Friday, December 31, 2004

Desert Dogs on the block!

Some more ammunition about troubled times for Gary Bettman and the NHL owners club, as the Phoenix Coyotes have apparently very quietly been put up on the for sale market. Despite moving into a brand new home, the lack of hockey and some cash crunches with the current owners have the Desert Dogs looking for someone else to hold the leash.

A remote location for the new rink, a lack of development of the area and the absence of a product have all seemingly taken their toll on the team that used to call Winnipeg its home.

While it's doubtful that the team will be leaving the Desert, it would be a great sense of irony if the only location that would welcome the Dogs is their old home of Winnipeg, a place with a brand new downtown arena that by all accounts has been far better received by the population than the Desert ice palace has.

They're not smug people on the flatlands, but we'd forgive them a wee smile today at the travails of the team that once called the Peg home!

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Glad tidings to you, (not so fast there Bob!)

We can safely assume that there were no Christmas cards mailed to Bob Goodenow from the Robert Clarke residence this year. For December 31st, Goodenow had best just go to bed early on New Year's Eve as it's doubtful that there will be a call of good wishes for a New Year either. And if this mess drags on into mid February, well let's just say Cupid is going to be taking a pass on this fun couple as well.

Bobby Clarke unloads on Bob Goodenow, and as Shania would say, "That don't impress me much"!

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Show him some money!

Rob Ray is used to some bare knuckle fights, so it’s not surprising that he’s decided to take on his own union leadership over a held back payment from the strike fund. Ray made some headlines a few weeks ago when he suggested that he just might be willing to cross a picket line to go back to work should the current impasse lead to that situation.

Needless to say over at Players association central that was as brazen an act as dropping the gloves and wheeling away at another player. The Player’s association is not commenting on the situation, but for the moment Ray’s lawyer is doing enough talking for everyone.

Besides looking for a quick resolution (not to mention a quick deposit) to the financial troubles, David H. Elibol related a wish from Ray that the players themselves question the leadership of Bob Goodenow and the state of the labour impasse.

It will be interesting to see how this situation is resolved. While wanting to control its players, Goodenow and his partners may find that by playing hardball with the membership their overall position is weakened. No doubt Gary Bettman and the owners will be watching to see if this is a thin wedge in the membership. One which could turn into a huge crack should things carry on through the next year!

Going for a skate! The Juniors run a clinic for the B Pool!

The massive power of the Canadian Junior Team is beginning to resemble the touring days of the Harlem Globetrotters. With fancy passing, laser like shots and a crushing physical game the Juniors seem to be focused completely on the mission at hand. With a team that showcases a complete game night after night, one wonders if anyone is going to step up and make a game of it soon.

Not meaning to be cocky, which is a decidedly un-Canadian outlook on life, but this group of Sutter cowhands are making the game look oh so easy. Beside the magic of Crosby and Bergeron (and if you’re the NHL you had best get busy making sure you have a place for Sidney to play next year!) this is a team that has bought into the much vaunted Sutter work ethic. Every period, every shift seems to provide a complete effort. Even the few mistakes that have been made have been quickly corrected; they already have meshed into a complete unit that can provide scoring from line number one down to the grinders’ line. The back end has held up its own and the goaltending has been quite fine thank you very much. While the competition thus far hasn’t been of an intense nature, you sense that this Junior team may be one of our better assembled units of recent history.

Granted the Germans, the Swedes in this tournament and the Swiss in their exhibition game haven’t really tested the Juniors yet, there haven’t been many things to cause worry above the frozen plains of the North Dakota/Manitoba border. We await with interest the challenges of the United States and the Russian squads should we meet up later on. For now the focus is on Finland the last block on the way to clinching the first place spot in the B pool of the World Junior Championships.

With Brent Sutter running the show you can rest assured that the team will not lose its focus as they ponder the road ahead. A one game at a time approach is the Sutter way and his charges won’t be allowed to forget it. Finland on Thursday will be just as important as any potential gold medal game down the line. For Sutter though it must be a satisfying sight to see his players buying into the system, playing it full tilt and correcting their own errors while still in the play.

With a runaway score of 9-0 on Tuesday, the Canadians did not take the bait of the cheap shots administered by a star struck but much frustrated German squad. Sidney Crosby once again the focus of attention time and time again, as the German defenders tried their best to corral him by whatever means necessary, to their credit the Canadians did not get involved in the post whistle shoving and spearing and such. The showcased much restraint and maturity beyond their ages. There were no settling of scores and such just a knowledge that there was another game in two days and all hands were required on the ice. The only slowing nature of this competition will be that of injuries, which are beyond a player and coach’s control. But should one fall, there is no doubt someone ready to step up and fill in the spot.

It may not be nail biting hockey, but that’s ok. The sheer skill level on the ice and the complete effort as a team more than makes up for the edge of your seat expectations. Like those Globetrotter games, the show itself is the skill on display and the wait to see if the Generals might sneak one by them. So far for Canada it’s a marvellous display of our game, played our way. There doesn’t seem to be any danger of the “Generals” ruining the outcome in the near future!

Monday, December 27, 2004

Canada at the Spengler Cup

Follow the Canadian entry at the Spengler Cup as they prepare to defend their claim to the Spengler Cup. With the competition stacked up with free lance NHLers biding their time in Europe, the Canadian squad should have a more challenging struggle than in the past few years.

December 26, 2004--Team Canada 5, Metallurg Magnitogorsk 2
December 27, 2004--Team Canada 3, HC Davos 2
December 29, 2004--Sparta Prague 4, Team Canada 2
December 30, 2004--Team Canada 3, IFK Helsinki 2
December 30, 2004--Canada's Spengler bid ends!
December 31, 2004--Davos wins the Cup, Davos wins the Cup!

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Bert prepares to receive justice

Vancouver Canuck forward Todd Bertuzzi entered a guilty plea in BC Provincial court today. It's expected that the Crown will seek a conditional discharge, which will leave him without a criminal record for his on ice assault on Steve Moore earlier this year.

A small crowd of fans were outside the Vancouver court house to observe the proceedings and lend their support to Mr. Bertuzzi. Lawyers for Mr. Moore were still attempting to have their client be allowed to present a victim impact statement prior to Mr. Bertuzzi's sentencing.

It is unknown at this time whether that will be allowed prior to sentencing, which is expected to involve some form of community service for Bertuzzi.

Drop Dead?

January 14, 2005. The New Year may not be very happy very long, Gary Bettman has called a board meeting for January 14th, 2005 when it is expected that the NHL will cancel the entire season, making it the first time since the Spanish Flu that the Stanley Cup will not be competed for!

With no new talks planned and neither side apparently working very hard on the matter over the Christmas period, it would appear that once the hangovers of New Years Eve clear on January 2nd, the NHL hangover will continue on for twelve more days!

Monday, December 20, 2004

World Junior Championships 2005

Follow along as we track the developments of the World Junior Championship for 2005.

December 20 2004--Canada tunes up in exhibition against the Finns
December 20 2004--Canada/Finland exhibition summary
December 21, 2004--About those uniforms
December 21, 2004--Peggers love their Juniors
December 21, 2004--So far, so Good!
December 22, 2004--Canada glide by Swiss
December 22, 2004--Canada/Switzerland exhibition summary
December 25, 2004--Canada tops Slovakia
December 25, 2004--Canada/Slovakia summary
December 27, 2004--Canada rolls over Sweden
December 27, 2004--Canada/Sweden summary
December 28, 2004--Cruise control!
December 28. 2004--Canada/Germany summary
December 29, 2004--The view from Uwe
December 30, 2004--MacArthur makes an impact
December 30, 2004--Charting the future of Sidney
December 30, 2004--Sending the Finns for a Sauna
December 30, 2004--Canada/Finland summary
December 30, 2004--Off to the semis
December 31, 2004--Tourney is a winner for TSN!
December 31, 2004--A team of attrition
December 31, 2004--Perry breaks his drought
December 31, 2004--The easy part is over
December 21, 2004--Hat trick Carter
December 31, 2004--Such nice things that they say
January 1, 2005--No worries on the bench
January 1, 2005--Ringing that Belle
January 1, 2005--USA's Montoya to feel some heat
January 1, 2005--All for one and one for all
January 1, 2005--Czechs advance to face Canada
January 1, 2005--Canada prepares to face the Czechs in semi
January 1, 2005--Still some life in the USA
January 1, 2005--The name is Kessel
January 2, 2005--Canada dominates the Czech Republic, advances to Gold Medal game
January 2, 2005--Canada/Czech Republic summary
January 2, 2005--Third Period explosion propels Russians to Gold Medal game
January 3, 2005--Ovechkin talkin' tough!

Hockey May not be back, but I am!

Well I took a couple of weeks off to recharge my batteries, refocus my eyes and re-educate myself on all matters of collective bargaining. Well okay, no I didn't do that last one, since there doesn't seem to be any imminent danger of the two warring parties coming to a resolution of their dispute and it doesn't resemble collective bargaining anyways, so why waste valuable reading time on something that isn't going to happen!

But a hockey fan must find ways to keep engaged to the game and so we're back and ready to find some stories, add some comment and hopefully spread some good news in the near future.

Of course we also planned our re-emergence from the bunker just in time for the annual Canadian Christmas ritual, the World Junior Hockey Championships. Probably the only worthwhile hockey we're going to see in the near future.

We may take the odd day off in the future, but HockeyNation followers stay close, we'll update regularly and find those items that may have slipped into the cracks in the ice!

Monday, November 29, 2004

Lockout Update Nov 22-Dec 5

The stories they are dwindling quick
Much like the use of a hockey stick
We'll do our best to find some news
But truth be told the links will be few
The clock it's ticking fast and loud
The end of the season is nigh they tell the crowd
Watch this blog for some kind of sign
But for now its thin gruel and rerun time

22-Nov-04 A league that just won't go away
23-Nov-04 Taking the Guerin challenge
24-Nov-04 PAYDAY!
25-Nov-04 ALMO'S Tragically Hip
26-Nov-04 Questions for Goodenow!
27-Nov-04 Where to find some programming?
29-Nov-04 The Honourable Member for Hockey speaks out!
29-Nov-04 Daly says luxury tax still won't work
30-Nov-04 On the brink of elimination
30-Nov-04 New proposal on the way from the NHLPA
30-Nov-04 European paycheques come with a risk!
2-Dec-04 Bettman's the wrong man
3-Dec-04 Owners can end this mess
3-Dec-04 The Player's solution
3-Dec-04 To save a season
3-Dec-04 Players hopeful!
3-Dec-04 Spin Cycle

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Lockout update Nov 15-21

Another week and nothing to report
Yet more players pick up a passport
The agents they begin to wonder
If maybe Goodenow may have blundered
Forbes comes out with a giant expose
The NHL counters by calling it fantasy
The newspapers are full of football stories
Of this perhaps the league should worry

20-Nov-04 CBC faces huge hit with no hockey
20-Nov-04 Is the goal a broken union?
20-Nov-04 No Hockey: And the sky didn't fall!
19-Nov-04 Bettman to meet with Owners
19-Nov-04 Leaking agent is decertified
19-Nov-04 Millionaires on holiday
18-Nov-04 Autoworkers call for mediation
18-Nov-04 Is the NHLPA ready to alter its position?
18-Nov-04 JR's two bits
17-Nov-04 16 days to see Europe
17-Nov-04 Collateral damage in the Hockey war
17-Nov-04 Player Agents stay the course
17-Nov-04 Orr takes a pass
17-Nov-04 Bettman staying his course
16-Nov-04 Goodenow trusted by his players
16-Nov-04 Enter the agents

Saturday, November 13, 2004

An inflated sense of loss?

The timing isn’t particularly good for the NHL, one short day after Bill Wirtz expressed concern over the lack of movement by the players and a reticence to accept the Levitt report as a Gospel came a report for Bob Goodenow to wave around for all to see.

No less an authority than Forbes magazine, a much respected and widely read business publication has come out with a story that says Gary Bettman and his band of entrepreneurs haven’t lost quite as much money as they say they have.

The article which carries a publication date of November 29th provided its take on a number of NHL led issues including: estimates that league losses were closer to $96-million, that player costs did not gobble up 75 per cent of the league revenue as the NHL alleged, and that all the Canadian clubs but the Ottawa Senators, which lost $5-million, enjoyed a profitable 2003-04 season.

The controversial article has struck a raw nerve with the NHL which claims that the article is factually incorrect. Vice President Bill Daly was quick to the press releases with the NHL’s take on the story.

“The Forbes article is factually inaccurate in numerous respects and is not based on any of the actual information that would be needed to support its claims,” he told Canadian Press. “It is nothing short of irresponsible journalism.”

Needles to say the NHLPA is trumpeting the Forbes story as proof that they’ve been right all along and thus claim the high ground in the ongoing dispute. PA spokesperson Ted Saskin broke down the Players Association’s response to the article like this:

“It is no surprise that Forbes found the NHL has vastly overstated its losses by not including all of the revenues earned by NHL teams,”

“We agree with Forbes' conclusion that the NHL should show more transparency and disclose all of an owner's sources of revenue in their financial reporting. We have been saying the same thing for many years.”

“Forbes' report and conclusions on NHL finances make it clear the NHL should be negotiating off of our proposals rather than shutting down the game to try to get a salary-cap system.”

The article should go a long way in helping the Players Association hold the lines for the short term at any rate. As the lockout heads into day number 60, the rank and file (those that haven’t gone off to Europe) can point to the Forbes article as an independent review of the situation, one which gives them more ammunition in the ongoing battle.

Forbes also questioned the validity of the Levitt Report, the NHL commissioned report that has basically become the Holy Grail for the NHL owners, as they try to redefine the financial rules of their game. Forbes claims that Levitt’s numbers of a 273 million dollar loss for 2002-03 are vastly over inflated, suggesting that any real loss was probably only around 123 million.

Almost lost in the rumble of reply to the article is an interesting little side story, the heartwarming tale of the Minnesota Wild. They the small market team which is toiling away with a low payroll and only a few short years along from their expansion birth. The Wild, if the Forbes story is correct are the second most financially successful franchise in the league, with only the juggernaut Maple Leaf Empire ahead of them.

Forbes suggests that the Wild made 11.5 million in operating income, second only to the Leafs who collected 14.1 million in income. Though all is not golden in the land of the Wild, missing the playoffs last year did hit the bottom line a bit, reducing the team’s value by 3 million dollars to 163 million. Still not bad for a team with not much in the way of star power and as far removed from the NHL centre as any Canadian franchise. Basically if a team like Minnesota can still manage to hold its own with its structure, the need for cost certainty and all of the other league desired changes may seem to be more associated with bullying rather than business.

Expect the NHL to start to fill the airwaves with rebuttals, charts and figures. The Forbes article gives the NHLPA some valuable reading material for its efforts. It also will put the NHL on the defensive for the first time since the dispute began, since the games have been cancelled the fans seem to have taken the NHL’s point of view to heart over the Players. It will be interesting to see what impact this report might have on the fans as we get closer and closer to a shutdown of the entire season.

OSHL running out of time

The OSHL, four on four hockey experiment may be about to come to an end. With only two days left before its self imposed deadline for progress, the currently suspended league may finally pack it in.

The league which began play shortly after the lockout then suspended operations in order to retrench has been taking on water ever since its debut. A quick tour through the Maritimes didn’t put the operation onto a firm footing and with players abandoning North America for the comforts of European life; the anticipated star power drawing card hasn’t materialized.

When first thought up it, originally was to feature a fast paced end to end game on the ice, heavy on offence and light on hitting it would bring back the days of pond shinny. However the crowds have been less than large for the few games that have taken place thus far, as Hockey fans in Ontario and Atlantic Canada turn to other outlets for their hockey fix. After a quick burst of interest in week one, the numbers dwindled rapidly as the product failed to attract much in the way of name players. The no contact nature of the shinny also seemed to turn off what few fans were turning out to such outposts as Sarnia, Halifax and towns in between.

Needing at least 40 players to make things go, league founder Randy Gumbley has found only half that number so far willing to barnstorm across Canada. From his original list of 84 possible players in September, 53 have instead chosen Bern and Stockholm amongst others, over trips to Brandon, Saskatoon and points west, east and North of Toronto.

Gumbley requires another 20 or so to sign up by Monday or he will have to cancel a planned December tour of the prairies. If that happens it’s expected that he will close down the league and let it join the WHA as ideas that seemed good at the time but weren’t able to cash in on Hockey’s season of hell!

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Lockout Update Nov 8-14

They still won't talk and stick to their ways
The strike carries on day after day
Even Gretzky stays on the shelf
Keeping his opinions to himself
Gary, Bob won't you at least say hi
Before we find out that the season must die

14-Nov-04 Whatever happened to the NHL?
14-Nov-04 Going down the drain
14-Nov-04 Abscence makes the heart grow fonder?
14-Nov-04 Forget Contraction
13-Nov-04 Who is this man, Goodenow?
12-Nov-04 In search of second opinions
12-Nov-04 Forbes finds NHL Math funny
11-Nov-04 Gretzky: It's up to Bob and Gary
11-Nov-04 Billy Blackhawk sees dark days
11-nov-04 Dr. Stan pronounces a death
10-Nov-04 Le Gros Bill shares his opinion
9-Nov-04 They celebrated and they mourned
9-Nov-04 A call for mediation, or maybe meditation
8-Nov-04 In Bob they trust
8-Nov-04 Stop the Destruction
8-Nov-04 Goodenow's number crunching program

Dreaming the dreams in the Peg

Well I took a wee bit of heat over my review of the farewell to the Winnipeg arena last week, so I tread into these waters rather carefully.

But the impression from those involved in the weekend's festivities is that with the arrival of the new MTS Centre, there may one day be a chance for Winnipeggers to have a team of their own to cheer on again.

Of course those doing the talking have absolutely no say in the machinations of the NHL and its owners, but if good wishes were investment dollars then Winnipeg would be on a par with the New York Rangers and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Whether it was just the sense of moment or a fanciful wish for good things for good people, the question seems to be more why not Winnipeg rather than why Winnipeg.

And there may be some slight hope for those that still long for the days of the Jets. The current NHL impasse is going to no doubt result in some franchise troubles down the line, the southern offices already lukewarm at best to the game on ice may just lose all interest completely. Leaving the NHL with some serious situations to resolve. With a new economic structure in place and struggling franchises looking for a better option Winnipeg may yet get its return.

Well at least until the folks in the comment boxes below, throw some cold water on their hopes and dreams..

Monday, November 08, 2004

Bobby or Bourque?

Kevin Dupont of the Boston Globe treads where few would dare go with his latest article for the Boston paper. Dupont risks the wrath of many as he suggests that Raymond Bourque, former Bruin and newest member of the Hockey Hall of Fame may be the better of Boston’s two highest profile defencemen.

Comparing the two beatified Bruins takes a lot of courage, each has his own den of fans, each holds a special place in Bruin lore. Dupont tries to base his case on statistics, suggesting that Orr had the opportunity to pad his numbers at the expense of palookas from Minnesota, St. Louis, Los Angeles, Oakland, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, comparing the line ups offered to the hockey gods of the day as nothing but tomato cans waiting to be crushed. Add with the arrival of the WHA, Dupont suggests the points were there for the taking. Of course many will counter that argument by pointing out that Bourque plied his trade in an NHL expanded many times over, the whiskey watered down year after year, during his patrol of the Bruin blue line.

Mr. Dupont also states that Orr’s Bruins were a much stronger team than the one that Bourque was saddled with, Orr skating with the likes of Espositio, Bucyk, McKenzie, Cashman, Hodge and Cheevers to name a few. Bourque’s days significantly filled with interchangeable talent with the notable exceptions such as Cam Neely and Adam Oates. A valid point no doubt, much of Bourque’s time in Boston was spent on teams that seemed to have no desire to improve their standing, nor challenge for the Stanley Cup.

But in the end the fans of Orr will point out that not only did number four rack up the points, show leadership and lead the Bruins on to great glory. He also changed the game, the rushing defenceman of the eighties through the nineties and to this day all can trace their ascension to the talents of Orr.

There are hundreds if not thousands of defencemen who watched in wonder as Orr wound it up in his own end and took the puck from end to end normally finishing off in a flourish and a flashing red light.

His heart and desire was surpassed by only his pure talent. He defined all that was great about hockey in the late sixties and through the seventies, his career ending far too soon, robbing millions of hockey fans of one of the great talents of the game in the prime of his career.

I admire Ray Bourque consider him to be one of the best defencemen to ever put on skates and chase a puck down the ice. But Orr defined the game, made the game his own and will forever be known as the best to ever ply his trade on a blue line. There were many to follow him that surely starred, but never eclipsed. With respect to Mr. Dupont and his carefully crafted dissection of the two talented B’s, but I’ll cast my vote for Number 4.

I’ll respect Ray Bourque for the true talent that he was, a bona fide all star, deserved Hall of Fame member and one of the most impressive defenceman to ever pull on a pair of skates. But I’ll cherish the nights gone past where I sat in front of a television set and watched in awe a guy named Bobby weave his magic on the ice. Orr revolutionized a position, giving fuel to the explosion that would follow in offensive defencemen. For my book there never was and maybe never will be anyone of his equal.

His short time in an NHL line up gave us an indication just how exciting one person can be to a game. Like Gretzky, Lemieux, The Rocket and Lafleur there was something about him on the ice that made you watch with wonder. The mark of greatness is the company you keep; Orr’s place is forever placed on the same list as the greats. And that’s more than good enough for me!

Three for the defence!

The Hockey Hall of Fame suddenly became a much harder place to cross a blue line in, as three of the best defencemen that the NHL has ever seen found themselves enrolled in a very select club.

Raymond Bourque, Paul Coffey and Larry Murphy were placed into our national hallowed hall on Monday night. It seems only fitting that the three would enter the Hall in the same year, for they have been major players in the game in the last twenty years. Whether it was Norris trophies for Bourque and Coffey, Stanley Cup championships as with Murphy or Canada Cup and International play that all three shared in, the back end was always covered the offensive threat always there when they were on the ice.

The three count as 1987’s Canada Cup as one of the special memories in their long and illustrious careers, it marked the only time all three played on the same team for Canada and that 87 Canada Cup team was pure magic. It featured three consecutive games of non stop end to end hockey, played by some true legends of our game to the high intensity possible.

Through their years the three have combined for 5,259 games in pursuit of Lord Stanley’s Mug. Murphy and Coffey having had their champagne much earlier in their days than Bourque who only tasted a championship drink as his career was closing out.

The three NHL greats join Cliff Fletcher the former architect of Flames and Leaf teams of days gone by, Fletcher also joins the hall in a builder category. Long a fixture in the NHL Fletcher became one of the most respected Hockey men the league has seen. Working his way up through the Montreal Canadiens organization he brought hockey to the Deep South, moved it to hockey heartland and then took on the challenge of a Toronto team that was in complete disarray after the Ballard years, for following that gong show he should have been admitted years ago.

It’s a bumper crop that the Hall harvested this year. These are four selections that were strong on the blue line and solid in the back office. These four were worthy participants of the game, worthy rivals and worthy inductees into Hockey’s greatest hall!

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Winnipeg bids adieu to faithful old barn

They’re holding a wake this weekend in River City, with an eye on a brand new downtown arena the hockey faithful took their final seat in the Winnipeg Arena on Saturday night and said farewell. Filling the venerable old building to the very last of the nosebleed seats arching high to the roof the cheered and cried, memories of many a famous night rushing back to their eyes as if they happened only yesterday.

After 50 years of some form of frozen shinny, the Winnipeg Arena will go dark and take with it countless memories of good times and bad. It was an AHL game on the schedule but for all intents and purposes this was one more chance to salute their Jets, the team that sent Winnipeg to the big leagues, a team that still has a torch burning so many years after their departure. Many of those attending the match were decked out in their finest Winnipeg Jets memorabilia. A testimony to how deep the scar of losing their NHL team still burns into the soul of a Manitoba hockey fan.

This weekend featured a number of the old Jets back one more time to celebrate all that was good about Hockey in Manitoba. They celebrated past Allan Cup winners, remembered the joy of a Memorial cup championship and the path to the big leagues through the Avco Cup years of the WHA.

From the days of Canada’s National team to the Team Canada stops against foreign competition, the Barn has seen its share of great moments. It’s also seen some sad ones as well, the gathering also commiserated at the lost chances of a Stanley Cup, gone seemingly at the time forever with the departure of the Jets for the desert of Arizona. But in true Manitoba spirit, Hope springs eternal, perhaps goes the wish a newly retrenched NHL will once again return to its Hockey Roots and once again call Manitoba home, it’s always next year country in Manitoba!

In one of those delicious ironies of life, the competition for the Manitoba Moose on this final night of the Maroons Road barn was the Utah Grizzlies, farm club of the Phoenix Coyotes nee Winnipeg Jets. Gone but not forgotten, Manitobans saluted their former heroes, their ghosts soon to be left behind to a wrecker’s ball.

Yet somehow one knows that the spirit of the Barn will carry on, many more chapters of Manitoba hockey are to be written. A new palace of hockey opens shortly, it one day will have its stories to tell, its history to recount. If it even has half the memories of Maroons road then it too will have lived a full and productive purpose for Hockey fans in Manitoba.

On Saturday night the home team lost in overtime, but really nobody was watching the score. The actual game itself, was just one of a number on the AHL schedule, the event though was one for fans to remember forever.

The Lights may go off for good, but its history will carry on forever!

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Zholtok passes away after game in Europe

Veteran NHLer Sergei Zholtok died in his hometown of Riga, Latvia Wednesday night after completing a game for the local hockey team. Zholtok complained of illness as the game was winding down and took a turn for the worse shortly after its completion.

He has been reported to have suffered from cardiac arrhythmia in the last few years and missed games last year in the NHL complaining of dizziness and fatigue.

Zholtok last played in North America for the Nashville Predators who picked him up in March of last year in a trade with the Minnesota Wild. Drafted in 1992 by Boston as the 55th pick, Zholtok plied his trade over ten years in such NHL cities as Ottawa, Montreal and Edmonton besides his stints with the Bruins, Wild and Predators.

He leaves behind a wife and two children with his untimely passing.HockeyNation sends its condolences to the family and friends of Mr. Zohltok.

Lockout Update November 1-7

The third line players show some cracks,
The talks may never get on track,
Gary and Bob they hardly debate,
Off to Europe and take your skates,
Another wasted week has gone right by,
They won't talk, won't even try,
Well chase the stories til the end,
But man oh man, this is driving us around the bend.

7-Nov-04 Linden gets rebuked by Hirsch's wife
7-Nov-04 It's all about greed
7-Nov-04 The Eagle (the original) has his two cents
7-Nov-04 He's making us look bad!
5-Nov-04 Killing the game
5-Nov-04 Legace picks up the torch from Esche
5-Nov-04 I'm sorry, so sorry!
4-Nov-04 Autoworkers go for a skate
4-Nov-04 Deep in the heart of Texas, they want hockey back!
4-nov-04 Player agents doubt they have magic solution
4-Nov-04 A Doctor Phil for the Hockey world
4-Nov-04 Fearful for the Future
3-Nov-04 Grapes sour on any progress
3-Nov-04 Holding their lines
3-Nov-04 Bettman Bashing at the end of the meeting
3-Nov-04 Morally wrong? Legally correct!
3-Nov-04 Lockout pay is on the way!
3-Nov-04 The Price of principle
3-Nov-04 Atlanta's Hockey showcase scrubbed
2-Nov-04 These guys need help

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Bumped players in Europe not at all happy with newly arrived “scabs”

The fraternity of hockey players is taking a bit of a kick these days in the solidarity department, while fellow NHLPA members debate the merits of holding fast against any kind of salary cap. The players in Europe that are getting bumped by the new refugees aren’t talking cap, their talking about being fed up with crap!

The 236 odd new arrivals have bumped a similar number of formerly gainfully employed players onto the unemployment rolls. And the situation is not sitting well with some of the newly laid off.

And while the NHL stars come to Europe for what amounts to beer money in their world, the folks that were calling the European leagues’ home are crying foul. Corey Hirsch seems to be taking the point on this battle on behalf of his recently unemployed brethren, in an exchange of e mails with Ottawa Sun columnist Chris Stevenson, Hirsch explains how the vast majority of North Americans that relocated to Europe did it to continue their careers and make some money in a game that they love. To have that taken away by the folks that “made it in the NHL” leaves a lot of them with a bitter taste in their mouths.

The new arrivals who are parking in Europe while things sort themselves out back in the NHL, don’t seem to be aware of the damage they may be doing to the players recently released. In a season to season league, performance in one year normally dictates whether you are invited back the next, the layoff of the North Americans puts their very careers in jeopardy normally when they need the money the most. When the lockout ends and the NHL resumes the vacationers will go back to salaries well in excess of the European league average, yet the now replaced players may find that their careers come to a crashing end.

And that has the now bumped players talking about returning to North America should the NHL re open with replacement players. Feeling that they have nothing to lose Hirsch says that they would just be doing what the current NHL players are doing to them.

It makes for a cautionary tone for Mr. Goodenow and the NHLPA, should the owners wait out the union until next year, there’s a very good chance that a pool of players will readily be ready to go to work, having been sent to the sidelines by the NHLPA’s very own players. The NHL stars currently taking their skates in the European leagues may very well have opened up a can of worms from which not good will come.

The logic of the recently unemployed makes sense, in any other strike/lockout situation the workers do not go over to another company and take the jobs of those that are already employed. They take the odd jobs to tide one over until the lockout or strike comes to an end, they work the picket lines and promote their cause.

They generally don’t create misery for other workers who were only trying to earn a living. The move by the NHL players that relocated to Europe, in effect makes the newly unemployed two time losers! They lost their dreams of NHL glory and now they’ve lost their fall back plan to play the game and still make a decent living. Make a person that bitter and you may reap what you sow!

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Thanks for your help, sorry to see you leave!

Gratitude is rather fleeting in Finland, despite leading his team to a sliver medal in the recent World Cup of Hockey. Raimo Summanen has been told to hand in his whistle and clipboard and take a hike.

Summanen was relieved of his duties as coach of the Finnish Hockey team today, apparently the victim of a power struggle between himself and the very players he coached. Stating that they wanted to calm down the inflamed situation surrounding the A team, Kalervo Kummola announced Summanen’s departure.

There were reports of discord in the Finnish line up going back to the training camps of the World Cup, things apparently coming to a head when Janne Niinimaa left the team midway through the tourney, weary of being Summanen’s whipping post.

Summanen declared that he had wished to stay with the National team and feels that he was not provided with the proper backing to make the changes that he had been hired to make.

Compared in some Finnish circles as the Baltic equivalent to Mike Keenan, Summanen was apparently a strict disciplinarian with a bit of a mean streak which the unfortunate Niinimaa apparently felt too often.

The mid tourney revolt didn’t seem to affect the team on the ice as they went through the tournament undefeated until the final game against Canada. Despite the success, the Finns have decided that a happy shiny dressing room is far more desirable than the risk of Mutiny at the rink!

Monday, October 25, 2004

Lockout Update October 25-Oct 31

The opening nights they all were dark,
The players thus began to bark!
The owners kept up a front united,
The ones that talked were quickly hushed!
This week will end on All Hallows Eve,
The witching hour for those who believe.
Will it be trick or treat for the hockey fan,
Or more of the same with no real game plan!

31-Oct-04 Bob Goodenow's list of headaches
31-Oct-04 The European hold out
31-Oct-04 HMCS Goodenow one leaky boat
31-Oct-04 Even more labour trouble on the horizon
31-Oct-04 Time to trim Goodenow's power?
31-Oct-04 Rob Ray ready to cross?
30-Oct-04 Cournoyer disappointed
30-Oct-04 Rucchin to stay the course
30-Oct-04 NHLPA to bring in the big boys
29-Oct-04 It's Not as bad as the networks first thought
29-Oct-04 Backlash to the new arrivals in Europe
29_oct-04 Everybody's talking except the main attractions
28-Oct-04 Mixed messages from the middle class
28-Oct-04 Honey get me re-write
28-Oct-04 The Commodore is on the deck and maybe on the carpet
27-Oct-04 Former Devils owner suggests players bend
27-Oct-04 The Blame Game
27_Oct-04 Lafleur with the Lowdown
27-Oct-04 Talking to talk about Talking!
25-Oct-04 Marty for the Defence!
25-Oct-04 It's north to Alaska the Rush is on!
25-Oct-04 Laying the problems at Gary's door

For the Greed of the Game?

The bright light of accountability is being flashed on minor hockey in Toronto after a weekend series in the Toronto Star highlighted some rather unusual happenings in the Greater Toronto Hockey League. The well documented expose of life in minor hockey’s hottest market, opens up some eyes to a world many of us never knew existed. Robert Cribb and Lois Kalchman report on a system that seems out of control and running under its own set of ethics and rules.

It’s not a new issue; in fact the concept of the control of the GTHL was first brought up last year by Bob McCown on the Fan sports radio station. Indeed on his program Monday, McCown made mention of the newspaper article and immediately had an hours worth of phone calls from people using assumed names one suspects, expressing concern over the direction of minor hockey in Toronto.

Considered by many to be the ultimate in feeder leagues to the Junior A, college and eventually professional ranks, the GTHL is a collection of teams spread out over the vast terrain that makes up Metro Toronto. At the centre of the storm is a real estate agent, who has accumulated minor hockey teams like others would collect hockey cards. Stu Hyman has in the space of five years gone on to control over 93 teams in Metro Toronto, putting over 1500 players from age 3-20 on squads of which he has total influence. It makes for a wake up call for the romantic who thought that the minor hockey of our youth still exists today.

To read the Toronto Star series, Minor Hockey is very much a big business now, Hyman’s teams collect player fees of double the going rate for other teams, and star struck parents seem wiling to part with their monies, so their child can wear the team jacket of one of Hyman’s 90 teams. What real benefit those players may receive seems hard to fathom, but for whatever reason a sense of Omerta has descended on parents of players that toil for Mr. Hyman. Whether they are scared of his power, or worried about rocking the boat for their kids, no one seems to want to go on the record over the issue.

An interesting revelation in the excellent series is the fact that Hyman most recently attempted to purchase another minor hockey property for $300,000. One has to wonder what possible reason one man would want to have control of so many minor hockey squads, more importantly one wonders how out of whack our world is when a minor hockey team is worth over a quarter of a million dollars!

Hyman claims it’s a love of the game and a bid to benefit kids that has led him down this path. But critics and supporters continue to monitor developments and/or raise questions. The fact that he seems hesitant to address those critics in any public fashion only leads to the suspicion that things may not be as they seem.

For any parent of a player in minor hockey the article will be an eye opener, one has to believe that this is most likely the exception to the rule of minor hockey. Somehow the concept of small town hockey teams being auctioned off to the highest bidder seems to be a far fetched possibility. But in the overly competitive urban areas, it seems that the lure of a payoff one day down the line infects not only entrepreneurs, but parents alike.

The bottom line though must be this: if a kid is forced out hockey because the team he played for arbitrarily raised his fees by 100% without any explanation or accountability then the wheels have truly come off the train here. If it’s truly about the kids and for the good of the game, it seems incomprehensible that flipping hockey teams like real estate properties is compatible with that goal.

If Minor Hockey has developed (or descended) into such an industry that the parents of 3 year old children are scraping to find the funds to get their kid on the ”right” team, then we need to tear the whole structure of minor hockey apart and start over.

I played minor hockey for a few years, never made the touring teams, languishing in the House Leagues of Ottawa into the minor bantam years.. I was never under any impression that I was on a path to the NHL, eventually my interest in minor hockey waned and I like many others left the system. The talent I brought to the ice, most likely would never have brought me to the attention of the likes of Mr. Hyman, but more importantly the extortion of outrageous fees, wouldn’t have attracted my parents. It seems a sad commentary about Hockey that there are parents willing to pour that much money into a chase that in most cases will not lead to the Promised Land.

Below find links to the three investigative pieces by the Star’s writers, Robert Cribb and Lois Kalchman, read them, digest them and then wonder if the love of the game has any room in the minor hockey industry of today!

The fact that these demands are being made, is a major cause for concern and more importantly a call for a thorough examination. One fears that Cribb and Kalchman have only scraped the first layer of ice!

From Hockey Dad to Hockey Mogul.

A Looming face off over fees.

Where does money go, hockey parents demand!

Saturday, October 23, 2004

The Final Verdict

Are we less than thirty days away from the complete shutdown of the NHL for this year? If Rene Fasel is to be believed, the remaining NHLers in North America may be rushing for their local passport office by the end of November. Fasel, who is President of the International Ice Hockey Federation, says he believes that Gary Bettman will call an end to the 2004-05 NHL season by the end of November, unless progress is made in a very quick order.

Fasel who offered no background on his claim, just a short blurb to the Montreal newspaperLe Matin, feels that the NHL is dangerously close to the point of no return, suspending operations until a new year unless the two sides find some common ground an quickly. Fasel went further with his observations suggesting that the question isn’t whether we’ll see hockey this year, but if there will anything to watch in the 2005 season!

With over 200 current NHLers presently in Europe there very well be a flood of hockey refugees by the new year destined for the Swiss, French, Swedish, Finnish Russian and German leagues to name a few.

For its part the NHL poured cold water on Fasel’s thinking, Bill Daly who seems to do most of the public speaking for the NHL these days said that Fasel was speaking purely for himself, and that his statements in now way reflected any communications between the NHL and the IIHF.

While that may be so, it seems likely that the bug was planted in his ear by somebody attached with ownership, since the league heavily fines its owners who speak out about the labour dispute; it would serve the NHL’s purpose to have a handy pipeline to funnel worst case scenarios towards the median and thus the union leadership. Whether true or not, the idea may be to create a bit of concern in the union camp, which would be used to move them towards a settlement on less favourable terms than they are seeking at the moment.

Deadlines come and deadlines go, at least with this one the pain is short-lived, with less than tree weeks before Fasel’s version of a drop dead date, perhaps we’ll see the two sides begin to seriously discuss their differences, rather than spend valuable time verbally jousting over the same old, same old.

But if one was a current NHL roster player, putting together the passport photos, getting the paperwork done and getting all your shots might make for a sensible employment strategy for the New Year!

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Fact or Fiction with the WHA!

Neil Macrae resident sports guru at Vancouver radio station CKNW, has given legs to a rumour that is quickly making the rounds of the hockey world. McRae is reporting this morning that the NHLPA had explored the option of purchasing the WHA but chose to pass on the opportunity.

The story it would seem has it that, the players association thought that a way to get around the NHL lockout might be to buy their own league and get back to work. Having the players working at their sport, the pressure of a rival loop would thus put some pressure on the NHL to settle on the union’s terms. In a way it would become a league of convenience; to be used as a gambling chip in this giant game of ice poker currently going on.

You can listen to Macrae and Brian Burke discusses the idea on the NW morning sportscast at 8:20, check it out here on their audio vault.

If indeed the rumour has something to it, the questions that are out there make for interesting study. It would be interesting to see what factors the NHLPA used when determining that investing in a hockey league was not a wise decision. Was it the possibility of losing its members money that scared off the idea of buying a rival circuit?

Perhaps after doing some number crunching the NHLPA realized that the challenges of organizing a league with arena leases, insurance, player salary structure and such wasn’t going to make for a profitable situation. Salaries would have been an interesting case study, suddenly players that were making multi millions of dollars would have to try and balance the cash coming in with the cash going out. How long before some players used to making a huge salary would have to be told that due to financial constraints they needed to take a pay cut? Who would run such a collective group, would they nominate one of their team reps or would Goodenow become a defacto commissioner, giving him some common ground with Gary Bettman and ironically perhaps some sympathy.

We’ll probably never know, as there is not much likelihood that the NHLPA will ever admit to having given the idea serious consideration. The necessary due diligence of starting into such a venture might have indirectly given them some insight into the situation that the NHL faces at this time. That would not be helpful to their current stand, that Hockey is making enough money to share among the stake holders, without the need for “hard salary caps” or “cost certainty”.

In a way it’s unfortunate that the rumoured plan didn’t proceed, it would have been interesting to see if the union’s position on the state of hockey would stand up to the test of the marketplace. Is their current stand nothing but pure posturing, designed to apply the maximum pressure to obtain the maximum reward? Or were we on the brink of a brand new revolution in the world of hockey? Was this story Fact or Fiction? It’s an intriguing question, but one that apparently will go unanswered.

Back at the door!

Like one of those feral cats in your neighbourhood, the WHA just won’t go away. The latest from the league with no players, no rinks, no sticks and no skates is that they at least may have some more money.

The league was sold on Monday and for the moment lives on; in a move that resembles the wanderings at a garage sale the new ownership group took custody of some desks, computers and the good corporate name of the WHA. Toronto businessman William Smith heads up a group of investors which plan to sit down promptly to decide if the idea of WHA hockey is salvageable for the 2004-05 season, or if they will require another year to put the building blocks in place properly.

Smith says the league is planning on operating from offices in New York, Toronto and that hockey mad metropolis of Boca Rotan, Florida. A move which would for the moment give the resuscitated league more head offices than franchises!

No word on who the other investors are, but they plan to offer first right of refusal to the previous franchisees, if they can't pony up, then it is assumed that the territory is open for bids. If they’re going to make this thing fly, expect the new owners to announce that they intend to operate this year, perhaps as early as in December. The only rational purpose in anyone investing in this, would be to take advantage of the current labour woes of the NHL, to wait a year to see how things develop would most likely result in the latest version of the WHA mimicing the mess it just inherited.

Whether they have the money, business smarts and wherewithal to launch it successfully remains to be seen. But for now we can put away the spikes for the heart, the pulse is still weak but for the moment the WHA lives. Truly a feral cat with nine lives. Whether we actually see a game is something best left to the all powerful hockey Gods, who shall render their judgement most unmercifully if they are annoyed.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

One part Mr. Rogers, One Part Elwy Yost

He had the look of a Hockey Dad dropping into the rink to watch the kids play, just another neighbour. And dressed as he was like the late Mr. Rogers, one expected that Ron McLean might break into the neighbour song at any time. But this was no episode of Mr. Rogers neighbourhood; instead it was the CBC’s programming gap filler known as Movie Night in Canada.

McLean would introduce a triple header on this first night of what should have been NHL action on the people’s network. Instead of the New York Rangers we were given Dinosaur (perhaps not that much of a stretch after all!), the Adventures of Indiana Jones would take the place of the tribulations of Pat Quinn and Jaws would fill in for the Orca Bay whales known as the Canucks.

McLean did an ok job of introducing the flicks and shilling for the new and exciting schedule of CBC programming coming up this season. But one wonders how long the audience might stick around if indeed it did at all. No Cherry, No satellite Hot Stove, no Kelly Hrudy to dissect the play. Instead we get the chance to view movies readily available on 99 cent night at your local video store. If the CBC really wants to mine this movie night idea, perhaps schedule their excellent mini series of a few years ago called Net Worth, it probably will put the current labour dispute into perspective better than all the talking heads combined.

While Mclean practices his best Elwy Yost delivery lines we at HockeyNation wonder how long it is before the likes of Sportsnet and TSN fill the hockey void with games from the AHL or Junior leagues on Saturday Nights. Instead of the Bay Boy or New Waterford Girl how about following the boys of the Screaming Eagles! There’s an audience there for the tapping should they choose to attack the CBC’s hallowed ground.

Sadly the CBC must know something that the rest of us only fear, the labour problems with the NHL will last a while, they have movies scheduled through til mid December! Perhaps the CBC could expand on the use of their celebrities during the hockey shutdown; my personal choice is to have Nicholas Campbell in his character of Dominic Da Vinci conduct an inquest into the death of the NHL season, now there’s a Saturday night program to die for!

Friday, October 15, 2004

Perhaps he has bigger fish to fry!

With the absence of any action on the ice, we’re left to ponder all the rumours running wild around the vacant NHL rinks. The latest the suggestion being, that Wayne Gretzky may make the short trek from his partially completed owner’s box to down behind the Coyotes bench.

General Manager Mike Barnet has been busy recounting a summer discussion with the Great One where he suggested that Wayne take the reins and run the on ice product from right behind the bench. Not much happened since that conversation, and many speculate it is just some random chatter designed to keep the Phoenix faithful interested in their team.

Though for Rick Bowness the current interim coach of the Desert Dogs things might be nice if they were a little more fleshed out, Bowness still has that less than secure term interim attached to his name and with this Gretzky rumour making the rounds one wonders where he fits into the equation? Video rewinder? Skate sharpener? Tape dispenser? Clipboard holder? The options are endless.

However, for Rick the news may not be as bad as he might think. For if Chris Chelios has his way, Wayne will skip the bench boss job and head for the penthouse! Chelios offered up the idea of Gretzky taking over the entire league, in Chelios' NHL, Gary Bettman gets a pink slip and Wayne gets the key to the executive washroom!

Chelios, who seems to be taking over the job of outspoken critic of the NHL from Brett Hull, recommended Gretzky for the job on a radio program today. That after blasting Bettman’s performance as commissioner in the Detroit Free Press the day before. Chelios may find his lockout social calendar dwindles a bit though, in his Q & A with the Free Press, he called for 6 or 7 teams to be eliminated, which would of course eliminate roughly 150 NHL jobs for his fellow union members. Expect Bob Goodenow to suggest Chely refrain from his problem solving for the time being.

As for the idea of Gretzky for commish there is just one question Wayne must ask himself. Does he just want to be just a trainer of the Dogs or does he want to run the whole kennel?

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

No puck to drop, No skates to sharpen, No hockey tonight!

October 13 would have been opening night for the NHL, had the current labour dispute not rendered the schedule makers work an exercise in wishful thinking. Instead, the rinks remain dark, the negotiations nothing but a distant memory. Instead of the banter of the talking heads about which team improved itself over the off season, we instead hear the latest update on who has processed a passport for Europe. Which owner has laid off arena staff or how the TV networks plan to fill the suddenly huge holes in their schedules.

Hockey in Canada in the fall of 2004 is left to the junior leagues, the college game, and an assortment of minor pro teams in wide spaced locales and of course the early morning practices and late night games of minor hockey and shift worker hockey.

The players sit on their savings and go for a skate on European surfaces, the owners claim they’re not losing as much as if when were actually putting teams on the ice. So with no sense of urgency we just sit back and wait for Ron McLean to introduce the Movie Night in Canada selection of the week. Perhaps a double bill of Slap Shot and Wall Street might be a solid choice for this Saturday!

Brian Burke offered up a solution which was politely received and just as quickly discarded. TSN put together a comprehensive report on the state of hockey and how to fix it, thanks for the memories went the refrain from the league. The lock out will continue until the “financials of the game, make sense”.

With no pucks being dropped this opening night, we are faced with the very real prospect of not having any NHL for the entire year. The owners don’t seem in any hurry to meet the players, nor the players anxious to meet the owners. And if the development from Tuesday is any indication, the chance of the two sides re-uniting any time soon are slim and none.

Nashville Predators part owner (33%), Steve Belkin , stirred up the pot with his declaration that the NHL would operate next year with replacement players if the NHLPA has not agreed to a new contract by then. The hornets nest knocked over by Belkin, sets the tone for the opening week commemoration, quickly turning into a eulogy.

For its part the NHL fined Mr. Belkin $250,000 for his thinking out loud session, suggesting that he does not speak for the league or his fellow owners. Translation: some people need to learn that loose lips sink ships!

The league stated that Mr. Belkin has only been an owner for the last four months and thus was most likely only stating his own personal opinion as to what he would do in our situation. The use of replacement players might be an easier to achieve goal in the USA than in Canada, where provincial law governs labour matters and can vary from province to province. One suspects that Mr. Belkin probably isn’t even aware that there are six Canadian franchises in the league let alone what their legal and governmental issues may be. But the perception is now out there that the NHL plans to wait this out as long as it takes and if it means playing with replacements or even starting a whole new league, then all options are apparently being considered.

Opening night in the NHL is normally a night full of hope, every team goes into the game undefeated, every team hoping to be the next Tampa Bay Lightning and raise a banner to the roof in celebration of a Stanley Cup victory the season before.

This opening night the banner is on hold, the season is on hold and indeed a national sport and national passion seems on hold as well. What remains to be seen is if the fans will still hold that passion in a year from now, it’s a dangerous risk the owners and players are taking, one wonders if they’ve considered that in all of their bluffing, blustering and scheming.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Job Fair

Career opportunities for the unemployed NHLer!

Only the Lawyers get rich!

Well this should make for a wonderful lawsuit; a group called Orlando Professional Hockey is taking the WHA to court, over who has the right to play out of the Orlando Centroplex in 2004-05. The Seals have something in common with the WHA, much like the less than financially stable league; the Seals have suspended play for 2004-5. The Seals claim that rink leasing problems have resulted in them having to suspend their plans for a year. Now doesn’t that sound rather familiar? Never mind taking the WHA to court, with this kind of background they should be applying for membership!

Now I’m sure somewhere in Florida a lawyer is selling the idea of going to court to his or her clients, but one wonders if this is not a lot like Enron suing WorldCom after all the money was gone?

In case the owners of the Orlando Seals hadn’t noticed, the WHA is not exactly flush with a) players, b) ownership or c) anything resembling cash. What exactly they hope to achieve in damages from the fumbling league is beyond me. Pucks, Sticks, Zambonis? It’s doubtful that this crew have enough to buy hockey tape, let alone settle a lawsuit.

At any rate it’s just another roadblock for the brave band of dreamers who keep threatening to bring us the WHA. The Seals apparently feel threatened at the possibility of WHA hockey rearing its ugly head in Florida and have taken pre-emptive action to head them off at the swamp.

Judging by the rapid pace of developments from the WHA the Orlando Seals should have no worries. If the WHA’s success thus far is any indication, the Seals, should they ever solve their problems with the City of Orlando will have the Centroplex to themselves for many years to come.

For now HockeyNation will sit back and await the legal proceedings, Like Judge Joe Brown we look forward to following the case of the league nobody has heard of, taking on the league that no one has seen!

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Saving money (or saving face) at the NHL head office!

If it comes to penny pinching in Gary Bettman’s office, the first thing to go will probably be the Hockey News subscription. In a hard hitting editorial, Senior Writer, Mike Brophy called for Bettman to step (or be pushed) aside with or without a successful solution to the current impasse.

In a rather sharp and pointed compilation, Brophy painted a rather bleak picture of the league under the sixth president/commissioner since 1917. Brophy recounts the many troubles in the NHL under Bettman’s watch, the sour labour relations with the players, a strike by the officials during a playoff run and franchises that are losing less money by not actually icing a team. Brophy examines an American TV footprint that has dwindled year by year, to the point that should the league ever return to the stadiums, the next US deal will feature no money up front.

Brohpy looks at the current state of the league as dire, featuring a tired product on the ice and a fan base that seems to be falling off city by city, pointing to a league in crisis. All of which happened under the watch of Gary Bettman.

The most damning comment in the article is the suggestion that the current stalemate is all about saving face for the Commissioner, nothing to do with saving hockey. He ends the blistering editorial with a call for Bettman to be replaced; stepping aside in Brophy’s opinion is the best that Gary Bettman has to offer.

It’s doubtful that the Commissioner will be taking Brophy’s advice, doubtful that Brophy will get an exclusive interview with the embattled President and even more doubtful that you’ll find a subscription to the Hockey News in the Bettman hockey stocking this Christmas.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Zebra's get a reprieve

Those controversial human resources procedures during Andy Van Hellemond’s reign in the NHL head office have been examined by an arbitrator and found to be wanting. And with that investigation complete, Mark Faucette and Darren Gibbs have been offered their jobs back after being unjustly fired while working under Van Hellemond. Blaine Angus, a linesman who was also terminated during the Van Hellemond years is in the process of filing his own appeal.

The two returnees were evaluated and terminated due to poor performances, though they believe their involuntary departures were more likely linked to refusals to lend their supervisor money upon request.

With the re-instatement of Faucette another can of worms may soon come to the forefront of the NHL officials department. Faucette claims that there is a bias against American born referees, trotting out statistics outlining how American refs are more likely to be terminated than Canadian ones, even if their on ice performance is considered above the Canadians in questions.

Van Hellemond’s time in charge came to an end earlier this year when he resigned under a swirl of allegations about undue influence over his underlings, regularly hitting them up for travel or lunch money loans while on the road. During the heat of the debate over the ethics of asking your employees for a loan, it was announced that Van Hellemond was stepping down.

With a mess like that to clean up, it will take some time to get to the bottom of the issue. Fortunately for the league (if not for the fan) time is something they seem to have a lot of these days.

How can we miss you, if you won't go away!

Well like an abscessed tooth here comes the WHA to once again threaten to launch itself this season. When we last left our little band of capitalist dreamers, they were preparing to toss in the towel having run into a major problem, that being of funding!

Now for some inexplicable reason they’re back and apparently ready to make a go of it one more time! The website that occasionally offers up glimmers of hope from the league today suggests that a group based in Boca Raton, Florida and New York City is preparing a bid to purchase all of the league’s assets. Which considering the state of this league must surely only amount to paper clips, envelopes and possibly a computer and a telephone. No t’s have been crossed, nor any i’s dotted, which is par for the course with this adventure, so we’ll take this latest breath taking announcement with more than a grain of salt.

The latest invention of the WHA is best known for it’s inability to sign players, find a rink to play or even find someone with an actual bank account to help get things onto the ice. But optimism abounds in the closely guarded circle of investors and they claim they still hope to have the league in operation for this 2004-05 season. If press releases were any indication this thing would be a raging success, at the moment though it seems to have more in common with successive ravings!

Monday, October 04, 2004

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Taking away temptation

Lotto Quebec announced on Friday that it has pulled games of the Quebec Junior Hockey League from its sports lottery in the province. The lottery corporation received a fair amount of opposition to the idea of wagering on a sport, which has 31% of its participants under the age of 18.

In Quebec, you cannot legally place a bet if you are under the age of 18. A situationa that is rather ironic; as the lotto folks were getting rich off the same folks they forbid to play their games.The Sport lottery had picked up the junior games to replace the cancelled NHL games that normally fill the wagering appetite of Quebecers. An appetite which last year brought in over 46 million dollars for the lottery corporation.

One of the fears of league officials was the potential for damage to the integrity of the games being played. With the average junior hockey player under 18 making only 40 dollars a week, there were worries that unsavoury characters may approach the young players and offer them riches should they let in a goal or maybe lose the puck in their own end at a convenient time.

With the Montreal newspaper Le Journal de Montreal all over that angle, the league and the lottery corporation were quick into damage control and heading off any potential crisis before it could get started.

The lotto corporation will now turn its attention to other possibilities, one suggestion running games of the European leagues on the punters board, with a high number of NHlers playing on the continent there may be some interest. But any way you count these cards, the house is going to lose big money this year, with no hockey expected for the foreseeable future, that 46 million dollar take is going to be rather hard to replace.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Only a flesh wound!

We’ve said it before and now we’ll say it again. The WHA has fast become a farce out of the script book of Monty Python . The latest out of the less than organized league is, that it is unlikely that we’ll be seeing any WHA teams on ice this year, but hey, check back later you never know we may just change our minds.

With a business plan that apparently didn’t have the texture of a soggy coffee shop napkin (which is probably where the idea of this thing came from) the fledgling league has admitted to some “start up” troubles. With Dallas pulling the plug on its franchise on Thursday, the frequently invisible front men for this league, issued another press release advising one and all of yet another press conference scheduled for Friday which will make clear their plans.

Co-owner Allan Howell refused to say anything further other than to promote Friday’s news conference, while in another galaxy in a world far away, the other co founder Nick Vaccarro said that he was working hard to find a “buyer” for the league and that the reports of the leagues demise were premature.

Like the knight of Python, we lop off an arm and it still wants to fight, chop of the leg and it still takes flight. Laugh along as we leave the eviscerated stump to howl at us from the distance. "We’ll bring you hockey, come back and see, you can’t hurt me, it’s just a flesh wound."

Since the league was first promoted earlier this year, they’ve rescinded a franchise in Quebec City, lost one in Dallas and have a fluctuating number of remaining franchises which have neither rink in which to sit, nor player to skate. An interesting if not surprising situation, considering it involves a sport suddenly flooded with out of work players and empty stadia,

Frankly if the powers that be in the WHA couldn’t get this thing off the ground this fall, then it’s never going to fly. They will never have a better window of opportunity than right now with the NHL involved in what will no doubt be a long, ugly war with its players. The fact that no one has the confidence (let alone any money) in the concept of the WHA should be more than enough evidence to abandon the idea for good.

Rather than throw their lot in with an unknown entity such as the WHA, many of the available hockey talent pool packed their bags and went to Europe. Others have trotted over to the OSHL travelling side show, though it, like the WHA would appear to have a limited shelf life. With fans there rebelling at the price of 60 dollars a seat to watch tier two NHLers play shinny.

Imagine the ticket sales for a WHA team stocked with fourth liners from Anaheim, Phoenix and Carolina to name a few. But then, even the fourth liners took a pass on the WHA. This could be the first league in history to hold a draft and not sign one player chosen over two days. Despite their grand pronouncements about making hockey more exciting and giving the fan value for money, we instead have been treated to a lesson in how not to do business.

Perhaps the only one kicking himself is Sidney Crosby the young junior hockey phenom. Back in the days when the WHA was still attracting semi serious attention, they offered the youngster guaranteed millions to sign on the dotted line, cash up front yours to keep should the league not launch.

Judging by the developments of the last couple of days, easier money may never come that way again.

As for the WHA we can best sum up its fate with this: No players, No rinks, No Hope!