Archive for August, 2011

A lot can happen in four years…

For instance, a kid from small town Ontario can graduate university at one of the biggest schools in the country (I know it hasn’t happened yet…).

When most of us think of where we were four years ago it won’t seem like it was that different.  It won’t seem like we’ve each undertaken a journey, a progression.  But things do happen, things do change.  Here are a bunch of things that can (and have) changed over the past four years.

Is he smiling for the camera or the pretty blonde in the second row??

Tiger Woods can go from being the most respectable athlete of his generation whose career couldn’t possibly fail to a degenerate sex addict without a good knee to stand (or swing) on.

– Justin Bieber can become the whitest thing since sliced bread to achieve world-wide popularity.

– Space shuttles can stop being launched into space, ending the 30-year NASA project that has come to form a large part of the American mythos.

– Osama bin Laden can cease to be the most wanted man in the world.

– Jack Kevorkian can cease to be Dr. Death and instead be collected by Death himself.

– Natural disasters can become more common and more devastating…and more translatable into Hollywood box office success.

– The BlackBerry is no longer just the smartphone of choice for the United States Department of Defense, but nearly every other two-thumbed organism.

Yes, a lot can happen in four years…but a lot can stay the same…a lot of things can seem to be just where we left them four years ago…

– Harry Potter can go from chasing criminals and godfathers through mysterious tunnels to chasing even bigger criminals and surrogate fathers’ ghosts through mysterious tunnels.

Smoother than a Baby's Bottom: Findings from an Examination of Justin Bieber's Face

The island nation of Fiji can still be controlled by Frank Bainimarama’s military government.

– The All Blacks can still be odds-on favourites for the Rugby World Cup.

– The Dark Knight can still be everyone’s favourite movie.

– Justin Bieber still cannot grow any measurable amount of facial hair.

– EA Sports can still fail to release a decent Rugby Union video game, thus alienating even more fans than it did when they repackaged Rugby 06 as Rugby 08.

– People can still be expounding 9/11 conspiracy theories like the world actually gives a damn.

Sure, these are all interesting tidbits and nice reflections, but what can we actually take from them and learn?

Let me do some reflecting and tell you what I’ve learned from the past four years…

– It doesn’t take much to capture the attention of a world wide audience…although sex certainly does sell.

– Now that the Cold War arms-race is safely over what is out there in space can be consigned to the laboratories of mad scientists everywhere as it has outlived its fifteen minutes of fame (or should that be light years??).

– Osama bin Laden was the world’s most wanted man, but no one bothered to knock on his front door to see if he was home…  Man, people are stupid.

– What goes around comes around.

– The end of the world is pretty hip right now…

– Evolution is eventually going to cause human necks to bend at a 45-degree angle so that it is a much more natural position to be in when we spend 8 hours a day staring down at a smartphone.  And thumbs will shrink to less than half their current size to prevent awkward messages like “I just saw your dick” (as opposed to “I just saw your duck”).

– What works once in popular media will work again and again and again and again and again…

– No one cares about Fiji.

Why am I showing you this? No one cares...

– Truly good movies stand the test of time.  So do truly bad ones…

– Being young and naive can be a great set of qualities to have, so long as they don’t land you in someone’s trunk and/or basement…

– and again…

– Shit happens.  Sometimes you can explain it, sometimes you can’t.  Sometimes you under-react and other times you over-react.  But there comes a time to move on…in the case of 9/11 that time would have been January 20th, 2009 – the day Barack Obama took office and replaced George Bush.

There are some important lessons in there, but there are also some things that just make you want to shake your head.

I guess the real moral of this story is that the world is an ever-changing place.  Things come and things go.  It is the destiny of humanity to adapt to these changes, especially since they are so uniformly driven by humanity’s need for progress, instant gratification, and total connection.

In a way, the change that we have seen over the past four years is a product of a movement towards a global community.  I mean, how many people seriously used Twitter back in 2007?  Why does the news cover things from around the globe instead of what is happening just down the street?  This is the world, and we’re going global.

The only real question that remains to me is to speculate on whether the changes we are seeing are good or bad.  It strikes me as an odd question given that we aren’t writing the history of our time, but rather living it.  When you wake up in the morning and check your email, Facebook, and Twitter accounts, do you wonder to yourself whether it is good or bad to do so?  I know I don’t.

Besides, can we really measure these changes on a scale of good to bad?  What classifies something as good or bad on the global framework?  What scale of morality do we use?

I say, leave the weighing of our time to the historians of the future…they’ll be the experts on our age.  Just as the historians of the past were on the ages that came before us…

They say that the only sure things in life are death and taxes.  There definitely are other sure things – such as being born, having to breathe to survive, etc. –  but these two are the ones that are most often quoted.

At first glance, death might seem the harsher of the two, the most final, but death is a natural phenomenon – it is neither good nor bad, it just is.

On the other hand, Canada’s current tax system is completely unjust.

...Mainly because they want to take your money...

I don’t say that because I think we shouldn’t have to pay taxes.  I don’t say that because I feel that my tax money isn’t doing as much for society as I think it should.  I say that because Canada’s tax system is basically a tax on hard work.  It is a system that takes more money from those who work harder to make what little they can just because they make it.

Let me clarify what I’m trying to say here.  Canada’s tax system collects a higher percentage of one’s wages if one earns higher than a certain threshold.  If I earn $1000 per week I am taxed at a higher percentage than if I only earned $500.  When the money you take home each week is directly linked to how hard or how long you have to work, as it is in construction for instance, it is a complete disgrace that a greater percentage of a person’s income is torn from their grasp.

I ask you: what right does the government or society have to tax people more because they work harder??

The simple answer is that it doesn’t have that right at all.  A more complex one would be that the government feels that people don’t need more than a certain amount of money and think that the money could be better used elsewhere.  That isn’t a decision that the government is entitled to make on behalf of the people.  Yes, we elect them and let them make decisions for us, but that does not give them the right to decide what happens to the fruits of my labours.

Let’s look at it in a slightly different manner…

We can safely say that work is for the benefit of society in one way or another.  Society demands some kind of service and pays a person to provide that service.  Many people may use the service, many people may not, it doesn’t matter.  What matters is that someone demands a service and someone else provides it.  This system is what our current economy and way of life is dependent on.  To be otherwise would be to go back to the days where a person’s food, clothing, and belongings were made or created by the person themselves.  (I’m not necessarily saying that a self-providing lifestyle is bad, but rather that it isn’t the reality that we currently find ourselves in.)

So, when a person works they give back to society.  When a person gets paid it is a recognition that the person has contributed some value to society.  They have essentially given back to society already, before taxes have even been put into the equation.

Taxes are necessary, there’s no getting around that.  How else would we pay for necessary improvements to infrastructure (roadways, railway tracks, police and fire departments, health care, etc.)?  These are things that everyone uses and everyone should pay for and pay for equally.  Why do some people have to pay measurably more just because they make more money?

Since people already contribute to society through work and basic taxes, it can’t be some payment of debt to society that is incurred by the hard-working segment of society.  One would actually think that because people contribute more value to society through their work that they would be taxed less initially.  So, what kind of justification can there be for the current tax system?

What would make more sense is a system that taxes those who don’t work more as they have a larger debt to pay to society.  Such a system would have some flaws in that there simply aren’t enough jobs to go around for everyone – hence having an unemployment rate above 0%.  However, it would not be the farce that is currently being propagated by the Canadian government.

A counter argument that some would pose is that quite often the people earning high amounts of money really aren’t deserving of that kind of wage, and it is an interesting counter-argument.  However, one must remember that someone’s wage is determined only by a kind of relative value.  A person’s paycheque is relative to the amount of value the employer feels the person brings to the table.  If a CEO makes $3 million it is only because the owner/owners/shareholders of the company feel that the CEO is worth that much money to the company.  If they didn’t feel that the person’s value matched their wage demands, then they could easily find someone willing to take the job for less (although they are likely going to get less value in return).

For athletes it is even easier to measure their value as most professional leagues in North America legislate that players shall earn a certain percentage of the league’s revenue.  The fans (read shareholders) determine the revenues through ticket and merchandise sales, thus indirectly determining the value of the players.  It is all relative.

We must also remember that tied up in this concept of value is a measurement of whether a person actually earns their pay.  If someone is getting paid $XXX, then it has been determined that they actually earn that money.  If they aren’t truly earning it, then they will likely be fired or have to take a pay cut.

I earned this money, I should be able to decide what to do with it.

The piece that ties this together is the theme that underlies this whole post: what you earn is yours and shouldn’t be taken from you in an unreasonable manner.  The principle holds the same for the CEO and the athlete just as much as it does for the construction worker or the bus boy.

The bottom line is that the sham that is Canada’s tax system is a complete slap in the face to those who work hard each and every day to make enough money to make ends meet.  If I work extra hours because I need the money to pay my bills it certainly doesn’t help when the government dips their hand into my pocket to steal money that isn’t theirs.

Perhaps the most important thing to take away from this is that the money we earn and the things we purchase with that money should be ours and ours alone to decide what to do with.  It should not be up to someone else, even if that someone else is an elected official – there are many people in the Canadian government that I would not trust with my money, to decide that my hard-earned pay should be taxed to a higher degree.

It does not make sense…or dollars for that matter…

While browsing the depths of Twitter today, I stumbled upon this gem supposedly from Arsenal goalkeeper Manuel Almunia:

A little further prying led to the realization that this was a fake account, saving Almunia from the ridicule of football fans everywhere when they pointed out that Almunia has no business giving goaltending tips to anyone given that he can’t even hold down Arsenal’s starting goalkeeper job.

This post by some Arsenal fanboy (who clearly has come to terms with his team’s declining fortunes rather poorly), plus my membership on Manchester United’s fan forums where David de Gea is being ripped a new arsehole by supposed Manchester United supporters, has lead me to write this post in defense of de Gea.

Before you declare me a hypocrite, I will admit that I am disappointed by the goals de Gea has let in against Manchester City and West Brom.  But I’m not angry.  I’m not calling him a failure or questioning his ability to fit in at United.  I’m disappointed.  That means I expected more, but have been unpleasantly surprised by the way things have actually panned out.  I’m not about to tear de Gea apart just because of a couple bad goals.

David de Gea while playing for Atletico Madrid in La Liga.

Let’s look at some facts here.  David de Gea is 20 years old and far from the finished product as a goaltender.  He just moved from Spain not even six weeks ago and is still learning how to speak English on a team where very few, if any, players speak the same dialect of Spanish as de Gea.

Some more facts.  Manchester United have been blessed with a string of great goalkeepers over their history, most recently Peter Schmeichel and Edwin van der Sar.  Manchester United is one of the biggest clubs on the planet (if not the biggest) and their fans have very high expectations of the club and the players.  It is safe to say that anything short of a 20th Premier League title this season will be considered a failure.

So, where in this maelstrom of contrasting expectations is it reasonable to expect de Gea to be absolutely perfect?  When was it decided that one bad goal or one bad game is enough to turn supporters who should, by any stretch of logic, be cheering for you and supporting you against you as virulently as some have been turning on de Gea?  It might just be a symptom of the 21st century world of sports where fans want to see immediate results from big-money purchases (remember that de Gea cost United 18-million Pounds to sign), but it is wrong nonetheless.

De Gea, while young, comes backed with all the promise in the world and comparisons to many great goalkeepers.  But like any promise shown by any player, it is called promise for a reason.  It is called promise because it needs time to blossom into skill.  Promise does not equal skill, as some people seem to believe.  It does take time, or the right environment, to move a player from the promising youngster category – which de Gea now occupies – to the established starter category – where de Gea will someday be.

Sir Alex Ferguson: The mastermind behind United's past 12 Premier League Championships.

Now, I’m not usually one to question Sir Alex Ferguson’s methods.  In fact, much of my thinking about the Man United squad that can be found in this post has been reflected in Sir Alex’s actions and statements.  However, given the facts that I related about de Gea above, I might have taken a different tack with regards to his deployment early in the season.  After all, United do have Anders Lindegaard who was signed last January waiting in the wings.  Lindegaard has had plenty of time to adapt to life in England and the rigours of playing for Manchester United, not to mention he has looked very assured in the few appearances that he has made for the club.  Allowing de Gea more time to settle in a bit better and familiarizing himself to the coaching of Eric Steele (by many accounts one of the top goalkeeping coaches in the world) while getting a few games here and there could have been very beneficial to his progress.  Instead, the ripping he is taking from the fans could be enough to shatter his confidence.

But I digress.  The point here isn’t to question the players or the manager – after all United did win the game despite losing Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic to injury – but to promote patience, understanding, and support.  When United bought a 20 year old keeper, they and the fans knew that there would be a learning curve.  Although de Gea has played over 100 times for Atletico Madrid and received a number of age-grade caps for Spain, neither is Manchester United.

Everybody involved with de Gea’s transfer in any way – whether as the player, the manager, the club, or the fans – knew this.  Therefore, it should not come as a surprise when there are growing pains and there is no cause to verbally abuse the player in the way some people have been doing.

As one poster on the Manchester United forums stated, when a player plays for your club you support them, whether they play good or bad, for as long as they play for the club.  You don’t have to like them, but you do have to support them.

The Toronto Maple Leafs have never been blessed with outstanding I.Q. in the hockey operations department.  However, it’s taken until now to realize just how low that I.Q. actually has been over the course of time.

Roberto Luongo could have been a Maple Leaf...thank God it didn't happen.

In 1996, Mathieu Schneider was traded from the New York Islanders to the Toronto Maple Leafs, along with Wendel Clark, for Kenny Jonsson and the Leafs’ first-round pick in 1997.  At first glance this doesn’t seem like that stupid of a trade for the Leafs, but – much like the recent Phil Kessel trade – the value of a first round pick is not to be underestimated.

In this case, the first round pick turned out to be the fourth-overall selection that the Islanders used to select Roberto Luongo, who turned into one of the top starting goalies of his generation.  The big mistake the Leafs made was passing on a bona-fide franchise goalie of the sort that they haven’t had since before I was even born.

That brings me around to the actual topic of this post: the value of goaltending in today’s NHL.

You’ve heard all the cliches about how championships are built on goaltending or how teams build from the net out and for the most part they’re true.  I challenge you to show me the Stanley Cup-winning team that did not receive great goaltending on their way to victory, even if said goaltending came from someone that was completely unheard of before the playoffs began.

The last couple of years would seem to undermine such a theory.  Fewer teams are using an out-and-out number one goaltender.  Fewer goaltenders are earning mega-bucks contracts.  Teams are stocking up on B-level goalies to interchange throughout the season.

Some may conclude that this is an indication that the value of the goalie is declining.  Teams are less inclined to pay big bucks for a top-notch goalie because they feel that the money is better spent on forwards or defencemen as they feel such are more valuable in the chase for Lord Stanley’s Cup.  As such, goalies are seen as being more expendable.

The greatest goalie of all-time, Dominik Hasek.

That’s pretty bad news for people who grew up in the era of Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur, Dominik Hasek, Ed Belfour, and Curtis Joseph.

However, I would argue that the trends of the past couple years point to just how valuable goaltending really is.

Let’s start with the premise that the goalie is the most important member of the team.  I know that such an assumption could result in a rather circular argument, but assuming that general managers also start with the same premise will help explain the trends that we have seen.  The second premise that we need to acknowledge is that there are 82 regular season games plus a possible 28 games to come in the playoffs.  This represents a total of 110 games.  Thirdly, it is a fact of the game that goalies get injured, lose form, or simply need a rest.  These premises are inarguable.

What these three premises amount to is the fact that in order to have the best chance of winning the Cup, a team must get good goaltending every game out of the entire 110 possible games.  If goaltending is the most important factor towards winning it would behoove teams to ensure they have good goaltending every game of the season.

Now, in the modern, salary-capped NHL, teams can really only devote a certain percentage of their salaries towards goaltending.  Even with the emphasis on getting top-flight goaltending, NHL rosters have room for 23 players and teams would be rather foolish not to fill those rosters out.  Based on a per-player division of salary cap money, teams can afford to spend approximately $8.217 million on goaltenders (based on 3 goaltenders at $2.739 million per player).

The question is: how is a general manager to divide up this money to give his team the best shot of winning?

If we go back to premise three – that goalies get hurt, have off-days, etc – then it would seem that the historical strategy, that of investing all the money in one high-priced superstar, is rather flawed.  For instance, what happens when a team’s $6-8 million investment comes up lame with a pulled groin?  What happens when said investment has a stretch of bad games that causes the team to lose morale and confidence, leading to a long losing streak?

Niemi is a perfect example of teams diversifying their goaltending assets.

Today’s general managers are taking a different approach.  They are diversifying, investing in multiple goaltenders in the hope that at least one will be able to produce the goods at any given time.  Let’s look at the Chicago Blackhawks as an example.  They won the Cup on the back of Antii Niemi’s great playoff performance.  (Coincidentally, their opposition in the finals – the Flyers – used a rotating carousel of goaltenders to get there.)  Niemi was a relatively unknown quantity before that playoff run, but proved to be a shrewd investment on the part of Stan Bowman and his predecessor Dale Tallon.  But when Niemi’s contract ended, Bowman refused to give Niemi a new, inflated contract on the basis that he had several young, inexpensive options (not to mention the albatross contract he was saddled with in Cristobal Huet) on hand.  One of which, Corey Crawford, turned out to be a pretty good player himself.

Other teams, including the Toronto Maple Leafs, Washington Capitals, and Detroit Red Wings have also employed such a tactic (albeit with varying results).

In saying that, teams would still be foolish to pass on a potential Hall of Fame goaltender as the Maple Leafs did in 1997 (Luongo may not be Hall-bound, but his first few years in the league sure pointed in that direction), even if it will cost them a large chunk of salary.

After all, good goaltending is the most valuable commodity in hockey and great goaltending gets you in the Hall of Fame.

After an extended leave of absence over the summer break, The Shaw Show is coming back with a vengeance! A new article will be posted shortly, but until then have your need for entertainment sated by this comically hilarious (yet imminently serious) musical number…