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