My Friday was completely wiped out by the fact that I went to see the midnight showing on Thursday of The Dark Knight. I was sluggish at work on Friday after having only four hours of sleep, and I returned home after work to fall straight into bed and sleep until 8am Saturday morning. Like I said, a completely wasted Friday. But I will say this: go see The Dark Knight. It was incredible. Heath Ledger's performance as The Joker was, in my opinion, the best I've seen this year, and probably the best I've seen as a Batman villain. My apologies to Mr. Jack Nicholson, but that is how evil should look. Aaron Eckhart's performance as Harvey Dent and Two Face should not be overlooked either. If you liked Batman Begins, you'll love The Dark Knight.
Ok, onto some hockey-related stories. I'll recap as much as I can from the last few days.
- The NHL's announcement of playing the Winter Classic in Wrigley Field in Chicago is a good move. Wrigley Field is a field with legendary mystique, and having the Blackhawks tangle there with their Original Six counterparts in the Detroit Red Wings should help to bring a number of fans back to Blackhawks hockey. Rocky Wirtz is doing an amazing job in rebuilding a relationship with the fans since taking over for his late father, Bill Wirtz, and he could be commended for his fabulous work.
- Following up on the heels of an impressive NHL rookie campaign, the Blackhawks named Jonathan Toews as their captain for the 2008-09 season. The young forward scored 24 goals and had 54 points in his debut season, and the club feels he should be rewarded for his leadership throughout the season last year. Well done, Mr. Toews!
- The Blackhawks have more news as they will retire jersey #3 this season. The number will be retired in honour of defencemen Keith Magnuson and Pierre Pilote. Magnuson was a Blackhawk for 11 seasons, and was captain of the team from 1976-1979. Pilote was a Blackhawk for 13 seasons. His best season came in 1964-65 when he scored 14 goals and recorded 59 points. Congratulations to these two men, and a classy move by the Blackhawks organization.
- Detroit Red Wings winger Dallas Drake announced his retirement earlier this week. Drake played for the Detroit Red Wings, Winnipeg Jets, Phoenix Coyotes, and St. Louis Blues during his 15-year career in the NHL, and finally won the Stanley Cup last season with Detroit. The winger played in an "energy role" for the Wings last season, but was instrumental in their run to the Stanley Cup. Congratulations on a long and successful career, Mr. Drake, and enjoy your retirement!
- The Pittsburgh Penguins re-signed head coach Michel Therrien to a three-year deal yesterday. Over the past two seasons, Therrien has coached the Penguins to a 94-51-19 record, along with winning the Atlantic Division title and a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals. He was also a finalist for the Jack Adams Trophy, so this re-signing seemed elementary. Therrien will receive a pay raise with this new contract, and his work with the young Penguins should make them a contender in the foreseeable future.
- Terry Murray was named as the successor to Marc Crawford's tenure behind the bench for the Los Angeles Kings. Murray is a good fit for the young Kings as he spends a lot of time working with defencemen having being one himself. If he can nurture and teach the young Kings' blueliners how to play the NHL game, this signing might be one of the biggest in the offseason. Murray becomes the 22nd head coach in Kings history. The big thing about Murray is that he has worked with some very good, young teams in the past, most notably the 1997 Philadelphia Flyers who he guided to the Stanley Cup Finals that year.
- The Flyers re-signed winger Joffrey Lupul to a four-year deal, but it won't be officially announced until Monday. After having been traded the last two summers, it appears Philadelphia may be a home for the 20-goal scorer. Lupul is a good fit in Philly's system, and he is surrounded by young talent as well. This signing is a good fit for the Flyers as it provides them with some second-line scoring as well as some grit.
- The Atlanta Thrashers signed UFA Marty Reasoner to a deal on Thursday. Reasoner is an immediate upgrade to their penalty killing and checking line units, something the Thrashers can certainly use. While he may not bring a pile of scoring to the Thrashers, he's good for 10-12 goals per year in a checking role, and that's huge when playoff spots are on the line.
- From former Oilers, we go to a current Oiler in Shawn Horcoff who signed a contract extension for six years at $33 million. Horcoff had 21 goals and 29 assists in 53 games last season , and was named to his first NHL All-Star Game as a result. He has improved each year, in this writer's opinion, and certainly looked to be a integral piece of the Oilers' puzzle as he developed. I'm alright with this signing.
- In other contract extension news, the Buffalo Sabres re-signed goaltender Ryan Miller to a five-year, $31.25 million contract extension on Friday. The 28 year-old netminder posted a record of 36-27-10 with a 2.64 goals-against average and a .906 save percentage last year despite Buffalo missing the playoffs. The 2001 Hobey Baker Award recipient is now signed through the 2013-2014 season, and solidifies Buffalo's goaltending situation immensely with this re-signing.
- The NHL released its schedule for the upcoming season, and there a few notable dates to watch. On November 8, the Montreal Canadiens visit the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Hall-of-Fame Game. There will be more patches in this game, meaning updates to the patch articles I wrote. Hockey Day In Canada features all six Canadian teams doing battle on February 21. The NHL All-Star Game is being played in Montreal, Quebec this year, and the Skills Competition takes place on January 24, while the All-Star Game goes January 25. Saturday, October 25 will be a big day as all 30 NHL teams take to the ice in games. The NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs will officially begin April 15, 2009.
- The AHL has not finalized their schedule yet, but it will be released some time around August 1. The AHL All-Star Game takes place in Worcester, Massachusetts this year, home to San Jose's AHL affiliate, the Worcester Sharks.
- The IIHF has sanctioned the European "Champions Hockey League" which will pit the top teams from Europe against one another for a prize of 10 million Euros (approximately $15.9 million USD). The top teams from each league in Russia, Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany and Switzerland each get an automatic berth in the tournament. Russia, Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic also have a second entry into the 12-team tournament, while the other three countries will have a playoff for the last wild card spot. In 2008-09, Group A will consist of Kärpät Oulu of Finland's SM-Liiga, Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the Continental Hockey League and Eisbären Berlin (the Berlin Polar Bears) from Germany's DEL. Group B is comprised of Swedish Elitserien champions HV71 Jönköping, Finnish runner-up Espoo Blues and a qualifying team. The qualifying team will be one of Sinupret Ice Tigers, the DEL runners up from last season; Slovak Extraliga club HC Kosice; or SC Bern of Switzerland's Nationalliga A. Group C features defending Russian champion Salavat Yulaev Ufa, Slovak Extraliga champions Slovan Bratislava and Czech regular season winners HC Mountfield Ceske Budejovice. And Group D features Czech Extraliga champs Slavia Prague, Swiss champions ZSC Lions and Swedish runner-up Linköpings HC. The winner of Group A will play the Group C victor in the semifinals, while the top team from Group B draws the best squad from Group D. The semi meetings will be played Dec. 10 and Jan. 7. The finals will take place on Jan. 21 and 28. It is hoped that this league will eventuallu expand to 30 teams from 24 countries, much the same way that the Euro soccer championship is played out.
Now that you're done reading this, go see The Dark Knight. It's totally worth it.
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!