Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Bad boys, Bad boys, whatcha gonna do...

The NHL's Ministry of Justice has had a rather hectic start to the NHL season, with NHL Chief Justice Colin Campbell having had to rule on three separate cases so far.

A case load that has made him the busiest guy in the office by far these days.

Since it appears that 2007-08 could be a busy year for justice, we'll track the suspended here for the remainder of the season.

Running Total to date-- 97
Flyers 52 games
Islanders 30 games
Predators 5 games
Canucks 4 games
Canadiens 1 game
Coyotes 1 game
Hurricanes 3 game
Thrashers 1 game
All Others 0 games

Bickering Canucks can’t keep it in the dressing room

Alain Vigneault isn’t very happy, last week he blasted a number of his forwards for their under performing ways. Calling their play too soft, timid and ineffective he impressed upon them the need to become more engaged in the play, more willing to suffer the costs of straying to close to the net and to start scoring some goals.

It was a rare display of frustration for the Canucks coach, but one that fell upon deaf ears for the most part as the Canucks continue to struggle in the early days of the NHL season.

Team captain Markus Naslund countered that talking point by asking out loud if the dump and chase strategy was really where the Canucks should be heading in this era of free wheeling hockey. By making his thoughts known in rebuttal, the captain and the coach appear to be on different pages, not a good omen for a long and successful run towards the Stanley Cup in April and May.

Sunday night Vigneault turned his attention to defencemen Willie Mitchell and Kevin Bieksa, suggesting that they have not been playing up to their own standards, and that the time to step up their game was at hand.

Mitchell, took his turn at the speaker’s corner, deflecting Vigneaults criticisms by claiming that on two on ones, “you're not going to get them all.” Bieksa, for his part didn’t have much to say other than he’s been playing hurt and is still not feeling 100 per cent, a situation that has been supported by his play of late, where he’s been far more tentative than in his more robust periods.

Clearly the losing is getting to the entire team; Vancouver struggling early on, has a record of 5 and 7 over twelve games. Making them closer to last place Phoenix, than they are to first place Detroit in the Western Conference. They have 32 goals for, 37 against and are having their trouble getting untracked at key moments of play.

More disturbing though is the simmering trouble from their leaders, when the Naslund’s and Mitchell’s begin to spend more time questioning the intentions of the most recent coach of the year, then the dressing room must be a very interesting place to be hanging around.

A few wins in a row and all of that anxiety will dissipate, but until they can improve on the ice there will most likely be more short tempers and tension off the ice. All great fodder for the newspapers, radio and television types who make sure that every move by this team is under the spotlight.

While they’ve been good for a quote or two over the last few weeks, Canuck fans most likely would prefer it if the team would do less talking and more scoring, and soon.

Hired to be fired!

A compilation of the unlucky members of the NHL coaching and managerial fraternity, who found themselves outsourced in the 2007-08 season.
Thursday, November 22, 2007-Washington Capitals, Glen Hanlon, Coach
Tuesday, November 13, 2007- Dallas Stars, Doug Armstrong, GM
Wednesday, October 17, 2007-Atlanta Thrashers, Bob Hartley, Coach

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Culture of Recklessness

The NHL suspended Randy Jones for two games on Monday, his punishment for a boarding call that resulted in the Boston Bruins' Patrice Bergeron to spend a night in the hospital and could see him miss more than a month of action while he recuperates.

The hit, which saw Bergeron fall awkwardly into the boards and remain motionless on the ice for far too long, was the talk of most of the hockey world the last two days or so. The latest hit from a Flyer player that left a player injured on the ice.

In his decision, Colin Campbell determined that Jones had no intent to injure in his play, in effect that the injury was the result of a hit that went terribly wrong.

The suspension considered light by more than a few, should prove to reopen the debate over whether the NHL is dedicated to protecting its main assets, the players who play the game.
Already this year there have been a number of high profile incidents involving the Flyers which have sent players to the hospital. Other teams have also had their close calls as respect for each other seems to be at a near all time low for the NHL's players.

In their reply to the suspension, the Flyers expressed disappointment suggesting that with the exception of Bergeron being carted off the ice on a stretcher, this was the kind of hit we see all the time in the NHL. Which may actually be the problem with the game today, far too many players are but one bad hit away from being forced out of the game, perhaps permanently.

Whether this is a result of coaching or just indicative of how the game has evolved, the simple fact is that nowhere does it say that the need to intentionally injure or take a cheap shot on a player is part of the fabric of the game.

Yet body checking has given way to assault, interference has turned into mugging at times and full scale brawls seem to be on a steady increase. A rather swift swing of the pendulum from just a few seasons ago.

One person that probably won't be sold on the length of Monday's suspension and the unwillingness to address the increase in rough and dirty play, would be ESPN's Scott Burnside.

In his ESPN column on Monday he called the Flyer style of play a "culture of recklessness", we suspect that the Flyers comments on the suspension Monday, nor the leagues decision, will not have exorcised his fears.

Kipper cashes in

The Calgary Flames knocked off one more name on their list of franchise type players to secure to a long term deal. The latest move sends their fans and their league partners a signal that they plan on keeping a core group in Calgary for a good number of years.

Monday the Flames signed goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff to a six year 36 million dollar deal, which will keep him guarding the Flames net through to 2014 and for what the Flames no doubt hope are the best years of his career.

The massive contract reportedly pays the bulk of the money through the first five years of the deal, 6.7 a year, with year six dropping him down to 1.5 million. The deal is quite a step up from his current payday of 3.6 million a season.

Keeping Kiprusoff in the Flames fold solidifies another key member of the franchise. It follows recent signings of Jerome Iginla who agreed to a five year 35 million deal and Robyn Regehr who will try and get by on 20 million over five years.

There remain a few other members of the Flames coming up for free agency, the most notable name to watch being that of Dion Phaneuf, who will become a Group Two free agent on July 1st. Serving out the final year of his entry contract, Phaneuf will be looking for a significant increase from his current bargain basement rate of pay of $785,333.

There's still time to work out the details on that one, but if the recent financial workings of Darryl Sutter are any indication, it probably won't be too hard to get people to sign on the dotted line in Calgary.

The reviews are coming in and the consensus seems to be that Sutter has certainly got the task at hand figured out, he's secured some high profile talent at some pretty decent pricing for the Flames, leaving them a bit of room to work with to tweak the roster should the time arrive.

With players showing their dedication to the Flames (for a solid reward) and a surprisingly (for some) calm and businesslike atmosphere with their new coach Mike Keenan, all seems rather good in Calgary these days.

The Flames may very well be one of the teams to watch as this season unfolds, happy campers at the bank making, for a rewarding season on the ice.
Canadian Press-- Flames re-sign Kiprusoff
TSN------------- Flames, Kiprusoff agree to six-year deal

Monday, October 29, 2007

A Cool and frosty night at the Honda Centre

If the cold front from Alberta had arrived last week, then those Southern California wildfires wouldn't have stood a chance.

There were extra security guards on hand Sunday night in executive row at the Honda Centre, just in case Brian Burke and Kevin Lowe wandered into each others personal space. But in the end the extra help had a rather peaceful night of it, as the main protagonists of the Anaheim/Edmonton Cold War stayed cooped up in the respective sky boxes.

The Oilers made their first appearance in Anaheim since Dustin Penner sent Brian Burke’s blood pressure a rising by accepting an Oiler offer sheet in the off season. It was a gesture that put Burke and Oilers GM Kevin Lowe at the top of the great feuds of 2007-08 list and made this season’s match ups a little more interesting for the traveling media.

The Oilers first appearance in Southern California this year, provided Dustin Penner with the opportunity to pick up his Stanley Cup ring and receive the accolades (or raspberries) of the Duck faithful who greeted his return with a lukewarm reaction, mixed with cheers and jeers.

As for the anticipated main event of a Burke/Lowe meeting, it never came to pass. The two most likely chose to avoid each other, rather than tempt the fates of an accidental run in and the possibility of a headline generating scream fest and subsequent censure from the head office.

The rhetoric has died down quite a bit since those early days at the start of the season when Brian Burke proclaimed his anger and amazement at what the Oilers had decided to do to stock their team.

For a few days it seemed that a Burke and Lowe under card could be the ticket to financial success for the NHL, who merely needed to put their debates on Pay per View and watch the cash roll in.

Instead, it seems that a hold your fire edict may have been issued, as the two contenders for the title of most outraged of the year have been keeping a rather low profile lately.

It’s probably not good for selling tickets, but the league probably prefers it this way. After all when you’re portraying the image of one big happy family, having two of the older brothers brawling out in the family room, isn’t very good for the image.
At the end of the night, Burke was most likely in the fouler of the two moods as his Ducks came up on the short end of a 3-2 loss to Lowe's Oilers.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

In Toronto it takes patience to make it to the top of the Waiting list

Patience is a virtue, but foolishness is an addiction...

The Toronto Star’s Garth Woolsey has highlighted just what a pile of gold the Toronto Maple Leafs franchise is. One so secure in its financial base, that they can afford to almost taunt close to 6,000 followers desperate for information and hope.

Woolsey recounts a recent Toronto Maple Leaf update for those on the team’s season ticket waiting list, a collection of delusional types who now number nearly 6,000 and seemingly growing by the year.

The apparently very patient ones were advised that last year, four seats came available through the teams subscriber list, a prospect that would seem to put want to be ticket holders of the Leaf Nation on a long term ride to potential reward.

Anyone of those 6,000 might wish to consider a few other options in their quest for an NHL season ticket package, scour the obits for recently deceased Leaf fans who may have an estate sale, marry into a family with season tickets, purchase tickets and airfare for southern US cities that seem to have plenty of good seats available or hey, here’s an idea lobby Gary Bettman and this collection of financial wizards in New York as to the need for a second team in Southern Ontario.

With 6,000 waiting just for the chance to qualify for a Leafs season ticket, surely any second team would have no problem filling its rink. And even if they were truly dyed in Blue Leaf Nation fans, they at least could count on a few games when their elusive heroes came to town.

As for that gallant band of 6,000, judging by the math involved, there’s every chance that they will have gone on to their great reward beyond, before they can ever claim (and pay handsomely for) their reward from Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.

Three strikes and you’re out for Philly?

Paging Sheriff Campbell!

The Philadelphia Flyers once again find themselves in the hot seat, after yet another ugly on ice incident.

Saturday night in Boston, the Flyers Randy Jones crushed Boston’s Patrice Bergeron from behind into the boards in the Flyers end of the rink. Bergeron lay prone on the ice for several minutes following the hit, while yet another series of scuffles broke out in a game that had already become a chippy affair.

The careless and dangerous hit on Bergeron marks the third time that a Flyer player has sent someone to the hospital in less than two months. It marks a trend that has many beginning to wonder if the Flyers are out of control and whether the discipline phase needs to go beyond the players on the ice.

Clearly the message about respect for players is not being received in Philadelphia, where the line between physical hockey and physical assault seems to get blurred from time to time.

Last nights hit by Jones isn’t as spectacular at the previous two examples of violent hockey, but it could have been just as, if not more dangerous as Bergeron was completely unprotected from the jarring smash into the boards.
At full speed it isn’t as obvious as the Steve Downie hit on Ottawa's Dean McCammond , or as violent looking as the cross check by Jesse Boulerice on Vancouver’s Ryan Kessler. But watch it a few times and you realize that the vulnerability of Bergeron on the boards at that time could have resulted in much more than just the overnight stay for observation that he endured.

While the game has always been on of physical contact, the Flyers seem to be on a march to recreate the boundaries for contact in the game not seen since the infamous seventies.

The NHL has so far this season twice sent Philadelphia a message that the kind of play they are engaging in is not acceptable, suspensions to the responsible players were supposed to set the tone for the rest of the year that violent and stupid incidents would not be tolerated.

Now once again, the NHL must sit down and examine yet another violent Flyer miscue, the time may be at hand to make the organization as accountable as its players, for what seems to be a mindset that has developed this season.

For their part the Flyers issued the obligatory comments that they are glad that Bergeron is ok and that Jones is anything but the prototype of the dirty player. They provided their interpretation of the nights events that the hit was not dirty, that Bergeron had come up short on the boards and left himself vulnerable. While the evidence does seem to support their claim that he's not a dirty player, he was regardless careless in this instance and made the wrong decision in the heat of the moment, a common trait of late it seems.

It must be maddening to watch a Flyers game from the NHL war room, never sure when a stupid play is going to be the next day’s talking point for hockey fans. Maybe Colin Campbell needs to talk slower, show more pictures and bring in a huge chalkboard for the Flyers to write “we will not (insert latest violent act) anymore.”
Maybe the time has come to suspend the coach as well as the player, fine the organization or make the Flyers top scorer sit out as well, for as long as the offender is suspended and the victim recovers. Maybe they should just send the entire organization to a taping of Dr. Phil, so as to address their anti social behavior!

Clearly the solutions thus far haven't had the desired impact in Philadelphia, the league needs to do whatever it takes to get the message across to the Flyers that their style of play is starting to cause the game embarrassment.

There may be a love of physical hockey by the fans, but the prospect of player after player lying in a hospital room waiting to recover from the latest on ice assault is something that will eventually attract the attention of the courts.

If hockey can’t control the sudden surge in violence that seems to flow out of a visit from the Flyers, somebody else will, and that will be far more detrimental to the game than the prospect of alienating those that aren’t happy until the stretcher comes out on the ice.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Fashion victims?

Not since the National Film Board of Canada put together this interpretation of bestselling author Roch Carrier's iconic Canadian epic The Hockey Sweater, has a hockey oriented item of clothing received the kind of attention that the current NHL uniforms have received.

The buzz around the NHL these days is that the fancy new Rebok uniforms are getting more and more thumbs down by the living models that have to wear them.

The controversial uniforms were introduced this training camp, a more form fitting fashion, supposedly designed to have water roll off and away from the players, making the uniforms lighter and less susceptible to the sweat of a hard working hockey player.

Unfortunately, it seems that some of the design flaws are coming out now and causing a few problems for the players that have to play the game.

Water reportedly pools up in the cuffs of the players gloves, leaving them with that unwanted soggy feeling for far too much of a game, for those players that embark in the odd tussle on the ice, the new uniforms are proving not to be very resilient while in a fight. Tearing easily and making the work of a team enforcer more complicated than they would prefer.

The Globe and Mail featured a piece on the percolating issue, which is on the verge of flaring up into a major problem for the NHL and its main supplier.

The Boston Herald reported that the supplier is preparing to replace all NHL jersey’s with older material, a suggestion that the league was quick to try and refute by saying that Rebok was only modifying the jersey’s on a player by player basis.

Considering the backlash that the new uniforms have faced over the last few weeks, that player by player basis could very well number over 700 before the Rebok sewing team can put away their needle and thread.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

And the cradle will rock!

(Suggested video for John Ferguson Junior’s iPod Nano)

When things go wrong with any NHL team, the first suggestion is to maybe give the youngsters a chance. A solution which on Thursday night seemed to pay off for the Toronto Maple Leafs, who found some much needed goal scoring from the youngest of Leafs.

Led by goals from recently promoted Jiri Tlusty, the Leafs took charge of the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday and collected two points on the strength of a 5-2 victory in Pittsburgh.

Of course, that splurge from the youth seemed to fit in with the various themes that have been coming out of the Maple Leaf camp the last few days.

Ten games into the NHL season and suddenly it became the silly season at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment and the cadre of media types who follow every shrug and whisper there. A couple of days ago it was the never ending suggestion that it’s time to move Mats Sundin, while his value is high and the potential to pick up some valuable younger assets is great.

While Maple Leaf fans were busy debating the merits of such a move, a new and intriguing plan was being reported on, the supposed bid by the Maple Leafs to make an end run around their NHL partners and sign teenage phenom John Tavares to an AHL contract with the Marlies.

David Shoalts provided some details on the Tavares plans, designed to bring the teenager who is burning up the ice with the Oshawa Generals of the OHL into the Maple Leaf fold. Tavares who misses the deadline for inclusion in this years draft by a few days, will have to wait until 2009 to find an NHL team to call home. His agent has held preliminary talks in the hope that the NHL might waive their age ruling in this one instance, allowing Tavares to be up for the draft this year. But it's unlikely that the league will do so and lately that option hasn't been getting much in the way of publicity from the Tavares camp either.

For now, he skates among his own age group, a talent that is proving to be a bonus for the OHL but one who probably would benefit development wise from a more challenging environment to showcase his talents. This week there were rumblings of a potential relocation to one of the European leagues, or we assume if the Leafs can swing the deal, a trip to the Ricoh Coliseum and a locker with the Leafs farm club the Marlies.

It’s not clear how things would work in sneaking Tavares into the clutches of the Maple Leafs, some suggest that GM John Ferguson Jr. has some kind of loop hole in mind, while other like minded co-conspiracists believe that in the end, Tavares would refuse to sign with whichever team selects him in the amateur draft of 2009. A move that would leave the drafting team to negotiate a deal with Toronto, for the player many say may be the next big thing. Failing that, the Leafs it is suggested, threw out the idea that Tavares could play for the Marlies until he becomes a free agent in 2011.

It’s all very interesting, if not slightly weird and unlikely. For one thing if Tavares is as good as many say that he is, there will be no shortage of teams jockeying for his affections on draft day whenever that day comes. If the Leafs think that a young player just starting out his NHL career is going to purposely sit out the first few years of his career, just to pull on a Leafs uniform, then somebody had best check the ventilation system at the Air Canada Centre.

It’s been a rough start to the Leaf’s season so far, the team has struggled on the ice and the whispers are getting louder and louder about major changes set to come. Included in those whispers, is the prospect of a change which may include the replacement of the General Manager.

Maybe the story about the young phenom and the Leafs is but a diversion to take the minds of the Leaf Nation off the struggling state of the team these days and to buy their embattled GM a bit of time.

Not since the WHA brought the young lads in swaddling clothes into professional hockey in the seventies has the potential of a youth movement created such a storm.

But sending a young man just into the beginning of his career into the confusing and somewhat anarchistic state of the Maple Leaf Nation just doesn’t seem right. Surely there are child protection laws in Ontario that will spring into effect, designed to keep the young from suffering at the hands of the unscrupulous.

We suspect that a child protection order is being researched as we speak.

Below are some of the theories on just what it is that the Leafs may be up to:

The Canadian Press: Leafs looking at signing Tavares to AHL deal? Don t bother says AHL prez
The Toronto Star: Leafs making eyes at Tavares
Toronto Metro: Leafs target Tavares Tavares deal pure fantasy Tavares-Leafs story doesn't make sense
CBC Sports: Leafs chasing phenom Tavares: report

By the time they get back to the garage they’ll need more than a tune up

The struggles of the Vancouver Canucks continued on Wednesday night as a lethargic looking squad struggled to get shots on the net, let alone goals behind Red Wing goaltender Domenik Hasek.

The Game Summary for game number ten of this year’s campaign, doesn’t begin to show the troubles that the Canucks are facing at the moment. Out shot 39 to 15 by a much faster and more physical Red Wing team, Vancouver had troubles simply getting out of their end of the rink. Giveaways and sloppy play provided the Wings with far too many scoring opportunities, as the Canucks seemed willing to let Roberto Luongo shoulder more than his share of the load.

Passes went astray and the top four offensive threats of the Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Marcus Naslund and Brendan Morrison were nowhere to be seen for much of the game. The only thing that kept this game from becoming a laughable disaster was a top notch performance by Roberto Luongo, who despite surrendering three goals did all he could to keep his team in the game and hopeful of a comeback.

Most damning for the Canucks on this night was once again the porous display on the blue line, the Wings rolled into the Canuck end of the rink time after time, bowling over Luongo almost at will and mostly unchallenged. The Wings beat the Canucks to the puck in the corners and controlled the play early in the game.

The Canucks showed a bit of life getting close to the 2-1 lead in the second period before the Red Wings began to take the play away for good on the way to a 3-2 victory.

Even the simple things like a line change cause the Canucks troubles, for the second game in a row they suffered an un-necessary too many men on the ice call, a two minute penalty that highlights the mental errors that they are making these days.

Ten games into the season, they are two games below five hundred with but four wins and a host of questions about the make up of this team. They are in desperate need of some offense, which will make the Peter Forsberg rumours grow louder as November gets closer and the once reliable defence is suddenly anything but.

The Canucks move on to Washington for a Friday night match up with an improving Capitals squad then it’s back home and a Sunday night game that won’t provide them with a soft touch (if such a thing exists at the moment for Vancouver) for the home folks. The Red Wings begin their western swing at GM Place on Sunday, ready to pick up where they left off in Detroit on Wednesday.

NHLPA announces Paul Kelly as their new director

Wednesday didn’t exactly bring any breaking news from the NHL Players Association, the announcement and introduction of Paul Kelly as their new director, merely a formality after word was out last week that after a lengthy search, the NHLPA had found their man.

Kelly a Boston lawyer, takes over a union which has been at war with itself for a number of months that after the forced removal of Ted Saskin from the job, after reported irregular activities over e mails led many to believe that the association was heading in the wrong direction.

In Kelly’s first address to the media, he preached a process of consultation, looking to visit each and every team over the next month or so in order to introduce himself to the over 700 members, learning their issues and urging the rank and rile to become more involved in their association.

A daunting task, for a union that has been plagued by apathy and is at times not the most cohesive group of participants. The Teamsters these guys will never be confused with.

Kelly’s arrival will however signal a change in the relationship between the players and the league, a relationship which by all indications has benefited the league’s interests over the last few years.

As for relations with Gary Bettman, Kelly wants to meet and have a chat, respectful and proactive to better further the game and of course the position of his new constituents, the members of the association. However, respectful most likely won’t translate into chummy, a term which seemed to dog Saskin as his days dwindled as head of the union.

Kelly, said he understands that hockey is a business, a joint venture if you will, but he also knows when the time comes to draw the line and to work tirelessly on behalf of the players.

However, there was no talk today of strikes, lockouts, contracts or hard feelings with management or fellow union members, instead a forward thinking vision of where he would like to take the association and how he sees himself fitting into their affairs.

Kelly has a pretty impressive resume and is best known in hockey circles for taking part in the prosecution of Alan Eagleson, the original director of the NHLPA who like Saskin found himself ousted after a number of players began to question his efforts on their behalf. Eagleson, found himself in a court room, thanks in a good deal by the efforts of Kelly to unearth the evidence that was presented in court and led to his conviction on fraud charges.

During that trial, a large number of former players watched on with interest, finally secure in the knowledge that a long time wrong had been righted. So it’s not surprising that one of the first projects that Kelly wishes to tackle is a better relationship with and improved assistance for former players, many of whom are suffering financial and health problems.

For far too long, NHL players once they leave the game for the most part disappeared into a black hole, unless they were the highest of profile players they were for the most part forgotten by the league, their old teams and many of their fellow players.

Over the years there have been countless stories of ancient warriors, left destitute and in failing health with no one to turn to. Kelly would like to change that, providing his office as a conduit for them and to help provide some relief for those human issues.

If he can follow through on that initiative, as well as provide an open and transparent handling of the current player’s affairs, then his 10 million dollar, five year salary will seem like one of the best insurance policies that the players could ever have invested in.

The union’s credibility is still tarnished, many of the players still apathetic, but slowly it seems that they are turning their affairs around. Wednesday most likely was treated as a very positive day for the players association, the end of a dark period of their times and perhaps the rebirth of a more effective advocate for their interests.
What will be interesting to watch will be the reaction and subsequent relationship that the NHL office has from today's confirmation.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Forsberg factor

These days he skates circles and runs drills with Modo of the Swedish league, all part of a reconditioning and rehabilitation regimen to determine if he his ready for the rigors of an NHL season. In a few short weeks though it is expected that health willing, Peter Forsberg and his coveted feet, legs and hands, will soon be heading to North America.

Reports and trial balloons out of Sweden, have Forsberg putting together a short list of potential NHL employers, two sure things and a few others that could persuade him if they offer the right opportunity.

Forsberg must be an aficionado of old Brando movies, as it would appear that he wants to go to a team that “could be a contender”.

The sure bets apparently are the Colorado Avalanche and the Ottawa Senators, two teams that Forsberg believes are competitive and possible contenders for the Stanley Cup. The Avs perhaps have a bit more money in the salary cap than the Sens, Ottawa is almost tapped out and still has to negotiate a deal with Jason Spezza. Of course the Sens do have an ace up their sleeve, two top flight goal tenders both of whom could claim the number one status on any team.
Should they want to clear up some room in the cap zone that would be as good a place as any to start. Already loaded with offensive talent, Forsberg in Ottawa colours would almost be an embarrassment of riches, but we suspect that they’d be willing to suffer that burden in the nation’s capital.

Colorado offers Forsberg the chance to return to a team that he is quite familiar with, having spent ten years in with the Avs organization, including two successful years as Stanley Cup champs in 1996 and 2001, as an added bit of financial incentive, the Avs have more cap room than Ottawa, with some five million clear and free for the best offer potential.

While those are the two front runners, pulses will also quicken in Philadelphia, Detroit and Vancouver, where it’s said that management is quite interested in cobbling together an offer for the now well rested Swede.

It would be interesting to see how Forsberg would fit in with the Flyers who seem a tad confused as to their hockey direction this season, while Detroit might find that landing Forsberg would help to bring back the crowds in the Motor City who have been quite noticeable in their reduced numbers so far this year.
As for Vancouver, Lord knows they could use a goal scorer or two there, but if Forsberg is serious about wanting to play for a contender it’s hard to see how the Canucks in the present lethargic slump that they are in, would fit that bill. Then again he could be just what they need to finally show Vancouver fans that the team is back on track for a Stanley Cup bid.

Last week the Dallas Stars sent GM Doug Armstrong and team ambassador Brett Hull over to Forsberg’s home town to try and talk him into a Big D rendez vous. But if the reports today are any indication, even the loquacious Hull couldn’t say enough of the rght things about hockey in Texas.

Wherever he lands and providing his health is good (concerns over his feet remain with many), his arrival back from Europe could change the dynamic in the NHL. They’ll be pacing like nervous parents in many NHL cities for the next few weeks while Forsberg ponders his options, it’s expected that he’ll have his mind made up in time for a mid November crossing.

Whichever team ends up with his services may find that suddenly they may be a little lighter at the bank, but will have leapt to the top of the Stanley Cup favourites list

16:22 of the second period, October 22, 2007

Check your tickets, we have a winner!

The Captain Hook pool is officially over, Mike Keenan pulled Mikka Kiprusoff for the first (and most likely not the last) time on Monday night. Relieving Calgary’s number one after the San Jose Sharks scored their third unanswered goal of the night.

Keenan, who has become a legend in the NHL over his frequent hooks of the past, was quick to point out that his decision Monday had nothing to do with the play of the steadfast Calgary goaltender, but more was designed to impress upon his team mates to get with the program.

It was a message that seemingly fell on deaf ears, as the Flames proceeded to leave Rookie Curtis McElhinney to his own devices in the Calgary end of the rink. McElhinney surrendered his own goal early in the third, as the Sharks continued on along their way to an eventual 4-1 victory.

Calgary showed no energy or jump for the bulk of the game, with a number of careless mental errors contributing to the lethargic ways, giving the Sharks a rather easy time of it.

An effort or lack of, that was noticed by their head coach and will no doubt be addressed over the next few practice sessions.

Monday, October 22, 2007

AHL looks deep to the heart of Texas

The AHL, looking to find 30 franchises for 30 parents is keeping an eye on the Texas possibilities, with Austin tapped as potentially the next franchise to join up with the NHL's top developmental league.
Austin currently is home to the Ice Bats who play in the revitalized Central Hockey League, which features a wide assortment of mainly southern and southwestern cities (Iowa and Ohio stand alone in northern climes) coming in for the cool temps of the rink and some of that old time hockey entertainment.

The Winnipeg Sun's Ken Wiebe, picked up the trail of the potential AHL addition while putting together a piece on the league and it's plans for the historic loop, examining all, from scheduling to the desire of Manitoba hockey fans to see more of a variety of AHL teams and more opportunities to catch up with former Manitoba born players.

The AHL has been on a serious American expansion thrust over the last few years with only Toronto, Hamilton and Winnipeg remaining as north of the border franchises in the league that once controlled the hockey market in Atlantic Canada with a hotly contested Canadian division.

Now instead of down east fare such as lobster and fish as the pre game meals, the menu is taking a definite southern tinge, Grits, Steaks and Tacos are more likely to be found as the AHL moves on from San Antonio and Houston into Austin and beyond.

Oilfield reunion

When Ryan Smyth decided to come back west and sign with the Colorado Avalanche for a very handsome sum, the first thing that any good Edmonton Oiler fan did was to check the schedule and see when the Avs would first be in town.

Reunion night takes place on Tuesday, as Smyth and his new club make the trek to Edmonton, ready to once again play the traditional role of those that shall be hated. However, for Oiler fans with good memories, it may be hard to build up that animosity for a favourite old son.

It’s doubtful that Smyth will feel the complete unfettered hostility that Chris Pronger finds when he returns to Edmonton. Where Pronger wanted out for undefined “personal reasons” a perceived snub of the Alberta capital, Smyth’s departure was for something much easier to understand; it all came down to money.

A familiar path that the Oilers have faced over the years, a small market team seemingly unable to keep up with the wild spending of the larger markets. It is a trend that first reared its head back in the days of Gretzky and his tearful farewell to Edmonton on his way to the sun and surf of California.

Last springs drama played out through to the trading deadline, Smyth the reluctant participant in salary brinkmanship, declaring right up until his flight to Long Island that he didn’t want to leave his home province.

The trade seems to have split Oiler fans into two camps, one side that feels that Smyth should have taken one for the team, accepting less money from the Oilers in order to continue as the team’s heart and soul. Others suggest that the Oilers made a fatal error in not properly rewarding a long serving warrior who played night in and night out, without complaint proud to be wearing the Oiler crest on his chest. Shakespearean dramas have had less material to work with.

While Smyth gave the Islanders a quick shot of enthusiasm for their short and unsuccessful playoff run, the Oilers had tumbled into an end of season free fall that left many long time fans frustrated and fearful for their team.

With the benefit of a summer past, perhaps they’ve put those end is nigh frustrations behind them. Kevin Lowe is designing a new Oiler team, looking to build for the long term, cautiously guarding its payroll while struggling to find its skates on the ice.

It will no doubt be a packed arena on Tuesday night, many there to salute their former hero, a few to spurn him. Regardless of their position, all had best get used to seeing him in a Colorado uniform. His four year contract guarantees that he’ll be back in town on a regular basis.

Each night will bring a reminder of what once was and what could have been if not for a hundred thousand dollars.

There will be an uneasy feeling around the rink on Tuesday, a crowd probably not sure what they should do, whether to cheer or boo.

The safe money suggests they’ll acknowledge his long commitment to the Oilers with applause and genuine goodwill, right up until the moment the puck drops and the two teams renew their legendary hostilities.

And should Smyth score a goal? Well let’s hope that 31.25-million dollars makes for a thick skin and that he doesn’t take the traditional response personally…

His return has done its fair share for the production of Alberta newsprint, here’s a sample of his homecoming reports...

Edmonton Journal- Ryan's return
Edmonton Sun- Smyth is back in town

Sunday, October 21, 2007

No wandering out of the zone for NHL Fans…

If voting members of the NHLFA were around at the time of Columbus, the world would still be flat and exploration of new lands would be left on the back burner.

In a recent fan poll, the respondents to questions put forward by the NHL Fans Association closed the door to the idea of European expansion, as 82 per cent of poll respondents said that they are against the NHL even exploring expansion to Europe, A surprising amount considering the recent trial balloons that have been floated about a potential NHL division based in Europe.

Of course as there was no breakdown on the number of votes returned in from the some 30,000 potential NHLFA voters, we don’t really know how reflective that 82 per cent is of hockey fans that have signed up with the Fan group.

Other questions that concerned NHL fans were the new look, tighter fitting sweaters which haven’t apparently caught on with the fashionistas of the NHLFA, with 43 per cent of those answering the poll suggesting that the league made a mistake and should return to last year’s looser-fitting sweaters, 29 per cent said they liked the new sweaters just fine thank you very much.

66 per cent of those who answered the poll thought the 20-game suspension given to the Philadelphia Flyers’ Steve Downie was just right, while 21 per cent disagreed with the NHL’s punishment.

And it seems that NHLFA members are a hearty lot, as 84 per cent said that they thought the idea of an outdoor game such as the planned New years day game in Buffalo was just fine, only 7 per cent felt that hockey was best left to the indoor palaces with their skyboxes and varied menu of between period treats..

The NHLFA was created back in 1998 starting out with 3000 members, nine years later they are closing in on 30,000. Since those early days they have solicited opinion from hockey fans and have lobbied on behalf of them to try and provide a fans perspective to the game.

There’s no charge to join, but donations are most likely quite welcome. Most importantly though is the feedback that they receive from the hockey fan base, it will be interesting to see how those fans respond over the season to the various issues that the NHLFA bring up, of particular interest to Canadian fans might be the topic of expansion within Canada.

Perhaps that is why the prospect of European expansion got such a determined thumbs down, with hockey markets such as Hamilton, Quebec City and Winnipeg still shut out from the NHL, Canadian hockey fans might like to see the home front better taken care of, before the league wanders across the oceans.

Until that time, like the days of the 1400's, it would seem that the taking the NHL ship out to sea isn't worth the trouble and that there's hardly anyplace outside the country worth exploring.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Past 500 goals and fifty years, a legend endures

They will commemorate the Rocket one more time this weekend in Montreal, the Canadiens will salute the achievement of their capitaine ancien, with a scoreboard salute during the Buffalo - Montreal game on Saturday night. With that salute, an arena that has for the most part been devoid of ghosts since the closing of the Forum, will suddenly feel a little chill of an apparition as memories of one of the greatest of Habs flood back.

Richard set the standard for goal scoring on October 19, 1957 when he scored goal number 500 against the Chicago Black Hawks. Since that momentous occasion, thirty eight other players have crossed over the 500 goal barrier. A good number of whom will never reach the lofty, legendary and beloved status that Richard achieved.

He was one of the greatest goal scorers of our times, an amazing force who as soon as he took to the ice would bring the crowd to their feet in anticipation of something special. Today we celebrate one such moment that came to pass on October 19 of 1957.

There have been a number of remembrances of the late Canadien's memorable night, a few of which we provide below.

Fifty years ago ...
Would Richard be successful today?
Is scoring 500 goals still special?
It Was 50 Years Ago Today...
Richard's mark in time meant something, but what about now?

And we leave it to the wonderfully descriptive Red Fisher, to recapture one of the greatest moments in Habs and Hockey history.

Rocket Richard made history 50 years ago by becoming first player to score 500 goals

Is Europe the future for NHL success?

William Houston has an interesting look at what direction the NHL should be heading as it tries to come to terms with unsuccessful southern markets and potential expansion for the league.
In the Friday Globe and Mail and posted to the website, is a piece that suggests that the NHL buy out the six weakest franchises for 250 million dollars each and relocate those teams to Northern and Central European hockey hot beds. Instantly creating a European division, reaping massive television and marketing potential and making a bold step for the NHL's future look.

It's long been suggested that instead of chasing the Nashville's and Atlanta's, the NHL should instead seek out the likes of Stockholm, Prague, Moscow and other European centers that appreciate the sport and may wish to view it played at perhaps its highest level.

Houston wracked the brain of Toronto based player agent, Anton Thun who believes that a European expansion would harvest nothing but money for the NHL and he's quite puzzled by the hesitancy of the NHL to make the move.

He also urges the NHL to move quickly, before the IIHF sets up its own European Super league, potentially closing any window that the NHL might have to grow its game and change the dynamic of a league that is watching its southern flank begin to wobble.

Back when the NHL lock out took place there was some talk of setting up a Super League where locked out players would ply their trade, at the time the IIHF published a report on its website that suggested that it was a project that wouldn't last.

However, times change and with the NHL in need of an image boost and more importantly a financial boost, the prospect of a European may be timely once again. Especially when you consider the potential of having Moscow or Prague come to town, an event which surely would be more exciting to many of the stronger franchises than yet another visit from the Coyotes or Thrashers.

It would be a bold step if it ever were to take place, but judging by past history it may be an opportunity that slips through the NHL's fingers.

Europe could be the place to be for NHL
From Friday's Globe and Mail
October 18, 2007 at 8:42 PM EDT

Placing your product in a market where there's a demand is pretty elementary stuff, but the NHL had a better idea.

It established teams in regions of the United States where there was virtually no demand, at least not on television.

Now, the league is talking about doing it again by expanding to Kansas City and Las Vegas. Just the thought of it leaves Toronto-area hockey agent Anton Thun cold.

“I honestly don't know if there's any demand for hockey at all in Kansas City,” he said in an interview this week. “And I don't believe there's any demand in Las Vegas, either. So, what are we doing?”

It would help substantially if more people in the game, particularly NHL owners, asked the same question.

If the goal is to make more money for billionaire Los Angeles Kings owner Philip Anschutz, who will have a stake in the arenas in K.C. and Las Vegas, or if Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer joining the NHL as owner of the Las Vegas franchise is too exciting to resist, then the NHL's power brokers deserve the failed business model they have created.

But Thun, a lawyer and veteran player representative, says the NHL, with some smart moves, could turn around a bad situation and add a billion dollars annually to its revenue.

For starters, it would place a team in southern Ontario, which is a no-brainer given the size of the market and interest in hockey. Thun says owning that team would be a “a licence to print money.”

And then the league would move to Europe, to large northern and central European cities where hockey is a major sport. But instead of expanding, it would relocate six existing but failing teams.

Said Thun, “You would go to the six lowest revenue producing teams in the NHL and say, ‘Listen, we've got owners in Europe. We want to set up a European division. And we want to move six teams at one time. Are you willing to sell your franchise for $250-million?' I can't imagine a lot of people would say no.”

A fee of $250-million would certainly be well above market value for clubs such as Phoenix, Atlanta, Nashville and Florida.

A European division could consist of franchises in any six of London, Paris, Stockholm, Helsinki, Prague, Frankfurt, Berlin and Moscow. The six teams would play each other eight times, bringing each team's total to 40 games, plus 42 more against North American teams at home and away.

Travel would be an issue, but most of the interlocking games would involve North American teams closest to Europe on the Atlantic coast. The Atlantic division is a bus loop, anyway, so a few long trips wouldn't hurt.

Thun sees Europe as rich pickings given the sponsorship revenue that's available in the major cities and the potential for television, where a game of the week would easily outdraw the numbers for NBC in the United States, which earns a 1.0 rating (percentage of potential households watching) for NHL telecasts.

“In countries where you would have NHL teams, I think hockey night in Europe would be a slam dunk,” Thun said.

There are issues. Integrating North American and European television would be difficult. Prime-time telecasts in Europe would air in the afternoon in North America. Taxes for players and corporations would vary significantly from those in North American jurisdictions, but there already are tax variances and they're dealt with.

Thun, who travels to Europe regularly, believes an NHL move there should be done quickly, before an independent league is set up. The International Ice Hockey Federation may have its eye on a super league of its own, he says. The IIHF's European Champions Cup, a tournament involving the top club teams, is now in its third year.

“If the NHL doesn't get into it, quite honestly I'm concerned that the European hockey federations will set up their own league,” he said. “That would drain talent from the NHL and capture revenue that the NHL otherwise would have.”

Sid v. Habs

Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby seems to be a bigger draw in Canada than the Montreal Canadiens. TSN's Florida Panthers-Habs game Tuesday was watched by 275,000. Wednesday's New Jersey Devils-Pens telecast, on TSN, had 409,000 viewers, a big number for an all-U.S. matchup.Dan Patrick, formerly of ESPN, has joined Sports Illustrated where he will write a weekly column, starting in January. The SI partnership also ties in Patrick's syndicated radio show as well as his writing a daily blog.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Bob Hartley gets the heave ho in Atlanta

Attention all NHL Dead pool players!! We have your first name of the year.

The first coaching casualty of the season arrived on Wednesday, as the Atlanta Thrashers decided that it wasn't the heat but the futility and offered Bob Hartley a “See ya’ll later” salutation, as GM Don Wadell dismissed the Thrashers coach who was entering his fifth season in Atlanta.

Hartley has watched his under performing team lose ten games of importance in the last six months. The four playoff games in which the Thrashers played patsies to the Rangers to end last season and the first six games of this new year, which sadly resembled the way that last seasons short and unsuccessful playoff run ended.

Hartley it seems had lost his team, an apparent hard taskmaster was no longer finding results. It was more than apparent from the Thrasher’s lethargic play and dismal start that whatever he was saying was being tuned out by the players, many it seems were waiting for word that a change was gong to come since opening night.

Where Waddell goes from here will be an interesting story to watch. Besides looking for a new coach, with some new ideas and a boatload of patience for an enigmatic team, there’s the status of the franchise itself.

Questions about the franchises' very existence abound in Atlanta, currently the teams ownership is in a state of flux, involved in a nasty internal legal fight, the city itself is a market that seems to be as fair weather a place as there could be in sports. The Atlanta Journal Constitution's, Jeff Schultz alluded to as much in his season opening column, which set the theme of a franchise with too many questions and not near enough answers.

Many of the names being bounced around as a potential coach, may wish to wait and see what becomes of the Thrasher’s franchise, where they may end up and who might be writing the cheques in the near future. Scotty Bowman, Pat Quinn, Dave King or any of the other high profile names currently being mentioned, should keep an eye on the lay of that southern land, before they plant their feet in Dixie (or wherever the Thrashers may one day end up)

Until all of the franchise uncertainty is cleared up, these Thrashers will more than likely be Waddell’s project to turn around.

There is no shortage of people pointing their fingers in his direction as someone else who may soon be looking for a new job. Waddell created the current Thrasher lineup through high profile trades and patience at the draft table, as well as some questionable contract offers that are now starting to bite the franchise on its backside. The challenge now for him, is to prove that the GM of that day provided the coach of today, with the right players for the job.

If not, there may be a major shake up of the Thrashers from top to bottom and everywhere in between.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A more tradtional relationship may be on the way

The NHLPA has nominated their candidate to take over the leadership of the players union, former US attorney, Paul Kelly, a no nonsense, advocate for the players and most likely, more inclined to take a more traditional approach to labour relations with the NHL.

Kelly is best known in hockey circles for two key events in recent hockey history, when he represented Marty McSorley after the infamous Donald Brashear attack, and for his involvement in the process to bring Alan Eagleson to justice. The latter event saw the former NHLPA executive director agree to plead guilty on fraud and embezzlement charges and brought to an end a rather controversial era to the NHL labour scene.

That was the last great scandal in labour relations until last years overthrow of Ted Saskin, the NHLPA head who found himself under increased scrutiny and eventually dismissed over alleged incidents of hacking into the player’s e mail accounts. Saskin was terminated as the NHLPA head after it reportedly became common knowledge of his electronic gathering, apparently while seeking out the identity of dissenters to his leadership.

Saskin’s fascination with e mail seems to have made a come back on the union radar with more details over the weekend courtesy of the Toronto Star’s Rick Westhead, who has an interesting review of events posted to the Toronto Star website.

In the Westhead article, the picture of Daly as more of a pipeline to the NHL than an advocate for the players seems to be portrayed. As he and NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly exchanged e mail correspondences that have raised the eyebrows and the ire of many of the NHLPA rank and file.

In one particular e mail, Daly reportedly forwarded to Saskin, a correspondence between himself and TSN's Gord Miller (good luck getting any player interviews this season), which outlined lawyer Ian Pulver and former NHL star Steve Larmer as two staunch opponents to the direction that Saskin was taking the players association.

Another now infamous correspondence, has Saskin e mailing Commissioner Gary Bettman advising that he may send Chris Chelios to a planned meeting in Russia in 2006, a suggestion which produced a reply from the Commissioner, that a one way ticket for Chelios might be an idea.

While the reply shows one of the few indications that Gary Bettman has a sense of humour, the rather cozy familiarity that he and Saskin seemed to share, has raised alarm bells about how the relationship between union and management may have been co-opted.

It’s anticipated that if Kelly is approved on October 23rd with a simple majority of NHL players, that the past days of back channels and inside information will be brought to an end.

This will be an important step for the players association, which has the opportunity to re-open the NHL-NHLPA agreement in the 2008-09 season. The first opportunity that they will have to seek redress to their grievances over the way that those negotiations evolved, now with the added suggestion that they may have been undermined from within during that time.

There has been some debate as to how much power a new Executive Director will have, in August, Eric Lindros who is a member of the NHLPA's constitutional committee and has been a major player in the behind the scenes process to reclaim the union over the last few months.

Lindros said in August, that the thirty teams will have much more of a say in the day to day operations of the association than in the past and that any new director will most likely have less power than his predecessors.

It will be interesting to watch the evolution of the players association should Kelly be acclaimed as the Executive Director, one thing is certain the congratulatory telegram from the NHL (if there is one) will no doubt be short and business like, emoticons and jokes most likely won’t be part of the day to day correspondence schedule from now on.

Even more important will be the distancing of the association from the league, a more familiar union/management relationship is on the horizon for the NHL, one which may see the league return to the more heated debates of the past.

Stephen Brunt reviews the events that transpired during the Saskin years, with a riveting tale of duplicity and power plays that left the union battered and questioning whether their union really had their interests at heart at a key point in NHL history.

At least from the players point of view, they will now only have one battle to fight in the future, the agent provocateurs from within will have been deleted, a process that the NHL itself is probably wishing it had done with some embarrassing e mails, correspondences that have left a trail of suspicion dating back more than a few years now.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Flyers waive goodbye to Boulerice

With the cacophony of noise over Jesse Boulerice’s vicious cross check last week of Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler still ringing in their ears, the Philadelphia Flyers have decided to put the now suspended Boulerice on waivers.

Prior to last Friday’s disciplinary hearing with Colin Campbell, the call in some quarters of the NHL was for Boulerice to be suspended for a lengthy term, with even one or two calls for a lifetime ban.

So, it would seem that the Flyers are offering their fellow NHL partners the opportunity to do just that, by ignoring Boulerice’s offerings and letting him slide through the cracks of NHL bureaucracy, perhaps to never be seen in the NHL again.

Cynics might note that the Flyers no doubt knew what Boulerice brought to the line up when they dressed him night in and out and considering his checkered past in junior hockey and beyond, they surely can’t claim to have been surprised by what took place.

While putting him on waivers is smart business sense we assume, it does seem to be seeking absolution by simply dismissing the problem that the Boulerice hit has caused to their conscience. Washing their hands of the unfortunate incident, without having to take a sense of responsibility for the team they had crafted this season.

Interestingly enough, Steve Downie who was involved in another brutal attack earlier in September has not been placed on waivers as he serves his twenty game suspension, suggesting that the Flyers may have a sliding scale when it comes to degrees of conscience it seems.
Considering their marketing strategy at the start of the season as Michael Farber of Sports Illustrated outlines on the magazines website, it's not surprising that things have unravelled as fast as they have on the ice in Pennsylvania this season.
A look over their line up and the past penalty minutes of their additions, seems to have pre-ordained multiple sessions with Colin Campbell through the year, but not even the Flyer's could have imagined the sudden speed of their violent downfall.

The news out of Philadelphia came after Kesler recounted a conversation with Boulerice, who had phoned to apologize for the dangerous cross check and inquired as to the state of Kesler’s health.

We suspect that those two won’t become phone pals anytime soon, but considering Boulerice’s current situation, the next phone call he makes to anyone in the NHL may be to ask someone for another chance, once his 25 games have been served.

It will be a test of where the NHL sees itself going on the ice from here on, if anyone takes the call.

(Photo above, appeared on the SI website)