Monday, November 27, 2006

Weather for Edmonton for Tuesday: Cold, on the Pronger index for Tuesday: Colder, Much, much colder.

Environment Canada says that Tuesdays high temperature in Edmonton will be -23, by game time it will still be -23, but that will seem positively balmy, compared to the temperature of the extremely chilly Pronger index, as the crowd displays it's delight at the return of Chris Pronger the Anaheim Duck and former Edmonton Oiler defenceman.

The date has long been circled on the dedicated Oiler fan’s calendar, November 28, the day that Edmonton's modern day Benedict Arnold makes his return to the most northern outpost in the NHL.

They’ve been so pumped up for this day, that they began booing at the last home game, any mention of the Anaheim Ducks coming to town was greeted with a chorus of boos, kind of a communal limbering up session.

Pronger the prodigal returns and the Oiler faithful are going to share something that will apparently not resemble love. Pronger asked for and was granted a trade in the off season, spurning the affections of the Oiler crowds for the affections of his wife and family. His decision it seems did not go down well with the fine residents of Edmonton, who took his flight as serious case of civic disrespect.

Since then the name that once was chanted with a sense of reverence has had decidedly less favourable adverbs and pronouns attached to it. His arrival in Edmonton today one day before the showdown with the faithful was met by a media avalanche worthy of a Lindsay Lohan-Paris Hilton cage match refereed by Britney Spears. Everybody wants to ask why, Pronger isn’t ready to give them what they want.

He has attempted his own bit of pre-emptive soothing, telling anyone who will listen about how much fun he had last year, how the fans were amazing and pushed the Oilers on to greater glory coming up just a little bit short. Nice words, apparently that nobody is interested in and will go unheard or at least unheeded for one night anyways.

In the end, the game will eventually take precedence, the Oilers hoping to knock off the high flying Ducks and claim two points that might come in handy in April or May. The fans will do their best to help out the home side, but they expect to try and get their own pound of flesh on their own.

It promises to be louder than usual at Rexall Place, something that seems hardly possible, but given the right atmosphere expect the Oiler fans to make their position known.

Pronger has become accustomed to heating boos; it comes with the territory when you’re one of the top defencemen in the game. It might be a bit strange to be public enemy number one, but if that’s what it takes for the Ducks to sneak out of town with a win he’ll most likely accept his role.

Showing that they're pretty savvy promoters, the Oilers have the game on Pay Per View, which means that any hockey fan not able to squeeze into Rexall Place, will have to shell out to the Oilers to join in on the fun. Giving the Oilers a pretty nice return on the Pronger return.

I hope he asked for a couple of tickets from the Oilers for the game for himself, I think he could probably make a pretty healthy return on his seats. It would make the perfect revenge on an Oiler fan base, which promises to make his return a most interesting night. If nothing else he could leave them empty and reduce the noise by at least two sets of lungs.

Now look what you’ve gone and done Mr. Harper

Steven Harper’s recent motion to declare “Quebec a nation within Canada” has had an unusual spin off effect. Long time Sovereigntist lawyer Guy Bertrand has dusted off his old plans to put a Team Quebec into International hockey, starting with the 2008 World Hockey Championships.

It’s an event which coincidentally, will be taking place in Quebec City and Halifax that year. In a bit of symbolic destiny, that is the year of Quebec’s 400th anniversary celebrations and they suddenly seem to be setting up for a giant coming out party, which if Bertrand has his way will be played out on the ice rink in Quebec City.

Bertrand has been arguing on behalf of a Team Quebec for a number of years and has become a perennial pain in the backside for Hockey Canada, with his demands that they sanction the formation of a team to represent the province. Hockey Canada has repeatedly told him that he can’t have a team, as he doesn’t yet have a nation. However, with the parliamentary declaration that Quebec is a nation (even if that inconvenient tag line "within Canada" is still there) Bertrand feels that he’s probably one step closer to the goal, even if most feel he's a little off the beaten path with his plans.

Bertrand who is now emboldened by the developments in Ottawa , is apparently not against gooning it up with the Prime Minister. Going so far as to suggest that a lack of support for the Quebec team idea by Harper could cost the Conservatives "thousands of votes" in Quebec in the next election. How’s that for standing Harper up as he crosses the blue line, best keep your head up Stephen, best to keep your head up.

Harper has apparently been busy working on a book about hockey which he hopes to have completed sometime in the future. If Bertrand wins the public relations war on his plan, it will make for a chapter in Canadian hockey that the author of the book helped to bring about. This might be the kind of legacy that Harper might not want to go down in history over.

Messing up the country we can probably live with, as we have come to expect that of our leaders, but messing up our hockey, well that’s something that a career just won’t recover from!

Bottom feeding Hawks look to Savard for on ice salvation

Perhaps Tom Cruise was too busy on his honeymoon for the next mission. Denis Savard was named head coach of the Chicago Black Hawks today, a decision that should be considered cruel and unusual punishment in most judicial districts.

Savard takes over the under performing Hawks from Trent Yawney, who had the misfortune of getting off to a decent start, only to watch the team spend the better part of the last month in various clinics and hospitals and perhaps a comfy lazy boy chair or two. Yawney for a brief moment in time had done something that hadn’t been seen in Chi-town in a good number of years, win games, sometimes back to back and score goals and stop shots, in short, briefly they began to resemble a professional hockey club.

But in the space of a few short weeks it had all unraveled, as Martin Havlat’s scoring spree was stopped by injury, as were the scoring talents of Michal Handzus. To make matters worse, Nicklai Khabibulun, who was brought over from Tampa Bay to channel the energies of Glen Hall and Tony Esposito, has managed to show a rather stark inability to stop the incoming shots of late.

Things had spiraled out of control with the Hawks losing 12 of their last 15 games and looking like a solid bet for missing the playoffs as the people of Chicago were putting away their Turkey dinner. This made for a dire situation that seemed to yell out for action, considering that there is more than four months to go in the season.

With only Columbus between them and the bottom of the league and Columbus having hired on a big gun last week in Ken Hitchcock, Hawks GM Dale Tallon felt the time had come for a change of his own. But instead of seeking an outside agent who could come in with a clean slate and wide broom, he tapped hall of famer and Black Hawk legend Savard to take over the duties on the bridge.

It’s a chance for Savard to do what many say is impossible, make the Hawks a winner. But it surely must come with some serious drawbacks. The Hawks have long seemed the most dysfunctional of teams in a league that has had more than their fair share of unusual management teams. They have been mired so long in the bottom echelon of the league that they barely register in the third largest city in the USA, the rink frequently is empty, the games rarely televised at home by choice of management.

They at times resemble gypsy players, traveling from town to town in one of the most historic uniforms in NHL history but a mere shadow of those now ancient teams of Hull, Mikita, Hall, Stapleton or Roenick, Belfour, Chelios and Savard.

You have to wish Savard well, he’s been a hard worker through his career and this is certainly going to be in for a major challenge. But somehow you just get the feeling that the problems in Chicago run a lot deeper than changing a coach or moving some players...

Friday, November 24, 2006

Like the perfect guests, the Canucks were like Turkeys in Nashville

The Vancouver Canuck’s must have been caught up in the spirit of the holiday, as guests of the Nashville Predators on Thanksgiving Thursday, they served up a rather fowl effort to the nights entertainment.

Appearing as though they had chowed down to a full course Turkey dinner just prior to game time, they plodded along as Nashville waxed them 6-0. The Canucks were terribly outplayed by the Predators, a point not lost on head coach Alain Vignault who called the shellacking a team loss. The game was quite the turn around from the night before when they were fully involved with the Red Wings and squeaked out a victory in the Motor City.

The plan Thursday, was to give Danny Sabourin the start, allowing Roberto Lunongo a night off, but by the mid point of the second period the white flag was up, the Canucks were down 5-0 and Luongo entered the game to give Sabourin some respite from the horrid play in front of him.

Despite injuries to Jason Arnott and Josef Vasieck, the rest of the Preds picked up their play with Scott Hartnell picking up two goals and an assist on the way to the victory. Tomas Vokoun was working on the shutout when he injured his hand at the end of the second period, he was replaced in the third by Bob Mason who preserved the goose egg, as both goaltenders combined to turn away 34 shots on the way to victory.

The Canucks will have to file this one off as a lost cause, there was nothing to build on over the sixty minutes of play, every single player seemed to have an off night. No one was picking up their checks, no one was making the key play at the right time and well six goals on 28 shots tells the story of the back end on Thursday.

The next stop for Vancouver is Colorado on Saturday night, Canuck fans are hoping that they aren’t packing any Turkey Sandwiches for the trip to Denver, any reminder of the Thanksgiving Day slaughter should kindly be left behind in Nashville.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Hitch heads to Columbus for a Blue Jacket Fitting

Unemployment didn’t last long for Ken Hitchcock. The former bench boss of the Philadelphia Flyers who was removed from his duties earlier this season has landed on his skates in Ohio.

He takes over a Columbus team that has been in a major tailspin that began before Gerard Gallant was fired and continued on as Gary Agnew took over on the interim basis on November 14. The open job seemed to be a competition between Hitchcock and Andy Murray, with Hitchcock apparently showing the Blue Jackets owners and management what they are looking for.

Eight days of deliberation led to the announcement today, as Hitchcock signed a three year deal to try and lead the Blue Jackets out of the bottom tier of the NHL West standings and into a playoff hunt. Reports have it that he’s making in the area of 1.2 million dollars a similar amount to what he made while working for Ed Snider in Philadelphia.

The task ahead for Hitchcock won’t be an easy one, the Blue Jackets were expected to be competitive this year and many felt that they would reward their fans with a playoff spot by the time May comes around.

But their start has been anything but positive; with loss after loss compounding the problems and making both management and the fans feel a bit nervous about their projected goals this season.

Hitchcock, who has had past success in Dallas and Philadelphia besides a rather respectable minor league and Junior A record, will be expected to try and get the likes of Sergei Federov, Anson Carter, Adam Foote and Frederik Modin to regain their pervious form. While at the same time teach Rick Nash and Nikolai Zherdev the joys of back checking and working in their own end. He's known as a tough taskmaster and for a team that isn't used to that kind of approach, the next few weeks should be a revelation.

It’s no doubt a tough assignment, for whatever reason the Blue Jackets have been rather abysmal this season so far, offensively they have been a bust with only 40 goals in their 19 games this year. One quarter of the way through the season and the Jackets find themselves firmly in control of last place in the West with 11 points, 1 less than the woeful Phoenix Coyotes. Ten points out of a playoff spot if the season ended today, the Blue Jackets would have to be turned in for golf shirts.

It’s now Hitchcock’s job to make sure that Columbus has no tee times to book in April or May. A large order for a coach who is used to being a winner and says he loves to teach. In order to get to the winning, he’s going to have to do a fair amount of the teaching.

His new students didn't send the substitute teacher off with a fond memory, the Jackets did what they've done a lot of these days, lose, letting a shootout against St. Louis get away from them.

Hitchcock now takes control with his first class coming up on Friday afternoon, when the Blue Jackets travel to Philadelphia to take on the Flyers, now that should if nothing else provide the motivation for both the teacher and his new pupils.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The intoxicating spell of speculation

If you were watching the sports channels this week or listening to the talk radio channels the impression you have of Eugene Melnyk is that of a guy sitting deep in the bowels of Scotiabank Place, sharpening an axe, a knife and a scythe.

All day yesterday we were breathlessly told of inside information that had it that Melnyk had dispatched his trusted hatchet man to Buffalo, ready to bring down the sword upon the head of John Muckler and maybe Bryan Murray for good measure.

All in all, a fine bit of drama worthy of a Hitchcock movie or a Stephen King novel, all that was missing was for a black hooded executive to wander down to the Sens dressing room crook his finger and select a lucky candidate for execution. And all of it wild speculation that was knocked down by Roy Mlakar, who might possibly have an idea as to what Mr. Melnyk's mindset might be.

Granted the Sens are off to a rather horrid start, and we’re sure that on his Caribbean beach, Mr. Melnyk is probably a tad concerned for the state of his hockey team’s fortunes these days, but without someone of value to replace the two most mentioned possible casualties, we’re not sure that there is much to the story.

Certainly Mr. Muckler will have a lot to answer for if things don’t improve in pretty fast order, the mishandling of the Zdeno Chara situation and the apparently giant leap of faith regarding the skills of Martin Gerber will have Muckler on the list of those for the high jump for a while yet.

However, if Melnyk really does wish to throw his GM and coach to the wolves, we wonder who exactly is there out there to replace them. Philadelphia hasn’t been able to find anyone that wanted that job when it became available with the resignation of Bob Clarke.

Ken Hitchcock may be the answer but is he any better a coach than Murray at the moment, he couldn’t get the Flyers to respond to his ministrations, so who thinks the Sens would suddenly catch the fever.

Columbus recently fired their coach Gerard Callant, with Doug McLean now waiting to see what the owners decide next, he must be wondering about his fate. He said that that the Columbus ownership expected to have a name for consideration shortly, so if they’ve become hands on operators now, one wonders what they may need McLean for.

The other high profile candidate out there at the moment is Pat Quinn, but somehow we don’t see him setting up shop with the Sens, though it would add even more interest to those Leaf /Sens match ups.

Same with the perennial candidate Mike Keenan, while it may be tempting to have someone go to Ottawa ready to kick butt and take names, the current line up there doesn’t seem the kind of group that would do well under Keenan, Do the people of Ottawa want to go through what the fans of the Canucks did a number of years ago, we don’t think they want that…

In short it’s a very short list of candidates, with no one really jumping out at you that could turn a team around. The last big name that held that cache was Brian Burke when he was let go by the Canucks, and the success of the Ducks shows how a timely change of direction can turn things around. But there’s no Brian Burke sitting back there at the moment waiting for a call.

Instead it’s going to be a case of having to be patient, as painful that seems to be for Ottawa fans. The best remedy to a bad situation is winning, the Sens got back on track last night in Buffalo. And with the light of day today, the cautiously quiet Mr. Melnyk was advising everyone to calm down.

Muckler will have to make a few moves in the personnel department in order to shake things up a bit, but gutting the team and the management in the middle of the season seems like a pointless exercise that would probably cause more problems than it would solve.

But, the concept sure does keep the talking heads of radio and TV busy, something we’re sure will continue on as long as the Sens have some struggles on the ice. It comes with being the biggest goldfish in the little bowl.

Mixed opinions on NHL/You Tube alliance

The move from the NHL to let the You Tube Internet video portal have access to its copyright materials is drawing mixed reactions among the observers of the media universe.

The NHL signed a deal with You Tube on Wednesday to market clips of their games, hoping to draw on the video service's youngish demographics to bring new fans to the game in the USA. The plan is to provide clips for the service by at least 24 hours of a games completion and they will share in any revenues provided by ads placed alongside the video material.

Media observers suggest that the it's doubtful that the NHL will make great piles of money from the plan, instead viewing the move as purely a PR exercise to try and get the NHL message out to a hard to peg down audience.

The NHL move seems to go against the grain of the other sports leagues in the US, the NFL, Major League Baseball and NBA have all in the past asked that You Tube remove their product from the website, all part of the protection of their copyright materials. In fact, Major League Baseball has created its own Internet portal that they use to attract and retain fans, on a subscription basis.

For the NHL it's the second trip into the brave new world of the Internet in as many weeks, they recently signed a deal with Google video (who have since purchased You Tube) to archive current and historical NHL action on the Google servers. Which has proven to be a popular feature with NHL fans.

It will be interesting to watch and see how the You Tube/NHL relationship works out, there's no shortage of material on the portal, everything from love struck teenagers professing their love to juvenile stunt videos and less than successful attempts at humour.

Though you can't hold You Tube accountable for that, there have been more than a few hockey broadcasts with similarly inclined attempts at humour and those folks get paid for their troubles. Maybe by going the You Tube route, we're just avoiding the middle men.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Staggering Senators face many questions

The downward direction of the Ottawa Senators these days is beginning to leave the realm of what’s wrong with the team, to what’s wrong with the management?

The Sens who have suffered some pretty embarrassing losses over the last couple of weeks are quickly becoming the Britney Spears of NHL Hockey teams; everyone is watching them and expecting the worse.

The latest bit of trouble for the Sens came on Monday with smack down at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens, which had followed a loss to the Boston Bruins. Two games that last season would have been considered a relatively easy four point weekend, this year they were further proof that things are going terribly awry in the nation’s capital.

With Wade Redden now sitting out until his troubled groin heals itself and Martin Gerber providing the detractors lots of ammunition, the key players of the off season are suddenly not providing what they were supposed to. A fact not lost on a pretty astute hockey audience in Ottawa who remember that it was the machinations of John Muckler that brought Gerber to the capital, increased Reddens pay package and lost a lynch pin of the defence in Zdeno Chara.

While most will give Muckler the benefit of the doubt on the Redden signing, he is still one of the better defencemen to have pulled on an Ottawa jersey in the teams history, the Gerber acquisition is getting harder and harder to defend. The former Carolina goaltender is a past proven performer, but for whatever reason this season he has had troubles finishing the games in a positive environment. He seems to regularly give up an easy goal that inevitably leads to a third period collapse and a frustrating loss for a team that plays well for two periods and then somehow loses their edge.

The howls for heads is reaching a fevered pitch in the Capital, Wednesday’s game with Buffalo a Rubicon of sorts for John Muckler if the media heads are to be believed. TSN dedicated a good portion of the intermission on their Tuesday night game to the question of Ottawa, the suggestion is that Eugene Melnyk will instruct President Roy Mlakar to do something drastic to shake up his underperforming squad.

The Globe and Mail’s Tim Wharnsby examined the staggering Sens situation and the possible outcome for the careers of Bryan Murray and John Muckler.

Pressure mounts on Sens' coach, GM
Ottawa suffers seventh loss in eight games

OTTAWA -- Bryan Murray is not worried about losing his job, even though the next 24 hours should be anxious and curious times for the Ottawa Senators' coach and his general manager, John Muckler.

Moments after his team was beaten for the seventh time in eight games, this time 6-3 by the Montreal Canadiens before a capacity crowd of 20,051 at Scotiabank Place last night, Murray was asked how much longer his team's funk can persist before he becomes concerned about losing his job.

"I'm not worried about my job as much as I'm trying to get these kids to play better hockey," Murray said. "We have a talented group that knows they can play better."

That talented group, which is off to a miserable 6-10-1 start, has struggled mightily in many areas of the game. Some nights, it's poor goaltending. Other games, it's mistakes in its own end. Other nights, the special teams have stumbled.

Senators president Roy Mlakar gave Murray and Muckler a vote of confidence last week, but in the time between last night's game and Ottawa's next game, in Buffalo against the Sabres tomorrow, the heat will be turned up to a full boil on Murray and Muckler.

Mlakar has been seen around the team more often lately. After the defeat last night, however, he was seen sauntering down the hall away from the Senators' dressing room and didn't look like a boss ready to clean house.

The Senators are 12th among the 15 teams in the Eastern Conference of the National Hockey League, and their docket does not become easier in the next seven days. They will play four games against divisional leaders -- the Sabres twice, the New Jersey Devils and the Minnesota Wild.

"None of these are easier for us right now the way we're playing," Murray said.

What went wrong for the Senators last night is that they were unable to take advantage of three-power play opportunities in the first period and instead gave up a short-handed goal to Montreal defenceman Mike Komisarek.

Although the Canadiens gave up three power-play goals in their worst outing of the season last Saturday in a 5-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Habs have the third best penalty-killing unit in the league. They have not only scored seven short-handed goals this season, but also have allowed only 12 goals while killing penalties.

"Our power play has been the biggest difference between this year and last year," said Murray, whose team has only two wins in eight games at home.

After tying the score on a late opening-period goal from Denis Hamel, the Senators played right into the hands of a patient Montreal team that employed a passive 1-2-2 fore-check system.
The Senators began turning the puck over far too often. As a result, an unguarded Radek Bonk was able to redirect an Alexander Perezhogin shot for a 2-1 lead, and the Senators gave their opponents two power plays early in the third period when they were trying to recover from mistakes.

Montreal rookie Guillaume Latendresse, 19, made the Senators pay with two man-advantage goals 31 seconds apart. Since the youngster replaced injured Chris Higgins on Montreal's first line three games ago, he has checked in with three goals and four points.

"I feel really comfortable," Latendresse said. "[New linemates] Saku [Koivu] and Rydie [Michael Ryder] have helped me a lot and that has given me a lot of confidence."

The Senators' power play finally clicked with goals from Patrick Eaves and Antoine Vermette later in the third period to put the Senators one goal behind, 4-3, but Mike Johnson scored from a bad angle and Alexei Kovalev added an empty-netter for Montreal.

Ottawa goalie Martin Gerber played a strong game, especially in the second period, and could be faulted only for the Johnson goal with 2 minutes 25 seconds remaining.

"Poor Martin," Murray said. "He gave up five goals and gave us a chance to win the game."

The Office Temp

Gary Agnew hasn’t even had a chance to test out the title of interim head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets and already the names are being dropped as to who is going to boot his butt out from behind that Blue Jacket bench.

Agnew was named the temporary coach on Monday morning and by Tuesday afternoon the names of Ken Hitchcock, Andy Murray and Pat Quinn, three currently unemployed coaches were suggested as possible appointees who might find Columbus to their liking.

The Columbus situation became dire last week as the team continued to struggle under former coach Gerard Gallant, who seemed to be unable to get his squad to play with any consistency, let alone record some wins to pacify an increasingly anxious hometown crowd.

General Manager Doug MacLean decided to make the change over the weekend, (though reports suggest it was more the idea of Team owner John McConnell) this despite having previously given Gallant the ever popular “vote of confidence”, no doubt a sure fire sign that it’s time to contact a real estate agent.

MacLean himself may find that his job is the next up on the chopping block, even though he himself has said that ownership has not told him that his job is in jeopardy and if he’s lucky they won’t offer up a public vote of confidence any time soon.

Columbus has been a major disappointment this season, with many fans having felt that the time had come for the Blue Jackets to make a move up the NHL standings, with a young team which had added some key veteran players in the off season.

But so far they’ve played poorly showing a massive inability to score goals and have lost nine of their last twelve games, which is spiraling them towards the bottom of the West Division standings and once again far away from any playoff ambitions.

The change to a caretaker coach is probably designed to utilize Agnew’s knowledge of the younger players from his days as coach of the Blue Jackets farm club, he’ll play babysitter while MacLean and the owners go over the list of possible coaches. They’ll be hoping to find the one best able to light a fire on an underperforming team.

For MacLean it may be the most importatnt decision he makes while in the Blue Jackets executive office, he may not only be hiring on a much needed bit of credibility behind the bench, but also possibly his replacement if some of the names being bounced around have any merit to them.

It's the nature of the game these days it seems, the name you pick today could be the one that stands up at the next press conference announcing the new direction for a struggling team.

Four find their way to the Hall

Monday night was Induction night at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. A night that in recent times has offered up a wonderful retrospective of what makes hockey the game it has become.

It’s a night for memories and respect, speeches that recount the good times and honour family, friends and mentors. All about the players and less about the business side of the league, a wonderful salute to the players and builders that have built the game up over the years.

With TSN taking on the job of broadcasting the night’s festivities, the event has become a much more official affair than in previous times. This Monday was no exception, James Duthie and the always classy Dick Irvin handled the emcee duties for the night, Gino Reda providing the bridges between inductees.

This years inductees included one of the most dominant goaltenders the league has ever seen, a combatant of the sixties who won Stanley Cups with both Toronto and Montreal, a builder of the game who helped bring a franchise from the Deep South to the Canadian West and a long sought after Stanley Cup for Calgary and the architect of an Olympic medal and legacy as well as a solid coaching career in the NHL.

Patrick Roy, St. Patrick of Montreal, who played for Montreal and Colorado in his stellar career.

Dick Duff, who played on some of the great teams of the sixties. A dedicated goal scorer, who could count many great moments in his lengthy NHL career, including six Stanley Cup championships.

Harley Hotchkiss, the well known Calgary businessman who shared in the work of bringing the Atlanta Flames North and west and set the stage for hockey to flourish in Alberta’s southern metropolis.

The late, Herb Brooks, a tactician of great renown, most identified with the USA’s remarkable victory over the Soviet Union in the Lake Placid Olympics of 1980. He will forever be remembered as the creator of the Miracle.

Four remarkable names, three of them etched in the history books of hockey as key participants of a game they all loved. The fourth is a passionate believer in the game and its place in Canada’s west.

TSN did a good job of telling their stories, now forever immortalized in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Exit John McCaw

The Vancouver Canucks will once again be back fully in the hands of Vancouver investors, as the mysterious and rather reclusive John McCaw takes his leave of the Orca Bay offices in Vancouver.

McCaw has reached an agreement to sell his remaining fifty per cent stake in Canada’s west coast team, a move that probably won’t be lamented too much along the rainy coast. The Aquilini Investment Group, owned by local residents Francesco, Roberto and Paolo Aquilini completed the deal with McCaw and will have total control over the direction of the franchise once the deal is accepted by the NHL’s lodge of owners.

McCaw’s time in Vancouver was a see saw of emotions for Vancouver fans, who never really knew the owner of their beloved Canucks. He claimed the Canucks and the Grizzlies when Arthur Griffiths got into financial trouble in 1994.

McCaw stepped in and took over the running of both franchises; eventually selling the basketball team to Michael Heisley who it seemed couldn’t wait to relocate the team out of Canada. That move made for a bitter pill that still sticks in the craw of more than a few British Columbians. And seemed to leave the McCaw years up for debate as to the billionaire’s dedication to the city, the province and the team.

While the fans never warmed up to McCaw, he did try to put a championship calibre team on the ice, letting GM Brian Burke make the moves he thought necessary to bring the Stanley Cup to Vancouver. They got close to the goal, but as things turned sour the discontent over the direction of the team grew in Vancouver. With the firing of Burke, it seemed to bottom out for McCaw and his designated watchdogs.

To this day, the now departed Burke (relocated to California) is probably more popular than any current management member of the Canucks’ head office. A testimony to the effect he had on the city, a fan base that thought he was part of them, unlike the out of town owner who rarely it seemed even watched a game at GM Place.

The arrival of the Aquilini’s was an attempt to re-connect with the city and now with the full purchase of the team by the investment group that phase is now done. It will be up to them now to deliver that long awaited Stanley Cup parade for Georgia Street and other downtown byways.

While Canuck fans won’t have many snap shots of McCaw for their scrap book, he did one thing that they shouldn’t forget and that was to keep the team off of the scrap heap. He made a few mistakes along the way, never really finding the pulse of hockey in the province. That task will now fall to the Aquilini’s, who will now have to make sure that the darker days of the franchise remain but distant memories.

Aquilini brothers purchase remaining half of Canucks
Canadian Press

November 8, 2006

VANCOUVER — The Vancouver Canucks already had the dazzling Sedin twins starring on ice. And now they have the three Aquilini brothers in full control of the business side of the National Hockey League franchise.

The Aquilini Investment Group, owned by local residents Francesco, Roberto and Paolo Aquilini, reached an agreement Wednesday to purchase the remaining 50 per cent of the NHL club and General Motors Place arena from Seattle billionaire John E. McCaw.

The Aquilinis had earlier gained a 50-per-cent share of Orca Bay Sports and Entertainment from McCaw in November of 2004.

Details of both transactions were not disclosed. Forbes Magazine two years ago estimated the value of the Canucks franchise at $148-million (U.S.).

The latest transaction is subject to approval by the NHL board of governors and is expected to close in early 2007, the Aquilinis said in a release.

"Today's announcement is exciting for our family and we are proud that we will be the 100-per-cent owners of this great franchise and world-class facility," Francesco Aquilini said in the prepared statement.

"We would like to thank John McCaw for his tremendous efforts as owner of the club since 1994. He has shown great commitment to this city and to this team. The business of hockey in Vancouver is very strong now and John McCaw deserves credit for that."

The Canucks have played to more than 100 consecutive sellouts at GM Place, which seats more than 18,000, with additional private suites.

"Good for him, I think it's really great for Vancouver," said realtor Bob Rennie Jr., an Aquilini business associate. "My guess is the whole [franchise is worth] about $300-million [Canadian] due to the value of the real estate. To have local ownership shows pride in the community and the team will always stay here."

The Aquilini Investment Group is a diversified family business founded by the brothers' father, Luigi Aquilini, nearly 50 years ago. The business claims to have real-estate holdings and operating entities in nearly every major city in Canada.

However, Francesco Aquilini and McCaw are being sued by Vancouver businessmen Tom Gaglardi and Ryan Beedie over the 2004 sale. In a statement of claim filed in B.C. Supreme Court, they allege McCaw and Aquilini acted in bad faith and disregarded legal agreements when they completed that deal.

The suit may reach court some time next year at the earliest.

McCaw, a reclusive owner who came to only the occasional game in Vancouver, thanked the Canucks' fans Wednesday for the passion they showed in supporting the club he bought from the Griffiths family.

"Owning the Canucks has been an honour and I am proud of the work the organization has done in Vancouver over the years," McCaw said in a statement released by the club. "The Aquilini family is committed to making the Canucks the best organization in the NHL.

"I know I am leaving the team in good hands."

McCaw also once owned the Vancouver Grizzlies franchise in the National Basketball Association, which lasted just six years before new owner Michael Heisley moved the team to Memphis, Tenn.

It’s turning into very a hot road trip for the Sens, but not in the best way

Going into the game Wednesday night, the calls were already getting loud from a segment of the Senator faithful for John Muckler and Brian Murray to be relieved of their duties. Who knows what tomorrow will bring, after yet another third period implosion and yet another lost game that should never have been in doubt.

A website called Fire has popped up on the internet allowing Sens fans to vent and purge their pain with a vote, to keep or get rid of GM John Muckler. So far (as of midnight on Wednesday night) the pain of defeat is taking its toll, over 70% of the 677 votes cast have said its time for a new face and a new mind in the GM’s office.

Wednesday night the Sens did no favours for their management team, featuring another disturbing night of poor third period play, surrendering the lead and allowing the Atlanta Thrashers to come back and snatch a 5-4 victory that shouldn’t have been their for the taking. These Senators are in a mess and show no signs of finding a way out of it anytime soon

And while Roy Mlakar keeps his head and doesn’t call for Muckler and Murray’s, it is getting to be a worrisome trend that this Senator team is following. They play a decent enough game for the first two periods, only to open the gates in the third and surrender without much of a fight.

Thirteen games into a new season and they are holding some pretty unfamiliar territory that of the lower reaches of the Eastern Conference. For a team that many suggested was a strong candidate for a Stanley Cup run, they wouldn’t even make the playoffs with their record or play of late.

Their captain is under pressure for underperforming, a highly touted rookie is rebelling over the prospect of time on the farm. And most importantly the main off season move of bringing in an experienced goal tender isn’t working out as planned.

In fact the Gerber gambit does not seem to be paying off at all for Muckler. Over the off season, the Sens GM. balked at paying Zdeno Chara a larger salary, preferring instead to bring in a more seasoned goaltender in the form of Gerber. The only problem has been a tendency of the seasoned one, to surrender goals by the basket late in a game costing the team valuable points and positioning.

While Gerber has not been sharp at times, the blame can’t sit squarely with him. There is a problem defensively on this team, which once was its strength with the big four of Redden, Phillips, Chara and Meszaros.

With Chara leaving for Boston, the hole his absence left seems to grow bigger with each successive loss. If one move in the past summer comes back to haunt Muckler, it will be his ham handed handling of the Chara situation. Combine that with the less than rewarding play of Gerber and you can see how the anti Muckler vote has reached 70%.

Trades are demanded by the followers of the Senators, but it's not as easy as all that anymore. Most of the bargaining chips were moved around in the last couple of years, salary cap concerns and an underperforming line up don't give Muckler much in the way of trade bait at the moment.

In the end, it will be up to the players to pull out of the tail spin they seem intent on going through. Time will tell if the tandem of Muckler and Murray are there when they come out from the other side of this slide. But they can’t like what they seen, for the moment their players aren’t doing much to help them keep their jobs.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Google Video Replay

We track the different Google Video Replay games that we have selected and list them here for your reference purposes.

February 27, 2006--Calgary/Montreal May 1989
February 13, 2007--Calgary/Vancouver February 3, 2007
December 21, 2006-- St. Louis/Chicago December 12, 2006
December 14, 2006--Flyers/Islanders May 1980
December 12, 2006--New York R/New York I, December 4, 2006
November 27, 2006-- Chicago/Pittsburgh Game 1 May 1992
November 22, 2006-- Buffalo/Montreal October 23, 2006
November 18, 2006--Montreal/Toronto Game 6 1967
November 16, 2006--Pittsburgh/NY Rangers October 12 2006
November 14, 2006--Vancouver/MY Rangers Game 7 June 1994
November 12, 2006-Ottawa/Washington November 6 2006
November 9, 2006--Montreal/Boston Game 7 May 1979
November 7, 2006--Toronto/Ottawa October 24 2006

NHL Video Flow

The NHL is testing out some new ideas in the new media world, partnering with Google to provide streaming video presentatons on the search engines video service.

From the NHL's Interactive Cyber Enterprises offices, Keith Ritter has been delegated to work out a business plan to take advantage of the NHL's vast archive of hockey history and current events.

So far the plan is a simple video selection service, which for now is free of charge and available at the click of your mouse. Perhaps later it will become a pay feature from the NHL website, part of the changing platform of enterntainment that is constantly evolving.

For now enjoy the videos free of charge while they last. We'll set up a line on our left hand column and track the Google Video selections that we pick for the HockeyNation, you can find them listed here.

From the Globe and Mail's website, is the following description of the project and where Ritter might be taking it into the future.

With one shot at the Net, it's all about new fans
The challenge Generate more value from the NHL's vast archive of broadcasts, and introduce to new fans to the game The call Link up with Internet giant Google to offer access to full-length video downloads of hockey games

Globe and Mail website
November 4, 2006

When National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman gave Keith Ritter his assignment last year, the mission was clear: Figure out how to increase the popularity of the game by making use of the NHL's vast store of digital assets.

Mr. Ritter, president of the league's digital arm, NHL Interactive Cyber Enterprises, said he and two other executives were essentially asked "to have a good think, based on the changing landscape, where the opportunities would be down the road."

While the storehouse of game videos was clearly the biggest asset, the NHL also has game audio, reams of data, photographs, and lots of text, said Mr. Ritter, who works out of the league's New York head office.

Mr. Ritter said he and his colleagues have come up with a plan to manage and make money from that vast store of information, and the first element was unveiled this week when the league announced a deal with Google Inc. to make full-length games available on Google Video.

Dozens of recent games can now be downloaded, along with a selection of classic contests ranging from the 1967 Toronto-Montreal Stanley Cup final to the Vancouver Canuck's loss to the New York Rangers in the 1994 Cup final.

The material is free, for now, until the NHL decides whether it will try to generate revenue by charging for the downloads, or by selling advertising, or a combination of the two.
"We're trying to figure that out," Mr. Ritter said. "We're going to see how the fans are interacting with this."

Whatever route it goes, revenue will likely be shared between the league and Google.
While Google is clearly the leader in organizing and displaying information, the main reason the Web search giant was chosen as the partner for the venture is that "they are one of the primary destinations where fans go to find video," Mr. Ritter said.

The NHL will benefit if this traffic creates new hockey fans. If someone who sees a Sidney Crosby hat trick on the Internet decides to watch a hockey game at night, "or better yet, buys a ticket and goes to see one in person, we're all for that," he said.

Boosting interest in hockey is a key part of the NHL's long-term strategy, Mr. Ritter said, and the link with Google should help. "Our ability to sell digital content is directly tied to the league's ability to grow the game and increase fan interest."

That philosophy has also ensured that the league's traditional broadcast partners support the digital-distribution plans, Mr. Ritter said.

"If we can add another hockey fan [because of the attraction of the archival material], they'll start watching the broadcasters, so it grows their pie as well."

The league sees particular potential for increasing interest in professional hockey in the United States and Europe, but also wants to make sure young Canadians maintain their traditional strong interest in the game.

While Mr. Ritter is coy about other plans for making money out of the NHL's archival assets, beyond Internet video, he said the league recognizes that "we live in an on-demand world" and it's going to have to serve fans on a wide range of electronic platforms.

That means exploring delivery of NHL content to fans through laptops, BlackBerrys and cellphones as well as through web browsers and television, he said. "Our responsibility is to [deliver content] where they want, when they want and how they want it."

The league has already worked with Apple Computer Inc. to provide some playoff highlights on the iTunes system, and tried some score and statistics downloading with cellphone partners.
But it's not at all clear which platforms will end up being money-spinners for the NHL, Mr. Ritter said, resorting to a sports metaphor: "This is really throwing a lot of stuff at the net, and some of it's going to go in, but no one knows which."

He notes that the NHL already has "very robust" business in selling products -- such as DVDs, clothing and souvenirs -- off its website, so it is no stranger to ancillary business ventures.
But the existing NHL website has nowhere near the traffic of the most popular sports sites. According to data from Internet consulting firm ComScore, had about 1.6 million unique visitors in September, compared with 16.4 million at the National Football League's site, and 9.1 million at Major League Baseball's site.

Still, Rick Broadhead, an Internet consultant based in Toronto, said the NHL has enormous potential to make a lot of money from exploiting its video archives.

"They're sitting on a gold mine of content -- not just the [recent] games but all the classic games and highlights."

He thinks people will certainly be willing to pay, if the downloads are reasonably priced. That could generate a key stream of revenue at a time when the league is struggling to generate ticket sales and to keep its teams afloat, he added.

Choosing Google as a partner also made sense, Mr. Broadhead said, because "it already has the platform, the technology, the resources and the bandwidth" to handle distribution of the videos.
"It's a smart move," he said. "More and more, the computer screen is competing with the television screen."

Keith Ritter, NHL Interactive
Title: President
Age: 51
Born: Scarsdale, N.Y.

Education: Degrees in English, education and music.
Most important college course: Educational psychology, because it's about how people learn, and that's helpful in marketing and sales.

Career: Worked in marketing at ABC Sports from 1978 to 1997, when he moved to CBS Sports. Joined the NHL in 2001.

Management style: A facilitator who helps his staff meet the goals set by the NHL commissioner and board of governors.

Sports: Played hockey as a kid, but switched to basketball because he was tall.

Earliest memories: Watching New York Rangers games on black-and-white television on Saturday nights

Favourite NHL team: Diplomatically, he won't say. "We want all of our clubs to do well."

The Word is: Marketing

The Saginaw Spirit are the talk of Junior Hockey, thanks to late night television's Stephen Colbert.

Colbert has regularly featured the Spirit on his Colbert Report program, offering updates on the Michigan based OHL team and flogging their merchandise on air.

Making for the best marketing program a Junior team could ever hope for, Colbert who follows the Jon Stewart show nightly in both the US and Canada, has a world wide audience and frequently finds his antics taken to heart far and wide.

Recently he lobbied to have a bridge in Hungary named after him and the Colbert Nation responded with vote after vote. With that kind of power over his followers, it won't be long before the Saginaw Spirit becomes the home team of the Colbert Nation.

Colbert publicity reaping fruit for Saginaw hockey team
Associated Press

November 2, 2006
Posted to the Globe and Mail website

Saginaw, Mich. — Fake news has been very good to the Saginaw Spirit.

The junior hockey club has TV host Stephen Colbert to thank for the sudden interest in the team's jerseys and hats, which now are selling in places as far and wide as California, Ireland and Scotland.

"Our hat sales are up 25 per cent over last year, and Stephen Colbert has helped us in a big way by talking about us every week," Craig Goslin, the Spirit's managing partner, told The Saginaw News for a story this week.

When the team announced it was seeking a name for its new eagle mascot, Colbert — host of The Colbert Report on Comedy Central — began pleading on the air for the Spirit to name it after him.

The team obliged in September, and Steagle Colbeagle the Eagle was born. Colbert showed the mascot's debut on his program and has given weekly updates on the team's progress ever since.
Goslin said the team recently sent 25 jerseys to California — the largest single jersey order to date. He said a man recognized a Spirit pullover he was wearing in the Atlanta airport recently and told him he was enjoying hearing about the team on the show.

"I gave him my business card and told him how he could order some merchandise," Goslin said. "He said he definitely would."

And the team is pretty good, too. The Spirit is in first place in the West Division of the Ontario Hockey League.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Talk of the Town, Talk of the League

He’s played but eleven games so far in his NHL career, and already his natural ability is becoming the main buzz of the NHL.

Evgeni Malkin (see THE GOAL, that everyone was talking about here) is finding that the NHL is very much to his liking. Malkin who has been teamed up with Sidney Crosby has provided Pittsburgh hockey fans with some pretty impressive skill so far this young season.

Malkin, Crosby and Colby Amrstrong are seemingly of one mind at times on the ice with some of the nicest passing being showcased night after night. Minor hockey coaches would be well advised to tape the Pens whenever they make an appareance on TV, the young Pens are everything a coach could ask for in talent and determination. Even their mistakes are educational, as they recover from a miscue or bull headed play only to come back and make amends before any real damage can be done.

The TSN website had an interesting look at the latest phenom to cross the ocean and play in the NHL, judging by his start so far we’ll be hearing and seeing a lot more of Malkin and the Pens as the next few seasons progress.

Malkin the talk of the NHL
Evgeni Malkin
Associated Press
11/2/2006 5:27:28 PM

Six games, seven goals, four assists. Even Super Mario is impressed with Evgeni Malkin.
''It's quite amazing to see what he's doing the first few games of his career in the NHL,'' Lemieux said of the Pittsburgh Penguins rookie in an interview with The Canadian Press on Thursday. ''We knew he was a great talent but not to that extent.

''From what I've seen so far he's going to be a great player for many years to come,'' added Lemieux.

The outgoing Penguins owner knows a thing or two about lasting first impressions, scoring his first career goal on his first career shot on his first career shift on Oct. 11, 1984 - 20 months before Malkin was born.
Too bad, says Lemieux. He would have loved a chance to play on a line, in his prime, with Malkin and 19-year-old superstar Sidney Crosby.

''I wish it was 15 years earlier,'' said the 41-year-old Lemieux. ''It's quite amazing to see him play with Sid and see what they're doing now at their age.''

Pittsburgh coach Michel Therrien put Malkin, a natural centre, on Crosby's line with winger Colby Armstrong for an Oct. 24 game against New Jersey. It was instant chemistry.
And that despite the fact Crosby and Malkin can't even speak the same language.

''These guys, they see the ice so well,'' said Lemieux. ''That's why they're both world-class players. They don't need to speak on the ice. They see the ice, they see exactly what they want to do, they anticipate the play really well and they read off each other - which is a big key in being successful and being a great player. They both do that very well.''

It was in that Oct. 24 game that Malkin truly underscored his arrival, taking a long pass from Crosby and dipsy-doodling through the Devils' defence tandem of Brad Lukowich and Colin White before beating superstar goalie Martin Brodeur with a jaw-dropping, reach-around backhand move.

On hand that night in Pittsburgh was none other than Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.
''I'm a Stars and Pens season-ticket holder and have been going to hockey games since I was a kid,'' Cuban wrote Thursday in his blog. ''This was the first time I literally just stood, my jaw dropping in amazement and just shook my head. The most amazing goal I had ever seen.''
It was the same kind of reach-around move the right-handed Lemieux perfected during his hey day.

''The move he made on the defenceman coming across and having the presence to go on his backhand and pulling Marty out of the net, that was quite a move,'' said Lemieux. ''But I think the more impressive move was the way he beat that defenceman cutting across and waiting until the last second. It was quite amazing.''

Even Lukowich had to admit he was impressed, although he says part of the confusion on the play was a bad line change on his part.

''But he made really what should have been a nothing play into a spectacular play,'' Lukowich said from East Rutherford, N.J. ''He's going to be an exciting player to watch.''

The 20-year-old Malkin was named the NHL's rookie of the month for October despite appearing in only five games, his season delayed by a dislocated shoulder sustained in his first pre-season game at Moncton on Sept. 20.

''It is amazing that he can come into this league, miss most of training camp, and then step in in his first six games and score seven goals,'' Kings defenceman Rob Blake said from Los Angeles.
Blake saw it first-hand Wednesday night as Malkin scored a pair, including the overtime winner, in a 4-3 Penguins win over the Kings.

In doing so, Malkin became the first NHL player in 89 years with goals in each of his first six games.

''His first goal, the puck was on his stick for less than a second,'' said Blake. ''It was a great feed by Crosby and Malkin put the puck where he had to. He didn't hit our goalie in the chest, he put it in the corner where it was supposed to go. Those things you can't teach.''

Just like a fan, Blake caught himself wondering what Crosby and Malkin would do next.

''Sitting there on the bench last night, just watching the plays they were attempting to make, it was pretty nice.

''That pairing is very tough to defend,'' added Blake. ''They both have some need to score. They want the puck on their stick every time they're on the ice and they want to score. I don't know if you can teach that. It's a hunger they have. They had chance after chance.''

New York Islanders centre Alexei Yashin played with Malkin last year at the Olympics and also faced him Oct. 19 - when Malkin had a goal and an assist in his second career NHL game.

''I've known him for a few years now. He's a complete player,'' said Yashin. ''He's very skilled, he's a great skater, he can pass, he can score, he can shoot. And what's even better for him is that he's playing with Sidney Crosby. Those two guys, with their skill level and talent, can do a lot of damage.''

Added Isles head coach Ted Nolan: ''We played him his second game and you could tell that kid is going to be the real deal. Hockey fans are going to be treated watching him and Crosby do some magical things over the next few years.''

The Devils have already faced the duo twice this season.

''You can just tell with those two, they look at each other, they're excited to play with each other,'' said Lukowich. ''They're looking to set each other up and they also don't want to let each other down. They're going to be a tough duo to play against for quite some time.''
Veteran defenceman Adam Foote of the Columbus Blue Jackets faced Malkin on Oct. 21 and understood right away how hard it is to defend him.

''With guys like that, talented players who are big and strong on the puck, you have to take their percentages away,'' said Foote. ''If you overplay them, like when you overplayed Lemieux, you get in trouble. I think he's the real deal.''

So far fellow Russian star Alexander Ovechkin is looking good on the prediction he made while accepting the Calder Trophy last June in Vancouver.

''I think next year Evgeni will win rookie of the year,'' Ovechkin said at the time, adding that he was somewhat jealous of the 1-2 punch the Penguins would have.

''They're both unbelievable players and Pittsburgh is very lucky they have both Crosby and Malkin.''

Cuban echoed that though in his blog.

''You may or may not be an NHL fan, but if you are a fan of greatness in the making, watch the Pens,'' Cuban wrote. ''Crosby and Malkin? They will not only remind Pens and NHL fans of Mario and Jaromir Jagr, but could have them wondering whether watching them play together is what watching Mario and Gretzky playing together would have been like.''

He has a yen for Yashin

Fans of the Ottawa Senators won’t believe the type on the screen, but on Long Island head coach Ted Nolan is singing the praises of Alexei Yashin. The Islanders boss wants the hockey world to know that they may have Yashin all wrong, he wants to win, he’s playing hard and he’s the Islanders go to guy these days.

Nolan who has a bit of a reputation in the motivation game isn’t taking any credit for the resurrection of the Yashin work ethic; instead he says it’s all about minutes on the ice. The great players need the ice time to improve and in New York under Nolan, Yashin is finding the tap on the shoulder comes more often than it has in past years.

From the number one line, to the power play to penalty killing, Yashin who now logs over 19 minutes a game has scored 13 points in 11 games thus far in the season, firing off 53 shots in the course of his days at the office.

Long expected to have a breakout year and become a dominant player, Yashin isn’t yet at that point. But if he truly has found himself more involved in the game this year it can only benefit his career and help to erase some of the more contentious moments of his days in Ottawa.

For Nolan it’s a simple project, if he can get Yashin back on track the rest of the team will be able to feed off of his renewed interest in the game. The coach killer label may soon be gone from the enigmatic Russian, which in the short and long run is as good as things could get for Nolan, goals, assists and leadership for Yashin will be a most welcome bonus.

Nolan has Yashin going on Long Island
Canadian Press
Globe and Mail
November 1, 2006

Ted Nolan spent his years between NHL coaching jobs as a motivational speaker and it's apparently come in handy so far this season.

The New York Islanders head coach has lit a fire under centre Alexei Yashin.
"I'm not too sure what I've done, it's more so what he's done," Nolan said Wednesday, trying to deflect any credit.

"The one thing about Alexei is that what I've heard and what he is are totally different things," added Nolan, whose team is off to a surprising 5-4-2 start. "I've never met a classier individual in my life. I've met a lot of sports people but he's a top-notch, quality person."

That glowing assessment might surprise some.

But Yashin has always sparked strong feelings. There was acrimony in his departure from the Ottawa Senators in June 2001. And then shock at the subsequent US$87.5-million, 10-year contract he signed on Long Island.

Plus he's been hammered in media circles for underperforming as an Islander.

"I think it's part of professional sports," Yashin said Wednesday when asked about the criticism.

"If you look around, it happens to players in football and baseball, too. The biggest example here in New York is Alex Rodriguez with the Yankees. The media has to sell newspapers. The biggest news is when you find negative stuff on the stars. I have to live with that and it's been part of my life."

Yashin, in the sixth year of that contract which pays him $7.6 million this season, insists he's always given it his all despite what people perceive.

"I really try to give everything I have in every game," said Yashin, who had 66 points (28-38) in 82 games last season. "And I hope some fans appreciate that."

Nolan had heard all the stories about Yashin before taking the Isles' job in June. But if there's anyone willing to give somebody a break despite a bad reputation, it's Nolan, who twisted in the wind for nine years between NHL jobs after his departure from Buffalo.

"Alexei's got great passion," Nolan said from his Islanders office. "Maybe the rap that he's got in the past is unjust. . . .

"We're just going forward and he seems to love playing and we love watching him play. He's going to make a lot of heads turn this season."

Yashin, who turns 33 Sunday, leads the Islanders with 13 points (5-8) in 11 games and 53 shots on goal while playing more than 19 minutes a game, second among forwards on the team.

"The big thing that Ted does here is that he lets me play the penalty kill," said Yashin. "It helps me stay in the game. It keeps me ready, every next shift I'm ready to play instead of missing a big chunk of the game.

"I'm getting more consistent ice time."

That was a no-brainer, said Nolan.

"He's a great player and great players need minutes," said Nolan. "Alexei is on our No. 1 power play and our No. 1 line. He's even blocking shots. . . . He's skating well, he's making great plays, he's getting involved physically."

Nolan didn't waste time forging a relationship with his top centre.

"I went out for dinner with Alexei and our owner Charles Wang the very first night after I got hired this summer and we talked about the team, which direction we wanted to go into," said Nolan. "We started that rapport right away and we continued it. We went out for more meetings later. He got more comfortable with me and I got more comfortable with him.

"It has to do with communication, you have to communicate with people in order to find out what makes them go."

Said Yashin of his coach: "We have a very good connection."

Nolan surprised some around the hockey world by also keeping the 'C' on Yashin's jersey.

"You can be the greatest captain in the world but if you don't have people in the room to support you, it's difficult," said Nolan. "One of the things we've done here is bring in some people to support his leadership, I just don't think Alexei was surrounded with proper leadership in that room last year.

"When you look at guys like Chris Simon, Mike Sillinger and Brendan Witt, those guys have really added something. Alexei feels a little bit more comfortable with himself and now his play his indicative of that."