Thursday, January 31, 2008

Legends of Hockey January 30

Guy Lafleur

Montreal Canadiens 1971-1985
New York Rangers 1988-1989
Quebec Nordiques 1989-1991

Legends of Hockey home page


Other sites of interest:

Wikipedia--Guy Lafleur
You Tube--Guy Lafleur
HabsLegends--Guy Lafleur
You Tube--Guy Lafleur Disco Star
Canadiens History--Guy Lafleur
Department of National Defence--Air Force scores a perfect 10 with Guy Lafleur

Ruutu’s reputation rears up again

Not since Ulf Samuellson launched his knee into Cam Neely’s, has a player developed such a reputation for havoc and injury as that of Pittsburgh’s Jarkko Ruutu.

Wednesday night, Ruutu and the Thrashers Ilya Kovalchuk came together on the side boards near the Thrashers bench. In a bid to escape the approaching check of Ruutu Kovalchuk tried to swing out of the way, but was clipped by Ruutu in a knee on knee collision. After a short shift to test things out, Kovalchuk left the ice for the remainder of the game, and potentially for much longer.

While Ruutu was defending his hit on Kovalchuk’s knee as an accident, his past transgressions will surely make those claims seem less than sincere. Known as an agitator and considered by some to be a dangerous player on the ice, Ruutu gained the full attention of the Thrashers Steve McCarthy after he sent Kovalchuk to the ice. Ruutu spent close to a minute on the receiving end of a number McCarthy punches, in retribution for his hit. After the dust up had finished both were done for the night, with Ruutu sent off the ice for his kneeing major.

The possibility that the knee on knee was an accident is always there, but somehow you don’t get the feeling that Ruutu is going to get the benefit of the doubt. He certainly wasn’t feeling the love from many of the Thrashers after the game. It will be interesting to watch Coach’s corner on Saturday, where the always opinionated Don Cherry will no doubt review the run at Kovalchuk by Ruutu and perhaps look back at Ruutu's own past history.

The Thrashers eventually prevailed in the game 4-1, but no doubt not many were thinking of the two points at games end, rather they were probably contemplating the number of days that they may be without their top scorer.

Atlanta Journal Constituion--Kovalchuk hurt in Thrashers' victory

Headgear optional on a Calgary Wednesday night

On a cold Alberta evening, a fair number of the assembled at the Saddledome were heading home without their hats that after Owen Nolan picked up his first hat trick since 1999 and the eleventh three goal night of his career.

Nolan put together the three goal game leading his Calgary Flames to a 5-4 over his former club the San Jose Sharks.

Mired in the first half of the season in a continuation of the scoring slump he suffered in Phoenix last year, Nolan has quickly caught fire in the last few weeks. He’s scored five of his twelve goals on the year in the last five games and Wednesday night showed some of the flash and physical play that made him an intimidating factor back in his Shark days.

From getting into a few scraps on the night, to playing hard into the corners and along the boards it was as close to a complete performance that Nolan has given in recent times, and with his scoring touch seemingly returned for at least one night, Nolan accounted for the bulk of the Flames scoring and a fair amount of their grit and dedication as they rattled off their fourth consecutive win.

While many had questioned the wisdom of the flames picking him up, he’s provided a leadership role to compliment the efforts of captain Jarome Iginla and blue liner Dion Phaneuf. In fact, his recent touch around the net has helped to deflect some of the concern over the sudden cold streak that Iginla has suffered.

While Nolan's output is nowhere near what it was in his all star days, for a team that is seeking to make some noise in this years playoff race the flashes of the old Nolan will be a welcome sighting.
His enthusiasm on Wednesday proved to be an infectious thing, even brining a smile to the notoriously somber face of head coach Mike Keenan. Though he no doubt quickly returned to form as the Flames allowed the Sharks back into the game, fortunately not squandering Nolan’s night as they held on for the 5-4 final.

Calgary Herald--Shark Buster

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Legends of Hockey January 29

Turk Broda

Toronto Maple Leafs 1936-1952

Legends of Hockey home page

Other sites of interest:

Wikipedia--Turk Broda
Maple Leaf legends--Turk Broda
Goalies archives--Turk Broda
Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame--Turk Broda

Is Emery on the edge of Senatorial extinction?

Just how many lives does Ray Emery have? That‘s the question bouncing around Ottawa office coolers, watering holes and school hallways today as the Senators mercurial goaltender once again tests the boundaries and patience of Senators management.

Emery arrived late for an Ottawa practice Monday in New York, not the first time that he’s been tardy, made a less than low key showing after the assigned start time.

Again, the Senators sent him away, his distracting ways becoming an apparent problem for a team that has been running hot and cold for the last two months.

The question now is has he finally pushed GM Bryan Murray into a corner, forcing him to begin to seek out another team to take on the challenge of Emery’s time keeping while not soaking Murray in return in a trade.

By mid-day Tuesday the Sens had fined their recalcitrant goaltender an reported fourteen thousand and five hundred dollars and the rumour mill was churning that Murray was seeking a deal to finally end the distractions.

Murray had given some thought to just sitting Emery down and bringing up an AHL goaltender for a few games, but that process became complicated due to the AHL’s all star break.

At the moment it seems that it’s a buyers market for goal tenders, not a seller’s market. All of which leaves Murray in a bit of a quandary as to how to approach his troublesome situation. No doubt mindful that there's probably no General Managers out there that are going to make his path an easy one, Murray will have to get creative to try and move Emery considering his growing reputation.

However, you do get the feeling that the wheels are slowly being put in motion for a move, most likely to a Western based team which wouldn’t come back to haunt the Sens until a Stanley Cup final should all the stars align in their proper orbit.

While Emery dodged a demotion (it’s doubtful that he would clear waivers anyways) and didn’t end up having to watch the game from the stands, he didn’t see any action in the Sens first game back since the All Star break.

Martin Gerber received the start and led the Sens to a 5-2 victory over the Islanders on Tuesday, while perhaps not the overwhelming favourite to be number one, for now it would seem that he’s being given the chance to show what he can do, while his partner Emery will be left on the bench to stew.

He however is nowhere near the boil that his coach and GM are on at the moment, tired of his approach to his duties and his relations with is coach, fellow players and General Manager.

Ottawa Citizen--Trade Bait
Ottawa Citizen--Emery may have pushed Sens too far
Ottawa Sun--Honest mistake
Ottawa Sun--Is there even a Ray of hope left?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Legends of Hockey January 28

Georges Vezina

Montreal Canadiens 1910-1926

Legends of Hockey home page


Other sites of interest:

Wikipedia--Georges Vezina
Hockey Goalies--Georges Vezina
Montreal Canadiens Legends--Georges Vezina
Canadian Encyclopedia--Vezina Trophy

The World arrives in April

The arrangements for the 100th Anniversary of the World Hockey Championships is coming together nicely for Halifax and Quebec City, as sixteen teams make their early plans for the competition, the first time that it has been held in Canada.

The Canadian squad opens up its training camp on April 23rd in Quebec City, with a number of exhibition games lined up through the end of April all designed to tune all 16 teams up for the May 2-18 tournament.

Pre season games will travel to a variety of towns and cities in Quebec and Atlantic Canada as the visiting squads try to get their skating legs back in shape and their overall game plan back on track. One of the more interesting of pre tournament matches will feature France and Italy squaring off in St. Leonard, a Montreal suburb known for its large Italian population. Nobody mention soccer and past grievances from recent World Cups, or it may be a game that even Don Cherry might want to take in.

Canada will play its round robin matches in Halifax; leading up to what they hope will be the Gold Medal game back at Le Colisee on May 18th.

The Canadian team is traditionally topped up with players from teams that don’t make the playoffs or exit after one short round; however, with the tournament being held in Canada this year, the potential for late additions from the second round of the playoffs is a possibility, making team chemistry and allocation an important aspect for Hockey Canada.

For Canada, the defending champion, a berth as top seed for the 2010 Olympics is on the agenda, as well the top nine finishers in this springs event will all qualify for the Olympics, giving the competition a little extra importance this time around.

Organizers roll out the red carpet on May 2nd, with the host country hoping that it’s the home side standing on it on May 18 collecting another Gold Medal and helping to put a stamp on edition 100 of the World Championships.

Hockey Canada--2008 IIHF Website

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Finnish Flash flies back to the nest

"The only reason why I came back is that I really felt that I wanted to play hockey again," Teemu Selanne upon his return to the Anaheim Ducks

Well rested after a half season sabbatical, Teemu Selanne has signed back on for duty with the Anaheim Ducks, ready to provide yet another piece of the puzzle for Brian Burke.

In what seems to be an Anaheim trend, Selanne like fellow Duck, Scott Niedermayer before him didn’t quite get the hockey bug out of him yet. Unlike Niedermayer however, his return won’t result in the need to move a high profile player out of the nest to make room.

Selanne who is an unrestricted free agent, will pick up a prorated $1.5-million dollars, which counts about $600,000 against the team's salary cap, should he regain his scoring touch and skating form quickly he is also eligible to earn up to another $1.2-million in regular-season bonuses.

And best of all for Burke and fans of the Ducks, his signing doesn’t bust the bank just yet, meaning that as the trading deadline approaches, Burke if he feels it is warranted can still chase down another player that might fit in with the Ducks as they make their move on a playoff position in the Western Conference.

The whispers of Selanne’s return began during the all star break; with GM Brian Burke suggesting that they could make some room on the cap should Selanne decide that seeking out another Stanley Cup was in his immediate future.

It would seem that after five months of thought, the Finn finally found that absence did make his heart grow fonder and he’s now ready to lace them up for the stretch and head into the playoffs to defend his team’s Stanley Cup title.

He stepped onto the ice for the first time with the Ducks on Monday, for a grueling workout, Selanne had previously been skating for three weeks before his arrival in Anaheim but probably is not quite in game shape just yet, leaving it to coach Randy Carlyle to decide when he will activate his latest addition to the roster.

Burke is proving to be pretty adept at bringing back the key elements of last years Stanley Cup Drive, filling in holes with familiar faces and pivotal ones at a key time. The balance of power is starting to shift again in the West, a decidedly southwestern tilt as the Ducks begin to make their move just in time for a playoff run.

The rest of the Western contenders will now have to begin to working on their own cap math, looking to match the solid moves of Burke with some additions of their own.

Legends of Hockey January 27

Eddie Shore

Boston Bruins 1926-1939
New York Americans 1939-1940

Legends of Hockey home page


Other sites of interest:

Wikipedia--Eddie Shore
Edmonton Oilers heritage page--Eddie Shore
The Puck stops here--How good was Eddie Shore
Bruins legends--Eddie Shore
Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan--Eddie Shore
Time Magazine--Boston's Shore
Black Aces hockey--Eddie Shore
CBC Sports--Retaliatory hit begets All Star Game

Last goal won.

The NHL all star game is regularly a hard to watch affair for the hockey purist, there’s little in the way of hitting, the players make far too many fancy passes and the intensity level is somewhere along the lines of the beer league midnight special.

So Sunday’s annual exercise of showcasing the stars (those that weren’t too lame or too tired to make it) once again played out mostly as expected.

While the third period at least provided some urgency to the affair, the previous two periods probably didn’t convert many to the game had they wandered onto the broadcast by mistake.

There was more drama following Tiger Woods around the course and he had a ten shot lead at one point of his run for his year opening Buick Open appearance, all while the East and the West were firing off shots at sacrificial goaltenders. As Woods was losing his focus on the course if only for a short period of time, perhaps his mind was wandering, wondering if the East could hold that 5-1 lead from the first, as things turned out they couldn’t.

The final twenty minutes were a flash of action, as the West evened the game up at 5 all early in the third. From there it was a rush for the last goal of the game as the teams traded opportunities and little in the way of defensive play on the way to the winning goal from former Thrasher Marc Savard with 20.9 seconds left to play.

That made the final score 8-7 in favour of the east, good enough to capture the bragging rights for this year and to put a set of keys to an SUV in the hands of Eric Staal.

There’s not much that the NHL can do about the format of the all star game, the non hitting nature of the event and the all out assault on the goaltenders is probably something that can’t be modified too much.

While it makes for an interesting experience, akin to watching a high octane practice, the return to the regular schedule is probably a welcome thing for the dedicated hockey fan, who probably got a little restless on Sunday watching periods one and two.

Perhaps even wandering over a click or two from time to time, to check up on Tiger, something that could be a common thing on Sunday’s should the regular season games begin to resemble Sunday’s all star skate fest.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Don’t book those plane tickets just yet...

"We're not going to just be a rubber stamp”, oops Mr. Bettman clean up in aisle four…

Gary Bettman’s grand pronouncement that the NHL is set to showcase its product in Europe again this fall, ran into a bit of labour turbulence on Saturday.

Paul Kelly, the new Executive Director of the NHLPA must have been weary of clearing his phone messages after Mr. Bettman announced that the league had scheduled games in Sweden, Switzerland and the Czech Republic in early October of this year. For Mr. Kelly the message counter provided requests from the rank and file about when they had signed on the dotted line for such an interesting idea.

As it turns out they hadn’t yet, Mr. Bettman anxious to make hay in the field of All Star opportunity, jumped the gun a bit with his announcement. Giving the NHLPA head the opportunity to do what labour leaders have done and poke management in the eye a bit.

In the first skirmish between the two sides since Kelly took over the association, he took time out on Saturday to remind the NHL that while the NHLPA welcomes the opportunity to grow the game and explore Europe, nothing has been agreed to yet and they don’t appreciate the pressure that such an announcement provides.

Bettman drew up a schedule which if eventually signed off by the NHLPA, will see the Ottawa Senators and Pittsburgh Penguins play in Stockholm on October 4 and 5, while the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning would play the same two days in Prague, the Rangers will also earn a few extra air miles with a side trip to Switzerland and a match called the Victoria Cup challenge which will see the Rangers play the European Super league champions Metallurg Magnitogorsk. The Rangers would also sneak in a game with SC Bern while in the Swiss city.

It seems more than likely that the NHLPA will eventually provide their blessing for the European adventure, but not before they remind Mr. Bettman that there is still a fair bit of desire for a more informative process to take place.

By the end of Saturday, the NHL was admitting that perhaps bit of mis-communication had taken place, hoping no doubt to smooth over the ruffled feathers of the weekend.

With much talk these days of a new European league being formed with significant financial backing, this may be a way for the NHL to stake a claim to the growing thirst for hockey in Europe. Perhaps it was with that in mind that the NHL jumped the gun on the key ingredient to any NHL showcase, the actual players on the ice.

As for the international hockey announcements, IIHF President Rene Faisal seems to have taken the event a little higher than perhaps they deserve. Especially in the planned Victoria Cup, for which he said: “the first time we will have a summit meeting, a one-off final, for a trophy which we hope will be part of the annual international calendar for years to come.”

It’s pretty heady stuff for an exhibition game that with the Rangers most likely won’t be featuring the NHL Stanley Cup Champions for 2007-08 and maybe not even the European league champion for 2008.

Now, if you want drama and excitement, set up a series between the NHL champ and the European champ and then let the rhetoric flow and the bombast begin, though we suspect there is little chance of that happening any time soon.

While the NHL may want to check out the lay of the land in Europe they are in no hurry to diminish the pinnacle of their regular season the Stanley Cup. Not to mention reduce the number of games in North America to make such a showdown possible.

His words say no... but between the lines?

Damien Cox won’t let go of the Maple Leaf Nation’s dream, that apparently of having Brian Burke take charge of their wandering band of under performing and overwhelmed hockey players.

Despite Burke's denials of interest and public announcement that he’s happily and gainfully employed by the Samueli’s in Anaheim, Cox has managed to parse the statements, inject his interpretations and set himself up for Burke’s favourite statement of suffering from a “drug induced fantasy”, with his suggestion that Burke is more than interested in the possibilities of taking the Leafs from chumps to champs.

In Sunday’s Toronto Star and posted to their website, Cox outlined the key things that would need to happen for Burke to change his optics on the post, including full control over the team without the need to run everything by a board, won’t suffer fools gladly should they start to suggest who to play and woe be the MLSE executive that tries to treat him the way that John Ferguson Junior was hung out to dry this winter.

It’s an interesting bit of interpretation, which will keep Burke’s name percolating along with some of the other key executives that have popped up in the last few days.

While Burke was finding a friend in the most unlikely of places considering his long time battles with the media, Jim Rutherford was making use of the Hockey Night in Canada pulpit to advise the Maple Leaf flock that no; he doesn’t have a Maple Leaf escape clause in his Carolina contract.

With Scotty Bowman having already seemingly burned his bridge on Hockey Night in Canada a few weeks ago, it will be interesting to see who shows up next to talk about the job.

So far everyone seems to be trying their best not to appear to be seeking out the job that everyone in hockey seems to suggest is the top one of the circuit, apparently it’s not how they deliver their lines, but what’s between them that’s key.

Bettman sees no moves to Canada in the short term

"At the current time we are not considering any relocations, and we don't have a formal expansion process," Gary Bettman on Hockey Night in Canada

Put away your wallet Mr. Balsillie and Winnipeg, Hamilton and Quebec City can put away their pom poms. In Gary Bettman’s NHL, six is super, seven unlikely.

During Mr. Bettman’s all star break media availability session on Hockey Night in Canada, he seemed to throw cold water on any potential movement to the usual suspects of locations for Canadian hockey.

And while he appeared to leave the door open a crack for the faithful in Canada’s always ready to roll cities; the likelihood of an existing team moving north seems less and less likely under his watch.

If ever a team was to be moved north, it would surely have been done when Jim Balsillie was opening up his vast fortune of blackberry bucks to the NHL, anxious to join the fraternity but only if he could take his investment to where he felt it would have its best chance for success.

Those locations would not be Kansas City, Seattle, Portland, Las Vegas or even staying the course in Nashville, but instead just a few miles down the road from the leagues keystone franchises.

His desire to move the Predators to Southern Ontario met with stiff resistance and in the end he was left on the margins as that sale twisted into an interesting pretzel of NHL machinations.

When the dust settled in the great Predators sell off, the Preds remained in Nashville (for now), Boots Del Biaggio picked up a useful hunk of them (plus some moving quotes for a trip to Kansas City) and former owner Craig Leipold took his haircut then, for a shampoo a few weeks later when he was able to purchase the Minnesota Wild with little in the way of stumbling blocks.

Everybody came out of that one happy, with the exception of Balsillie and hockey fans in Hamilton and southern Ontario, perhaps a feeling that both they and hockey fans in Winnipeg and Quebec City should get used to as long as the current regime is in place.

It’s interesting to note that Mr. Bettman’s ruminations on Canadian additions, came in the same session as the announcement that the NHL plans on hosting another great outdoor classic next year.

A symbolic reminder if you will, that when it comes to increasing Canadian locations in the NHL, the idea will also be something that is going to be rather cold.

Legends of Hockey January 26

Harry Oliver

Boston Bruins 1926-1934
New York Americans 1934-1937

Legends of Hockey home page



Other sites of interest:

Wikipedia--Harry Oliver
Edmonton Oilers Heritage--Harry Oliver Arena Memories

Saturday, January 26, 2008

East is the beast when it comes to the skills

Night one of the all star break weekend has come and gone, with the Eastern team showcasing their offensive prowess in front of an appreciative if at times slightly confused crowd of Atlantan’s.

The Phillips arena crowd seemed to enjoy themselves as the All Stars went through their paces, but the obstacle course seemed to provide more than a fair share of mystery as the Thrasher’s faithful tried to make sense of it all.

And as it seems to have been all season so far, it was Alexander Ovechkin, the Washington Capitals multi million dollar man who provided the key spark for the nights competition.

Ovechkin gained points on style from the panel of celebrity judges in the final event the Breakaway challenge, edging out the West’s Ryan Getzlaf. Ovechkin’s attempts to lift the puck into the air and bat it into the net seemed to appeal to the judges who gave him the nod and the points.

When all the tabulating was done, the East had defeated the West 9-6 in total points giving them the bragging rights heading into Sunday’s 56th, All star match up.

The East proved to be dominant in a number of other events lined up for the skills competition including.

Hardest shot—Which saw Zdeno Chara return as champion of the slap shot, with a 103.1 mph rocket that would have made Bobby Hull or Boom Boom Geoffrion proud. Chara’s shot when averaged with his Eastern team mates gave the East 100.1 mph advantage compared to the West’s slumbering 98 mph.

Accuracy shots—In what may come as a surprise to Toronto maple Leaf fans, Tomas Kaberle proved to have an eagle eye when it comes to shooting on target, as he bested the West’s Jason Arnott.

Obstacle course—The East sent out some fast wheels and fast thinking for this one. as teams of Jason Spezza, Marc Savard, Sergei Gonchar and Tim Thomas prevailed over their western counterparts, as did Evgeni Malkin, Mike Richards, Andrei Markov and Rick DiPietro.

Fastest Skater--The West cam claim the title this year for the fastest skate around the rink, as Edmonton’s Shane Horcoff picked up the title for his speedy Gonzalez routine which saw him go from goal line to far blue line in 4.395 seconds.

Young Guns—The West also can lay claim to the top of the crop when it comes to youngsters, the Western squad took charge of the four on four competition with Alexander Edler of Vancouver, Erik Johnson of St. Louis, Jack Johnson of Los Angeles and Matt Niskanen of Dallas; forwards Sam Gagner of Edmonton, Patrick Kane of Chicago, Peter Mueller of Phoenix and David Perron of St. Louis sharing the glories after the competition.

Elimination shootout—Another win for the West as Dion Phaneuf survived the eliminations to score the successful goal against Tim Thomas. Scott Gomez was the last hope for the Eastern squad but was stopped by Manny Legace.

Legends of Hockey January 25

Aurel Joliat

Montreal Canadiens 1922-1938

Legends of Hockey home page


Other sites of interest:

Wikipedia--Aurel Joliat
Habslegends--Aurel Joliat
HockeyForum--Aurel Joliat

Canucks grab some cover

Just when the long running Bertuzzi/Moore court case seems to be settling down again, up comes a new revelation that sends the whole process into a new direction.

Previously in the process, we heard of the now famous message board with Moore’s name and number on it, with an inference delivered that he (Moore) had to pay a price.

As the events of that night would spin out of control, and have since been replayed countless times on news and sports broadcasts, Moore would be found laying motionless on the ice having been sucker punched and then pile driven to the ice by Bertuzzi.

As this weeks proceedings got underway on Monday, the Canucks distanced themselves a little bit further from the current battle, calling Moores comments and suggestions about the night as "scandalous".

But Friday was drama day in a Toronto court room, there was an introduction of a tantalizing bit of news, the defence for the Canucks’ who are being sued along with Bertuzzi, have come up with a declaration that they will present evidence that shows that prior to the attack on the night in question, coach Crawford had been yelling at his player trying to get Bertuzzi off the ice.

In the best tradition of Law and Order, the declaration by lawyer Alan D'Silva, left the court room buzzing and the defence counsel visibly surprised at the turn of events. It’s at this point that perhaps a sharp musical note should have sounded in the courtroom, to signal a major momentum shift in the proceedings.

What that evidence will be has not been revealed yet, perhaps a video angle that shows Crawford waving frantically to gain Bertuzzi’s attention, or revelations of secret mind wave thought programs which telepathically had sent signals for Bertuzzi to come to the bench.

Once his lawyer had gathered his thoughts from the surprising twist, Tim Danson told the court the that he had read Crawford's statement to police following the 2004 game and at no time did he mention that Bertuzzi had been ordered off the ice.

Regardless, it would seem that at the time if the message had been sent, it must have been on the wrong frequency as nothing apparently was received, as a few short seconds later, the now infamous deed was done and the long road to litigation was under way.

A road that now seems to have added some blacktop and has no doubt provided for an increase in billable hours to the ever tabulating legal meter. case gets new twist
Canadian Press--Crawford to say Bertuzzi called off ice before hit

He’s one happy and content Duck

Gord Kirke’s job isn’t going to be so hard after all, just keep crossing the names off the list as he gets the word. That is if everyone that gets mentioned as a good fit for the job, takes his name off the search list as quickly as Brian Burke did on Friday.

Burke, while in Toronto with the Ducks owners the Samuelis, took time to tell the over excited Toronto media gaggle that he was quite happy where he was in California, that he enjoyed working for his ownership and that he fully expects to remain in his position for the foreseeable future.
A decision which is not what Toronto’s armchair headhunters wanted to hear.

Burke’s name has been one of the most mentioned ones since the deed was done to John Ferguson earlier this week, a fanciful bit of recruiting by those with perhaps more wishful hopes than strong business sense.

Unless the Leafs were to produce a contract with so many zeroes that he would be foolish to ignore, the question must be why would Burke want to give up what seems to be the perfect General managers job in hockey.

Anaheim is a market where the media rarely if ever second guesses you, where the fan base already spoiled with a Stanley Cup victory fill the rink nightly, and for the most part is really not quite sure about the strange sport they are their to witness, but regardless of the knowledge of the finer points of the game are quite aware of the championship banner hanging in the rafters.

In California, winning is the thing and whatever the sport, when you’re on top of the heap, they hold you high. At the moment the LA sports scene is short of a few winning teams, so for the Ducks these are the gravy years, Burke has been a big part of the build up to their success, it’s most likely that he can write his own ticket as far as salary, perks and responsibilities go.

While as he said the prospect of running the Maple Leafs is tempting (imagine the parade for the GM/President that finally delivers a winning team again to Toronto) the key franchise of the league and perhaps most storied one along with the Canadiens, comes with a fair amount of baggage as well.

From the frequently inquisitive media attention heaped upon the day to day events, to a fan base long abused, bemused and becoming more and more un-enthused, the Leafs job is not the dream that Torontonians may think it is.

Burke who made some major strides for the Vancouver Canucks and was unceremoniously discharged by the out of town ownership group of the day, has become a bit of an iconic feature in Canada. His blunt talk, frequent feuds with the media and outspoken desires for the game have made him either admired by the masses, which have long converted to his church of hockey or loathed by those who feel his thoughts are from the age of the dinosaurs.

It’s always been thought that he cherished a position back east, in order to be closer to the children of his first marriage, but as time has progressed that seems to have been less of a factor in his career development. When the Canucks terminated his association with them, he surely would have had heard a few rumbles of potential eastern based openings and bided his time, but instead took on the challenge of turning the under performing Ducks into a contender. A task he completed in short time and for which he has earned his spot as most desired executive for flailing franchises.

The most humorous angle being dangles this week for Burke was the prospect that his wife Jenifer, would probably love the chance to return to the media and hell where else can you find media than Toronto.

While Toronto may find this hard to accept, there are media jobs in other burgs on the continent. As a matter of fact, Mrs. Burke is currently hosting a lifestyles show for the CBC based out of Vancouver, she flies in from her Orange county home rattles off a set of episodes, does a number of charity and personal appearances in Vancouver and then heads back to the shadow of the land of the mouse.

One suspects that if she decides that she wants a more high profile media presence, that somehow in the midst of the hundreds of radio, television and movie operations that dot the Los Angeles horizon she would be able to deliver a successful resume or two.

With the Sameuli’s holding such a high profile in Orange County through their business and charitable endeavors, the Burke's would have no problem joining the power couple circuit. Taking what they brought to the Canucks era and delivering a similar devotion to their causes in a city that loves to embrace good intentions and business opportunities.

The Toronto job will obviously be an ego boost, and Mr. Burke certainly has no shortage of ego, but he also has a wise and calculating way of looking at things, just reading between the lines in his comments about the handling of the John Ferguson era gives you an indication that the Leafs, as they are set up operationally probably is not his kind of company.

While he didn’t come out and say it, somehow you get the feeling that he sees a lot of the Canucks under the McCaw era in the current make up of the dysfunctional Maple Leaf operation.
One of his favourite sayings while in Vancouver was "that is a drug induced fantasy", which pretty sums up the situation for Leafs fans still holding a prayer candle at the prospect of Burke leading their beloved team to the promised land.

With a much better situation currently in hand, it should not come as any surprise that he’s declared his lack of interest in putting his name in for the Leafs job. He’s fairly free to run his Ducks as he sees fit, something that no applicant for the Leafs job will ever truly feel is in the cards and that perception is going to be the biggest headache for the search committee.
Globe and Mail--Why Brian Burke said No

Friday, January 25, 2008

Legends of Hockey January 24

Ed Giacomin

New York Rangers 1965-1976
Detroit Red Wings 1976-1978

Legends of Hockey Home page


Other sites of interest:

Wikipedia--Ed Giacomin
Hockey Goalies--Ed Giacomin
Goalies archive--Ed Giacomin
YouTube--Ed Giacomin
CNNSI--Ed Giacomin
New York Times--Ed Giacomin a Class act
New York Ranger Legends--Ed Giacomin

Thank you very much, and we hope we passed the audition!

On Wednesday they were like nervous teenagers trying out for the school musical (which in this case would surely be Les Miserable’s), as the Toronto Maple Leafs took the stage anxious to prove themselves for the new director.

With Cliff Fletcher encamped in the box that John Ferguson Jr. once stood watch from, the Leafs showed their stuff Wednesday night with taking a hard fought battle with the Washington Capitals. Each no doubt hoping to show a few hints to their new boss that there is still something to show and something of value for the blue and white.

In what was almost a fairy tale style of ending, it was the much discussed captain Mats Sundin who provided the spark for the 3-2 victory, a reminder for the new/old GM that there was a reason Fletcher acquired the Swede oh so many years ago.

The Wednesday game seemed to provide a glimmer of what hope for Leafs fans that maybe, just maybe they would get untracked in time for a run for a playoff spot, a hopeful step for the future, and one which suffered a setback less than 24 hours later in a return match in Washington.

Thursday the Capitals reversed the tables on the Leafs, coming away with a 2-1 victory and leaving the Leafs a battered and injured squad heading into the all star break.

The Capitals out hit the Leafs, taking the play to them and playing a hard nosed style of hockey that not only resulted in a victory, but added to the Leafs manpower woes leaving a number of Leafs thankful that they now have a few days to rest, recover and ruminate about where they will go from here.

Doing most of the thinking however will be newly announced GM Cliff Fletcher who will now have to make some key decisions about personnel, including whether to try and convince Sundin that he and the Leafs would be best served by a move.

A player of Sundin’s quality would still command a good price, providing the Leafs with some much needed acquisitions that could prove to be building blocks for years to come. For Sundin it could be an opportunity to leave behind the bad karma that seems to have enveloped the Leafs in recent years.

Perhaps even providing the long suffering Leaf with a chance to play on a Stanley Cup contender in the twilight years of his career. There are many questions for Cliff Fletcher to try and answer, the heart and determination of his captain won’t be one of them, but the value of him either as a roster player or as a commodity will be perhaps Fletcher's biggest decision to come.

The Legions of Leetch pay their regards

He may have worn number two during his playing days, but on the night he was honoured by the Ranger faithful. Brian Leetch was nothing but a one!

Thursday night the Rangers celebrated the achievements of a defenceman who became one of the most creative players to ever wear the Broadway Blues, as they raised his number to the rafters of the famed Madison Square Garden and feted him with accolades.

Leetch was one of the most dominant players to ever patrol a blue line for the Rangers, but he was much more than just a solid rear guard, his offensive flashes reinvented the style of play for the Rangers, highlighting a transition game now famous for the modern NHL, but back in his day a skill that was still a developing style.

The words for Leetch were many, but as is always the case it was the fans who spoke the loudest, with their applause and cheers on Thursday night.

And then as though to secure his place in the history books of Rangerdom, a panel of voters assembled by the New York Daily News made the occasion complete, with their selection of Leetch as the Greatest Ranger. Quite an achievement for a team that has seen many super stars pass through the halls of Madison Square, but truly when you think of the Rangers you think of number two and Brian Leetch..

It was a truly deserved award and one that no vote recount will ever overturn, his would be a landslide victory, the vision of his speed and skill still fresh in a Ranger fans mind even after his retirement.

For Ranger fans there are many special moments to think back on over the course of his career, a Conn Smythe trophy win when the Rangers won their Cup of 94 or his yeoman like service for Team USA in the World Cup of 1996, beyond that there were the spectacular goals, the punishing body checks and the stand up defensive play that made him much more than a Ranger legend, but an intense competitor respected by many if not all that ever skated with or against him.

Leetch's number now in the rafters joins rare company, the Rangers have only retired four other numbers in their long and storied history. He now shares the Gardens roof with such iconic New York Rangers as Giacomin, Messier, Gilbert and Richter, all known for their competitive fire and leadership, a quality that Leetch more than exemplified in his days in Ranger colours.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Legends of Hockey January 23

Scott Stevens

Washington Capitals 1982--1990
St. Louis Blues 1990-1991
New Jersey Devils 1991-2004

Legends of Hockey home page

Other sites of Interest:

Wikipedia--Scott Stevens
Toronto Sun--Stevens delivers jarring dose of reality
ESPN--Scott Stevens
CBC Sports--Devils honour Scott Stevens
You Tube--Scott Steven's Greatest Hits smashes his way into Hall of Fame
Washington Capitals Legends--Scott Stevens
New York Times--Ex-Devil Stevens Considers Next Step After Hall

Goals, goals, goals and then some more goals

If NHL General Managers were looking to find some offense, they made the right decision in their travel plans to Calgary on Wednesday. The assorted scouts and GM's joined in with 13,596 fans at Edmonton's Rexall Place to take in the now annual night of would be future stars.

This year's CHL prospects game provided for twelve goals as the Whites thumped the Reds 8-4 in the showcase for the top draft prospects in this June's amateur draft.

A nightmare of a game for a goaltender, a smart would be draft pick might consider "pulling" something for next years event, as normally reliable Junior goaltenders suddenly face what appeared to be a firing squad of shooters from the Whites.

The White squad seemed to get into their groove early on and never really had to look back, taking the lead from the five minute mark with an overwhelming control of the play.

While there's a fair amount of pressure to perform in this game, for the most part it's really just a showcase of the soon to be selected. A good portion of those on the ice in Calgary on Wednesday will be selected in the first round, anyone who might have slipped a notch tonight probably would fare no worse than the second round.

But, the one game make or break idea for this game doesn't really wash. It's more of a mid-term report card for a lot of the players, how they lead their respective junior teams down the final month of the season and into the playoffs will probably count more for their final placement on draft day.

The prospects game makes for an interesting television program, but for NHL scouts and GM's there are still a few miles to put on the odometer before they pencil in their final selection, you wouldn't think that one night in mid January is going to set any names in stone.

Edmonton Sun--Booming victory

Ok, it’s time to lay off Luongo

The unusual level of criticism provided to Roberto Luongo in the last week can come to an end, the Vancouver goaltender returned to the form that has won over the always anxious Canuck fan base as he prevailed in the shoot out to lead the Canucks to a 3-2 victory over the St. Louis Blues.

Vancouver finally overcame what had become a rather annoying statistic, when they claimed victory after trailing heading into the third period. The Canucks had previously gone 0-17-1 when down in the goals department going into the third, so a positive result in that category will be a welcome talking point on the Vancouver sports radio shows.

The win also ended a four game slump heading into the all star break and positioned them for a tie with Minnesota for first in the Northwest and more importantly placed them inside the top eight (if barely there) playoff spots as the league breaks for its all star festivities.

But by far, the most reassuring thing for Canuck fans will be the play of Luongo, who has been remarkable for most of the season in the Canucks net. Stealing games that perhaps they had no right to win, it’s because of that high level of play that the last few games have become such a near crisis in Vancouver.

Goaltending has always been the Achilles heel of this team, it’s the main talking point for fans with long memories, who can’t help but ponder past playoff runs and the need for a goaltender to step up and shut down the opposition.

The fact that Luongo had a few off nights, while not sending anyone off for the pepto bismal bottles, does plant the seed of fear in Vancouver fans, who don’t take much to head for full fledged panic. Matters were not helped by the surprising comments of coach Alain Vigneault, who wanted his goaltender to pick up his game a bit. Vigneault's thoughts set off yet another bout of hand wringing from the ever anxious followers of all things Canuck.

With Luongo finding his zone on Wednesday and now able to benefit from the all star break and a week long opportunity to check up on his pregnant wife in Florida, there’s a very good chance that he’ll come back refreshed and ready to head into the homestretch of the regular season.

Luongo plans on taking it easy on his week off, Vancouver fans (and management) might be advised to do the same.

This season, goaltending is the very least of their worries, goal scoring and defensive play should be where they have their nightmares. If they wish to get all worked up, then they should spend their all star break scouting out the other 29 rosters, looking for the one ingredient that may change the dynamic of the team and secure not only a playoff spot, but help to make plans for a lengthy run should they make it to that point.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Read my lips...

There has long been talk that being General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs means having to serve many masters, lose any desire to have independent thought and of course to speak the lines provided as provided.

All claims that the Leafs of course have long vehemently denied.

However, viewing this clip of the Cliff Fletcher introduction, you have to wonder if old habits may be hard to break...

Nine in a row and counting

Pending an act of the Playoff Gods, the Boston Bruins will only have to deal with the big bad Habs for two more times until September’s pre season for 2008-09 rolls around.

The latest match up between the original six rivals went much the way the last eight have gone, with the Habs dominating the Bruins and sending them back to their dressing room with a serious inferiority complex.

Tom Kostopoulos got the night’s events underway just fourteen seconds into the first period and from that point on and for seven more goals later the Canadiens never seemed to have to look back.

The Bruins starting goaltending Alex Auld was replaced in the second period after surrendering his three goals on seven shots, giving way to Tim Thomas who would quickly find out that his own personal demons with the Habs would continue on the night, as five more Canadien goals went into the Bruin net before the game came to an end.

The Bruins gained two goals back but for the most part had a fair amount of trouble getting shots by Cristobal Huet, who turned aside 29 of the 31 attempts on the night.

At times the play was rather chippy as has been the case of late whenever these two teams get together, with a few main event scraps thrown in to put a physical feel to the on ice thumping that the Bruins suffered.

Fortunately for Boston the misery of Montreal is almost finished for the year, in a strange quirk of scheduling no other games are scheduled between the teams until the end ofMarch when the play a home and home series on the 20th and 22nd. Those two games provide the Bruins with two final opportunities to reverse their fortunes of late, unless of course through some alignment of stars the two teams should meet in the playoffs.

Which if the recent streak is any indication would be a very short, very physical, very lopsided and at the moment very unlikely series.

CBC Sports--Canadiens win 9th straight over Bruins
Montreal Gazette--Balanced Habs attack bullies Bruins
Boston Globe--In Montreal, Bruins are behind the 8-ball

Legends of Hockey January 22

Bernie Federko

St. Louis Blues 1977-1989
Detroit Red Wings 1989-1990

Legends of Hockey home page


Other sites of interest:

Wikipedia--Bernie Federko
NHL com--Bernie Federko
St. Louis Blues legends--Bernie Federko
YouTube--Bernie Federko statue unveiling
YouTube--Bernie Federko
CBC Sports--Bernie Federko

Fog Devils to flee Newfoundland

Major Junior hockey is about to follow the American Hockey league on the road out of St. John’s Newfoundland.

RDS, the French language sports network leaked details of an arrangement by the current owners of the St. John’s Fog Devils to sell the franchise to Quebec based interests, who plan on relocating the Quebec Junior League franchise to Verdun. It’s a move that will return the Q back to the Montreal area for the first time in a number of years.

The move comes as a bit of a surprise, as the league’s commissioner Gilles Courteau, had been reported as recently as Tuesday that the league would not return to Quebec’s largest city until there was a proper venue in place in the Greater Montreal area for junior hockey.

The negotiations between the Fog Devils and the new owners seem to put an end to that desire, with renovations planned for the Verdun Auditorium in time for the 2008-09 season.

The Fog Devils cited a number of reasons for their demise, from massive losses over the last two years, to a onerous travel subsidy that the Fog Devils must pay for visiting teams to come to Newfoundland, part of the deal when they joined the Q was that they would pick up all expenses for the visiting clubs when they made their trip to the far east outpost of the loop.

Last year the Fog Devils lost 750 thousand dollars and ownership says their on a pace to come very close to that number once again. Making for a million and a half dollar hit that they just can’t afford to take any longer.

Also high on the problem list was a lease arrangement with Mile One stadium, that was described as unfavourable and one which the owners felt they would never get out from under.

The Fog Devils will play out their string for 22 more games and then like the baby Maple Leafs of the American Hockey league days, they will bid farewell to Newfoundland.

Providing an expensive end to what now soon to be former owner Brad Dobbin once called a slam dunk. A notion that Dobbin and many others in St. John now realize wasn’t so.

Montreal Gazette--Fog Devils chart course for Verdun
St. John's Telegram--Fog Devils snuffed
St. John's Telegram--Game Over

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Ferguson fired, Fletcher fills in...

Out with the old, in with the older!

"After full consideration of the Leafs' situation, it has become clear that change and a new direction is needed. The decision has been made that John will not be receiving a new contract at the end of this year, and it's in the best interests of the Leafs and of John to begin the transition immediately," ---Richard Peddie, president and chief executive officer of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd.

The last Margarita apparently consumed and the new boss tanned, rested and ready to work the latest era of Maple Leaf transition has begun.

John Ferguson Jr. was relieved of his duties this morning and Cliff Fletcher, who is set to head back to his Phoenix home on Wednesday is apparently making his plans to return to the Maple Leafs to try and bring some stability to rather dysfunctional Maple Leaf situation.

The long anticipated (and drawn out) melodrama played its final scene of the Ferguson sessions on Tuesday as Richard Peddie made his announcement and perhaps gave Ferguson some sense of relief that the shabby handling of his bosses was now finally over.

In their parting comments the Leafs summed up the Ferguson years in a paragraph; John has been given the opportunity and the resources he requested to deliver results from the strategic plans that he put in place when he was named general manager in 2003, and while the new collective bargaining agreement required some re-shaping of those plans, the results have fallen short of what our organization, including John, and our fans expect.

No mention of the stumbling, fumbling nature of the upper offices, where apparently accountability is not a requirement, nor humility a trait.

The Leafs and their byzantine layer of management left Ferguson to twist in the wind far too long, playing out the torture for weeks at a time and degrading their own brand in the process.

With Ferguson now out, the process to rebuild is said to be underway, Fletcher upon his arrival from the sunbelt destinations will take over the day to day running for the rest of the season and will be tasked with the duty of as Peddie puts it, establishing a foundation from which the next general manager can build.

While Fletcher patches up the cracks and holes in the foundation and wheels and deals the leafs through the final stages of the 2007-08 season, Peddie and his board will begin the search for the next great hope.

To that end, Peddie announced that sports attorney Gordon Kirke will be added to the search team to consult with Peddie in the quest for the next Leaf President and General Manager, Kirke and Peddie will put their heads together and provide the name of all names to the MLSE board.

Kirke appears from time to time on the radio program Prime Time Live with Bob McCown, who has been rather critical of the Maple Leaf soap opera this year. Perhaps Kirke will take some of his research from the various contributors to Toronto's radio talk show wars, where there's never a shortage of options offered.

Ferguson's Maple Leaf obituary had been written for weeks if not months now, sabotaged in a way by the Leafs dithering of the off season, the search for a mentor for Ferguson fell flat leaving him as a lame duck since the start of the season. As the Leafs began to slide down the standings, the calls for the Leafs to make some decisions became louder and louder.

Ferguson broke his uncomfortable silence yesterday in an interview with the Toronto Sun, in which he seemed more or less resigned to his fate and said that he was sure that he still had more to contribute to hockey and fully expected to be part of the sport in the future. It was a sentiment shared by more than a few hockey people interviewed by the National Post.

As things have evolved in the last 48 hours he'll be able to put those thoughts to the test, and he most likely will get another chance, hopefully with a more focused ownership group that has an idea as to where they want to go and how they want to get there. Interestingly enough in a Globe and Mail story on Tuesday, comparisons of Ferguson's winning percentages compared to other Leaf GM's stacked up fairly decently, in fact by comparison his .559 is better than his replacements number of .502.

Ferguson's headaches are now Fletcher's, no wonder the new boss wanted to get in that Mexican siesta while he had the chance. That pounding in his head will no longer be from those beach side beverages, but rather from the never ending problems that seem to go hand in hand with running the show at MLSE.

Globe and Mail--Leafs turn to Fletcher