Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Honesty Is Better Than Rhetoric

It came as a shock to me this week when a reporter asked Gary Bettman about the return of the NHL to Winnipeg. It's no secret that Jim Balsillie tried to buy the Penguins with the intent on placing a franchise in the Kitchener-Waterloo region in southern Ontario. Mr. Balsillie's purchase of the Nashville Predators this week only lead to more speculation as to what may happen with the Predators. While the thought is that southern Ontario is the destination of choice for Mr. Balsillie if he's given the option of relocation, Mr. Bettman responded to an editorial in a Canadian newspaper about the relocation of the Predators' franchise to Winnipeg.

"I'm not opining on whether or not that's an opinion that I agree with, but it is an interesting and intriguing thought," Bettman said. "Interesting and intriguing" is how Mr. Bettman put it. That's not a guarantee, but I'll admit that it raised my eyebrows when he said that. Heck, it downright shocked me.

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know that I have been against the idea of an NHL franchise returning to Winnipeg. The Living In Dreamland article showed the passion that Winnipeg has in terms of trying to be an NHL town, but Randy Turner of the Winnipeg Free Press pointed out all the reasons why Winnipeg should embrace the AHL instead of dreaming about the NHL. The Living In Dreamland: Gimme A Break article only went to further the points made about Winnipeg not being an ideal NHL city. As a follow-up to that, I will also say that Hugh McFadyen's own Conservative candidates indicated that his crazy NHL promise was a major reason for another crushing defeat at the hands of the NDP in Manitoba's provincial election.

This is where the shock came from when Mr. Bettman made his statement during his State of the Union address before Game One of the Stanley Cup Finals. Mr. Bettman stressed that no one has put much thought into the idea of a team moving to Winnipeg at this time, but did leave the door open in terms of a possibility. In determining Winnipeg's chances, he used the Minnesota Wild as an example.

"When we had the chance to go back to Minnesota, we did. Because it made sense, the right ownership, the right building situation," Bettman demonstrated. "The market was strong and vibrant. We haven't studied Quebec City or Winnipeg or anywhere else in Canada, but the notion that if it could work to put a franchise back in a place where one was lost, feels good - provided we don't wind up in a situation where we've created a prescription for another failing franchise.

"So am I intrigued? It's obviously something I've thought about in terms of trying to make right something that one point in our history went wrong."

Mr. Bettman indicated that factors like the salary cap and revenue sharing facets of the new collective bargaining agreement provide a chance for a small market like Winnipeg to obtain another team, and be successful in the new NHL.

Clearly, this was not to be taken as fact. Mr. Bettman was simply illustrating a point in which a franchise in Winnipeg could succeed if all the right circumstances came together. Tim Campbell of the Winnipeg Free Press decided to press the matter a little more, and followed up on the comments made by Mr. Bettman on Monday with his own interview on Tuesday. Here is the interview in its entirety as found in the Winnipeg Free Press' May 30th edition.

Free Press: A year ago, at the 2006 final, the question of relocation to Winnipeg came up and there seemed to be a change in your reaction. Before, to be polite, it seemed to be something you had never considered or had any time for, and your remarks seemed last year to go from somewhat negative to very neutral. Some perceived that to be quite a change in your reaction. Any thoughts as to why?

Gary Bettman: "If anybody perceived a change in reaction, it's probably a function of the partnership we have with the players, which includes the salary cap and revenue sharing because our economics have changed for our clubs and their ability to be competitive. Now whether or not Winnipeg or any place else would be in a better position than they were when there was no ability for the team to continue to operate where it was is a question that the changed circumstances would raise. By changed, I mean the new CBA."

Free Press: Is there a way to quantify what it would take for a city like Winnipeg that is not currently in the NHL, to return to the NHL?

Bettman: My guess is that it would take a lot of due diligence and somebody would have to make a judgment. Could I quantify the analysis now? No. It's not anything we've given any thought to."

Free Press: In your remarks Monday, you were quoted as saying: "It's obviously something I've thought about in terms of trying to make right something that at one point in our history went wrong." Did you really mean leaving Winnipeg was wrong?

Bettman: That was part of a broader statement where I said I don't like franchise relocation. As I have said in the past, when we left Winnipeg it was under circumstances where one, there wasn't a new building or the prospect of a new building and two, there was nobody who wanted to own a team there anymore. And so if there are changed circumstances in that regard as well as the new CBA, then if the circumstances present themselves, that might lead to a different analysis. It might not lead to a different result but analytically you start in a different place."

Free Press: The idea of Winnipeg's return has been out there for some time. As the leader of the NHL, is there any way for you to sum up recent reaction or comments it receives from governors, GMs or people within your league?

Bettman: I don't think there's one blanket characterization. People remember the times in Winnipeg, both good and bad, and people know that there are passionate hockey fans, passionate NHL fans in Winnipeg, but I don't think anybody has reached a conclusion yet as to whether or not, with all the changed circumstances we've discussed, whether Winnipeg could support a team. Obviously, as I've indicated before, the analysis has changed because some of the circumstances have changed. That analysis would be something that would have to be done if this process moved beyond simple intrigue."

Free Press: Are you willing to say how much contact you have with Mark Chipman
[Teebz: current owner of the AHL's Manitoba Moose], assuming he's the lead player on this end?

Bettman: "Mark has fairly consistently communicated his interest in the possibility of exploring the issue."

Free Press: Winnipeg's new arena has been called too small by some. Is it too small, what's too small, how do we know what's too small?

Bettman: "I don't know the answer to the questions. I haven't seen it. I haven't studied it."

Free Press: Do you have rules on seats or luxury suites?

Bettman: We don't have fixed rules but there's a certain reality to the economics of operating a team and what an arena needs to have in order to support those operations."

Free Press: It's sometimes called the "X Factor," when fans miss a team or regret its departure, as we've seen in Denver and Minnesota, and you referred Monday to Minnesota's return to the NHL. Can and would something like an "X Factor" apply to Winnipeg?

Bettman: "I'm not sure what anybody would mean by an 'X Factor' but it's more a question of if you had an opportunity to either relocate or expand - neither which is currently pending - the question is where are the best places to consider going. And if people believed that a particular city could support a team and warranted consideration, then as part of the due diligence, you would study this."

Free Press: On the subject of the rising salary cap (maybe to US$49 million next season) do you have any worry that's going to eliminate any of your franchises from viability or a chance to be competitive?

Bettman: "No, I don't, because a rising salary cap is purely a function of rising revenues. That is the partnership we have with our players and don't forget it's also coupled with revenue sharing."

Free Press: Is that revenue sharing meaningful and is it your experience in the short life of this CBA that it can make a difference?

Bettman: "I think the franchises that are receiving the revenue sharing think it's quite meaningful and it's enabled the system to work as well as it has."

Free Press: Is there a one-word answer to this question: Do you see the NHL coming back to Winnipeg?

Bettman: "That is an intriguing but uncertain question."

Free Press: We'll give you a general platform here: do you have any advice for hockey fans and NHL fans in Winnipeg?

Bettman: "To continue to follow the game and continue to be passionate about the game. But obviously at this point and after all the issues we've discussed, nobody can make any promises and I certainly wouldn't want to lead our terrific fans in Winnipeg on about the future prospects when I don't think anyone at this point is in a position to make any promises or commitments whatsoever."

I have new-found respect for Mr. Gary Bettman. It's not because the NHL is considering relocating a franchise to Winnipeg. In fact, I am still against that idea until Winnipeg finds a billionaire owner and some major corporate sponsorship. However, in Mr. Campbell's follow-up interview with him, Mr. Bettman shows three things that great leaders possess: honesty, integrity, and courage.

I still truly believe that Winnipeg is an AHL city. However, it's nice to know that the big league hasn't forgotten you when things went wrong. And it is extremely refreshing to hear Mr. Bettman say that the NHL is "trying to make right something that one point in our history went wrong."

The Winnipeg Jets were a great franchise, and a point of pride of Winnipeg. It was their mark on the world of big league sports. I'm not convinced the NHL will return, but thank you, Mr. Bettman, for having the honesty to admit that mistakes were made; the integrity to say that you're willing to give Winnipeg another chance; and the courage to say that it may not happen any time soon, but Winnipeggers shouldn't stop dreaming.

Thanks for being a leader, Mr. Bettman. Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice.

Monday, 28 May 2007

The Big Dance

The big day is finally here. The Eastern Conference Champions in the Ottawa Senators are hours away from stepping on to the ice at the Honda Center for Game One against the Western Conference Champions in the Anaheim Ducks. I expect this series to be fast-paced with goals and hits. Some people have already gone on record and said that it will be a terrible series, but I disagree. You're looking at two of the most complete teams in the NHL, and the depth of both teams will be on display here. If you're an NHL general manager who is looking how to build his team from the bottom up, tune into the Stanley Cup Finals. This series will provide a bit of everything.

#2 vs. #4

First, some fun. EA Sports always has their take on the championships of every sport as they simulate a game or series to determine the winner. The Vancouver-based division of EA Sports, who produce their NHL Hockey games, simulated the final using its NHL 2007 game and Ottawa beat the Anaheim Ducks in six games. The Senators clinched the city's first Stanley Cup since 1927 in front of a soldout crowd at Scotiabank Centre.

Of course, this means absolutely nothing, but I thought it's kind of fun. EA Sports predicts the Senators to win in six games. Gord Stellick, Kevin Quinn, Dean Brown, and Jim Hughson of Rogers' all predicted the Senators to win the Cup before the season. Only Gary Galley and Jean Louis predicted the correct teams in the Finals, with Galley picking Anaheim while the Montreal Canadiens beat reporter selected Ottawa to win. Daren Millard and Bill Watters picked Anaheim to win. Hockey Night In Canada analyst Scott Morrison picks the Ottawa Senators in six games over the Ducks.'s panelists have made their selections. Bob McKenzie, Darren Dreger, James Duthie, and Maggie the monkey all selected Ottawa. Only Darren Pang selected Anaheim.

Me? Well, I'll make my prediction below.

The comparisons between the two teams are quite close. Anaheim has been getting great goaltending from Jean-Sebastien Giguere who looks much like he did during the 2003 Stanley Cup run where he won the Conn Smythe Trophy. He has backstopped his team to victories over the Detroit Red Wings, Vancouver Canucks, and Minnesota Wild, and is 12-1 in overtime in the playoffs. Of course, the Ducks feature the "big three" on defence, consisting of Chris Pronger, Scott Niedermayer, and Fran├žois Beauchemin. All three are logging over 30 minutes per game, and look solid. There is a rumour that Niedermayer may be nursing an injury, but having five days off before the final can do wonders when it comes to bumps and bruises. Up front, the Ducks feature three solid scoring lines, anchored by such stars as Teemu Selanne, 2007 Fastest Skater Winner Andy MacDonald, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Dustin Penner. Where Anaheim may capitalize the most is with their effective checking line. That line already has ten goals in the playoffs, the same amount as the first-line.

Where Anaheim might struggle is with their physical play. The Ducks took some poorly-timed penalties that allowed the Red Wings to keep games close. Against an efficient powerplay like Ottawa's, the Ducks might find they have to ease off the chippiness in order to win. You can't keep giving teams powerplays, and the Ducks have been guilty of that throughout the playoffs.

Ottawa has also gotten terrific goaltending from Ray Emery, and he has been consistent. He may give up a weak goal, but he bounces right back, not letting it bother him at all. The team has blocked a ton of shots in the playoffs, and they'll need to keep sacrificing the body in order to win. The shutdown pairing of Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov will see a lot of Teemu Selanne's line, while I expect Redden and Mezsaros to be out a lot against the Getzlaf line. Corvo and Preissing have been very strong as well, and I expect them to play 15-18 minutes throughout this series. The big line of Heatley, Spezza, and Alfredsson have scored in every playoff game except one, and they have accounted for nearly half of the total offensive output of the Senators. They'll see a lot of the Sami Pahlsson checking line, but should have the speed to break free of the coverage at times. They will also have to be defensively responsible with Pahlsson's line, and that could bring their offence back to Earth. The other lines have been playing well and contributing where they can. Having Mike Fisher play his role of pest and occasional scoring threat would be huge for the Senators. It also would be nice to see Mike Comrie step up and be a big factor in this series.

And that leads me to their biggest weakness: balanced scoring. The Senators haven't had any yet. The Spezza line has scored 23 goals. The rest of the team has scored 25. If the Pahlsson line shuts down the Spezza line, the Ducks should be able to control this series. Pahlsson, Moen, and Rob Niedermayer have shut down the Gaborik line in the Minnestoa series, the Naslund line in the Vancouver series, and the Datsyuk line in the Detroit series. Ottawa needs some scoring from its second, third, and fourth lines in this series.

Teebz's Prediction: Ottawa Senators in six games to win the Stanley Cup. I've said it since they eliminated the Barney Rubble Hairpieces. I didn't care whether it was Anaheim or Detroit. Ottawa has been the best team in the playoffs this season.

My Conn Smythe Trophy winner will be Daniel Alfredsson. He has been the Seantors' best player night in and night out in these playoffs, and has done everything and more that one can ask of a captain. His 10 goals lead the playoffs, and he has four game-winning goals. That's the mark of an MVP.

The series starts tonight in Anaheim at 8pm EST. Get your gameface on, and get ready to rumble! Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Avenging A Loss

The 2007 Mastercard Memorial Cup is over, and the host team has won the Cup for the second year in a row. The Vancouver Giants avenged the loss to the Medicine Hat Tigers in the WHL Championships by defeating those Tigers 3-1 to capture the Memorial Cup. Congratulations are in order for the Giants who defeated the Plymouth Whalers on Friday night to advance to the Finals, and then defeated the Tigers to capture the Memorial Cup. Kudos to the Giants, and to Don Hay's coaching staff.

The problem I had when watching the games in this year's Memorial Cup was the Rbk logo on the left shoulder. It significantly affects the placement of the captain's "C" and the assistant captain's "A". The Rbk logo makes the appearance of the letters to be much further down than where they are on NHL jerseys. They might be slightly lower, but the Rbk logo causes the optical illusion of the letters looking like they are out of place. Quite frankly, it bothered me.

Why does this mean anything? As you know, the Rbk Edge Uniform System is coming into play next season in the NHL. If the NHL allows Rbk Hockey to slap their logo on the front of the jersey in the same spot, I'll be ticked. NHL hockey has, for the most part, been advertisement free. CCM and Nike changed that slightly when they added their logos for CCM and KOHO and the Swoosh under the neckline, respectively. If Reebok puts their logo on the front of the jersey, they are following Nike/Bauer Hockey's lead with a logo on the front. And we all know how Reebok would never copy Nike's lead on anything, right?

Here's hoping Rbk Hockey doesn't screw this up.
The Stanley Cup Finals start tomorrow night, and I'll have a full preview of the two teams in the Final posted tomorrow. And I'll post my Stanley Cup winner as well. I'll also toss out the Conn Smythe Trophy winner just for kicks. Until then, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday, 24 May 2007

Is This A Fad?

No sooner than I get done the New Dance Partners article about NHL teams and their AHL affiliates, someone has to go and move their affiliate. The Calgary Flames announced today that they are removing their AHL team from Omaha, Nebraska and relocating them to Moline, Illinois. This is, of course, Quad City Mallard territory. Or, rather, was Mallard territory. According to the Mallards website, the Quad City Flames are moving in.

This is from the Calgary Flames website:

"Omaha, Neb.- Calgary Flames President & CEO Ken King announced today the relocation of the organization’s American Hockey League franchise from Omaha, Nebraska to the Quad Cities (Moline, IL). The move remains subject to AHL Board of Governor approval at a meeting scheduled for Friday, May 25, 2007 and is also subject to ratification by the Illinois Quad City Civic Center Authority.

'There was a great number of relocation opportunities presented to our team in recent months and while consideration of these was not our priority given our level of involvement in Omaha, in recent discussions it became evident to us that the Quad Cities market, The MARK of the Quad Cities venue, the enthusiastic local ownership group and their existing fan base are ideally suited for our AHL franchise,' noted Calgary Flames President & CEO Ken King.

'We would like to thank the fans in Omaha who supported our AHL team for the past two seasons and are especially appreciative of the tireless efforts of our staff in Omaha and the Knights of Ak-Sar-Ben Foundation for their efforts to make the AHL a successful operation and valuable asset to the Omaha community.'

Ren Smith, President of Omaha Hockey Partnership and Ak-Sar-Ben Calgary Hockey Inc. added: 'although our objective was to make AHL hockey viable in the Omaha market, it became evident in the face of mounting losses that it would be extremely difficult to move forward.' Smith added, 'on behalf of all hockey fans in Omaha, we are disappointed with this outcome.'

The Quad Cities of Moline and Rock Island of Illinois and Davenport and Bettendorf of Iowa are a vibrant community located on the banks of the Mississippi River and on the Illinois/Iowa border - within 250 miles of five of their AHL rivals (the Rockford Ice Hogs, Peoria Rivermen, Chicago Wolves, Milwaukee Admirals and Iowa Stars).

The team will play their home games in Moline, Illinois at The MARK of the Quad Cities, one of the premier arenas found in the mid-west. Quad Cities was most recently home to the United Hockey League’s Quad City Mallards for the last 12 seasons; the Mallards led the UHL in attendance seven times during this period. During their tenure in the UHL, over 3 million hockey fans attended games at The MARK of the Quad Cities.

'We are very excited to welcome the Flames organization to the Quad Cities,' said QC Sports Ventures Inc. president Tim Taylor.

'The Calgary Flames organization has a tremendous track record and the American Hockey League represents a strong fit for this market. Our fans have been very loyal to our organization and we are honored to bring to them the American Hockey League.'

During the 2006-07 season, the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights were ranked best in the regular season in the AHL’s Western Division and Western Conference with a record of 49 wins, 25 losses, 5 overtime losses and 1 shoot-out loss.

And from the former Mallards website:

"Moline, IL- Dennis Voss, President of QC Sports Ventures Inc., announced today that the Calgary Flames of the NHL will bring their American Hockey League affiliate to the Quad Cities to begin play this fall. The move is subject to AHL Board of Governor approval at a meeting scheduled for Friday, May 25, 2007. The team’s move to the The MARK of the Quad Cities is also subject to ratification by the Illinois Quad City Civic Center Authority.

'We’re very excited to welcome the Flames organization to the Quad Cities,' said team President Tim Taylor. 'The Calgary organization has a tremendous track record, and the American Hockey League is a great fit for this market. Our fans have been very loyal, and we’re honored to bring to them the American Hockey League.'

The American Hockey League is the top professional developmental hockey league in the world; more than 83 percent of players who played in the NHL during the 2006-07 season were graduates of the AHL. NHL stars Miikka Kirpusoff (Calgary Flames), Jason Spezza (Ottawa Senators), Martin Brodeur (New Jersey Devils) and Daniel Briere (Buffalo Sabres) are among hundreds of current NHL players who honed their skills in the AHL. Founded in 1936, the AHL will play its 72nd season in 2007-08 with an all-time high of 29 teams. This season marks the sixth consecutive year in which more than 6 million fans have attended AHL games across North America.

'There was great interest in possible relocation of our team and through recent discussions we became convinced that the Quad Cities market, The MARK of the Quad Cities, the enthusiastic local ownership group and the existing fan base are ideally suited for our AHL franchise,' said Calgary Flames President & CEO Ken King.

'I am thrilled to welcome the Quad Cities to the AHL family and look forward to the rivalries and bringing the excitement of the AHL to the Quad Cities region,' said AHL President & CEO David Andrews.

The Calgary Flames have been a member of the National Hockey League since 1980 and will celebrate their 28th season with the 2007-08 campaign. During their tenure, the Flames played in the Stanley Cup Finals on three occasions, winning the championship in 1989. The Calgary Flames will send their top young talent to the Quad Cities. During the 2006-07 season, the Flames AHL affiliate played in Omaha, Nebraska and recorded the best record in the AHL’s Western Division and Conference. Nine members of the 2006-07 team earned NHL call-ups to Calgary last season.

To make way for the new franchise, the Quad City Mallards will cease operations in the United Hockey League.

'The local ownership group gratefully acknowledges the contributions of the players, coaches and fans of the Mallards in the Quad Cities community over the past 12 years,' said Voss."

To recap: Calgary had no intention of moving their AHL affiliate. The Quad City group approached the team about moving their franchise there. Calgary saw an opportunity to make more money and made the decision to move their franchise from Omaha to Moline. One of the most successful UHL franchises ceases to exist in order to accomodate AHL hockey. The 21-or-so players who played for the Mallards have to find new cities to play in. Omaha, a relatively new AHL city, has no opportunity to grow the game locally.

Yet again, I am disappointed. I understand the business side of the deal here. However, has there ever been a minor-league hockey team that has built a loyal fanbase of 8000 people in a city after being there for only two years? Money talks, I guess. Go get your bags of it, Flames.

I have no doubt the baby Flames will do well in Moline. The fans were rabid for the Mallards, and that bodes well for the AHL. I just fail to see how this helps hockey in general. And I guess that's where my disappointment lies.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice.

All Things Playoff

Since everyone in the hockey world is in playoff mode, this article will be all about who is playing for what trophy. The NHL, AHL, ECHL, and CHL are all winding down, and there are only a couple of teams still standing in each league. Here is who is still standing in those leagues.

#2 vs. #4

We'll start with the NHL. The Anaheim Ducks and Ottawa Senators will battle for the Holy Grail of Hockey in what should be a very good series. I've read elsewhere about how people think this series will be boring. I beg to differ. Both of these teams like to skate, both teams like to hit, and both teams can certainly score. There are so many good storylines in this series that I've planned to write about them tomorrow. That being said, looking at the teams on paper doesn't really tell the story. Anaheim has yet to run into a team like Ottawa in these playoffs. Ottawa has had its share of hot goalies and "better teams" in its run to the Finals, and it has conquered them all. This series looks like it could be a memorable one, and I am looking forward to fast-skating, hard-hitting hockey.

The AHL Calder Cup Playoffs continues tonight as the Hamilton Bulldogs look to sweep the Chicago Wolves out of the playoffs. If the Bulldogs win, they will advance to the Calder Cup Final as the Western Conference representative. Who will they meet? The Hershey Bears have the opportunity to sweep the Manchester Monarchs out of the playoffs on Saturday night. If they do, the Bears will be the Eastern Conference representative in the Calder Cup Finals.

The Hershey Bears are looking to defend their Calder Cup Championship from a year ago where they defeated the Milwaukee Admirals four games to two. This will the 16th time the Bears have appeared in the final, if they close out the series, having won the Calder Cup five times in their history. The Hamilton Bulldogs have been to the final twice, losing both times.

To be honest, Hershey has looked extremely dominant all season, and I see no reason why they would have any trouble winning a second consecutive championship. The Bulldogs, if they make it, have played plucky hockey throughout the playoffs, though, and look to pull off another upset over Hershey as they did the Manitoba Moose, Rochester Americans, and what looks like the Chicago Wolves.

The Dayton Bombers are currently up 1-0 in the Kelly Cup Final over the Idaho Steelheads. Dayton is the ECHL affiliate of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Idaho is the ECHL affiliate of the Dallas Stars. Now, I don't get to see many ECHL games due to my being in Canada, but I do know that the ECHL has produced some NHL talent over the years. Guys such as Derek Boogaard, Andrew Brunette, Olaf Kolzig, Manny Legace, Tomas Vokoun, and Joe Corvo have all started their climb to the NHL in the ECHL.

Since the 1997 season when the Kelly Cup was introduced, the Idaho Steelheads have won it once (2004) while the Dayton Bombers have not won the Cup in that time. The Steelheads are trying to match the South Carolina Stingrays as the only team to have won the Kelly Cup twice.

Dayton finished first in the North Division with a 37-26-2-7 record for 83 points. Idaho finished second in the West Division with a 42-24-2-4 record for 90 points.

The playoff round has been set at the Canadian Hockey League's 2007 Mastercard Memorial Cup. The tie-breaker game that goes tonight will feature the 1-2 Lewiston Maineiacs squaring off against the 1-2 Plymouth Whalers. The Whalers victory came over Lewiston on Tuesday by a final score of 2-1 in overtime. The winner of that game will meet the 2-1 Vancouver Giants in the semi-final on Friday. The winner of that game will meet the 2-1 Medicine Hat Tigers on Sunday in the final. Vancouver's loss came at the hands of their WHL rival Medicine Hat, while Medicine Hat dropped a 3-1 decision to Lewiston earlier in the week.

The Memorial Cup looks like it will be a dogfight to determine the winner as there was no clear-cut dominating team through the round-robin portion. If it makes any difference, 12 of the last 14 Memorial Cup winners have been the team advancing to the finals from the round-robin portion of play, meaning Medicine Hat has to be the favourite right now. However, the Quebec Remparts defeated the Moncton Wildcats last year to be one of the two teams to knock off a round-robin winner. I'm looking forward to this weekend for some good junior hockey action!

Until next time... and until the Stanley Cup Finals begin... keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Update: Lou Annoys Me

This is a quick update to one of my previous stories. Apparently, I made the headline on the Devils Due blog on an article entitled Anger over Titans-to-Devils switch? written by Tom Lycan. I had expressed my annoyance with Lou Lamoriello's decision to rename and redress the Trenton Titans as the Trenton Devils. I guess that caught the attention of Mr. Lycan. I don't mind him taking a shot at my article since I voiced my opinion as well. In fact, I encourage Mr. Lycan's opinions here on this blog and on his own as I always appreciate good writers and reporters who can challenge me to defend my views.

Mr. Lycan, feel free to comment whenever you like. I like that you called me on my view, and, while we may not agree on this topic, we might have mutual repsect for one another on our views of hockey. There is already a growing amount of respect for your view on this side of the ledger, I can assure you. Good discussions always start with good topics. And to show there is absolutely no ill feelings, I've added the Devils Due blog to my list of blogs, and look forward to reading your thoughts.

New Dance Partners

In keeping with the affiliate theme, I've decided to post a list of all the NHL teams with their corresponding AHL affiliate in the 2007-08 season. There are some changes and some switches that need to be brought to the forefront as the AHL expands to 29 teams from its current 27-team format. While the expansion isn't quite a true expansion as some teams are being resurrected from the dead, it is important to note that these teams are moving to new cities after having taken a year off. All but one NHL franchise will have a true, distinct AHL team call their own, and that is good for business everywhere in hockey.

Here is the list of teams in alphabetical order of NHL teams. New affiliations have been bolded.

1) Anaheim Ducks - Portland Pirates (Portland, Maine)
2) Atlanta Thrashers - Chicago Wolves (Chicago, Illinois)
3) Boston Bruins - Providence Bruins (Providence, Rhode Island)
4) Barney Rubble Hairpieces - Rochester Americans (Rochester, New York)
5) Calgary Flames - Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights (Omaha, Nebraska)
6) Carolina Hurricanes - Albany River Rats (Albany, New York)
7) Chicago Blackhawks - Rockford Ice Hogs (Rockford, Illinois)
8) Colorado Avalanche - Lake Erie Monsters (Cleveland, Ohio)
9) Columbus Blue Jackets - Syracuse Crunch (Syracuse, New York)
10) Dallas Stars - Iowa Stars (Des Moines, Iowa)
11) Detroit Red Wings - Grand Rapids Griffins (Grand Rapids, Michigan)
12) Edmonton Oilers - Springfield Falcons (Springfield, Massachusetts)
13) Florida Panthers - no primary affiliate
14) Los Angeles Kings - Manchester Monarchs (Manchester, New Hampshire)
15) Minnesota Wild - Houston Aeros (Houston, Texas)
16) Montreal Canadiens - Hamilton Bulldogs (Hamilton, Ontario)
17) Nashville Predators - Milwaukee Admirals (Milwaukee, Wisconsin)
18) New Jersey Devils - Lowell Devils (Lowell, Massachusetts)
19) New York Islanders - Bridgeport Sound Tigers (Bridgeport, Connecticut)
20) New York Rangers - Hartford Wolfpack (Hartford, Connecticut)
21) Ottawa Senators - Binghampton Senators (Binghampton, New York)
22) Philadelphia Flyers - Philadelphia Phantoms (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
23) Phoenix Coyotes - San Antonio Rampage (San Antonio, Texas)
24) Pittsburgh Penguins - Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Pennsylvania)
25) San Jose Sharks - Worcester Sharks (Worcester, Massachusetts)
26) St. Louis Blues - Peoria Rivermen (Peoria, Illinois)
27) Tampa Bay Lightning - Norfolk Admirals (Norfolk, Virginia)
28) Toronto Maple Leafs - Toronto Marlies (Toronto, Ontario)
29) Vancouver Canucks - Manitoba Moose (Winnipeg, Manitoba)
30) Washington Capitals - Hershey Bears (Hershey, Pennsylvania)

Hopefully, Florida can find their own affiliate sooner rather than later, but it appears that they will be sending some players to Rochester as they did this past season.

What I don't understand is why the Chicago Blackhawks don't switch with the Atlanta Thrashers. The Flyers and Phantoms play in the same city, as do the Maple Leafs and Marlies. This makes sense. It would also make more sense if the Dallas Stars (Iowa) swapped minor-league affiliations with the Minnesota Wild (Houston) in terms of the proximity to the minor-league team. But hey... who am I to make sense of hockey? I just talk about it.

In any case, Edmonton regains an AHL team after losing the Edmonton Roadrunners. The Colorado Avalanche drop the shared affiliation with Albany in favour of their own team, the Lake Erie Monsters. The Chicago Blackhawks drop the affiliation with Norfolk and found the Rockford Ice Hogs. Tampa Bay picks up the affiliation with Norfolk. Musical hockey chairs have never been so much fun!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice... and your affiliations straight!

Monday, 21 May 2007

Lou Annoys Me

Can someone answer something for me? I get quite annoyed when a major professional team decides to change the entire affiliate system they support in terms of team names and jerseys. In most cases, the big team renames the affiliated teams as the same name, and generally dresses them up in the same colours, if not the same jerseys. Why does this happen? What purpose does it serve? Is it so fans can readily identify with which pro team the minor-league team is affiliated? Should that matter? All I know is it annoys me.

And that leads me to this article:

"Trenton, NJ – The National Hockey League’s New Jersey Devils today re-branded its ECHL affiliate from the 'Trenton Titans' to the 'Trenton Devils.' The team’s new home and road jerseys will feature 'TRENTON' in red across the chest, with a stylized horn in the 'T' and 'N', along with the familiar New Jersey Devils logo. The announcement was made by Devils’ CEO/President/General Manager Lou Lamoriello.

'The Devils' organization prides itself on two things: consistency and excellence. Our goal is to have all of our players at every level play for the same name and logo,' said Lamoriello. 'We want our players to feel a sense of pride every time they put on their respective Devils’ sweaters.'

The Devils will become the only hockey franchise with the same nickname at the NHL (New Jersey), AHL (Lowell), and ECHL (Trenton) levels. Five other NHL teams – Boston, Dallas, Ottawa, Pittsburgh, and San Jose – currently share a nickname with their AHL affiliate.

In 2007-08, the ECHL’s Trenton franchise, 2004-05 Kelly Cup Champions, will enter its ninth season of operation. The team will continue to play its home games at the 7,605-seat Sovereign Bank Arena.

Full and partial season-ticket plans for the 2007-08 season are available by calling a Trenton Devils ticket representative at (609) 599-9500. For further information, visit

The Trenton Devils are a member of the ECHL, North America’s Premier 'AA' Hockey League. They are owned and operated by the National Hockey League's New Jersey Devils."

I believe this is a narcissistic way of controlling the minor-league teams. The Trenton Titans had one of the most unique jerseys in all of hockey as the shoulders sported a bridge-like design in honour of the Lower Free Bridge that crosses the Delaware River. Trenton, New Jersey is known for its bridge. Does anyone associate a devil with Trenton, New Jersey? Not me, I can assure you.

I'm starting to believe that Lou Lamoriello is the NHL's George Steinbrenner. He may not have Steinbrenner's vast amounts of money, but he controls the New Jersey Devils' empire like a kingdom. I am firmly against removing a team's uniqueness in order to facilitate a stupid idea of uniformity amongst its many affiliates.

Lou states that the Devils organization wants their "players to feel a sense of pride every time they put on their respective Devils’ sweaters", and that's fine. Why does a team have to wear the Devils' colours in order to feel pride? Is Lou saying that the players didn't have a sense of pride in the Titans' jerseys? What kind of slap in the face is that?

Look, Lou does amazing work in preparing his people for the drafts. He is an astute general manager for a very good NHL club. This is simply the wrong thing to do. There is no need for renaming and redressing a team that had its own unique look. I feel sorry for the fans of the Titans... er, Devils. I guess those Titans jerseys will be collector's items now.

Sometimes, I just wish Lou would go away. Until the next Lou Lamoriello head coach firing or change to his organization, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday, 18 May 2007

The Scouts Are Watching

The Canadian Hockey League has finished its regular seasons and playoffs in each of the regions, and the winners are preparing for the biggest tournament of the year in Canadian Junior Hockey: the Mastercard Memorial Cup. Scouts preparing for the draft from all the NHL hockey teams will be heading to Vancouver to see the final four teams square off in the tournament. This is normally where players who have flown under the radar for most of the season can move up in their draft position by showing off their skill. Players with intangibles also get noticed. As always, the tournament can be won by any of the four teams, and none look to have an easy ride to the final. This is only the second time in the history of the Memorial Cup since switching to a four-team tournament in 1983 that two American-based franchises have appeared in the tournament.

Here's a quick preview of each of the teams in the tournament.

The Plymouth Whalers - OHL Champions

The Whalers started slowly this season, opening their campaign with an 8-9-0-0 record through 17 games. Head coach Michael Vellucci took an underachieveing team to their first J. Ross Robertson Trophy since the franchise moved to Michigan. The Whalers began an impressive tear through the OHL, finishing the regular season with a 49-14-2-3 record. They went 16-4 in the playoffs, handily dispatching the Kitchener Rangers and London Knights in five games in each of their series, and won the league championship over the Sudbury Wolves in six games.

The Whalers have a solid offence and steady goaltending. They had six players score better than a point-per-game pace, and all four lines contribute on the scoresheet. Canadian World Junior gold medalist James Neal leads the team in playoff scoring with 12 goals and 13 assists in 20 games. Michal Neuvirth and Jeremy Smith are one of the best tandems in junior hockey in between the pipes. Neuvirth and Smith split the duties up until the second round where Neuvirth took control. His goals-against-average is a respectable 2.45, and his save percentage is a stellar 93.2%.

Where the Whalers might fall is their defensive unit. They need to adapt to the strong forecheck of the opposing teams quickly by making good sharp passes. Sudbury exposed this a little in the OHL Championship, and it might be the best way to upset the Whalers' hopes of winning the Memorial Cup.

The Lewiston Maineiacs - QMJHL Champions

No team has been more dominant this season than the Lewiston Maineiacs. They won 26 of their last 27 games, and their last loss in regulation was an 8-3 loss to the Acadie-Bathurst Titan on February 23! The Maineiacs finsihed the season with a 50-14-2-4 record, and went 16-1 in the QMJHL playoffs. They swept the Shawinigan Cataractes in the opening round, defeated the Halifax Mooseheads in five games and swept the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in the semi-final before sweeping the Val-d'Or Foreurs in the league championship series. Lewiston is the first American-based team to win the QMJHL's President's Cup Trophy.

The Maineiacs have four lines of scoring depth, and boast Jonathan Bernier in net. They score by committee, and play a gritty, defence-first style of play that looks more at home in the WHL than the flashy QMJHL. They have excellent defensive zone coverage, and their goaltending is superb. They allow very few second-chance opportunities, and are happier to ice the puck than to try and carry it out when the numbers are against them. Having Bernier in between the pipes also helps. He played in all 17 games in the QMJHL playoffs, posting a 2.34 GAA and a .919 save percentage, winning the Guy Lafleur Trophy as the QMJHL's playoff MVP.

Where the Maineiacs may fall is their lack of a pure sniper. There is no go-to guy on the Maineiacs roster that can change a game as soon as he steps on to the ice. If the Maineiacs are down a goal late in a game, this might be their downfall.

The Medicine Hat Tigers - WHL Champions

The Medicine Hat Tigers gained a berth to the Memorial Cup by defeating the Vancouver Giants in overtime of Game Seven of the WHL Championship. Tigers sophomore forward Brennan Bosch scored the overtime winner to secure the WHL's President's Cup Trophy. The Tigers posted a 52-17-3-0 record in the regular season, and went 16-7 in the playoffs. They needed all seven games to eliminate their division rival Red Deer Rebels, swept the Regina Pats, and defeated the Calgary Hitmen in five games before eliminating Vancouver in the final. Will they be tired? Possibly, but they also have an advantage in having already played three games at the hostile Pacific Coliseum against the Vancouver Giants.

The Tigers have a clear MVP in goaltender Matt Keetley. However, they are fundamentally sound, and have an excellent transition game. If they resemble any NHL team, they looked a lot like the Barney Rubble Hairpieces in terms of capitalizing on turnovers, team speed and scoring chances. Defenseman Kris Russell led the team in scoring this season, and makes an outlet pass as good as anyone I've ever seen. This team is made up of lightning - their speed may blow holes in both the Whalers' and Maineiacs' defences, and that will be to their advantage in going far in the Memorial Cup.

The glaring hole in the Tigers' team is their lack of a pure scorer, much like Lewiston. Medicine Hat has a strong group of forwards like Darren Helm and Derek Dorsett, but neither have the touch of a pure sniper, and Kris Russell is second in team scoring for the playoffs. Medicine Hat will need to find their offensive legs early in the tournament, having been shutout three times in the WHL finals against the Giants.

The Vancouver Giants - Memorial Cup Host Team

The Vancouver Giants defended their 2006 WHL Championship as best as anyone can without actually repeating as champions. They went to overtime in Game Seven of the WHL Championship game before losing to the Medicine Hat Tigers. The Giants defeated the Chilliwack Bruins, Seattle Thunderbirds, and Prince George Cougars in five games each before losing in the finals in seven games. They compiled a 45-17-3-7 recod through the regular season, and went 15-7 in the WHL playoffs. Despite their loss to the Tigers, the Giants have remained as one of the elite teams in the CHL. Last year, the Quebec Remparts stunned the Canadian Hockey League by winning the Memorial Cup after losing the QMJHL title to the host Moncton Wildcats. The non-champion team this season has a very good shot at winning the title again.

The Giants are a team of depth. Wacey Rabbit, Michal Repik, and Kenndal McArdle have tremendous ability, and all have proven to be lethal with the puck. As good as their forwards are, their defensive group is even scarier. Captain Brett Festerling leads by example in terms of his work ethic, and his teammates follow his lead. Jonathon Blum, Cody Franson and Brendan Mikkelson provide a pile of scoring from the back-end, and their third defensive pairing of A.J. Thelen and Brent Regner would be top four defensemen on any team. If the Giants have anything they can fall back on, it's their experience. They have 16 players returning to the Memorial Cup this season from last year's team. They know what they have to do in order to be successful in front of their hometown fans. The Giants are physical and rugged, something they can use to wear down their opponents.

The biggest weakness that the Giants have is similar to the other teams: a lack of a true offensive sniper that can carry the team in a clutch situation. Gilbert Brule provided that spark last year, but there is no one carrying the torch this season. If this team is trailing at the end of the third period, it will be interesting to see who steps up for Vancouver.

The tournament kicks off tonight at 9pm EST with Plymouth squaring off against Vancouver. The full tournament schedule is listed below.

Friday, May 18 @ 6:00pm PST - Plymouth @ Vancouver
Saturday, May 19 @ 1:00pm PST - Medicine Hat @ Lewiston
Sunday, May 20 @ 1:30pm PST - Vancouver @ Lewiston
Monday, May 21 @ 5:00pm PST - Medicine Hat @ Plymouth
Tuesday, May 22 @ 5:00pm PST - Lewiston @ Plymouth
Wednesday, May 23 @ 7:30pm PST - Vancouver @ Medicine Hat
Thursday, May 24 @ 7:30pm PST - Tie Breaker Game (if required)
Friday, May 25 @ 5:00pm PST - Semi Final Game
Sun., May 27 @ 1:00pm PST - Championship Game

Most games will be carried by Rogers' Sportsnet in Canada. This looks to be a very good tournament, and I look forward to watching the action over the next eight days. Keep your eyes on the prize, and your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

That Sickening Feeling

I don't want to be the bearer of bad news for the city of Buffalo, but the Barney Rubble Hairpieces are done. Kaput. Out of there. When Ryan Miller plays one of his best games in the playoffs, and your team can only muster 15 shots against Ray Emery, your team is done. They are down three games to none in the series, and they are not the 1975 Islanders whatsoever. In fact, they aren't even the 2007 Islanders at this point. The problem, as I watched the game last night, isn't that they aren't getting chances to score; rather, the problem is that they aren't creating second-chance opportunities or rebounds as well as they should. For a team that has spent more than 31 minutes on the powerplay and has a grand total of zero powerplay goals in the series, the Hairpieces are as good as dead in the water.

This is not to rub salt in the wound of any citizen of the Buffalo area, any Buffalo fan, or to gain praise from the Senators' faithful. I said it before in the Crunch Time article I wrote that Buffalo had gone away from doing the little things that made them successful. Let's review.

First, send somebody to the front of the net. Yes, he's going to take a beating from Chris Phillips or Anton Volchenkov, but the Hairpieces have had little in the way of any sort of traffic in front of Ray Emery. I don't care who goes to the front of the net - Ales Kotalik, Chris Drury, Andrew Peters, Lindy Ruff, the hot dog vendor - someone needs to be in Ray Emery's grill in the next game for no less than 59 minutes. Emery has had it far too easy in this series, and it has nothing to do with the number of shots thrown his way.

Second, if the puck is going to be shot, send a minimum of two guys on a direct line to the net. Having guys float out near the faceoff circles and along the half-boards is doing nothing to help generate second-chance scoring plays. In every single game, there have been four Senators in front of Emery clearing pucks, and only one Hairpiece player. Nine times out of ten, that Hairpiece player is lying on the ice. The Hairpieces will never generate scoring chances playing one-on-four in the offensive zone. For the number of shots being blocked by the Senators, you need guys going to the net for deflected shots as well.

Third, for all the hard work the Hairpieces do in cycling the puck, they forget that their defensemen are on the point. In Game Three, there were no shots from the defensemen. Not one. That simply cannot happen. Guys like Jaroslav Spacek and Brian Campbell can shoot the puck. Work the puck deep, get the Senators to collapse, and then shovel it back to the point. Oh, and refer to the previous paragraph once your defensemen wind up for a slapshot.

Fourth, enough with the bloody dipsy-dos and dekes when bringing the puck into the offensive zone! Turnover after turnover after turnover at the line has caused the Hairpieces' offence to become predictable and stagnant. Drive the puck in deep, forecheck hard, and create some turnovers in the offensive zone. Also, if the Hairpieces have a partial breakaway or a one-on-one with a Senators defenseman, take it to the net hard! Drive and crash the net! I'm tired of watching the Buffalo forwards make this game look like a shinny hockey game on a backyard rink.

Fifth, take the damned body! Daniel Alfredsson is looking like the second coming of Sean Avery with the number of bodychecks he is throwing, and he has yet to be roughed up. When Daniel Briere throws the biggest hit of Game Three for the Hairpieces, there is a serious problem with the Hairpieces' back-end. Buffalo has been outhit in every game of this series, and it won't stop unless someone starts pushing back. I even made mention of this: "[i]f the Hairpieces want to get set for Ottawa, they had better learn to throw a few teeth-rattling checks". I hate to be a broken record, but I told you so.

I'm not hating on Buffalo. Please don't think that. I simply have seen Buffalo go from being an impressive, complete team early in the season to a sometimes careless team in midseason to a complete wreck when facing adversity at this point in the season. For a team that won the President's Trophy, they have looked lost and confused against the Senators, and they seem to have forgotten all that made them successful.

If the Hairpieces want to make this series into a seven-game series again, they have to take every shift like its their last. Desperate times call for desperate measures, but you can't abandon what made you the best team in the regular season. That will almost guarantee a quick exit from the playoffs. However, it's time for the Barney Rubble Hairpieces to dig deep and see what they're really made of. Look in the mirror, Buffalo, and see if you can find what it is you need to find to win the next game. Only worry about Game Five once you've won Game Four.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday, 13 May 2007

World Championship Gold

The 2007 Men's World Hockey Championship played its final two games today, featuring Russia playing Sweden in the bronze medal game, and Canada playing Finland in the gold medal game. At the time of writing this, both games have been completed. Russia won the bronze medal, Finland took the silver... which means Canada won the gold!

Honestly, I watched the majority of the games, and they were very entertaining. In the bronze medal game, Alexander Frolov of the Los Angeles Kings continued his strong play, contributing a goal and an assist in a 3-1 Russian victory. Frolov ended the tournament with five goals and six assists, and he should be a long-term signing for the Kings sooner rather than later. Besides the Russian's "Ak Bars Kazan" line, Frolov might have been their best player. Nicklas Backstrom, the Washington Capitals' draft pick, had another assist in the bronze medal game, giving him one goal and five assists in the tournament, and looks like he could be NHL-ready.

The Canada-Finland game looked like it might be over before the third period began, having seen Canada build a 3-0 lead. The Finns fought back, though, to make it 3-2 before an impressive goal by tournament MVP Rick Rash on a partial breakaway gave the Canadians a 4-2 gold medal victory. Honestly, Nash's goal may have been one of the best Canadian goals in recent history. An excellent effort put forth by the Canadians led to their first undefeated World Championship record since 1937.

In honour of the effort, here are some of Team Canada's best goals.

Anson Carter wraps around the net and puts the puck in... or so he thinks. Is it a goal? Is it not? The 2003 Men's World Championship were in the hands of the goal judge.

The 2007 World Junior Championship semi-final shootout between the US and Canada. Jonathan Toews is money. The goals here are fantastic.

As The Tragically Hip sang on their song entitled "The Hockey Song", "if there's a goal that everyone remembers, it was back in old '72. We all squeezed the stick and we all pulled the trigger"....

The 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. Canada vs. United States. Gold medal game. Mario Lemieux adds to his legacy of clutch plays.

Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky combine in Game Two of the 1987 Canada Cup. Yes, there is another Wayne and Mario moment that Canada remembers.

Here are all the goals from Game Three of the 1987 Canada Cup. Listen to the Russian names. It's a veritable All-Star team. And, of course, the "Big Goal".

I'm quite sure that Nash's goal will be added to the list at some point. And to all those politicians who thought it was a good idea to try to rip Shane Doan, how about you shut your mouths, and stick to politics? The captain led his team to World Championship. His integrity was never in question.

Congratulations to Team Canada on a great tournament! Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday, 10 May 2007

My Kingdom For An Email

Ted Saskin has now joined the unemployment line. Officially. The NHLPA officially fired Ted Saskin today, nearly two months after he was sent home on paid leave. The man who took over for Bob Goodenow is now looking for work much like his predecessor. The future of Ken Kim, another NHLPA employee wrapped up in this saga, is still unresolved. However, the vote conducted by the NHLPA's executive board today sealed the fate of the man who was instrumental in the negotiation of the current CBA and salary cap.

According to the Canadian Press, "[t]he vote was conducted on a conference call today, in the wake of a report from the NHLPA's independent legal counsel Chris Paliare that indicated Saskin ordered the surveillance of internal e-mail accounts, a move that was reportedly conducted and executed by Kim".

Now, I'm no legal expert or a lawyer, but that seems a little shady, doesn't it? Never-the-less, there were other problems surrounding Saskin.

"The turmoil within the union began in the first place when Saskin replaced Bob Goodenow on July 28, 2005, without other candidates being interviewed for the job. That sparked dissension from Chelios, former executive committee member Trent Klatt and former NHLPA executive Steve Larmer".

Saskin was quick to respond to the firing, putting on a brave face.

"All I am going to say at this time is that I remain proud of all the work I did for NHL players over the last 16 years and particularly in negotiating the new CBA which has been working out well," Saskin told The Canadian Press in an e-mail. "I will work towards a fair resolution of my contractual rights with the NHLPA and wish them well in the future."

Saskin was in year two of a five-year contract worth a reported $10 million.

Kevyn Adams, player representative for the Phoenix Coyotes and long-time Saskin supporter, voted against keeping Saskin as a show of solidarity for the NHLPA.

"I just think with the report we saw from Chris Paliare there were things going on that just should not have been going on," said Adams, a member of the interim executive committee. "But I also think just as importantly, we've been though a lot, there's been so much uncertainty, we need to get some stability and move forward.

"We need to get on the same page. Hopefully we can move ahead together as a group after today."

Hopefully, they can. I'm not saying Saskin shouldn't have been appointed NHLPA executive director. That's not for me to decide. The man had been with the NHLPA since 1992, and was instrumental in increasing the revenue for the NHLPA through licensing. He was senior director and Bob Goodenow's right-hand man before replacing him.

However, the email problem is a huge one, though. Privacy laws have become increasingly stringent over the last few years in both Canada and the United States, and this is a clear violation of privacy. I honestly believe that Ken Kim should join Ted Saskin in searching for work, but I'm not the judge. Personally, if anyone were to monitor my personal email, I'd be annoyed. In fact, I'd be downright angry.

In any case, the NHLPA is moving forward, and this is good news. As good as Saskin was for working with the NHL, the NHLPA needs someone who can seamlessly move into the role of executive director and continue the growth of the sport. Hockey is still recovering from the black eye it received during the lockout, so finding the right man to help promote the game and its athletes is paramount. And that has to happen sooner rather than later in order to get the game back in the limelight.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Teebz's Playoff Predictions - Round Three

Well, Maggie and I tied again in Round Two. Maggie and I both pulled off a 3-1 record. Maggie missed out on the Vancouver-Anaheim series, while I missed out on the San Jose-Detroit series. The macaque and I trail all the TSN experts, but I am quite impressed with both Darren Dreger and Darren Pang. They lead the way at 11-1. Maggie and I currently sit at 7-5. Again, I picked emotionally rather than intellectually in Round One, and I accept my losses there. I should have listened to my head rather than the sentimental feelings, but since I wasn't on TV, I went with who I wanted to see rather than who I knew would advance. Thankfully, I don't have to write an entire blog devoted to Maggie because she didn't defeat me. In any case, here are my Round Three predictions.

Eastern Conference

#1 vs. #4

If the Barney Rubble Hairpieces play as soft as they did against the Rangers, this series will be short. I have all the confidence in the world in Chris Drury and Daniel Briere that they will appear on the scoresheet. How often? Good question. The Senators have been, by far, the best defensive team in these playoffs when it comes to shutting down opposing forwards. Yes, they still give up goals, but they play for today. I know I said that San Jose had to do that in the last series, and it appeared that they stopped doing it once Detroit won Game Four. They became hesitant and afraid. Well, I can honestly say that the Senators are the best team in the East right now. No slight to the Hairpieces, but they will have to be a lot better against the Senators, and I don't think they will be. And despite all the drama that the media is building due to the Chris Neil hit on Chris Drury, I think these teams will play clean, fast hockey.

Prediction: Ottawa Senators advance in six games.

Western Conference

#1 vs. #2

Detroit is a team who is battered and bruised. Mathieu Schneider is done, out with a broken wrist, and that is a huge loss for the defensive line that Detroit so desperately will need. Hasek has to be the Hasek of five years ago in this series. Kronwall is still not ready, and Lebda will be returning. Lidstrom and Chelios are already averaging over 20 minutes a game. Can they do 30? 40? The Ducks will throw everything, including the kitchen sink, at the Red Wings. This series will be won down low and along the half-boards, and on special team play. I can only hope that the oldest team trying to get to the Finals won't breakdown too badly against the high-flying Ducks' youngsters.

Prediction: Anaheim Ducks advance in five games.

There are my predicitons for the Conference Finals. They start Thursday with Ottawa visiting Buffalo. Friday sees the Ducks in Joe Louis Arena. These should be good series! Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday, 7 May 2007

Living In Dreamland: Gimme A Break

Somehow, this blog has been transferred into the world of politics. I wrote about the ridiculous Shane Doan controversy in a recent post and how it was an insult to Canadians everywhere. Well, the Conservatives are at it again, but have gone more local in their fight for NHL hockey. The provincial election in Manitoba is apparently all about insulting the competition and making wild promises. It appears that Conservative leader in Manitoba, Hugh McFadyen, is attempting to resurrect an NHL franchise in Winnipeg. I've gone over this before, and I'll say it again: Winnipeg is not an NHL city. And it won't be until at least 300,000 more people emigrate to the city.

The Canadian Press' following report was released:

"Manitoba's provincial election campaign has turned its attention to hockey with the Conservatives promising to bring the NHL back to Winnipeg.

Standing alongside former Winnipeg Jet Thomas Steen, Tory Leader Hugh McFadyen said he'll work with the private sector to bring back the team, who left Manitoba a decade ago.

McFadyen won't say how much taxpayer money he'd be willing to put up, but says the government could follow Manitoba Hydro's example and raise money by issuing bonds.

He also says he would consider a special lottery to raise money as well as a players tax similar to one implemented in Alberta at one time.

The Tory leader says an NHL team would make Manitoba more attractive to young people and help stem the tide of university graduates who leave for Alberta."

Does anyone see major problems with this besides me? I don't want to point out the stupidity with this plan, but this is stupid beyond belief.

The problem with the Jets leaving Winnipeg the first time is that the corporate support wasn't there. Corporations were not interested in bailing out a fledgling franchise that continually posted losing seasons while trading away their best stars or allowing to leave via free agency. I have pointed out that when the Jets left Winnipeg, their total salary was $27 million. The salary cap has been increased to near $50 million. There is no one in Winnipeg who wants to own a franchise outright. There are no multi-billionaires sitting around in Winnipeg with money burning a hole in their pockets. Stop the insanity!

If McFadyen is unable to show how much taxpayer money will be used, this should never even be on the table as an issue. The one thing that taxpayers complain about is how their money is being spent. Winnipeg's deteriorating roads and brutal civic services could use an infusion of provincial monies to help their causes. I'm sure cities like Brandon, Portage la Prairie, Thompson, and Churchill could use a large chunk of change to make improvements as well.

As for issuing bonds, the Jets did that before they left. It didn't work then, so why would it work now? Manitoba Hydro bonds' money have a significantly different purpose than what the Jets' bonds had or will have. Who is managing the Tories' campaign? They should probably lose their job sooner rather than later.

The lottery in Alberta is fine. The lottery in Manitoba could go a long way in supporting and developing a much better grassroots hockey system. Manitoba has produced some very good hockey players like Ed Belfour, Jonathan Toews, Terry Sawchuk, and Jennifer Botterill. Why can't that money go into the development stages of this province where we need it most? Hockey parents spend a pile of money on their kids every year. You would think that it would be far easier to win votes if you promised money back to the people that fund these programs and staff the community clubs in volunteer hours just to allow the kids to play. Give your head a shake, McFadyen. I just told you how to win thousands of votes without doing anything radical.

The argument that Hugh McFadyen presents about Manitobans leaving the province for Alberta is a fallacy. The reason Manitobans are leaving is because they can do the same job in Alberta for twice the money. The Oilers and Flames are great luxuries for those cities, and I admit that I am a little envious come playoff time when the Sea of Red fills the seats and the Oil Brigade takes to the streets. But I am not envious of the Oilers' management who seem to be having a hard time attracting top-level talent to the City of Champions. The fact that Edmonton and Calgary have an abundance of jobs and much higher salaries than what are found in Manitoba probably has a lot more to do with Manitobans leaving. But if you believe Hugh's argument, I also have some great swampland in New Jersey and Florida to sell you.

Look, I'm tired of explaining this. The AHL is good for Winnipeg. The NHL is not good for Winnipeg. Anyone that thinks that Winnipeg will get a team is living in dreamland. Again, I apologize to the citizens of Winnipeg, but vote with your heads and not your hearts. This promise is nothing but crazy insanity.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday, 6 May 2007

Crunch Time

Game Six of the Barney Rubble Hairpieces and New York Rangers goes today from Madison Square Garden in New York City. The Rangers won both games in New York City during Games Three and Four by the same scores of 2-1. The only difference is that Michael Rozsival scored in double overtime in Game Three while the Rangers closed out Game Four in regulation time. With Game Six being played on MSG ice, the Hairpieces had better come out ready to play. They haven't played very well in NYC, and that has to change if the Hairpieces want to play for the Stanley Cup. The Ottawa Senators await the winner of this series, and they have yet to show any let up in their quest for the Silver Chalice.

Since the last four games have been decided by one goal, both teams having gone 2-2 in those games, the Hairpieces need to come out and get some bodies in front of Henrik Lundqvist. It worked for Anaheim against Luongo and Vancouver; it is working for Detroit against Nabokov and San Jose; it worked for Ottawa against Brodeur and New Jersey. Seeing the puck makes it way easier to make a save. I'm not saying that the Hairpieces should abandon their buzzing around the net, but Lundqvist hasn't had much in the way of any sort of screen. When Drury has gone to the net, Lundqvist has given up some goals. Start sending guys like Kotalik in there too.

The Hairpieces have clearly dominated the Rangers in scoring chances during this series. But they were eight seconds away from being down three games to two in this series if it weren't for some Drury magic. The Hairpieces have a good defensive group, and have protected Miller adequately, but they are still being burned by soft players like Michael Nylander and Jaromir Jagr. Buffalo has got to take the body hard along the boards in this series to nullify the Rangers' attack. Guys like Brendan Shanahan and Sean Avery thrive on the physicality, but Jagr and Nylander do not. They tend to fade into the background when roughed up. If the Hairpieces want to get set for Ottawa, they had better learn to throw a few teeth-rattling checks.

Lastly, the Barney Rubble Hairpieces need another solid effort from Ryan Miller. Miller is sporting a 1.88 GAA in these playoffs, and has looked impressive. His .933 save percentage is also very good. Miller doesn't have to be spectacular in Game Six. He just needs to play as well as his stats say. That means he can't give up any soft goals. Those are momentum killers, and when playing on the road, momentum can mean everything to the road team. As long as Miller plays up to his statistical image, the Hairpieces should be favoured to win this game.

Why am I so focussed on the Barney Rubble Hairpieces? Well, winning the President's Trophy is great, but this might be the last shot at the Stanley Cup this group has together. Chris Drury and Daniel Briere are both slated to hit the free agent market this off-season, and it appears Buffalo will only be able to keep one due to the salaries they may fetch. The scribes who follow the Los Angeles Kings have hinted that they will be active in pursuing Drury, a California native, in coming home. Drury lives in Manhattan Beach and is a neighbour of current King Rob Blake. Los Angeles could be a great place for Drury to play. And if the Hairpieces lose a guy like Drury, they will lose a huge piece of their success this season.

Until next time, keep your stick on the ice!

Thursday, 3 May 2007

Wasting Time And Money

I'm not one to push any sort of political message across this blog. It's not the forum, nor does it deal with hockey in any form. I'll tell you right now that I'm as liberal as it gets towards same-sex marriages, I love free universal health care, and I'm not overly fond of sending our troops over to fight a war that we have no business in. What concerns me is that some MPs in our fine nation have taken shots at Hockey Canada for having Shane Doan as the captain of our Men's World Hockey Championship team. If any of these men represent you in your riding, would you seriously vote them back in as your representative? They are your voice in House of Commons. Think about that.

The NHL has cleared Doan of any wrong-doing, but last month linesman Michel Cormier testified in a court hearing that he was skating right next to Doan when he heard the slur about French people. The alleged slur was used during a game in Montreal between the Phoenix Coyotes and Montreal Canadiens. All four officials that night were French-Canadian.

Doan says all he did was make a sarcastic remark to teammate Curtis Joseph who was infuriated by a penalty call. Doan says he told Joseph: "Four French referees in Montreal, Cuje, figure it out."

Cormier's post-game report does indeed accuse a foreign-born player of having made the slur in the second period of the 2005 Phoenix-Montreal game. That player was identified as current Dallas Star Ladislav Nagy.

Hockey Canada chief Bob Nicholson's voice rose in anger after insulting questions from a Bloc Quebecois MP. The MP insists that Doan should have never been made captain.

"So what you're telling me is it's okay to make racist insults in certain situations," Bloc MP Luc Malo said after one hockey official pointed out that insults are part of the game.

He followed up that volley with Doan's offer to remove the captaincy: "Why don't you follow the logical suggestion of Mr. Doan himself and give the 'C' to someone else?"

The attack from the sovereigntist MP prompted Nicholson's most spirited defence of a man he called a proud Canadian.

He informed the MP that Shane Doan has represented his country eight times, has the support of all his teammates, and has gone over to play in the World Championships for free while sacrificing his off-season.

"We're taking Shane Doan, his wife, his mom and dad, his four kids through an allegation that could have been dictated by someone else," Nicholson said. "This is not right."

I whole-heartedly agree with Nicholson. To destroy a man's reputation over winning a few votes is a kick to the groin for this entire country. Luc Malo needs a slap upside the head. Excuse my language, but grow some balls, Luc. The man is innocent, yet you want to win an election by tarnishing his name? Grow up.

The Tories, who hold power, were already distancing themselves from the committee.

"What the constituents in my riding are saying is they'd like to put the politicians in the penalty box, so Team Canada can put the puck in the net," said Tory MP Pierre Poilievre.

Another Conservative, committee chair Guy Lauzon, cast the episode as an example of the Bloc Quebecois stirring up tension in their mission to break up Canada. And he's exactly right in tis writer's opinion.

The hearing ended with news cameras and journalists chasing the Bloc MP, Malo, down the corridors of Parliament and asking him why people should be punished over unproven allegations.

"He was not the captain when these allegations were put forward," Malo replied, referring to Doan, before charging through the crowd in a futile escape attempt.

"The best choice for Hockey Canada was to name someone else until this issue comes to an end."

Now I'm not one to take a cheap shot at the Canadian Press. They report the news, and they do it well. However, they rarely make a stance on an issue. This is where I come in.

I'll say it right here: I am proud to be a Canadian. However, this entire debacle the Canadian Government is putting the Doan family through has made me ashamed of my country, my heritage, and my willingness to proclaim my Canadian-ness.

The case against Doan is weaker than any government promise ever made. What this entire sham boils down to is that Doan has become a target for gutless politicians who have very little interest in hard facts, and a lot of interest in opening the futile and inherently stupid debate of Quebec sovereignty due to the French-vs-English feud that apparently exists only in Ottawa and Quebec.

Do you know why apathy exists when voters look at the men and women running for office? This is a huge reason. When there are much larger issues at stake like global warming, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, gas prices in Canada, poverty and homelessness, and saving free universal health care, why is it a matter of national interest to run down a long-serving member of Hockey Canada and a proud Canadian boy after he has been cleared of any wrong-doing by the company he works for? The NHL cleared him of any involvement.

The government sees it differently, though. Tory MP Michael Chong argued that since Hockey Canada receives federal funding, "they are accountable, in part, to the Government of Canada."

Who is accountable to the voting public? You know, that same voting public that pays the salary of these politicians who are calling into question Shane Doan's character? Since they are representatives in the government of people like you and I, should we not be allowed to call the shots? Do our voices get trumped by a guy living in Ottawa because he wants to appease the Quebec vote?

I am embarrassed for the country of Canada. And poor Shane Doan. He's a guy who has never turned down Team Canada. Not once. He certainly doesn't deserve this.

As Randy Turner of the Winnipeg Free Press wrote: "So how hurt must Doan be that his character is being called into question so publicly, by this own country's elected representatives, no less? If it made even a lick of sense, perhaps, it could be justifiable on some level. If Doan had a reputation or history of, say, violence or bigotry, then Hockey Canada would have some questions to answer."

But he doesn't. This is a guy who doesn't even curse on the ice due to his upbringing. And he routinely takes good-natured ribbing from his teammates in his reluctance to use any curse words.

I only have one thought for Gilles Duceppe, Ken Dryden, Luc Malo, Stephane Dion, Jack Layton, and Michael Chong: you're killing the game that made this country famous, and brings its people together like nothing else. And for that, you all deserve to be tossed from the game for instigating.

Until next time, keep your stick on the ice... or at least use it for a solid two-hand slash to the back of the knees of your Member of Parliament.

- with files from the Canadian Press

Wednesday, 2 May 2007

The "Other" Playoffs

While everyone is focussing on the NHL's Stanley Cup Playoffs, tomorrow's players are playing for the AHL's Calder Cup. While some of the parent clubs of these teams are still alive, the AHL has finished its first-round series, leaving only eight teams standing. There were a few upsets in the first round, and we'll look at how the fortunes of the NHL teams in the playoffs have affected the AHL playoffs so far, and how the NHL playoffs will affect the AHL playoffs into the second round. The Calder Cup is up for grabs, and eight teams have a shot at greatness.

In the Atlantic Division Final, the Manchester Monarchs and Providence Bruins clash. The Bruins have already won Game One by a score of 6-3, giving them the lead in the series. Manchester finished first in the Atlantic Division this year with 110 points, and defeated the fourth-place Worcester Sharks in Round One four games to two. Manchester's parent club, the Los Angeles Kings, missed the playoffs, so they have all their players in their lineup already, including Patrick O'Sullivan and Oleg Tverdovsky. The Providence Bruins finished third in the Atlantic Division with 94 points, and defeated the second-place Hartford Wolfpack in Round One four games to three. Providence's parent club, the Boston Bruins, missed the playoffs, so they also have all their players in their lineup already, including Hannu Toivonen. Game Two goes tonight in Manchester, New Hampshire.

In the East Division Final, the Hershey Bears face off against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Hershey was the best team in the AHL this season, finishing with 114 points, and the Bears defeated the Albany River Rats four games to one in Round One. Hershey's parent club, the Washington Capitals, missed the playoffs, so they had their lineup intact when the playoffs started, showcasing such players as Tomas Fleischmann and Quintin Laing. The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins finished second in the East Division with 108 points, and defeated the Norfolk Admirals four games to two. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton's parent club, the Pittsburgh Penguins, lost in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. No players were returned to the Baby Penguins from the Pittsburgh Penguins. Game One is tonight in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

In the West Division Final, the Chicago Wolves tangle with the Iowa Stars. The Chicago Wolves finished second in the West Division with 101 points, and defeated the Milwaukee Admirals in a sweep in Round One. Chicago's parent club, the Atlanta Thrashers, lost in the first round of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, but had no players returned to the Wolves. The Iowa Stars finished fourth in the West Division with 88 points, and upset the first-place Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights in the opening round of the Calder Cup Playoffs, winning the series four games to two. The Stars' parent team, the Dallas Stars, sent no players back to Iowa for this next series. Game One goes tonight in Chicago, Illinois.

In the North Division Final, the Manitoba Moose meet up with another Canadian team in the Hamilton Bulldogs. The Moose finished first in the North Division with 102 points, and defeated the Grand Rapids Griffins four games to three in the opening round. The Moose's parent club, the Vancouver Canucks, have returned Yannick Tremblay to Manitoba, but Nathan Smith and Alex Edler remain with Vancouver. The Hamilton Bulldogs finished third in the North Division with 95 points, and beat the second-place Rochester Americans four games to two in the opening round. Hamilton's parent club, the Montreal Canadiens, missed the playoffs, meaning that Hamilton's stars such as Russina brothers Andrei and Sergei Kostitsyn and Maxim Lapierre have showcased their talents thus far in the Calder Cup playoffs. Game One of the North Division Final goes Saturday in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

If you're looking for some action, check out the teams' websites for radio and streaming broadcasts of the games. It might not be NHL action, but it is sometimes better. After all, these are the guys who will be battling for the Stanley Cup in the next few years. Why not check them out now? Until next time, keep your stick on the ice!