Hate Index: Comparing Cleveland’s reaction to LeBron vs. Ottawa’s toward Heatley

This is truly a unique evening of cross-sports hatred.

In case you’re under a professional sports rock, Dany Heatley is making his first appearance in Ottawa since he demanded a trade (yet refused to go to Edmonton) two summers ago. If you’re living in an even more isolated sports cave, you might not be aware that LeBron James also makes his return to his home state and original team in Cleveland, Ohio tonight after breaking their hearts like an Earnest Byner fumble with “The Decision.”

As long as it doesn’t devolve into violence, looting or other over-the-line behavior, it’s actually kind of fun to study the actions of a large group of people making too big of a deal about games. With that passion in mind, I decided to observe the opening moments of each game (Sharks-Oilers is currently in the first intermission; Heat-Cavaliers just passed the eight-minute mark) and compare the crowd reactions.

Ottawa’s reaction to Heatley

Most apparent chant: “Heatley sucks.”

Habits: Crowd boos whenever his line comes onto the ice.

Crowd effectiveness: Above average

The vitriol level was pretty high, but not completely unreasonable. One thing I like about that booing pattern: by beginning with jeers when his entire line came out on the ice, that actually could be a tactical advantage for line matching. It seems like it settled down to the industry standard “only when he touches the puck” though.

Heatley’s start

It seems like he’s been motivated by the boos. Although he didn’t register a shot on goal, he hit a post on a shot and drew a penalty. The Sharks are also up 1-0, so he’s getting the first laugh.

Cleveland’s reaction to LeBron

Most apparent chant: Sing-songy “A——” chant. Also “Ak-ron hates you” which gets huge bonus points for creativity.

Habits: Booing when he touches the ball.

Crowd effectiveness: Medium

It’s almost impossible for the angry fans in Cleveland to live up to the hate hype without going over the line, but they’ve done a decent job of making their former hero uncomfortable. Beer only being sold in paper cups = solid decision.

LeBron’s start (through 8:25)

Three points on 1-3 shooting, one missed three pointer, three rebounds and two assists.

(Note: He hit a couple great plays in a row and has eight points as of this immediate writing.)

We’ll keep our eyes peeled for any other interesting developments, but don’t expect much more LeBron-specific talk tonight.

Willie Desjardins to coach Team Canada at Olympics

Getty
3 Comments

The past two Winter Olympics, Team Canada has been coached to gold by Mike Babcock, currently the NHL’s highest-paid bench boss.

But the 2018 Olympics in South Korea will be a very different animal. The NHL is not sending its players this time. When the Games are on, Babcock will be busy with his Toronto Maple Leafs.

So, today, Hockey Canada announced that Willie Desjardins, recently fired by the Vancouver Canucks, will be the head coach of the two-time defending gold medalists. Desjardins will be assisted by former Team Canada head coach Dave King, as well as Scott Walker and Craig Woodcroft.

Sean Burke, who rose to prominence as a goalie in the 1988 and 1992 Olympics — which didn’t feature NHLers, either — will be Canada’s general manager. Burke will be aided by Martin Brodeur.

“This is an exciting time for Hockey Canada and for our National Men’s Team program, and it will be an exciting season for Canadian hockey fans,” said Tom Renney, Hockey Canada’s CEO. “The goal is always to field the best possible team in all upcoming competitions, including this February when we hit the world’s biggest sporting stage in Pyeonchang. The faces on our Team Canada rosters may be different than in previous years, but the expectations will be the same; with the addition of Sean, Martin, Willie, Dave, Scott, and Craig, we have assembled some of the best hockey minds out there to help us meet those expectations of on-ice success.”

Today’s announcement is yet more evidence, if you still required it, that the NHL isn’t bluffing about not sending its players to South Korea.

In an email to The Hockey News, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly refuted a report out of Russia that suggested the league had a backup schedule with an Olympic break in it.

“There is not an alternative schedule,” Daly wrote. “Having NHL Players participate in the 2018 Winter Olympic Games is not an available option. All of the international federations are planning appropriately for constructing teams that will not include NHL players. I anticipate there will be federation announcements in the coming days that should eliminate any and all continuing doubt or skepticism about the issue.”

The NHL released the 2017-18 schedule a month ago.

Related: Tampa awarded the 2018 All-Star Game, further dampening Olympic hopes

Preds expect answer from Fisher next week

Getty
Leave a comment

We should find out next week if Mike Fisher is going to retire or keep playing for the Predators.

Fisher, Nashville’s 37-year-old captain, is an unrestricted free agent. He confirmed last month that he was considering retirement. But first, he needed some time to think.

Yesterday, Preds GM David Poile said he expected an answer soon.

“I’m hoping to talk to him later this week to see where he’s at,” Poile said, per The Tennessean. “I’d say by next week, we should have an update.”

Fisher had 18 goals and 24 assists in 72 games last season, but then had just four assists in 20 playoff games as the Preds reached their first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history.

If Fisher re-signs, he’ll likely be in the bottom six next season, with Ryan Johansen and newly signed Nick Bonino expected to center the top two lines. Fisher could even be the fourth-line center or a winger, allowing the likes of Calle Jarnkrok, Colton Sissons, and Frederick Gaudreau to take on bigger roles.

But for Fisher, hockey isn’t everything, and after more than 1,000 games in the NHL, he may simply opt to hang up the skates.

“Everyone wants to win in this game, no one probably more than me,” Fisher said. “But there’s other things. At the end of the day, this is a game. It’s an important part of my life, but it’s not everything.”

Related: Predators take Stanley Cup loss with grace and optimism

Habs sign Mark Streit — is he Markov’s replacement?

Getty
Leave a comment

The Montreal Canadiens have signed 39-year-old defenseman Mark Streit to a one-year contract worth a reported $700,000.

This will actually be Streit’s second stint with the Habs. He started his NHL career in Montreal, all the way back in 2005.

Streit split last season between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. In the playoffs, he only appeared in three games for the Penguins, all of them in the Eastern Conference Final against Ottawa when Justin Schultz was hurt.

What the Streit signing means for Andrei Markov remains to be seen. Streit, like Markov, can run a power play, so it’s tempting to conclude that Streit is Markov’s replacement.

That being said, almost all of Streit’s contract could be buried in the AHL if necessary, so that conclusion may be premature. This could even be a move by GM Marc Bergevin to gain leverage and convince Markov to sign.

Markov, 38, remains an unrestricted free agent. The Canadiens want him back, but only at a certain price.

Devils give Mirco Mueller two-year extension

Getty
Leave a comment

The New Jersey Devils have signed defenseman Mirco Mueller to a two-year contract extension with a cap hit of $850,000.

Mueller, a first-round draft pick of the Sharks in 2013, has only played 54 NHL games, scoring two goals with four assists. In June, after spending most of 2016-17 in the AHL, San Jose traded the 22-year-old to the Devils.

In New Jersey, Mueller should get a good chance to crack a rebuilding roster.

“Mirco is adding another piece to what we’re trying to build here,” Devils coach John Hynes said, per NJ.com. “He’s a young player, he can play with pace. He’s a very good skater. He’s got size, which is something we need on the back end. He makes a good first pass. He allows you to get out of your own zone because he can break out, he can end plays defensively, get possession, make the pass to be able to transition yourself out of defensive situations.”

The Devils have also re-signed goalie Scott Wedgewood and forward Joseph Blandisi.