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Saturday, December 29, 2007

A Traditionalist's Pipe Dream

In doing my part to keep up in the world of hockey, there's virtually just one source in which to do this through on the internet, and it requires crossing internet international boundaries to do so. Since ESPN has given up on covering the NHL or anything related to the game on ice, I have to rely on ESPN's Canadian brother to the North, TSN. Sure, everything there is told from the Canada-first perspective and why not, its a cable station only carried in Canada - this is how things ought to go there.

The one exception they do make is their over-the-top coverage of the NHL, as well as the World Championships, World Junior Championships, Olympic Ice Hockey, Canada Cup....er, wait, that doesn't exist anymore - but if it did, TSN would be all over it.

All that said, I can always count on TSN to pick my brain about certain topics. For instance, after all the blathering on about where the Predators were going to end up because Nashville can't support an NHL franchise (which the new owners will find out soon enough, this new group is merely a Band-Aid for Gary Bettman's wet dream) there was plenty of talk about the team going to southern Ontario, or if things got really crazy - off to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada - former home of the Jets.

This, of course, got me thinking back to a paper I had to write for a History of Sports class I took in college which examined the failures of some of the more recent NHL teams and why they came to the sun belt of the United States. In this paper, I looked at three franchises that were in hockey hotbeds that were moved away for three different and distinct reasons. You can probably guess those three teams easily if you remember anything from the 1980s and 1990s. If you can't guess, I focused it on the Minnesota North Stars, Winnipeg Jets and the focus of today's rambling, the Quebec Nordiques.

While rooting around on TSN, I found this story about how Quebec City is still clinging to their dream of having an NHL team once again. While reading this story, I discovered that even the Canadian press has developed the same nasty habit the American press has cultivated - developing a story out of nothing.

Here, we find out that one of the Stastny brothers (Remember there were three of them who owned Quebec City back in the 1980s?) is still keeping his hope alive that the NHL will someday return to Quebec.

You're probably thinking now, "Wow, that's awesome that Peter Stastny is behind this - this can't lose!"

Well, you're aiming a little high, but I like that as it's not Peter Stastny that is behind this.

"Well surely, its great that the next great Stastny brother, Anton, is behind such a movement - he was a great Nordique and makes a great ambassador for this as well!"

Sorry, try again.

"Marian Stastny? Wait...Marian Stastny is behind this? Wasn't he sent back to Bratislava as an embarassment to the family name?"

Considering that he's the last Stastny brother still making their home in Quebec City and the NHL hasn't been there in over ten years now - you might as well be right. Yes, the third and least successful of the professional skating Stastny brothers is the man with the big dreams and big ideas for the return of the NHL. This, however, was not the most amusing part of this story.

This was:

"I think a team will come here at some point," says Stastny. "But it will take
some kind of crisis in the NHL for the team to return here."

That crisis, Stastny says, would entail several U.S. teams going broke
simultaneously, an event that might force the NHL to retreat to hockey
strongholds north of the border.

Pardon me for a moment, because clearly Marian has not noticed who the Commissioner of the NHL is. Just one second here....


There, now I feel much better. I'm sorry Marian and to everyone in Quebec City still holding out a glimmer of hope for the return of the NHL (which according to the story, barely half of the respondents to a poll asking about the return of the NHL wanted it to come back) but it is never, ever, ever, ever, ever, never, ever, neever, never-nev going to happen. Ever.

Even with the US Dollar continuing to vomit on itself and the Canadian dollar having officially caught up to it for equal value, teams still won't come back to Canada because Herr Bettman sees it to be a losing move to return to the country where hockey has its staunchest and most rabid fanbase. Bettman could get a feasible plan in place for a team to return to Quebec City, sure, but the problems with taxation in Quebec continue to exist, Le Coliseé de Quebec is still the only hockey arena fit enough to hold an NHL team and it's antiquated by this point as even back in 1994 they were looking to build a new facility and couldn't get that going because the money didn't exist. And it still doesn't exist in Quebec.

In short, all this story has done is told us that in nearly 15 years since the Nordiques bolted town for Denver nothing at all has changed one bit. Quebec leadership still doesn't want to invest in a sports franchises and is even less willing to do so now that Herr Bettman already helped to get their beloved team taken from them. Who would ever trust this guy to do a legitimate pro-Canadian deal? The answer: No one. This, however, is all moot since there are no serious bidders or contenders to bring a team back to Quebec City.

So I guess this is what we call a paradox? Blustering about a story made out of nothing? Meh - par for the course here on the Interweb.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Chris Simon: Moron Of the Year

I tell you something, Chris Simon has always been a good, tough menace on the ice. He's exactly the type of player that you want to have on a playoff team that will get under the skin of the other team as well as have enough skill to find the back of the net occasionally. Chris Simon was never a cementhead out on the ice solely looking to pick fights and rack up PIMs.

The Chris Simon that we saw in the NHL in the late 90s was about as similar to guys like Darren McCarty, the exception being that McCarty got to show his wares in the playoffs year in and year out whereas Simon was more on a hit-or-miss team for the playoffs dating back to his first seasons with the Nordiques and then when he was a Washington Capital and New York Ranger. Simon was an important agitating cog with the Colorado Avalanche in their 1996 Stanley Cup season. He scored 34 points in the regular season and racked up 250 PIMs. You'll take those PIMs when the guy gets you nearly 20 goals in the season while playing on the third and fourth lines.

Who am I kidding? This is a guy who took it very much to heart hearing players lob racial slurs his way on the ice (Simon is part Ojibwa Indian) and then, reportedly, called Mike Grier a "nigger" while in a scrap on the ice in 1997 - something for which Simon served a three-game suspension for.

He's gotten tagged for suspensions before and had his 25-game suspension for clubbing the Rangers Ryan Hollweg in the head end early this season. And now he's gotten nailed for 30 games for stomping on the foot of noted scumbag/agitator/flopper from Pittsburgh, Jarkko Ruutu.

Make note, that Ruutu did flop on the ice as if Simon's stomp had done big damage but Ruutu missed zero time on the ice. Modern medicine I tell ya.

For Simon, however, this has to be the end of the road. Yes, he'll play again this year and yes it'll be a big deal when he does and people will cast an eye towards the Islanders to see if Simon pops off again. Make no mistake, other teams will go after Simon hoping that he'll snap off once more and do something stupid to hurt his team in that game. Any penalty, a minor, double-minor, major....whatever it is, that hurts the Islanders and helps the opposing team. Everyone knows that in hockey if there's a hothead on the other team, you bother the hell out of him til he does something foolish. It's this role that Simon has been fulfilling now at the end of his career. Sure, he does his own fair share of agitating but he hurts the team more than anything now and the Isles should've known this already.

Instead, the Isles opted to re-sign Simon in the off-season to a new contract....all while he was still serving his 25-game suspension for his assault on Ryan Hollweg. If only all of our jobs could be rewarded like that.

"Tompkins! You set your desk on fire, beat up Johnson in the cafeteria and lost our biggest client?! Guess what! We're keeping you on for another year! Now go put out your desk."

Insanity - but we know the sports world is different than real life and we accept that as fans. NHL GMs, especially former goalies named Garth Snow, should've known better that what Simon brings to the ice isn't worth what he can take off of it and now Simon has again villanized himself and the game with the same reckless abandon he displays we've seen out of him year after year.

What Chris Simon should do with his NHL-imposed vacation is to think long and hard about what his career has become and whether its worth it or not to keep lacing them up. Your name is the only thing you have left in the world once the career is over and the millions stop rolling in and for Chris Simon he has to wonder if its worth it to him to keep endangering his name because at this rate his name will be worse than "Mud."

Sunday, December 16, 2007

What is Hockey Hell?

Here's what Hockey Hell is, courtesy of Blue Jackets defenseman Adam Foote:

They play a system that can be frustrating for you. They have the
fiveback and they give you the outside and it looks like you have a good opportunity and they take it away

That's right, Original Sixers the Boston Bruins have been fully enveloped by the Dark Side of Hockey thanks to Claude Julien.

And you all thought this would go away with the rule re-inforcements?


Saturday, December 15, 2007

WARNING: Parity Has Seized Control

In doing some of what I do to fill time in what is a generally hockey-overloaded life, I find myself getting in discussions with lots of fans about the game - fans from all over the map even. It's interesting how this season has shaken out so far because I've discovered that there are actually NHL hockey fans in Boston and Chicago.

I don't know if they were hibernating awaiting the sunshine of success to awaken them or if they're new to the whole thing and riding the wave of winning. Generally though, I find myself talking with people who are hardcore fans, some of which don't often see hockey outside of their own teams. I don't fault them for that at all, but it does allow me to be amused by I get to hear and read though.

And besides, what's more exciting than having your team in the thick of things when it comes to the playoff hunt? Nevermind that we're less than halfway into the season and things are far too far away from being hashed out - nevermind all of that! The thing is, and it's likely something that Gary Bettman is most happy to see, just about everyone right now is in the mix. Your team would have to be doing colossally horrible to not even be within whiffing distance.

That said, at this point in the season you can be eight points out of the eighth spot and still have a fighting chance to get into the mix. If your team goes on a four or five game winning streak - BAM! - right back in the mix. Case in point: The New Jersey Devils started off the year horribly, buried towards the bottom of the Eastern Conference. A nine-game winstreak later, they're in first place in the division and second in the Eastern Conference. Not bad, eh?

It's this sort of tenuous state of being that exists for most teams in the NHL right now, with the semi-glaring exceptions of Ottawa and Detroit which have become bastions of glowing success even in spite of having problems.

In Ottawa, both Martin Gerber and Ray Emery became sieves while the team allowed others to skate all over them leading to a stretch where they lost 8 out of 9 games through November and into early December. Yet even through that, they remain six points ahead of New Jersey for first in the Eastern Conference and six ahead of the Boston Bruins for first in their division.

Detroit, on the other hand, has seen their all-world goaltender suffer through both injury and ineffectiveness this season and has seen that amount to....no change at all as backup Chris Osgood, an old man in his own right, fill in more than admirably while Dominik Hasek struggled physically and in-game as well. In fact, Osgood has played better than Hasek this season and have streamlined the Red Wings into losing just six games in actuality and three others via the skills competition (copyright: Howie Rose, New York Islanders play-by-play man).

What's incredible about those 6.3 losses the Wings have had is that four of them come at the hands of their should-be-and-now-probably-is rival, the Chicago Blackhawks. Given that the resurgent Blackhawks are fully in the thick of the parity playoff soup, you can see the headlines come April when the upstart eighth seeded Blackhawks upend the top-seeded Red Wings. Who can't see this coming from a thousand miles away?

But this is what the NHL and Gary Bettman wants for the league. Everyone is in it, everyone gets involved, and you don't get the same teams involved all the time. That's perfect for them because then everyone gets a taste of success throughout the league! Hooray! It's sports socialism! Don't believe me? Look at the divisional and conference races as they stand now just over 30 games into the season:

In the East, the Devils are two points up in their division and sit second in the East. They lead last place Pittsburgh by five points. Pittsburgh currently sits 10th in the East and two points away from 8th.

We've discussed Ottawa and how they dominate atop the East and the Bruins sit six points behind them. Buffalo currently sits last in the Northeast Divsion with 31 points, good for 11th in the East and three points out of last place.

The Southeast Division is, as always, where hockey goes to die and win Stanley Cups and it sees one of the worst teams in hockey, the Washington Capitals, in last place in the division and conference with 26 points. Carolina leads the Southeast with 35 points and sits just six points ahead of not-so bottom dwelling Atlanta who is fourth in the division with 29 points. Florida is third with 30 and Tampa Bay is just four points behind Carolina with 31. Tampa Bay sits tied for 11th with the Sabres in the East. Yikes.

In the West, Detroit leads the Western Conference by nine points and they lead the Central Division by 13 points with 47 points over St. Louis and Columbus who are tied for second with 34. New-found nemesis Chicago has 32 points and Nashville sits in last with 30. St. Louis and Columbus are tied for 8th in the West and Nashville is 13th.

As you can see, the distance between being nearly at the bottom of the conference and in the playoffs can be made up in just a couple of wins.

In the Northwest, Vancouver leads with 37 points and last place Edmonton is a mere five points back with 32. Vancouver could go from first to fourth in the division in the matter of one game as Calgary sits in fourth with 35 points. Ouch! Edmonton is tied for 11th overall in the West with Chicago but could be sitting in fifth as soon as next week if things broke right. As it is for now, people are down on their Oilers saying they need to re-tool.

Here's the new NHL version of re-tooling: Wait a week!

The Pacific Division is its own bizarre monster in that it has one of the NHL's best teams with the San Jose Sharks at the top along with the ever-boring Dallas Stars, both with 38 points. Anaheim lays lurking with 34 points in third (incidentally they're 10th in the West) and then you've got Los Angeles and Phoenix sitting tied for last in the division and the conference with 26 points and 12 points out of first in the division and 21 behind Detroit for first in the West. Ouch. Phoenix has turned the tide of late after stealing goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov from Anaheim but they will be eagerly awaiting the coming of the draft lottery with L.A.

That is, unless, they get hot and their young guys like Mueller and Hanzal take over and they storm into the 8th spot.

The underlying point here about parity, however, is that while sure its great that just about every city in the NHL can think and dream and wonder about the playoffs... where's the greatness at? Sure, people get annoyed when a team goes on an extended run of success and common fans root against that team to fall - that's normal and that's expected. What was so wrong about having a team assembled that could come out and flat out dominate and show you the way the game is meant to be played?

We saw it come and go in the NBA, the NFL and even for spells in Major League Baseball and we've certainly seen it in the NHL and those teams are revered through the years as some of the greatest hockey they've ever seen. The Islanders of the early 80s, the Oilers for the rest of the 80s, the early 90s Penguins - these teams were dominating forces of nature (although I imagine some will argue on the Penguins given that they didn't win nearly as much as the others, that's fine) - what no one can argue, however, is that those teams were truly great.

What parity is, and we're certainly seeing it in the NFL now, is guaranteeing that greatness will not be tolerated in extended doses becuase it's unfair to everyone else who wants to get to the top of the heap. Instead, it flattens out the mountain so that even the rabble can get to the top and claim that they're better. That, to me as a fan, is insulting because I want to see the best of the best in the end.

I don't want to see hockey whittled down and made into a boring game of chance, the way it's become with the advent of defense-first systems and now the shoot-out to decide games. The GMs want more scoring, the players who don't play goal want more scoring (because nothing nets a bigger contract than goals) and the coaches just want to keep their jobs longer than a year or two.

If the league is this excited about parity, then why not just play a meaningless regular season and then at the end of it all, put all the names of teams in a hat and pull them out to determine playoff spots. With everyone becoming the same pack, that's basically what it's come down to.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Epic Failure

And no, I don't just mean my ability to keep up with things here or the Manny Fernandez experiment in Boston. However, failure of this magnitude does come from the pages of the Boston Herald (yes, I was amazed they found room to talk about something other than the Red Sox and Patriots as well):

According to sources in the B’s dressing room, Reebok has been unable to correct
problems with the new jerseys introduced this season across the NHL and will
replace them at the company’s expense with new uniforms made of the old

Players have complained since training camp that the new jerseys,
which are supposed to be lighter and allow sweat to evaporate out through the
shirts, have instead trapped water inside and gotten heavier.

This was found in the "notes" section of the story about the Bruins. Isn't this a much bigger story than is being let on?

The NHL mandated that ALL teams change their uniforms to fall in line with the RBKOMGWTFBBQEDGE system - a system meant to make the game faster, allow players to perform better and take full advantage of their skill sets. It would also allow for refs to really find out if guys are getting hooked and held as the jerseys wouldn't be loose and flowing anymore.

Now, with this news, we're finding out that it was all a bunch of crap. The years of research, the expensive testing of materials, the perfecting of the process - all of it - just a load of nonsense apparently fabricated by Reebok to get the NHL to push all their chips in on their self-made marketing system.

You know...since the NHL can't figure out how to market their own sport and league they buy into Reebok's new uniform system with their "full on attack" ad campaign to push the new jerseys on fans to get them to buy them (at higher prices than the old ones). This is all, clearly, the fault of Bettman and the Board of Governors to approve this fiasco, buying fully into a company that had fallen off the map of relevance when it comes to athletic wear (behind the omnipresent Nike as well as Adidas). A third-rate league buying fully into a third-rate company? Somehow it makes too much sense.

The NHL should be embarassed that Reebok mailed it in with their exhaustive testing. Not even a two weeks into training camp players and teams were complaining about how the new gear worked, how its ability to completely deflect water and moisture was working against the players as they sweat throughout a game. Since the jerseys weren't soaking up the moisture, it found places to go. It went into their skates and into their gloves as well - so much so that players were changing gloves and skates between periods.

Yes, it sounded like a good idea to have these uniforms that were so breezy and slick that wouldn't get weighed down by moisture and would allow players to cool easier and skate more efficiently. These are all good things, I buy that. What I find unfathomable is the fact that apparently NONE of the testing done by Reebok showed that these issues might come up. How is that possible!?

It's easy to see why it happened - the NHL had cut them their check already, gave them a deadline and said, "Just have these things ready by then, we have to start pushing these on the fans."

What a joke.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Getting Ugly Early On

Now, look, I get what pre-season hockey is generally all about.

It's about the stars not getting hurt.

It's about goalies not tweaking their groins (Mr. Hasek and Mr. Lehtonen I'm looking at you).

It's about young guys trying to make a name for themselves.

It's also about tough guys fighting each other to show that they can earn that one spot on the big-time roster for themselves. You know, have just enough skill and a lot of pugilistic integrity - enough to keep the big money earners on the team safe from the lazy cheap-shot artists and true goons (think of Jarkko Ruutu).

It's also the time of year when a lot of the AHL influence wears an NHL sweater. While the AHL isn't exactly the Federal League from Slap Shot fame, there's plenty of fighting to go around. After all, after the new rules reinforcement of the NHL, the AHL is where the true cementheads (and I say that with all the respect in the world, those guys would get a laugh in about it) went to roost.

In the NHL pre-season though, things can get a bit out of control. TSN's Bob McKenzie took note of a situation that developed between the Sabres and Blue Jackets recently:

On Friday night, the two teams met in Buffalo and there was a quasi line brawl,
just another pre-season game where it seems the gloves are coming off with great
regularity, including a nasty sucker-punch from Buffalo tough guy Andrew Peters
on Columbus rookie Jared Boll, the Plymouth Whaler grad who has a good chance to
make Ken Hitchcock's team as a tough guy/energy player.

Sabre rookie Patrick Kaleta picked up a charging penalty. Boll instigated a fight as a
result. After the gloves came off and the scrum ensued. Columbus' Tom Sestito, a
tough guy grad of the OHL, raced in and grabbed Sabre veteran defenceman Tony
Lydman and whaled away on him.

Take a look at that matchup again.

Tom Sestito - A 6'4" 209-pound left wing from Utica, NY. He's spent three years in the OHL, of which in his last two seasons he racked up 176 PIMs in 57 regular-season games in 2005-2006 and last season piled up another 135 PIMs in 60 games. The guy knows his way around the rink when the gloves are off.

Toni Lydman, on the other hand, in his full professional hockey career, going back to the Finnish Leagues and his time spent in the NHL, has piled up a total of 129 PIMs in 431 career games played.

To call Toni Lydman a lightweight would be an understatement when it comes to fights and scrums. Fighting in Finland isn't really their specialty.

We saw a matchup like this in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the opening round. It involved Brad May (lifetime PIMs: 2,040 in 882 games) of the Anaheim Ducks going after Swedish defenseman and non-threat to punch your lights out, Kim Johnsson (lifetime PIMs: 290 PIMs in 518 games) of the Minnesota Wild. Much like what happened to Lydman, May jumped Johnsson from behind and made him effectively useless for the rest of the playoffs.

What transpired tonight in Ottawa, however, was the reason why some guys will never make it out of the AHL - and probably a good reason why the NHL has already cut back on the number of pre-season games as it is.

Steve Downie spears Dean McAmmond as if he was Goldberg.

What you see there is Philadelphia's Steve Downie, who's claim to fame before this was being the guy who brought about the ire of Canadian fans after getting hit by Jack Johnson during World Juniors a couple years back. Canadian fans claimed that Johnson elbowed Downie in the face after Canada scored an empty-net goal to salt away the victory. While the replays from where the cameras are located are shoddy at best in the video seen here, Downie appears to take a dive and there are some scattered reports that Downie admitted to doing as much. The remainder of the tournament saw the U.S. team get booed at all costs by the Canadian fans and even resulting in the ever-tasteful show of respect and booing the National Anthem.

Downie is no stranger to dirty pool, and it's always been a rule that you absolutely cannot leave your feet to deliver a hit. It rarely does happen, which is good, but when it does happen... it's quite often missed or played off as part of a height discrepancy.

So what does the league do for this sort of junk? In Steve Downie's case, he's got at least a one-game suspension coming thanks to being served with a Match Penalty for intent to injure. Downie also got some post-hit justice because he timed it out poorly enough so that Ottawa enforcer Brian McGrattan was already on the ice and found his way to Downie rather quickly. Light-fighting Ottawa forward/defenseman Christoph Schubert also got his shots in as well.

How does the NHL manage to punish a guy that wasn't going to make the NHL team in the first place? Sit him down in the AHL? Big deal - he'll be back out on the ice soon enough and right back to his old tricks and never amounting to anything better in his career. Ben Eager already does his job better than he could ever dream. The problem here is that there's no punishment that can be dished out that fits the situation. He'll learn no lesson, he'll have no remorse and worse yet - he'll just keep pushing the edge in order to get noticed by the big club. You can't suspend a guy like this for the whole year, its excessive and crazy. Sitting him down for one game does nothing.

I'd say that the league will likely come down with something in the 10-15 game range because of the severity of the hit. Not only did he leave his feet, he led with his shoulder and connected with McAmmond's head. If it were possible to get three strikes on one play, Downie just figured it out.

Dean McAmmond, by the way, had to leave the game on a stretcher. It's unknown as of this writing what his injuries are, but seeing him get knocked out cold...you'd have to speculate that there's a concussion is involved. The league abhors blows to the head and something like this just looks so horrible and obvious what the intent was it makes me cringe and get angry. If there's anything about this that can be seen as a "good" thing it's that this occurred during the pre-season and the usual choir of writers who only talk about hockey when something bad happens will be kept out of the scene with their ignorance of all things that go on.

I'd like to think that this kind of hit is the type of thing that would go beyond such typical pathetic analysis and would be very obvious about what the problem is, but it's likely that talking about this hit would devolve into an argument about the physicality and danger of hockey and about how fighting should be eliminated if the NHL wants to have mainstream appeal and....

Well I'll stop there, we've heard it all before and I'd rather not just give them their head start on berating the game once again. This will probably be the only time you hear about Steve Downie this year and hopefully we'll get to hear more about Dean McAmmond this year after his career saw a resurgence in a new role last season in Ottawa. I just hope that the news we get about him is about a quick return to the ice and not about concussion symptoms that linger on too long and his career being in danger.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Right When You Think They'll Get It Right

The NHL Board of Poorly-Defined Misers have decided to pull the rug out from underneath their Man of the Hour, Gary Bettman, for once. Don't get too excited, Captain Dumb-Dumb still very much has a job as Commissioner. This decision, however, does make sense for the league; they're ditching the unbalanced schedule.

While they couldn't get it right to have the home teams go back to wearing white at home (for some reason this was a hard decision to make with the new OMGWTFRBKEDGE jerseys this year where each team only has a white and a dark uniform, no thirds) they did get this decision right to stop having divisional opponents play every other game against each other.

Sort of.

This story from The Hockey News makes mention of a few plans that the league was looking into to readjust so that each team will play everyone else in the league at least once. However, this blog's good friend Brian Burke, the ever quotable media slut, has chimed in to USA Today to say that the leading sentiment amongst the executives is to decrease the number of games against divisional opponents to seven (it is eight right now) which would help to up the number of interconference games from the laughably awful and boring 10 up to 15.

They're going with the baby steps approach apparently. It's probably smarter to do that since big steps seem to be the ones the league screws up the most, however, how hard would it really be to just go back to the old way of drawing up the schedule? They did it that way for years upon years but now they need a cute little mathematical equation to get things done.

The reasoning for doing the unbalanced schedule was boneheaded from the start. The NHL thought that by having teams duking it out for the divisional crown play each other eight times in the regular season that it would help spur on rivalries and make those games the most cutthroat of them all - to create a playoff atmosphere in the regular season and get teams to really dislike each other then so that when/if they face off in the playoffs that'll REALLY set the stage for good TV....I mean, hockey action.

Funny thing about the best laid plans though... the NHL in an effort to create more rivalries like Avalanche v. Red Wings; two teams that only played a handful of times in the regular season and made their killing on each other in the playoffs. They figured on familiarity breeding contempt, and last season it looked like we'd have just that with Buffalo and Ottawa. After Chris Drury got blown up unknowingly by Sens semi-goon Chris Neil, all hell broke loose in that game as well as their follow-up game in Ottawa.

When the playoffs rolled around, the tempers had cooled because all matters had been hashed out on the ice during those regular season matchups. The result? Along with a stone-cold gameplan by the Sens to muck things up and slow down the game - there were no brou-ha-ha's, no cutthroat play and most importantly, no seven-game series chock full o' drama.

With that failed plan out of the way, now the NHL can fall back on their much hated Plan B:

Learning to market itself and its stars to all 30 cities and beyond.

Yes, I know, it's a daunting mission that the NHL tried their damnedest to avoid what with the unbalanced schedule making sure that some cities wouldn't see some superstar players for up to five or six years. Considering the bulk of the new supertalent is in the Eastern Conference and many of the hockey fanatical cities are in the Western Conference this presented the NHL with a huge problem. What good is it to have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on the same team if some Western Conference cities will only get to see them once every five or six years? They might as well be Halley's Comet.

That's where this new plan for scheduling still manages to fall short. Instead of every five or six years, these new stars may get to come around once every two (if I'm understanding the plan correctly that is). Sure, comparably that's better - but back in the good ole days, everyone got to see every city in the league.

Is that so freakin' bad? Western Conference teams don't care about the travel since they get hammered on travel as it is already. Eastern Conference teams are excited that they'll get to either go back to home cities in Canada or get to go to Los Angeles once a year to star gaze and party or visit Minnesota and find out what its like to play hockey in an American city that really gives a damn about the game.

OK so that's the only reason to be excited to go to Minnesota in winter - let's just move on.

What I like most about this move by the Board of Governors is that its a direct shot across the bow of Gary Bettman. The unbalanced schedule was his big fat stupid idea to generate false drama and interest in the game. Much like other Bettman bad ideas, this one fell haplessly short of expectations and in my idealistic mind I'd like to see that this move to reverse direction on the schedule will be the first of many reversals to bring the game back.

Of course, that's probably being way too optimistic and thoroughly unrealistic.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Suspended In Time

There have been a couple of team suspensions of note recently - one with a lot of speculation surrounding it and the other, amazingly so, isn't making more headlines for the rather disgusting way it's come about.

First off, the fluff news. Brian Burke suspended his life partner Scott Niedermayer for not appearing at training camp because he's still mulling over retirement. It makes sense, obviously, if you decide to not come to work when you're under contract (Niedermayer has two years left on his deal) you need to get punished. A lot of the fun in this story comes from the ever spotlight hungry Burke - take a look:

"Yes, he was suspended today," Ducks GM Brian Burke said during an NHL media
conference call. "I spoke with Scott to tell him he was being suspended, which
Scotty expected."

You can practically hear the heartbreak in his voice about this - like a teenager who just got dumped and is trying ever-so-desperately to win back their now lost love. It makes you pine for a viewing of American Pie doesn't it?

The initial speculation on this story from the blog and message board worlds is that this is all an elaborate ploy on their parts to cut down on the cost to employ Niedermayer. Obviously, if he shows up and is in camp, the Ducks cap space goes bye-bye. While he's suspended and being fined all while hemming and hawing about retirement, he's not exactly on the books - at least in Anaheim's mind. After all, the organization is being held hostage by the player and they have finances to worry about.

The other side of that is that they would, potentially, like Niedermayer to pull some Peter Forsberg-like type of action and just go away for a while (say... til about February) and then decide that yes, he does want to play hockey again and then the Ducks would get Niedermayer back at a vastly reduced rate for this season. It would be shrewd to say the least and I'd never put anything past Brian Burke, but this would definitely be skirting the rules, perhaps enough to even arouse the attention of Gary Bettman who doesn't seem to care about anything unless you're screwing around with the money.

Life, though, is riddled with caveats, friends, because life and/or karma may force the Ducks and Scott Niedermayer to come to a decision a lot sooner than either may have hoped. With the pre-season underway and pre-season games being what they are (read: a mine field for injuries to important starters) new Ducks defenseman Mathieu Schneider broke a bone in his left ankle in the Ducks first pre-season game against the Kings and will be out for at least a month.

This shakes up a Ducks blueline that during the Cup Finals last year was so formidible and that saw with the addition of Schneider another guy to quarterback their power play. Now, the Ducks have Chris Pronger and his band of unrenowned (Kent Huskins, Shane Hnidy, Sean O'Donnell, Maxim Kondratiev, and Joey DiPenta - yikes). Will the Ducks weather the storm for a month without Schneider or do they suck it up, make some salary-paring deals and get Niedermayer into camp? It should be interesting and add to the drama that's for sure, and it's not exactly the kind that Brian Burke feeds off of.

The other suspension this pre-season is a bit bothersome. Buffalo Sabres defenseman and NHL stalwart Teppo Numminen was suspended by the Sabres because he'll not be on the ice and skating with the rest of the team.

Not because he's holding out in a contract dispute.

Not because he wants to be traded.

Not because he's debating whether to retire and move home to Finland.

He's being suspended because he won't be on the ice thanks to having to get heart surgery.

Let me preface this in saying that thanks to the salary cap times we're in, teams are forced to do things like this (like with Numminen and also with Niedermayer, whether that's by hook or by crook regardless).

This situation just stinks because this is the third surgery that Numminen has to get to fix the valve in his heart. For just anyone this would be a tenuous time and situation, but for a professional athlete where their heart undergoes a bit more stress than us common shmoes it's of the utmost concern and urgency to get this taken care of and fixed.

The reasoning behind the suspension, frankly, just stinks.

The NHL players union confirmed that Numminen had been suspended without pay for failing to report to camp in adequate physical condition. "We are currently
reviewing this matter," NHLPA spokesman Jonathan Weatherdon said, according to the newspaper.

The Players Union should have a field day with this, and rightfully so, its bogus to suspend Numminen without pay because he has to get his heart operated on. What would the NHL rather have: a healthy, veteran doing his best to help lead his team to victory or to have that same player potentially die on the ice in practice because he can't get it fixed without getting punished by his team and the league. The answer is pretty simple here and in matters like this, the league should have a cap exemption.

Major League Baseball has a roster exemption for players who leave the team for bereavement and the NBA has an injury exemptment for their salary cap as well. In fact, the NBA goes above and beyond to allow everyone a chance at spending more money for a host of reasons. Not that that's the solution the NHL should go for here, at the very least allow for a team to not have to worry about their finances when a player is going in for heart surgery. Seems to make the most sense to me.

A lot of folks will want to blame the Sabres in this matter, and that's somewhat fair - the Sabres could look the other way and just tell Teppo to get back and get well when he can. The problem is is that there's a huge risk in doing that and with resources being a bit more scarce the closer you are to the salary cap, the Sabres have no choice whatsoever but to do what they did and have to eat the PR hit that they'll take for it.

Make no fault about it, however, it's not the Sabres who should be getting jeered over this one. I think we all know who should take the hit...

Sunday, September 9, 2007

And Now It's Time To Really Get Going

September 10th means a lot of things to a lot of people. For some, it means Monday Night Football and thanks to ESPN, that means a double-header of games that tries to ensure that most people on the East Coast miss out on a lot of football.

For others, it means the release of the College Football rankings and where their teams are landing. Even for a select few more, it means roasting the comeback of Britney Spears on MTV's Video Music Awards. For those folks, I kindly ask to move to a different webpage than this one; you'll be better off.

For those of us that live, breathe, eat, and die hockey - it means our long, continental nightmare has come to an end for the mean time. Hockey season is about to begin again. The Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings open their training camps a few days earlier than the rest of the league, mainly because these teams will be taking off for Europe to kick off the NHL Regular Season in London, England on Saturday, September 29th at 12 noon Eastern time.

The Ducks, of course, begin their season as the reigning Stanley Cup Champions while the Kings will start their season looking to build off of the youth movement behind Mike Cammalleri, Anze Kopitar and Patrick O'Sullivan. Unfortunately for the Kings, they don't have a youth movement in goal as they'll turn their Hollywood hopes on semi-permanent minor leaguer Jason LaBarbera to stop the puck.

Hey, anything that keeps Dan Cloutier out of the goal has to be a good idea.

The Ducks, in spite of being the... ugh - champs still have a lot of questions unanswered. Scott Niedermayer pulled a page out of the Roger Clemens and Brett Favre playbook and called a press conference in Anaheim to announce... that he wasn't sure about what he was going to do yet and that he may still want to play in the NHL. Teemu Selanne also hasn't expressed what he wanted to do yet, but from all accounts out of Finland, he appears content to just take it easy.

Of course, this kind of indifference means nothing. We've seen Peter Forsberg pull action like this and use it to "rest" himself up and then finally show up in Colorado to give the Avalanche a boost. It didn't lead the Avs to the title, but it did serve to pick up a team that had been a bit lethargic.

Brian Burke, however, isn't exactly the most patient guy around and he'd much rather get an answer from both Selanne and more importantly Niedermayer so that if there's any additions left to be made to help the team, he can make them without putting the team's cap space in jeopardy. After all, you can't count on either of those guys to offer a friendly discount to stick around and then ask them to bump off guys from a starting line-up that had been busting their humps all season long. That's a pretty good way to submarine clubhouse chemistry.

All is not going to be sunshine and garden variety season previews here though and I'm happy to see that The Hockey News can see what hell the Ducks winning the Stanley Cup hath brought. Soak in this little blurb from The Hockey News Ultimate Fantasy Guide 2007-2008, this came from the Buffalo Sabres team page:

If the Sabres had won their first Stanley Cup title in franchise history last season, many teams around the NHL would have likely altered their style this year in the mold of Buffalo's "Four Lines of Thunder" concept.

That didn't happen, so now it is the Sabres' turn to make alterations. The reigning Presidents' Trophy winners were the most dominant team in the regular season and the only NHL outfit to eclipse the 300-goal mark.

However, the were completely neutralized by Ottawa in the Eastern Conference final. That setback raised questions about Buffalo's ability to win low-scoring, tight-checking contests.

Part of me hopes that this isn't true, but the smart guy in me knows this assessment to be 100% correct. No one will want to mold themselves after the Sabres because "it didn't win the big one" and only helped them get regular season success and nothing in the playoffs. After all, the Presidents Trophy means you're only good when the season only kind of counts.

Instead, what will we likely have? A lot of Anaheim clones. More teams like New Jersey. More teams acting like Ottawa did against Buffalo - locking it down in a defense-only kind of game and waiting things out until its time to go on the power play. The NHL's plan was to improve the game in five-on-five situations all while enforcing the rules as they're written. Of course, the number of power play opportunities increased a lot and the amount of scoring that occurred during the man advantage grew by a lot. These things will happen.

The trend we saw in the NHL Playoffs last season, however, shows me that we're going to see more teams lean that way - especially in the Western Conference where virtually everyone plays that way already and with a team like Buffalo (who was already somewhat of an aberration playing how they did and rolling four lines consistently) losing the scoring talent they did and electing to fill from within (something that's not really a bad idea, Rochester plays the same style Buffalo does and has done very well in grooming their youth) you have to expect that Buffalo's scoring will fall off noticably.

Will Lindy Ruff change the team's style of play? I don't know, I don't believe that he will - but if he sees the writing on the wall that I think I'm seeing - it's inevitable and it will make me weep and want to kick Brian Burke, Jacques Lemaire and Lou Lamoriello in the junk.

Of course, after a display like that - Burke would want to sign me to the team. It's a delicate balance I tell ya.

Some amusing things from The Hockey News Fantasy Guide though, they predict a 128-point season from Sidney Crosby with Evgeni Malkin pulling in 98 points. This guide also predicted that last season Ilya Kovalchuk would emerge with a 110+ point season. Whoops.

They also figure Marc Savard of the Bruins to have a 100-point season. I don't know how he'll do that when he'll likely be in Claude Julien's doghouse after a couple of months. Julien is another of the defense-first, get offense if it happens kind of coaches so Savard's dislike of playing defense will drive him insane.

This guide's most amusing prediction however has to be who they think will emerge in the Stanley Cup Finals. They predict that the final four teams will be Calgary, Anaheim, Ottawa and the New York Rangers with Ottawa moving on to face Calgary and beating them in what they call, "an epic seven-game series."

And we thought an Ottawa-Anaheim final was bad for TV - if this should come true - good luck NHL selling a TV package to anyone. Yikes.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

At least it's not completely awful

OK, maybe I'm in the minority on this one - but I actually like these a lot. Of course, I've always been a big fan of the Sens styles...even back when Sylvain Turgeon, Norm Maciver and Dennis Vial were the best guys to suit up.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Men With Money Taunt Bettman; Failure Looms

An interesting story popped up today, somewhat along the lines of the on-again/off-again NHL love affair with Boots Del Biaggio.

This time, the source is a sickeningly wealthy firm that apparently hates their own money so much, they invested $250 million in David Beckham to play in a league that is even less popular than the NHL in a sport that despite its ever-presence in modern child rearing refuses to get popular professionally in the United States.

Las Vegas staple casino Harrah's is teaming up with AEG Worldwide to build a $500 million dollar arena meant to lure either an NBA or NHL franchise to Sin City.

As we've seen with the Kansas City/Boots situation, the allure of having a big money facility with no one around to fill it up and make more money for overly wealthy people, Gary Bettman and the NHL owners can't resist free money even despite their best recent efforts to pass on free money with Balsillie.

Obviously Las Vegas has an 800-pound Gorilla by the name of legal gambling and given the issues both the NBA and the NHL have had recently with gambling issues, this announcement by Harrah's and AEG couldn't have had worse timing. Obviously David Stern and Heir Bettman would rather that Harrah's and AEG had not come right out and plead/demand/pray for publicly to get a franchise from one of or both leagues.

Fact is, Las Vegas (and likewise with Kansas City) would be a bad move for the NHL to expand to. If they want to move a floundering team in a disinterested market to one of these cities, that's a different argument entirely - however, just the idea that the NHL is even thinking of expanding is a terrible idea. Think of the current talent level in the NHL. It's not bad, right? Sure, every team has their line of bums while some teams have three lines of stiffs.

Don't be fooled by the players that are off to play in Europe and think that there's enough talent to go around and still have an overall great game to watch, that's not the case. Imagine some teams rolling four lines of stiffs or washed up vets with perhaps a stellar goaltender. Care to guess what style of play they'll want to use? Consulting recent NHL history will tell you exactly what they'll try to, and likely get away with, doing to win games.

Now, picture this style of play trying to fill up massive and massively expensive arenas in very non-traditional hockey markets - ones that at one time had professional hockey of some sort before that failed away. How well is that going to go over? How fun would it be to play playoff hockey games in June in Las Vegas? Bettman is still convinced that U.S. sun belt cities in hockey ignorant areas are the way to go for the future and if he can give his bosses, the owners, a few extra million dollars a piece to make them keep hiring him back... well, I can see how this is going to go.

Let's just hope that Las Vegas doesn't turn into Rick Tocchet's way back into the NHL.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Clichés And Those Who Fulfill Them

"Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it." -- George Santayana

Remember the fisherman...

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Clock Ticks Away

That's right, just less than a month away from the start of NHL training camps and still many teams have yet to unveil the new uniforms they'll be sporting this year and likely out of fear of a complete fan backlash. Only a handful of teams have unleashed Reebok's fury upon the eyes of the public, and perhaps delaying things til the absolute latest time possible is the right thing to do.

I'm disappointed with the league for a lot of reasons and one of them is for this all-consuming, overwhelming edict from the Captain of the Titanic Bettman to have all teams change up everything they were doing and give into Reebok (since they're a big time sponsor of the league now and everything) and let them design everyone's uniforms in the way they feel will enhance performance the best. We caught a glimpse of what these uniforms will be like at the All-Star Game as well as in the World Junior Championships and the Olympics in Turin, Italy.

This, in a nutshell, is Capt. Bettman's management plan to fix everything that's gone wrong with the NHL since he's taken over. Have some marketing guru come up with a big plan, pony up the money and materials to pull it off, and he willingly allows the game to become his testing ground for it. So long history, so long nostalgia, so long to everything that ever worked before - this new and fangled operation will surely work best!

After all, it's got a record of not having failed already! Nevermind that Reebok had fallen off the marketing map when it came to athletic apparel and sneaker sales, Reebok was big when the NHL was last big in the eyes of the world! The early 1990's! Coincidence? NO WAY! It's gotta be truth!

In comes Reebok with their new designs and Bettman doing his best to suck up to them and tout how much they're going to improve the game and the performance of the players (not to mention their comfort!) while ignoring the actual problems with the game. You know... the kind that would take competent officials on and off the ice to fix.

Paul Lukas who contributes to ESPN.com's Page 2 periodically runs his own website where any and all logo and uniform changes are analyzed and applauded (or roasted) depending on how they turn out and his eye has been keenly tuned in on the mangling we've seen with the NHL uniforms. He particularly lashed out at the Florida Panthers new designs and the apparent lack of originality being used by other teams following the same kind of cookie cutter format to detailing (Nashville also has the same style and another team he wasn't at liberty to mention used it and is apparently uglier than Florida...yikes).

Now I say this is a bad thing for the NHL because, what do the hardcore fans always buy? Jerseys of course. NHL fans are die-hards for sure, but by slimming down the jerseys and making a point to say that they're not designing these with the fans in mind...well really NHL, why not just kick us all in the teeth while you're at it? Lots of fans now have outdated jerseys that will never see the light of day again all while being told that while they can purchase the new ones being made, they're going to cost a lot more than the previous ones both for authentics and replicas.

So if you're marking this all down in your scorebooks the owners:

- Continue to jack up ticket prices
- Don't think twice about doing "premium pricing" for when certain opponents are in town
- Have made any and all previous team purchases by fans obsolete
- Created a new product and line of products without even taking the fan into consideration
- Made it so that the cost for the new product is significantly higher (when it was pricey to begin with)

The NHL wonders why it can't earn new fans when all it does is kick dirt in the face of the fans they've already got. Incredible.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Oh I am Good!

Remember when I said this yesterday?

If Edmonton were really out to screw with the other teams in the NHL, and
mind you testing Brian Burke's nerve I am all for...

Thankfully for me, I've got Brian Burke's style down pretty good. Here's some of the highlights:

"I have no problem with offer sheets, they are part of the CBA," Burke said on a
conference call. "I think it's a tool certainly a team is entitled to use. My
issue here is this is the second time this year in my opinion Edmonton have
offered a grossly inflated salary for a player, and it impacts on all 30 teams
and I think it's an act of desperation by a general manager who is fighting to
keep his job."

Funny thing here though is that Burke thinks that the world should center around him and that anyone who dares to do anything on their own schedule is doing it to spite him.

Burke was also disappointed with the timing of it - Burke was entering the
B.C. Hockey Hall of Fame in Penticton, B.C., on Friday night.

"Kevin Lowe has been in Penticton this week," Burke said. "Tonight is the
induction ceremony for the B.C. Hockey Hall of Fame and I certainly think this
could have waited until Monday. I don't think it shows a lot of respect for the
B.C Hockey Hall of Fame.

"I think it's a classless move timing-wise."

Well excuse us Princess! The rest of the league should consult with your personal assistant before deciding to conduct business on their own.

Also, apparently when dealing with Brian Burke, you can't interfere with his dates and you should always speak with him about the dealings of what your own team is doing rather than just negotiating with the player you're trying to sign and with him alone.

"I was not notified of this until an agent faxed it into us," he said. "I
thought Kevin would have called me and told me it was coming. I thought that was

What a crybaby. For someone who molds his teams into skating goon squads that ruin hockey or end people's careers, he sure is one sensitive guy. Now let's all pray for Scott Niedermayer's retirement and for Burke to be a complete dope and match the offer to Penner.

While I am certainly not one to agree with how Kevin Lowe is doing things, the teams that match these offers to the guys he's going after I feel no compassion for at all. If you think Kevin Lowe is so bad at what he does...why are you bailing him out by matching the offer? I do think in this case, however, Lowe will be stuck paying out big time for his prized third liner in Penner.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Oh Those Wacky Oilers

They're at it again. Edmonton Oilers general manager Kevin Lowe nearly set the city of Buffalo on fire when he attempted to sign Sabres restricted free agent Thomas Vanek to a seven year $50 million dollar contract. The Sabres warned Lowe (and any other GM who would dare) repeatedly that they would match any offer made to Vanek, especially after losing they're top two guys in Drury and Briere via the unrestricted route.

Kevin Lowe attempted to call Darcy Regier's bluff except that Regier wasn't bluffing at all and a preturbed Sabres front office called a press conference almost immediately after Edmonton had signed Vanek to the massively insane offer sheet to say that they were indeed retaining their (hopeful) soon-to-be superstar winger.

Kevin Lowe, not satisfied with doing nothing on the unrestricted free agent market has again gone diving in head first into the restricted pool, this time signing Anaheim Ducks winger Dustin Penner to a five year $21.25 million dollar offer sheet. Again, the Oilers are obliterating the salary market in order to get some action going and maybe score a player - but right now, it seems more likely that Kevin Lowe is just being an agitator and gunning for guys that teams would rather not lose and upping the ante to put the uncomfortable bite on these franchises finances for the years to come.

It had been theorized to me that this was what Lowe was doing with the Vanek signing - blow up the salary market on one guy to really put the screws to teams they'll be competing with later on in the unrestricted market. It's an interesting theory, but imagine if the Sabres had not bothered to match Vanek's offer and if they were also foolishly saddled with this latest Penner deal. You'd have a combined 12 years and $70+ million dollars tied up in TWO players.

Now, I know that Edmonton may be getting sold to a Canadian billionaire not named Jim Balsillie away from their current gang of 34 owners and that he's promised to spend up to the heights of the salary cap to bring a winner back to the Canadian Rockies hinterlands of Alberta. That said, even I'd think that a shrewd businessman like Daryl Katz wouldn't go quite this hog wild, especially for a guy like Dustin Penner, who is mainly making his bank based on the success of the Ducks last season and his relative youth (He's currently 24 years-old and his stats for 2006-07 are: 82 games; 29 goals 16 assists for 45 points with 58 PIM and -2 ).

Is $4+ million dollars the going rate for a third line winger these days? Jeez, financial hard times have really struck the NHL once again. I haven't seen this foolish of a deal since the Bruins negotiated against themselves for the right to pay Martin Lapointe $5 million a year and take him away from the Red Wings, the same "fiscally irresponsible" Detroit Red Wings whose final offer to Lapointe that off-season was for $3.5 million per year.

If Edmonton were really out to screw with the other teams in the NHL, and mind you testing Brian Burke's nerve I am all for, but why not take a shot at a guy that would both fit into the Edmonton system instantly and thrive all the while really putting the screws to a stingy, joyless miser? Of course, I'm talking about the Oilers making a run at restricted free agent Zach Parise from the Devils.

Parise is clearly a budding young offensive star who will unfortunately be stifled if he's made to stay in New Jersey under the iron fist of hockey's Third Reich led by Heir Lamoriello. What good is it to have an up and coming young guy like Parise in a nothing place like New Jersey, where the fans could give a crap else and the team's management has been actively been hating their own fanbase and market for the last 15 years? It serves no purpose and Kevin Lowe would be doing the league a favor by trying to sign Parise to an obnoxious offer sheet that Lou Lamoriello would be tested to the "n"th degree as to whether or not to match.

Then again, Lamoriello would call in one of his favors from Asleep At The Wheel Bettman and find a way to circumvent the rules and regulations once again. Jim Fahey and Alexander Korolyuk agree at least.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Insanity Shopping Spree - Day 2

I'll likely regret writing my thoughts down now, as shortly after I completed my entry last night the Blues signed Paul Kariya to a 3-year, $18 million dollar contract. If it were any other team I'd call them crazy for spending $6 million a year on a wrong-side-of-the-hill guy like Kariya, but the Blues have oodles of cap space, a team reinvigorated under Andy Murray and reminds me a bit of how Nashville looked a few seasons ago when Kariya signed there seemingly out of the blue.

Now with the Predators looking like they're ready to be relegated to duking it out with Columbus and Chicago for the basement in the Central Division, that opens things up for St. Louis to vault into that spot to make a run at Detroit.

Speaking of Detroit, they're minus one man in a black hat as NHL villain Todd Bertuzzi found an appropriate home for himself in Anaheim with his former love slave and cornerman Brian Burke. After all, it was Burke who stood by willingly to defend Brad May and Todd Bertuzzi (as well as Markus Naslund and Matt Cooke and coach Marc Crawford) for their gangland assault on Avalanche forward Steve Moore.

Just the fact that Bertuzzi is being brought back into Burke's fold should be enough of a warning flag for the NHL to think that Anaheim or other teams like them have any plans to play the wide open style at all next year. Bertuzzi was the ultimate physical force for Burke's Vancouver team and while Anaheim is most certainly a physical team... I can't help but wonder if the rule book we came back from the lockout with has already been set on fire and they've dusted off the one we saw in use from about 1995-2003.

With all that I've rambled on about the Predators being asleep at the wheel, someone woke up David Poile and told him that the free agency period has begun so he jumped out quickly and snagged Jed Ortmeyer (Rangers fans will be upset by this) as well as forward Radek Bonk and (it's official, he's a journeyman!) defenseman Greg de Vries. Well, at least those deals should get them up to the $35 million dollar salary floor nicely.

The Los Angeles Kings, who should be on everyone's radar next year for a sleeper team provided they find a goaltender worth having, have broken through after being involved on talks for all the big names and landed a pile of new guys today. They've inked forwards Ladislav Nagy from Dallas, Michal Handzus (and his mullet) from Chicago, Kyle Calder from Detroit and defenseman Tom Preissing from Ottawa.

You know what might not be a bad idea for the Kings? Take a flier on Ray Emery as a restricted free agent and pressure Ottawa into matching the offer. Emery would be a perfect fit in Los Angeles and his personality is made to be in Hollywood. Just the thought of an Odd Couple type of situation with Emery and Anze Kopitar.

Well, it might not be quite so odd - but the idea of a loopy Canadian kid and a ready-to-be playboy Slovenian has gold written all over it. If the NHL had any strings to pull, they'd make sure that this could happen. Instead, they'd rather find ways to get a team into Las Vegas to make no money and give Rick Tocchet and Mrs. Gretzky a new avenue to run game on the NHL.

I kid...I kid.... mostly.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Lessons Learned

It's pretty clear that after Day One of the Free Agency Frenzy of 2007, one that kicked off with word that the NHL Salary Cap would be at $50 million and the salary floor at about $35 million, NHL owners have learned absolutely nothing about how to do business.

It started off before the period began with the deal Philadelphia made with Nashville to lock up the free agents that Nashville wouldn't/couldn't/didn't want to re-sign. Philadelphia acquired them and then locked them up for obscene, market-shaking contracts.

Philadelphia then followed that up with kicking things off today signing away now former Sabres star centerman Daniel Briere to an eight-year $52 million dollar deal. Let me break this down for you, that's an average of 6.5 million per year, except that this year alone Briere will make $10 million dollars.


Since that stupidity wasn't enough, the New York Rangers, formerly the team known as fiscal irresponsibility until the Briere/Timonen/Hartnell signings by Philadelphia, then decided to take back the crown they had stolen from them by Ed Snider. They signed former Devils centerman Scott Gomez and former Sabres centerman/folk hero Chris Drury to separate deals that average out to $7 million dollars a season. Gomez's contract also has the fun stipulation of paying him $10 million dollars in the first year. Let me reiterate that one more time.


The lack of responsibility on the part of the owners here is both stunning and unsurprising. It's stunning because we're only two seasons removed from a lockout that has done more to harm the NHL than it has to help it. A lockout where the owners wouldn't settle until there was "cost certainty" and the players wanted to make sure they could still make their money. Fans wanted there to be hockey at reasonable prices and the kind of hockey that wouldn't make even the most die-hard of fans cry at the boredom.

It appears that in the long run, that even though the Players Association most certainly got raked over the coals by the Owners at first, they are definitely the winners now with contracts like these.

Did the Flyers crazy spending spur the Rangers to reply in kind? The Rangers, a team desperate for defensive help who then goes and picks up two of the three premiere centermen at costs that shake the foundation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement they signed not even three years ago. The Flyers insanity is nothing new, but just the fact that they were able to rook over the Predators once again to be able to do it is stunning in and of itself.

The Flyers signing of Timonen shook the market up for defensemen quite obviously as Brian Rafalski, formerly of the Devils, signed with Detroit for 5 years and $30 million dollars. Scott Hannan, formerly of the Sharks, signs with Colorado for four years and $18 million. Many of you might even be asking, "Who the hell is Scott Hannan?!"

And now late news has the Avalanche signing Ryan Smyth, who weepily left Edmonton when he was traded to the New York Islanders and left fans counting down the days to Canada Day and the start of the free agency period praying he'd come back home to Canada and Edmonton...signed for 5 years and $31 million dollars.

I mean, seriously, holy crap! It's amazing to me that these owners are now fully bought into whatever Gary Bettman is feeding them, that the league is financially solvent and apparently making money hand over fist enough to keep upping the salary cap and floor and allow them to spend like drunken fools with asinine contracts with ridiculous financial costs and yearly investment. I'm speechless at all this - so much so that I don't have the muster to comment on Nashville's Craig Leipold running away from Jim Balsillie and into the arms of Boots Del Biaggio and eventually back to an NHL graveyard in Kansas City.

We've already seen all these big names come off the board, and we've still got Paul Kariya out there waiting to move and Peter Forsberg left wondering if his foot will be good enough to loan out his oft-injured self out to another sucker team.

And you thought the NHL off-season was boring.

Friday, June 22, 2007

And Just Like That...

TSN's Bob McKenzie leads off the 2007 NHL Draft broadcast dropping the bombshell that Predators current owner Craig Leipold will ask the Board of Governors to no longer consider Jim Balsillie's offer to buy the Predators citing the lack of a finalized sale agreement.

Wow. This is a nightmare.

Mass Exodus Doesn't Even Begin to Explain It

Someone should put the Nashville Predators to sleep already.

After dealing their captain and supposed rising young winger to Philadelphia the puppet management of the Preds has struck again. This time, Nashville trades away their starting goaltender Tomas Vokoun to the Florida Panthers for a first-round pick in 2008 and two second-round selections (one this year and one that could be for this year or next).

The spin doctoring from Predators GM David Poile is, of course, epic:

"We saw Chris Mason emerge as a No. 1 goaltender in 2006-07 and with full
confidence in Chris and Pekka Rinne, we felt as if we could make this move,"
said Predators general manager David Poile. "Mason won 24 games for us this past
season, starting 21 in a row at one point, and finished with the second-highest
save percentage in the NHL.

"In addition, this trade will help restock
our organizational assets and affords our team more payroll flexibility. We now
have two first-round picks in 2008, which is projected to be a strong entry
draft. "

What is left out of this explanation is that Chris Mason makes a mere $1.53 million dollars compared to the $5.3 million owed to Vokoun and the Predators are stuck in financial limbo while the NHL Board of Governors (now headed up by notorious franchise destroying owner Jeremy Jacobs of the Bruins) goofs around and waits to decide if they want to let Jim Balsillie and his $238 million dollar bid for the Predators into the owners club.

If there's anything we know by now it's that the NHL owners are notoriously greedy. How else do you explain the rumor that the NHL wants to expand by up to two more teams? Outside of sheer idiocy, just look at what expansion fees are going for these days: $150 million. If they expand by two teams, that's $300 million dollars for the thirty owners to split amongst themselves (and not with the players). Pure greed.

Nevermind that it's insanity that Balsillie is willing to pony up $238 million dollars for a franchise that's still in its relative infancy and is now being gutted as if it were set on fire. Nevermind that that the Predators have had troubles drawing consistent numbers of fans during their entire run in Music City, U.S.A. Nevermind that Balsillie was "only" going to pay $170 million for the Pittsburgh Penguins, a team so brimming with young talent it would've been foolish to turn down buying the team. Just pay no mind to any of those things - it's incredible and typically frustrating that the transfer of ownership hasn't happened yet.

The Predators are now mired in dire straits as the current ownership is scared to spend money on something they're not sure they're going to have anymore and Jim Balsillie isn't about to throw them a lifeline because the team getting torn apart and left for dead will allow him a much easier way to get the heck out of Dodge and off to southwestern Ontario. Balsillie has sworn that as soon as he is made owner of the team, he'll spend whatever it takes to suit up an immediately competitive team.

Now while Balsillie is someone who's hard to trust (especially after backing off of Pittsburgh and then supposedly misleading Heir Bettman about keeping the team in Nashville) I do believe him when he says he'd spend like a drunken sailor to field a winner. Balsillie knows what the bottom line is all about and in the NHL the only way to make sure money keeps coming in is to put a winner on the ice. It keeps the fans coming to games and that's where the money is made these days, especially given how cutthroat ticket prices are.

I can't help but wonder how long this charade will continue with the Predators. I'm sure what's going on with them will dominate discussion during the broadcast of the NHL Draft tonight and a lot of the same things will be said and no one will hit on the real point in that the NHL continues to drop the ball in every conceivable way all while trying to sell us on the buzzwords of "new rules" and "shootouts." Yeah....right.

Monday, June 18, 2007

A Change of Seasons

I've been thoroughly hungover and left speechless and wondering over the last couple of weeks after the only prediction I'd made to myself came true with Anaheim handling Ottawa in five games to win the Stanley Cup and set the NHL right back to square one. Of course, the NHL thought they'd gotten off that square after the lockout killed an entire season and it seemed like free-wheeling hockey was going to be back in a big way.

Nuh uh - not so much.

Anaheim and Ottawa co-conspired to set the NHL back to 1995 - obstructing and trapping each other to death and not-so-coincidentally enough, the one fun and exciting game of the Finals was the game won by Ottawa. Teams like Anaheim (and New Jersey, Ottawa, Minnesota, Calgary, Dallas, Vancouver...the list will grow more next year without a doubt) have taken full advantage of the referees giving up on listening to grown men whine, complain and dive all over the ice to enhance calls or to get the referees to stop blowing the whistle all together just for the sake of the game to keep moving.

Funny, I don't recall the NHL having issues like this throughout the 1980s - all anyone seemed to complain about then was whether or not it mattered to even have a goalie out there and if anyone played any defense at all.

Fact of the 1980s: Only two Stanley Cup Champions were true defensive stalwarts in the 1980s - the Calgary Flames (1989) and the Montreal Canadiens (1986). The Canadiens, of course, are the inventors and originators of the infamous trap that Jacques Lemaire taught to the New Jersey Devils in the 1990s. Of course, it wasn't the trap that was the problem (since every team traps in some way, it's the way you get turnovers after all) it was the obstruction and the officials refusal and ignorance and the NHL giving it the wink-and-nod approval from on high.

I know I get off on this ramble quite a bit, but I suppose I do it now to beat the drum that this is the road the NHL is headed down once again if they don't do anything - and given what we've seen of Bettman and Company, we'll see them do something about it by the time the CBA runs out and they're deciding on a TV contract between having games shown on National Geographic Network and the Bloomberg Channel.

After all, this is the man who wants to accept Jim Balsillie's bid for the Predators so badly just to get his mitts on his $220 million dollars but doesn't want the PR nightmare that will accompany such a move because the Predators will be out of Nashville on the first Mayflower Moving Truck he can scrounge up. Given that the NHL in the sun belt states while removing it from traditional hockey areas is Bettman's pet project, it would be egg on his face to see a team go from the southern U.S. back to Canada.

Just keep this in mind, with the recent advances the Canadian dollar has made against the U.S. dollar, keeping a team out of Canada should one want to relocate back there and using the currency difference as a reason not to go is no longer viable.

Bad taxes and crappy facilities, however, is still a damn good reason to say, "NO!"

What has disappointed me in this Hockey Apocalypse Redux is the lack of outrage being voiced by writers and those who follow the NHL the closest. Apparently having close games that are for the most part boring as hell to watch is favored over games that are even slightly high scoring or close to being officiated correctly (which NHL officials were good for about one good period in each game played). There were a handful of columns that came out in American media about how Anaheim winning wasn't the end of the world and then listed off a pack of mythical reasons as to why it's a good thing - none of which actually focused in on the quality of play but rather decided to play up the "success in a non-traditional market is a good thing" angle.


As the attendance figures from this year showed, only one of the sun belt teams that have won the Stanley Cup recently have maintained the kind of figures the NHL should want: Tampa Bay. Carolina and Anaheim both checked in at less than capacity for the year, which is even more embarassing for Carolina since they've won it and been in the Finals another time just in the last five years. Their success doesn't give the fans a reason to stay away. Of course, these issues in many team's cases hinges upon the ticket prices themselves with many fans getting gouged by their own teams horribly, most notably Toronto. Of course, the Leafs still sell out, so they're just getting spiked for their rabid loyalty. Sheesh.

The antithesis of that is the Chicago Blackhawks who at last report some ten years ago had rabid loyal fans, but owner Bill Wirtz has gone out of his way to make sure that Chicago fans hate the home team as much as possible. He doesn't televise home games because he fears that fans will stay home rather than go to United Center to watch the team that he's assembled with all the care of Ebenezer Scrooge without a scout.

These problems aren't anything new, unfortunately, yet they all go unchecked and as long as Bettman continues to somehow magically make money for the owners, he'll have a job for life meanwhile the game suffers under his every idiotic whim to keep the outsider "fans" pleased and the soccer moms, who only pay attention to hockey when someone gets hit in a dirty way, happy. What can you say, the man know's who his constituents are!

All that said, it's time to think about the future this Friday night with the Amateur Draft - and unlike the last few years where there was stud, knock-it-out-of-the-park talent at the top of the draft or Mike Milbury working the phones to do something incredibly stupid, this draft will likely be more about teams trading players and picks and everything in between. Some of the best deals we've seen recently in the NHL have happened at the draft and we've already seen one rather questionable one go down with Nashville and Philadelphia.

You might remember them for their near-deadline deal of Peter Forsberg - this time the Predators sent a couple of guys they likely weren't going to afford in forward Scott Hartnell and captain defenseman Kimmo Timonen to the Flyers for the first round pick that they'd originally given to Philadelphia in the Forsberg deal. You got that? Essentially the Predators traded Scottie Upshall, Ryan Parent, Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell for Peter Forsberg.

Under normal circumstances you'd say, "Wow, how dumb is Nashville?" Not so fast.

Timonen and Hartnell were both unrestricted free agents, but the Flyers having a heap of cap space and an upper management pining for the good ole days of no salary cap you get the Flyers giving Hartnell, a career third-liner, $4+ million dollars a year for six years and Timmonen gets $6+ million a year for six years as well. I like Kimmo Timonen a lot, but for that much money? Screw that. This now sets the bar for Sheldon Souray's unrestricted services into the stratosphere. Souray has been a monster defenseman for Montreal the last few seasons after escaping the clutches of New Jersey and being allowed to show he has talent and now he's looking to get paid. And you better believe he's going to now - as he'll probably come in somewhere close to what guys like Niedermayer, Pronger and Lidstrom make per season.

Hartnell's salary scale of over $4 million a year also sets a nice high-low bar for guys like Chris Drury and Daneil Briere who are both unrestricted and will likely get paid big time for what they've done in Buffalo. Whether it's by the Sabres remains to be seen as they're up against the cap pretty hard and would likely only be able to keep one of those guys all while hoping no one gets daring and signs Thomas Vanek to an offer sheet (he being a restricted free agent and all).

It's at least good to see some owners showing fiscal responsibility. I wonder if anyone will actually face punishment for going over the cap - like New Jersey last year should've but got around it by making a highly questionable deal with San Jose. My answer is, of course, no - nothing will happen because why would Bettman step in and upset one of his bosses?


Sunday, June 3, 2007

Consistent Inconsistencies

Dare me to say, Game 3 was....good? See what happens when goals are score, gumming up everything becomes secondary to having to put the puck in the net. It's incredible! Goals are GOOD for hockey. Who knew?

What's not good for hockey? The answer these playoffs is pretty clear: Chris Pronger

Now I made enough of a stink during the Detroit series about Pronger's cheap hit on Tomas Holmstrom and had I been blogging about the NHL for the last ten years or so, I'm sure there would be an extensive history of my words on how much a real cretin Chris Pronger is - since there's not, you're just going to have to believe me that I'm not a big fan.

Last night during the early part of the third period with the game knotted up at three, Ottawa's Dean McAmmond got a step on the Ducks defense and was chasing down a rebound. Watch the nonsense that ensues here.

A couple of things to note after watching this:

1. Chris Pronger had all day to decide how exactly he was going to put a hit on McAmmond. Rather than deliver what would've been a tide-turning crunching body blow, he opted to elbow McAmmond in the head as he skated by. Yes, he really manned up on that one. Congrats Chris.

2. What in the world was the official looking at here? You'll notice in the lower right corner of that video that one of the referees is right there watching the play happen and even has McAmmond slide to his feet after he's been knocked out - something that finally prompted him to blow the whistle. Now if the hit happens away from the play I can understand not seeing it - but this was on the puck, the heart of the play! Open your eyes ref, you're missing a good game.

This egregious display of ignoring the rules of the game and the rules of respect players are supposed to have for each other, Pronger escapes without a penalty on the play much the same way he didn't get a penalty for being the far more guilty participant in the hit on Holmstrom. The NHL has once again had it put on their plate to cover up for their on-ice officials and this time have truly dropped the ball.

Before we get into breaking down what possibly could've been going through Colin Campbell and Gary Bettman's head on this decision let's take a look at the book that no one in the NHL Front Office must ever read - the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Quoth the CBA (once again, emphasis mine):

Factors In Determining Supplementary Discipline

In deciding on supplementary discipline, the following factors will be
taken into account:

1. The type of conduct involved: conduct outside of NHL rules; excessive force in contact otherwise permitted by NHL rules; and careless or accidental conduct. Players are responsible for the consequences of their actions.

2. Injury to the opposing player(s) involved in the incident.

3. The status of the offender, and specifically whether he is a
first time or repeat offender. Players who repeatedly violate NHL rules will be more severely punished for each violation.

4. The situation of the game in which the incident occurred: late in the
game, lopsided score, prior events in the game.

5. Such other factors as may be appropriate in the circumstances.

So based upon what is written there...how do we figure that Chris Pronger gets a one-game suspension? It's pretty easy to figure out why.

A) It's the Stanley Cup Finals

B) Pronger is the big marquee name for the Ducks, at least as far as their marketing is concerned.

C) Bettman and Campbell combined have no guts.

Now I'm not about to turn this into an NBA vs. NHL pissing match, but David Stern has seen no problem with throwing his hat in the ring when he's had to to uphold the letter of the law, even when the on-court officials may miss things.

Gary Bettman in this case has decided that he doesn't want to rock anyone's boat and upset any potential future clients and would rather not have his actions dictate what happens on the ice. Well too late for that Gary - you're ignoring what was agreed upon by the owners and players in favor of keeping one of your big names on the ice still, presumably out of fear that people won't watch the games if Pronger's not playing.

Here's another hint to Gary: The only defensemen in NHL history that fans have ever said, "Man, I've got to see that game because _______ is playing!" are Raymond Bourque and Bobby Orr. THAT'S IT!

Chris Pronger doesn't keep people watching TV or put fans in the seats. The one thing he does do, however, is to do stuff like this and not just in these playoffs - he's got a long history of doing things like this and only now is it coming to light.

What's all the more amusing about this, however, is that Chris Pronger's physics lesson that he delivered to us before about how his height made sure that he hit Tomas Holmstrom in the head from behind with his forearms is again being thrown around as a reason as to why he hit Dean McAmmond in the head with his elbow.

Some quotes here for hilarity's sake:

"We think it was totally unintentional. The league thought different,"
Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. "Chris Pronger is a competitive player. Some
people will say he's using his size as an excuse.

"The fact of the matter is his elbows are higher than most
people's elbows. It's not like he raised his elbow to deliver a blow to the head."

You've got to be kidding me here. I can't wait to hear what Brian Burke will say about this because I'm sure it'll be neanderthal-like and completely bogus.

The Ducks should consider themselves lucky that the NHL has no sense of anything because Pronger should be getting sat down for two games. After all, the Collective Bargaining Agreement does say that players who repeatedly violate the rules are subject to stiffer suspensions.

Then again, it pretty much makes sense that they can't even stay consistent with their own rules and regulations even off the ice. After all, since it can't be done on the ice, why be consistent off of it? It amazes me how much the NHL is able to find new and inventive ways to embarass itself - if only Gary Bettman could find a way to upset the owners enough so that they'd ask for him to step down. It's really unfortunate that Bettman is so much of an ownership lackey that we'll never see it happen.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Shutting My Trap

Before the outcomes had been decided in the Wales Conference Eastern Conference Finals, ESPN.com columnist Damien Cox wrote a column that should've struck a nerve and resonated with each and every hockey fan and NHL fan alive.

The point of his column was that you didn't have to like the Buffalo Sabres, you didn't have to root for them, the city or the players - but what you should be doing is rooting for what they represent. Some folks pushed aside what he wrote as campaigning for the American team against the Canadian team - somehow, someway nationalism rears its ridiculous head into the discussion when it comes to hockey all the time.

What Cox was saying here, though, was that the way the Sabres play is the reason to root them on because the way they play is representative of how the NHL should be played. Fast skating, free-wheeling, high octane - you know, the way it used to be played back in the archaic 1980s.

Of course, now after witnessing the semi-nationally broadcasted torturous re-murder of the NHL that is being disguised as the 2007 Stanley Cup Finals, perhaps some folks will realize the error of their way for pshawing Cox's column. Game 1 saw the abuse of the ignorance upon officials to call obstruction and while goals were scored, some folks sat on their hands and said, "Well, at least goals are still being scored while these teams continue to skate in each other's way."

Game 2 proved how quickly things can go from awful to nightmarishly horrific. The first goal of the game which proved to be the game-winning tally wasn't scored until there were just under six minutes left to play in the third period. The Ducks continued to employ a suffocating neutral-zone trap that prevented the Senators from skating freely between the blue lines and then forced them to again and again dump the puck into the zone before gaining the line. Having to continually do this followed up with the defensemen stepping up and impeding the progress of the attackers (without penalty of course) made sure to earn Ottawa all of 16 shots on goal in the game leading J.S. Giguere to his easiest shutout since the 2003 Finals (forever to be known here as Hell on Ice).

With the Ducks throwing up hockey's version of the Berlin Wall and using their defensive trap positioning to pick off passes and catch up to dump-ins before the Senators could even gain the zone (thanks to rampant, uncalled interference), Anaheim was able to long-distance pepper shots at Ray Emery. The game-winning goal was scored by Samuel Pahlsson thanks to a defensive "oopsie" courtesy of both Daniel Alfredsson and Joe Corvo. What kind of "oopsie" was it? Not interfering with anyone and standing everyone up illegally at the blue line. Give Pahlsson a ton of credit, he scored on a great shot - but that said, the Ducks are playing one style of hockey that we'd seen year in and year out while the Senators (no angels themselves in this regard, just ask Buffalo) are at least showing some signs of wanting to play hockey the right way.

Well that is until Bryan Murray saw that the Ducks are getting away with murder and has vowed to play the same way back at them.


What my main worry here with the Ducks making it this far was that teams next year would follow their lead and go back to old, bad, sport-ruining habits. Now it appears that we don't even have to wait that long. Thanks a lot.

ESPN.com's Scott Burnside made note of this in one of his articles, pulling this quote out (emphasis mine, as always):

Although Ottawa coach Bryan Murray didn't complain about the Ducks' obstructing
his team as he did the past two days, forward Dany Heatley said the Ducks are
playing them differently than any of their three previous playoff opponents.

"No question. No question," Heatley said. "They do a good job, whether
it's subtle or whether it's blatant. They definitely play a real hold-up
style, defensive style.
We just have to find ways to battle through

Isn't that supposed to be illegal under
the new rules?

"Yeah, it is," Heatley said.

Now, I'm not going to just cite one quote and tell you that the sky is falling - I'll just ask you to go ahead and re-watch those first two games and tell me what you think. Now does this mean the rest of the series will be unwatchable? Not really.

In the Calgary-Tampa Bay final three years ago we saw two terrible and nearly unwatchable games played in Games 1 and 2. Of course, the hype going into that final was that neither of these teams play the trap and we'd see the return to good old fashioned hockey. What happened then, of course, is that both teams were terrified of each other's offensive weapons, got scared of taking any chances at all and bored everyone to tears by trying to out-trap and out-interfere each other. Thankfully that series went seven games and games 3-7 made up for everything else (for the most part).

If you're going to tell me I should have hope that things will turn around in this series and that we may still see some exciting end-to-end style hockey though...you won't catch me holding my breath as Anaheim has been doing this kind of crap all season and now moreso in the playoffs (with the added flair of being dirty as well) without being check-mated by the League. So now Ottawa in desperation is going to follow them down into the sewer and play things the same way because when in Rome you do as the Romans do. In this case, the Romans want us to be bored and not see a single compelling thing ever again.