The Canadian Press
The NFL expanded the Rooney Rule to give more minority candidates opportunities to become a head coach and reward teams who develop them. More interviews didn’t equal more hirings this off-season. According to an analysis of candidates known to have interviewed for seven head coach openings this month, 11 were minorities and 16 were white. Only two of the seven jobs went to minorities. Some consider it progress but most agree there’s a long way to go. “There’s still work to be done in this area, no question about it,” Pittsburgh Steelers team president Art Rooney II said Thursday. The Houston Texans hired David Culley this week, making the 65-year-old longtime assistant the league’s third Black head coach hired. The New York Jets previously hired Robert Saleh, the son of Lebanese immigrants and the first NFL head coach who is known to be Muslim. Culley and Saleh join Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin, Miami’s Brian Flores and Washington’s Ron Rivera as the league’s only minority head coaches. In a sport where about 70% of the players are minorities, the lack of diversity among the head coaching ranks sticks out. Rooney said the league will take another look at the rule named after his father, Dan Rooney, who was chairman of the NFL’s diversity committee. “We didn’t make as much progress on the head coaching side as we would have liked,” Rooney said. “But I would say we did make some progress on the general manager side, which is encouraging. And then we’ll have to look on the co-ordinator side to see how much progress we make on that front. “There are a lot of pieces to it that we’re going to have to sit down when it’s all said and done and really analyze what happened, and are there things we can do to strengthen the opportunities for minority coaches. I think last year we did take a number of steps that I think over time are going to pay dividends, but that’s not to say we can’t do more, and we’ll take another strong look at it this off-season.” Two of the seven vacancies for general manager were filled by minorities when the Atlanta Falcons hired Terry Fontenot and the Detroit Lions tabbed Brad Holmes. They join Cleveland’s Andrew Berry and Miami’s Chris Grier as the only Black GMs in the league. Perhaps an increase in minority executives will lead to more minority head coaches. Ultimately, the owners are the ones making the decision and 31 of the 32 are white. They have to be convinced. “I got this job simply because I was the best football coach that they wanted in this situation, and I happen to be African American,” Culley said Friday. “I’m proud of that. I’m happy for that. And I hope if me getting this job because of that reason allows other teams in this league to see that … so be it. I’m part of it and I’m for that.” In November, the NFL implemented a resolution that rewards organizations with draft picks for developing minority coaches and front office executives who become head coaches, general managers or team presidents for other clubs. That was part of a seven-point mobility plan designed to enhance opportunities. Last May, the NFL amended the Rooney Rule to stipulate teams must interview at least two minority candidates not associated with their own team for a head coaching vacancy. Also, one minority candidate has to be interviewed for co-ordinator positions as well as high-ranking positions in the front office, including the general manager role. Kansas City Chiefs offensive co-ordinator Eric Bieniemy had six interviews but was passed over again. Coach Andy Reid, quarterback Patrick Mahomes and other Chiefs expressed disappointment that Bieniemy didn’t get an opportunity. “It’s very shocking that he didn’t get a job,” wide receiver Tyreek Hill said. “I know deep down inside he’s going to look at himself in the mirror and say, ‘What can I do better so I can get that job?’ He’s that kind of dude. He wants to get better and he wants to become a head coach. His time will come.” The list of Black candidates who interviewed for head coaching positions included five guys who previously held the position: Marvin Lewis, Jim Caldwell, Todd Bowles, Leslie Frazier and Raheem Morris. The Eagles interviewed their assistant head coach/running backs coach Duce Staley, who left for Detroit after Nick Sirianni was hired to replace Doug Pederson. They also interviewed Patriots inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo, Bowles and Saleh among a total of 10 candidates. “I was blown away by the quality of these candidates,” Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said. “The NFL is lacking in slots, not in candidates. . … They’ll be the hot candidates in a year, two or three, no question about it. That’s what we learned in the process.” The Jets interviewed then-Saints secondary coach Aaron Glenn. He later joined Dan Campbell’s staff in Detroit. Many players, and their union leader, have voiced their concern about the lack of diversity in the coaching ranks. “A rule or any modifications to a rule that has very little transparency and very little accountability, none of us should be surprised when it fails, right?” NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith said this month. “So, I think to the league’s credit they’ve asked the NFLPA and us to help them improve diversity across the NFL, not only coaches or head coaches but entire coaching ranks, NFL team front offices, the league office, and ultimately ownership. Those are conversations that I know we’re going to start to have with the league after the Super Bowl. “But, to me, it has to start with those two things. Without a level of transparency and accountability, none of us should be surprised when there are only incremental steps of change or times where we’ve gone backward. There are concrete ways of addressing this. A lot of them mirror what people have been doing in corporate America for years. But increasing transparency, giving someone the responsibility of increasing diversity and then making it accountable, I think if you have those three things as the core of how you want to make the league look like its membership and its community. I think those are the only ways to go about it.” ___ AP Sports Writer Will Graves contributed ___ More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL Rob Maaddi, The Associated Press
Oilers and Flames alumni recall Battle of Alberta from playoffs past – TSN
Marty Gelinas saw the Battle of Alberta from both sides over a number of years but there’s one memory that stands out above the rest.
On April 14, 1991 during overtime of Game 6 of the Smythe Division Semifinals, Calgary Flames forward Theo Fleury picked off a Mark Messier pass in the neutral zone and beat Edmonton Oilers goalie Grant Fuhr to tie the series at 3-3.
Gelinas was just 20 and in his third season as a left-winger with the Oilers, in the last playoff series they played against the Flames, back in 1991. There were plenty of goals, fights, and penalties in that seven-game series, but the former first-round draft pick will never forget Fleury’s celebration after he scored in OT to end Game 6.
Fleury slid on his knees across centre ice at the old Northlands Coliseum in Edmonton, an iconic celebration that still makes highlights reels three decades later. For the home team Oilers that night, however, Fleury’s celebration was motivation for Game 7, which Edmonton won with an overtime goal of its own by Esa Tikkanen.
Gelinas, who now works in player development for the Flames, still remembers – 31 years later – the impact Fleury’s celebration had on his underdog Oilers team.
“I remember Theo Fleury coming in our building in Edmonton and he scored a goal in overtime and went the full length of his ice and got on his knees and celebrated,” Gelinas recalled. “You know, those things fuel up the opposite team and it fuelled us up. We went there to Calgary in Game 7…that goal [by Fleury] stuck with us.”
Gelinas, now 51, spent parts of five seasons with the Oilers (and was part of the return for Wayne Gretzky when No. 99 was dealt to the Los Angeles Kings on Aug. 9, 1988), and also scored several big goals for the Flames during their 2004 run to the Stanley Cup Final.
In the old Smythe Division, postseason Battles Of Alberta were not once-in-a-generation events, but almost an annual rite of spring. Between the 1982-83 and 1990-91 seasons, the two teams met in the playoffs five times, with the Oilers winning four of the meetings.
“I think it was more or less the cities that were excited that the two teams were always facing off back then,” Joel Otto, who was a big rugged centre for those Flames teams, told TSN.
“Having bragging rights is a big thing out here in Alberta. Unfortunately Edmonton got the better of us more often than not, but they were some memorable series and we are all looking forward to this round. It’s been a long time coming.”
In those days, the Alberta rivals would play each other up to 16 times during the regular season – and that built-up animosity would carry over into the postseason. For the now 60-year-old Otto, the physicality of those rounds stands out.
“I do remember the ‘91 playoffs was very physical,” he said. “I kept saying after the fact that I’d never been hit that hard so many times. Edmonton had a pretty big defence. That was how the game was played.”
He isn’t alone.
“There was a lot of hate involved,” former Flames goalie Mike Vernon said. “I was fortunate enough to play in the ‘86 series and it was just mayhem. Even the trainers got into it, hopping over the glass to get a stick that was thrown in the crowd. There was a lot going on. It was probably a lot more physicality.”
“It was a jungle out there,” said Gelinas.
While the games were raucous on the ice, the fans were cordial off it.
“The fans were very respectful,” Otto said. “They were awesome…the passion from the fans for the most part was the same, it’s just the stakes are higher during the playoffs.”
Vernon agreed, although he did have one intense experience involving Flames fans in Edmonton.
“One time, I made the mistake on an off-day of going to the golf course and hitting some balls on the range,” he said. “My own fans were like, ‘Shouldn’t you be practising? Shouldn’t you be doing this? Shouldn’t you be doing that?’ I’m like, ‘Okay, I’m out of here.’”
Vernon, now 59, also remembers the gamesmanship.
“The coaches don’t say much, they hide things, they say things that are off the wall, and you’re scratching your head,” he said. “It’s all about keeping your team focused in what their job is on the ice.”
Vernon, being from Calgary, felt the extra pressure of shining against the provincial rivals.
“There’s a lot of excitement about it but there’s also that pressure,” he said. “Grant Fuhr was the same way [growing up in Edmonton]. Patrick Roy played for the Montreal Canadiens and he grew up in Montreal. It adds a lot of pressure, there’s no doubt. That’s just part of the game. That’s what drives us a bit and maybe forces us to play better. Us three, we had longevity in the NHL. It also pushed us to be better players, I believe.”
Alumni from both teams will no doubt be watching as this second-round series unfolds starting Wednesday in Calgary, and a new chapter of the Battle Of Alberta is written.
“I anticipate good hockey but very physical,” Vernon said. “I think that with the two-referee system, you can’t get away with anything on the ice. I think discipline is going to be a big key in this. Teams don’t want to be in the penalty box. Both teams have great power plays…I think both teams are going to play very cautiously from that standpoint so you’ll just see good hits. You’ll see great hockey. It’s a given.”
Six years of harsh reality be damned, the Maple Leafs are sticking to their plan – Sportsnet.ca
TORONTO – Stay the course. Stick to the plan.
We’re painfully close. Closer than it appears.
In the wake of their sixth consecutive opening-round postseason defeat, the Toronto Maple Leafs will septuple down on the Shanaplan, the blueprint.
They have seen enough progress within this sad string of playoff disappointments to not only believe in their strategy but believe harder. Six years of harsh reality be damned.
“Certainly, as we look forward to next year, there’s always going to be new faces. That being said, we will not be making changes just simply for the sake of saying that we made changes,” said Brendan Shanahan, entering the eighth year of his reign and still hunting Round 2.
“In spite of the fact that we were not able to finish Tampa off in Game 6 and Game 7, I saw a different team and a different approach.”
There is no whiff that the off-ice approach, at least publicly, will alter.
History will dictate whether Leaf Nation is rewarded for this regime’s loyalty and belief or foiled by stubbornness and hubris — and left with a diminished pool of picks and prospects.
During the club’s locker cleanout Tuesday, Shanahan gave Dubas and head coach Sheldon Keefe a firm endorsement for 2022-23.
Dubas not only backed Keefe but said the idea of dialing up experienced free agents Barry Trotz and Peter DeBoer hadn’t crossed his mind.
“I only think Sheldon is going to continue to get better,” Dubas said. “And I think when we speak of Sheldon in 10, 15 years from now, it’ll be in the same way that you [speak about] those two great coaches. And I think that’ll be played out here in Toronto.”
On the surface, no one is lighting a fire under anyone.
Maybe that’s just smart PR.
What would be troubling, though, is this: Maybe it’s complacency.
The air of disappointment, the vows to dig deeper, the sombre tones as the Leafs packed their belongings for the summer… it all felt so familiar. Just part of the cycle.
“As much as winning can bring people together,” Shanahan said, “learning how to deal with the heartbreak and devastation of falling short, depending on what kind of relationship you have, can bring you closer as well.”
What if, for these regular-season superstars, Round 2 has become the new Stanley Cup, the way RFA has become the new UFA?
“I don’t think playing in any passionate hockey market will allow for comfort to seep into a group,” Shanahan defended.
Thing is, plenty of supporters seem content with giving this another go, essentially, as is. Run it back. Hope the Maple Leafs are 100 per cent healthy again, that they draw an easier opponent, and that next time they will have learned their lesson for real.
I threw up a Twitter poll Monday to gauge whom the fans would like to see pay for another long golf season, and 66.9 per cent of 27,200 voters are happy to run this core back with minor changes on the fringes.
While his actions this summer will speak louder, Dubas says he is still content with allocating an inordinate percentage of his cap space to four forwards (Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, William Nylander) and an offensively gifted defenceman (Morgan Rielly).
Even after losing multiple do-or-die games to organizations that invested more in goaltending, defence and bottom-six depth.
“The contracts to those players that you’re referencing, I think they’re providing us great value in the way that they’re producing, in the way that they continue to evolve as they go through their contract. So, I don’t regret those at all,” said Dubas, ready to go money-balling for 2023’s David Kämpf and Michael Bunting.
“It’s the reality in the league right now that you’re probably not going to be able to spend as much as you want on those depth pieces. And you’re really going to have to do a great job of finding value, whether that’s someone that’s coming off injury, someone that hasn’t been given great opportunity, [or] someone coming off a bad year that you see something in.”
In a game of goal-line reviews and phantom high-sticks, the Maple Leafs believe they are simply “one shot away,” as captain John Tavares put it.
No need for major surgery.
Just a few more bargain-bin gems, a couple extra hours in the gym. A few less careless penalties, convert on a couple more power-plays.
“We’re slowly understanding the way we need to play,” William Nylander said.
“There’s significant buy-in here, which I don’t think you get everywhere.” Jason Spezza added. “We need more just — that stubbornness of not accepting to lose a game. It’s in the room. It definitely is in the room. These guys, they’re learning how hard it is.”
So are Shanahan and Dubas.
The brass will do their best to sell steady veteran Mark Giordano on the Spezza salary program. They’ll explore a Jack Campbell extension but also alternatives in the goalie market. The fringe forwards will be juggled and a few let loose.
But to hear the decision-makers tell it, mostly what the Maple Leafs need is a seventh playoff shot.
That should do the trick.
And they’ve done a shrewd enough of a sell job to get one.
This Battle of Alberta won’t be like the past, but the emotion will be unmatched – Sportsnet.ca
EDMONTON — It’s been 31 years, so long that a generation really only knows the Battle of Alberta in snap shots from Hockey Night in Canada videos.
Gretzky down the wing on Vernon. Smith, in off of Fuhr. Fleury break dancing across the Northlands Coliseum logo. Dave Brown, startin’ the lawn mower on Jim Kyte.
Glen Sather, alternately cheering an OT goal in Calgary and issuing a hand gesture to Flames fans that would have garnered him a healthy fine today.
We’re here to tell you: societal norms dictate that the old Battle of Alberta will never be re-lived. This can not be that.
But although we might know what we’re NOT going to see when the Calgary Flames hook up with the Edmonton Oilers starting on Wednesday night, you never know what you might see in a matchup set to consume this prairie province for the first time since 1991. A grudge match that — in its best days — was as good a rivalry as the National Hockey League has seen in all its many years.
“You always knew going into it that there was going to be bloodshed, and it was going to be some of your own,” former Oilers (and Flames) defenceman Steve Smith said in my book, The Battle of Alberta. “It was real then. There were going to be fights and you were expected to be part of fights and physical hockey.”
“They were big, strong, physical,” added Edmonton defenceman Jeff Beukeboom. “They were dirty. Just like us,”
The sheer violence does not exist anymore, and for that the NHL is a better place. But the emotion that has gone missing with that violence?
That, we’d like to surgically implant back into the game, like a ligament from a cadaver that could put the hop back in the step of a league where too many players are buddy-buddy, asking how the wife and kids are rather than putting a glove in their opponent’s face.
It was that emotion that fuelled the high-octane dragster that was The Battle.
Emotion that would drive Doug Risebrough to slink into the penalty box with an Oilers jersey purloined from the latest Pier 6 brawl, and slice it into ribbons with his skates. Emotion injected into a practice from Flames head coach Bob Johnson, who dressed a Junior A goalie in an Oilers jersey so his players could feel the thrill of blowing pucks past a Grant Fuhr lookalike.
“That’s the thing we’re missing in the game today. Emotion,” said former Flames goalie Mike Vernon. “Those games had so much emotion, and there was a price that had to be paid. Like the time Dave Brown fought Stu Grimson. Grimmer sat in the penalty box for 10 minutes with a broken face.
“You want to see real? That’s real.”
Emotion from players who knew, this wasn’t going to be a normal game. And if I play like it is, I won’t survive it.
“I had no problem [expletive] cuttin’ your eye out. Wouldn’t have bothered me a bit,” said Theoren Fleury, a small man who cut a big swath through the Battle. “Hey – you’re trying to [expletive] kill me? This was survival. It was that unpredictability that allowed me to have the room that I had.”
On a macro level, Edmonton and Calgary have always been contesting each other.
They fought over who would get the first Canadian Pacific Railway terminal (Calgary), way back in the 1800s. They argued over who would be designated the provincial capital, or lay claim to the University of Alberta in the early 1900s (Edmonton, and Edmonton).
Today the contest has been mostly won by the city that is simply 300 kilometres closer to the rest of the world than its rival. Calgary is the Dallas to Edmonton’s Houston, where the oil patch is concerned, an industry orchestrated by the white collars in the South, but serviced and operated by blue collars up North.
But where all this has impacted the sports scene is this: Anecdotally, more people born in Edmonton continue to live in Edmonton, while Calgary has become a city more rich in people from elsewhere; Edmonton is a city you leave, whereas Calgary has become somewhere people come to, with allegiances to other teams in tow.
That assessment is subjective, sure, but it’s backed up by the fact the Oilers tend to post better media numbers than the Flames do, whether it’s radio, TV or print. There is simply more local interest in Edmonton’s team than Calgary’s, a phenomenon that will be invisible to the naked eye these next two weeks.
When the original Battle began however, there was no question who was the big brother, and who was the little one.
Edmonton had joined the NHL from the old World Hockey Association in 1979, and the Flames arrived from Atlanta a year later. Soon, Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Grant Fuhr, Paul Coffey et al. were clearly a group the Flames could not match, or catch up to via the draft. So the Flames, with former University of Wisconsin coach Bob Johnson behind their bench, built a team using older college grads like Joe Nieuwendyk, Joe Mullen, Joel Otto, Jamie Macoun and Gary Suter.
In the end, the Flames only won one of five playoff meetings between the two, but they played the Boston Red Sox to Edmonton’s New York Yankees, or Don Cherry’s Boston Bruins to the 70’s Habs that were Edmonton.
“Ali needed Frazier,” Messier once said. “That top opponent that pushes, and challenges, and makes you better.”
As the two teams ready for a meeting beginning Wednesday night in Calgary, that old Saddledome is perhaps the only visual that will provide a similar look, outside the familiar jerseys of each team. The landscape is unfamiliar, with teams full of players who have never faced each other in a post-season series.
Two teams who once combined for 780 goals in a season settled for 576 this season. And penalty minutes?
Forget about it…
In 2022 however, there are some similarities. Connor McDavid will play the part of Wayne Gretzky, while the Elias Lindholm line will lend depth and execution the way Johnson’s old Flames would attack Edmonton using his oft-referenced — but never actually seen — “Seven Point Plan” to beat the Oilers.
Today Matthew Tkachuk is the spoon that stirs the emotional bouillabaisse, whereas before it was Esa Tikkanen or Neil Sheehy, the Flames defenceman and Gretzky-pesterer whose refusal to fight anyone on Edmonton wound the Oilers up like a top.
When it’s done, all we can hope for is some lasting memories, some players who might not tee it up together the way they may have a summer ago, and two organizations that see each other as they once did — as the in-division hurdle that had to be jumped on the way to a Stanley Cup.
“All the most important, most memorable team meetings we ever had were held in that dressing room in Calgary,” Craig MacTavish once said. “We were the best two teams in the NHL of that day, and we would meet very early in the playoffs.
“They were absolute wars,” he added. “A pleasure to be a part of, in hindsight.”
We leave you with this anecdote, from Beukeboom.
“I think it was a pre-season game,” he began. “I was going up ice and got two-handed on the back of the legs by Fleury. Whack! I remember a pile-up in the corner one day, after Simmer (Craig Simpson) had taken out their goalie, and Fleury was running his mouth. ‘You guys suck. You can’t skate, you big [expletive].’ So now we’re in the pile in the corner, and he’s on top of me. But, we come out of it together, and now he’s saying, ‘It’s OK. I’ve got you. No problem.’ Like, now he’s being a nice guy.”
So, what did Beukeboom do? Exactly what Fleury would have done, had the shoe been on the other foot
“I suckered him. Cut him open for stitches,” he said. “It was one of the few times [head coach] John Muckler paid me a compliment.”
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