Sunday, March 27, 2005

Has Iggy made a mistake?

Jarome Iginla has sent his regrets to Steve Tambellini, Iginla became the second Team Canada invitee to decide to pass on this Spring's World Championships, joining Mario Lemieux as a player content to watch the action on television.

Iginla advised that he was taking a pass as he will be undergoing tonsil surgery in a couple of weeks and thus wouldn't be able to train properly for the Championships. That and not wanting to leave his wife and new child behind makes him a scratch from the depth chart for Team Canada 05.

And while some are understanding of his decision, there are those voices that claim he's making a huge mistake, giving up the chance to star on the international stage and more importantly take that next step in Canadian leadership .

It should be interesting to see if he receives some pressure to reconsider his decision and suit up when the Team heads to camp next month as they prepare for the May tournament.

Juniors help ease the Hockey withdrawal

Finally some hockey that means something, across Canada this week Junior Hockey began it's second season a mad dash for the final four spots In London come the month of May. Playoff hockey with something on the line will be filling the rinks from Cape Breton to the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver and places in between.

The CHL playoffs add an extra bit of drama each year as many of the players competing are making their final appearances for the pro scouts. Some are making their last statements in organized hockey before they move on to other stages of their lives. Each game a step closer to moving towards the Memorial Cup or just plain moving on.

Much like the NCAA March Madness tournament, the intensity of each game seems to jump off the ice to the fans in the stands. And while unlike the March Madness festival the juniors get at least three more chances to salvage their years it does seem like every game is a must game.

Damien Cox has captured the intensity of the games and the reaction of the fans nicely with this piece from the Toronto Star. If you've been missing your Hockey fix these last six months or just want to recapture the aura of Hockey that matters, check out a Junior game somewhere close to you. It will help you remember the game when its played at its best, with something on the line!

Saturday, March 26, 2005

The Sidney Solution

With the NHL canceling the public draft spectacle for Ottawa this year, many are wondering just what plans the league has to run an amateur draft this season. While the league has said in the past they would not conduct a draft until they had a deal with the players some kind of allocation of talent will have to be decided upon.

Of course the main attraction for this years draft and the potential key to a struggling franchise is Sidney Crosby, not having a draft could leave the league running the risk of having him able to sign to with the highest bidder, a situation that would most likely cause revolt among many of the other less flush squads.

Eric Duhatschek has done some studying on the issue and offers up a Sidney solution for the league to ponder. He brings up a number of valid points and solid analysis of what may come. Using the Duhatschek system Columbus will most likely have the best opportunity to sign Sidney, setting up Ohio as the centre of the Hockey Universe for a number of years. Grab those Blue Jacket sweaters early, they could be the next collectible hot item.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Return to the Realm

The Toronto Maple Leafs thumbed through the book of great Toronto sports team names on Tuesday and brought back the Regal look of the Marlboros to hockey in the big smoke.

With their AHL team set to leave Newfoundland and relocate to the exhibition grounds of the Ricoh Centre the Leafs felt it was time to rebrand the franchise. So it's good bye Baby Buds and hello Marlies. A name that takes many Torontonians back to the 80's and the Junior franchise of the day that sent many a young prospect on to NHL glory.

The Marlies played at Maple Leaf Gardens and for many folks in Toronto it was probably the only chance they would get to see a hockey game in the building that Conn Smythe built during the depression. The Marlies who had a 78 year history in junior hockey, would eventually fade from the Maple Leaf Gardens scene as Junior hockey left the big cities for smaller centers across Canada.

The Marlie name won seven Ontario championships and six Memorial Cups in its history, the Leafs are no doubt hoping that by the end of next year, they are adding a Calder Cup title to the storied history of the Marlie name!

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

On the Road to the Memorial Cup

With Stanley taking the Spring off, Hockey fans can turn their attention to that other fabled trophy of hockey, that being the Memorial Cup. The three leagues of the Canadian Hockey league will begin their playoff rounds this week leading to London in May and the chance to challenge for the Memorial Cup. The only sure bet so far is that the mighty London Knights will be there on opening day of the Memorial Cup tourney, the host team gets the automatic berth in the tournament, the Knights are hoping to play host as OHL champions as well. Well post items of interest from all three leagues in this spot as the road to London begins.

26-Mar-05 Hitmen calm the wind
26-Mar-05 Quest in the Q continues
26-Mar-05 Colts even it up against 67's
26-Mar-05 Tigers begin defence on a winning note
26-Mar-05 Attack harpoon Whalers
26-Mar-05 Hounds over Spitfire
26-Mar-05 Petes take charge of Bulls
26-Mar-05 Erie takes 2-0 lead
26-Mar-05 Raiders blunt the Blades
26-Mar-05 Blazers melt the Ice
25-Mar-05 Ice Dog captain wants the Cup
25-Mar-05 Knights take Game One
25-Mar-05 Kisio on a Hit List?
25-Mar-05 Wolves overtake Battalion in Overtime
25-Mar-05 67's take road win
25-Mar-05 Petes ride the Bulls
24-Mar-05 67's prepare for Barrie
24-Mar-05 Guelph aims to be Knight killers
24-Mar-05 Talkin' Tough in Alberta
23-Mar-05 Previewing the Q
23-Mar-05 Prince Albert can
22-Mar-05 Knights take aim on OHL title
22-Mar-05 Repeating a tough task for Tigers
22-Mar-05 67's look to tame the Colts
22-Mar-05 Storm clouds gather near London
22-Mar-05 Rimouski readies run for London
22-Mar-05 Fourty five teams begin the quest

Money, Money changes everything!

Hot on the heals of the Modo debacle comes word that another line up of European hockey squads stacked with NHLers has been eliminated from the playoff chase.

The latest to ingloriously head for the golf course is AK Bars Kazan which had high hopes for the Russian league playoffs this year. Kazan had gone out and attracted 15 NHL stars to its lineup, making it the most expensive and star studded team in the world this year. By signing the likes of Dany Heatley, Vincent Lecavalier, Darius Kasparitus, Alexei Zhinik and Fred Brathwaite to name a few, the plan was to rule the Russian league and capture the championship and on paper it seemed like a sure bet, but as they say the game isn't played on paper.

Getting in the way of the dreams of Kazan was the fabled Lokomotiv hockey squad which has brought in eight soldiers of fortune of their own, and they were more than up to the task as they edged out the Kazan squad in four games of the best of five quarter final.

Sadly for AK Bars Kazan they should have know earlier on this year what would be their fate and saved some cash, as they began their wild spending ways the team was soon to be known as the New York Rangers East and as any hockey fan worth their weight in pucks could tell you, that's a recipe for an early playoff exit if ever there was one!

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

One for the History books

March 17th has a rather historic importance to the history of the NHL, the province of Quebec and Canada as a whole. It was on this day fifty years ago that a quiet rage was unleashed on Rue Saint Catherine as a violent outburst in the fabled Montreal Forum moved from inside the rink to the streets of Montreal.

While historical observers trace the beginning of Quebec's quiet revolution to the events of March 17th, just as many others claim it was just a night of wanton violence when thugs took advantage of a situation and made the most of it.

What became known as the Richard riots took place because NHL President Clarence Campbell had suspended Montreal's favourite son after some on ice violence in a regular season game four nights earlier against the Boston Bruins.

With the popular Montreal forwarded banned for the remainder of the season and the playoffs (and his bid for a scoring title left in shambles) Campbell took his usual seat in the Forum for that nights Habs/Red Wing game. Campbell quickly found himself the focal point of a city's anger. A physical assault on the President at the end of the first period, then escalated to a tear gas dispersal which filled the Forum, the crowd filing out of the rink then took to the streets trashing stores and cars seemingly at will until the Montreal Police finally got things under control many hours later.

It was an event rarely seen in Canada of the day and has become the thing of legend for Canadians to this day. Was it the spark that led to the turbulent sixties and seventies in Canada? Possibly yes, it certainly struck a chord with French Canadiens who were weary of the arrogance of the elites of Montreal of the day. But whether it indeed was the fuse of political revolt or simply the expression of disgust by a faithful fanbase it was huge day in History that really has never been repeated in Canada.

Eric Duhatshek has put together a bit of a backgrounder for us, interviewing some of the figures of the day who witnessed this date of historical importance, check it out here..

March 17th not only one of those dates for a record book but indeed for a History book as well!

Monday, March 14, 2005

Arise WHA, Arise

Well it's back, just when you think the stake has been driven through its heart, the WHA returns to the headlines. The much rumoured, yet seemingly dis-organized alternate to the NHL has once again suggested it will take to the ice.

The latest plan from the WHA website has the league planning an introductory round robin tourney for the spring. The return of the WHA is scheduled to run from May 20- June 2nd no doubt is planned to capitalize on that final bit of hockey fan angst, you remember that magical time when it was so hot outside that you ended up moving the TV out to the deck to watch Hockey while you BBQ the steaks.

Already beating the drums and the bushes for the tourney and an alternative revenue stream for NHLPA alumni is Jeremy Roenick, who has been busy recruiting players for the Bobby Hull Invitational.

It seems that the tourney will be held in two locations Hamilton and Vancouver, six teams will compete in a round robin affair with the eventual two divisional winners meeting in a championship final.

There are some interesting rule changes apparently in place for the tournament, including penalty takers sitting for the entire time despite any goals being scored and in the spirit of Bobby Hull the curve of a players stick will have no limitations. The boomerang blade is back baby!!

The idea is to get the WHA brand out in the hockey world, provide a ready made TV event and set the stage for the debut of the rebranded WHA in October with 10 or maybe 16 teams to take to the ice.

Apparently 60 players are on a list of those expected to participate thus far which would work out to ten per team thus far. They will play for 20,000 dollars each as a participation fee and will challenge for the 2 million dollar jackpot at the end of the rainbow.

Which brings us to the quote from JR which should raise a few eyebrows, "we're just trying to put a little money into he guys pockets". Hard to believe that the millionaire class of players being recruited would be down to their last dollar but there it is.

Suddenly we see the NHL hardline getting just got little harder! If the players are willing to toss it all in for 20 thou and a "shot" a share of two million, then the poker game must surely be coming to an end!

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

New skates and shoes for Sidney!

Hockey? Who needs it? Sidney Crosby need not even don a pair of skates next year, so flush is he in cash after Tuesday. The Junior phenom became an instant "A" list athlete on Tuesday as he and his agent sat down with Rebok and signed on the dotted line. Rebok get out your cheque book!

Sid can hang with the likes of Peyton Manning , Lucy Liu and Allen Iverson in the sports world, if he's feeling a little hip hoppish, well he can join the posses of 50 cent or Jaz-Z, cause Sid is now the latest million dollar man.

Actually make that five million, Crosby reportedly will be paid five million dollars to act as a spokesperson for the sporting goods and sportswear manufacturer. Exclusively decked out in Rebok finery, Sidney will have the bling bling to go with his ca ching ca ching. Rebok has taken over the CCM and Jofa line of hockey equipment and are launching an aggressive marketing campaign to get the brand out into the public eye, hence the introduction of the next big thing Tuesday.

Rebok beat out the likes of Bauer, Nike and Mission in the battle to dress up young Sidney. The only non Rebok item that Sidney won't use will be the new line of hockey sticks that Rebok has launched, Sidney is tied to a deal with Sherbrooke for the next two years, though the only action his sticks may see next year are road hockey games back in Halifax.

And while Cyndi Lauper once sang Money changes everything, Sidney begs to differ. Crosby says he'll be the same guy he always has been no matter what happens. One thing is certain, the next one will never have to worry about a change of clothes.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The plot thickens!

Secret meetings, clandestine phone calls, creative diversions for the media, everything but a contract killing, ah the things of a Ludlum thriller. But wait, no it's the latest creation from those masters of mayhem, Bob and Gary.

The latest from the NHL front has our favourite union leader and the overseer of everything hockey arranging a secret meeting for later this week. Montreal owner George Gillett going so far as to suggest that things may finally be moving in the right direction.

No meddling media need follow, this time they plan on keeping everything on the QT, no strategic leaks of positions this time. They'll just get together and try to hash things out, hopefully before the entry draft date rolls around.

And while the principles give us the indication that progress may soon be made, other quarters start to suggest a completely different outcome is a possibility.

Hockey Rumours has a story that those Boston money guys Bain and Game Plan are still trying to float their "buy it all plan". The latest is that they are approaching the richer of the NHL franchises to help them buy the league, eliminate those worry wart (and under financed) owners and get on with the game. There may be a bit of reality to this rumour, at the recent owners get together Toronto Maple Leaf management were shouted down and left shaken after they suggested that they could live with a higher salary cap to get the game back on the ice.

Perhaps this latest meeting of the NHLPA and the NHL is a bid by the current owners to circumvent the Bain and Game Plan people before they can create some allies. Or possibly it is to set the stage for a declaration of impasse in the US courts and thus an opportunity to launch with replacement players next September.

Regardless, it should be interesting to see how things play out over the next few months. The owners may not be as united as they think, 30 is a large number to keep on the same song sheet especially when an outsider comes along to warble a few love songs of their own.

Friday, March 04, 2005

McHockey a possibility?

All for one and one for all? Every spoke in the wheel the same size! A cookie cutter league made up of branch units from coast to coast. If the money boys from Boston had their way, the NHL of today would give way to something resembling McHockey, where every team is run the same, with a blue print from head office.

The word that came out today had it that Gary Bettman and the owners met with a group from Boston that were prepared to put 3.5 billion American dollars on the table and take the problem of running NHL hockey away from the current crop of league governors. Bain Capital Partners and Game plan LLC are of the opinion that there may be quite a few current NHL owners looking to divest themselves of the money pit of professional hockey. And this apparently is no wing nut group out to make a name for itself. Bain is the co-owner of the Boston Celtics of the NBA and Game Plan was involved in the deal that kept the Ottawa Senators away from deaths doorstep last year.

They have done some homework on the situation and feel that a collectively run group out of a head office run as branches would be of financial benefit to the NHL, providing it with a franchise like program where each team would be provided with a branch manager to follow the goals of the collective. Kind of like central planning one assumes and a far cry from the current situation, which can resemble a wild west poker game when the big money teams get to clashing with their scrambling to survive fellow owners.

The one part of their argument that seems to be interesting is the idea that under the new owner each team would begin to work for the benefit of the whole. We'll wait to see Glen Sather offer up some assistance to Mike Milbury, now that would certainly be a momentous achievement by anyone's measure.

However, already some of the high rollers are dismissing the idea of this politburo of puck, the Leafs, Bruins and Rangers have already said interesting idea but we'll take a pass, which should put the kiss of death on the plan when the big money markets refuse to buy in.

Even more disturbing for NHL owners though is the money on the table, while 3.5 Billion may seem like a pretty steep number for a business currently out of business, it wasn't that long ago that the league value was estimated to be 4.9 Billion dollars. Obviously the market for NHL franchises is starting to tumble, should it go into free fall the current owners may rue the day they let the vulture guys get away.

So while the idea of the league turning into a Nortel or Enron may be remote, the chance of it turning into the service sector of pro sports is probably unlikely as well. But excuse us for a bit as we fantasize about Gary Bettman once the czar of hockey reduced to the crew chief on the late shift at McHockey's. Tis enough to make you want to have your order supersized...