Saturday, June 30, 2007

Shopping with a few more dollars

Up, Up and away... The days of fiscal sanity may soon be coming to an end in the NHL.

In a league where a billionaire is offering up 240 million dollars for a struggling southern franchise and is getting the cold shoulder for his efforts, the prospect of needing more money to operate your franchise once seems to be a given. As of July 1st, the cost of covering salaries in Gary Bettman's NHL is about to go up.

The free agent sweepstakes get under way on Canada Day and to help the leagues GM's make their plans, the NHL finally revealed the mystery number that everyone has been waiting on.

The league office announced today, that the 2007-08 salary cap and NHL teams will be allowed to spend up to $50.3 million US on player salaries next season. It's the second year in a row that NHL teams have been given the green light to spend more, with the floor on spending sitting $34.3 million, which is the bottom level for spending on players in 2007-08.

No doubt the first team to strive for that benchmark will the Nashville/Hamilton/Kansas City Predators, who spent the last two weeks relieving themselves of the burden of those nasty pending free agency problems by trading away a good portion of their high end.

But they probably won't be alone in their spendthrift ways, Atlanta which struggles at the gate and Florida who have been having troubles of late may want to think twice before spending gobs of cash in quest of a few good men.

Of course at the other end of the financial spectrum we'll probably find the Rangers who most likely consider that 50 million as walking around Broadway money. Maybe the Flyers and Islanders as well will put their upwardly mobile level to good use to seek out that missing ingredient for Stanley Cup success.

The Canadian teams too must be looking at this free agency window as a potentially good one, with the Canadian dollar rising as it is, the revenues are going to be higher and the travel expenses into the US lower, making for a bit of extra cash to put into that 50 million cap. That might be enough to help Montreal convince Sheldon Souray to hang around Mount Royal for a while or provide the Leafs with a chance to find someone that might make the difference in 2007-08.

Bryan Murray freshly anointed as the new GM will test the waters for Ottawa, the first chance he'll get to mould this team more in his fashion.

Calgary will try to use their cap money to secure the kind of players that will fit into a new Mike Keenan system, while up the road in Edmonton, Kevin Lowe has vowed to be an active participant in the free agency sweepstakes.

Vancouver's Dave Nonis, having had a frustrating day last week at the amateur draft will be cautious with the Canucks money, looking for the right person to fill in one of the holes that he has to deal with this off season.

Whichever team can manipulate its figures to the fullest benefit will find the free agency mania an added bonus to team building, but it will be a fine line to work with trying to keep salaries somewhat sensible, while taking your team to another level of success.

NHL payrolls get boost
NHL salary cap rises to $50.3 million for next season
Off-ice action should be fast, furious
$how me the money: NHL
The future is now for Ferguson
New cap to give Senators $8.7M more
Canadiens shift focus to contracts
Flames not likely to barter hard for free agents
More than just Four Horsemen
The only certainty is uncertainty

Friday, June 29, 2007

A funny thing happened on the way to Hamilton...

Gary Bettman must be working out on his ABS, (Anyone but Balsillie Strategy) these days, as the latest twist in the soap opera gripping the HockeyNation heads possibly to the west.

When we last left Craig Leipold, he was putting a bit of pressure on Canadian Blackberry guru Jim Balsillie, to get a bit more urgency into his due diligence and head for his favourite bank to get that 239 million dollar cheque.

While that bit of drama was playing out, the NHL seemed to be mounting a campaign to ensure that if Mr. Balsillie was to be the successful bidder for Nashville's Predators, that no roadblock would be left unmoved to make sure that his road to Hamilton was a rather hard one to travel.

But, if the latest maneuvers seem to be playing out right, Leipold has had a change of heart (and direction) and is singing Kansas City, Kansas City here they come...

It's a rather intense case of hardball negotiating that seems to be going on, most of it designed to keep Hamilton from joining the fold as Canada's seventh current franchise in Mr. Bettman's NHL.

While those who are holding out hope that Mr. Balsillie will rule the day, the last minute entry of the Kansas City money makes for an interesting situation, where if we're to believe the spin, Leipold, the owner of the Predators will be more than willing to take a thirty, forty or fifty million dollar hit for his fellow lodge members in the NHL.

Conspiracy buffs, start your engines.

The latest from the Balsillie/Bettman battles can be found below.

Balsillie bid in jeopardy
Leipold's Plan B likely not the end for Balsillie
Balsillie's bid hits a snag
Boots walks back into sale of Predators
Predators sale reportedly looking past Balsillie
Money isn't everything
Balsillie's bid to buy the Predators nixed: report
KC zeroes in on Nashville Predators of NHL as main Sprint Center tenant
Twists and Turns of Predators soap-opera
Gary Bettman is no fool
The Rant
Looks like Balsillie's shut out again
Balsillie's waiting game
Hamilton out as home for Preds: report
Shut out again

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Baseball's Union head shares some thoughts with the NHLPA

Gary Bettman's week just got a little worse, never mind his mis-handling of the attempted purchase of the Nashville Predators by Ontario's rich guy, Jim Balsillie.

That is but a small blip on the radar, as opposed to the developments over at the NHLPA these days. The players association has been in a fair amount of disarray since the dismissal of Ted Saxton earlier this year. While they drift along hoping to find the right leader and set up a better system of accountability, they are busy taking advice and Wednesday saw a big hitter from Major League Baseball add his voice and knowledge of negotiating matters to the NHLPA"s discussion bard.

Donald Fehr, who has long led the MLB playes association took part in day two of the NHLPA's three days meetings which wrap up on Thursday. He provided some insight into how the Baseball association works and how they try to include the rank and file as much as possible.

While he didn't elaborate on his participation, many suspect that he probably offered up some rather pointed opinions on salary caps, the baseball association has been against the concept for a number of years and his membership are quite happy with the current situation with its many rewards just as it is.

You can be assured that should he have discussed that project with the NHLers, there wouldn't have been a noise in the hall as he spoke. If his participation this week is indicative of a wider role in the future for Fehr, then Gary Bettman's days and nights might get to be a little more challenging in the future.

he may have thought that he won the big battle a few years ago, but it would appear that the reinforcements are starting to arrive and the opposition generals are making some smart moves in seeking out help from those that have been on the front lines. It may prove to be another file for the commissioner to try and keep from becoming too troublesome

Fehr lends a hand to rebuilding hockey union
Canadian Press

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

TORONTO — The rebuilding NHL Players' Association heard a message of openness Wednesday from baseball union boss Donald Fehr.

Fehr, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players' Association since December 1985, told 20 player reps essentially how things work over at his union, and what he felt were things in his collective agreement that worked well.

"There's no secret to what we do," Fehr told reporters afterward. "Basically all of our meetings, except meetings relating to something confidential about an individual player, are open to any player and we always have them present and participating in negotiating meetings.

"And all-around communication, discussion, involvement and making certain that when key decisions have to be made they're made by the players, and not by somebody else — that's what we do."

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Kimmo Timonen

Fehr's talk was part of the NHLPA's three-day meeting, which wraps up Thursday with an important vote regarding next season's salary cap and a decision on the next step in finding Ted Saskin's replacement as executive director.

The player reps also heard Wednesday from former NBA union executive Charles Grantham and veteran Toronto lawyer Paul Cavalluzzo, one of Canada's foremost constitutional, labour and administrative law experts.

The player reps are hoping all the advice they get will help in deciding how to restructure their organization and also in forming a search committee to hire their next leader. The hockey union has been looking for a new executive director to replace Saskin, who was fired this spring over accusations he ordered the reading of players' e-mails. A full investigative report by Toronto lawyer Sheila Block remains on target to be concluded in August.

Meanwhile, the feeling at the NHLPA these days is one of rebirth. Members are confident that out of the ashes of a nasty bout of in-fighting, caused by a divisive lockout in 2004-05, will come a new unified group. And a new way of doing things.

"I can tell you that I'm impressed with the seriousness of the group, with their demeanour," Fehr said of the player reps. "I think they have a gut-level understanding, which is always the first step, of what the task is in front of them. If I were a betting man, which I'm not, I would guess that over the next several months moving forward you're going to see a reconstituted organization which they're all going to be very proud of.

"At least that was the indication I had today."

While Fehr would not divulge any specifics from his talk with the player reps, one can assume he didn't hide his feelings on the NHL's collective bargaining agreement, which for the first time in history included a team-by-team salary cap. Fehr's union is the last among the major North American pro sports not to have a hard limit on spending.

"I think as many of you know if you follow baseball that's not something that we think has worked for us," Fehr said of a salary cap.

The current NHL agreement with the players expires after the 2010-11 season although the union reserves the right to re-open after the fourth season, 2008-09. But one has to wonder why the union would want to. Look no further than Kimmo Timonen, who is still dizzy from signing a six-year deal with the Philadelphia Flyers that pays him US$6.3 million a year.
Just three years removed from a year-long lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season, NHL players next season will likely earn more in average salary than they did before the lockout.

The salary cap, meanwhile, continues to rise at an alarming pace, which is music to the players' ears. From the original US$39 million in 2005-06 to US$44 million this past season, next year's figure will run between US$48 million to just over US$50 million depending on Thursday's vote by player reps.

As stipulated in the collective agreement, a five per cent "inflator" automatically gets tacked on top of the figure that the league and union accountants calculate from hockey-related revenues of over US$2.1 billion — unless the NHLPA and NHL agree to do otherwise. Last summer both sides agreed to zero per cent inflation instead of five per cent, the union worried about having to pay back owners in escrow payments if they earned more than their allotted share.

The bottom line, inflator or no inflator, is that players cannot eat up more than 55 per cent of revenues next season.

Without the five per cent inflator, the salary cap would stand at a little more than US$48 million next season. If the player reps vote to keep the five per cent inflator, then the cap likely stands at more than US$50 million.

Leafs looking for a Yoda

John Ferguson Junior needs some help. That at least is the opinion of upper offices of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who on Wednesday said they were presently looking for a advisor for the young GM, someone to show him the ropes.

In short they want their own personal Yoda, they've tried Scotty Bowman but he declined, apparently quite content with his consultants work with the Red Wings.

Rumours are swirling that the Leafs now have a sudden interest in hiring an elder statesman to help out the young pup in the GMs office, those comments became more frantic once the Senators dismissed John Muckler, with more than a few observers having suggested that Muckler more than fits the bill for the Leafs.

The stories that are wafting through the Toronto air these days, suggest a bit of a power struggle inside the high offices of the Maple Leafs with each faction placing their suggestion out there in hopes that they will rule the day.

It's not sure how all of this talk will affect Ferguson, who is presently hoping to get his contrat exteneded by the Leafs and preparing for the free agency sweepstakes that are set to begin on Canada Day. But he must feel a little betrayed by his bosses, a cabal that are seemingly ready to send somebody in to watch over his shoulder, which should make for a most uneasy setting in Leaf land for this off season.
It's as if to reinforce the dysfunction that seems to be floating around the Leafs again, not sure of their direction or of the general to lead the charge. It will be a very interesting bit of theatre to watch and to see how things develop over the off season and where it all shakes out by training camp in the late summer.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Thick skins a priority

ESPN's Bill Simmon's sat down and jotted out a few notes on Friday, after stumbling across the NHL draft on that Versus channel, (somehow we think his boss will be talking with him about his viewing habits).

While entranced with the coverage those notes became a diary if you will, of his impressions of the television presentation as brought to the world by TSN.

It's a rather quick and witty review of the first round of the draft (well right up until Angelo Esposito heads for Pittsburgh) but Canadians with thin skins may wish to have a good strong Moosehead before reading his review.

If Molson's is ever looking for a new character to pack away in a cargo hold or lock in that car trunk, Mr. Simmons might be available and requested for personal appearances.

And for the folks at TSN, best to hide the cafeteria knives for a few days, just in case.

Remember, he frequently reminds us of our sense of humour... we're going to have to live up to his expectations.

Kudos to Canada and the NHL Draft

Dispatches from the Bettman / Balsillie battleground.

All is quiet on the front lines today, as the NHL keeps its counsel on the state of negotiations between the Predators and would be owner Jim Balsillie.

For his part, the swashbuckling billionaire who seems to have gotten onto the wrong side of the NHL Commissioner has gone to the ground as they say, not issuing any more ticket counts out of Hamilton, nor thinking aloud over potential relocations of the soon to be declawed Predators.

The last three days have seen the NHL hijack its own marquee event of the amateur draft and appear to be a collection of devious spin meisters. With a cryptic declaration making the rounds at the start of the draft that the Balsillie bid was no longer working its way through the system, many were wondering if war had been declared on the would be Canadian owner.

As it turned out, the original spin on the story wasn’t quite true, instead it was perhaps a warning shot from Craig Leipold to both sides, that he was getting tired of carrying the can on this mess and that somebody should sign some papers pretty soon.

It’s hard to fathom this vision of the NHL turning away a media savvy billionaire, more than willing to overpay for what will soon be a team that has nothing but an AHL roster. While the negotiations and backroom theatrics continue on, the Predators are dumping players and salaries at a rate last seen by the Florida Panthers when the Blockbuster money ran out. It’s not a pretty sight to see a team jettison a squad that took the franchise into the playoffs for the first time, but considering Leipold’s losses in the last few years and his obvious desire to be done with the team it’s not surprising.

But in short the NHL needs to clean up its mess and clean it up fast. Gary Bettman’s James Gagney stance was amusing at the start, but realistically Balsillie is the kind of owner the leagues should be seeking out regularly. Besides the new media directions he could bring to the game through his connection with RIM, he clearly loves hockey. He’s sufficiently well off financially to bankroll a team wherever he would want to put one and he’s struck a chord with Canadians as a kind of nationalist crusader to return the game back to where it originated from. Mr. Bettman should realize when he’s got a losing hand, put down his cards and call it a day.

Terms of surrender should be negotiated as soon as possible; otherwise the Commissioner may find that his hold on his empire will begin to crumble. While he probably can find a few owners to stand with him on his battle line, there’s a very good chance that an embarrassing showdown will push his support on the issue to a very one sided defeat. Outside of Toronto and Buffalo and maybe the old hard liners in Boston and Chicago, it’s hard to see the other 26 owners saying. “Nope we don’t want his money, nor his inflated value for our franchises.”

The NHL has been known to shoot itself in the foot far too frequently, somebody needs to take the ammunition pile away from the Commissioner before its too late.

As can be found in the following links, if the NHL doesn’t solve this problem quickly, its image problem may be much worse under the glare of legal and government spotlights.

Steve Milton-Hamilton Spectator-Balsillie vs. Bettman
John Kernghan-Hamilton Spectator-Balsillie 'won't upset (NHL) apple cart'
Stephen Brunt-Globe and Mail-NHL's constitution will be put to the test
Jim the Right Thing
Damien Cox-The Toronto Star-NHL calling the tune in Nashville
Dave Perkins-The Toronto Star-Balsillie's money talks

Monday, June 25, 2007

The tide goes out for European picks

This weekends draft provided hockey fans with a definite trend for the NHL of the last few years and perhaps a glimpse into the next few years, as North American born players found themselves striding up to the podium frequently on Friday night, a reassurance for hockey fans on this side of the ocean that they still produce the talent that the NHL is looking for.

In years past, it seemed that NHL teams were tripping over themselves to make sure that their European scouts gave them the hot tip, the exotic name that would soon become a household name. But as the negotiations to get European players out of their federations become more bitter and protracted, the lure of going overseas to stock your team or the farm team seems to be fading a bit.

With the game once again starting to emphasize a more physical nature (hello there Anaheim), it seems that days of the European invasion may be slowing down.

There will always be the high profile picks that can’t be ignored, this first celebrated European was Jakub Voracek, and selected seventh over all by the draft hosts the Columbus Blue Jackets. But while Columbus seemed quite happy with their selection, many other General Managers chose to stay closer to home on draft day.

Lars Eller put Denmark on the map as the 13th overall pick of the St. Louis blues on a draft pick taken from the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The most anticipated European pick, Russian Alexei Cherepanov, plummeted on draft day from an expected top six pick to the 17th overall selection of the New York Rangers, a selection that probably will take away his pain of dropping so far down the pecking order, with the exception of Montreal and Edmonton, most of the other teams picking above the 17th spot probably didn’t resonate as much as New York would with a young European immigrant.

Calgary selected the fourth and final European of the first round, Mikael Backlund, a Swedish centre who at 6 feet tall and a solid 194 lbs may even make Mike Keenan smile in a few years, should he still reign in Calgary upon Backlund’s arrival.

But of thirty picks in the first round, that was it for European hockey. As low a success rate as can be remembered in the last few years.

The 2007 draft was very much an American day, with 10 of the first thirty picks claiming US citizenship, including the first two picks of the draft, back to back American boys staking their claim to the marquee picks of the draft.

Canada of course continues to be the foundry of the NHL, sixteen of the thirty picks came from Canadians cities and towns, still the production line of NHL talent. From PEI to BC, they took to the stage to show the flag for Canadian hockey, but that image in our rear view mirror from the south is getting closer and closer.

This draft year has offered up an interesting study of hockey in the USA. While there is no shortage of American teams struggling to get by at the box office and take a permanent place in their markets, the game it seems has never generated such talent from the USA before.

It must be a frustrating bit of timing for Gary Bettman, who can probably sense the future of the game in the high schools and colleges of America, only to see the present times providing for a rather worrisome portrait of a game in trouble in many of his key US markets.

Born in the USA the theme of the draft
Americans beginning to make their presence felt
Star spangled selections: Americans go 1-2 for first time
U.S. makes draft in-roads
Where have all the Russians gone?

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Seven days til freedom

The NHL free agency day comes up on July 1st, a day when some of the biggest names in the game become available for selection by any number of General Managers looking for the missing ingredient for the season to come.

It can be a risky bit of business sometimes, the key players on one team could very well be busts on the next one, but it’s a chance that GM’s have to take in order to stay competitive in the NHL. Complicating matters for them is the leagues salary cap, which can find itself eaten up pretty quickly by one or two high profile players who may or may not make the difference by the Spring of the following season.

Gomez, Smyth, Drury, Briere, Souray or Kariya, just a few of the big names that could still be on the eligible list by the time Canada's birthday celebration comes to an end in seven days, a night that always promises fireworks on Parliament Hill, it will be interesting to see if there are fireworks in 30 NHL cities as well.

Below, a few links to the listings of who is available and a few suggestions as to where they may go.

Free agency frenzy
NHL silly season almost upon us
Let the buyer beware
The countdown begins
Sportsnet's top free agents for 2007
Sportsnet's free agent signing tracker
Sportsnet's free agent list

Hey Hamilton, don’t go looking for a refund just yet!

Perhaps we were a tad too quick in our pronouncement of the death of the Hamilton dream. Yesterday’s announcement from the NHL that Nashville Predator’s owner Greg Leipold had asked the league to stop the application process from Jim Balsillie "until we reach a binding agreement." It sent shock waves through the Friday night draft audience and reverberated around Canadian bars and homes as Canadian hockey fans tried to make sense of the latest twist in the story.

In the less excited light of the day after, many observers suggest that in the grand scheme of things it means nothing more than perhaps a bid to spur Balsillie on a bit from the Preds owner, who most likely would like to have his money sooner than later. Yesterday, the thought was that the hand of the NHL brass was at hand, with a determined effort to make sure that Hamilton would once again be denied a place in the NHL family. Today, while the conspiracy buffs still ponder the subterfuge that could come from New York, the calmer heads are suggesting that things are still on track for the eventual sale.

The Preds in the meantime seem to be on a determined effort to reduce the salary base to the lowest possible level, a fire sale of staff members has been going on for the last couple of days, yesterday’s trade of goaltender Tomas Vokoun another indication of the deconstruction of the Preds as they prepare for new ownership, should that day ever arrive. One thing seems certain; the scaled down Preds will probably make sure that attendance should slump rather dramatically in the coming year, allowing for the much discussed escape clause to become fully operational.

If ever there was an indication that the white flag has been put up, the recent roster movements act like a giant neon sign testifying that everything must go, relocation imminent. From free agent departures to Philadelphia earlier in the week, to Vokoun’s trade on Friday and draft steeped in far away future picks, the message that next year is a rebuilding (pre-relocation) year couldn’t be any clearer.

If Leipold does end up having to hang on to the team for any great length of time he’s going to make sure that salaries will be at the lowest range possible. Paul Kariya and Peter Forsberg can probably count on new uniforms next season if they play, it’s doubtful that they’ll be offered a renewal of their current pacts or even a handsome tithe to carry them through for a few more seasons.

While Leipold cleans out the closets, Balsillie is apparently busy keeping his lawyers and accountants occupied with the paperwork required to finalize a deal with the Preds owner. The recent bit of drama may merely be a hiccup, perhaps just a preamble to the real fireworks to come. That’s when he takes his bid to the NHL board for approval. With an NHL head office that seems suspicious, if not down right hostile of his intentions, some observers say that Balsillie’s next battle with Gary Bettman and the board may be his biggest skirmish yet.

For Hamilton the door it seems may still be open a crack after all, what will be of interest to hockey fans across Canada but particularly in Southern Ontario will be if Gary Bettman decides to open it wider or slam it shut!

RIM boss hit by delay of game
Balsillie still in the hunt for Predators
NHL calling the tune in Nashville
Mixed messages out of Nashville
Drawing the Line
Owners need to size up Balsillie, reach collective stance on Preds
Predators pressure Balsillie for deal
Balsillie deal not dead: report

Friday, June 22, 2007

The Draft tracker

For your convenience, we provide this link from the NHL site, an instant tracker of all the NHL draft picks tonight.

Tag Team America

It's a historic day for the NHL, as American born players became the first two picks of the 2007 NHL draft. Selecting two high profile players 1 - 2 in the opening round of the draft.

The Chicago Blackhawks opened up the festivities by selecting Patrick Kane, who played with the London Knights of the OHL. Kane becomes the first number one pick in Blackhawk history.

The number two selection went to the Philadelphia Flyers, who selected James Van Riemsdyk of the US National team as their first round pick.

Leipold pulls the plug on Balsillie’s bid

Bye, Bye Hamilton, it's been nice to know you!

For the second time in less than three months, Jim Balsillie has been dumped at the altar by the NHL. Nashville Predators owner Craig Leipold apparently has sent a correspondence to the NHL office advising the NHL to no longer consider Jim Balsillie as a prospective owner of the team. It was the lack of a finalized deal, and the wish of Balsillie to seemingly move the team to Hamilton that were given as the two main reasons given for his reversal.

The latest development in the ongoing saga of the Predators was delivered by TSN as they opened up their coverage of the 2007 draft from Columbus, Ohio.

What will be fascinating to learn will be how much pressure the NHL put on Leipold to turn away the potential 240 million dollar windfall that the Balsillie bid would have provided to the Preds owner, who has seen hockey struggle for acceptance in Music City, USA.

What also will be interesting to watch will be the backlash against Gary Bettman in Canada, he has long played the song that he cares about hockey north of the border, but in this instance he seemed more than a little annoyed that Hamilton had arrived on the radar so quickly.
It will once again increase the decibel level in Canada that the Commissioner has no interest in returning the game to its strongest markets; and instead will continue on with an American agenda that seems to be failing in more than a few locations, including Nashville which at the moment still has a team... for now.

The network war room portals

Draft day is here and the networks have loaded up the ammunition bunker, ready to fire salvos of information from the front, to an anxious crowd at the homefront.

TSN is the big gun in this skirmish, putting together what appears to be the most comprehensive coverage of the NHL's marquee event.

TSN plans not only to televise live to the nation, the proceedings of round one, a three hour spectacular that should rival the invasion of Normandy, and if you're not near a TV they feature all the action of draft weekend on broadband as well.

Sportsnet and the rest won't be going the live broadcast route, but they too have many plans for their various portals to bring the latest developments to fans wherever they may be.

The internet, now more than ever is the key provider of everything and anything to do with the draft. All of our regular suspects have created website information that should keep all hockey fans happy long into rounds three and four tomorrow.

Eveyone wants to be GM!

The favourite hobby of hockey fans is to try and play the role of General Manager, reading list after list of information, paring down the names and then gulping before making that big decision.

Below some of the mock drafts that were held this week by various outlets.

CBC Sports-Mock Draft 2007
TSN-Mock Draft 2007
Sportsnet-Mock Draft 2007
ESPN-Mock Draft 2007
CanWest news-Mock Draft 2007

Survey says...

There's no clear favourite in this years draft class, any one of the top three or four picks could be the number one choice overall, while Patrick Kane seems to be the consensus pick, he's not an overwhelming favourite.

Below the different lists from a number of sources as the draft clock ticks closer to the first pick.
Of interest to the NHL office might be the Versus website, the NHL's "partner" in America, has precious little in the way of information about the draft, though they at least plan on providing coverage of it. ESPN, which the NHL bolted from for Versus had more information on the draft than the network of choice.

It's a puzzling bit of marketing that moves the product to a network that all but ignores the sport, while the one that was spurned still at least provides cursory information. Going to be hard to grow a sport in a country where you can't find it.

NHL-Comprehensive Final Rankings
The Hockey News-- Draft Rankings
CBC Sports-- Five of a kind
TSN's-- Top Sixty Prospects
Sportsnet's-- Top Five profiles
ESPN-- Prospects
SI-com--Wild Weekend

Thursday, June 21, 2007

One more sleep for the class of 2007

The suits are all pressed and the hair style of the day is as good as it's going to get, Mom and Dad stand ready for the big day and their potential tv moment as well. Assorted siblings and girlfriends and former team mates have probably tagged along, ready for the rite of initiation for junior hockey players in Canada and across the world. The NHL amateur draft is set for that hockey hotbed of Columbus, Ohio on Friday night. A cattle call of talent, which can make a General Manager a genius or scupper a career in a short matter of years.

There’s a new format for one of those uniquely Canadian of television events, this year covering two days instead of the normal one. The draft, like the trade deadline madness of the end of the regular season has become the equivalent of a block buster television series for the Canadian sports networks. Like the final episode of the Soprano’s everyone will gather around their sets and wonder what is going to happen when Gary Bettman announces: “The Chicago Black hawks have the first pick”.

In years past, the draft was a late June Saturday morning fixture for the likes of TSN, Sportsnet and The Score, three or four hours of anxious young people looking around the rink of whatever city was hosting the event, hoping that they hear their name, praying that they aren’t the lost looking hockey player at the end of the day sitting way up in the blues wondering where it all went wrong. The drama of the draft comes with a price as Don Cherry has regularly preached from his sermon podium at Coach’s corner, urging those youngsters that won’t be a first rounder to not make the trip, better to insulate them from disappointment rather than become the very unfortunate face of it.

The NHL however, knows that the drama of the draft, while probably a curiosity in Columbus and the rest of America is a marketing gold mine in Canada, so much anticipated that this year it goes Prime Time. When the proceedings get underway Friday, at 7 pm in the east, 4 pm on the coast where the Stanley Cups rests (sorry Vancouver it’s a little further south this year), the sports networks will unleash teams of reporters, analysts and advisors all prepared to provide details on any backstage wrangling for picks or who is the most likely candidate to go high in the draft.

They sit ready to break the blockbuster trades or analyze the intentions of each and every General Manager, computer hard drives clogged with every imaginable fact and statistic of the young players who aren’t too far removed from those early days of Timbits hockey.

Rumours tend to overwhelm the facts in the days leading up to the draft; teasing little tidbits are dropped to the salivating press corps anxious to be the first with the big story of the week. It’s all rather mad, especially when you consider that many of the young men chosen on Friday and Saturday may never live up to the expectations that breathlessly get throw around about them this week. But, there’s always that one franchise player that will stand out and change a franchise, or the player chosen in the second, third or later rounds that develops into a teams rock, the most important asset that they ever chose.

It’s why the draft takes on so much importance; it’s a glimpse of the future and for long suffering fans of the local side a whisper that the times may get better sooner than they think.

Below we’ll list some of the stories we’ve discovered over the last few days about the draft.

Globe and Mail-Rumours overshadow big event
Globe and Mail-Blackhawk up?
Globe and Mail-Draft's darkhorses
Montreal Gazette-Search for Canadien idol
Vancouver Sun-Thirst for success
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Monday, June 18, 2007

From top to bottom, Julien may be the man

Reports are filtering out on Monday night that Claude Julien will be named as the next head coach of the Boston Bruins.

It's not a surprising development considering his close relationship with Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli, both are from the Ottawa area and have crossed paths over the years through the junior ranks there and into the pros while Chiarelli worked as an agent and then front office manager with the Sens.

When the Bruins removed Dave Lewis form his position last week, (one of many to face that fate in recent years) many thought that it would be a matter of hours before Chiarelli made an announcement, but more than a few days have gone by since then, leading many to believe that Chiarelli a former Assistant GM with Ottawa was waiting for the power struggle in Canada’s capital to play out.

Had John Muckler survived as GM, it’s not a far off thought to think that Bryan Murray might have been named the new bench boss of the B’s, as things turned out Murray took over as GM in Ottawa, taking his name out of the coach’s sweepstakes. From there Chiarelli’s list reportedly was made up of two names, Claude Julien and Mike Milbury. The former Bruins coach and most recently with the Islanders was part of the well documented free fall with the Isles. So it seems doubtful that he would have been recycled into the Boston position, despite his past iconic status with the team.

Julien who last coached the New Jersey Devils into first place in the East earlier this year, was removed just before the playoffs by Lou Lamoriello. It was a move that shocked the NHL community and left Julien on the sidelines through the playoffs. Most observers felt that it wouldn’t be long before Julien was back in the NHL, in fact his name quickly went to the top of the Ottawa list with Murray’s ascension to the GM ‘s office. Considering his past hockey history in the Ottawa market, his ability to communicate in French and English, as well as his family ties to the area, it seemed like a very possible move.
If the reports out of Boston are correct, then the B’s weren’t inclined to let the Sens beat them to perhaps the most in demand of the coaches in the market at the moment. There was talk that Pat Quinn might be a good fit with the Bruins, but he had previously turned them down for the job and with the work in progress that the Burins have become, Quinn probably wouldn’t have been the right pick for what will be a long term climb back to respectability.

The Bruins have been in disarray for a number of years now, horrendous trades and a succession of losing has taken its toll on the once might franchise. A trip into Boston once instilled fear in the opposition, now most likely it means two points and a pretty good meal of lobster and steak for the visiting squad.

It’s a challenge that will fall to Julien to reverse. Having spent numerous years in the foundries of the QMJHL and having had success in the NHL, it should be a possibility that Julien will relish. The expectations won’t be particularly high in the season to come, so if he can put together a team that provides a solid effort every night and rewards the fans with wins he may find that Boston will take to him in short order.

After coaching for in New Jersey, which seems to be a rather complicated place to coach, even the current confusion in Boston may be acceptable. One thing is probably certain, should he somehow have the Bruins playing in first place two weeks before the playoffs, he most likely won’t be packing his house up for a move during the first round.

Preds lighten their payroll, Flyers fatten their roster

The Nashville Predators, who are in the middle of a potential sale to Jim Balsillie, took a step back from the free agency sweepstakes on Monday by trading two would be free agents away to the Philadelphia Flyers. The Preds parted ways with Kimmo Timonen and unrestricted free agent left winger Scott Hartnell. Both of whom immediately signed long term contracts with the Flyers.

In return the Preds reacquired the first round pick in the draft, number 23 overall in that round, which they surrendered when they grabbed rent a player Peter Forsberg earlier in the spring.

With their retreat from the free agency derby, the Predators appear to settling in for the rebuilding phase of the teams lifespan, perhaps sealing the teams fate in the Nashville market complete, by seeking out the draft pick they gave up for Forsberg they look to the future as a team with young and generally unproven talent. What this means for their chances to re-sign Forsberg remains to be seen, but he could be deemed expendable, as well as they formulate their plans to eventually relocate.

Clearly with no set management direction in place at the moment, the Preds will be keeping a low profile during draft week. There most likely won’t be any block buster trades passing by their table and any pick they make will probably never get to see the Opry or hang out around Music Row. They’ll be selecting picks with an eye to the future and a few years down the road, all with an eye as to where the new boss wants to take them.

For the Flyers, they pick up a couple of solid assets in Timonen and Hartnell. They will be two instant impact players, with Timonen in particular helping to strengthen the Flyers Defence. He instantly steps into the number one spot on the Flyer depth chart at that position and should prove to be an effective puck mover from the Flyers end of the rink next season.

Neither came cheap however, as both signed six year deals, Timonen for 38.5 million and Harntell at 25.2. And with the large salaries that have been doled out in the last 12 hours, the Flyers will be keeping an eye on their cap room for future improvements on draft day.

While Philadelphia can look to the moves as an indication of progress, it’s not quite as clear as to what it means for the Nashville fans. By removing the popular Preds in the midst of a “save the Preds” drive for tickets in Nashville, it may very well be the final signal that the Preds time in the Music capital is at an end.

Or as they like to say at the country bars when Barbara Mandrell pops up on the juke box with “after closing time”.

Here’s your hat and coat John, sad you’re going...


The deed has been done.
A source none other than the Ottawa Senators website has confirmed the rampant rumours of Father’s Day weekend, Papa John Muckler has been invited to take his leave. After five years as General Manager and more than a few years of frustrations, the last most bitter loss of all in the Stanley Cup finals proved to be one loss too many.
In short the Muckler era proved to provide much in the way of promise, but alas, little in the way of delivery. A situation that led to the drawn out dramatics of the weekend and today's final announcement.

Moving up to the big office will be former head coach Bryan Murray, who will reprise his past NHL role as GM with the Senators. Murray now becomes the seventh GM in the current era of the Senators.

What remains to be seen is what will happen to team President Roy Mlakar, who was a strong Muckler booster and like Muckler is winding down his contract with Senators owner Eugene Melnyk.

The Sens owner provided a brief statement about Muckler’s contributions to the team and a hint that his plans will involve interests away from the Senators, an apparent reference to the consultant’s role that Muckler was supposed to take on next year and now will apparently no longer be offered to him.

Former general manager John Muckler will be pursuing other opportunities outside the Senators organization. Melnyk says he is thankful for what Muckler has done for the team.

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank John Muckler for his substantial contributions to this organization,” Melnyk says.
“In his five years in Ottawa, John proved to all of us that he is one of the most aggressive and accomplished general managers in the history of the National Hockey League.”

The move comes amid reports of a rift between Muckler and Murray, as well as a small disagreement with owner Melnyk that dates back to the trade deadline, when the Sens failed to land Gary Roberts. A move that the owner apparently wanted to have take place and one which Muckler refused to make at the time due to the high cost being asked by Florida in trade.
As things turned out Roberts joined the Penguins, had moderate success but certainly didn’t stand in the way of the Sens march to the finals like he had in past efforts against the Leafs. Though many suggest that perhaps Robert's grit might have helped turn the tied against the Ducks in the final.
While Muckler could point to the success of the first three rounds without Roberts, the owner who seemed to want the guy might have suggested that in the end it couldn't have hurt having him on the team. It would seem that the lesson here is that if you disagree with your boss, you had best win the entire thing, especially when you were an inherited manager, otherwise Realtors will be at your door in short order.

The decision to make Murray the GM also takes his name out of the running for the Boston Bruins head coach job, which came up this weekend and one which it was rumoured Murray would have the inside track on. Now Murray must head off the Bruins at the pass again, as John Paddock his assistant in Ottawa is thought to be a front runner for the position with the B’s, unless of course Murray names him as his replacement in Ottawa.

The reassuring thing for Sens fans at least is the continuity now as the draft comes along this week, with Murray firmly in place as the new head of hockey operations they will at least have a plan going into the draft Friday night. Had the Muckler situation dragged on much longer, there’s a good chance Murray would have exited, leaving Muckler as a lame duck GM without a coach and without the confidence of his boss.

If nothing else, we at least know who the boss of the Ottawa Sens is today, his name is Melnyk. Cross him at your peril. It’s a bit of information that Roy Mlakar might find useful for the next few days.

Well, no one really deserves to be fired on Father's Day!

The confusing status of the upper management of the Ottawa Senators continues to percolate into day three, as the Sens remain tight lipped Sunday on whether GM John Muckler was to remain with the team.

The story of Muckler's imminent demise first broke on Friday, with two officials confirming for the Ottawa Sun that the GM was soon to be dismissed, perhaps as early as Sunday. Well, someone at the Sens office must have grabbed a calendar and realized that firing a guy on Father's Day probably isn't going to generate you much goodwill, so nothing happened other than more rumours were incubated in the murky twenty four hour period.

As it stands now, early morning in Ottawa, the Muckler situation has not been cleared up and the status of coach Bryan Murray now comes into play, with reports that he might be offered a job in Boston if the Sens decide on a general house cleaning.

The latest mystery in Ottawa, certainly is out of character for the team considering it's professionalism over the last few years. Suddenly, with the weekend of confusion and innuendo, the Sens have been transfered back to the stumbling, bumbling days of the start up of this franchise, days when you certainly wondered if they had a plan, knew where they put it and could pull it together in time for the start of the season.

Instead, of the self assured face that the team has presented in the last few years, this week provided a reminder that chaos is always just around a corner.

Whatever decision they decide to make, they had best get a move on with it and make it quickly. The amateur draft is coming up on Friday, lets hope the only thing amateur about the Sens that day will be the players they pick and not the state of management as they sit at the table!

Muckler's status remains in limbo
With the fate of general manager John Muckler and head coach Bryan Murray unknown, the probability is that only one will remain in a position of power when Senators owner Eugene Melnyk makes his final determination, reports Allen Panzeri.
Allen Panzeri
The Ottawa Citizen
Monday, June 18, 2007

Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk continued yesterday to contemplate an extreme upper-manager makeover that could end up with general manager John Muckler being swept aside in favour of coach Bryan Murray.

Despite an initial indication from president Roy Mlakar that Muckler's fate would be decided by the end of the weekend, there was no word from the NHL club last night.

That's likely an indication that the decisions have been more difficult to reach than initially believed.

Several media outlets speculated on the weekend that Muckler would be fired, but the Senators have denied that, with the only word from Melnyk so far being a statement to TSN's Bob McKenzie on Friday.

"We are continuing to have ongoing discussions with management on the future direction and therefore the roles of everyone at the senior level," Melnyk's statement said.

"We had a great year, and I am very proud of what my team has achieved. Saying that, I am always evaluating what we can do, both short term and long term, to continue the momentum and lead us to a Stanley Cup victory next year and for years to come."

There was no comment from either Murray or Muckler yesterday.

Mlakar issued a statement on Saturday that said the roles of senior managers were being reviewed.

Muckler, who won five Stanley Cups with the Edmonton Oilers, has one year left on his contract as general manager. He then has a two-year contract to serve as a consultant to the Senators.
If Melnyk wants to install Murray as general manager, he'll either have to buy out the rest of Muckler's contract or find him another job in the organization.

Melnyk could, for example, shift Muckler, 73, to his consulting role immediately, making way for Murray, 64, who is without a contract and ranks as a valuable commodity in the NHL market.
If the Senators don't re-sign him to be either general manager or coach, it's thought Murray will be a prime candidate for the Boston Bruins' coaching vacancy.

That Muckler's head is being readied for the chopping block is likely an indication that he has run out of chances, of which he has had plenty.

He joined the Senators in June 2002, replacing Marshall Johnston, with whom the team is still involved in a dispute over pay.

The Senators have qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs in each season since Muckler was hired, but their postseason record has been spotty.

In 2002-2003, the Senators made it to the Eastern Conference final before losing in seven games to the New Jersey Devils.

In 2003-2004, they was eliminated by the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games in the first round.

Two days later, Muckler fired coach Jacques Martin. A month after that, Muckler traded centre Radek Bonk and goaltender Patrick Lalime.

In 2005-2006, their first year with Murray as head coach, the Senators got past the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round, but were eliminated in five games in the second round by the Buffalo Sabres.

Muckler took a gamble by signing goaltender Dominik Hasek as a free agent in 2005 and it almost paid off, However, Hasek got hurt during the Turin Olympics and never played again for the Senators.

While Muckler couldn't be blamed for Hasek's injury, he nonetheless had to take responsibility for gambling on Hasek.

Another mark against Muckler was that his trade-deadline deals never delivered enough to put the Senators over the top: 2003, Vaclav Varada, Rob Ray and Bryan Smolinski; 2004, Todd Simpson, Peter Bondra, and Greg de Vries; 2006, Mike Morrison and Tyler Arnason; and 2007, Oleg Saprykin and Lawrence Nycholat.

While the team made it to the final this year, Muckler had some notable failures, overpaying Joe Corvo ($10.6 million U.S. over four years) and Martin Gerber ($11.1 million U.S. over three years). Plus, he lost Zdeno Chara to free agency.

Muckler did well to acquire Mike Comrie for suspended Russian centre Alexei Kaigorodov, but Comrie will be lost to free agency because the Senators can't afford to pay him $3 million U.S. per season.

Dean McAmmond ($725,000 U.S.) ended up being the one unblemished addition from last summer, and he didn't have a large role since he was primarily used as a fourth-line player.
Of other moves Muckler made while with the Senators, only two have had significant impacts: the 2005 trade that brought Dany Heatley from Atlanta for Marian Hossa and de Vries and the 2002 deal that brought Peter Schaefer from Vancouver for Sami Salo.

The 2006 trade that brought Tom Preissing, Michal Barinka, and Josh Hennessy for Martin Havlat might still work out, but Preissing could be lost to free agency on July 1, Barinka remains at home in the Czech Republic and Hennessy is not yet ready for the NHL.

One rumour last night had former Senators captain Randy Cunneyworth, presently the head coach of the Rochester Americans, returning to Ottawa as head coach. But Cunneyworth said there was no truth to the rumour.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Reports multiply that John Muckler has been fired

Where there's smoke they say, there's fire, so it must be rather smoky in Ottawa these days.

As summer approaches the nation’s capital the weather is getting hot in Ottawa, but apparently not hotter than the seat that John Muckler has been sitting in for five years now. The Ottawa Sun first launched the rumour mill into overdrive with a report that Muckler had been let go on Friday afternoon and that the Senators planned on clearing things up on Sunday.

The 73 year old GM of the Sens refused to comment on the speculation on Saturday, instead referring all that asked to contact the owner about any developments on the employment front.

It makes for an interesting bit of speculation with one week to go before the NHL amateur draft, with Bryan Murray having done the GM thing in the past it’s not beyond belief that Eugene Melnyk, might turn over the reins to Murray as a GM/coach or separate the two positions by moving Murray upstairs and promoting John Paddock. It no doubt was a thought that might have crossed Muckler’s mind when he hired Murray to try and take the Sens to the Stanley Cup.

Ottawa’s disappointing finish in the finals probably meant some changes were on the way, considering that the team has been far too often just a game or two away from breaking through. With head coach Bryan Murray, GM Muckler and Team president Roy Mlakar all on various hot seats.
While it's rare to see a GM fired when his team has managed to make it to the Stanley Cup finals, the reports if proven to be true on Sunday, clearly indicate that there has been some backroom tension percolating through the year. We go back to the start of the season when the calls were out for everyone’s head and owner Eugene Melnyk finally arrived in town to quell the histrionics and declare that everyone was safe.
This time a decision to fire Muckler, Murray or Mlakar could set forward a chain of events to change the franchise direction for a few years to come. It would appear that he will have to make another trip to the capital and set the record straight, with or without severance packages..

Below we provide some of the ruminations on the future of Mr. Muckler.

Johnny's on the spot

Samsanov ships out

He said he didn’t think he wanted to play for Montreal anymore and on Saturday the Bob Gainey and the Canadiens management made his wishes come true.

Sergei Samsanov, the enigmatic Muscovite and less than enthusiastic habitant was sent to Chicago for defenceman Jassen Cullimore and forward Tony Salmelainen.

It makes for an interesting addition on the back end, that could provide some insurance when it comes to pending free agent Sheldon Souray and his decisions to be made over the weeks to come.

As for Samsanov, it’s doubtful they’ll hold much of a going away party for him in Montreal. With but nine goals and 17 assists in 63 games, and a healthy scratch in 18 games including the final 13 of the season, Samsanov become better known for being a distraction than a goal scorer. He picked the unusual time of the late season drive for a playoff spot, to wonder out loud if perhaps he had made a mistake when he joined the Habs at the start of the season. An outburst that probably reduced his trade bait potential at the time but surely sealed his fate in the rouge, blanc and bleu.

With the benefit of time and an approaching draft on Friday, Montreal finally were able to close the chapter on the Samsanov experiment.

Black Hawk GM spoke the words that he hopes might reassure the few remaining fans of the Chi Hawks these days, a group that must be getting beyond frustration with the stumbling, bumbling ways of their franchise, said Tallon of the Samsanov acquisition, “We believe Sergei can rebound and give us a spark on the power play and offensively as well as improve our overall skill level,” probably can’t hurt what has been a woeful squad of late, but will Samsanov’s baggage continue to haunt him in yet another NHL city.

That will be up to time to tell, but it won’t be something that Bob Gainey has to worry about. As they say in the mob movies, he just removed the stone in his shoe. And sold the stone to another organization.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Jim Balsillie’s march to Hamilton, will it be Gary Bettman’s Waterloo?

The Commissioner’s uncomfortable look at the televised NHL Awards last night, gave away the body language of a guy in a corner. Gary Bettman looked a tad rigid in his chair after that Ron McLean joke about relocating the last half of the show to Kitchener-Waterloo, a jibe that probably tells us a lot about the state of affairs between the Commissioner and the billionaire would be hockey owner Jim Balsillie.

The bid to purchase the Nashville Predators, like the attempted purchase of the Pittsburgh Penguins before it, is starting to spin away from the commissioners grasp and he can’t like the feeling of déjà vu. Balsillie even upped the stakes in the game of poker with the NHL owners, offering the Nashville owner Craig Leipold, 240 million for his hockey team, an amount that seems out of whack even to the unseasoned eye of a non accountant.

240 million for a team in a leauge, which a fair number of years since a southern expansion still, has a negligible footprint in the USA outside of traditional markets. 240 million for a team in a league with a TV contract that allows playoff games to be punted before completion lest the majestic sight of a horse and jockey rubbing noses may be missed. 240 million dollars for a team in a league where some franchises are offering two for one deals on tickets and still don’t particularly draw well.

If you’re Craig Leipold, Balsillies' arrival is like a lottery win, after years going into debt and trying to make a go of it in Nashville, he has been offered a parachute of gold out of his financial doldrums, just let the rest of the NHL try to stop the sale and watch the fireworks.

More to the point though is why would they try to stop him from spending such money, Balsillie with his huge purchase price instantly increases the face value of every single franchise in the 30 team loop. An artificial number that doesn’t really seem to be a true reflection of worth, but when you consider that there are at least three or four Nashvilles in the league at the moment, dollars are dancing...

The problem for the NHL is of course, Mr. Balsillie appears to not want to call the land of the Opry Home, but instead would seem to prefer the working mans foundry of Hamilton for his 240 million dollar investment.

Not a problem for the majority of the owners we suspect, but a concern for Toronto and Buffalo. The Sabres are probably worried for their ticket base, as perhaps half of their season tickets are owned by residents of the golden horseshoe area of Ontario, put a team in Hamilton and the traffic flow on game night might be North instead of Southeast in a year or so.

For the Leafs it’s just the nerve of someone thinking of poaching into their long held territory, a fiefdom which they protect with much zeal. Never mind the fact that the only way to get a Leafs season ticket is for Grampa to die off and leave them in the will, the Leafs have enjoyed uninterrupted attention in Southern Ontario far beyond when young Jim Balsillie probably first saw his first blackberry patch and went aha. To share such lucrative turf with an interloper and a pushy one at that, probably has the office dwellers of the Air Canada Centre looking at nuclear weapons as a way to stem the invasion.

Television of course is what’s at stake, adding a team in Hamilton will cut into that cash cow of the digital world and its non stop attention given to the mighty Blue and White. From Sportsnet through TSN and to the Leafs very own television network Leafs TV, the Leafs are like something from Orwell, they are always there. And they probably aren’t inclined to share.

For Gary Bettman the headache is surely to get worse before it gets better, while the Leafs and Sabres will have their reasons for protection, other NHL owners may wonder why they are willing to let an opportunity slip by to not pay equalization to a market that doesn’t seem to like hockey that much. The Preds reportedly made the largest withdrawals from the equalization pool, a situation that is likely not to happen upon relocation to a hockey mad market like Hamilton. In addition to putting dollars in their pockets upfront, Balsillie is unlikley to take them out at the other end of the season.

There are rumblings that the NHL is a little put off by the full speed ahead approach of Balsillies group and the forming storm clouds that his entry to the league may bring. Gary Bettman may find that Mr. Balsillie emboldens other owners who may be tiring of the attempts to inject hockey into areas that don’t seem to want it, while those that would be great successes are left off the invitation list. If you were to pick one market for a relocation, you can’t help but think Hamilton is the most likely to succeed. Hockey is the culture of the area, the population not only understands the game, they hold it in reverence like Winnipeg and Quebec City; they share a longing for the game. The NHL would surely do worse than planting its flag in the Steel city.

Already deposits in Hamilton for tickets for a team that may or may not come to town, already outpace ticket sales in the town the franchise sits in. Clearly Hamilton is stepping up to what is their best and probably last chance to gain a franchise, for a Commissioner that claims to want to protect hockey in its homeland the prospect of telling Hamiltonians to get lost can't be a happy one, hence his pursed lips and shifting butt at the Elgin theatre.

The grimace (unintended or not) said it all on Thursday night, Balsillie is becoming the stone in Mr. Bettman’s shoe, only we suspect that betting against the stone would be an unwise choice to make.

Where it leaves the Commissioner when it is all played out could be the larger issue of the NHL for the league and it’s owners, especially if he’s finding himself further and further away from their goals of financial salvation.

Below some links to the growing file of coverage on the chess match that seems to be developing between the Commissioner and the prospective owner.

Hamilton NHL ticket deposits leap past Nashville's base
Preds selling out... in Hamilton
Copps Coliseum designed for expansion
Bettman's Balsillie, U.S. TV contract conundrum
Balsillie good for the NHL
Balsillie buzz swarms award show
Balsillie, NHL on collision course
Bumpy road for Balsillie
Cherry urges NHL to support Balsillie
Sabres mum on Preds potential move
Leipold has millions of reasons to speak up
Predators inch closer to Hamilton
Tickets, who needs tickets?
Balsillie shouldn't overplay his hand
Beware Balsillies competitive fever
Predators owner invokes escape clause in lease
Nashville concentrating on buying more tickets to keep Predators
City rallies around Preds
Nashville fans plan to fight back
NHL, not Balsillie Hamilton's toughest opponent
Hamilton council OKs deal for prospective NHL team
Council's Tennessee two-step
Doughnuts, Copps not appetizing for NHL
Hamilton accepts Preds
Balsillie attracts competition watchdog
Many years in the making