Thursday, June 26, 2008

Something Auld, something new, Something taken from the team in Blue

For a team that was set to turn a new page, chart a new course or explore new frontiers, the Vancouver Canucks are certainly turning back the clock a bit and more importantly taking some interesting chances.

Shut out on the trading floor last weekend in Ottawa, Canucks' GM Mike Gillis has been making some interesting (some would say frightening) choices over the last few days as he attempts to rebuild his team's fortunes.

The Canucks lifted Kyle Wellwood off the waiver wire on Wednesday, seeking to bring the former Leaf to the west coast. As they announced their latest acquisition Gillis suggested that Wellwood was a player who "we think he's a guy that we are prepared to put a lot of time and effort into and work."

A project if you will, something that Canuck fans may or may not find appealing as they wring their hands over their teams machinations in the board room, especially when their new GM is taking cast offs from Toronto, something that will be received with a raised eyebrow in Vancouver's sports bars this weekend.

Yesterday the Canucks were floating the name of Alex Auld around, as a possible returnee and back up to Roberto Luongo, he's just one of a number of goaltenders set to enter the free agency sweepstakes on Canada Day.

That NHL version of the hockey bazaar, will see a wide range of players become available for the right price as Canadians cut some cake and take in some nation building fireworks, it will also possibly be the only way that Gillis will be able to gain some name talent for his club.

If he can't make any deals with his fellow GM's, he may just have to pull out the Aquilini cheque book and purchase some franchise changing faces.

Continental league still keeping an eye out for NHL talent

"The NHL, for decades, has ignored our contracts. Why should we respect them without any agreement? There is no legal basis for respect." -- Continental league founder, Alexander Medvedev outlining his thoughts on any protocol between his new league and the NHL.

They've been rebuffed by the biggest name so far, but the Russian based Continental league still is keeping its options open when it comes to NHL talent.

While the NHL continues to try to work out an agreement to leave contract players alone, nothing has been nailed down yet and that is leaving a window of opportunity for the new league to seek out the rosters of the NHL teams and see what might be up for grabs in Mr. Bettman's store.

IIHF president Rene Fasel jumped into the fray last week with a ruling that leagues are required to honor player contracts even in the absence of a transfer agreement, however, his announcement and the threat of disciplinary action hasn't seemed to have had much impact with Alexander Medvedev, the Russian billionaire who is bankrolling the start up costs of the league.

Medvedev, who seems quite sure of his position and the ability to bring his fellow Continental hockey league owners along for the ride, is sounding particularly challenging to the NHL, who for the most part aren't used to not getting their way.

How the situation evolves over the summer could provide a fairly interesting snapshot of what the NHL is going to look like in the next few years, as European players possibly return home and North American ones examine a new world for their talents, one eager to pay top dollar it seems to put a team together.

The Globe and Mail featured a story on Tuesday that examined Medvedev's bluster and how it may shake out in North American hockey circles.

Russian league still open to signing NHL players
Globe and Mail Update
June 24, 2008 at 4:25 PM EDT

The NHL has opened negotiations with a new Russian-based professional hockey league to establish a temporary agreement to prevent either league from signing players under contract.
But until such a deal is reached, Continental Hockey League founder Alexander Medvedev has no problem with his teams using lucrative offers in an attempt to poach NHL stars, such as Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin.

"I believe the clubs have a free hand to do whatever they want," Medvedev told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Tuesday. "Legally, they have the full right to do so, because we have suffered in the past. We can't say, 'Look boys, it's morally not good without having an agreement. Don't do it."'

Medvedev, a member of the International Ice Hockey Federation council, described the NHL proposal he received on Tuesday as a start and will consider accepting it. However, it fell well short of the deal he said he's ultimately seeking from the NHL: a long-term transfer agreement, which would establish terms of compensation for teams that lose players to another league.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly described the submitted proposal as a draft of a short-term understanding in which both leagues would agree to honor the contracts of their respective players. Daly added the NHL did agree with Medvedev to consider discussing a more detailed player transfer agreement, while noting such negotiations would depend upon the involvement of the NHL Players' Association.

Daly, however, contradicted Medvedev's view in regards to CHL teams currently being free to sign NHL players under contract. Daly said, "Mr. Medvedev, on behalf of the KHL, has already agreed to respect the valid and binding contractual obligations of players to NHL clubs."

The CHL, which goes by "KHL" in Russia, created a stir last week when it was revealed that several Russian teams intended to offer Malkin a multiyear contract worth at least $12.5 million per season. Malkin has one year left on his contract with the Penguins.

Malkin's agent, J.P. Barry, confirmed his client received a lucrative "back-channel" offer to play in Russia, but stressed it was a deal Malkin had no intention of accepting.

IIHF president RenDe Fasel has ruled leagues are required to honor player contracts even in the absence of a transfer agreement. He also threatened disciplinary action — including disqualification from Olympic play — against players switching leagues while under contract. The IIHF, however, has no disciplinary authority over teams and their leagues.

The NHL no longer pays a $200,000 transfer fee for signing a European free agent after its agreement with the IIHF expired earlier this month. Russia had pulled out of that system three years ago.

Medvedev called the $200,000 in compensation as too little, and he wants a new deal that would also prevent players under 21 from switching leagues.

He said he's frustrated that numerous European prospects spend time developing in the NHL's minor leagues when they could be playing professionally in their respective native countries.
Medvedev argued the NHL has not respected contracts players have signed in Russia, including Malkin.

Led by Metallurg Magnitogorsk, Russian clubs sued in October 2006, claiming that the NHL broke U.S. antitrust law and improperly interfered in their business affairs by signing away players, including Malkin, who were still under contract. Malkin was cleared to play for the Penguins only after a U.S. federal judge denied the Russians' claim.

"The NHL, for decades, has ignored our contracts. Why should we respect them without any agreement? There is no legal basis for respect," Medvedev said, noting his league will comply when a deal is reached.

Medvedev is deputy chairman of Gazprom, the world's largest natural gas refiner and distributor. He founded the CHL earlier this year as a successor to the former Russian Super League. The CHL will feature 24 teams and is scheduled to begin play in September.

Medvedev said his league has already signed three NHL players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents this summer: forward Chris Simon, defenseman Andrei Zyuzin and goaltender John Grahame.

Medvedev said CHL teams will have a maximum 25-player rosters, with five slots set aside for non-Russian players. Non-Russian goaltenders will count for two slots

Monday, June 23, 2008

Looking to write their own templates for success

In his book The 100 Greatest hockey arguments, Bob McCown lists a number of key elements of hockey, none perhaps more important than the amateur draft.

Item number 60 in the book, highlights how a bit of knowledge and a bit of luck can change the fortunes of a team with one great draft year. McCown’s top five teams who reaped the most on draft day include the 1984 Calgary Flames, 1971 Montreal Canadiens, 1980 Edmonton Oilers, 1979 Edmonton Oilers and the template for all that is successful the 1989 Detroit Red Wings.

On draft day in recent years every GM wants to find that secret formula that Ken Holland has discovered, the one that year after year seems to retool the Motor City’s perennially successful hockey club.

The 89 Wings featured a number of key players that have had a major impact in the NHL since their names were called from the podium, in 89 the Wings harvested six names that were the backbone of the franchise and still echo in the seats of the Joe, one a continuation of the tradition of quiet but steady leaders on the ice.

From that 89 draft the Red Wings selected Mike Sillinger 11th, Bob Bougher 32nd, Nicklas Lidstrom 53rd, Sergei Federov 74th, Dallas Drake 116th and Vladimir Konstantinov 221st.

They were selections, especially in the later rounds that changed the face of the Red Wings and led to successive seasons at the top of the NHL heap; it’s a feat that every GM hopes to accomplish over the course of their administrative years. The defining moment of their careers, the one that separates them from their peers

This year’s crop of players has been considered a pretty good collection of young talent, but it will be a few years before we see if one team jumped far ahead of the pack, thanks to a GM’s wise selections through the two day festival.

Below we’ll highlight a few of the key moments from the weekend’s activities, where instant success must give way to long term planning, but immediate needs couldn’t be overlooked if the right opportunity presented itself.

Montreal Canadiens-- Tangles with Keenan led to Tanguay's exit from Flames
Montreal Canadiens-- Sundin hard to fit under salary cap
Montreal Canadiens-- Kristo could be a keeper for Habs

Ottawa Senators-- He's small, but mighty talented
Ottawa Senators-- The long, painful goodbye all but complete
Ottawa Senators-- Wade to go ... finally

Toronto Maple Leafs-- There's no Wing-ing it with Leafs' new strategy
Toronto Maple Leafs-- A moment of Schenn
Toronto Maple Leafs-- Hate-love affair for Mats

Edmonton Oilers-- Oilers unable to swing deal on draft's second day
Edmonton Oilers-- Newest Oilers a mix of skill, size and grit
Edmonton Oilers-- Late scout honoured

Calgary Flames-- Flames steal spotlight at draft
Calgary Flames-- Flames score on forward strategy
Calgary Flames-- Moves made at NHL draft will allow Flames to add vital pieces of puzzle, now and later

Vancouver Canucks-- New GM not one of the boys
Vancouver Canucks-- Delorme, other scouts expecting changes
Vancouver Canucks-- Past is done for late pick

Boston Bruins-- Is Hossa on Bruins' radar?
Boston Bruins-- Bruins act fast in taking swift-skating Sauve
Boston Bruins-- Bruins quite the characters

Buffalo Sabres-- Sabres’ youngsters to get taste
Buffalo Sabres-- Paper trail led Sabres to Myers
Buffalo Sabres-- Sabres select defenseman Myers, center Ennis in first round

New York Islanders-- Islanders amass prospects, but how many stars?
New York Islanders-- Ness goes to the Islanders

New York Rangers-- Rangers take puck-moving defenseman Del Zotto

New Jersey Devils-- Devils draft Swedish left wing

Philadelphia Flyers-- Playoffs helped Eminger find self
Philadelphia Flyers-- Bourdon could be star of Flyers' draft crop
Philadelphia Flyers-- After draft, Flyers still have more work to do

Pittsburgh Penguins-- Hossa to test free agency
Pittsburgh Penguins-- Penguins shoot for the Moon with 120th pick
Pittsburgh Penguins-- Malkin still willing to take lower salary

Washington Capitals-- Capitals Spurn Offers, Pick Six
Washington Capitals-- Capitals draft Gustafsson
Washington Capitals-- Caps Make 2 Trades to Draft Center, Defenseman

Carolina Hurricanes-- 'Canes sign Gleason
Carolina Hurricanes-- Hurricanes keep key piece with new deal
Carolina Hurricanes-- Hurricanes feel lucky to get Dalpe

Atlanta Thrashers-- New Thrashers coach sheds tears after long wait's reward
Atlanta Thrashers-- Thrashers select a Georgian
Atlanta Thrashers-- Bogosian could help shore up weak defense

Florida Panthers-- Panthers finally dump Jokinen
Florida Panthers-- Trade looks like another bad Cats move
Florida Panthers-- Martin picks hearty crop of defensemen

Tampa Bay Lightning-- Stamkos heralds new era in Tampa
Tampa Bay Lightning-- Lightning owners are wacky, but good-hearted
Tampa Bay Lightning-- Lightning to name head coach on Tuesday

Dallas Stars-- Stars won’t try to trade up in draft
Dallas Stars-- Dallas Stars' draft picks
Dallas Stars-- Dallas Stars add 5 on Day 2 of draft

Nashville Predators-- Preds deal for Day 2 picks
Nashville Predators-- For Predators, a tale of two summers
Nashville Predators-- Weber signs three-year deal with Predators

St. Louis Blues-- Score another for the defense
St. Louis Blues-- Important 'P' is patience, not power play
St. Louis Blues-- Davidson still has plenty to do

Detroit Red Wings-- Wings select top goalie McCollum in draft
Detroit Red Wings-- Wings prove they can pick 'em
Detroit Red Wings-- Wings are close to deal with Lilja

Chicago Black Hawks-- Hawks thrilled with Lalonde
Chicago Black Hawks-- Blackhawks make it a day for the Beach
Chicago Black Hawks-- Blackhawks draft 5 defensemen on 2nd day

Minnesota Wild-- It's time for a solid base hit for the Wild
Minnesota Wild-- Trade nixed, Wild selects defenseman
Minnesota Wild-- Wild selects 67's Cuma 23rd overall

Colorado Avalanche-- Avalanche centers on possible void
Colorado Avalanche-- Promising goalie worth a deal
Colorado Avalanche-- Sakic will delay decision to retire

Phoenix Coyotes-- Coyotes win with Jokinen deal
Phoenix Coyotes-- Coyotes acquire RW Bourret
Phoenix Coyotes-- Tocchet expected to leave

Anaheim Ducks-- Ducks getting Badgered about their future
Anaheim Ducks-- Jake Gardiner is the newest Duck
Anaheim Ducks-- Ducks finish draft with 10 prospects

Los Angeles Kings-- Jake Gardiner fits into Ducks' plans
Los Angeles Kings-- Kings acquire RW Richardson
Los Angeles Kings-- Kings, Ducks have pressing issues after draft

San Jose Sharks-- Twins book end draft
San Jose Sharks-- Sharks snag seven prospects in second day of draft
San Jose Sharks-- Sharks let Campbell shop

Our GM went to Ottawa and all he got was this stupid tee shirt…

The Dave Gillis era is off to a rocky start with the Vancouver media.

Gillis who took over the Canuck's three months ago, participated in his first NHL draft from the other side of the agents table on the weekend.

Back when he was announced as the new Canuck GM, he intimated that he wasn’t impressed with the Canuck’s drafting success over the last few years, the tentativeness of their desire to pull the trigger on a trade and suggested that his era would be a little bit different.

After two days of poking and prodding of the young talent on the way up, the selections from Gillis and his new team (though the old scouts remained for one last draft) haven’t particularly impressed the Vancouver media hordes, who expected some wheeling and dealing and the claim to the draft day throne.

Resident curmudgeon Neil MacRae of CKNW let loose on Gillis, suggesting that other GM’s still bitter from his days as a player agent won’t be inclined to deal with the new GM boss, and in fact may have sewn a few seeds of distraction at this weekend’s draft, especially with the rumour that the Sedin’s were both on the market for the best deal offered.

(You can listen to MacRae’s editorial from the CKNW Audio vault, select today and then the 8-9 hour during the morning news package for his take on the draft day decision making. )

The backlash effect was a theme that the Vancouver Sun’s Iain McIntyre explored in today’s paper, besides providing some background on the state of the Canuck scouts, McIntyre traces the reasons why some of the league’s GM’s won’t be quick to pick up the phone to make a deal with Gillis it seems.

Ed Willes of the Vancouver Province was also quick to pick up the theme of Gillis as an outsider in the GM’s club. His is a place where more than one GM is suspected of hoping that he falls flat on his face as he takes to the task of rebuilding the Canuck’s from his blueprints and apparently more than a few set to go out of their way to make sure that happens.

Not to be lost in all the angst over the Canuck's management decisions and inside structure were the actual picks made on Friday and Saturday, which saw the first Canuck’s pick Cody Hodgson described as not quite a Mason Raymond, making Hodgson perhaps a work in progress destined for Manitoba for a few years before he finds his way to GM Place.

Whether Hodgson becomes a long time contributor to the Canucks one day will take time to shake out, what will be really interesting to watch will be to see if Gillis has that same amount of time in Vancouver to develop.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

A place to live, a place to grow, seven of ten for Ontario

Steve Stamkos was the first Ontarion of the class of 2008 but he wouldn’t be the last resident of Ontario to make the grade, as the NHL filled out the first thirty names on their annual selection cards for this draft year of 2008.

Stamkos the anticipated first round pick was selected by the Tampa Bay Lighting, just as predicted by many who have been following hockey’s young talents on their hopeful journey to the NHL.

This year was a draft that as far as the top ten picks went was heavily weighted towards those that played in the OHL. Of the first ten picks on Friday night, seven played in the Ontario Hockey League, with only the Western League, the NCAA and the Russian junior system standing in the way of an Ontario sweep.

Overall the OHL were the big winners as far as placements go in this years first round.

Of the thirty picks Ontario’s Junior A factory produced 11 selections, the WHL accounted for 9, While International or lower tiers of junior hockey provide nine picks, the NCAA delivered one while the Quebec league was shut out of the first thirty picks.

Day one of the draft was a lengthy affair, with a number of trades that slowed the flow a little bit but added to the drama of the event as teams traded picks for a better placement to try and secure that player they had been watching for most of the year and through the early stages of draft day.

The second through seventh rounds will get underway on Saturday morning, with much less of a media presence and no doubt a faster pace to the proceedings without the speeches and interviews that Friday’s opening round always provide.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Stamkos set to take centre stage as Draft day arrives

The NHL's year end spectacle, a cattle call of young and promising talent is set to take place at Scotiabank Place in a prime time television spectacular.

The NHL draft which once upon a time consisted of the then six NHL GM"s gathering over cigars and beer we suspect to pick and choose the young available talent, has grown to its stature as perhaps on of the three top events in the NHL slightly below the Stanley Cup finals but at a par if not above the trade deadline madness that infects the NHL each year.

This year, its the debut of Steven Stamkos on the NHL radar, as the Tampa Bay Lighting will stride across the stage, hold up their uniform and announce that Stamkos currently of the Sarnia Sting of the OHL, has been selected number one above all and is destined to play some of his early years on the west coast of Florida.

It's perhaps the easiest decision that Lightning GM Jay Feaster will ever have to make, a sure fire phenom, rated and raved by endless scouts one who could one day be the franchise player that all teams dream about.

Over the years, the process of turning the number one pick into the cornerstone franchise player has been a tricky one, the Ottawa Senators made a regular mess of their early picks in the NHL draft and no one will ever accuse the Toronto Maple Leafs of having found the blue print to success through the draft.

But one need look no further than the current Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings to realize the importance of a solid scouting staff and a management team that knows how to divine that vital information from the hockey outposts of the world.

Tampa gets a mulligan on this one, short of announcing the wrong name, they by all accounts will have a player in Stamkos that will one day change the fortunes of the Lightning on and off the ice.

Many of the following 29 teams could only wish that this was the year where the pool was full of Steven Stamkos clones, it would sure make the job just a little bit easier and provide a measure of job security that rarely can be found in the NHL.

Battle lines being drawn in the Big Apple

“This is something that both sides should be settling, and quickly,” “No one needs this.” -- An anonymous owner of an NHL franchise, expressing concern over the latest troubles to flow out of the Rangers - NHL head office dispute.


Followers of the NHL are used to disputes and worrisome trends when it comes to the likes of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Nashville Predators, Phoenix Coyotes and such, but when you start to see the name of the parent company of the New York Ranges in the headlines, well it’s perhaps time to sit up and take notice.

In an unwanted bit of publicity, the NHL has issued a veiled threat of sorts to Madison Square Gardens, that if the Rangers owners don’t start to see the business template of the NHL as one endorsed by the league office, then they very well may not own the Rangers much longer.

With the two sides in a heated fight over the issue of control over the Rangers website, their past decisions to dis-regard current broadcasting and Internet policies and the Ranges desire to sell their paraphernalia in the manner they wish, not aligning themselves with the NHL’s larger on line retail presence.

It’s a dispute that has been raging for a fairly long period of time now, last November the Rangers took the most unlikely of steps as to sue the NHL in court, claiming that the league violated antitrust laws by monopolizing control of team promotions, a court case which the Rangers lost.

Wednesday saw the NHL once again was back in the courts, asking a New York judge to agree that MSG breached its contract by challenging NHL rules, a move that could clear the way for the NHL to strip MSG of the franchise title.

It’s the latest in unsettling developments from the league boardrooms, following on the heels of what seems to be a protracted vendetta of sorts against Ontario billionaire Jim Balsillie, who has made a number of attempts to secure an NHL franchise and relocate it to Hamilton. Each time the NHL has managed to find some caveat to slow down the process or bring it to an end outright. Much to the chagrin of Balsillie and Canadian hockey fans outside of the boardroom of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.

Last week the unfortunate spectacle arose of the Commissioners hand picked candidate for partial ownership Boots Del Biaggio, suddenly finding himself in legal problems of his own, making for another spin of the Nashville Predators soap opera and leaving many to wonder if the NHL has any kind of a handle on the investigation process required to examine potential owners.

Over in Anaheim when they're not talking about when Brian Burke will make his move to Toronto, they're discussing the latest legal woes of the Ducks owner Henry Sameuli.

Ottawa's Eugene Melynk is facing his own tribulations coming from his day job as the larger than life presence at Biovail.

The Tampa Bay Lightning finally changed hands again, but not before a long and less than clear history of financial concerns plagued that franchise through the years and right up to the latest purchase of the Bolts.

Combine the hot spots of judicial interest, with the lackluster nature of much of the southeastern footprint of the NHL, and one wonders how long the rest of the NHL governors will be willing to go along with the charted course of the upper offices of the New York headquarters.

Any businessman knows its good business to be making headlines in the business section, not so good when you spill over to the front page of the news and even worse when you become a frequent occurrence on the court report pages.

Mr. Bettman's latest press clippings are not the kind of thing that look to good when it comes time for the eventual performance review, optics as they say are everything. The commissioner may eventually win this protracted war with the Rangers, but at a clear loss of some of his credibility.

The more these embarrassing problems keep popping up, you have to wonder if perhaps out of the thirty owners (or those that will still actually own their clubs), there may not be a movement to find out what's going on in the New York office and make the necessary adjustments to get things back on track and off of the front pages of America's court report sections.

National Post-- NHL threatens to kick MSG out of league: report
Globe and Mail-- League threatens to oust Rangers' owner
Globe and Mail Hockey blog-- A titillating story
Globe and Mail-- NHL will need a big fire extinguisher to douse its many hot spots
Toronto Star-- NHL-MSG showdown starting to get very interesting
Bloomberg News-- NHL Threatens to Oust Rangers' Owners Over Lawsuit
Newsday-- NHL calls for penalty
New York Times-- N.H.L. Hits Back After Suit by Rangers
New York Times-- N.H.L. and Rangers’ Legal War Gets Nastier
New York Sun-- NHL May Lose by Checking Rangers
New York Sun-- Owner Woes, Europe on Bettman's Summer List
New York Daily News-- NHL wants to take Rangers away from James Dolan
New York Daily News-- NHL threatens to take down Dolans
New York Post-- Bettman to Rangers: 'Get Out!'

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Family ties may yet see Burke Fly

While the Toronto Maple Leafs continue to acquire acquaintances and former co-workers of Brian Burke for Central Canada’s greatest circus, Burke himself has provided yet more grist for the Burkie’s on his way mill.

Yesterday Burke appeared on the NHL Live radio program and offered up that he has no problems with his current work environment with the Ducks, but that he still has concerns with much of his family still on the East coast, while he works on the Western one.

Now if ever that was going to be music to the ears of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment than this is the time.

Last week, Cliff Fletcher suddenly advised the media battalions at the gates of the ACC, that the big job search was on the back burner for a bit, while he took the reins to run the Leafs for this coming season. That less than surprising development sent conspiracy buffs of hockey into overdrive. More than one coming to the conclusion, that Fletcher was merely keeping the seat warm for the eventual arrival of everyone’s favourite pick to pick up the pieces in Toronto.

Subsequent hiring’s of Ron Wilson as head coach and Al Coates as player personnel developer have only confirmed for the converted that no matter what, it will only be a matter of time before the brash, boisterous, articulate and occasionally bullying Burkie will be holding the press briefings that hockey’s most intense press corps are longing for.

The prospect of such media events leaves you with an air of excitement, as the famous Irish temper and wilting one liners clash with some of the nations most tenured group of hockey journalists. A battle of give and take that will liven up the Toronto sports scene like nothing we’ve seen before.

While the Ballard years were a sideshow in need of a closing act and the recent follies just leave you almost sympathetic for Leaf fans (not quite but for a second eh), should Burke take on the task of turning around the NHL’s most financially successful, yet statistically diminished hockey team, the folks will at least know that they are in store for some entertaining times and stories told on their television sets, radios and delivered to their newspaper boxes.

With the FOB's (Friends of Burkie) now in place, many say its only a matter of time before the Chairman of the Board himself takes his rightful place in the boardroom of the leagues most talked about franchise.

And with Draft day almost upon us, the eyes of the HockeyNation will be upon Scotiabank Place, to see if Burkie and Cliff happen to strike up a conversation and if anything other than draft picks and trades come up for discussion.

All that bluster and potential theatre is surely being wasted in California, bring it on to Bay Street where it belongs, it will be just the thing to shake Toronto from its sleepy hockey slumber…

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

European hockey federations reject transfer agreement options

"In the short term, our clubs will access European players by signing them when they are free of conflicting contractual obligations,'— NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly, responding to the changing landscape of contracts with European players

The Czech Republic joined Russia this week to walk away from the current transfer agreement, leaving the two continents of hockey to prepare for what may turn into a hockey bazaar just in time for the new Russian Super League to get ready to take to the ice in the fall.

Despite IIHF President Rene Fasel’s best efforts to convince the Czechs, their move brings to a conclusion for now, of one of the most controversy riddled agreements in hockey’s history, that began with the departure of the Russians three years ago.

The Europeans have never felt particularly properly compensated for their budding young talent, who frequently gravitate to the NHL as they head for their peak performance years.

NHL clubs have spent some 11 million dollars per year to try and find those nuggets of gold amongst the many European talents that seek out their fame in the cradle of hockey consumerism. It’s a number that many of the European teams feel needs to be increased, especially with the declining state of the US dollar these days.

With Russia’s Super league a new option for European players, there very well may soon be some major bidding wars for talent, an inflationary spiral that may cause even more troubles for some of the NHL’s struggling franchises and leading the NHL into a scenario more familiar to the world of soccer than hockey, with frequent high profile movements.

National Post-- European clubs opt out of IIHF-NHL player transfer agreement
Canadian Press-- NHL to go 'different direction' after transfer agreement with IIHF expires
International Herald Tribune-- NHL enters era of football-style transfers from Europe as old deal expires

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Ottawa is Hartsburg’s new burg…

Friday the 13th wasn’t that unlucky a day for former Team Canada Head coach Craig Hartsburg, the bench boss of Canada’s junior medal champs on two occasions has once again landed a spot in the NHL and Sens fans are hoping that he may be the key ingredient to a puzzling squad that frequently has under performed.

Craig Hartsburg joined his third NHL team as head coach on Friday signing on as the new on ice boss for the Ottawa Senators, promising accountability and a work ethic as the ticket to success under his stewardship.

In the last few days it seemed to have become a competition between two junior coaches as to who would take the reins of the Senators, as Hartsburg’s name was regularly swapped with that of Kitchener Ranger coach Peter DeBoer who signed his own deal on Friday with the Florida Panthers.

The Hartsburg hiring brought to an end Ottawa’s job search which became a necessity after Ottawa bowed out of the NHL playoffs in the first round, an unthinkable thing for a team that had provided so much promise in the last few years and always seems to find a way to come up short.

A Stanley Cup finalist a year ago, this year was the year of unraveling which saw former head coach John Paddock dismissed before mid season as the Senators began a free fall from first to the lower reaches of the Eastern Conference.

Paddock was replaced by GM Bryan Murray, who had taken the team to the finals in 2006-07 only to watch basically the core group of players struggle and slide through the season, never really recapturing their drive for success or seem to be ready to take responsibility for their on ice miscues.

It’s a scenario that most likely won’t be repeated in 2008-09 a no nonsense coach, Hartsburg has always eschewed a strong work ethic and accountability for your work, from his days with the Junior A Greyhounds in Sault Ste. Marie to his post as head coach of Canada’s successful world junior program, players know where they stand immediately with their coach.

With the perception that the Senators had taken advantage of John Paddock over this past season and that he had seemingly lost the room as they say, a major shift was clearly required and Hartsburg should signal that the atmosphere in Ottawa is on the verge of a serious change.

While his standards are considered high and he occasionally will grate on a player in the wrong way, he’s always been thought of as a fair coach. Willing to reward those that are putting in the effort with the ice time, while making sure that those that don’t pull their weight have plenty of time to watch and wait for another chance to pull up their socks and show they’re inclined to follow the program as prescribed.

The Sens may only have a few more years of reasonable access to another Stanley Cup playoff run, free agency, age and the usual stresses and strains of team chemistry will change the dynamic of the team, Hartsburg will be tasked to try and get a few more seasons out of the core group assembled, though we suspect that Bryan Murray won’t hesitate too long to make changes if he feels that there is an upgrade needed to make Hartsburg’s arrival a success.

Training camp may very well prove to be an eye opener in Ottawa this year, a rather stark signal that this past season was not acceptable and will not be repeated, unless of course the current crop of Sens are interested in change of address cards.

Ottawa Citizen-- Craig's it
Ottawa Sun-- DeBoer de Man?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Few surprises as NHL hands out season ending hardware

Considering the NHL store had already started selling T shirts for one of the night's winners a few nights ago, there was little in the way of surprise or drama when the NHL gathered to honour success in Toronto on Thursday night.

Alexander Ovechkin, a fashion star in the T shirt world now and perhaps the most exuberant player in the NHL, added to his already large collection of trophies for 2007-07, Ovechkin claimed as expected the Hart Trophy as most valuable player for the year, an accolade that was unexpectedly made public through the NHL stores website last week. He also picked up the Lester B. Pearson Award for most outstanding player, a particularly high honour coming as it does through player voting.

Thursday nights double dip, adds to the Ovechkin legacy for this year, set to share space with the Art Ross Trophy for his league-high 112 points and the Maurice Richard trophy for his profligate abiltiy to score goals, registering 65 this year.

When Ovechkin wasn't making a speech (or selling more T shirts) the night was dedicated to a guy named Datsyuk, as the Red Wings Pavel was awarded the Selke trophy for his legendary defensive play as a forward, he also completed a three peat when it comes to the Lady Byng, winning his third consecutive reward for Gentlemanly conduct, thanks to his remarkably low level of time in the penalty box of just twenty minutes, one full period of an 82 game season.

The Red Wings also found success on the blue line, as captain Niklas Lidstrom closed in on Doug Harvey and Bobby Orr for Norris trophy victories, picking up his sixth, leaving him one behind Harvey and two behind number four.

The feel good story of the year came true for Washington head coach Bruce Boudreau, who was toiling in the minor leagues at the start of 2007-08 and by the end of the season had taken the Washington Capitals farther than they have gone in a long time and offered up much progress of more to come. For his remarkable run, Boudreau was awarded the Jack Adams trophy.

A familiar name claimed the Vezina trophy as Martin Brodeur collected his fourth Vezina in five years, a particularly well earned award this year considering the style of play that his Devils provided through the year.

Chicago's Patrick Kane provided a glimmer of hope for Chi Hawk fans this season and for his efforts he was named rookie of the year and earned himself the Calder Trophy, Chicago actually had a pretty good chance of taking this one, Kane's competition was fellow Black Hawk Jonathon Toews, while Washington's Nicklas Backstrom made a late season surge for consideration.

All around good guy Vinny Lecavalier was named the winner of the King Clancy award for his humanitarian spirit and contributions.

The Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy was awarded to Jason Blake, who personified courage in the shadow of life's challenges, playing as he did for the entire season after being diagnosed with leukemia, not missing a single game that the Leafs played this year.

And as though to complete the Celebration for the Motor city this year, Gordie Howe, Mr. Hockey was honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award, the first year that this award has been presented.

It in a way is fitting that Mr. Hockey would be the first recipient, a reminder for all of those legendary past contributions, just as his former team celebrates the present and looks forward to its future.

Globe and Mail-- Ovechkin the valuable

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Mr. Wilson takes charge

Flashing around his Canadian passport, new Toronto head coach Ron Wilson did all but sing The Maple Leaf forever on Tuesday, as he was put on display for the ever hungry Toronto press corps, anxious to divine if he had a master plan to bring back the glory days of the Maple Leaf past.

He regaled the assembled media with tales of his youth as youngster, one who worshipped his Toronto Maple Leafs, how humbled he was to be given the number of his idol Dave Keon upon his arrival for a time as a Maple Leaf player.

Wilson pointed out that he left Canada in 1967 to further his journey in professional hockey, so perhaps it was a sign of deliverance that he has returned to the Promised Land some 42 years later.

1967 of course is the date forever stamped in the memories of the Maple Leaf faithful as the last time that the Stanley Cup could be found in the company of the Maple Leaf hockey team.

The press conference which attracted perhaps more attention that any Prime Ministerial announcement or Papal encyclical, sought guidance from the new head coach, who most likely quickly learned that unlike Washington, Anaheim or San Jose, they tend to take their hockey a little more seriously in the centre of the hockey universe.

Going from a media experience that on a good day might consist of a TV reporter wondering what this hockey thing is about, a couple of radio guys there for the free food and a newspaper reporter frozen out of the big sports, to watching the all things Maple Leaf Toronto crews (cast of thousands that they are) should be an eye opener.

From being the guppy in San Jose Shark Tank, to bait for the Toronto media sharks could be one of those life altering moments for Wilson.

He gave the sharks a few things to chew on during his introductory press conference, describing Darcy Tucker as a little worn down, sending who knows how many off to see if Tucker was going to take that little bit of bait.

Wilson also gave indications that change was certainly required for a Maple Leaf team that has had scant knowledge of the post season for a number of years.

Wilson said that the core of the team needed to change and there may be some backwards momentum before the team moves forward. Perhaps Back, to the future could become the marketing slogan for the Leafs in 2008-09

In the National Post, Wilson recounted how he tried to provide a bit of levity for former Maple Leaf coach Paul Maurice when he was last in San Jose. The story goes that Wilson donned a hoodie, dark glasses and began to stalk Maurice on one of his walks around town, a Grim Reaper like interpretation that was designed to try and take some of the pressure off the soon to be fired Leafs coach.

Rumours persist in Toronto that his arrival is part of a one-two punch that will eventually bring Brian Burke into Toronto as God of all hockey operations. Burke and Wilson have a long relationship in hockey, yet curiously neither has worked with the other in their long NHL careers.

Should that plan not come to fruition, you have to wonder how many of those four years on his contract that Wilson will see, before another Grim Reaper appears on the Toronto horizon…

Globe and Mail-- So long, Darcy, hello change
Globe and Mail-- Wilson doesn't expect instant results
The Canadian Press-- Now what? Fletcher says Leafs have a plan as trade talks might heat up
National Post-- Coaching Leafs could be Wilson's biggest challenge
CBC-- Ron Wilson excited to work with Leafs' Fletcher
CTV-- Leafs introduce Ron Wilson as next head coach
Toronto Star-- It’s official — Wilson named Leafs coach
Toronto Star-- Wilson's new post one tough cell job
Toronto Sun-- Seeking the promised land
Toronto Sun-- Some Leafs intrigue Wilson
Toronto Sun-- Wilson hits the right note
Toronto Sun-- Quinn feels his former assistant can handle T.O. heat
Toronto Sun-- 27 things you should know about the Leafs' 27th coach
Toronto Sun-- Wilson done, but Fletcher's work is just beginning

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

As the Crow flies

"So taking that all in, you're making a gut call, I guess, on the fit for what we project our team to be like."— LA King GM Dean Lombardi reacting to his gut and firing head coach Marc Crawford.

The Sun has set in California and for Marc Crawford, his time in that California sun has come to an end.

The Los Angeles Kings announced on Tuesday that they would commence the search for a new bench boss, after two unsuccessful seasons on the ice under the stewardship of Crawford. His departure marks the 21st time that the franchise that entered the NHL in 1967 has found their head coach to be less than they had hoped.

Suggesting that Crawford and the Kings had become a bit of an uncomfortable fit, Lombardi explained that he and the Kings had felt that their hockey team at least should have made the playoffs and with that small goal seemingly unreachable over the last two years, changes needed to be made.

Crawford last won a Stanley Cup in 1996 when he was behind the bench when the Quebec/Colorado machine was finally coming into its own; from there he spent a number of seasons with the Vancouver Canucks bringing them close, but in the end still far from a Stanley Cup parade.

The Kings will have to pay Crawford for the final year of his three year contract should he not find a new bench to stand behind before September.

While GM Lombardi gets ready to accept phone calls and resumes; Kings fans might be getting a little nervous about his overall impression of the job search "We're going to be methodical, we're not going to rush into anything. This is a critical hire. We'll get through the development camp in July and hopefully make the right gut call in the end."

He had better hope so; otherwise the next departure from the Kings might very well be that of Lombardi.

Globe and Mail-- Kings fire Marc Crawford
Los Angeles Daily News-- Kings fire coach Crawford
Passadena Star News-- Kings, Crawford go separate ways

Always leave when they remember you best.

That emotional farewell in April indeed will prove to be Trevor Linden’s last skate as a Vancouver Canuck.

It’s being reported that on Wednesday, Linden will bring to an end this phase of his involvement with the team that has been his home for most of his nineteen seasons.

By far one of the most popular of Canucks to wear the uniform (whatever version happened to be in vogue at the time), the former on ice captain and forever team leader has decided that his time has come to call it a career.

People still talk about the remarkable final game of April, when the classy Calgary Captain Jarome Iginla led his team back onto the ice to shake hands with Linden, a salute to a long time warrior that left not a dry eye in GM place or most likely watching on the CBC.

It was a symbol of the well earned respect that Linden has compiled in his nineteen years, a role model for the modern NHLer.

Never afraid of controversy he was in the front lines of the recent battle lines, taking more than his fair share of hits, yet for the most part coming out on the other side of those struggles a stronger figure in the league.

On the ice, he may not worn the C any more once he returned from his exile to the east, but he was still one of the most complete and identifiable players in a Canuck uniform.

Vancouver’s second pick overall in the 1988 draft, Linden played sixteen years as a Canuck and should have played all nineteen years of his career in those numerous colours, the forever to be vilified Mike Keenan cast Linden out, a move that certainly sealed Keenan’s fate on the West coast.

The Keenan experiment proved to be one of the least successful of moves ever made by Canuck management and with the departure of Linden at the time, it was perhaps one of the darkest days for the franchise.

Bringing Linden back once that interruption was over perhaps was one of the brightest.

He was the heart and soul of the franchise for a good number of his sixteen years and the face of disappointment at the Canucks second, of two unsuccessful Stanley Cup runs. While his contributions on the ice will be remembered with much fondness, his contributions to British Columbia in general may be even more long lasting.

A tireless worker on behalf of a number of charities, he has been the best ambassador a sports organization could ever hope for, someone who has given back far more than he has received from his adopted home province.

In many years, it was only Linden that rescued the franchise from itself, as many of the decisions made higher up left the city and the province befuddled at the state of their favourite team, only Linden's presence seemed to keep the fans from complete capitulation when it came to their puzzling hockey team.

The change of leadership at the moment in Canuckland has yet to show the locals where the on ice product is heading, and already chances to utilize Linden off the ice have been squandered a worrisome theme that leaves more than a few wondering.

When he makes his announcement tomorrow, Linden will be exiting as all players should hope to go, universally respected and loved by his fans.

The Canucks will need to ensure that he remains attached to the Canuck family and not just in a PR cattle call, one day his knowledge of the game and the dynamics of the personalities that play it should be put to use.

Vancouver made a huge mistake when they drove Linden out of the franchise during his playing days; they had best make sure they don’t repeat it with his retirement.

National Post-- Canuck's Linden set to retire
TSN-- Canucks' Linden to announce retirement Wednesday
CBC-- Trevor Linden to retire from NHL: source
Georgia Straight-- Trevor Linden to announce retirement from NHL
Vancouver Sun-- Trevor Linden to hang up skates
Vancouver Province-- Trevor Linden retirement Wednesday
Vancouver Province-- Multi media presentation
Vancouver Province-- Linden was hardest worker from day one
Vancouver Province-- Photo gallery

Monday, June 09, 2008

CTV gives the CBC a smackdown on the Hockey Theme

"Ms. Claman is suggesting that if the CBC doesn’t want her song then she’ll be more than happy to head off to the competition to belt out the opening notes. The only thing is, so far TSN and Sportsnet have been rather quiet on the whole situation and frankly it’s doubtful that they would be all that interested in the iconic anthem, as historic as it is."-- The genial host of this blog, showing that sometimes we don't know what the hell we're talking about!
Ahem, as we were thinking, we wonder if CTV might be interested in buying the theme to Hockey Night in Canada, er, yeah that's what we were thinking...

The blood feud between Canada's two largest broadcast organizations took a surprising twist today as CTV announced that they have reached an agreement with Copyright Music & Visuals to broadcast the familiar theme "in perpetuity" on all hockey telecasts on TSN and RDS, as well as on CTV during the 2010 Olympics.

In their announcement CTV explains how privileged they are to have successfully taken guardianship of the iconic Canadian song (and perhaps if you listen carefully you can hear the raspberry directed towards CBC who now sit on the sidelines wondering what hit them).

"The song has a long and storied history in Canadian sports and has become ingrained in the hearts and minds of hockey fans across the country. It is an iconic tune, embraced by Canadians everywhere, and we felt it was imperative to save it. We know we will be in hockey forever, so there's no doubt this acquisition will create value for us," said Rick Brace, President, Revenue, Business Planning and Sports, CTV Inc. "It's an honour and a privilege to own such a cherished piece of Canadiana."

The move certainly is a coup for CTV and its group of stations, though no purchase acquisition price was announced, they felt that whatever the cost the potential for the marketing splash that will come with today's announcement will more than make up for the size of the cheque.

While we're surprised that they were that interested in a thirty second jingle, we guess that in the competitive world of sports broadcasting you seize the chance to create some buzz when it presents itself (not to mention make the occassional blogger look foolish)

This now means that the CBC will most likely be going ahead with their plans to create a new anthemic opening, ready to proceed with the cattle call of would be warblers, ready to provide the next great opening act to last for forty years... CTV ACQUIRES EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS TO 'THE HOCKEY THEME'
Vancouver Province-- CTV and TSN buy hockey theme song
Canadian Press-- CTV buys rights to former 'Hockey Night in Canada' theme song

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Hello Mr. Wilson!

"We have a verbal agreement but nothing's on paper yet, "It isn't a contract until it's signed by the parties. And that won't happen for a couple of days." -- Leafs caretaker and maintenance man Cliff Fletcher announcing that the Leafs may at least have a coach in place in time for training camp.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are reported to have come to a verbal agreement with Ron Wilson, with an announcement expected any day now to firm up his terms and provide some sign of progress for frustrated Maple Leaf fans.

Wilson who most recently was the reigning hockey guru of Northern California, will be given a huge challenge should he sign on that dotted line. The Leafs have been perennial bottom feeders for far too long and will certainly provide a test of Wilson's patience, should their under performing ways continue into the new season.

Considered a hard taskmaster from his past affiliations, it will be an interesting change of atmosphere around the Air Canada Centre with Wilson in charge. Though one wonders exactly how the team building process will move along without a General Manager or President in the interim.

The Leafs have seemed to approach the idea of staffing the management levels in an unusual pattern, leaving the coveted top positions vacant until just the right person comes along, while filling in the actual day to day stewardship position first.

This of course has spurred an amazing volume of rumours that it's now a fait accompli that Brian Burke will be joining the Leafs, maybe this summer, incredibly maybe next year. Regardless of the timing, his long time association with Wilson seems to be the talisman that Leaf fans have been looking for that Burke is on the way.

That's to be determined, but it certainly makes more sense than having Wilson signed to a long term deal, only to have a new GM and President show up seeking out his own team to handle the on ice requirements.

Then again, it is the Maple Leafs who if nothing else are best known for their unorthodox ways of running professional hockey in the leagues most valuable market.

For Wilson training camp will provide him his first look at the collection of would be Dennis the Menace's that the Leafs have stored over the last few years, a precocious lot who tempt you with potential and then leave you wondering what's going to happen next. By Christmas, we would think he'll have a pretty good idea as to what he's up against (or gotten himself into).

We wish Mr. Wilson well, should be carve his name onto a contract and hope he's seen the movie and is prepared for all that is to come!


Globe and Mail-- Maple Leafs have verbal agreement with Wilson
Toronto Star-- Odds 'better than 50/50' of Wilson deal: Fletch

CBC-- Wilson agrees to coach Toronto Maple Leafs: reports

Has the Dominator left the building for the last time?

The buzz around the NHL on Sunday night was that Domenik Hasek the six time Vezina trophy winner and two time Hart recipient is set to announce his retirement on Monday.

It has been an interesting career that the 41 year old Dominator has enjoyed in the NHL, leaving an equal amount of devotees and frustrated fans in his mercurial wake.

One of the league's most dominating of goaltenders over the years, he also had a career that left no shortage of puzzlement in many NHL outposts over the course of his career.

In particular fans in Buffalo and Ottawa to this day are still not sure if Dom really had his heart in the same uniform as the rest of those teams, the frequent victim of many a mysterious malady at most inconvenient times.

Yet, when he was on his game he was one of the best that has come along.

Leading the Red Wings to the Stanley Cup back in the 2002 season. He was on track for another Stanley Cup run when he was replaced by Chris Osgood in the Nashville series and never played another game.

Along the way in his high profile 16 year career Hasek claimed six all star appearances and played in four Olympic Games for the Czech Republic winning the gold medal in 1998.

The Red Wings have announced an 11 am press conference when Hasek will announce his plans while the Wings are still in the haze of goodwill from a Stanley Cup Championship.