Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Taking a tour downeast

It’s an idea whose time may have come. A group in Nova Scotia has come up with the idea of creating a pre-season circuit for the NHL. Patterned after the Grapefruit League of Florida or the Cactus league of Arizona, NHL teams would set up camp in the small maritime communities and work out the off season stiffness while enjoying some good old down home hospitality.

The Southwest Shore Development Authority building on its success with the New York Islanders hopes to bring seven more NHL franchises to the Maritimes for next year, developing something they suggest could be called the Bluenose League.

It’s an idea that would no doubt catch on in the hockey mad Maritimes which boasts of a number of Junior A teams in the Quebec Junior League.

No doubt the idea is to have fans of the participating teams perhaps making a weekend trip to the East Coast to check up on the progress of their favourite NHL squad, which probably means that the target areas will be the Atlantic Northeast and Ontario.

The Halifax Chronicle-Herald had full details in its pages today. Which we provide below.

Southwest explores NHL exhibition League
Yarmouth Bureau
Halifax Chronicle Herald
August 30, 2006

YARMOUTH — Pro baseball has the Grapefruit League, Florida’s famous spring training destination, so why can’t the Maritimes have something similar for professional hockey? Perhaps something called the Bluenose League, the Southwest Shore Development Authority has suggested.

The New York Islanders will land their chartered jet in Yarmouth next month for the second year of a three-year fall training camp contract.

Now the people who worked to bring a very successful 2005 Islanders training camp to Yarmouth are working to put a league of their own together.

Under the plan, eight NHL teams would bring their fall camps to various Maritime towns or small cities, said Frank Anderson of the development authority.

The training camps would end in a pre-season exhibition series in Halifax over a few days.
"It’s not that far-fetched," Anderson said. "If Florida can do it with baseball, why can’t we do it with hockey?"

The development authority has hired former Halifax Mooseheads president Kevin Cameron to work with the agency to bring what Anderson calls the Bluenose League to fruition.

"We’re hoping for 2007 to have three of these teams on the ground," said Anderson.

That’s because three NHL teams have already been in touch with the development authority, and the Islanders would be back, making four teams.

Corporate sponsors are also a help and more are becoming interested in the concept.
"They see value with being associated with this," said Anderson.

Some of the Islanders fan base is also expected to begin coming to Yarmouth and ultimately Halifax, organizers hope.

"Their booster club has already contacted us," said Dave Whiting of the development authority. He works on the logistics of bringing the Islanders training camp together.

The Islanders loved training in Yarmouth last year, coming from a previous training centre in West Virginia, he said.

Anderson said he’s confident the Islanders will return to Yarmouth every September for many years to come.

The Southwest Shore Development Agency is also confident seven more NHL teams will establish annual training camps in other Maritime centres, he said.

Campbellton, Truro and Amherst are interested, said Anderson, and the list is growing.
The Islanders arrive in Yarmouth on Sept. 14 and will fly out of Halifax 10 days later.

Fifty-two players will make up the largest part of the 88-person contingent, said Whiting.
Both ice surfaces of the Yarmouth Mariners Centre will be used.

Morning practices from 8 a.m. to noon will be open to the public for $10 per person.

Tickets for intra-squad games Sept. 17 and 19, and games against St. F.X. and Acadia University squads Sept. 21 and 23, will sell for $25 each or all four for $75.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Robbing Russia!

An interesting story from the National Post this weekend, a different point of view of the great Russian migration to the NHL of the last few years.

Former Team Canada and NHL head coach Dave King, takes the side of his new employers and suggests that the NHL is robbing Russia of their best players and considers the current agreement between the IIHF and NHL to be a pittance. He points out that the money returning to Russia is split among all the teams in the system, thus his team ends up with 10,000 dollars for their development.

While the Russian teams are spending millions of dollars refurbishing their stadiums and organizations, the big name players end up leaving resulting in less interest in the sport and fewer folks attending the games.

It makes for an interesting look at the issue from the other side of the negotiating table, added by the knowledge of the way things are done on this side of the ocean.

NHL robbing Russia, according to coach King
Teams paid 'a pittance' for developing stars such as Malkin
George Johnson in Calgary, CanWest News Service

Published: Saturday, August 26, 2006

Dave King is in need of a couple of centremen. Size, jaw-dropping skill and oodles of charisma are basic requirements.

Any interested parties, kindly drop him a line at the Romazan Ice Sports Palace. Immediately.
"Our rosters are frozen on Sept. 5,'' sighs the former coach of the Calgary Flames. "We just lost two of our top guys at centre. That's a cavernous hole down the middle. Imagine San Jose losing Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton.

"So we're kind of scrambling right now. It's tough at this time of year to find players not committed to teams. You go to a supermarket here looking for fresh fruit, you'd better be there at 8 a.m.

"Well, we're looking for fruit at 4 in the afternoon.''

It certainly has been a testing couple of weeks for the King and his current employers, Metallurg Magnitogorsk.

First, phenom Evgeni Malkin ditched Metallurg in Finland at its training camp, inciting a firestorm of controversy and ill will that promises to marinate a long time.

Then, on Thursday, another standout player, Alexei Kaigorodov, left to join the Ottawa Senators.

"Kaigorodov leaving was a shock, more so than Malkin,'' says King. "I don't think our guys were bowled over when Malkie left, just disappointed. They understand his desire to play in the NHL. But there had been a real sense of excitement when he extended his contract with us. The players were like 'Yeah, Malkie's staying!' So when he did leave, it kind of took the air out of our balloon a bit.

"That day at customs, as everyone else was running around trying to find him, I just sat on the bus. I knew it wasn't a case of his being unable to find his boarding pass. I knew he was gone.''
The Russians are right to oppose the current IIHF-NHL agreement that will net their federation a paltry $200,000 for such a unique talent as Malkin.

"And that figure,'' King reminds you, "is split between all the teams here. Which means $10,000 to Metallurg Magnitogorsk. A pittance, when you consider the time and money spent developing him.''

King says the ramifications of young superstars leaving goes far beyond any fee paid out.
A few years ago, in an effort to revitalize Russian hockey domestically, the Super League asked all teams to either build new facilities of 7,500 seats or more, or refurbish existing arenas, upgrade concessions, etc.

"We've almost finished a brand new $40-million facility. We spent $4-million building a new dormitory for the players. When you're spending that kind of money trying to upgrade your facilities and enhance your product, it's difficult to lose a top guy. Those types of players help you win games and championships and drive revenue.

"Teams are trying to generate sponsorship, there's an effort being made to bring in sponsors to televise games on TV. When the star players keep leaving, that makes selling yourself awfully tough.''

The insults and accusations have been flying since Malkin performed his disappearing act, eventually resurfacing in L.A. (Newport Beach sure beats the hell out of Magnitogorsk!)

King won't be drawn into that sort of shrill politicking. It isn't his style. But there's no mistaking his opinion that the current agreement has to be changed.

Quite frankly, the NHL has come across in this whole messy situation as heavy-handed, arrogant bully-boys, using their prestige and financial resources to pillage product. A player under contract, no less.

A ridiculous Russian law that allows any worker to void a contract by giving two weeks notice may make their coup legally valid, but it nonetheless remains morally bankrupt.

"I'd imagine if the shoe were on the other foot, and we or some other league were throwing big money to lure the NHL top young players away, they wouldn't be very happy about it, either,'' says King.

According to King, the eventual departure of top Russian talent is taken for granted. The money and the bright lights of the NHL are simply too tempting. But, he says, the objection is to players being taken at 18, 19 or 20. Or being scooped up, then dropped in the American Hockey League to fill out rosters when they, and the Russian teams, would be better served by them staying put.

"Every young Russian player enjoys playing in the Super League, but they dream of playing in the NHL. That dream is very much alive here. Nobody will argue that. When a player like Kaigorodov leaves, someone who's played here for five years, no one begrudges him his chance. In fact, once he made his feelings known to us, our team said he was right to leave for Ottawa.
"But at 18 or 19 ...''

When soccer prodigy Robinho moved from his home country Brazil, and his Santos club team, to superpower Real Madrid, the Spaniards forked over 30 million euros ($42-million).
Comparing the revenues and worldwide popularity of hockey to soccer is unfair, of course, but it's pretty easy to understand why the Russians feel cheated.

"The NHL has to find a way to create a win-win situation,'' cautions King. "Right now, it's win-lose. All one way.

"The development of players in European leagues is in their best interests, too. Unless the leagues here are healthy financially and competitively, that development will be compromised.

"A win-lose situation can only go on for so long.

"Then it becomes lose-lose.''

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Winter sports debate in Toronto

One assumes that with training camp still off a bit that the key board pounders for the Toronto newspapers have exhausted all possible angles of off season hockey and basketball. So what do you do when you hit the wall, you try to start a sports fan brawl.

The Toronto Sun’s hockey and basketball writers have squared off to stake a claim for their sport, this after The Sun’s Al Strachan wrote an article suggesting that the Maple Leafs would be much better off (as would the Southern Ontario hockey fan) if only the folks at MLSE would unload that dinosaur of a basketball team.

Strachan suggests that the Leafs are being weighed down by NBA salaries, a poor draw and poor ice due to the need to lay down the basketball floor at least 41 times a year.

His argument was countered by Steve Buffery, who pooh poohed the idea that the Purplish b-ballers were the cause for all that ails the Leaf Nation. Buffery reminded Strachan that MLSE pulls in a fair hunk of change from the NBA’s various television contracts, a far more rewarding deal than that which the Leafs will receive from the OLN package that the NHL has in the USA, and don’t even get him started on the NBC plan of purchasing time to show hockey.

It makes for a lively point/counter point in the dog days of summer which have seen the Blue Jays fall on their sword before the Labour Day weekend, leaving the Toronto sports fan with only the Argos to tide them over until the hockey pucks and roundballs begin to show up at the Air Canada Centre.

You can view both sides of the debate and see what’s getting all of Toronto excited in that hot Southern Ontario summer sun.

Dumping Raps frees up cash for Leafs
Al Strachan
The Toronto Sun
August 25, 2006

The Maple Leafs never tire of telling us about the reverence with which they regard their fans.

They insist their priority is to win a championship "for our fans" and they take pride -- as they should -- in the work that their players do for the community.

As Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment chairman Larry Tanenbaum said last year, "We are the No. 1 franchise in the NHL. As far as I'm concerned, we will always continue to be the No. 1 franchise in the NHL."

If that is the case, it is the fans who deserve the credit. Without the fans, the Leafs would be nothing more than the Florida Panthers, a team with a nattily attired coach playing in a mostly empty building.

It is the Leafs fans who pay the freight. They're the ones who buy the sweaters and all the other regalia. They're the ones who purchase the subscriptions to Leafs-TV. They're the ones who shell out the exorbitant prices to see their heroes in the flesh.

So isn't it about time the Leafs did something to reward those fans? And wouldn't that be doubly true if MLSEL were to make a profit in the process?

The answer is simple.

Dump that money-losing aggregation known as the Toronto Raptors.

For starters, the Leafs could lower their ticket prices by about 10% because they would no longer have to cover the Raptors' annual losses.

Furthermore, the United States is full of self-centred idiots with money. It is a virtual certainty that someone with deep pockets and a lust for media attention would buy the team and move it to his home town.

That would put at least another $200 million into the MLSE coffers, enough to satisfy the corporation's lust for profit yet keep Leafs' tickets at a reasonable price for years to come.

And think how happy hockey fans would be. Everyone who whined during the National Hockey League lockout that no one should earn a million dollars a year for playing a sport can wave goodbye to the people who truly are overpaid.

Curiously enough, while hockey fans were complaining about million-dollar players, the Raptors were coughing up $12 million a year for Jalen Rose. And no one spoke out.

The Raptors spend more on defunct coaches and acquisitions who never played a minute than the Leafs have ever paid a player in their history.

And to make it worse, none of that money stays in Canada. Most hockey players live in Canada and pay taxes here. The basketball players get out of the country as fast as they can and pay American taxes.

On the hockey side, the ice in the Air Canada Centre, notorious throughout the league, could be improved because it wouldn't have to be covered at least 41 times a year to convert the building to a basketball facility.

(The use of "at least" in the above paragraph refers only to the addition of pre-season games to the schedule. It would be wrong to interpret it as an inference that the Raptors will ever make the playoffs.)

And think of the radio air time that could be returned to hockey fans.
Instead of listening to a bunch of American hosts drone on about things like small forwards (apparently anyone under eight feet), zone presses and other esoteria, we could listen to hockey talk like the rest of the country.

Once you're outside the Toronto environs, no one cares about basketball.
In fact, other than radio hosts, there aren't that many people in Toronto who care. The building is usually half-empty, even though tickets are so easily acquired they are given away with pizza.

The people of Vancouver had the good sense to ignore their team to the point that it went somewhere else.

If the people of Toronto were to follow that course of action, they'd be doing a favour to Leafs fans, hockey fans and even Canadian taxpayers.

It's a slam dunk, so to speak.

Selling Raptors won’t help Leafs
Steve Buffery
Toronto Sun
August 25, 2006

Al, my good friend, you make me laugh.

You're not the first angry hockey guy to argue the Raptors are dragging down the Maple Leafs.

Your premise, however, that the folks at MLSEL would voluntarily cut the cost of hockey tickets if they sold the Raptors is, well, almost too funny for words.

Al, buddy, pal ... have you seen what they charge for Leafs tickets these days? Or, for that matter, a hot dog at the Air Canada Centre? These are people who care about putting money back in the pockets of hockey fans?

I digress.

From his bunker somewhere in beautiful New Brunswick, our esteemed hockey columnist Al Strachan argues that by selling the Raptors, MLSEL would be doing Leafs fans a big favour. His argument is that the Raptors are losing money and that drags down the Leafs.


Al, you know this.

The teams operate as two separate businesses and the selling of the Raptors would not affect the financial viability of the Leafs in any way. As it is private operation, MLSEL does not release specifics on how much, if any, money the Raps lose. But consider this -- the NBA signed a $4.6 billion US TV deal in 2002, worth approximately $765 million annually. The Raps receive a lot more money from TV than the Leafs ever will. What does each NHL team receive from that OLN package? A box of Sudafed and $37? Or has it reached the point where the NHL has to pay TV to televise their games?

Another reason Al believes it's a good idea to get rid of the Raptors is that the ice is poor because they have to put in the floor for at least 41 basketball games a year at the ACC.
True, I suppose.

But Al, what do you tell the hundreds of workers at the ACC: "Sorry gang, in the name of better ice, we're getting rid of the Raptors, so count on working 41 fewer nights a year. But hey, Darcy Tucker's happy."

Al says the ACC usually is half-empty for Raps games. I guess that means the ACC holds 35,000 people. The Raptors averaged 17,057 fans last season, which is pretty good for a team that hasn't made the playoffs in four seasons.

The Raps have cracked the top 10 in NBA attendance in eight of 11 seasons.
As for giving back radio time to hockey fans? Al, I assure you, the Leafs are well represented on the airwaves in this city.

Didn't you catch those updates on Nik Antropov's tennis game? Wasn't that fantastic?
And Leafs Lunch. I mean, wow. Not only did we get to rehash the Hal Gill signing a million times, we get hourly reports from the Bill Watters holiday compound in fabulous Orillia.
"Looks like Wilber's barbecuing chicken breasts this afternoon. Nice goin' Bill."

No one's arguing the Leafs don't outsell the Raptors.

But so what?

Every city has its most popular team. In Toronto, it's the Leafs. The Raptors, however, have a very loyal fan base. And unlike Leafs fans, they don't sip martinis and nibble on sushi all night and clap when the scoreboard tells them to.

However, Al is right about some of the ridiculous signings the Raptors' braintrust have pulled off over the years. But a dopey general manager is no excuse to sell a franchise.

I hate to break this to you Al, but the 1960s are over. The next time you're back in Toronto, take a look around.

This ain't the Toronto I grew up in. (I was going to say the Toronto you grew up in, but you're a Windsor boy).

Many -- I would say most -- new Canadians relate to basketball more than hockey. You may not like it, but there it is.

Al, this rebuttal comes from a guy who loves hockey, a guy who lost his front teeth, broke two shoulders and suffered numerous other ailments playing the game we love.

But it's time to take give your hockey helmet a shake.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Minor hockey once again to find itself under a micro-scope

It’s a hockey horror story with seemingly no hope for a happy ending. Today’s announcement that Dave Frost is facing numerous charges in an Ontario court; one of sexual assault and twelve of exploitation will send shivers though minor hockey associations across the country. The headlines today just the latest twist in a decidedly unseemly story.

The details of his alleged misbehavior of course are a closely guarded Crown secret, some will be made clear on Wednesday when he faces a judge in Napanee, Ontario, a court date will be set and the next chapter in the controversial life Dave Frost will begin.

But as the justice system in Ontario prepares its case and seeks punishment for what will no doubt be categorized as heinous offences, the old stories of Frost’s past will once again come to the forefront.

The former minor hockey coach and player agent most recently made headlines as the target of a murder for hire plan by a former client, Mike Danton, a client that looked to Frost as a father figure, turning his back on his family and becoming so despondent that he sought to have someone kill Frost.

Then as with everything that seems to revolve around Frost, things are never quite as they seem. Danton, who used to be known as Mike Jefferson had a falling out with his family while playing for Frost in Mississauga. The family as would be expected has blamed Frost for the change in their son’s demeanor and his abandonment of his blood relations.

Yet as the Ottawa Citizen has shown in a published story today, the Jefferson family homestead may not have been quite as nurturing as one would like or as they might wish to suggest. It’s a fascinating tale though in a sad way, one which does not paint the culture of minor hockey well, and which perhaps sets the tone for how this one family unit became such an unraveled mess.

Danton for his part provided a 36 page letter to the paper, outlining his memories of his family life and they make for depressing reading, Frost it seems in Danton’s mind filled a void that his blood family couldn’t provide. Yet, in the end, Danton wished for Frost to be dead, he obviously was a troubled young man, who nobody it seems was really looking out for. Instead his eventual celebrity as an NHL player seemed to be more of a meal ticket for far too many people.

Currently serving a 7 ½ year sentence in an American jail for his murderous plot, Danton is attempting to be transferred to a Canadian prison, where a parole possibility would kick in and remove him from incarceration. Because of that, he was vague in his correspondence with the Citizen about his dealings with Frost.

Key portions of their time together have been kept unrecorded, providing gaps that are hard to piece together and leaving far more questions than providing answers as to what went through his head to wish to have his agent and surrogate father killed.

With today’s charges against Frost, there will be many who will retrace his steps over his many years of involvement in hockey, both minor and professional. His contacts reach deep into the NHL stratosphere, from a close friendship with Bob Goodenow to marrying the daughter of a famous NHL referee, Frost has been a part of many levels of the game. His connections no doubt provided him with an entry into the lives of many a young hockey player and their families.

Surely there must have been warning signs or concerns over the many years. So one has to wonder just what the organizations he had business with during his years were doing in the way of background checking and investigation for the good of the game.

Results tend to gloss over concerns, and Frost did have results with his minor hockey teams and in preparing players for an NHL career. But one has to wonder at what ultimate cost.

As the charges play out in an Ontario court room over the next months, perhaps some questions should be asked of those in authority wherever Mr. Frost traveled. There seems to be far too many red flags that have been run up the pole over the years, flags that were either ignored or not taken as seriously as they should have been. Sure he was banned from some associations and suspended by others, but somehow he managed to keep on finding ways to stay involved in the game, and you have to wonder how?

Far too many lives seem to have been negatively impacted over the years not just in this story but in many others, hockey as a sport needs to take a close look at how the culture of the sport in this country is getting out of control. It seems that the image of the sport was always of more concern than those that were playing the games and became victims because of it.

The television commercials and talking heads of the media always tell us it’s supposed to be about the kids. But by reading the stories of the twists and turns with this one story, it seems that nobody, not one person was thinking about the kids.

And that’s a criminal shame.

Monday, August 21, 2006

You can do it, we can help

They probably won’t be shopping at the Home Depot themselves, but the Calgary Flames are looking at a little renovation project at the Calgary Saddledome, and then again maybe they’ll just build new.

The endless question of any young family on its way up the success chain has hit the Stampede city, as the Flames try to figure out what is best for their franchise.

The cost of a new building is expected to be around 250 million dollars, so if the reno budget comes even close to that number then a new building is probably on the horizon for Calgary’s already overworked construction industry.

In an a new NHL era where the grand old barns have for the most part all been torn down and replaced, the shiny new structure always seems to win out over the quaint serviceable building of days gone by.

The Saddledome which has served the city of Calgary well for the last twenty-two years is starting to show its age a bit and is lacking in some of the amenities that the other newer rinks feature these days. The main missing ingredient seems to be those lucrative executive box suites, where the monied class can enjoy their matches without having to mix with the rough and tumble Flamehead.

That has more than few current Flames ticket holders worried that they’ll be punted to a far reach of the building when the renovations are complete. The last reno job in 95 sent a number of Flames fans in search of the nose bleed sections as club seats and suites were added at that time. Any further talk of expanding the fancy seats sends the regular fan in quest of the mountain climbing gear.

Though if they keep adding the executive seats and fancy suites the average fan won’t have to bother looking for that gear, instead they’ll be looking for the clicker to watch the games on television like the rest of the working stiffs.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

My Boy’s gonna play in the big leagues

But before he (or she) gets there, we’d best fix up the rink a bit.

Back in May, Hockey Canada made some policy decisions about Minor hockey that will change the way the game is played and how your local rink might look. From a change to the way the games are called by officials (much more like the NHL of today) to the actual dimensions of your hometown rink, the game is about to look a lot different than just a year ago.

These are changes that wil be of concern across the country as small and large associations alike strive to meet the new standards of Hockey Canada, some cities will be more able to achieve them more quickly than others. Costs will be harder on some than they are on others and as for the on ice product, like the pros of last year, there will be a period of confusion on the ice while the players and officials adjust to the new regulations in effect.

Below is how one small Canadian city is planning on tackling the issue and how those changes will affect the game there. It's probably much the same wherever a reader of HockeyNation may live, so you can get some idea what your local association may be facing in the coming year.

The Daily News had local reaction to the mandated changes in two stories in yesterday’s paper. Focusing on how changes in the NHL have had an impact on local hockey associations’ right across Canada, including the Prince Rupert Minor Hockey Association.

And with change apparently comes expense. The necessary modification in rink dimensions at the Jim Ciccone Civic Centre will cost more than 3,000 dollars, as room on the ice is created behind the net to increase the flow of play, just as the NHL has done. Of course NHL teams and owners probably can afford the modifications a little easier than the small rinks across the nation, but such is the cost of feeding the dreams and ambitions of those looking to make it to the big leagues.

While the city works on changing the dimensions of the rink, coaches will begin the process of changing the mindset of hockey players, suddenly thrown into a whole new way of playing the game. Those changes will provide some challenges for local players, which are explained in the two articles below.

Sing along with Tom, while you catch up on all the changes to the local rink.

By Patrick Witwicki
The Prince Rupert Daily News
Friday, August 18, 2006
Pages One and Six

The new look NHL will now be seen in minor hockey rinks from coast to coast. And in Prince Rupert, the change in rink dimensions is costing the Jim Ciccone Civic Centre more than $3,000.

Canadian Hockey (CHA) shortly after the conclusion of the 2005-06 NHL season , was quick to send out memos to every single hockey rink in Canada, stating that they intended to follow what they considered was a successful module in the NHL.

“There was no certainly no warning,” said Eric Grossman, manager of recreational service for the civic centre. “This is a little more expensive, because we had to do some welding. Fortunately, we were able to do this.”

The dimensions of the hockey rink have changed in this fashion – the goal lines were moved back closer to the boards, while the blue lines were moved outward into the neutral zone, (see diagram here, as it appeared on page six of the story) making the attacking zones larger in an effort to provide more scoring.

And even though the CHA stated that no penalties would be issued if rinks didn’t comply immediately, there is a concern that provincial associations like the British Columbia Amateur Hockey Association (BCAHA) may not allow individual associations to host provincial or national tournaments in the future if they don’t meet those guidelines, although that hasn’t been made official for the upcoming hockey season.

“It was the recommendation of Hockey Canada that all arenas do make these changes, however, we realize that this isn’t an overnight process,” said Brad Pascall, director of communications for the CHA.

Jerry Kurka, a Prince Rupert minor hockey coach, but also a BCAHA Coaching Committee Director for the Northwest region, said that it is expected that most rinks in B. C. will comply with the guidelines set out by the CHA.

“They’ve gone ahead with it,” he said. “All the minor hockey associations have been given notice to change the lines.”

However, specifically with the Jim Ciccone Arena, the new alignment of the blue lines will force hockey teams to adjust how they make line changes.

“The exit doors with the players’ boxes, one of the doors now happens to be on the inside of the blue line,” said Grossman.

“So players changing lines will now be offside.”

Bruce Tessier, second vice president for Prince Rupert minor hockey and a coach and referee for the association was called in to work alongside Grossman to make the transition more smooth.

“I’ve been working with the civic centre for the past two months,” he said.

“We put the brackets in so we can adjust the blue and goal lines. Our lines have been out of sync for years.”

Tessier pointed out that the alignment of the goal lines in the arena weren’t even in alignment with the previous guidelines, so making the change made sense, even though it was an expense that the Jim Ciccone Arena wasn’t expecting.

“Your attacking zones are another eight feet out,” he said. “It was a job and a half for the civic centre to work with it. This is going to cost a lot of money.”

Grossman added: “A few years ago we had to make some changes. In 1988, we did some reconstruction and the boards were custom-made.”

Grossman also said that Prince Rupert had one advantage over other associations, in that the ice was out, so it was easier to make adjustments to the alignment, but other associations may not have that luxury.

“Some arenas may find it too difficult,” he said. “Most arenas are custom-made.”

The thought-process behind the change is to open up the game, and make it more exciting. The combination of the new dimensions and calling the rules like the NHL does (see related story below) will provide more excitement and scoring, said Pascall.

“Prior to our board passing this, we had three or four meetings with the Canadian Recreation Council (all arena managers in Canada) and discussed the pros and cons to make it happen,” he said. “It was all for the betterment of the game in the eyes of our board.

“We are confident that these changes are for the betterment of the game, and we do not see a change in the upcoming years.”

By Patrick Witwicki
The Prince Rupert Daily News
Friday, August 18, 2006
Page Six

It could be a chaotic year for all minor hockey associations all over B. C.

That’s because after receiving notice from Canadian Hockey (CHA) that all levels of hockey will now be expected to enforce the game similarly t how it was called at the NHL level, the British Columbia Amateur Hockey Association has endorsed the idea, and coachers, players and officials alike will have to make the proper adjustment.

Jerry Kurka, who has been involved in Prince Rupert minor hockey for years, and who is also a BCAHA coaching director for the Northwest region, is well aware how tough the transition might be.

“The BCAHA is adopting those same rules,” he said. “Most of BCAHA will be talking to all of the coaches.

“The only way this is going to work and not make a travesty of the game is if we teach the kids how to check properly. Players are so used to certain habits, and hockey is repetitive … once you’re used to doing something a certain way, it’s tough to change.”

The main emphasis on the way the rules are called details specifically with obstruction, like hooking and tripping. In the past, only the most serious infractions were called, while players, for the most part, were allowed to get away with it.

But now, any time a player uses his stick or free arm to impede a player’s progress, that player will be assessed a penalty.

While the new rules will give forwards more of an advantage, it’s the defencemen who will endure the most difficult transition. Travis Lorette is entering his second year of midget A hockey, and he isn’t alone in sharing his displeasure about the new rules.

”Personally, I don’t think it’s necessary,” he said. “I prefer the old style. I wouldn’t really want to play that way.”

Bruce Tessier, who was an assistant coach with the midget A team last season, but is also a referee for minor hockey, is expecting a very difficult season for everybody, pointing out that at least in the NHL, they do have the luxury of having two referees on the ice who can call penalties, whereas minor hockey only has one.

“I don’t know if we’re going to the bad or the good side,” he said. “It’s going to be tough on officials, and it’s going to be a lot more difficult to call. “It’s gone to European style hockey.”

Tessier is also concerned that the way a hockey game is called will be different in every association. For example, while Rupert officials may be strict in enforcing the rules, it’s quite possible that other Skeena Valley Associations may not.

“Every region’s different,” he said. “and now the players with the midget team, who are used to using a little bit of stick, won’t be able to.

“This is going to be a fun year.”

For their part, the CHA is well aware that the transition period could be difficult, and are already working on a strategy to help coaches, players, and officials alike.

“We have enhanced our printed materials for key officiating and coaching course conductors in Canada,” said Brad Pascall, director of communications for the CHA.

“We will also be posting enhanced information and videos within our website (www.canadahockey.ca), focusing on education of the new rule emphasis.

But the key to succeeding in these initiatives will lie heavily on the shoulders of coaches, said Kurka.

“If the coaches don’t get proactive, it’s not going to work,” he said. “I committed to making it mandatory that myself and the instructors meet with all the coaches.”

That said, the most difficult transition will occur with the players and officials themselves, he said.

“Referees are mandated to call everything,” said Kurka. “Now, they’re taking judgment away from them, You’re going to have some referees who buck the system.”

But Lorette is convinced that the players will have the toughest time adjusting to the new rules.

“It’s going to force the players to be more mobile,” he said. “In front of the net, you can’t do anything about it. There were some good battles in the past.

“Now, you basically can put your body in front, and that’s it. It’s basically keep your hands to yourself.”

Still, the hope is that the new rules will open up the game, and provide more scoring. In addition, players in the past that were considered “too small” by junior hockey standards will now have every opportunity to use their skill.

”It’s all about speed,” said Lorette.

“It definitely will let the forwards skate more. And tit’s definitely going to change my game a bit.
“Defence will have to be more mobile. The size of the D was increasing, but now they might get smaller.”

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Mysterious Mr. Malkin

With Evgeni Malkin joining something like an NHL witness protection plan, we at HockeyNation felt it might be worthwhile to track all of the press the young Russian star has accumulated in the last four days.

While we wait for Malkin to surface, we offer up a plethora of publicity for the young Evgeni.

USA TODAY: Coach: Malkin getting out of Russian contract
GLOBE AND MAIL: No Malkin sightings yet as agents remain tight lipped.
OTTAWA CITIZEN: Cloak and Dagger hockey
SIBERIAN NEWS: NHL respects Russian hockey player’s act
PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE REVIEW: Gonchar believes Malkin was pressured
THE HOCKEY NEWS: The Saga continues
THE OTTAWA SUN: Missing Malkin mystery deepens
SIBERIAN NEWS: Russian player escaped to NHL secretly
REGNUM: Russian hockey star fled from his team in Helsinki
MOSNEWS: Russians vow to sue Penguins over Malkin
FOXSPORTS: Malkins whereabouts unknown
VANCOUVER SUN: Malkin vanishes prompting lawsuit
SASKATOON STAR-PHOENIX: Malkin story sounds familiar
PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE REVIEW: Agent: Malkin safe, won't reveal whereabouts
SPORTSNET.CA: King: Malkin joining Ovechkin

я увольнение

Evgeni Malkin says he’s not coming home, as he sends his regrets and resignation to Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the Russian Super League.

The Russian phenom is expected to sign with the Pittsburgh Penguins and begin his NHL career. Russian law apparently allows you to leave your employer within two weeks of written notice, so with Malkin having sent his regards by fax, somewhere within the next fourteen days one assumes the young Russian will surface.

In something akin to a Le Carre novel, the young hockey player disappeared from his Russian team’s training camp in Finland and hasn’t bee seen since.

Somewhat similar to those wild days of the Stastny’s cloak and dagger defections, Malkin has been rumoured to be anywhere from Eastern Canada to the Pittsburgh suburbs.

Malkin is not the only Russian player to say farewell by fax or letter this summer, draft picks Alexei Mikhnov (Edmonton Oilers) and Andrei Taratukhin (Calgary Flames) also sent such letters to the Yaroslavl Lokomotiv team of the Russian Super League this summer in order to join their NHL teams.

A situation which is stirring some serious feelings of distrust between the Russian hockey federation and the NHL. Perhaps leading to a new cold war in relations between the two sides.

The Canoe website had this report from Associated Press on all the intrigue, while the Toronto Star provided this look into the situation.

Malkin files resignation
Bykov: We live in a free country

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Evgeni Malkin has filed a letter of resignation with his Russian Super League team, a procedural move necessary for the star forward to sign with the Pittsburgh Penguins and begin his NHL career.

Malkin remained hidden Wednesday, four days after abruptly leaving the Metallurg Magnitogorsk team on Saturday after it arrived for training camp in Helsinki, Finland.

The 20-year-old Malkin, arguably the top player in the world not currently in the NHL, is believed to have flown to Canada and remained there since, with no indication he has arrived in Pittsburgh for the start of the Penguins' training camp in three weeks.

Metallurg coach Dave King, the former Columbus Blue Jackets coach, told a Toronto all-sports radio station the team had received a fax from Malkin resigning. Russian law permits an employee - even an athlete under contract - to leave his job by giving two weeks' written notice.

Described by Metallurg's general director as a "Russian treasure," Malkin has stayed out of sight since leaving the team. But his North American agents, J.P. Barry and Pat Brisson of CAA Sports, said he was safe, though they would not say where he is.

"J.P. and I have been in constant touch with Evgeni, as we would do with any player, but especially with Evgeni," Brisson said Wednesday.

He would not speculate when Malkin might emerge.

Malkin, who starred for Russia's Olympic team in the Turin Olympics in February, recently agreed to stay with Metallurg for one more season. His previous contract was through 2008.

Malkin's acquaintances have suggested he was under considerable pressure and duress to agree to the deal, and it was reported in Russia the renegotiated contract wasn't completed until a 3 a.m. bargaining session.

The NHL has not publicly stated its support for Malkin and his desire to play in the league, but deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the league believes any player should have the right to choose where he wants to play as long as he is legally free to do so.

Malkin isn't the only Russian player invoking the letter of resignation as a way to leave a team and play in the NHL. Draft picks Alexei Mikhnov (Edmonton Oilers) and Andrei Taratukhin (Calgary Flames) also sent such letters to the Yaroslavl Lokomotiv team of the Russian Super League this summer in order to join their NHL teams.

Metallurg general director Gennady Velichkin has rebuked Malkin for leaving and is threatening to sue the Penguins if they sign him. His hardline stance is not shared by Russian national team coach Slava Bykov, who said Malkin was welcome to join the national team at any time.

"I think you can't blame him until you know what exactly happened when he was signing the contract," Bykov told Moscow's Sport-Express Daily newspaper. "There is only one thing I can't understand with this story with Malkin. We live in a free and democratic country, and anybody could leave it at any moment."

Malkin must agree to a contract with Pittsburgh before training camp, but the deal likely will be concluded with minimal negotiating. The NHL labour agreement established an entry-level salary of $984,200 US, and Malkin will sign a contract identical to that signed by Washington Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin. Ovechkin was the No. 1 pick in the 2004 draft, and Malkin was No. 2.

Ovechkin's three-year deal included $850,000 in Schedule A bonuses and $2 million in Schedule B bonuses. The bonuses include those for games played, finishing in the top 10 in goals, assists and points and winning a major award such the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year. Ovechkin won that award last season.

***Translation please*** for those dedicated to finishing their articles, я увольнение is basically I quit in Russian, thanks for playing along!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Nolan sets sights on Phoenix for his return to the NHL

Owen Nolan at the 1997 All Star Game

Sportsnet, TSN and all the websites between are hot on the story of Owen Nolan’s return to the NHL. The winger apparently has settled an outstanding grievance with the Toronto Maple Leafs and freed himself up to play this season.

Desert bound, Nolan will join up with Wayne Gretzky’s crew of past Olympian and World Cup participants.

Stating that he still has a passion for the game, Nolan went through a number of tests to show Coyote management that he is still capable of playing the game at a high level.

For those looking to circle a date on their Hockey Night in Canada calendar, don’t bother. The Coyotes and Leafs won’t meet up unless they play in a Stanley Cup final. This is as they say most doubtful thing, even for the most optimistic of Leaf or Coyote fans.

But for hockey fans, especially those of an Irish persuasion just having the boyo of Belfast back in the game, should make for an exciting season.

Nolan settles & moves on
August 15, 2006

Sportsnet.ca -- The Phoenix Coyotes agreed to terms with Owen Nolan on a one-year contract, Sportsnet has learned, following extensive testing to the forward's health.

Before agreeing to make Phoenix his next destination, Nolan settled his much-publicized grievance with the last team to employ his services: the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Sportsnet has learned the 34-year-old winger settled the $12.1-million grievance on Tuesday ($6.5 million based on Leafs locking out an injured player, remaining $5.6 million based on his player option in 2005/06). However, under the details of the ruling, no details will be disclosed due to a strict confidentiality pact between the two parties.

Nolan told Sportsnet he is "happy and relieved" to put the experience behind him and looks forward to his future with the Coyotes.

After undergoing several MRIs and on-ice testing, the former all-star winger and Canadian Olympic Gold medalist convinced Coyotes management that he still has the passion to continue his career and play at a high level again.

"I am very excited about resuming my career with the Phoenix Coyotes," Nolan said. "The doctors cleared me weeks ago, and physically I have never felt better."

Nolan's summer training regime -- which included two on-ice sessions a day -- has dropped Nolan's weight down to 205-lbs and, more importantly, has left the winger's body pain free.

Nolan's representatives were seeking a deal in the $2-million range. If Nolan has the ability to stay healthy, there's little doubt the 34-year old will add more toughness and scoring to head coach Wayne Gretzky's lineup.

The first overall pick of the Quebec Nordiques in the 1990 NHL Entry Draft, Nolan last played in 2003-04 with the Leafs. The club did not pick up his $5.6-million contract option for the following season, claiming that the forward suffered an injury to his right knee that was not hockey-related. However, the five-time All-Star believes Toronto misdiagnosed the injuries, which originally occurred in April 2004 and were surgically repaired on July 26.

Nolan has recorded 735 points (349 goals, 386 assists) in 915 career games. He has reached the 20-goal plateau nine times during his 14-year career, but numerous injury problems have not allowed the Belfast, Ireland native to play a full 82-game season in the NHL.

***Update***-Nolan signed a one year deal with Phoenix on Wednesday morning, terms of the deal were not released. The official Phoneix Coyotes press release can be found here.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Malkin makes a few moves!

What Penguin dreams are made of.

He shoots, He scores, He's disappeared!

It's international intrigue time again in the hockey world as Russian wunderkid, Evgeni Malkin has apparently gone missing from his Russian club teams training camp in Finland. Russian officials say that Malkin left the training camp of Metallurg Magnitogorsk and took his belongings and passport with him, not the signs of someone planning on coming back from a brief walk in the park!

This comes on the heels of word this week that he was planning on leaving his club team in Russia, as he would give his two weeks notice.

Russian hockey officials may wish to stake out the Pittsburgh airport as perhaps the young Russian star is heading for the NHL and his place with the Pittsburgh Penguins who hold his rights.

Watching the video clips above, you can see why so many are interested in having young Mr. Malkin pull on the blades for them.

It will be quite interesting to see where he surfaces in the next few days, not to mention the impact that his departure, mysterious as it is, will have on the already tense relations between the Russian Ice Hockey Federation and the NHL.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

They're walkin'

Al Strachan from Canoe has an interesting story about a suddenly increasing strategy of NHL teams, the management walkaway after an arbitration decision.

With a salary cap in place on the NHL franchises, GM's are begining to ponder just who is worth trying to sign and who may be worth just cutting loose, should an arbitration decision not go their way. The plan then is to save the cap money for a more long term option, building the team through a mix of trades and free agency.

But if Strachan's observations are correct, that long term option will most likely not include a lot of thought in the amateur draft.

That once bible story of building a hockey team through intelligent drafting may soon be a thing of the past.

It makes for interesting reading.

Changing times in the NHL
Al Strachan
Canoe website
August 11, 2006

Over most of the National Hockey League's history, there were two walkaways.
Now, within a three-day span, there have been two more.

It's a sign not only of the changing times under the new collective bargaining agreement, but also an indication that no matter what some of the pundits try to assert, it's almost impossible to develop a team by drafting well and developing your own players.

J.P. Dumont was the most recent to be cut loose when the Buffalo Sabres walked away from his $2.9-million US arbitration award on Tuesday.

Three days earlier, the Boston Bruins exercised their walkaway rights and released David Tanabe after an arbitrator awarded him a one-year, $1.275-million contract.

As a result, both Dumont and Tanabe are unconditional free agents, available to any team that wants to sign them.

The Bruins, curiously enough, have been involved in three walkaways, both of the earlier ones involving former Maple Leafs' Bryan Berard and the ever-lovable Dmitri Khristich.

In those cases, it was simply a matter of the terminally cheap Bruins trying to cut costs. And to a degree, the Tanabe case is cost-cutting as well, but this time, there is a degree of justification and there's also the pressure of the salary cap.

The Bruins already have acquired Zdeno Chara, Paul Mara and Jason York this summer. They just signed Milan Jurcina and they also have Brad Stuart, Andrew Alberts and Mark Stuart on the roster.

General managers know that depth on defence is always an attribute, but depth and salary caps do not go hand in hand.

The good GMs have to allocate the maximum amount to the guys who will be playing regularly because that's what other good GMs are doing. You can't pay $1.275 million to someone who is there only to fill in when problems arise.

In the case of Dumont, the Sabres decided that the award was simply too high, especially after Daniel Briere won a $5-million deal in arbitration.

Dumont is 28 and Tanabe is 26. At various times in their careers, each has been viewed as a high-potential player. That potential still could be realized. Yet their clubs let them go for essentially the same reason. In both cases, they were considered to be too expensive.

Neither was drafted by the team that released him, but that doesn't matter. The point is if you try to build through the draft, the players will either become too expensive to keep, or won't have lived up to potential.

In theory, you could do it. You could select a couple of bright young stars each year over a three- or four-year period. Then as they all blossom, your team rises to the top.

But life doesn't work like that. One or two will develop more slowly than the others. One or two may have their development delayed by injury. And one or two -- or perhaps more -- will blossom and go to arbitration. The settlement will be too high for the team to handle under the salary cap.

Some misguided fans blame the arbitrators. But arbitrators simply are number-crunchers.
They look at the Chicago Blackhawks giving Martin Havlat $18 million for six years, for example, and they say, "Well if hockey professionals think Havlat's numbers are worth $6 million, then Briere's must be worth $5 million. And Dumont, a 60-point player if he'd played a full 82-game season, is worth $2.9 million."

So if your team has two or three young stars such as Briere and they all go to arbitration, there goes your plan to build through the draft.

You probably can't afford to keep them, and even if you could, the salary cap won't let you. And these are players you drafted five, six or seven years ago, so you've just wasted all that time trying to build through the draft.

You have no choice but to let them walk away.

It has happened twice in the past few days. It's going to happen a lot more in the future.