or governors any way.  I felt good knowing that if I was owner of the Columbus Blue Jackets, I would do the right thing.  Even if it had no impact on the lockout, the fans, investors, and county knew I was grateful.  I looked over at my alarm clock and it was 5:59am.  I hate it when that happens, I hate it.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Impressions of CannonFest

Impressions - well, I normally don't do any impressions...
I went to CannonFest at the recommendation of #cbj twitter celebrity @johntkemp.  John and I have been close friends for over a decade.  John is the one who encouraged me to start blogging about hockey and the Columbus Blue Jackets.  The thought of blogging and getting on twitter really didn’t appeal to me at first. I am not at all wired to understand fandom.  It took literally 8 or 9 beers one July afternoon in 2011 for me to get a twitter account.  After a few months of tweeting, despite my “negative” persona in the #cbj twitter-verse, John encouraged me to start blogging as well.  It was my ‘perspective’ he kept saying.  “It’s your perspective that is great.”  He also mentions a little less perceived negativity might be good.

Happy Happy Joy Joy, Happy Happy Joy Joy!

I am fully aware that my expectations for the NHL Columbus Blue Jackets are high, and fairly unpopular.  The Blue Jackets have been in the NHL for 12 years and should be positioned to compete for a Stanley Cup.  Celebrating little positives from a loss in Major Pro sports is like giving your child money for getting all D's on their report card.  Yes, there are those games we two teams battle and it’s a heartbreaker that one team had to lose.  Those games are great for fans.  The Blue Jackets haven’t found themselves to be regularly competitive for some time.  When the Blue Jackets are finding themselves in that situation where they are regularly competitive, I’ll happily start drinking the CBJ Milk.  Until then, my expectations will remain high.

"You think this is mini-mites you Jack Wagon?  The fans better boo your ass for wasting their money!"

I have been on record and will go on record that Columbus is not a hockey town.  It’s ok to wish it was, and someday, maybe someday, it will become one.  But it is not.  However, that does not mean there isn’t a great core of loyal and passionate Blue Jackets fans in Columbus.  There is great levity from a core group of fans.  I think fans do open themselves up to a little ridicule when it’s suggested Columbus is a hockey town.  But honestly, there would be no Columbus Blue Jackets today if it wasn’t for passionate fans.  There would be no fun tweet ups or CannonFests without a solid foundation of fun, loyal CBJ fans.

Passion and emotion in this face.
I learned some other things about Blue Jackets fans and the twitter-verse at CannonFest as well.  I learned what a DD hat trick was.  I learned that network TV camera turn away from you when you’re talking about bathroom humor and 4 letter words. I learned that the twitter #cbj hash tag has interesing dichotomy. I learned that while I hate video editing there is a guy who really loves it and is extremely gifted at it.  I learned why the Arch City Army stands up all game.  I learned that I was not at all prepared to answer reader questions, because honestly, I didn’t think anyone other than “@mjr_pnlt” read the blog (and we’re flattered he does!).  I learned that a NATO peace keeping force will be deployed in Columbus if Derek Dorsett is ever traded.

One day, you could be this cool - totally.

I blog about some funny stuff, I blog about equipment, I blog about poetry, I blog about the glaring short comings of the Columbus Blue Jackets – I don’t blog about why Steve Mason is going to turn it around this year nor do I blog about how much better this team is without Nash.  I love hockey and wish this franchise would turn the corner, but like the old Russian proverb goes, “The fish rots from the head first.”  The new arena deal will help with some of the red ink, but other changes must be made.

At a personal level, it was good to see a core group of CBJ fans to be around other fans  to share hope and a passion at CannonFest.  This franchise cannot survive without them.  Hockey is the best sport in the world.  I realized I’m not wired for fandom, and I’m trying to learn the nuances of social media and how to best share my perspective – this is why John Kemp is paid $185,000 a year to be my director of content. I have really enjoyed sharing my thoughts and interacting with folks on twitter.  I’m sometimes unsure that despite the stats on the blog, that anyone really reads our posts.  But hope for the season and the DKM blog came to me at CannonFest in the most unexpected of compliments.  A well respected member of the CBJ blogosphere shared that they read the DKM blog because we were ‘willing to have open and honest conversation about a 30th place team.’  When the measuring stick for all CBJ blogs has something measured to say about Distinct Kicking Motion, it lets you know that while we may not have the brightest shining goal lamp in the CBJ world, that a few folks actually do notice it when it’s on.  Thanks CannonFest.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Blue Jacket Pride

Hockey season officially starts for the Columbus Blue Jackets on August 21st.  Well, for the CCHYA 01A Columbus Blue Jackets any ways.  Much like any hockey team, there are many new faces on our squad this year.  "Management" has made their decision who stays, who moves up, who gets cut and the coaching looks to install it's winning formula with the players management has given us.  Most decisions I support, one or two I have issues with.  But as a coach you move on and work with the squad you have.  Half the team from last year is the same, half the team is new.  All the boys are turning 11 this year and come fully equipped with a set of passionate parents.  We've had a combination of 6 on ice skills sessions and 6 hockey training sessions with the boys so far this summer.

There is still pride in putting on that Columbus Blue Jackets jersey to these 11 year-old boys.  The new boys show a slight glimpse of envy to last years boys who are wearing their fitted practice jerseys from last season.  The new boys are wearing their two sizes too big "Brand X" jersey from some camp with mis-matched gloves and helmets.  There is some pride knowing there set of game jerseys, practice jerseys, and embroidered travel gear with their name on it is coming very soon.  But it's the pride of putting on that travel gear that drives the boys.  But that CBJ logo doesn't have the shine to the boys beyond it signifying a travel team.  We could be the Tallahassee Dumpster Hornets and there would be as much pride putting on the gear if it were to signify a travel team. 

As a general rule, I forbid anyone on the team from selecting the jersey number of 99, 61,and 87.  I have nothing against those players, but feelings get hurt when kids fight over the numbers - and no one over the age of 8 should step onto the ice in any competitive capacity wearing the number 99.  But for a 3rd year in a row, no one is fighting for Derek Dorrset's number.  No one knows what number Brassard wears.  None of the defenseman fight for 44, 97, 6, 21, or 7.  My goalies avoid whatever numbers the CBJ goalies are wearing, even if it means spending $250 for a new set of jerseys.  No one wants number 18, and he was a Buckeye.

What does it say when the impressionable boys on a Columbus Blue Jackets travel hockey team start showing up with LA Kings hats, Flyers T-shirts, and Red Wings hoodies?  The day Nash was traded we had a practice.  The boys were confused and couldn't understand why the CBJ would want to trade their best scorer.  There was no ill feeling from the boys towards Nash, no convoluted talk about honor or duty.  Just confusion, but the understanding that no one wants to play on a last place team forever.  After all, the connection to the Blue Jackets isn't a strong one to youth hockey in Columbus - the Columbus Chill Youth Hockey Association has the right to use the Blue Jacket name and logo for it's travel team - that's about it.

Sure, there is the "Blue Jackets Hockey School."  Seldom, if ever, is an NHL Blue Jacket to be found at the rink during Blue Jacket hockey school.  But this year the kids did get Martin Spanhel, a guy who barely played a dozen games a decade ago.  There is great instruction at these camps, but the  Blue Jackets do very little to capture the hearts and minds of the hockey playing youth in Central Ohio.  They are missing a great opportunity to give the kids a chance to fall in love with the Blue Jackets. Because really, when you're losing 10 million dollars a year and only generating $34 of revenue per fan, getting autograph sessions at Front Street Friday is more critical than a grass roots campaign.  I guess somewhere in the marketing brilliance of of the NHL and Columbus Blue Jackets, going after the disposable income located within a few blocks of the arena is a better formula than an all out blitz where hockey is played every day.   I understand the number of people who play hockey in Columbus could barely fill the lower bowl at Franklin County, er, Nationwide Arena.  But hey, the "Nick and Rick Show" poster at Dublin Chiller is all that need remind me of the successful marketing campaign the Blue Jackets employ.

My single A travel team will start their twice-a-week practices next week.  They will pull on their Blue Jackets practice jerseys, put on their union blue socks and helmets, and talk about players from other NHL teams while they are stretching.  They will be proud to be part of a travel hockey team, despite their name sake doing very little to inspire them.  They will skate every practice not knowing that the majority owner is more passionate about a lock-out than he is about hiring the right kind of management team.  Arena deals and salary caps may fix the financial woes of an NHL franchise for a while, but those deals were in place in 2001, 2002, and 2003 when this miserable NHL franchise turned a profit and packed the arena.  Regardless of how the NHL franchise does, the 01 A Blue Jackets have a title to defend and have a banner to raise.  They learned how to play together as a team, and once they bought into that, the championship was inevitable.  Perhaps the Blue Jackets have something to learn from us.  Maybe if the franchise did come to the Chiller every now and again, they could see what passion looked like in a CBJ sweater.  Maybe just the mere sighting of a player at the rink would actually endear players to the kids on a travel team.  But that's wishing for a lot, much like wishing for anything from the NHL's Columbus Blue Jackets...

Friday, August 17, 2012

Inside the Dressing Room: We talking about practice

Welcome to the latest addition of the Inside the Dressing room series here at DKM Hockey.  The equipment used in the sport of hockey is evolving at rate that rivals the Golf Club industry.  Every year something newer, faster, lighter comes out.  And while some things seem gimmicky, some things really do have and impact on how the players perform.  Even somethings we take for granted or see as benign, like the practice jersey.

We ain't talkin' bout the game.

When I think of a practice jersey, I don't think of high end technology fabricated into a practice jersey.  But in the NHL, no piece of equipment is left in the dust in terms of modernization.  You have to upgrade, or how else are you going to sell a $250 hockey stick?  At the turn of the millennium, NHL practice jerseys were polyester moo-moos.  They were big, loose, and heavy.  As an example, see this circa 2003 practice jersey from the Calgary Flames in a size 54.

@johntkemp looking dapper and happy to be wearing a Team's Jersey.
The "Center Ice" practice jerseys of the day were to game jersey specs: Fight strap, double shoulders, elbow patches, and gussets.  The NHL logo was embroidered into the back side of the lower hem.  The jersey size was embroidered onto the lower front hem.  These jerseys 'wicked' perspiration like public restroom toilet paper and weight a metric ton.  Not to mention they were the "Hammer Pants" of professional sports.  In the picture above, you can see how John Kemp could have easily hidden two of his three children in his armpits.  So the league got in touch with CCM and solicited feedback from the player on how to improve the practice jersey.

So after a season lost to a fight over a salary cap, the brilliant minds at CCM hammered out this puppy in about 15 minutes.

Kempy, still not happy.

The NHL and CCM gave it the old college try with this first Reebok branded practice jersey in 2006.  I think most jersey collectors put this in the category of the "6100" jersey, but don't quote me on that.  Collectors creep me out. This particular example is a size 52.  First, they added lightweight and breathable material under the arms. A good start - however, the rest of the jersey was still straight up polyester and remained heavy and hot.  While CCM did make the jerseys SLIGHTLY slimmer fitting through the trunk, the sleeves still looked like Dumbo's ears.  Oh, and for some reason reflective piping was sewn into the sleeve for reasons we're still unsure of. The jersey still had double shoulders, elbow patches, fight strap, and the NHL logo moved to the collar in a Hi Vis area. 

Not to be discouraged, CCM took what it learned from this iteration and moved onto this in 2007-2008:

John Kemp smiles wearing the good old CBJ practice jersey.
Dubbed as the "Edge" by Reebok to coincide with it's revolutionary game jersey in 07/08, the Edge practice jersey took every complaint from the players about the previous jersey and went over the top to correct them.  The jersey pictured above is a size 58.  Only Cat Ladies and Turk Broda ever wore a jersey that big.  Now, it was the SMALLEST size jersey one could wear.  However, They were very light weight.  A lightweight breathable mesh was used on the front and back of the jersey.  A spandex weave was used in the material under the arms.  The sleeves and shoulders were a thicker polyester, but gone were the elbow patches and double shoulders.  Very lightweight and breathable indeed.  But, The trunk had a 'bell shaped taper' that looked weird over equipment.  The life expectancy of the practice jersey was reduced as there was no reinforced fabric in the high wear zones.  Players struggled to get this jersey over their shoulder pads.  The extreme taper on the sleeves made it tough to wear with elbow pads.  The jersey met approval in terms of being lightweight and breathable, but was very, very snug.  The fight strap and NHL logo remained.  The jersey size was now a weird looking patch on the lower front hem, maybe to capture the "Property of" spirit from 1964.  The equipment manager whined a little bit that there wasn't enough room on the back to add names/numbers on the back for camps. The reflective piping remained. 

Undaunted by failure, Reebok rolled out their Opus in 2010-2011, the Edge 2.0

John Kemp, grumpy once again in a Size 58 practice jersey.
The "Edge 2.0" practice jersey hit the head on the nail, or something like that.  The jersey uses three types of material.  One on the back, one on the front and sleeves, and a third under the arms and sides.  The sleeves are still slightly tapered, but have more room for bulky elbow pads.  The shoulders were widened a bit, and the taper in the trunk is no longer 'bell shaped.'  Double shoulders and double elbows returned and extra material was added to the lower hem and cuffs which are also high wear areas.  Remaining is the chinsy looking size 'patch' on the lower front part of the jersey, but oh well.  The material is light weight that embroidering into it is kind of tough.  Gone was the uber annoying reflective piping on the sleeves.  The fight strap remained as it has been throughout the evolution of the practice jersey.  This is over all a great practice jersey very well received by the players in fit, form, and function.

While no team is required to wear a specific style of practice jersey, most teams are wearing the Edge 2.0.  No rule or CBA requires any sort of standard for a practice jersey.  You would think that all teams would move to this new lightweight, cool, and durable jersey right?  Wrong.  There is one team that refuses to be swayed by fancy practice jerseys.  One team will not budge and sticks to old rags like polyester is the fabric of the Gods themselves.  And appropriately, that team is the New Jersey Devils.  Because after all, the New Jersey Devils are like the 'New Jersey' of the NHL.  Polyester is king, like Ed Hardy T-shirts.  Fist Pump.

"A drug dealer wouldn't be caught dead in those polyester rags!" - Data from the movie The Goonies 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

A day in the life of a Blogger.

What funny little reel this is. As any blogger can attest, if you're not blogging about bathroom humor, chances are you will run into a contrary opinon.