Friday, September 22, 2006

Last man skating makes the roster.

What’s going on in the camps this week, suddenly training camp resembles the backlot of ER, with players piling up faster than beds can be made available for them.

Good thing that all the teams didn’t hold their camps in BC as it would pretty well send the health care system into collapse the amount of medical attention required after just one week of “training.”

The latest player to be added to the disabled list is the recently arrived Evgani Malkin, who dislocated a shoulder on Wednesday night. The Pens are currently looking to see if any Russian soldiers of fortune were in the vicinity of Moncton. Malkin was injured during the Pens pre-season match with the Philadelphia Flyers, when he collided with team mate John Leclair, Malkin left the ice holding his arm in obvious pain.

The list of NHLers currently on the sick parade includes a growing list of blue chip players who are keys to their respective teams.

Zdeno Chara, the former Sen lasted less than a week with his new Bruin team mates before injuring his foot while blocking a Sheldon Souray shot.

Columbus will be without the services of Sergei Federov for the next six weeks after Federov injured his shoulder in the Blue Jackets exhibition game against the Sabres

The perennial next year player Carlo Colaiacavo may have run out of next years, having suffered concussion like symptoms at the Maple Leaf camp before even finishing his first practice

The Black Hawks back up goaltender Patrick Lalime will have to wait to rebuild his career, the former Ottawa Senator was injured in the early days of the Hawks camp, and he’s now listed as out for at least two months and maybe longer.

Jaromir Jagr could possibly miss this year’s opener on Broadway , still feeling the effects of shoulder surgery in the off season on a dislocated shoulder.

Todd Bertuzzi looking for a fresh start in Florida finds himself on the shelf with cracked ribs. And on it goes through the camps.

Suddenly the idea of jumping right into those pre season games after a few skates around the rink is coming back to haunt the GM’s.

With another two weeks to go before the regular season gets underway, the question besides what to do about your hockey pool is, who will be left to take the pre game skate when they drop the puck on the 2006-07 season.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Sartorial Sabres far from Splendid!

What were they thinking?

Ok, now when I heard that the Buffalo Sabres were going back to their traditional Blue and Yellow colour scheme, the one that most people identify with the Glory years of Perrault, Martin, Robert et al, I thought finally a team that understands the concept of tradition, all be it one that is only some thirty years old or so.

But now with the unveiling of the “new look” Sabres Unis (see above), one has to ask, is it too late to take back last years jerseys from the Salvation Army.

The new Sabres look is some kind of cross between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Nashville Predators. With the blue seemingly banished to home games only, the new uniforms form some kind black and yellow hued, strange looking sleek lined Buffalo streaking off to whatever fate awaits it.

First leaked during the summer, the Pens er Sabres, pressed ahead with the colours despite an on line petition suggesting they keep them under lock and key and in the back of the closet.

It was best described by Bob McCown and Jim Kelly today on Prime Time Sports as “Donald Trumps hair placed atop a Buffalo”.

Sheesh if they really wanted to look more like the Pens, perhaps they should have waited until the Pens moved, we’re sure they could have gotten Sideny Crosby’s jersey for a reasonable cost on eBay.

It will be interesting to see the reaction in Buffalo to the new look, it’s understood that they will be going back to the old Blue and Gold saber look for home games which is a good thing.

Some items are best left in the travel bag for overnight use only!

Is Hamilton in the running for the Pens?

It must be the silly season for Canadian hockey fans, over excited that hockey is back for another year, the annual wish list of franchise relocations is upon us, last night it was the hope that Winnipeg would soon be back in the NHL.

Today it's a report that the Penguins are thinking of driving north.

The last time that Pittsburgh sent something north to Steel City North, it was a collection of football pants for the Tiger Cats.

Now if reports out of Pittsburgh are to be believed, there’s a chance they may send bodies, sticks, pucks and such to go with some hockey sweaters.

Hamilton, the Salvation Army Thrift shop of Professional sports...

Rumours started flying last week when it was reported that the front runner to purchase the seemingly always for sale Pens was a secretive Canadian group, who were “this close” to closing the deal to bring the Pens to Hamilton.

The group suggested by some reports is connected with Balsillie, chairman and co-CEO of Research in Motion, maker of that ubiquitous personal device the BlackBerry. RIM is located in nearby Kitchener-Waterloo and no doubt have a few bucks in the bank to make a go of it in the NHL.

However, the Toronto Sun published a story denying that RIM had an interest in the team, a story that seems to have as many detractors as supporters.

While that percolates on the back burner and makes the always ready to roll folks in Hamilton get giddy, there are still a number of issues out there that might throw a dash of cold water on the whole idea.

There’s the simple bit of financial pain that a team would bring to any investor interested in locating in Hamilton, as you have to compensate not only those evil Toronto Maple Leafs for the burden of having to drive down the QEW for a hockey game once and a while, but the Buffalo Sabres mindful of losing potentially half their season ticket base might not be too impressed with a team showing up in Hamilton.

Points which of course can be dealt with by a sizeable cheque, but still ones that might make any would be owner think twice.

Also there is the stated objective by the NHL to keep a team in Pittsburgh, meaning all options must be exhausted before a team could be moved. Though you have to think that the perpetual orphans of Pennsylvania have probably exhausted all that there is to exhaust. A recent sale in principle fell apart in July, leading us back to the point where the team is on the block and the speculation is running like Bulls in Spain.

On the hockey side, for Hamilton it would be a case of terrific timing should the Pens become their home team. The team itself is poised to move up quite rapidly in the NHL structure, with some quality young picks about to come into their own. It might be a nice thing for the NHL to find a location where they might be appreciated for their efforts; Hamilton would be a pretty solid choice one would think.

Andrew Dreschel of the Hamilton Spectator reviewed all the dreams and schemes in Monday’s edition.

Will the puck drop here?

By Andrew Dreschel
The Hamilton Spectator

(Sep 18, 2006)

This coming Saturday, the Pittsburgh Penguins are rolling into town for an exhibition game with the Buffalo Sabres at Copps Coliseum.

Who knows? It could be a perfect chance for the Penguins to get acquainted with their future home.

That's because -- call it a long shot, call it a forlorn hope -- Hamilton's quest for an NHL team looks to be back in play again.

For the second time in as many months, the Pittsburgh media is abuzz with news that a secretive Canadian group is the front-runner in the bid to buy the Penguins.

And it's widely believed the group is the same one that bought exclusive rights to bring an NHL franchise to Copps.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has reported that the Canadian buyer -- identified by unnamed sources close to the sale as leading the pack of four would-be purchasers -- is the same that came within a whoop of signing a letter of intent to buy the team for about $175 million US in July.

The group pulled back when it became clear it could not move the team because of prior agreements involving the building of a new arena in Pittsburgh. But Hamilton was widely believed to be the destination of choice.

Like the Spectator, Pittsburgh newspapers have linked the group to Jim Balsillie, chairman and co-CEO of Research in Motion, the Waterloo-based company that makes BlackBerry, the wildly successful wireless communication tool.

Balsillie, who could not be reached, has previously denied any connection with the group or, more recently, declined to comment.

Regardless, reporters close to the story are convinced he's one, if not the only player, in the Canadian bid.

Balsillie's name recently resurfaced as the potential buyer after Sam Fingold, a commercial real estate developer in Hartford, Conn., and a native of Toronto, was unable to reach a purchase agreement after signing a letter of intent in July.

With their team back on the auction block, Pittsburgh is awash with rumours that a letter of intent or even a purchase agreement could be signed this week.

Well-placed skepticism -- and costly payments for territorial rights to Toronto and Buffalo -- aside, it's only natural Hamilton is once again poking its nose above the horizon.

In June, HHC Acquisition Corp. -- the tight-lipped group linked by reliable sources to Balsillie -- paid the City of Hamilton $50,000 for a six-month extension of its exclusive rights to bring an NHL team to Copps after its initial year-long agreement ran out.

The $50,000 was drawn from the $200,000 HHC deposited in trust when it first negotiated the deal to find and buy a team for the city-owned arena.

The Copps connection plus Balsillie's deep pockets plus a pending Penguins sale equals a Steeltown hope, albeit jaded, that springs eternal.

Toronto attorney Richard Rodier, who is acting on behalf of HHC, could not be reached for comment. And city councillor Terry Whitehead, Hamilton's point man on the Copps agreement, hasn't heard a squawk from Rodier for months.

But fleet-footed rumours are abroad. In Pittsburgh, they include unconfirmed reports the NHL has told the various groups involved in the bid for the Penguins that the team is movable in their eyes.

Certainly Penguin fans, who have been on a roller-coaster ride for months, fear the worst.
But stumbling blocks to moving the team remain, as the Post-Gazette has repeatedly pointed out.

The Penguins say they need a new arena if the team is to be viable in Pittsburgh.
A new owner would be bound by the team's partnership agreement with a gaming company that has promised to donate $250 million toward a new arena if it lands Pittsburgh's slots licence later this year, which presumably would make the team viable.

Under an NHL bylaw, the league can block a team from moving if there is a plan to make it viable.

In short, the same restrictions that caused the Canadian group to pull out in July still apply.
Prior agreements plus NHL bylaws equals hard luck for Hamilton.

Mind you, assuming Balsillie is the man behind the bid, he may simply be interested in keeping the team in Pittsburgh rather than moving it to Hamilton, or anywhere else for that matter.
At least, that is, until the arena question is settled.

Andrew Dreschel's commentary appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. or 905-526-3495

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Dreams still live in River city

NHL hockey returned to Winnipeg Sunday night as the transplanted sons now of Phoenix (and well there really is only one son left in the lineup!) faced off against the ancient rival of Jets days gone by.

The exhibition match was a highly anticipated game even if it was just a meaningless extended practice scrimmage as much of these early pre season games seem to be.

Regardless having the big show back in town for a night, has once again stirred the hopes and dreams of hockey fans on the prairies...

No doubt the chants of Go, Jets Go, echoed across the MTS Centre and down Portage Avenue long after the game, which for the record was won by Edmonton 5-0.

Hockey showdown
NHL returns to Winnipeg for one night
By CHRIS KITCHING -- Winnipeg Sun

Tonight's NHL showdown at MTS Centre evokes an even greater question than whether the league can make a permanent return to Winnipeg.

Fans have to decide who to cheer for in a pre-season battle that pits the Jets incarnation against the former team's bitter rival until the end.

But if we know Winnipeggers -- and if sales at River City Sports are any indication -- home is where their hearts are and most of them aren't rooting for the visiting Phoenix Coyotes or Edmonton Oilers.

"Everybody loves the Jets," said Jason MacGregor, sales manager at River City Sports' Henderson Highway store. "We've been selling predominantly Jets stuff, followed by Oilers and then Coyotes. We figured that would happen."

Edmonton GM Kevin Lowe stayed neutral when he offered his prediction about the crowd’s bias.


"Jets fans were never big fans of the Oilers," said Lowe, who was part of the rivalry when he was an Edmonton defenceman. "I think they'll be just happy about hockey (tonight)."

Coyotes captain Shane Doan, the only Phoenix player who was with the organization when it was in Winnipeg, is expected to be in the lineup, along with teammates Jeremy Roenick, Owen Nolan and Ed Jovanovski.

Coyotes captain Shane Doan, the only Phoenix player who was with the organization when it was in Winnipeg, is expected to be in the lineup, along with teammates Jeremy Roenick, Owen Nolan and Ed Jovanovski.

Jason Smith, Raffi Torres and Jarrett Stoll are some of the few veterans listed on the Oilers' preliminary lineup.

Adding to the excitement surrounding the exhibition game is the presence of Coyotes head coach Wayne Gretzky, who was a thorn in the side of Jets fans during the 1980s when he was part of a dominant Oilers squad.

Both teams arrived at Winnipeg International Airport last night, going directly to the Fairmont Hotel. Doan and Coyotes enforcer Georges Laraque stopped to sign memorabilia for a few fans outside the downtown hotel.

Autograph seekers were disappointed when security kept them at bay as Gretzky walked into the hotel.

Chants of "go Jets, go" haven't dwindled since the team's departure, so when is the first chorus going to break out on this nostalgic evening?

"When they skate out for the warm-up before the game it's going happen," said Jon Dahl, offering his prediction over a pint at Hooters Restaurant.

The chant would have been accompanied with a large roar had someone not scrapped a plan to have the Coyotes players wear Jets jerseys.

"They're playing an exhibition game here for show, so why not wear Jets jerseys?" Jeff Machnicki said. "It would make the home crowd happy."

Before the game, Darren Ford and 22 others will be handing out 15,000 fliers to ticket holders. Printed on them are positive comments about Winnipeg's potential as an NHL marketplace and an estimate of how much tickets to a regular season game would cost

Hockey - A People's History

Canada’s fascination with the national sporting obsession gets another look see on the CBC starting on Sunday night. As a documentary, Hockey - A people's history, about Canada’s favourite game begins its five week run, destined to make a dandy DVD collection just in time for Christmas gift giving. The program will air each Sunday at 8 pm, rebroadcast on Newsworld on Mondays at 10 pm.

It’s almost becoming a bit of cliché this love of hockey and the seemingly endless programs that we devote to the sport, it’s our national game treasured by millions, many with fond remembrances to their youth, others with dreams for their future.

But it does seem that whenever a TV network needs a bit of a ratings bump they commission some kind of documentary, docu drama or feature presentation about the game of our fall, winter and spring (and sometimes damn near our summer as well). At times hockey themed programming seems to be as common as those old Hinterland Who's who features of the old days. Televisions pre-occupation with hockey gets a bit of an investigation on the Canoe websites review of the mini series.

The show traces the development of the game from the 1800’s right up to this year. Not limiting itself to just the NHL, the program will look at the people and the issues that made the game so popular from sea to sea to sea.

The CBC has a handy website feature that provides you with all sorts of information about the project. From timelines of Hockey history, to episode recaps, a Virtual Hot Stove and even a quiz to see if you’ve really been paying attention.

While it no doubt will sing to the choir as far as hockey fans go, it may be a harder task to attract those casual television viewers that like to click from channel to channel. Hockey Night in Canada is said to get approximately 2 million viewers or so per weekend, that in a country of over 30 million. So the producers of a people’s history must be hoping that some of the unconverted come on by for a bit of a look.

As Canoe points out though, the competition will be tough; opening night features the final of Canadian Idol and the debut of a new season of The Amazing Race. Two shows that have traditionally found a wide and loyal audience in Canada.

We wonder if it will be a test of our nationhood if CTV should win the nights battles.

Perhaps they could begin taking advance orders for the DVD collection, while it may be too much to hope that we stay tuned week after week, it just might make a dandy stocking stuffer for December 25th!

The above post first appeared on my A Town Called Podunk blog, my general interest portal to the web.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Kicking Granny down the stairs!

The feud between Dave Nonis and Bob Clarke just got ratcheted up a few notches as Nonis vented his frustrations over the Flyer GM’s scheming over Ryan Kesler.

Nonis met the Vancouver media in Vernon after Day one of the Canucks training camp, and waded into the debate over Ryan Kesler’s recent winfall of extra dollars thanks to the meddling of Bob Clarke.

Nonis, who was faced with surrendering what the Canucks feel could be a key player of the future chose instead to match Clarkes 1.9 million dollar offer to the restricted free agent. Making Kesler one of the most richly rewarded ten goal scorers in NHL history.

This in effect doubled Kessler’s salary, as it was reported that Nonis was only inclined to offer him roughly 50% less than the amount they ended up cutting a deal for. Clarke made the offer, the first for a restricted free agent since 1999, earlier this week and unleashed a torrent of backlash across the NHL.

Having broken an unofficial rule of the GM’s, Clarke remained unapologetic as the nasty words flew and his reputation took a trashing, all for upping the financial ante in a league that is learning to live with a salary cap.

One rumour making the rounds today was that Clarke was providing a bit of payback to the Canucks for suspected attempts to lure coach Ken Hitchcock back to the West Coast. A story that hasn’t found any traction but makes for a wonderful bit of theatre as Clarke waits until the last minute to unleash his secret weapon. Which if true, must make new head coach Alain Vigneault feel good about things, number one behind the bench but number two in the Canucks hearts.

An extremely talkative Nonis, took his rhetoric beyond the normal hockey platitudes on Friday saying that “I was told a long time ago that Bob Clarke would kick his grandmother down a flight of stairs if it would give him a better chance of winning," Nonis said Friday at the Canucks training camp. "That's what it comes down to”

A quote that will no doubt gain the attention of Mr. Clarke, who as history has shown has a bit of a temper. Nonis had best keep an eye on those corners and be wary of Clarke should he have a hockey stick in his hands the next time that they meet.

The unfortunate thing to all of this is, that unless the Canucks and Flyers meet in the Stanley Cup finals (a most unlikely event if ever there was one this year) then they won’t play each other at all this year.

Which is too bad, because I for one was looking forward to Take your Granny to the game night.

It would have been a marketing dream for both teams.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

So that's how Kharlamov felt!

If Bob Clarke had chosen football over hockey, there is only one team he would have been involved with, the Oakland Raiders. Clarke who epitomizes the motto Just Win baby (even if his teams don’t) took out his hockey stick on Wednesday morning and delivered a two hander to Dave Nonis that will have the Canucks GM hobbling around for months.

Well, ok, Clarke didn’t actually lay on the lumber, but he sure did lay on the numbers as he put out an offer sheet to unrestricted free agent Ryan Kessler, an offer that has the Canucks GM ready to spit out his teeth.

The Flyers, in making the first offer to a restricted free agent since 1999, have reportedly tripled Kessler’s salary to close to 1.9 million dollars. This is roughly 50 per cent more than Nonis had planned on paying the player, who played the role of a checking centre last year, accounting for his low goal total of 10 last season.

The rest of the NHL, when not contemplating the rather unusual financial terms offered of late on Long Island, now are beginning to worry about Clarke and his sudden re-jigging of the financial terms of operation. (Not to mention his sudden exit from that unofficial agreement that all GM’s seem to have made when it came to restricted free agents)

It’s a worry that Clarke dismisses with the wave of a hand (or a slash of a stick), reminding those that are criticizing him, that the Flyers have lost players to free agency, all be it the unrestricted variety and didn’t set their hair on fire at the time.

The problem for the Canucks is that they’ve already tapped out most of their available cap space already, and probably can’t meet the offer even if they felt that Kessler was worth that kind of money. Having come quite close to their 44 million dollar cap figure, the Canucks now must worry that these poaching raids will continue and that they might be quite vulnerable in the short term.

As for Clarke, well hockey fans probably owe him a debt of gratitude; with a simple stroke of a pen he’s brought back that ages old animosity to all things black and orange. Once again there's a team wearing the black hat in the NHL, and somehow you think that Clarke wouldn’t have it any other way.

Makes you wonder if Al Davis ever wanted an adopted son, or an NHL franchise for that matter!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Bertuzzi breaks his silence

Vancouver Canuck fans were busy picking up copies of the Sunday Province, as Tony Gallagher hunted down the story that everyone wanted to know. What happened in Vancouver between Todd Bertuzzi and Marc Crawford?

The Canuck's longest running secret, finally got its airing, as Gallagher prodded Bertuzzi for answers about cliques on the team, Crawfords handling of the failed stretch drive and Bertuzzi's thoughts on his former coach.

Bertuzzi discloses that he was injured at the start of the season but didn't want to make too large a deal about it, lest people look at him as looking for excuses. More importantly he expressed frustration at the way Crawford handled some of the other players on the team at the time as well as the way the first line was shuffled aside as the run for the playoffs intensified.

It's a good read and for Canuck fans will answer a lot of questions about how the team that was on the verge of winning a Stanley Cup prior to the lockout, imploded so fast once the team returned to the ice.

Bert describes his problems with Crow
Admits Crawford was 'best coach I ever played for,' but also has issues

Tony Gallagher
The Province
Sunday, September 10, 2006

The thing about Marc Crawford that bothered Todd Bertuzzi the most was the way the coach treated Bert's friend and former teammate Brad May.

Todd Bertuzzi is moving on with his life in Florida these days, having been through more grief in two-plus years than most athletes would experience over several careers.

One of the NHL's top offensive stars, Bertuzzi has been working out with Panther players in preparation for training camp, but he agreed to answer tough questions about his time in Vancouver.

In a wide-ranging discussion involving his relationship with former Canucks coach Marc Crawford, his relationship with his teammates and his feelings towards the fans he still loves here in Vancouver, Bertuzzi didn't duck when it came to honesty.

"I don't want to come off as a guy leaving a city with sour grapes but I'm just telling you because you asked," said Bertuzzi.

"We had some real differences in philosophy, and there were some things he did that really bothered me, most particularly how he handled my friends -- Brad May especially.

"He never played him. He never gave him a chance to show what he could do. Here was a guy who was a 15-year war vet, a warrior, a guy who had fought every tough guy in the league and yet he was never put out there in any other kind of situation. And this was a guy who could handle all kinds of roles in the league. That really bothered me.

"There were other things, too. I thought he hit the panic button down the stretch [last year as the Canucks tried to make the playoffs] and wanted us to play a different style when things got tough.

"Everyone knew what kind of team we had and he was trying to get us to play like the Minnesota Wild. Our [Bertuzzi's line's] ice time dropped off and he was trying to get guys like Markus to dump the puck in and play in a way that wasn't very effective for us. And here I was, an 11-year guy, and he was threatening to sit me out and other great players as well and I thought that was a little ridiculous to treat guys that way, who you have ridden to success playing a different way before. It just didn't make sense to me.

"In fairness to him, we did struggle but one of the things that bothers me most about leaving Vancouver is the fact we [he, Markus Naslund and Brendan Morrison] weren't together as a line at the end. Here we were ridden like horses for the better part of four years, two or three of them for sure, and when it gets down to it and the pressure is on, we're on the side burner when we knew we could still get the job done.

"We used to be out for a minute and a half on some power plays but then suddenly we were the second unit and we felt a little bit used. It was pretty frustrating knowing we could still do it but missing the playoffs like that. We just went into a style I wasn't going to play.

"But having said that, on balance of all my time in Vancouver, I still think he's probably the best coach I ever played for. A lot of the talk about tension between us was overblown, a media thing.
"We had some issues but that doesn't mean he's a bad coach and I certainly don't want to leave here being the guy calling him down. At New Year's [2005-06] five or six of us guys sat down with him for a handful of beers and we had a good talk and he even picked up the tab and the communication lines were open.

But I'm not going to lie to you and say everything was fine."

Bertuzzi was also stung by the criticism immediately after the trading deadline, which fingered the relationship between himself and Naslund as dysfunctional on the team.

"I really do think it was overblown and it was mostly started by one guy, and how can I control what one guy like Steve McCarthy thinks," said Bertuzzi.

"When all that stuff started coming out it bothered all of us so much we had a team meeting about it and it was one of those where it was nothing but the truth or leave the room. Not one guy stood up and said he had a problem.

"I think it was mostly sour grapes on his [McCarthy's] part because he wasn't playing much and when he left he said those things. I don't know why he said them.

"I hung around a lot with Markus, Clouts [Dan Cloutier] and Richard Park and spent a lot of time with Jovo and that pretty much touches all those so-called cliques. There were lots of times we asked him to come out to dinner but you can't help it if a guy doesn't want to come or wants to stay in his room.

"He's a man and can make his own choices, his own decisions. You can't beg the guy to come out.

"Why should I have to defend my friendship with Markus? That really bothered me because I shouldn't have to do it. Our wives were close, our kids used to spend time together and there was nothing wrong with that, and for me to have to defend the fact I have a close friend on the team isn't right.

"We weren't excluding anyone else. Ask Wino [Eric Weinrich] and [Keith] Carney what it was like when they got there and see if there were any problems. They'll tell you what it was like. Those guys have both been around and with a lot of teams."

Bertuzzi admitted his performance last season was not up to his usual standards.

"It was a tough year because I had been out that whole year and when I started, my back and wrist were bothering me but I didn't want to make excuses so I played that down," he said.

"And I have to say I wasn't mentally ready to play last year. I tried like hell, I prepared as best I could, I gave everything I had, but it just wasn't there. And the harder I tried to make something happen the worse it got. I just want to put it behind me. It hurts like hell leaving Vancouver. Sometimes driving to the rink down here I think about all the good times, the great city, all the friends I made who supported me and it hurts. But I needed a change. It was time."

The prospects of that change being a positive for Bertuzzi took a blow recently when Mike Keenan was deposed as the Panthers GM. It was Keenan who brought the league's top power forward to Vancouver from the Islanders and was always one of his biggest backers.

"I wasn't in on any of the scuttlebutt ... I just heard one or two things when I got a call from Jacques [now coach and GM Martin] telling me that Mike had stepped down and I was a little shocked," said Bertuzzi.

Bertuzzi is already thinking about Jan. 7, 2007, when the Panthers come to town.

"That will be the hardest game I'll probably ever have to play," he said. "I've got friends on the team and the fans in Vancouver are absolutely the best. The support they have given me over the years, I'll never be able to thank them enough.

"You know, we didn't win a Cup in Vancouver and didn't get even to the third round but I had many great experiences with the people I met and I'll always remember my time there. I won't forget those people.

"In fact, at the end of this year, I'm an unrestricted free agent again.

"You never know, stranger things have happened."

Friday, September 08, 2006

Combative Keenan asked to leave!

The stories are starting to filter through from the Panther enclave in Florida, and the tales seem to suggest that Mike Keenan didn’t seem to be getting along very well with the other kids in the sandbox.

Steve Gorten of the South Florida Sun Sentinel quotes a “source” that says, Mike just felt unhappy because Mike wants to be his own man," the source said. "He needs to have full power. Jacques had different ideas.

Not particularly surprising for a guy that has been nicknamed Iron Mike, but in this case there is a bit of wonderment at how two guys that described themselves as friends, could get so off the same page. The dynamic as the Panthers refer to the Martin/Keenan partnership seems to have started to sour last year, with Keenan apparently at odds with everyone in the organization.

Interestingly enough, despite all the melodrama in Florida this week, Martin says that things are still fine personally between he and Iron Mike. This despite some reports that Keenan actually had tried to have him fired last year.

In that Sentinel story Gorten tells of combative contract negotiations and a bid by Panthers owner Alan Cohen to get Keenan to be more “agreeable”, which judging by NHL history would be quite the thing, perhaps worthy of an investigation by the Vatican.

In the end it came down to a power struggle, easily won by Martin, who now takes on the dual role of coach and GM. It’s a task that many say is too large now in the new NHL, for the laid back Martin to tackle. Combined with the rather hands on (read meddling), but head off ownership in Florida, the situation in Pantherland is not particularly stable.

As for Keenan, he was supposedly offered a buyout of his contract as opposed to having the final three years paid out. The inference there one guesses, is that he must have left a trail of bad behavior that will work against him should he wish to claim the entire three years left on his contract. Although, that might be a warning for Martin, that a contract is a contract only if the guy signing the cheques is willing to honour it.

Once again, as with any news when Keenan is considered, there always remain more questions than answers at the end of the day.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Reasons to Quit

Not many can say they're too surprised at the news out of Florida this weekend that Mike Keenan had stepped away from his duties as GM. Keenan's career has been full of surprising twists and turns, any number of cities have seen the Iron Mike show arrive and close, normally leaving some pretty interesting shrapnel behind to clean up.

Neil Stevens of Canadian Press provides some clues as to what led to the latest disappearance of the Keenan stamp. With thirty teams in the NHL, don't be surprised if he pops up somewhere else in rather short order.

Keenan's career takes another twist

Canadian Press/Canoe

(CP) - Mike Keenan prefers doing things his way and, when that doesn't happen, he's apt to turn his back and walk away or ruffle enough feathers to be fired.

This time, he abruptly parted company with the Florida Panthers. The NHL team made public on Sunday that Keenan was out as general manager.

Conjecture has it that Keenan, who still had more than two years left on his contract, had differences of opinion on personnel with his head coach, Jacques Martin.


Because Keenan wasn't talking, it was impossible to pinpoint what actually transpired last week - whether he quit or was fired.

Martin gets the dual role of GM-head coach, denying all the while that there was any rift with his old college teammate.

"I think I've always had a good relationship with Mike," says Martin. "We've been friends for a long time and have worked together before (in Chicago).

"We spoke at length about the roster on a regular basis."

Martin was seen as instrumental in getting Keenan rehired in an executive capacity when the Panthers hired Martin as coach in May 2004. Keenan had been fired from the head coaching job in November 2003. So, it's obvious that Martin is cozy with the Panthers' front office brass - perhaps a little too cozy for Keenan's liking.

Owner Alan Cohen reportedly spoke with Keenan a week ago after the 56-year-old native of Bowmanville, Ont., told Cohen of his disenchantment over how things were going. Cohen subsequently offered Keenan's job to Martin, who quickly accepted.

The fact that Martin admitted to not having spoken with Keenan after it became clear that Iron Mike was on his way out suggests there was, at the very least, a communications breakdown between the two.

The Panthers' training camp practices begin Sept. 16 in Vail, Colo.
Given the radical roster revisions Keenan made this summer, it was only logical that he would want to stick around to see how it all panned out.

He acquired bruiser Todd Bertuzzi from Vancouver for goaltender Roberto Luongo, added goalie Alex Auld and defenceman Bryan Allen in that trade, and signed free-agent netminder Ed Belfour and defenceman Ruslan Salei.

It's his team, but he won't be there to see how it all unfolds.

The Flyers, the Blackhawks, the Rangers, the Blues, the Canucks, the Bruins and now the Panthers - Keenan has had tumultuous stints with most of them.

He parted company with the Flyers in 1988 after four years as head coach despite twice guiding them to conference titles.

He coached the Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup final in 1992, and resigned that spring after four years coaching and managing because the total control he craved wasn't forthcoming.

He coached the Rangers to their first championship in 54 years in 1994 but couldn't get along with GM Neil Smith well enough to stay for a second season.

One of the quirkier trivia tidbits from his nearly three years in St. Louis before he was fired was his refusal to allow the players to don newly designed alternate sweaters because he didn't like the way they looked.

He didn't mesh with GM Brian Burke in Vancouver and was fired, and there was a quick exit from Boston, too. In his early days with the Panthers, he and then-GM Rick Dudley engaged in power struggles. Now this.

One of the winningest coaches in NHL history is on the loose yet again, and we haven't heard the last of Mike Keenan.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Tick Tock, Tick Tock, is Fergie on the Clock?

Sheesh, the training camp hasn’t even started yet and already the Maple Leaf Nation is on its annual deathwatch, wondering whether the GM get canned this year, a tone of conversation which seems to be the cry in the land of the Blue and White.

John Ferguson Jr. is apparently on a short clock, suggesting he needs a quick Leaf start and some serious staying power to survive as the General Manager of Canada’s most excitable hockey franchise.

Steve Simmons wrote a column for the Canoe site, that lays out the case for the Leafs to follow a Babcock module in determining the fate of their Hockey General. Babcock for those that follow basketball was the GM of the ill fated Toronto Raptors last year, finally getting his walking papers as the Raptors offered up yet another turkey of a season. He was replaced by basketball legend in the making Bryan Colangelo.

It’s to be seen if the Leafs have a similar hockey guru to pull out from behind the curtain should Ferguson stumble. But just the thought of turmoil doesn’t exactly build confidence for Leaf’s fans as they prepare for training camp.

Clock ticking for Ferguson
Saturday, September 2, 2006

John Ferguson is on the Babcock clock.

Just how long he remains as general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs will be determined by what kind of start the team has over the first two months of the NHL season.

A poor opening to the first months -- and the Leafs play Ottawa four times in their first 11 games -- will almost certainly doom the third-year GM. And just as Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. wasted little time in dismissing Toronto Raptors GM Rob Babcock, there is sentiment among some board members that Ferguson's reign should be ended shortly.

This is the final year on his contract and only a strong season will earn him a new deal.
His closest allies, the unaccomplished Mike Penny, Jeff Jackson (with his first NHL appointment) and the soon-to-be-hired Doug Gilmour (for all the wrong reasons), hardly builds confidence from those on the outside.


One strange sidelight to the apparent Gilmour hiring: When he was trying to make a comeback, he was skating regularly at the Leafs practice facility. That was until Ferguson ordered him off the ice. Only Ferguson didn't have the stones to tell Gilmour. Typically, someone else had to do it . . .

If you add up the numbers Ed Belfour, Owen Nolan and Tie Domi will be paid more in buyouts and grievance money than any Leaf, other than Mats Sundin. How's that for effectively managing assets? . . .