Friday, October 31, 2008

Alfredsson gains a four year term in the Senate

It being a political kind of year, it seems only appropriate that Eugene Melnyk voted with his pocketbook to keep Daniel Alfredsson wearing red, white and black for four more years.

The Sens and their captain reached terms on Thursday, bringing to an end the short lived negotiations and making Alfie a very satisfied Senator at a reported four years at 20 million dollars.

The negotiations never seemed to infect the dressing room, as the Sens and their captain negotiated in good faith, ever mindful of the need to project stability for both the team and the fan base in Ottawa.

Alfredsson as popular a Senator as there is, most likely will be finishing his career off with the team that he joined upon his arrival from Sweden thirteen years ago. He has been the face of the Sens success (and their disappointments) for much of that time, a solid captain who never seems to get rattled despite the intensity of being the captain of the team in a hockey mad city.

While GM Brian Murray said that he hopes that there are more than four years left in Alfies tank, the thirty five year old captain is mindful that the years are ticking by.

With the Senators making sure he remains in the fold as he closes in on his forties, the only thing left on his agenda will be that Stanley Cup ring and the chance to lead the parade through the streets of Ottawa.

Something that Sens fans hope is shaping up to happen on this side of the four year contract, rather than on the closing side of the deal.

Ottawa Citizen-- Melnyk lays down his bet
Globe and Mail-- 'A Senator for life'

A couple of nightmare nights for Pittsburgh fans

It was bad enough that they had to watch their cross state rivals celebrate a World Series victory on Wednesday night, but Thursday didn't get any better in Western Pennsylvania.

While they were still shaking the visuals of Phillie fans in full flight of emotion (and little rioting on the side) out of their heads, the next thing that popped up was the pictures from Arizona of Penguins captain Sidney Crosby leaving the ice, with no further shifts scheduled in the near future.

The Pens have been very tight lipped about the injury, declining to identify the nature of it, nor speculate on whether his departure will be a long running requirement.

Crosby suffered the undisclosed injury (though rumours persist it is a rib problem) in the third period of the Pens 4-1 loss to the Coyotes in Glendale on Thursday night, initially described as a day to day situation.

An injury listing that has many Pens fans thinking back to just last year and his high ankle troubles that took him off the ice for 29 games.

They say that bad news comes in threes, if the Steelers are paying attention they had best lock up their best players for the next few days, keeping them out of harms way while this dark cloud passes through the Pittsburgh area.

Pittsburgh Tribune Review-- Crosby injured in Pens' loss

Folding and counting with Forbes

For ten years now, Forbes magazine has tried to make Gary Bettman a centerfold, the American business magazine has provided its an annual review of the state of the NHL and not surprisingly it offers up glad tidings to the owners of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Forbes has valued the Leafs as the NHL’s top property, a 448 million dollar cash machine, and the most successful in financials of the NHL’s 30 member franchises. With the support of the Ontario Teachers Pension Fund which is the financial muscle behind the organization, the Leafs have parlayed the Toronto Raptors, Leafs TV and the ownership of the Air Canada Centre into a profit making centre to rival all others in the NHL.

The New York Rangers claim the second most successful spot in the game, 411 million dollars of pre meltdown monetary value. Making them the best of the NHL brand in the USA.

The third star for Forbes was the Montreal Canadiens, who are estimated to be worth a handsome 311 million dollars, making George Gillette’s 2001 purchase price of 181 million dollars a pretty smart move, a successful acquisition that still leaves one puzzled as to why not one Quebecer or Canadian felt that the Canadiens were worth the investment.

Canada actually fared pretty well on the Forbes review, spurred on by last years strong Canadian dollar, the financial maneuvering required wasn’t near as complex as in years past.

Vancouver holds down the number eight spot, Ottawa grabs lucky thirteen (judging by their start we wonder if Eugene Melnyk is superstitious.
Calgary checks in at number fifteen, while their provincial rivals in Edmonton were slotted in at number 20.

The five least successful teams in Gary Bettman’s brave new world include the Phoenix Coyotes who are ranked dead last at number thirty, described as just a mess these days, thanks to Arizona’s collapsing real estate market (part of the arena deal was to involve a heavy emphases on real estate development, oh oh, poor timing on that power play). Phoenix is valued at 142 million dollars (Mr. Balsillie please take note)

The Islanders weighed down by the worst arena deal in the league (and some questionable past contract arrangements we would suspect) are in at number 29, valued at 154 million a far cry from the 181 million that Charles Wang paid for the team back in the year 2000.

The Columbus Blue Jackets are said to be worth 157 million, making owner John P. McConnell worth 77 million more on paper than when he bought the team in 1997.

Likewise the Atlanta Thrashers have increased in value for their owners Atlanta Spirit who have since seen the value increase 78 million dollars from the 2004 purchase price of 80 million dollars. Though the spirit of Atlanta is seemingly waning, with reports of much infighting among the group of owners and expectations that the Thrashers will be on the market very shortly.

The last of the bottom five is surprisingly the Washington Capitals, while there has been much improvement on the ice in the last few years and the Caps truly seem to be the team on the rise, Ted Leonis is still hoping to see his team increase in value from the current valuation rate of 160 million dollars. That would be just a little bit more than Alexander Ovechkin’s thirteen year 124 million dollar contract.

While it’s doubtful that the Caps are even close to being put on the market, they do make for an interesting study.

If you’re a would-be owner trolling for franchises at reasonable prices, wouldn’t the Capitals be just the kind of team you would be looking for? They’re talented, stocked with up and coming players and finally finding success on the ice. They would be the perfect kind of squad to launch your days in the comfy confines of the NHL owners club. And you could pick them up at a fairly reasonable pricing structure at the moment, considering the future that may be just around the corner.

With Gary Bettman suggesting that he would like to see expansion come to the NHL in the near future (a rather laughable idea considering the state of the NHL’s bottom lines in many communities and that of America in general at the moment), why would any sane businessman want to go that long term route.

Spend more than what a current franchise is worth and start from scratch, or take the wiser course which would be to seek out some of the teams in distress and bring your ready made roster on to a new location.

Hmmm, wonder which way those multi millionaires might go eh, as they anxiously watch the stock markets these days, and look for the next best bang for their bucks.

The full Forbes report can be found on their website (link is here). It’s a fascinating bit of information on a rather secretive league, complete with background information on each of the NHL’s thirty member franchises. Highlighting what they’ve been doing right and how things are going wrong.

It will no doubt make for some very interesting reading in the NHL head offices, who will no doubt be offering up the spin in a very short time now.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Perhaps counting to ten would have been a wiser option

"He must not like his pay cheque or something like that."-- Chris Neil commenting on the prospect of a suspension for Buffalo's Adam Mair.

What we have here is a failure to communicate it seems, or perhaps a little bit too much communicating...

Adam Mair needs to let things go from time to time. Mair's ongoing feud with Ottawa Senator Chris Neil has once again caused him no shortage of attention and trouble from the league office, this after Mair was involved in an altercation underneath the stands of the HSBC Centre on Monday night.

After Monday nights Senators/Sabres match up, Mair went charging down the hallway arriving outside the Senators dressing room, looking for Jarkko Ruutu and seeking to challenge Neil to continue with their discussions of the nights activities. An evening of hockey that ended up on a vibrant note as Neil, Mair, Jarkko Ruutu and Patrick Kaleta all received 1o minute misconducts for their inappropriate actions towards the end of the game.

Much of the trouble developed after Mair went after Ruutu on the ice over what he believed was a questionable hit.

Not content with his quest for on ice justice, Mair was caught on NHL Network cameras pounding on the Senators door demanding that Neil come out and er, play.

The NHL has not announced any suspension for Mair yet, but it's anticipated that the announcement is on the way, past precedent seems to have set the suspension bar at two games, providing Mair with the opportunity to perhaps enjoy some relaxation tapes or grabbing a good book about controlling your inner rage.

Ottawa Citizen-- Mair faces suspension after another altercation with Neil
Buffalo News-- NHL probing incident with Sabres' Mair

Keep those passports in a handy place!

While the prospect of competition from Russia may be spooking the NHL a little bit on the talent front, the economic troubles of the last few weeks may do more to knock down that threat than anything else.

While the NHL will have to handle its own financial fallout from the credit crunch and the deep and long recession that many suggest has arrived, compared to the state of the Russian situation these days, the NHL might be in a wee bit of better spot than their Russian competitors.

Last week the Russian Stock market halted trading, stopped dead when the market suffered what the Globe and Mail describes as “a calamitous crash that erased more than 74 per cent of the value they held at their May peak – making Moscow arguably the world's most insecure market in the current global crisis.”

The Meltdown of the Russian Market, features particularly stunning losses for the Russian banking and energy sectors, which have seen some $230-billion, or 62 per cent of their net worth disappear in all the financial carnage. MMC Norilsk Nickel one of the major mining interests in Russia, has seen its shares plummet from a high of over $300 (U.S.) in May to a close of $58.25 yesterday.

Much of the oligarch economy of Russia is behind the development of sport leagues and the ownership of franchise in Russia and beyond, with their stream of revenues receding like an outgoing tide, one wonders how high on their priority list the vanity of sport will remain.

It makes for a situation that may make the funding and operation of the ambitious plans for the Kontinental Hockey League a little problematic in the short term. The league which has recently signed a number of high profile former NHLers and made a fair bit of noise about wanting more may suddenly find that the pool of available money isn’t as deep as it was just three weeks ago.

If you’re an ex-NHLer like Ray Emery, Jaromir Jagr or Chris Simon to name a few, it may be sooner, rather than later that you start making those long distance phone calls back to this side of the ocean.
Looking to pack a parachute for troubling times.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Canucks' pour cold water on Ohlund to Ottawa rumour

Considering the struggles that both Ottawa and Vancouver have had so far this season, it's not surprising that the two Canadian teams would feature high on the rumour mill for the first month of the season.

The latest percolating bit of speculation was that the Canucks were about to ship Mattias Ohlund off to Ottawa, apparently to be the answer to the Sens blue line woes and perhaps someone that could head man the puck out of their end from time to time.

The only problem however is that Ohlund 1) has a no trade contract and 2) the Canucks apparently don't feel like parting with him anyways, thank you very much.

Other than that it made for the most intriguing of rumours so far this year. Though the Canucks could settle his outstanding contract situation if they really wanted to be taken off the rumour of the day hot plate.

Ohlund is in the line for a contract extension and the lack of progress on that is keeping his name in play it seems for potential relocation.

Of course, Sens fans weary of the early miscues in the Ottawa nets and the disappointing final scores night after night, probably were hoping that any rumoured trade between Ottawa and Vancouver would be featuring the name Roberto Luongo.
Now that's a rumour that would get them excited in the Nation's capital, though it would most likely be one that would make Canucks' GM MIke Gillis' life a living hell on the west coast.

Vancouver Province-- Ohlund not going anywhere, but he'll need a new deal soon

World Juniors to land in Buffalo in 2011

If there is a hockey market that might find the elusive successful formula in the United States for the World Junior championships, it very well may be today's successful candidate, Buffalo, New York.

The Northwestern New York State city was named the host city for the 2011 World Juniors, a move that will no doubt prove successful if for no other reason than geography.

While on its own a hotbed of hockey in the Northern USA, Buffalo's proximity to the Canadian border and all of southern Ontario should more than guarantee that the HSBC Centre will have little in the way of trouble in selling tickets when Buffalo's turn rolls around.

The tournament will run from December 26, 2010 to January 6, 2011 and will take place at Niagara University as well as the HSBC Centre.

Buffalo came out on top of the selection committee's list, providing the best bid compared to

Grand Forks and Minneapolis-St. Paul who both have hosted the tournament in the past, by selecting Buffalo the IIHF will be rewarding another of the sections of the US that live and breathe the game and it will provide Buffalo residents with the chance to showcase their city and their hockey knowledge in one of the more impressive of hockey tournaments on the International schedule.

Buffalo Business First-- Buffalo scores international hockey event

Hits to the heads a growing concern for NHL

From the time that a kid first plays contact hockey, the term finish your check is burned into his memory. Through the learning curve that hockey provides, the hardest of open ice hits, or the crashing into the boards has become part and parcel of the game, but for some perhaps the time has come to ease up on the throttle when it comes to those jaw jarring crunches on the ice.

With a string of injuries plaguing a number of NHL teams early in this season, the most recent one to the Hurricanes Brandon Sutter (see video above) there is the beginning of a shift into the idea that each hit must be of the bone crushing variety, especially those that place the recipient into a vulnerable position and particularly those hits that involve the head.

Calling it a lack of respect in the game, Montreal Canadiens head coach Guy Carbonneau has become one of the fiercest critics of the growing tendency to crush the player into the boards, with little concern for the well being of the players involved or to the image of the game.

One of the key resources of the NHL is its players, the growing list of casualties points to the need for the NHL to take a more focused look at the protection it provides for its players.

Sean Gordon and Eric Duhatschek put together an in depth article for the Globe and Mail on the issue, one which outlines how the league is split on the controversy, with some suggesting that the league needs to crack down, while the traditionalists it seems would prefer for the players to police themselves and show a little more respect.

'Blows to the head shouldn't be part of hockey'
From Tuesday's Globe and Mail
October 28, 2008 at 12:05 AM EDT

A recent spate of injury-causing, dubious hits is prompting calls — led by Montreal Canadiens head coach Guy Carbonneau — for the NHL to better protect players from head shots.

"The league has to do something," Carbonneau said after practice yesterday. "This makes no sense to me. Blows to the head shouldn't be part of hockey."

Carbonneau pointed to a hit against Habs forward Andrei Kostitsyn by Phoenix Coyotes defenceman Kurt Sauer, one on Toronto Maple Leafs forward Matt Stajan by Boston Bruins defenceman Dennis Wideman and one on Carolina Hurricanes rookie Brandon Sutter by Doug Weight of the New York Islanders as recent examples of dangerous blows levelled at players in vulnerable positions.In each case, no penalty was assessed.

But whether the hits were clean according to the rulebook isn't the issue for Carbonneau; the risk of serious injury is.

"People said [Sutter] had his head down, but he didn't have the puck," Carbonneau said. "I think there's a lack of respect out there.

"I've held a gun in my hands before, but I've never used it to shoot anyone. It's the same thing on the ice."

The angry welt near his left eye is the only outward sign of the hit that sent Kostitsyn's head pinging off the glass and ice at the Bell Centre, leaving him in a motionless heap.

After 10 days on the sidelines, Kostitsyn is expected to return to action and take his usual spot tonight alongside Alexei Kovalev and Tomas Plekanec.

After skating with his teammates yesterday, the Belarussian, a taciturn type who tends toward the monosyllabic at the best of times, said he feels "fine" and wouldn't be drawn into whether head shots of the type Sauer laid on him should be punished more severely.

Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford echoed Carbonneau's call for the league to re-examine the issue of hits to the head, saying: "There are certain players in the league who are almost like predators.

"You have guys who look for guys in vulnerable positions, who could turn away from the hit, or could finish the check in a lighter manner, or they could give it that extra. I think, for the most part, these guys are giving it the extra — and they're actually trying to hurt the player."

Rutherford knows whereof he speaks: the Hurricanes have suffered a disproportionately large number of serious head injuries in recent seasons.

"We've had five guys in three years — Erik Cole, Matt Cullen, Trevor Letowski, Dave Tanabe and now Brandon Sutter," he said. "We've talked about it at our GMs meetings and I believe people agree that we have to do something about it, but the fact of the matter is, we haven't."

Players and coaches alike point to new shoulder and elbow pads — which Rutherford likens to "cement" — the speed of the modern game and the size of the players, but Carbonneau said the problem is a cultural one.

"We're all to blame — coaches, parents, the media," he said. "We teach our kids … to finish their checks, but there's a time and a place for that. It's past time we started to look at this problem."
Though none of Weight, Wideman or Sauer is reputed to be a dirty player, Carbonneau insisted such considerations are beside the point.

"All I keep hearing in the last two weeks is that he's a good guy or he's not that type of player. So because a guy's a bad guy, he's going to get suspended, and if he's a good guy, he's not going to get suspended?" Carbonneau said.

A few moments later, across the Bell Centre ice from the Canadiens' dressing room, Hurricanes players straggled in to dress for their own skate.

They did so without Sutter, who was hammered by Weight, a former Hurricane, as he stretched to reach a puck near centre ice during last Saturday's 4-3 Carolina win. (Weight telephoned several Carolina players after the game to apologize and inquire about Sutter. Rutherford explicitly said he doesn't lump his former player in with the "predators.")

The 19-year-old Sutter, who has been diagnosed with a concussion, was scheduled to take a train back to Raleigh, N.C., yesterday. He has not yet been cleared to fly and is expected to miss several weeks of action.

"It's frustrating, certainly, it's one of those positions where maybe (Weight) could have gone after the puck instead of the body," said Carolina centre Eric Staal, who called Weight "one of my favourite NHLers." "But at the speed we're playing at, it's just pure reaction … sometimes bad things happen."

Of his young teammate, Staal said "he's a Sutter, he'll be fine."

Carolina captain Rod Brind'Amour suggested it will be up to players to address the problem, not the league.

Rutherford thinks a rule-change might do the trick, but admits there is no miracle solution to stop the practice overnight.

"I don't have the answer for it, but in the NFL, they're really looking at hits to the head. I believe they actually have a penalty for a helmet-to-helmet hit," he said. "The (Ontario Hockey League) has taken a step, where they have a penalty for blows to the head now, even for what we in hockey would call a legal hit."

Bill Daly, the NHL's executive vice-president, said in an e-mail message that "the league takes very seriously its role in helping to protect players from dangerous or unnecessary blows to the head."

And while the league has a practice of assessing "significant penalties for reckless acts on the ice that puts another player's safety at risk," Daly said, there are no immediate plans to alter its rulebook.

"To this point, while we have considered and often discussed a ban on all contact that results in a blow to the head, both the General Managers as a group, and the NHL/NHLPA Competition Committee . . . have declined to take that step," Daly continued. "I'm sure the topic is one that will continue to warrant attention and debate within the game, and it is certainly possible that a further change to our rules, or our rules interpretation, may be considered again in the future."
Carolina coach Peter Laviolette said the league has been able to greatly reduce the number of hits from behind in recent seasons, and could do likewise with head shots.

"A hit from behind isn't allowed, but it's still available . . . the question should be whether or not a hit had to be delivered," he said.

Rutherford pointed out that the league has also been able to successfully crack down on hitting from behind and stick fouls - most notably hooking, slashing and high-sticking.

But what matters more than anything, Rutherford said, is acting swiftly "because we're going to have more injuries and more serious injuries. At some point, we may even have a tragedy."

The issue of blows to the head was not on last week's NHL general-managers' meetings in Chicago, but the matter had been discussed at length during previous get-togethers, Rutherford said.

In general, NHL GMs play a key role in establishing policy changes for the league. The problem, according to Rutherford, has been in trying to reach a consensus on what to do next.

But whatever is decided, he said, the players will adjust, after all, hitting to hurt was not the original intention of body checking - it was merely a means of knocking a player off the puck.
"If a player realized that a hit to the head is a two- or four-minute penalty, or potential suspension, there may be a little more caution in those hits," Rutherford said.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Brian Burkes' clock ticks down until Christmas

The arrival of Brian Burke in Toronto on Tuesday seemed to provide the same kind of excitement that a papal election might, local fans and media participants watchful of the skies over the Air Canada Centre looking for puffs of white smoke, signifying that a new leader has arrived to guide the guardians of the Maple Leaf through their next phase.

Of course the only trouble with that scenario is that Mr. Burke currently is leading another congregation a pack of Southern Californians seeking to return to their own promised land of the Stanley Cup playoffs, though many wonder for how much longer he'll be directing the choir of Anaheim Ducks, a team which hasn't been on the same page of the songbook at all so far this season.

Burke is considered to be the Leafs first (and possibly only) choice to take over the reins from the semi-retired Cliff Fletcher, who when not overseeing the day to day operations of Leaf Nation, is said to be closing working with Toronto lawyer Gord Kirke on the Leafs search committee. They have been keeping the prospects list close to their vests over the last few months, which leads more and more people to believe that the Burke move is in the bag, and all that remains is the proper timing of the decision and announcement.

With that in mind, Burke advised the Toronto media on Tuesday that while normally a decisive person, he's taking his time to do what is best for him, his wife Jeniffer, his current employers the Samueli's and any potential future bosses, (wherever they may be we guess, wink, wink).

The ongoing saga of personnel changes seems to be a peculiarly Toronto thing, as former captain Mats Sundin does his own introspective examination as to what is best for his career and for his former team.

All this consideration makes one wonder if perhaps a Dr. Phil isn't required in Toronto, someone to gather all the main participants in one spot and have them hammer out their concerns, goals and deepest wishes.

As for the focus of all of Toronto's attention Tuesday, Burke has said that he'll have his mind up by Christmas, making for a nice shiny present we guess for one team and a few lumps of coal for those that have been sending hopeful glances his way.

Photo above from National Post website

Kipper calms the faithful

The last few weeks in Calgary have been taken up with a bit of hand wringing over what was wrong with the usually reliable Miikka Kiprusoff, the Flames last line of defence has had a rough start to the 2008-09 season as he and his team have seemed to struggle in the early going, with Kipper giving up far too many goals and the remainder of his team mates not scoring enough of their own for satisfactory results.

Tuesday night in Calgary provided some relief for those growing anxious, as Kiprusoff resembled the goaltender of Calgary legend, turning aside 30 shots, many of them on a rather extended Washington Capital power play as he led the Flames to a 2-1 victory.

Power plays would be the story of the night, first with Washington's nine minute man advantage situation in the first period, an advantage that they squandered away with only one shot on goal during the entire extended power play. Calgary circled their wagons and shut down the explosive Capital attack, limiting them to nothing of real danger.

With that bit of adversity out of the way, the Flames would eventually find that the power play pendulem swings both ways, as they were provided with four consecutive power play opportunities, eventually finding success on one of them to tie up the game at one a piece, Matthew Lombardi would score later in the second to secure the 2-1 win.

The victory by the Flames should go a fair bit of distance in getting them back on track, from taking on the long stretch of time short handed in the first with great success and then having their goaltender return to his outstanding form of the past, all was good for Flames fans on Tuesday.

It gives the Flames something positive to build on as they try to figure out the answer to their struggles of the first month of the season.
Photo above from Globe and Mail website

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Jim Balsillie stand by your Blackberry!

The Globe and Mail reveals an interesting twist in the never ending quest of Jim Balsillie to lasso himself an NHL franchise. And this one places Mr. Balsillie as the prospective owner of a second team in the Metropolitan Toronto area.

David Shoalts recounts the informal ruminations of a few of the NHL's Governors who it seems are getting a little tired of the troubled franchises of the south and seek a little stability in a more welcoming environment.

The basic gist of the story is that Balsillie will help to stabilize the Nashville franchise in the short term and then it seems will be rewarded with his own long desired franchise, right in the heart of the most hockey crazy market that the league has to offer.

The idea is to award Balsillie an expansion franchise, but some of the deep throat like executives are apparently shifting the focus away from that (suggesting the league would be a laughing stock to go the expansion route at the moment) and instead to relocate one of the more dire franchises of the south back up into Southern Ontario.

While the sudden infatuation with Mr. Balsillie would be an interesting twist in the long running soap opera, it would be one that will apparently spell doom once again for the folks in Hamilton who have aspirations of joining the NHL through the gracious spending of the Blackberry billionaire.

In Shoalts' article, the idea of Hamilton being allowed into the NHL is almost dismissed out of hand by the secretive sources, with one governor suggesting that Hamilton is nothing but a minor league town and would never be sold to the big boys of New York and Chicago as a legitimate franchise.
The governor apparently not noticing the attendance figures from the "big markets" of Raleigh, Atlanta, Phoenix et al, most of which could only dream of the kind of support that a Hamilton franchise might generate.

They also fear for the Buffalo franchise, outlining a scorched earth scenario where former Buffalo fans turn north instead of south when they get on the QEW from Niagara and send the Sabres into an attendance death spiral, Toronto it seems is bullet proof when it comes to attendance in their opinion, more than capable of taking on the Balsillie squad head on.
If even some of the trails from this story pan out, it marks a remarkable change of thought when it comes to Balsillie, who at times seems to have been treated like a pariah by the NHL ownership class.

That of course was before the new economic reality hit America, an event that has left former millionaires and billionaires rich in paper only and wondering when the next shoe will drop.
Suddenly the bumpkin from Ontario with his fancy communicatin' machine might be a good fit after all.
Leading to a situation where everyone will win!
Well everyone but hockey fans in Hamilton we guess, who once again wander down the path only to find out that it may end in a dead end, yet one more time.

Picture above of Jim Balsillie is taken from a Financial Post sketch found on the media.canada archive site

Monday, October 20, 2008

Crosby and Malkin the talk of the weekend acton

It was as easy as 1-2-3, that's how fast "The Kid" rattled off his mileposts in one game against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Crosby collected his 100th career goal, 200th assist and 300th point in the same game, conveniently placed as part of the Hockey Night in Canada package on Saturday night.

The legend in the making seems to have developed a knack for the moment, as he and Evgeni Malkin put on a clinic for the struggling Maple Leafs, scoring almost at will and providing some entertaining play making and of more importance, some much needed finish around the net.

Playing in his 219th career game, Crosby picked up points on all scoring plays, one goal and three assists on the way to the Pens 4-1 victory over the Leafs.

Reunited on the night with Malkin, Crosby also gets an honorable mention for an assist on Malkin's 200th goal of his career, Malkin added to the points list as well with a four point night.
Fellow line mate Pascal Dupuis was limited to but one point on the game, that on the first Penguins goal of the night, like many others he would spend the rest of Saturday night watching Crosby and Malkin work their magic and waiting for his chance to capitalize on his linemates skills and the attention that they will draw.

Pittsburgh Tribune Review--Crosby not worried about puck
Picture above from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette website..

Friday, October 17, 2008

Hired to be fired 2008-09

A compilation of the unlucky members of the NHL coaching and managerial fraternity, who found themselves outsourced in the 2008-09 season.

From the freshest of recruits, to the oldest in tooth of the ancient order of coaches they never know when the phone call or tap on the shoulder will come. Some survive through to the playoffs, others are gone before the season gets too far along.

We track the departed here.

March 9, 2009-- Bob Gainey replaces Guy Carbonneau in Montreal
February 16, 2009-- Pittsburgh fires Michel Therrien
February 2, 2009-- Ottawa senators fire Craig Hartsburg
December 4, 2008-- Carolina replaces Laviolette with Maurice
November 14, 2008-- Tampa Bay Lightning, Barry Melrose fired
November 12, 2008-- Anaheim Ducks, Brian Burke resigns
October 16, 2008-- Chicago Black Hawks, Denis Savard

His days were numbered and the number was four

Four games into the season and with the Chicago Black Hawks recording their first win of the season on Tuesday night, Hawks GM Dale Tallon lowered the boom on head coach Denis Savard. .
A move that seems a tad early and more indicative of moves further along the chain of command in Chicago.

The firing seemed to catch Savard by surprise, only Tuesday he had said that he believed the team was coming together after their sputtering start and felt that Tuesday's game was indicative of better times ahead.

Perhaps so, but if they come to pass, they will be under the watchful eye of Joel Quenneville who was moved into the coaching position on Wednesday as the Hawks made their move.

Chicago observers see the hand of Scotty Bowman in the change, suggesting that Bowman felt more comfortable with Quenneville, who he brought into the organization as a scout when he joined the Hawks as a consultant in the off season.

Quenneville was the long time coach of the Avalanche until last year and Bowman (and now by requirement of office Tallon) no doubt feels that his experience is what is needed to bring the young and improving Hawks up a few levels in NHL competition.

The coaching change has become the talk of Chicago, with both the Cubs and White Sox bowing out of the playoffs early and the Bears running middle of the pack, hockey is starting to grab a growing share of the sports pages these days.

The fact that the sports writers even noticed the change is a good thing for the Hawks (not so much for Savard) in a strange little way, though showing signs of panic four games into the season leaves many questions for the writers to take a look at and no doubt try and dig out more information on.

For the most part they were on the side of Savard as he makes his exit from Chitown, many seeing the increasing control of the team by the consultant, where past loyalties holds little sway and emotional attachment will be of no concern it seems.

From the Chicago headlines:

Sun Times-- After 4, Savard shown door
Sun Times-- A one-way commitment
Sun Times-- Timing odd, but McDonough had enough
Sun Times-- An abrupt change of heart
Sun Times-- Well-tested Quenneville takes on another challenge
Sun Times-- I'll miss Savvy, but I wasn't surprised
Tribune-- Tallon exists at Bowman's pleasure. And he's hard to please
Tribune-- Tallon loses this game of 'Survivor' to Bowman
Tribune-- I know, it's code for "what Scotty wants"
Tribune-- Hawks take the penalty, ice Savard
Tribune-- Blackhawks fire head coach Denis Savard

Thursday, October 16, 2008

And now your hostest with the mostest!

Rush Limbaugh, Bob McCown and lesser radio Gods will all tremble with fear today, as Gary Bettman returns to the airwaves ready to talk with the fans and offer that homespun hockey spin.

The NHL Hour enters its second season on XM and Sirius Satellite radio on Thursday, the program will also be streamed live on starting at 4 PM Eastern time, 1 PM in the West.

Like any season debut, the show will feature a heavy hitter of an opening day guest, as Whoppi Goldberg saddles up with Commissioner Bettman to outline her love of the game and perhaps some tidbits about her fellow hosts on the View and any secret hockey stories they may have for future shows.

Audience participation can take place through a telephone call at 1-877-645-6696 or with an email to

For those looking for some historical moments of the NHL Hour, the programs' past episodes have all been archived for use as a podcast accessible through the website.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Still a growing brand?

"Let me remind you that credit is the lifeblood of business, the lifeblood of prices and jobs." --Herbert Hoover, circa 1929

"We're acutely aware of what's going on out there, but it hasn't yet impacted us," -- Gary Bettman, circa 2008

Despite the implosion of the world economy over the last two weeks, the credit crunch that has reduced much of the banking industry to the state of locking the vaults and hiding the keys and a stock market that has more twists and turns than the scariest of rollers coasters at Canada Wonderland, in Gary Bettman's NHL, right now its 1928...

The Commish has been busy outlining the state of the game which in his opinion is still in pretty solid shape, with nothing to fear but fear itself perhaps. Going so far as to advise that in his opinion the NHL is still in a growth mode.

While others may suggest that the leagues financials aren't quite as rosy outside of the six Canadian franchises and a handful of stateside ones, Bettman has entertained no notions of any storm clouds quickly moving in on his game.

Citing season ticket increases (purchased before the downturn we suspect) Mr. Bettman is still quite bullish on his league and its fortunes in this early stage of the 2008-09 season. He does however promise to remain vigilant and watchful for any signs of economic troubles (oh maybe triple digit stock market losses on a daily basis, rising unemployment figures and banks that don't open up in the morning) that may be heading the NHL's way.

"I have no doubt that, over time, if it's long enough and bad enough, it will have some impact, but based on what we're seeing right now, our business seems to be strong."

It's with legitimate concern that those outside of the NHL offices might suggest a steady watch on the situation, the NHL which is very much a gate driven league, could find that as the economic crunch continues in the USA their weaker markets may find it harder and harder to lure the fans into the rink.

Even the gold standard franchises may find that as their fan base suffers the economic downturn, the spin off of revenues may drop off as well as the wallets get closed and the fans hunker down for tougher times.

Already this season there have been disturbing things coming out of the Nashville experience, a story which seems to have yet composed its final song.

As for the Canadian teams, as the Globe and Mail examined in a recent series of articles the NHL of today is finding that a good portion of its transfer payments come from north of the 49th, to the tune of some 40 million dollars last year.

That win fall for the struggling partners of the south may quickly dry up however, as those numbers were calculated on a stronger Canadian dollar, one that was close to par with the US dollar. Since the current financial storm has started the Canadian loonie has taken a bit of a hit, trading around the 84- 86 cent range the last few days or so, a situation that if it continues will reduce those dollar flows heading south.

Of the major sports in North America, the NHL may be the most susceptible to the ravages of a declining economy. From its gate driven economy to the lack of a television contract laden with riches in the USA, the financials could look down right scary should the anticipated recession be as deep and as long as the economists and government Sooth Sayers suggest.

Of even more concern, is the state of the leagues salary cap system which as Stephen Brunt outlined in the Globe a few days ago, is one that isn't going to be particularly kind to those teams that continue to struggle on the balance sheet.

The NBA was proactive in their recognition of the downturn, having already laid off at least 80 employees in anticipation of tough times, and that's a league with a very generous TV contract and a marketing niche laden with clothing and memorabilia sales.

The NHL doesn't have quite the same cache with the buying public of American Sports fans and their discretionary income (that which is left) and still struggles to make its place in the non traditional hockey markets.

They are but a few of the economic streams that might be worth watching, the problems may be few today, but as Mr. Hoover quickly found out in 1929 they can multiply rather quickly once the momentum starts to build.

One has to hope that Gary Bettman won't have his own words of wisdom set to be recounted many years down the path, forever enshrined as Hoover has been for many a generation.

"I'm the only person of distinction who has ever had a depression named for him."-- Herbert Hoover, thoughts post Depression era

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Governor, her puck and a sample of that famous love from the city of Brotherly Love

Politicians traditionally have troubles when it comes to attending large sporting events, despite the best efforts to make the photo op work, it doesn't always go as organizers might hope.

Add in beer sales, a notoriously belligerent crowd at the best of times and a very nasty election race and well the potential for a few boos is always there.

America's highest profile hockey mom and the current Republican candidate for Vice President of the United States, Sarah Palin took part in the official puck drop at the Rangers/Flyers game Saturday night in Philadelphia.

Part of a celebration for winner of the Flyer's Hockey Mom promotion, which saw Governor Palin walk to centre ice with this years newly crowned Flyer's Hockey Mom and her daughter.

And while the Flyers did their best to drown out any kind of background noise (including their own PA announcer) with some of the loudest in Arena rock music, you could still hear more than a smattering of Boos as the Governor took her place to drop the ceremonial puck.

At least we think they were boos, perhaps in honour of the Governors's ability to stalk down and take care of Alaska's largest of wildlife, the Flyer fans were just serenading her with Mooooooooooooooose.

Cross posted from my HockeyNation blog.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

They're playing his song!

After months of competition and discussion, the CBC announced the winner of their Hockey Night in Canada anthem challenge. The anthem above, Canadian Gold is the new theme song for Canada's iconic hockey broadcast.

When TSN bought the rights to the old theme last summer, the CBC pushed ahead with their plan "B" designed to make Canadian hockey fans participants and creators in the process.

By the time the last idea came into Toronto almost 15,000 entries had arrived for consideration. From that immense pile of musical creativity, the finalists were narrowed down to five last week and then to the final two for tonight's debut

With both creators on the stage at the CBC's Broadcast Centre in Toronto the drama played out introduced by Don Cherry.

As the winner was revealed, Beaumont, Alta.'s Colin Oberst was declared the winner for his Canadian Gold theme, Toronto teenager Robert Fraser Burke's Sticks to the Ice came in second.

Here is how the CBC announced the winning composition both on the actual broadcast and as part of a larger feature on the CBC News that night.

Bad Boys, Bad Boys, whatcha gonna do, 2008-09 edition

A new season brings with it the need to keep law and order on the frozen domain of the NHL, as Chief Justice Colin Campbell does his best to punish the offenders and set forward those good examples to keep everyone on the straight and narrow.

We'll track the need for discipline through the season, as the offenders make their appearances in the halls of NHL justice, our offenders may now approach the bench.

Stars-- Dec 5 Six games for Avery

Running Total to date-- 44 games

By Teams

Columbus Blue Jackets-- 6 games
Dallas Stars-- 6 games
Detroit Red Wings-- 2 games
Los Angeles Kings-- 5 games
Montreal Canadiens-- 5 games
New York Islanders-- 5 games
Ottawa Senators-- 2 games
Phoenix Coyotes-- 2 games
Pittsburgh Penguins-- 1 game
Tampa Bay Lightning-- 2 games
Toronto Maple Leafs-- 8 games

Friday, October 10, 2008

The curtain goes up in North America

The 2008-09 NHL season is underway and for Toronto and Vancouver fans the season can end today, for on opening night for both teams the fates were kind and the success was solid.

With a national audience watching across the CBC, the NHL kicked off its North American debut with a double header on the still song less Hockey Night in Canada (though we did meet the two finalists for the song that will take over the Saturday night tradition very shortly)

The Leafs managed to upstage the Red Wings on banner night, as the Wings unveiled their Stanley Cup banner, trotted out the fabled trophy to centre ice, showered their ancient heroes with attention and then promptly found themselves outworked by a Maple Leaf team that perhaps hasn't had the time to read its obituary, pre written this year, in the pre season.

The Leafs provided their new head coach with his first win right out of the gate, a good way to get in the good books of the man who will be doing the bulk of the evaluating in this transition season.

The key to the Leafs 3-2 victory was an ability to stay out of the penalty box, thus reducing the Red Wings opportunities on the power play, it didn't hurt that Vesa Toskala (cryptically listed as team captain on the pre game roster sheets) had a solid game in the Maple Leaf nets, turning aside all but two of the 26 shots fired at him by the Red Wings.

By the end of sixty minutes, Red Wing fans were off to the Fox theatre in downtown Detroit to groove to the vibes of Def Leopard, apparently the sound of the NHL this year. The NHL hosted a season opener concert at the Fox on Thursday, perhaps a final commitment from last years season opener in London, England.

The Leafs would have to catch the video on the way back to Toronto, with the rising Montreal Canadiens due in on Saturday for the renewal of their long time rivalry, the time for celebrating will have to wait, tempting as it may be for the Leafs to let loose after a trying training camp.

While Def Leopard was pounding out the hits a the Fox, the Flames and Canucks were warming up on the west coast and as things would develop that is about the point where Calgary should have called it a night.

Prior to what became a Vancouver rout, the Canucks observed a celebration of the life of Luc Bourdon, the young Canuck with so much potential who tragically was killed in a motorcylce accident in the off season.

The Canuck presentation was a well done tribute, which featured Bourdon's immediate family, the season ticket holders who received his sweater at last years shirt of the back game (they returned the sweater to the Bourdon family on Thursday night at centre ice) and an acoustic rendition of Big League, which was certainly a poignant selection for the night.

As the lights came back on and Opera man led the crowd in O Canada, the buzz in the building turned back to hockey and the Canucks fed off of it all night long. Calgary had a good first period and that was it, the Canucks regrouping in the first intermission and taking complete control of the game from the early portions of period number two.

By the time they were finished on the night, Luongo had his first shut out of the season and the first as captain of the team, Alex Burows, Bourdon's closest friend on the team had two goals, the rest of the Canucks four more and the Flames left Vancouver soundly thumped both on the scoreboard and on the ice.

The return of Todd Bertuzzi to Vancouver, cloaked in his Flames uniform was a non story, Bertuzzi was hardly an impact player on this night, though to be fair he had lots of company from the team in red and white, on a night where Mikka Kirpusoff was all but abandoned by his team mates (and coach it seemed who left him in the nets for all six goals).

Vancouver's 6-0 victory will reinforce the success that the team had in the pre season, where there were a number of convincing wins to soothe the always anxious Canuck fan base. And while many will still be waiting to see how long things last on the winning side of the ledger, the first night out was more than a rewarding experience for the GM Place crowd.

The Canucks renew acquaintances with the Flames on Saturday, the home ice debut for Calgary and we suspect a game that will be much closer on the scoreboard and far more intense than even Thursday night provided.

For one night though, fans of two teams that many suspected would fall on hard times this season can celebrate late into the night, the leafs were nowhere near as bad as many thought they would be and in fact provided some prospect of a competitive squad if only for one evening thus far.
And for Vancouver, the season debut took the heat off of Mike Gillis. The rookie GM who made some high profile changes to the line up in the off season, stumbled as Mats Sundin seemed to spurn his attentions and had to feel the heat of the Vancouver media, fearful that the Canucks were moving backwards instead of forward.

It's but the first game of the season, but for two of Canada's largest hockey markets all is well in the hockey kingdom, the home side is winning, their play entertaining, now all they have to do is carry it through until next May...

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Hoping to rub a little magic from the past

For fourteen games, Edmonton fans will be thinking back to the days of mess and Gretz, Andy and Grant, Paul and Kevin.

The Oilers introduced a retro jersey on Tuesday, a nod to their storied past with the threads that made Edmonton famous.

The Jerseys to be worn in fourteen games will feature that famous Orange and blue which was in such high demand across the nation during the Oilers run for five Stanley Cups from 1984- 1990.

The debut of the retro look comes up this Sunday when the Oilers host the Colorado Avalanche in their season home opener.

Head Coach Craig MacTavish who isn't quite up on the House of Fashion listings, is probably just hoping that when they wear the retro look, he can send out even a fourth line centre to fly like a Gretzky or hit like Messier.

As they say you need to dress for success, and in this case their hoping that success comes in tones of Orange and Blue...

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Unaccustomed to the uses of champagne

You can tell that it’s been a long, long time for the Toronto Maple Leafs to have to order and actually use champagne.

In this video, no doubt taken by a Senators fan, Carlton the Bear, the team mascot encounters more than a few problems when it comes to wielding a bottle of champagne.

While hopes spring eternal at this time of the season (ie. no wins, no losses, no ties) we have the feeling that Carlton won’t be getting much more practice this season either..

Sunday, October 05, 2008

The season debuts on European ponds

The 2008-09 NHL season got underway on Saturday as a double header on the CBC provided hockey fans with their long awaited return to the action.

The opening puck was dropped in Prague, as the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning brought the North American game to the Czech Republic. While the fans were no doubt still in shock that local hero Jaromir Jagr no longer wears Broadway Blues, they instead had to learn to appreciate the play of Sweden’s Markus Naslund, who made his regular season debut a memorable one with one of the Rangers two goals on the night, good enough to secure a 2-1 victory over Tampa Bay.

The Lightning are fortunate that the score wasn’t higher, having taken seven penalties giving a very talented power play more than enough practice in working their drills under real game conditions.

The Rangers fired 41 shots at Tampa’s Mike Smith, while Henrik Lundqvis had a rather easy day of things, facing only 21 shots.

The match featured the regular season debut of the highly touted draft pick Steven Stamkos, who came close to picking up his first NHL goal in his first game, providing head coach Barry Melrose with some glimpses of what may soon come his way from his new vantage point behind the Tampa Bay bench.

The second half of the double header provided for a reunion of the Senators and Penguins, who last met as Pittsburgh quickly, banished Ottawa from the playoffs in four straight games.

Once again, Sens fans will be shaking their heads about that ages old curse, the goaltending position; Martin Gerber got off to a rough start surrendering the Pens first goal less than one minute into the first period.

And while he and the Sens did battle back during the course of the remaining 59 minutes, it would in the end be that first goal that would come back to haunt them as would a few bad habits from last season, with poor puck possession and turnovers proving to be a costly aspect of the Senators game plan.

In a fast paced affair, which saw Tyler Kennedy become the Penguins key attraction of the night, his first goal of the game and then the winning marker in Overtime accounted for half of the Penguins scoring and one more than Ottawa could provide on the way to the Penguins 4-3 overtime victory.

Gerber who has become the Sens number one this season, had occasional flashes of his past solid form, but the occasional lapses will be what the Ottawa fans will be talking about through the weekend.

Gerber gave up his four goals on 30 shots In the Tampa end of the rink, Marc-Andre Fleury turned aside 32 of the 35 shots directed his way.

It was a homecoming night for Daniel Alfredsson, though more than a few in attendance didn’t seem to be particularly fond of his team, providing the Sens with the occasional smattering of boos.

There were no boos however for the honorary puck dropper of the night, as Mats Sundin took time away from that on going contemplation of the hockey universe, to drop the puck to get the game underway. The rare Mats sighting, produced no new leads as to his intentions as far as the 2008-09 season go, though apparently a position as a linesman could be in the offing judging by his prowess of the face off circle.

The season debut also provided the CBC with the opportunity to unveil their new intermission host Mike Milbury, who took up his duties with Kelly Hrudey on Saturday, providing much of the same tone and bombast of his TSN appearances, transferred over to his new home on the CBC.

We’re not sure if he’s going to be permanently partnered with Hrudey or if he will eventually gravitate to his own turf on the CBC set, the first edition provided an interesting look at how he might fit into the Hockey Night in Canada broadcasts, though it did seem to take away from Hrudey’s analysis of the events of the day.

And we assume that in a spirit of peace between nations, Don Cherry was nowhere to be seen on the Hockey Night from Europe programming, perhaps fearful of a European meltdown over the wrath of Grapes, the wraps were kept on Cherry until Thursday night’s double header broadcast which will start out of Detroit.

The Sens and Pens and Bolts and Rangers will renew their acquaintances on Sunday, before heading back to North America to pick up the rest of the NHL schedules.

Saturday’s action marked the fifth time that the NHL opened up its season on foreign soil, a program the started back in 1997.