Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Farewell Stan!

There probably won't be much of a turnout at the Stan McCammon farewell bash at GM Place. The regular suspects might make an appearance, as well as those with an eye to upward movement in the Canuck organization, but for most hockey fans in Vancouver and BC, his crossing of the border can't happen soon enough. In fact many will bemoan the fact that Stan didn't hit the road before Brian Burke found gainful employment.

Many hold McCammon responsible for the departure of the popular Burke, internal feuding apparently the currency of rumour in the hockey world of Vancouver. Burke who personified the Canucks and the teams relations with the Vancouver sports team took on the task of rebuilding the Anaheim Mighty Ducks earlier this year.

McCammon is returning to Seattle to head up a securities firm in the Emerald City, his days as head hatchet man in Vancouver littered with less than glowing moments from the view of the locals. His departure comes as the Canucks take on a Canadian shareholder who will now share the baggage with John McCaw the rich Seattle guy that owns the team. McCammon's claim to fame will have been to be a superior bean counter who made sure that McCaw got every penny squeezed to his best benefit. It's a job that certainly will have served him well in his next venture but surely didn't make him many friends in the hockey mad locales of Vancouver hockeydom.

The Canucks who prior to the lock out were the toast of the town now find themselves having to battle for fans once again. A distant and occasionally foreign organization that seems to have gone out of its way at times to ostracize the local sports community and media.

The sports shows will be stacked with callers over the next few days and one can hazard a guess that few of the calls will be, jeez why can't he stay a little longer. Instead, Stan may find the tone is more like "here's your coat, sorry you can't stay any longer, don't let the door hit you on the way out".

It may not be a fair comment, but none the less it does seem to be the tone of the city these days as Canuck fans feel a certain disconnect from their long time loves. Part of the re-connection may be with a new face couting the beans and maybe even spending a few of them from time to time!

Monday, August 29, 2005

I just try to throw (punches) as fast as I can and try not to get hit as much as possible

The Battle of The Hockey Enforcers has come and gone with nary a household name to show for it. The much rescheduled Enforcer fest finally met a deadline and provided for the fanatic of fisticuffs a display of on ice pugilism not seen since the Broad Street Bullies of the 70's.

The CN centre in Prince George was the reluctant venue for the debut of goonery without hockey, as legal advice left the PG city council no choice but to allow the event to go ahead after a few bouts of cold feet and sober second thought. As it got closer it seemed the only press the event was receiving was that of the negative variety and caught in the middle of it all was Prince George a city that will now be remembered for pugilism without the pucks.

As far as a marquee event, this probably will not go down in the books as a great moment for sport or entertainment. In fact many of the observers of the Saturday night slugfest suggest the aroma of the bush league wafted through the CN centre, probably not what the fine municipality of Prince George was hoping for. Indeed on Prime Time Sports Monday on the Fan radio network and Sportsnet across Canada, Prince George was not painted in the most positive light for its efforts.

The show featured a number of scheduled participants who neglected to show up for show time and others who were made quick work of on the way to the final bout of the evening, some two hours after the first fist flew.

The frequent delays and flowing beer resulted in just us much action off the ice as on, security guards and Prince George RCMP spent a fair amount of time keeping over excited patrons from slugging each other around the confines of the assigned beer garden area. Perhaps the promoters missed out on an opportunity here, ringside seats around the beer garden may have provided some of the nights best bouts!

In the end, the tally was 16 fighters at the rink, 2000 patrons sitting in a 6,000 seat arena and a 62,000 dollar cheque for the night's winner Dean Mayrand. Not sure what Mr. Mayrand's plans may have been on Saturday night, but a visit to a bank first thing Monday morning would have be a wise idea. Judging by the obstacles in the way of this event from the get go, fighting his way through the field of fisticular challengers may be the easiest thing of the whole exercise. Fighting his way to the front of the pay line may provide an equal, if not more challenging adventure.

The dreamer of a dream

A bit of Quebec City hockey history passed away over the weekend, 79 year old Marius Fortier died after a short illness. Fortier was the Quebec City booster who envisioned a professional hockey team for the then regional centre and Quebec capital.

Fortiers vision became the Quebec Nordiques in 1972, a team which dominated the early days of the WHA and became bitter rivals of the Montreal Canadiens upon joining the NHL in 1979. The Nords came to symbolize the split of Quebec in the late seventies and early eighties, Montreal would cede many fans as the the Nords came to represent the little guy against the big machine. A situation that became ever so apparent as the Nords struggled to survive in the big era spending sprees of the NHL. His dream would become a sad memory in 1995 when the Nords could no longer make a go of it in Quebec City and relocated to Colorado becoming the Stanley Cup Champion Avalanche shortly after. If only a few more years could have been squeezed out of that amazing line up and the Nords would have been a Stanley Cup champion with a great parade down the Grande Alle.

Fortier was the proud papa of a team that put Quebec City on the map and gave much satisfaction to hundreds of thousands fans over the years. The Nords were Quebec City, your correspondent even spent his honeymoon in Quebec City during the 85 playoffs, the aura of the team and how it captured the spirit of the city was amazing to watch.

Everywhere you went people were wearing their white or blue Nords jerseys, every bar had Nordiques paraphanelia and hockey was the currency of the city. While my marriage probably is better for it, I still regret being unable to score a couple of tickets to the big game while staying in Quebec City. Despite my best effort's, the off ice officials from Chicago ignored my pleas for a couple of seats to the Nords /Flyers game that night. It seems that spare tickets to a Nords playoff game was just something that wouldn't or couldn't be found.

Prior to the Senators rejoining the NHL I was Nordique fan, I followed the team through it's WHA days and into its NHL adventure. The epic battles between Montreal and Quebec were an amazing thing to watch, made only more entertaining by the obvious love affair between Quebec City and its Nords. When they left for Colorado I left their fold of followers, anyone can root for a stacked team but to follow a team from it's early days to the summit now that's what being a fan is all about. It's a process I've been through with both of my current faves the Ottawa Senators and the Vancouver Canucks.

Fans in Quebec like those of Winnipeg, still remember those special moments as they went up against the big boys and gave it their best. And like Winnipeg, the folks in Quebec still hope one day for a return to the NHL, and frankly the NHL could do a lot worse than having a team in a hockey cradle such as Quebec City. A city that not only understands hockey but lives and breathes it. With the NHL now entering a more stable era of financial footing and seeking out markets that have a love for the game, a short list would have to include the metropolis near the mouth of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

As his health declined Fortier would look back on those days with his Nords and advise the hockey fans of Quebec City and their local government that without a new arena, the dream of the Nords would remain just a dream.

With his passing there's one less person left to carry on that dream, it also leaves Quebec City's sports community with a bit of a hole one very hard to replace. But it does leave the town with a hell of a torch to pick up on!

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Smart moves by the Sens

Well first off my apologies for my absence of the last week, family matters took me out of town and away from the world wide web and it's HockeyNation blogsite. But back we are and now to catch up on the developments of yet another busy week for the NHL.

Nice to see my Sens make a move that should pay off sometime in the area of oh, lets say May and June. With Marian Hossa's I'm bigger than the team approach taken care of nicely by John Muckler, the Sens GM has sent a message to his players that it's a team effort in Ottawa. A message that the worker bees had best remember and perhaps will be greatly relieved to see as the Sens make a move to benefit the team as a whole and not just yet one more over expectant player.

Hossa who is obviously a gifted player decided that he was worthy of big money numbers that would have placed him above the team Captain and current franchise player Daniel Alfredsson. Hossa has provided Ottawa with many exciting nights in the regular season, but like a few of his fellow Sens the playoffs seem to send him to the witness relocation program at times.

By signing him to a deal and then eliminating his distraction, Muckler pulled off an amazing move. He brought in what should be a Grade A asset in Heatley, created room in his salary cap ratio which will come in handy on the Redden and Chara contracts and most importantly eliminated a player who had said he wanted to play hardball with management.

Dany Heatley needed a break from the fishbowl that had become Atlanta, now his past problems no doubt have impacted on his career since that fateful night and one wonders if he'll ever be the player he was destined to be. But in an era of second chances in the NHL, Heatley will no doubt want to take full advantage of the change that Ottawa will provide. How he handles the pressure will be an interesting study into what his future path will be like.

As for Hossa, I'm not sure what kind of advice Mr. Hossa received from his agent but putting a gun to John Muckler's head has never particularly been an effective ploy. Ted Nolan who committed far less sins than Hossa and his agent found himself exorcised from hockey for a number of years by crossing Muckler, so Hossa should be thankful that the only heat he will feel will be the warm Georgia sunshine.

As for the hockey aspect of all of this, in the end of course it will be the team that gets closer to the Stanley Cup that will claim the victory in this trade. With Ottawa already a pretty strong team now made stronger by Heatley, the edge should go the way of the Sens. Hossa will fit in well with the Thrashers and if he truly does enjoy his Springs to be carefree and hockey free he may find Atlanta more to his liking.

Hossa put in a number of good years for Sens fans something that they should not forget, but the tone of the negotiations with the Sens was ugly from the start. By taking that approach Hossa and his agent sent the message that perhaps the Sens might be better off without his efforts on his behalf.

With a quality player in Heatley in return and the cash on hand now to make two other current Sens more comfortable in Ottawa, the Hossa legacy may be a building block to the Stanley Cup final for Ottawa.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Sharp dressed men

A good hockey team can only travel as far as their tailor will take them. Team Canada who are currently holding their initiation camp in Kelowna, BC tested out their new duds for the upcoming Turin Olympics. And if the initial reviews are anything to note, then either a crash diet or a little letting out is in order.

It seems some of the huskier Canadians were finding their jersey's a little snug, with a couple of players having rather serious difficulties pulling the new style jersey over their pads and upper body. The smaller framed players had no troubles suiting up, but all had switched to the old style jersey one third of the way through the practice. There were apparently several guffaws and snickers as the big boys struggled to dress.

Nike the manufacturer of the Team Canada look for Turin, advised that this was purely an initiation fitting anyways and adjustments would be made for the larger lads before they head for Italy in 2006. One guy they may want to keep away from the media while they work out the bugs in the unis is Marty Turco, who claims the new uniforms make the players look like video game players. Guess we know what Marty did with his lock out downtime!

Headaches by the numbers

John Muckler isn't enjoying the new math, the Senators GM is having some personnel problems with the new salary structure in place and suddenly the good ship Senator isn't quite as happy a place as a few seasons ago.

Mucklers problems materialized earlier this week with Marian Hossa's demands of top line reimbursement, Hossa watching the numbers put on the cheques of Jarome Iginla and Vincent Lecavalier feels a tad slighted that Muckler's pen doesn't seem to have the same amount of ink.

For his part, Muckler suggests that Hoss and his agent study the financial figures for a Milan Hejduk, a player the Sens that Hossa most resembles as far as potential earning power should go.

And with that difference of opinion into play, both sides will head for an arbitrator next week to set the matter to rest. Muckler is apparently more inclined to identify Daniel Alfreddson as the team's franchise type player leaving Hossa on the wrong side of the financial winfall window.

Adding to Muckler's math woes is the knowledge that every extra dollar he might give to Hossa puts him into a bad situation in keeping defenceman Wade Redden in Sens colours for much longer. With both Redden and Zdeno Chara up for renegotiation this summer, Muckler has to move his decimals around a bit to make sure the two anchors on defence can remain Sens.

There were a number of rumours floating around the internet and hockey circles today that the Sens were going to be forced to trade Redden due to the financial considerations of the cap system, but Muckler had taken to ridiculing the idea of Redden leaving Ottawa.

A bit of news that will be of comfort to Sens fans, who coming out of the is lockout felt that their team was well positioned for a long run into the NHL playoffs in 2006. To that point the Sens have been rather silent in the free agency frenzy, more inclined to keep what they have and improve on that.

It's expected that the Redden and Chara situations will be taken care of in the short term, the Hossa problem may linger and cause problems later on. Should the Sens win in arbitration they will have won the battle but possibly lost the war, and unhappy and underappreciated (in his opinion) Hossa will not be a happy camper, a situation that may take the entire team down the road with him.

Expect Muckler to spend some late nights working on his math homework, there has to be a way that the three points of his pattern can be reconciled to the benefit of all three players. If not Muckler's season is going to be one of much contemplation, deciding how best to approach an unhappy forward who has been a major part of the Sens offensive attack for the last couple of years.

Distractions are not something that the Sens need, not at the start of the season and more importantly not there to taint the post season drive.

Canuck's fill in some more holes

Dave Nonis got back to work on Thursday, cobbling together a few more pieces to his Vancouver Canucks. Nonis who welcomed back Todd Bertuzzi earlier in the week, solidified his goaltending situation today. Dan Cloutier signed on the dotted line with a two year contract worth 2.5 million a year, to guard the Canucks net.

Nonis stated that Cloutier is at that age when a goaltender comes into his prime and both Nonis and Canuck fans hope that translates into steady play for the next two years, with a special interest in playoff participation.

Goaltending has been a particularly troublesome spot over the recent years in Vancouver, long gone are the memories of King Richard and Kirk McLean. Since those halcyon days a string of tenders have come and gone through the seasons, some of whom were touted as the next and greatest only to flame out under the immense pressure of Vancouver hockey.

Cloutier has had a career high in wins of 33 back in 2003-04, including five shutouts and a GAA of 2.27 and the Canucks are no doubt hoping he recaptures that form as the 2005 campaign gets underway.

While they celebrate the Cloutier signing, Canuck fans can ponder the possibilities of Anson Carter, the 31 year old free agent signed up for a one year, 1 million dollar contract and a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup. In 2003 Carter bounced between, New York, Washington and Los Angeles, none of which the standings will have shown gave him much of a shot at sipping from Lord Stanley's Mug, he's hoping that by joining the Canucks he can fast track that post season appearance a bit.

Many consider Carter a bit of a conundrum, he's always been expected to excel and shows some flashes of brilliance only to return to the middle of the pack at most inopportune times. He's best known for his gold medal clinching goal in the 2003 World Hockey Championships.

The Canucks are toying with the idea of putting him on a line with the Sedin's, hopefully to put his playmaking and scoring touch to use and help get the two Swedes untracked and performing this year.

The Carter acquisition is a bit of a gamble but one that may pay off, he plays a similar style to that of Bertuzzi, though he's not quite as physical as the first line player is. None the less, he will be able to help create some room for the Sedin's and put the finishing touches on any pucks that might come his way.

If Carter and his linemates can improve the offense, Cloutier will be more than able to handle the defence and the start of the Dave Nonis era of Canuck hockey may not be all that painful a breaking in period after all.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Defense of the Gold begins in Vancouver

Team Canada began their orientation camp today, a countdown to six months and the Turin Olympics and a shot at another Gold Medal. And as would be expected fans across Canada will watch the developments with keen anticipation.

Wayne Gretzky assembled this Canadian contingent and now turns things over to Head Coach Pat Quinn and his assistants. Quinn wants to take these five days in Vancouver and Kelowna to help his players develop a bit of an esprit de corps. The current batch of Canadian hockey warriors are fully aware of the stakes when they head for Italy.

Canada of course expects Gold every time we approach an international tournament and the Olympics give the nation even more of a fanatical approach to their team. There will be debates in offices, schools pubs and worksites all the way til the opening face off. Each Canadian hockey fan has his or her own ideas on line combos, who should sit and who should skate. For Quinn and Co it's like having 30 million GM's looking over their shoulders at once.

The real GM, Gretzky would like to make his final declarations on a roster sometime in January, that way any playes that have cooled off could be replaced by players performing above the standard on the way to Turin. Til then he'll let Quinn and his associates to put the players through their paces.

Their feedback will go a long way with Gretzky as to who finally gets to pull on the Maple leaf crest in the quest for Gold.

Bertuzzi expresses regrets, gets on with career

Todd Bertuzzi made his first public comments since being re-instated with the Vancouver Canucks by the NHL office last week. Bertuzzi who is attending the Team Canada orientation camp, took time off to address the last seventeen months.

He stated that he wished that day had never happened, not wanting that event to define his career, Bertuzzi said that he planned on coming back as the player he once was, physical and hard playing.

It was a very different Bertuzzi appearing in front of a media throng than we are used to. There was no indication of the chippy, sometimes curt Bertuzzi. In past media appearances prior to the Moore incident, Bertuzzi could be what is delicately called a difficult interview. Willing to express disdain for an uncomplimentary or less than thought out question. Today it was a contrite, somewhat shaken Bertuzzi that addressed the media and the public.

His voice cracked a few times during the press conference, he seemed sincere when he said he hoped Steve Moore recovered fully from his ordeal and thank his family and friends for their support over the last 17 months. Bertuzzi claimed to have made numerous attempts to contact Moore or his representatives but with little success. It's not clear what it is he might have said had he ever hooked up with Moore. What is clear is that Bertuzzi desperately wants to turn the page on the whole incident. He said he will strive to be a better person with his second chance.

Numerous Team Canada players said that they have no problems with Bertuzzi sharing the ice and a dressing room with them. That included Colorado captain Joe Sakic, who said Bertuzzi has served his suspension, a lengthy one. Sakic said that Moore is improving daily and that's an important thing for all to remember.

While he has managed to get the initial re-entry to the NHL underway and survived his first press conference since coming back, Bertuzzi will no doubt find that his every move on the ice from this time on will be watched intensely. As of today, Bertuzzi is the biggest goldfish in the bowl, with millions of eyes watching him to see if he sinks or swims.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Carlyle will miss his duck hunting!

Randy Carlyle said his goodbyes this weekend, as the now former Manitoba Moose coach and GM prepared to make the move to California. Carlyle will take up residence with Anaheim as he and Brian Burke begin a brand new era of hockey in California.

Carlyle has been a Manitoba fixture for nearly twenty years, first as one of the most popular of Winnipeg Jets to ever pull on the Red, White and Blue uniform and then as head coach of the AHL Moose. From the days of the White outs at the Winnipeg Arena to the tearful farewell to Manitoba by the Jets, Carlyle was and always has been identified with hockey in River City. It had been hoped by many a Manitoban that Carlyle would be the guy behind the bench if and when the NHL returns to the prairie hotbed for hockey.

His time with the Moose has been a productive term as the AHL's western Canada standard bearers increased their winning hockey in the last couple of years. Carlyle's 5 1/2 years of work in Winnipeg, did not go un-noticed by Brian Burke the former GM of the Canucks, who made getting Carlyle one of his priorities upon taking over the Ducks.

Carlyle reminisced about his fishing trips, deer hunting expeditions and those days and nights hunting ducks in the Manitoba wilderness. Imagine the lost in translation aspect of his arrival in Anaheim with his new players, the coach enjoys duck hunting. Now if ever there was incentive for a Mighty Duck to have a Mighty game that might just be it!

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Keeping it together in Calgary

Flames fans can add a couple of familiar names to their list of returning Flames, as Darryl Sutter slowly builds his team from the blue print of that remarkable run 15 months ago. Sutter welcomed back Mikka Kiprusoff and Rhett Warrener to Cowtown as the Flames firmed up their back end on Friday.

Kiprusoff was rewarded with a three year 10 million dollar deal, while Warrener told his banker that he'll be 9.4 million richer over the next four years. Both were vital players to the Flame charge in the 2004 Stanley Cup challenge and should pick up where they left off.

The Best news of all for Flames fans is the declaration by Sutter that he's not done building yet. With a burning desire to win a Championship, Sutter is hoping to have further announcements in the very near future. Sutter wants to build a championship team able to challenge immediately yet be one with a long term outlook for domination over the next few years.

The Flames are off to a pretty good start in that plan with the renewal of the Iginla contract, addition of some free agents in Amonte and McCarty and Friday's return of Kiprusoff and Warrener. The pieces are falling into piece one by one and Flame fans must be getting anxious for that first puck to drop in the new era.

Friday, August 12, 2005

A Bruin Forever?

The Bruins ruined the day for many a long term planning GM today, as they locked up Joe Thornton for three years. The Bruin centre signed on with the B's for 20 million dollars over the three years, not a bad wage in the new era NHL.

The signing also will give Mike O'Connell's fellow GMs cause for reflection as the chance to pick up Thornton next year in free agency is gone for good now. Thornton's deal includes a no trade clause which ties him to the Bruins until 2008. The signing brings to a close those never ending rumours of an unhappy Thornton pining away for a chance to break free of the tyranny of the Bruins organization.

In fact in an interview on The Fan 590's, Prime Time Sports with Bob McCown, Thornton said that he was quite happy with the turn of events and never really wanted to leave the Bruins organization. Thornton expressed satisfaction with the situation in Boston and said he and the Bruins look forward to the following three years and a chance to head for the Stanley Cup.

While he was happy to remain a Bruin, he wasn't willing however to tie himself up with a five year deal, realizing that in the new era NHL his value may be worth more in three years, giving him a chance to negotiate another deal at the prime of his career. As he has improved over the last few years many feel he's on the verge of making that leap in the upper echelons of the NHL, the Bruins will be quite happy to have him make those gains in the Black and Gold uniform with the Big B on the front.

The Big E heads for the ACC

Roughly four years after it was first suggested that Eric Lindros might end up as a Toronto Maple Leaf, the paper work has been completed and Lindros pulled on a number 88 Maple Leaf Jersey.

Leaf GM John Ferguson Junior introduced the much injured Lindros to the Leaf Nation on Thursday as Lindros signed up for a year contract at about 1.5 million dollars. Lindros addressed concerns about his many concussions and injuries over the last few years and stated that he was in fine shape to resume his NHL career in a city he's always dreamed of playing in.

With an MRI for his shoulder and concussion specialists consulted Lindros declared himself fit for battle and ready to help the Leafs get back on track. He admitted that he has had to change his game over the years and no longer is the crashing and banging power forward who broke into the league with the Philadelphia Flyers back in 1991.

Lindros' career has been dogged with controversy and injury throughout, from his early scraps with the ruling class of Junior hockey to the bitter events around his drafting by the Quebec Nordiques, the Lindros family have certainly had their fair share of attention over the years.

In his press conference Lindros joked about perhaps being handed a dusty sweater, a reminder that he almost joined the Leafs back in 2001 when a February deal collapsed between the Flyers and the Leafs. Lindros eventually ended up in New York City where injuries once again took their toll on a promising career.

Many are wondering how Lindros will shape up in Toronto, having to change his style of play and always aware of one more career ending hit. Where Pat Quinn decides to play his newest player is also to be determined, originally a centre it's a position that Lindros would like to return to if possible, but may find himself as winger depending on the combinations available to Quinn. More important will be the reaction of the Toronto media and the Maple Leaf fans, playing for the Leafs is very much like putting yourself under a giant microscope, every event in your day is under scrutiny, you can go from hero to bum in a very short period of time. Lindros says he is prepared for the extra attention and expectations, considering his past history it could be an interesting time in the big city.

The Lindros signing is pretty well a risk free move for the Leafs, the payment out is not an onerous bit of financial work, rumours abound that there are a few incentives for Lindros but none were mentioned by Ferguson at the press conference. The Lindros career has been very much a star crossed affair, never quite achieving the levels expected of him as his body became more and more battered over the years.

The one year deal will be a test of sorts for Lindros, he hopes to be with the Leafs for a few more years to come. But as with many of his other hopes over the years circumstances may dictate a different outcome. Regardless many are hoping tha the Big E finds success in Toronto, that he remains healthy and that events all work out well for him. And of course should he actually still be around should the Leafs lift up the Stanley Cup, then hero status will immediately be his.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Games only to be limited to teams with animal monikers

The NHL is about to embark on a new broadcast deal according to a number of media outlets in the USA. Word has it that Comcast a huge cable provider with ties to the Flyers empire will be the lucky recipient of NHL Hockey for 2005-06 for a reported 100 million dollars.

Comcast will broadcast hockey on it's OLN (Outdoor Life Network) operation, a channel that once got its start as a fish and hunting spot on your zapper but has since branched out to more recognizable sports and interests. There is also the possibility of these games being made available in Canada on our version of OLN, a bonus for Canadian fans ready for a break from Big Game Fishing.

ESPN the former rights holder let its contract expire back in June when the NHL was still in the throes of its labour wars, the Sports Network which showed hockey on both the main and the deuce back in 2003 is apparently considering its options at the moment, giving some thought to topping the Comcast bid. Not through any great love of hockey but more as a pre-emptive strike against OLN being turned into a competitive sports channel. A situation I first outlined a few weeks ago. With OLN also testing the waters with the NFL, there is a very real chance that ESPN might begin to see some of its programming options begin to erode, so don't write them out of the NHL picture just yet.

For OLN hockey in the USA would be available at the moment in only 64 million homes as opposed to ESPN's reach of over 180 million. But hockey could end up being the growth engine the channel needs to become a more sought after product on the cable box.

For the NHL the increased interest in its broadcasting options must be rather rewarding to watch. With a need for some positive PR to help launch the new NHL back into the mainstream, having TV networks (albeit Cable ones) starting to scrap over you must be a sign that things are beginning to turn around.

One hopes that the new home of hockey will give us more than the games of the Bruins, Ducks, Predators and other teams feathered or fur laden.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

General Housekeeping in Ottawa

They managed to stay far away from the frenzy of free agent signings last week, a situation that mad more than a few Sens fans grumbling about inaction. But in Ottawa it's more about keeping what they already have. The Sens are more than happy with their current roster of players, a roster that will be surprisingly similar to that which was on paper when the lock out began.

The young and talented Senators will hardly need a freshman mixer to get to know each other as for the most part, all of the Sens returning to the NHL wars were employed by Ottawa 17 months ago.

To the end of tying up the loose ends, the Sens signed a couple of players with Martin Havlat and Mike Fisher inking deals to keep them in the Sens fold for one and three years respectively. While those loose ends were tied, another seems to be unraveling Marion Hossa says that he and the Sens are miles apart and he's prepared to go to war, which of course is a foolish thing to say considering how the last "war" turned out for the players side. Regardless of Hossa's vitriol he may wish to reconsider his options before uttering the silly statements of war.

While the old familiar faces prepare to return, there is of course two major new additions of note for Sens fans. New head coach Bryan Murray will return to the NHL coaching ranks when training camp opens, Murray leaving the executive bosses to get back behind a bench in Ottawa. And of course then there is Dominik Hasek, who will make his debut in a Sens uniform in September as the recently un retired one strives to prove he still can be the Dominating one. That could prove to be the only risk the John Muckler has made, should the Dominator not be able to recapture that form of his that stymied countless NHL scorers then the new season will probably end much like the old ones of the past.

Gretzky heads for the cross hairs

With his reputation the thing of legend, many are finding it hard to understand why Wayne Gretzky is willing to put himself on the line for possible disaster as coach of the Phoenix Coyotes.

With yesterday's annoucnement of Gretzky's decision to add Head coach to his CV, the jury pool seems split as to whether he is wise or foolhardy in his deliberations. Many feel that he is making terrible error in judgment, taking a vanity play for a chance to be close to the action. Others feel that he has a genuine feel for the game and will be able to translate that love and knowledge of the game to young and older players alike to cobble together a winner in the desert. The concept of a star player turning to coaching is a path littered with attempt and failure, some successes, but just as many participants soured forever from their experience, the test for Gretzky will be to stay the course long enough to see if it's truly what he wants now.

Regardless, somewhere along the way somebody is going to get to say I told you so. The current line up of Dogs of the the Desert does not guarantee a stellar season in a tough part of the league. Even with all of Gretzky's magical skills the road from Phoenix to Stanley is a narrow, cluttered and winding one with many pitfalls to come along the way.

While there are many that feel he's making a mistake, some pretty credible hockey people suggest we not underestimate ole 99, perhaps he might just make the difference in Phoenix. That of course will be determined as the season progresses, but if nothing else the Coyotes are going to be the most watched team of the year and once again the main attraction will be a guy named Gretzky!

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Tales from the NHL probation office

Big Bert is back on blades and the reaction is mixed from yesterday's announcement.

The NHL re-instated Vancouver Canuck, Todd Bertuzzi on Monday afternoon just as the Wayne Gretzky Revival Hour was about to get under way. A delightful bit of sleight of hand to deflect away from a controversial decision.

Bertuzzi will return to an NHL line up without further punishment for his misdeeds in the Steve Moore affair, in effect ending a long running situation that seemed to have no end in sight. The announcement, a lengthy little edict effectively puts Bert on notice that any further mis-adventures will result in his banishment from the game. Like the crew at Animal House he's now on double secret probation, with Dean Bettman keeping an eye on the wayward crew at GM Place. The probation aspect of the punishment has been mocked by a number of journalists in the last 24 hours as a symbolic piece of fluff with no teeth. Harsher terms have been used to greet the news of the re-instatement, with many sentiments suggesting that the NHL missed a chance to clamp down on violence for good.

The return of Big Bert in Vancouver has provided enough grist for the sports mill to last a month, the two sports stations carried the news and reaction non stop on Monday, the papers filled with details and possibilities, the TV sports anchors dusting off their old video of the infamous night and replaying it time and time again over the last 24 hours.

Bertuzzi himself had a reply posted on the Canucks website and counterweight to the NHL's posted notice on their official website. Yet to be heard are the lawyers for Steve Moore, who no doubt will have their concerns and warnings about the perceived miscarriage of justice regarding their client. In fact short hours before the Bertuzzi announcement, one of Steve Moores' lawyers Tim Danson was on a Vancouver sports program, advising that the NHL should wait for more of the battery of tests on Moore to be released before making a decision. With the decision made, there was little in the way of comment from the Moore camp, though perhaps that could have something to do with the civil case presently working its way through the system.

While that plays out in the courts, the game will now be played on the ice. The first step for the re-instated Bertuzzi is an invitation to the Team Canada camp later this month. After that it's on the Canucks training camp, though there have been rumours that with Bertuzzi now allowed to play he may be a more marketable asset. With the heat still expected to be on him during any Western games against the Avalanche, a team the Canucks will play more often with the rivalry intemsive schedule, some suggest that the Canucks may wish to trade Bertuzzi away to and Eastern team. One wild rumor making the rounds of the gabfest shows these last few days has been a Bertuzzi to Boston trade for Joe Thornton. An interesting idea, though the last time the Bruins and Canucks got together for a trade things went decidedly Bostonian, as Cam Neely went on to super stardom in Boston. The idea of sending a power forward of Bertuzzi's caliber off to the B's probably won't find many converts in the Canuck offices this time around.

For the Canucks the decision finally allows them to get back to planning their team for the next season, with the sword of Damocles hanging over the Bertuzzi situation day in and day out, the Canucks couldn't really get a handle on their new salary cap guidelines, nor could they know which places needed quick improvement. Now they at least can begin to work out the roster spaces with a bit of certainty, the discussion on the merits of the "probation" decision will continue on no doubt for a while yet, but at least the NHL finally made a decision on the issue, something that had eluded them for 17 months.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Frantic burst of signings finally slow down

Excuse the absence the last couple of days, spent the weekend watching some exciting CFL action, all of which you can find out about here.

But on with the hockey! What a week for the NHL, long off the sports radar with its labour travails, in one spurt of less than five days hockey jumped back onto the front pages of the sport sections and became the lead item on sportsradio and television.

As the pens were reloaded with ink it seems that the largest order would come from Pittsburgh, a team that two years ago was a frequent suggested suspect for contraction has all of a sudden become a pre season favorite to make some noise in 2005-06. From Sidney to Ziggy and all in between the Pens won't be pushovers in the East this time around.

In the west the Edmonton Oilers gave their fans a chance to dream the city of champions dream again with Chris Pronger and Michael Peca donning the rigging of the Oil.

Calgary re-upped their main attraction in Jarome Iginla and Vancouver kept Captain Mats in the fold for a few more years.

On and on it went for five days as most NHL teams made some kind of grand announcement to show that there was a pulse once again in the ole hometown. The Senators didn't make any major moves, content to try and get their still exciting line up firmed up.

Down the road in Toronto, the Leafs courted disaster by letting more players leave than welcoming those that had arrived. Tie Domi long a protector of Leaf personnel donned his armor one more time to defend the honor of rookie GM John Ferguson Jr., suggesting the media was not being fair to his boss (and new benefactor) and should take a break from the negativity. Of course a signed contract for a bit over a million dollars helps with the incentive to go into a corner for your GM one suspects.

But in the end this past week did something many folks thought was impossible, it got everyone talking hockey once again. So if nothing else we can be thankful for five days of non stop bartering. Like many a beer hall hockey pool player the 30 NHL GM's were wheeling and dealing, leaving many gasping for breath with some of the moves made.

With training camps still a month or so away it will be interesting to see what comes up next to keep our interest and give us all something to talk about.

And we start a new week with a new possibility, The Great One deciding to take on the task of coaching the Desert Dogs of Phoenix. All the sports channels in Canada were busy relaying the rumor that Monday will announcement day in Phoenix, when Wayne Gretzky will confirm he will take over the coaching duties of the Coyotes.

Another day, another change in the brand new era of the NHL!

Friday, August 05, 2005

An LA kind of guy

JR's taking his show to Hollywood! Jeremy Roenick waved his no trade clause on Thursday and accepted the opportunity to move to California as the trading frenzy of the NHL continued into day number three.

Roenick who must have known his days in Philly were numbered when Peter Forsberg signed on the dotted line, welcomed the opportunity to head to LA and sign up with the Kings. As he put it "I'm an LA kind of guy", possibly in reference to his irreverent style and outspoken comments over the years.

Besides his obvious hockey skills Roenick may give the Kings franchise someone to put out in the public as a larger than life figure. Though he may have to temper his statements regarding fans and parts of his anatomy. His addition will however get people talking hockey in Los Angeles and helps to counter some of the buzz the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim have been generating of late.

One thing is certain, between Burke In Anaheim and JR in LA, game day in Southern California wont' be short of clips anymore.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Tumble Dry Wit

Sidney Crosby made his late night television debut on Thursday, the Junior Hockey star and newest Pittsburgh Penguin was a guest on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

Crosby had about six minutes of late night fame, chatted about growing up in Nova Scotia and using his mother's Dryer as a target for his laser like shots.

By the end of the show Leno had brought out a dryer of his own for Crosby to take shots at, for the record he was wide once, hit the left frame twice and and hit the drum twice. It was the first appearance by an NHLer in a long time as the sport tends to get lost in the celebrity sweepstakes on American TV.

So there may have been some pressure on Crosby to perform, but if there was he showed little in the way of nerves and seemed to enjoy his time in the spotlight. A few more shows and he may go five for five in the dryer hole.

Canucks keep Captain Markus for three more years

The Vancouver Canucks gave their fans a reason to renew today as ever popular captain Markus Naslund signed up for three more years on Wednesday. Naslund had alarmed the Canucks faithful the last little while with ruminations of a return to Sweden, lately he'd been thinking out loud about a chance to join up with fellow Swede Peter Forsberg. A possibility that probably wouldn't have worked in Vancouver due to the salary cap mathematics.

However, in the end, the Naslund/Forsberg tandem became but a beer league drafters dream and the Canuck's captain returned to the city which has adopted him these last few years. With a chance to pick up where they left off and definite shot at a run for the Stanley Cup Naslund most likely realized that his chance to return to Sweden with a Stanley Cup ring will be best achieved from his work at GM Place.

For the Canucks it sends a message to their fans that they understand the need to keep the core group of players together to return to those wild days of a few years ago when expectations of a Stanley Cup run were quite high. For new GM Dave Nonis the Naslund signing was a must, had Naslund left the Canuck organization the hue and cry from the fans would taint his stewardship for years, with the very popular Brian Burke long deposed as GM and now relocated to Anaheim, this team is very much Nonis' to mold. Losing a high caliber and popular Naslund would definitely not have gotten him off on the right foot with his season ticket base.

With Naslund back in the fold and set to retire as a Canuck there probably won't be much more action on the Canuck's front. They need to learn the fate of Todd Bertuzzi, a situation which is expected to resolve itself by the end of this week. Other than that issue the Canucks seem content to go with the team they have. Though there will be a need for a defensive addition with the trading of Brent Sopel to the Islanders and the loss of Marek Malik to the Rangers.

With that need still there, expect Nonis to try and find someone to line up with current blueliners Jovanovski, Salo Allen and Ohlund. But his first major task has been completed successfully, Naslund is back where he wanted to be and place he missed during his extended vacation. If the Canucks make no other moves this month, getting Naslund to return will be more than enough for British Columbia's hockey fans.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

First they took Boomer, now they take Brian

Bostonians once again have claimed a New York icon as their own. The Bruins surprised many observers today when they acquired the services of Brian Leetch, former Ranger Blue line mainstay. Leetch who had spent a few weeks in the Toronto dressing room back when they last played the game, signed on the dotted line today, no doubt planning on wrapping up his career closer to his childhood home.

However, the move by the Bruins has caught a few off guard and certainly raised a few eyebrows. Former Ranger GM Neil Smith recounted on the Fan 590's Prime Time Sports today how the Bruins would routinely claim that Leetch had been overpaid and underperforming while in Broadway Blues. Smith wondered why Leetch would forget all those slurs of the past just for the chance to relive his Boston College days.

With Leetch signing with the Bruins the exodus from Toronto continues at a fast pace, while Leetch did not really get to put his stamp on the Maple Leaf blue line in his short time in Toronto, it seems to be a theme of late that players are abandoning the Maple Leaf blue print for other pastures.

Whatever the reason for the Bruins decision it certainly shall add even more fuel to the long running rivalry between Boston and New York. While it's best known for the Yankee/Red Sox wars, the addition of a former Broadway star to the Bruins line up, should help to keep both the Gallery Gods of New York and the Bruin's faithful full of oral compliments all season long.

Like Boomer before him, Leetch may find that as long as he wins when they play New York he'll be a hero. Bostonians are storing up the wood, it's time to throw another Log onto the rivalry fire, a blaze that can now blaze long after the ALCS. We look forward to the Jaded New Englanders' take on this latest addition to her beloved Bruins.

Two P's in the Oiler Pod

Edmonton has given notice the Northern Alberta city won't take a backseat to the country cousin's to the south when it comes to adding to arsenal.

With Chris Pronger and Michael Peca joining the Oil, those Battle of Alberta days are going to be a lot more entertaining in 2005-06. The Oilers have taken charge of the agenda and added some serious depth to their line up with the addition of the two P's.

Combine them with the young aggressive squad that they had prior to the lock out and the Oilers are certainly ready to challenge once again in not only the Western half of the NHL but perhaps for the big dance as well.

With two trades in 18 hours the Oilers suddenly find themselves the talk of a very busy day, the local Edmonton media celebrating the return of a challenging Oiler team one not satisfied with possibly making the playoffs, but one that seems to be positioning itself for a long run into May and maybe even June.

While losing Eric Brewer may be perceived as a steep price to pay, a chance to get the all star and trophy winner in Pronger could not be passed up by Kevin Lowe. But more importantly for Lowe it was a chance to send a message to the Oiler fans and the NHL at large that the Oilers are back and ready to do what it takes to build a winner. For Edmonton fans the start of the season on October 5th can't come soon enough, the icing on the cake though will be that very first All Alberta matchup October 20th, for Oiler fans that will be be the opening shot of a long and exciting season of match ups.

Angst in the Land of the Leaf

An ugly situation with former (or is he still one, never really sure eh) Leaf Owen Nolan, a couple of mis-handled negotiations with Joe Nieuwendyk and Gary Roberts and nary a free agent to show. So far the legacy of John Ferguson Jr. is taking a pounding in Toronto.

The Leafs haven't exactly been hauling in the free falling free agents thus far and more than one faithful Leaf fan is beginning to wonder what their team might look like come September.

Even Worse news for Johnny could come if the ever popular Tie Domi decides he'd like to move on from the city that centers the universe (Canadian edition) . If things keep progressing down this track, Leaf fans may be wishing that the lock out continued on for another year, if only so they wouldn't have to watch the likes of Columbus and Atlanta signing players while their team cools its skates.

Ferguson is sticking to his plan and no doubt feels that things will work out in the long run, in the short term the heat from the media and the fans is going to warm his heels, he'd best hope that it doesn't burn his butt in the long term.

Free Agent Frenzy

Iginla's back in Cowtown, Pronger travels up Highway 2. Markus keeps his locker at GM Place and Adam Foote is in a new place. We'll follow the ever changing landscape of the NHL with all the free agent information here.

Canoe Free Agent Tracker

Aug 9 The Frenzy cools

Aug 9 Burke Bolts to Bolts

Aug 6 Palffy to the Pens

Aug 6 Robidas returns to Big D

Aug 5 Windy City Nicky

Aug 5 Jason and the Maple Leafs

Aug 5 Rocky Mountain May

Aug 5 Morrison returns to GM Place

Aug Kariya from the hunted to a hunter

Aug 4 California Dreamin'

Aug 4 Tied to Toronto

Aug 4 On Niedermayer Pond

Aug 3 Oil Strike Peca

Aug 3 He's the Forsberg Flyer

Aug 3 Big Burly Brian's Bound for Big Bad Bruins

Aug 3 Habs think Kovalev's a keeper

Aug 3 The Flame still burns for Iggy

Aug 3 Panic Fuels the Frenzy

Aug 3 Gonchar joins Sidney and Mario

Aug 3 Naslund stays with the Canucks

Aug 3 Ferguson stumbles out of the gate?

Aug 3 Domi to skate away?

Aug 2 A Foote in Ohio

Aug 2 Pronger signs for five with the Oilers

Aug 1 Will it be a Free For All?

Aug 1 The Market is Open

Here's Siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiidney!

Hot on the Heels of his selection in the NHL Entry Draft, young Sidney Crosby has gone Hollywood. Crosby who will play for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2005-06 will trade barbs and backchecks with Jay Leno on Thursday night.

Crosby will appear on the Tonight show Thursday taking the opportunity to raise his profile and that of his sport in the media capital of the USA. While he's in California Crosby will sit down with the folks at Vanity Fair magazine for a bit of background on his junior years and the challenge of moving on up to the NHL.

The appearance of Crosby could be seen as the first positive bit of news for the NHL, finally giving the league a sense of forward momentum towards the new season. The booking also shows the benefit of the NHL's deal with NBC television who will be a television partner in the coming season.

On Thursday's show, Crosby will appear with singer Michael Penn and Rob Schneider of Deuce Bigalow Male (and now a European) Gigolo fame, here's hoping that Crosby scores more (on the ice) than the Deuce!

Headlines of August

The daily story tracked and listed for you right here!

August 31 If Bloodlines count, Edmonton has a winner!
August 29 Strachan on the shoot out
August 27 A dreamer of dreams gets his final rest
August 25 Luongo gets 8,767.12 a day for the year
August 19 Lining up for Turin
August 18 Hossa Hopes for Many Millions
August 17 Cujo's A Desert Dog
August 15 Leclair Lines up with the Pens
August 14 It's Hamr time in Calgary
August 13 Redden a salary cap squeeze?
August 12 Kipper a keeper in Cowtown
August 11 Lindros comes home
August 10 If Lindros were a stock, he'd be a penny stock!
August 9 Burke to Backstop Bolts
August 8 Big Bert is Back
August 7 A New Big Dog for the Desert?
August 6 Palffy to the Pens
August 4 Tied to Toronto
August 3 Forsberg Flies to Philly
August 2 Pronger now Patrols in Edmonton

Carlyle in Control

Brian Burke got his man and the Mighty Ducks are going to find that the 2005-06 season is going to be a non stop season of work.

The Ducks signed up Randy Carlyle as their head coach on Tuesday, a move that should give any Duck slackers incentive to look for a new place to nest. Carlyle comes from the Manitoba Moose, the Vancouver Canuck farm club and his work in Manitoba has set the stage for his NHL coaching debut.

Carlyle turned a rather dis-organized Moose club into a solid performing squad in the 2004-05 AHL season and Carlyle won the support of his Moose players by not tolerating a lack of effort from any player regardless of status.

Burke who watched Carlyle from his job in Vancouver had been trying to land him since his arrival in Anaheim, the Canucks threw a few roadblocks in the way from time to time, but eventually a solid addition to the NHL coaching ranks was allowed to take his shot.

The Ducks will quickly become a competitive squad with Carlyle, who rewards hard work and punishes those that refuse to buy into the concept of a full effort.

Carlyle made a name for himself with the NHL's Jets and quickly became the man of a Manitoba legend. Many a night at the old Winnipeg Arena Jets fans would watch Carlyle man the blue line and steady down a young or nervous Jets team. His move to coaching was seamless and he came across as a natural for the profession. The decision to hire him in Anaheim will probably be one of Brian Burke's best moves, even if it follows on the mess of Mike Babcock's departure.

In the end success is based on wins and losses and Carlyle should give the Ducks the opportunity to collect more than their fair share of W's.