Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Nonis speaks out

Dave Nonis studied under the professorship of Brian Burke, one thing he seems to have taken from his lessons is to speak his mind. It's taken a bit of time mind you, as Nonis settled into his job with Orca Bay he seemed to keep a low profile. Even last years meltdown of Canuck playoff aspirations didn't seem to move him to much in the way of commentary.

Instead, he quietly went about rebuilding his team. He made the big trade the market had demanded when he brought in Roberto Luongo, let Anson Carter move on to what he had hoped would be greener pastures and he replaced Marc Crawford as coach. And while he seemed to take a bit too much time in showing confidence in Alain Vigneault, the results so far are certainly rewarding him for his decisions in the off year.

So now that the team seems to be on track and giving the fans hope for the season, Nonis has spoken out on the controversial issues of the NHL day. Free agency and the bizarre scheduling that sees solar and lunar eclipses as more predictable than visits of Eastern teams to the west.

At a BC Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Monday, Nonis weighed in on the free agency debate suggesting that the current system is not going to reward fans for sticking with their team in the lean years, as the young stars of today mature and then move on with free agency.

It's an issue that is the ticking time bomb for many franchises such as Pittsburgh, Washington and such, who find that they're heroes of today will cut their teeth with their current team only to be lured away with a big dollar offer at age 25.

The other contentious issue was the scheduling debacle that is unfolding in the NHL this season, the Eastern teams rarely have a night away from home, while the Western based teams find that continental travel points are rolling in. The recent tour of the Washington Capitals is a case in point, the rising star of Alexander Ovechkin will but shine in the Western skies once every three years, his talent but a mere whisper or an occasional clip from Sportcentre.

The league doesn't like it too much when their GM's rock the boat, but in this case Nonis is doing hockey fans a great service.

The suspicion is that the NHL will be forced to address the issue at upcoming meetings, perhaps giving Nonis a chance to reprise his Chamber of Commerce notes for a wider and very attentive audience.

Nonis not so free and easy

Canadian Press

VANCOUVER (CP) - The age for free agents in the NHL "is a joke" and could result in the Pittsburgh Penguins losing Sidney Crosby when he's just entering his prime, Vancouver Canucks general manager Dave Nonis said Monday.

"Pittsburgh is going to put seven years of development money into him and he can leave when he's 25," Nonis told a B.C. Chamber of Commerce meeting.

"I think if you assemble a good team, fans want to see that team stick together for more than one or two years. Our current agreement does not lend itself to that."

Nonis also criticized the NHL's current unbalanced schedule.

"I hate the schedule," he said, answering a question from the floor. "It does nothing for us.

"We should play every team in the league at least once. We all pay the same dues and right now the western teams are getting it right in the teeth for no good reason. We fly as much as we ever did and the eastern teams don't do a bloody thing."

Under the collective bargaining agreement, a player aged 29, with eight seasons in the league, became a free agent for the 2006-07 season. In 2008-09, a player aged 27, or one with seven seasons in the league, becomes an unrestricted free agent.

Crosby, the No. 1 pick in last year's draft, was 18 years old when he signed with the Penguins. By the time he's 25 he will have spent seven years in the league.

The Penguins could also lose Jordan Staal, their No. 2 pick in the June draft, when he turns 25. Pittsburgh said Monday the 18-year-old centre will stay with the team this year.

"I think we have a free agency age that is a joke," said Nonis.

Nonis told the crowd that overall he supported the collective agreement and it was good for the league.

"I think the (salary) cap is necessary to keep some teams from spending wildly," he said. "It has levelled the playing field."

In a later interview, Nonis said lowering the age of free agency could make hockey like baseball, where players shift teams every year.

"If you are a team that is struggling, it's a good thing, being able to get new faces," he said. "It helps generate interest in your market.

"If you are a team that is having a hard time holding your team together because of free agency and players are leaving, then it's not necessarily a good thing. You may lose the continuity a lot of markets enjoy."

In the past, teams looked to build over five-year cycles. Increased free agency reduces that to two or three-year cycles, he said.

"The Detroit Red Wings could have a five-year run if they did a good job of recruiting, trading, drafting and developing," Nonis said. "You could keep those players together.

"You are going to see movement among players every single year. To me, that's the worst part of our agreement. Get used to it. It's not going to change."

In an example of NHL scheduling, Vancouver fans had their first chance to see Washington's Alexander Ovechkin, last season's top rookie, on Friday. Crosby and the Penguins didn't play in Vancouver last season and won't make a trip to GM Place this year either.

When the league announced the unbalanced schedule, the theory was it would help to build division rivalries and allow for more compelling television matchups.

Nonis disagreed.

"Rivalries are built through playoffs," he said.

"I know the reasoning behind the schedule, I know why they did it. I don't necessarily agree that it is a good thing.

"It doesn't save us any time, we're not saving any money on travel and I know our fans want to see us play every team at least once."

The scheduling issue will probably be raised when GMs meet in Toronto Nov. 7.

"I think a lot of teams want the schedule changed," said Nonis.

"I think the league always wants to do what's ultimately best for all the teams. I believe they'll revisit it.

"Whether they'll change it, I don't know."

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