Monday 30 July 2007

Next To Gretzky

There was an interesting article posted today on the online edition of the Ottawa Citizen. It was written by Dave Harrison, and it dealt with getting a Hall of Fame built for women's hockey players. Personally, I think this is a great idea in theory, but poor in its practicality. Why is it that the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto cannot house the women elected to the Hall of Fame? It is the Hockey Hall of Fame, not the NHL Hall of Fame and not the Professional Hockey Players' Hall of Fame. It is there to honour all those people elected for their commitment and dedication to hockey as well as the significant achievements and accolades received by other well-established players. Why can't the women stand next to the men? Why can't those women who have given the better part of their lives to hockey be given the same respect as the men who did nothing more but nothing less?

The first argument is that women's hockey isn't quite what the men's game is. Mr. Harrison writes:

"Men's hockey is lightning fast, hard-hitting and often edge-of-the-seat exciting; powder-puff hockey is anything but.

Women's hockey is just a shade faster than Tai Chi but only half as interesting.

If any event is worthy of an "escape call" early in the first period, it's women's hockey.

As a crowd pleaser it seems to appeal only to other women who have convinced themselves that it's entertaining, feminist promoters of lost causes, anxious sponsors who are about to lose their shirts, milquetoast males who allow their women to choose their clothes (Real Men Don't Eat Quiche), and husbands who nod in agreement if they know what's good for them.

No self-respecting, red-blooded, beer-drinking, Canadian male hockey fan ever takes women's hockey seriously."

I don't want to ruin Mr. Harrison's testosterone-driven rant here, but I am a single, self-respecting male in the country of Canada who loves his beer as much as the patriotic red blood flowing through my veins. I have not only watched women's hockey games from start to finish, but attended several over the course of time as a paying customer to the entertainment. I have never left early, and I never intend to.

I can understand what Mr. Harrison is trying to say. Hockey, when played by men, is faster and more violent. That's due to our genetic make-up, though. As men, we're supposed to be bigger, faster, and stronger than women. That is who we are as men. It has nothing to do with how the game is played.

If anything, the women's game emphasizes the very things that the men's game does not: skill, speed, passing, and defensive zone coverage. If you take body-checking out of the men's game, how many men would find themselves too slow and too underskilled to be playing at the NHL or Olympic level? If anyone has ever watched a women's hockey game, the speed may not be the equivalent of a men's game, but there is far less holding, far less stick infractions, and far more scoring chances. Isn't that why we watch hockey? We want scoring, we want action, we want end-to-end rushes.

"You're going to see a lot of contact and physical play without penalties, but you're not going to see the typical lowering of the shoulder to remove the puck," says Margot Page, head coach of the women's team at Niagara University in western New York.

According to the International Ice Hockey Federation rules, the main difference between body contact and bodychecking is that in the former there is an attempt to play the puck first.

"I think you see people wanting to try and execute and use their skill more, instead of individual tactics," says Page, who points out that international men's games are also more fluid than the NHL.

If Wayne Gretzky is the role model for men's hockey as an ambassador, the same would go for Hayley Wickenheiser in Canada as an ambassador for women's hockey. In the United States, Cammi Granato is to women's hockey as Mike Modano is to men's hockey. Kim St-Pierre has established herself as the premiere women's goalie in the game much as Martin Brodeur is arguably the best men's goalie in the game today.

Arguments can be made for a number of players in the women's game, and comparisons can be drawn. However, the one thing that is clear is that the women have faced the same challenges as the men, and are overcoming them at a greater speed. This is a monumental reason for incorporating women into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

In 1998, the Royal Canadian Mint World of Hockey opened with the blessing of the IIHF. This section of the Hockey Hall of Fame "provides an unparalleled tribute to international hockey, with an unrivalled collection of artifacts and media on display, including histories and exhibit materials from all 63 IIHF member countries. One of the most significant refurbished areas is the IIHF Honour Roll, which pays homage to the finest players and executives from around the world".

There are some women already in the HHOF, so why not just dedicate a wing to women's hockey altogether? Cooperstown did it for baseball. Heck, they made a movie out of the All-American Professional Girls' Baseball League. You might remember it. It was directed by Penny Marshall and starred Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, Madonna, and Rosie O'Donnell. If baseball can do it, why can't hockey, especially since women's hockey has a much bigger foothold in the world than just a couple of midwestern states in the US?

Personally, the Hockey Hall of Fame is a shrine to hockey players worldwide. There have been notable exceptions along the way, but those have been since fixed. Some of the Russians who played behind the Iron Curtain of the Soviet regime have been recognized, but others still have not. It will take time to correct these glaring omissions. Omitting women from the HHOF is a crime against the sport itself, though, and it should be corrected sooner rather than later.

From Manon Rheaume suiting up for the Tampa Bay Lightning to the first Women's World Championship to the inclusion of the women's game at the Winter Olympics, the women have fought long and hard for their sport to be taken seriously, and Mr. Harrison's article goes about setting the women back 15 years.

"Oh my God, it's changed so much – sponsorships, uniforms, funding," says Page, Canadian team member from 1990-94, commenting on the evolution of women's hockey since 1990. "Then, it didn't matter. We were playing – we were just happy to be on the international stage."

The women are not trying to supplant the men's game in any way. As Miss Page said, the women were just happy to be playing in 1990. Now, the game has become bigger than any of those players may have imagined. TSN covers the women's game more than ever in Canada. The NCAA Frozen Four offers both a men's and women's championship. The World Hockey Championships offers both men's and women's tournaments. And the big party of them all, the Winter Olympics, has both a men's and women's ice hockey tournament.

It's time for the Hockey Hall of Fame to open its doors to the many great women out there who have grown the game at the grassroots, built the game up at every level on the way, and played the game at its highest level. Women are every bit as important to the growth of the game, both in the NHL and internationally, as men are. Yet, authors like Mr. Harrison continue to try and segregate the men's and women's games with articles like his and ideas of separate Halls of Fame.

If you're a hockey fan, speak out on this. I appreciate women's hockey for what makes it different than the men's game. Let's give all women - Canadian, American, Russian, Swedish, German, and whoever else dreams of making it to the Hockey Hall of Fame - a place they can be proud of in Toronto with the rest of the hockey gods, and not in some Western Canadian city.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday 29 July 2007

Clothes Make The Man

Since July is nearly over, and the next unveiling is not supposed to be until August 1, 2007 by the Vancouver Canucks (or so the retailers have been saying), today's entry is a review of all the possible and real jerseys that have been seen on this blog. In fact, I am going to rank them in reverse order of how I view them. Honestly, there have been some bad ones so far. There have been a few good ones too. The good, however, has been few and far between. At least the NHL made concessions and allowed the Original Six teams of the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers remain traditional. Someone is using their head at the NHL Head Offices. Surprisingly.

Here's my list. You may not agree, and that's alright. I'll justify as much as I can as to why the team is placed where they are on the list so you can gain some insight. Again, you may not agree, and that's ok. That makes us all fans, doesn't it? The Florida Panthers are also included after they unveiled their jerseys this weekend.

Alright, here we go. Here are the ten leaked and/or unveiled jerseys for the 2007-08 NHL season, sponsored not in any way by the Rbk Edge Hockey Uniform System.

10. The New York Islanders. I know the Barney Rubble Hairpieces started the New York trend of numbers on the front right of the jersey, but why copy it? And since the orange alternate jerseys that the Islanders wore made them look like pylons, it must be a good idea to reproduce that idea. Excuse my sarcasm. I'm glad these dark jerseys are worn at home. The fans of the Islanders should get the first crack at burning the Nassau Coliseum down if the Islanders truly wear these eyesores next season.

9. The Los Angeles Kings. The Kings went with a black home jersey rather than a purple one. The problem is that is looks ridiculously plain. It's far from being kingly at all. And why does the name "Los Angeles" float at the bottom of the jersey hem? Can they not add a stripe? Did Rbk Hockey not allow them? Who is calling the shots here? Just so the Kings didn't feel so plain at home, they decided to go just as plain on the road. Great job, Kings - zero improvement, and plainer than ever!

8. The Nashville Predators. Call it what you will - aprons, onesies, NBA jersey - the Predators' players look like they are at the wrong event. Personally, they look like aprons to me, but that's my take. The Predators added their city's name across the road jersey (as if you have no clue where they're from) and made the logo on the road jerseys smaller than on the home jerseys. Ryan Suter looks comfortable in his T-shirt-and-apron combo for the next Nashville block party. Oh, and the alternate logo has all but gone extinct on the jerseys, replaced by the skull logo on the shoulder. Is that called "evolution"? Disappointing, to say the least, about this entire jersey unveiling.

7. The Florida Panthers. If this is how all the new uniforms are going to look, I might just start following another sport. The new Florida Panthers jerseys also appear to be an apron over the chest of the players. However, what is with the cloak-like look of the sleeves? Are the players supposed to look like superheroes? The home jerseys would look fine without that stupid yellow piping down the front of them. The road jerseys, however, are entirely too white. I also hate those stupid elbow stripes. In case you missed the instructions on how to put these jerseys together, insert Tab A into Slot B to get a highlighted Reebok logo on the neckline. What purpose do the sleeve stripes and broken shoulder yokes serve? Did Nashville and Florida collaborate on their designs? I am highly disappointed in Florida's design, especially considering they needed a major overhaul. [Teebz - Huge thanks to the Panthers Daily Puck blog for their invaluable photos, and to Paul Lukas' Uni Watch blog for the back photo of the jersey]

6. The Washington Capitals. The Capitals went back to the future with their logo and jersey re-design. The re-design included combining the eagle logo and the Capitol Building logo of their former jerseys into this new eagle logo which will be worn on the sleeves of their new jerseys. The home jerseys are far too red for me, and could use some additional blue to break up some of that blinding red. The road jerseys are quite nice, though, and I have little problem with the Captials' road jersey being as white as it is. It's crisp and clean. The red needs to be toned down, though.

5. The Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins didn't change much on their new jerseys, except for adding more Vegas gold which shouldn't have been done, in my opinion. While more needs to be seen as to what may have been mangled on the front, the rear of the new Penguins jerseys are alright.

4. The Carolina Hurricanes. I'll admit it: I was a fan of the old Carolina Hurricanes jerseys. I like the combination of the red, black, white, and silver. The fact that the Hurricanes didn't change much on their jerseys received a thumbs-up from me.

3. The Columbus Blue Jackets. Gone are the insect logo and the CBJ logo, having been replaced with the alternate logo. They kept the military shoulder patch on these new uniforms as well. The Jackets didn't mess with their current font either, and that's good for everyone with an older jersey in their closets. The only complaint about these jerseys in the tiny hemline stripes, but these are solid otherwise. Simple, elegant, and gorgeous - not much more I can ask for.

2. The New York Rangers. The home jersey feels slightly incomplete. I think it's because there is no shoulder patch or colour around the collar, but it feels incomplete to me. The road jersey seems to be pretty good, but these jerseys definitely need to have a name and numbers on them. The Rangers opted to not include the NYR shield or the Lady Liberty logos on these jerseys, a harkening back to their traditional jersey days. Tradition, on this blog, gets high marks, as do these jerseys.

1. The Boston Bruins. The Bruins added a few small serifs to their old logo to give them a new look. The Bruins, in contrast to their new logo, went traditional with their new jersey design. The home jerseys look similar to their alternate jerseys last year, a look this writer loved from the moment they wore their alternates. The road jerseys followed the same traditional design, and this writer commends the Bruins for being ahead of the game on their design. The secondary logo of the Bruins has two looks: the home patch and the road patch. The road jersey can be seen here on Denis Reul, a 2007 Draft Pick. The home jersey can be seen here and here on Brandon Bochenski, as well as on 2007 Masterton Trophy winner Phil Kessel. The Bruins may not be able to win the Stanley Cup, but they get high marks from this writer for their upcoming fashion sense.

In conclusion, these rankings will change as more and more teams unveil their new looks. There are still 20 teams to do so, and with the Islanders, Penguins, Hurricanes, and Rangers unofficially being leaked, there may still be more changes to these rankings.

Until the next unveiling, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday 26 July 2007

A Very Low-Key New York

In keeping with the unveiling spirit, I thought that some of the more financially-sound teams would put on a pretty good show for their fans. If Columbus can hold a party, and they have yet to make the playoffs, I expect more from teams like Colorado and Toronto. I was going to throw the New York Rangers in that club too, but they have taken the fun out of the unveiling of their new duds by posting them on their website. This seems oddly un-Rangerish. Normally, the Rangers make a big splash by throwing around bags of money with little regard for anyone. Look at what they did with their free agency signings. So what the heck happened in this case? In retrospect, it appears that the Rangers pulled the images of their new jerseys off their site, so this would explain why there is no unveiling ceremony. In that case, we'll call this "a leak".

Glamour and money aside, the Rangers decided against having the shield logo and/or the Lady Liberty logo on their new jerseys. I like the shield logo, and it should still be used as their primary logo. The Lady Liberty logo was alright, but I wasn't a huge fan of it. Personally, the monument is a tribute to the United States of America, and not the face of New York City, but that's just me. It is a decent logo, but I don't see the St. Louis Blues using the Arch in their logo or the Toronto Maple Leafs using the CN Tower in their logo. Let monuments be monuments.

As for the jerseys, the home jersey looks much like it did last year. While I'd never rip a team for going traditional, the jersey feels incomplete to me. Maybe it's the absence of shoulder patches, but it just looks too bare. However, the traditional design of the Rangers, as well as the Bruins, will always receive a resounding thumbs-up from this writer.

The road jersey is a mirror image of the home jersey in its design. One thing that really bothers me on both these jerseys is the tapered bottom hem. It just looks dumb, especially with the striping across the bottom of the jersey where the traditional hemline would be. The other complaint is the fudging of the diagonal wordmark due to the stupid front panel on the Rbk Edge template. They don't have the same shoulder-to-hip diagonal feeling that the old Rangers' jerseys did.

The lace-up necklines will always receive a kudos from me. I am fond of it on the Bruins' new duds, and the same can be said for the Rangers' new jerseys.

All in all, these jerseys rank up there with the Bruins in that they are traditional-looking, have no ridiculous design elements, and are aesthetically-pleasing. Boston still has a slight edge in their retro look, but the Rangers aren't far behind. Good show from the Broadway Blueshirts!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday 25 July 2007

Music City Correspondant

This little blog entry is written to introduce you to a good friend named Sage Confucius. While Sage isn't her real name, it is her well-known name on the Uni Watch blog site, as well as being a regular commentor here. Sage has become my Music City Correspondant as she has just moved to Nashville, Tennessee. She also was at the Nashville Predators' jersey unveiling/BBQ party the other night, and has come back with some pretty solid photos. I'll post her captions with the appropriate photos, and make some comments of my own. All in all, I am very glad to have Sage onboard as a correspondant, and look forward to her contributions as always. And yes, those are her legs standing over Jordin Tootoo's skates and a Kimmo Timonen stick which she bought at the used equipment sale. Good purchases, if you ask me.

"They were trying to get as many people onto the floor as possible. It was very difficult to get good pictures so I eventually moved up to about the 6th row." Teebz - probably a good idea. I'm not big on mosh pits, but it looks like the Predators are. You'd think, in keeping with being a fan-friendly event, that you'd provide some quality seating for the fans in attendance. But, hey, what do I know?

"These are the people they had on stage. The only ones I know for certain are are the two on the far right. They are Phil Bredesen, the Governor of Tennessee, and his wife, Andrea Conte. They apparently were instrumental in getting the Predators to Nashville and have been season ticket holders each year. Having lived here only for 6 months, I have very little knowledge about anything political. Also note the chick in the pink jersey. ARGH!" Teebz - I don't know who any of those people are, but that pink jersey has got to go. The guy beside her in last season's Predators jersey looks sharp. The girl in the pink looks stupid. As for Mr. Bredesen and Ms. Conte, good on them for being season ticket holders. If they cannot attend games due to obligations, I'd hope they would donate those tickets to an appropriate charity for usage by those who may not be able to afford the same luxuries.

"The parking lot for the Sommet Center is in the back, so I had to walk around the entire building to get in. As I turned the last corner I saw this. I found a big cat butt sticking up in the air to be amusing." Teebz - I fail to understand why a cat's butt would be a draw for any fan. Who came up with this idea? Is this someone's idea of telling us that the Predators are the cat's ass?

"Before I even got to the entrance I came across this. Don't people
care what colors their team actually wears?"
Teebz - pink jerseys are the most hideous way to support a team. It is actually nauseating. If I were a player and saw a girl wearing a pink jersey, I don't care how hot she is, I'd jersey her and lay a few Inglewood Jacks on her. And you can quote me on that.

"I'm certain this was staged, but it still made for a bit of fun." Teebz - the comma in the above sentence separates the two different photos. I suppose the Predators can poke a little fun at the Red Wings. Why? I'm not sure, actually. The Red Wings have made winning their lifestyle, and you'd think that the Predators would want to emulate that tradition. In any case, a pie to the face never hurt anyone.

"This is a display of gold pucks that listed the names and years of initial purchase of season ticket holders. There were a lot of these displays throughout the concourse." Teebz - a nice display of the people who have kept the Predators somewhat afloat so far. Season ticket holders are the life-blood of NHL teams, and I'm glad to see teams honouring those who put their hard-earned dollars into this kind of entertainment.

"The front of the Sommet Center with an inflatable hockey guy." Teebz - just like last season's Predators: soft, easy to push off their feet, and far too full of hot air. Or is that just Jim Balsillie?

"This is the view of the floor from the seats I found. I was able to get much better pictures of the stage from this aspect." Teebz - the photos of the jerseys are next from this seat location!

"Fiddler was looking a bit bored about halfway through." Teebz - does he have somewhere better to be? If I were David Poile, I'd be a little steamed at his laisser-faire attitude at this event. And what the heck is Legwand doing with his face?

"The boys waiting for something to happen. This is the best view of the side panels I was able to get. I was never able to get a shot of the left side though." Teebz - I guess Fiddler noticed Gnash up in the rafters. Great job at staying focussed, Fiddler. Perhaps you could listen to the person doing the speech? Bring that kind of intensity to the ice next season, and you'll get great seats in the press box.

"Legwand was looking up at Gnash. He must have sat up there on the rafter for a good 20 minutes before he actually rappelled." Teebz - I'm guessing the guys on stage were discussing which restaurant they were heading to after the event.

"Fiddler looks like he's about to yawn and the other two just look bored. Next time they need to hold the rally on a golf course so the boys will have something to amuse themselves with." Teebz - if I were a Predators fan, I'd be highly unimpressed with Fiddler right now. I don't expect the guy to be jacked up for an event like this, but the least he could do is crack a smile once in a while.

"Gnash has apparently been doing some rappelling this summer and decided to show off for the crowd. Personally, I was hoping for a bungee jump." Teebz - any sort of aerial/trapeze show to take the spotlight off Fiddler should be seen as a positive.

"This is not the best shot obviously, but it's the only one I got of the back of the jerseys. As you can see, the fonts have not changed." Teebz - it's better than nothing. I had yet to see the font being used, but now we know it's the same as last season's font.

So there you have it. A quality picture gallery from the Music City Correspondant, Sage Confucius. If any of you want to be correspondants of this blog, feel free to drop me a comment or an email. If you live in an NHL city where there is going to be an unveiling, please contact me. I certainly would appreciate you going and taking some photos, much like Sage did at the Sommet Center.

Thanks again for all your hard work, Sage, and your pictures are great!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday 24 July 2007

New And Improved?

I have been critical of teams who have undergone changes to their jerseys. I have been critical of teams who change things just to make themselves "better". I've been critical of teams who have renamed themselves or changed their logos. I hate to say this, but here we go again. The San Jose Sharks, in designing their new Rbk Edge uniforms, decided that they needed to "update" their logos. I'm not against a minor tweak or a small change on a logo to modernize it. However, the Sharks have introduced a new colour into their colour scheme, and three-dimensionalized their famous shark logo.

Initially, I had no problem with the update of this logo. However, the more I think about it, the more I realize that the Sharks' brand is being re-designed as an entity.

According to the Sharks' press release, "[t]he new San Jose Sharks Primary Crest, joined by eight supporting marks, is both a re-imagination and a tribute to the original triangle logo used since the team’s inception in 1991. The updated crest incorporates more Pacific Teal, the primary color of the Sharks, and emphasizes speed, strength and determination. [Terry] Smith, the designer of the original Sharks logo, created the new marks over an 18-month period in conjunction with Sharks players and front office.

"The debut of the re-designed, more intimidating logo coincides with the launch of the new Rbk EDGE Uniform System, which the NHL has made the League standard beginning in the 2007-08 season. The Sharks new sweater will be unveiled in September."

So what changes were made?

The primary logo changed from this to this.

The alternate fin logo changed from this to this.

The original San Jose Sharks logo and wordmarks went from this to this.

The Sharks' wordmarks went from this and this to this, this, this, this, and this.

They also introduced a shield logo, a full logo, and the Shark minus the triangle.

My thoughts? I liked the old logo. Despite its obvious simplicity, there was something endearing about it. The "re-designed, more intimidating logo" is alright, but I'm not completely sold on it. If it is the bee's knees for the Sharks' franchise, why didn't they introduce this one in 1991 instead of the old logo? Did it take them 17 years to come up with this idea? And why are they introducing burnt orange into their colour scheme?

As of right now, I'm not sold. I want to see the new jerseys with the "the re-designed, more intimidating logo" on it. Perhaps it will look better then, but I have my doubts at this point.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday 19 July 2007

Shame Is Spelled "Predators"

I missed the unveiling of the Nashville Predators' new uniforms tonight. I'll be completely honest: they were one of the teams that needed their third jerseys scrapped, and I was relieved that they didn't keep it. They had decent home and road jerseys before the Rbk Edge Hockey Uniform System was announced, and from what was shown in Boston, Columbus, and Washington, there was a reason to believe that the Predators could come up with a sharp jersey in the new system. However, there was also the possibility that they would pull off a jersey travesty like the Los Angeles Kings or New York Islanders have designed. In any case, I hoped for better, especially since the Predators need fan support now more than ever.

Instead, the Predators decided to make a few amateur mistakes on these new jerseys. And they are highly noticeable in their poor design.

First off, that damned NHL logo is distracting in the middle of a player's chest. I honestly think we all know that NHL players wear NHL jerseys, so why is the league putting their logo in the middle of the jersey? The team's logo is meant to be the focal point of the jersey, not the NHL shield. This needs to be tweaked sooner than later. While this is no fault of the Predators, someone needs to buck the trend.

Secondly, the yellow piping that runs down the sides of the jersey make it look like the player is wearing an apron, especially on the white road jersey. Are they heading to a backyard BBQ party after the game? Why would someone design a hockey jersey like that? They used to have that mustard-coloured jersey. Now, it appears they just want to catch the mustard stains from the hotdogs served in the stands.

Thirdly, what's the deal with the "Nashville" emblazoned across the chest of the players on the road jersey? If they get lost, is that to help someone get them home? That name across their chest is amateurish... even more so when you consider the logo is smaller on the road jerseys than on the home jerseys.

Hey, everyone, here comes defenseman Ryan Suter in his new Nashville Predators T-shirt. Wait, is that a T-shirt? It sure looks like one. Hockey jerseys were designed, historically, to look like sweaters. I know Nashville is warm, but why do the jerseys look like T-shirts? Worse yet, why does it look like Suter is the cook at a BBQ? He has his T-shirt on under his apron, and is ready for a pina colada.

All in all, these jerseys could have been better. The shoulder logo is the skull version of the Predators' logo. Why did they do away with the alternate logo? Has it been rendered extinct?

So many questions, so little time. I had high hopes for the Predators. Their old jerseys were good, and needed little in the way of improvement. The Predators have now taken steps back in their evolution.

Also leaked yesterday were possible Pittsburgh Penguins jerseys. The home jersey and road jersey have far too much gold on them. They aren't bad, but they aren't that great either. Only time will tell if these are the real things, but they sure look like it.

All in all, the Predators didn't do themselves any favors with these new uniforms. Hopefully, people from the NHL are reading these analyses and listening. If they aren't, we still have 24 teams to officially show off their new monstrosities. At this moment, Boston's retro look is still, by far, the best of the new jerseys.

Until the next unveiling, which should be the Sharks, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday 18 July 2007

Life After Hockey

As much as I am of fan of NHL stars of yesterday, sometimes it just makes sense to retire. I was a huge fan of Al MacInnes and his booming slapshot. He always represented Team Canada to the best of his abilities, and will always be remembered as a Hall of Fame defenseman during his time in the NHL. However, Al MacInnis did retire after an eye injury in 2003-04. Injuries play a large part in determining an athlete's retirement, especially in hockey where the vicious hits and constant contact force a player to play through pain in almost all situations.

There have been other star players who have been forced from the game by injuries. Bobby Orr, Pat Lafontaine, Steve Yzerman, and Pavel Bure are a few notable names who have chosen retirement over another, possibly more damaging, injury late in their careers. And, if they were smart, we should add Jeremy Roenick's name and Eric Lindros' name to that list as well.

Eric Lindros is a strange case. His injury situation has been well-documented. Lindros has suffered nine official concussions, and missed the entire 2000-01 season due to health concerns. Unofficially, Lindros has probably suffered many more concussions. He suffered a groin injury with the Dallas Stars last season, limiting him to 49 games and 26 points, five of which were goals. Two seasons ago, a wrist injury forced him to watch from the press box while employed by the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Lindros isn't a young man any longer. The 34 year-old is an unrestricted free agent this off-season, but the offers have been few and far between. Between injuries and contract demands, Lindros isn't getting the attention he once got on the open market. This might be an indication that Lindros' time in the NHL has passed him by.

Is he ready to retire though?

"Right now my focus is the [NHL]PA work," Lindros told The Canadian Press on Wednesday. "I'm not really concerned about the rest of it. But the last couple of years have been pretty frustrating in terms of not getting through without being injury-free. It's just frustrating."

"I've got an idea of what I'm going to do and I've had that idea ever since the last game of the playoffs," Lindros said. "But right now is about focusing on the 'PA."

Indeed, it would be frustrating. Injuries are always a concern, but when a star player can't shake the injury bug, it can start to eat away at a player. Lindros' head, groin and wrist haven't been the only source of his injuries. He suffered a collapsed lung as well.

During an April 1, 1999 game against the Nashville Predators in Nashville, Lindros suffered what was diagnosed as a rib injury. Later that night, Keith Jones found Lindros lying in his hotel room's bathroom tub, pale and cold. In a call to the Flyers, the Flyers' trainer was told to put Lindros on a plane that was returning to Philadelphia with injured teammate Mark Recchi. Jones insisted that Lindros be taken to a nearby hospital as a precaution. It was discovered Lindros had a collapsed lung caused by internal bleeding of his chest wall.

How much more damage can Lindros' body sustain before something worse happens?

Toronto Maple Leafs' defenseman Hal Gill offered this thought, and it's one that might be sitting with Lindros right now.

"I would imagine hockey is such a big part of his life he can't quit," Gill said. "I assume he is like the other guys in that he likes being around the game and the rink and he loves being involved in the game. When you are weighing your life versus playing hockey, it is tough to take hockey out of your life and I imagine that is what he is going through."

While it's no surprise that Lindros is still involved with the NHLPA, it becomes a concern to all if Lindros were to suffer another concussion. His brother, Brett Lindros, played a total of 51 NHL games over two seasons before being forced to retire from the game after suffering a series of concussions and post-concussion syndrome. Eric Lindros has already had post-concussion symptoms, and this has to be a health concern.

Eric should talk to Keith Primeau, his former teammate in Philadelphia, about lingering concussion symptoms. On September 13, 2006, Primeau retired from the NHL, 30 months after suffering a concussion against the Montreal Canadiens.

"This decision will allow me to live a normal life," Primeau read from a prepared statement, emphasizing he would not change his mind. "There's finality to it for everybody."

Flyers' team physician Gary Dorshimer indicated the Primeau was still suffering post-concussion symptoms.

"Although he's been able to do more, he really hasn't been able to eliminate all of his symptoms," Dorshimer said. "He still having these symptoms and I can't clear him to go back to full activity."

Jeremy Roenick is in the same boat as Eric Lindros. The outspoken American has had a number of documented concussions and injuries. However, Roenick's agent, Neil Abbott, is quoted in The Hockey News as saying Roenick is still weighing his choices.

According to Abbott, Roenick "is considering all of his options, including retirement, (but) has made no final decision."

These two former Philadelphia Flyers, in this writer's opinion, should look at hanging up the skates. While it has been noted that Roenick is five goals short of 500 for his career, his retirement at this point would not take anything away from his 495 goals. Both men have had good careers. Both men have led their respective teams to the Stanley Cup Finals. Both men have accolades to their names.

While it would be nice to go out on top like Ray Bourque did, these men need to put their lives ahead of their livelihood. Hockey will always have a place for them whether it be in the NHLPA, the broadcast booth, or the front office of a team. Neither of them deserve another injury, nor do they need to prove anything further in the game.

Enjoy your retirement, Mr. Lindros and Mr. Roenick. I may have booed you on occasion, but there was never any hostility towards you as a person.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday 15 July 2007

Stanley Cup Jinx

It's tough to judge where the Carolina Hurricanes went wrong last season. They had just come off their first Stanley Cup victory over the Edmonton Oilers in 2005-06, but they missed the playoffs. They were the first team to do that since the New Jersey Devils in 1996. They boasted the best defensive forward in Rod Brind'Amour, yet they struggled at keeping the puck out of the net. What went wrong in the Hurricanes' title defence?

The Hurricanes posted a record of 40-34-3-5 last season, and ended up third in the Southeast Division. Their 88 points was four points shy of making the playoffs last season. They had a respectable 241 goals-for, but struggled with 253 goals-against. All in all, they challenged for a playoff spot all season long, but came up short in the end.

In terms of goaltending, Cam Ward wasn't as good as he was in the 2005-06 playoffs, but he provided decent goaltending in posting a 30-21-6 record with a 2.93 GAA, a .897 save precentage, and two shutouts. Where they struggled down was with their backup goaltending in John Grahame. Grahame posted a 10-13-2 record with a 2.85 GAA and a .897 save percentage. While he statistically was better than Ward, it appeared that the team in front of him didn't respond to Grahame's goaltending. The Hurricanes can't ask much more from Grahame, but do need Ward to perform a little better as the top goalie in Carolina if they expect to make the playoffs. Michael Leighton, whom they acquired at the draft from Montreal, is expected to start the season in Albany in the AHL.

Defensively, the Hurricanes didn't get much production out of their top six, and this is a problem in the new NHL. Mike Commodore was the top scoring defenseman last season, posting seven goals and 22 assists for 29 points in 82 games. Tim Gleason, Andrew Hutchinson, Glen Wesley, Bret Hedican, Niclas Wallin, and Frantisek Kaberle should be their top seven defenseman, but should more time from Dennis Seidenberg with injuries playing a part on the Hurricanes' blueline. Disgruntled defenseman Anton Babchuk is bring used as trade bait, and will most likely not be in a Hurricanes' uniform this season. Wallin, who is earning far more than what he's worth, is also bring used as trade bait at this point.

Offensively, the Hurricanes got excellent production from forwards Ray Whitney, Rod Brind'Amour, Eric Staal, Justin Williams, Erik Cole, and Scott Walker who all scored over 21 goals and 30 assists, but there was a significant drop-off after Walker's production. Chad Larose, Cory Stillman, Andrew Ladd, Craig Adams, and Josef Vasicek scored less than 27 points each. The only guy who had an excuse was Stillman as he spent most of the season watching from the press box with an injury. If you can't get any production from your third and fourth lines, you won't get very far.

Josef Vasicek was a strange acquisition made by GM Jim Rutherford. He was drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes 91st overall in 1998 Entry Draft. He played parts of five seasons with the Hurricanes before being traded to the Nashville Predators for Scott Walker on July 18, 2006. He was reacquired on February 9, 2007 for Eric Belanger.

It was this last trade that was questionable. Several teams were interested in a depth guy like Belanger at the trade deadline. Belanger was known for winning faceoffs, and he provided some scoring punch for the third line as he had recorded eight goals and 12 assists in 56 games for the Hurricanes. Vasicek, at the time of the trade, had four goals and nine assists in 38 games for the Predators. Rutherford liked his size, but it appears that Vasicek will not be in the Hurricanes' plans any time soon.

"We'd like to try to make a change at center, either by trade or through free agency," Rutherford said, in regards to his third-line centreman position. "Obviously, with a trade you'd have to give something up, so free agency may be the way to go."

The Hurricanes did make a change, signing Jeff Hamilton to a two-year, $1.6 million contract, essentially ending Vasicek's stay in Carolina. Hamilton is definitely a better economical fit for the Hurricanes, but Rutherford isn't against upgrading still.

"Jeff Hamilton will go there if we don't, which will give us more offense," Rutherford said, referring to the third-line centre position. "But at the same time, his role is he can play all forward positions, jumping up and playing the point on the power play. I'd still like to add one more forward, a third-line center."

My only question to Rutherford is: why trade away an excellent third-line centreman for a guy you had no intention of re-signing?

In any case, Hamilton will be the starting third-line centreman at this point, and he should help with the shootout where the Hurricanes were brutal last season. The Hurricanes went 0-for-5 in shootouts last season, and Hamilton's AHL experience will certainly help there. Andrew Ladd will be called upon for more offence this season, and Trevor Letowski will have to prove he's more than a role player to hold a spot all season. The re-signing of Ryan Bayda gets high marks from this writer as Bayda is the kind of hustle guy that every GM loves, and every fan loves to watch. He needs more experience, but he makes up for any inexperience with effort and drive. Wade Brookbank was signed as a free agent this off-season to provide some toughness, and Brookbank can play both the wing or defence, giving Peter Laviolette a little more versatility with his line-up.

Can the Hurricanes make the playoffs? My answer is yes. Getting Cory Stillman back for a whole season will help immensely in terms of offensive production. Stillman is lethal on the powerplay as well, and that only bodes well for the Hurricanes.

The Hurricanes do need John Grahame to give consistent back-up goaltending when called upon. If he could have turned a few of those losses into wins last season, the Hurricanes would have been playing in the playoffs. Grahame, in his defence, needs to have his team show up when he allows less than three goals per game. If the Hurricanes can't score three or more goals when Grahame is in between the pipes, they will have a hard time winning. Grahame did his job last year - now, the other 20 guys need to do theirs.

The playoffs are definitely within Carolina's reach. Injuries are a part of the game, and the farm team in Albany will have to be up to the task if this team is to make the playoffs. However, if things work out right for the Hurricanes this season, there's no reason why the Hurricanes can't make the playoffs, or even challenge for the division title.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday 12 July 2007

Not Quite Royalty Yet

It was once upon a time in a magical land far, far away that Hollywood starlets and overachieving B-listers would flock to an arena to see players like Wayne Gretzky, Luc Robitaille, Tomas Sandstrom, Paul Coffey and Kelly Hrudey take to the ice. Gone are those days as the Los Angeles Kings have been in a rebuilding holding pattern since the mid-1990s. The Kings have found themselves signing older players for ridiculous contracts with little return for quite some time. However, some shrewd drafting has started to turn the Kings from a laughing stock to a franchise with huge potential. How far can the Kings go this year? Are they playoff bound? These questions will be answered below.

The Los Angeles Kings have had, in the last 15 years, a number of starting goaltenders. The names aren't very impressive in terms of who has stood between the pipes. Picked up off the scrap heaps of other teams were Kelly Hrudey, Byron Dafoe, Stephane Fiset, Jamie Storr, Felix Potvin, Roman Cechmanek, Dan Cloutier, and Mathieu Garon. They ended last season with Sean Burke in the net, and he didn't provide solid goaltending either. Over that 15 years, the Kings have given up on Cristobal Huet and Manny Legace, both who are now starters for Montreal and St. Louis, respectively, and very good goaltenders. Goaltending will continue to be a problem this season as the Kings will open training camp with Dan Cloutier, Jason LaBarbara, and Sean Burke, if he re-signs, vying for the starting role.

As bleak as this goaltending situation may sound, the numbers for Burke and Cloutier last season were worse. Burke posted a 6-10-5 record with a 3.12 GAA, a .901 save percentage, and one shutout. Comparatively, Cloutier was an abysmal 6-14-2 with a 3.98 GAA and a .860 save percentage. LaBarbara didn't play in an NHL game last season, but went 11-9-2 in 2005-06 with a 2.89 GAA, a .900 save percentage, and one shutout. My gut instinct says to sign and let Burke start, have LaBarbara back him up, and put Cloutier on the waiver wire. Cloutier probably shouldn't be in the NHL any longer. That's just this writer's opinion, though.

Jonathan Bernier, Erik Ersberg, Daniel Taylor, and Jonathan Quick should be allowed to develop their games in Manchester of the AHL or in the ECHL.

The Kings' record last season was a good reflection on their problem stopping the puck. The Kings posted a 27-41-8-6 record with 227 goals-for versus 283 goals-against. While the Kings got excellent production from a few youngsters, increased scoring was on the docket for general manager Dean Lombardi while trying to shore up the defensive situation through free agency. Lombardi has made strides to bring excellence back to Los Angeles, but it may not yet be enough to make the playoffs.

The Kings have a defensive stud in 37 year-old Rob Blake. Blake scored 14 goals and 20 assists in 72 games last season, but was integral on the defensive side of the puck as well. Blake plays in all situations, and is the leader of the young Kings' team. Lubomir Visnovsky was rewarded with a new five-year contract extension a few days ago after posting his best season. Visnovsky finished fourth in Kings' scoring with 18 goals and 40 assists over 69 games. The 30 year-old appeared in his first All-Star Game, and will be expected to continue to produce offensively while being defensively responsible in his own end. 36 year-old Jaroslav Modry is expected to add some spark to the powerplay in Los Angeles. Acquired by the Kings from the Dallas Stars in the Mattias Norstrom trade at the Trade Deadline last season, Modry put up eight assists in 19 games. More importantly, Modry plays well in his own end, and will be another threat from the blueline.

Dean Lombardi made more noise by adding Brad Stuart and Tom Preissing this off-season, and both are expected to help.

Stuart was drafted by Lombardi in 1998 while Lombardi was the GM of the San Jose Sharks. Stuart struggled in Boston last season, posting a brutal -22 plus/minus rating over 48 games. Stuart improved after he was traded to Calgary, and Lombardi knows Stuart can be better after watching him in San Jose. Stuart will be expected to be better defensively, but will not have to be the "go-to" guy in Los Angeles with the likes of Blake, Visnovsky, and Modry already playing on the powerplay.

Preissing was underutilized in Ottawa, and will get a chance to shine in LA. The 28 year-old showed that with increased ice-time comes increased production from the smooth-skating Minnesotan. He scored 38 points for the Senators last season while posting an impressive +40 rating, showing that his defensive game does not suffer while scoring points. His +40 rating was as good as four-time Norris Trophy winner Niklas Lidstrom last season, which speaks volumes about how good Preissing can be defensively. That will go a long way in Los Angeles.

Their sixth defenseman comes in the form of 20 year-old blue-chipper Jack Johnson. The big American figures to be a fixture on the Kings' blueline for a long time, and should be a quality replacement for Rob Blake when he decides to retire. Having Blake, Visnovsky, Modry, Stuart, and Preissing around him, Johnson should be able to adapt to the NHL game without a ton of pressure on him to be the next star in Tinseltown. Jamie Heward should round out the defensemen as LA's seventh man, but Oleg Tverdovsky could challenge for a roster spot after having a great season in Manchester after being demoted last season. Mike Weaver is also looking for a spot.

2007 first-round draft pick Thomas Hickey is probably three to four seasons of AHL action away from joining the Kings.

Up front, the Kings boast some of the best young talent in the game. Mike Cammalleri, Alexander Frolov, and Anze Kopitar provided a ton of highlights last season for Kings' fans. Kopitar showed off his skills at the Young Guns Game at last season's All-Star Game, and looks to be at the same level of exciting play as Ovechkin and Crosby. It is expected that these three young stars will carry the Kings for some time.

Joining the Kings up front through free agency are Kyle Calder, Michal Handzus, and Ladislav Nagy. Handzus is probably the best signing of the three free agents, but all should bring intangibles to the table.

Handzus is one of the more underrated players in the NHL. Handzus wins faceoffs, scores goals, sets up other players, and does it all quietly. He doesn't put up huge numbers, but will provide Kopitar and Frolov will a competent centreman who can get either player the puck.

Calder will bring size and grittiness to the Kings. The winger is a good compliment to the flashiness of Kopitar and Frolov, and provides the Kings with another power forward alongside Cammalleri. The Kings will expect more scoring out of Calder than what he's turned in over the past few seasons.

Nagy is more of a project at this point. He showed flashes of brilliance with Phoenix over the past few seasons as he led the Coyotes in scoring. However, his trade to Dallas last season exposed his lack of any sort of defensive responsibility. The Kings need his scoring touch, but also require him to back-check more often than he's known for. If Nagy can develop some sort of defensive game under coach Marc Crawford, he could be the break-out story of the 2007-08 season.

As a supporting cast, the Kings boast Patrick O'Sullivan, Jamie Lundmark, and Raitis Ivanans for scoring. Dustin Brown, Derek Armstrong, and Scott Thornton should be playing for the Kings next season as well after solid campaigns this past season. Brian Willsie, Marty Murray, Lauri Tukonen and Shay Stephenson should fill the remaining spots if training camp goes well.

All in all, the Kings have certainly improved their team from a year ago through free agency and trades. While the goaltending situation remains the biggest hole - and we're talking a Grand Canyon-sized hole - the Los Angeles Kings have taken steps forward. While the playoffs at this point are a pipe dream this season, if GM Dean Lombardi can pull off another magical trade for a solid goaltender, the playoffs could become a reality. The Kings have solid scoring, a decent defensive group, and a solid farm squad.

The reality of the situation is that the Kings are probably two to three years from being a solid playoff team, depending on their goaltending situation. Like the Blue Jackets, the Kings have a solid young nucleus of talent. They are just missing a few key pieces before they start taking steps towards realizing their potential.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday 11 July 2007

Agent Is Code For Comedian

I understand the job that a player's agent is supposed to be. He is supposed to represent the player's best interests in the negotiation of a contract with a team. Essentially, he is the stand-in for the player so the player can focus on more important things like the game, his talent level, promotional events, charity dinners and other similar things. It comes across as overly hilarious when an agent is blind to the downfalls of his client. In particular, I am wondering if Mark Gandler, pictured to the left, has ever seen Alexei Yashin, his client, play a game in the NHL.

According to Gandler, the contract offers rolling in for Alexei Yashin are "disappointing".

"We are still talking to some teams. So far the offers we have received we are not happy with," Gandler said in an interview with CKNW Radio in Vancouver. "If we are not going to get what we are looking for than he (Yashin) will definitely go to Russia."

Is that some sort of threat? He'll "definitely go to Russia"? All of the GMs that have tabled an offer to Alexei Yashin should be told to pull their offers. Let Yashin go back to Russia and play out the rest of his career there. All he did here was rob owners of money here in North America.

Gandler went on to qualify his statement, although this is where the comedy real starts to take form.

"I think that what's making an impression on the teams is the fact that he received this huge buyout," Gandler commented. "I don't know what else is weighing on them."

Gandler added that he was looking to get near market value for Yashin and wouldn't take a fraction of the market value salary just because Yashin was bought out by the New York Islanders.

I don't think I've heard a funnier line yet in this off-season. Since being traded by the Ottawa Senators to the New York Islanders in the 2001-02 season, Yashin has (1) not scored more than 32 goals in one season, (2) not scored more than 75 points in one season , (3) not led the Islanders out of the first round of the playoffs in any season, and (4) pocketed $70 million of Charles Wang's money for 119 goals and 171 assists in 346 games.

If I'm Mark Gandler, I might just be the greatest used car salesman that has ever walked the Earth if a general manager signs Yashin for his "market value". Right now, if I were a GM, I'd say his market value is that of a decent second-line player. And that's only when Yashin is motivated.

The guy sleepwalks through seasons at a time. He disappears altogether when the game is on the line. In 48 career playoff games, he's scored 11 goals and chalked up 16 assists. Those are not the gaudy totals of a Joe Sakic, Mario Lemieux, or Wayne Gretzky. Hell, at this point, John Druce has more career playoff goals in one playoff year than Yashin does in his entire career.

Here's some more market value. In two playoff seasons, 1998-99 and 2006-07, he went scoreless. In two other playoff seasons, 2000-01 and 2003-04, he scored a whopping total of one point in each playoff year. Ironically, his best playoff year statistically came in 2004-05 when he played for Yaroslavl Lokomotiv in Russia where he posted ten points in nine games. He has not scored ten points in any playoff year in the NHL to date.

Mark Gandler is living in a fantasy world if he thinks he's going to get any more than $3 million per season for Yashin. Unless Yashin can prove that his laisser-faire demeanor and magic act of turning invisible are gone, he's a waste of a roster spot in the NHL. In fact, at this point in his career, he's a waste of a roster spot in the AHL.

Honestly, good riddance to bad rubbish. Let Yashin go home. He hasn't done anything of note in North America except bitch, whine and moan. And, quite frankly, I'm tired of listening to a guy who has stolen $100 million dollars in his career bitch and whine and moan about not being paid enough.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday 9 July 2007

Playoffs Are A Reality

The Colorado Avalanche battled to the last week of the NHL season this past year before not making the playoffs. Their run at the end of the season showed exactly how good this team can be when properly motivated. However, it turned out to be too little, too late for the team with the best record to miss the playoffs. Avalanche general manager Fran├žois Giguere responded this off-season by making a few major additions which should certainly help the Avalanche in making the playoffs this season, barring injuries to their key players. This is one team that is certainly on the rise again.

The Avalanche missed the playoffs last season by one point. Their record of 44-31-3-4 gave them a respectable total of 95 points, but it wasn't enough in the ultra-competitve Western Conference. They had a solid goals-for total with 272, good for a tie for fourth-most goals in the NHL. They were only behind the Barney Rubble Hairpieces, the Ottawa Senators, and the Pittsburgh Penguins in scoring, and tied the Nashville Predators. Scoring wasn't a problem last season.

Keeping the puck out of the net was the problem. Colorado finished in 18th for goals-against last season. The Columbus Blue Jackets were a better team at keeping the puck out of the net than Colorado, and that's surprising considering the talent on the blueline that the Avalanche has. The Avalanche had no true defensive stopper last season that they could rely on, and they made changes to that this off-season already.

In terms of goaltending, Peter Budaj appears to have a lock on the starting position. Budaj posted a 31-16-6 record in 57 games last season with a 2.68 GAA, a .905 save percentage, and three shutouts. Those are very good numbers for the 24 year-old, and there's no reason to believe he won't get better this season as he gains more experience.

The problem is his backup or, rather, the lack thereof a backup. Jose Theodore has been a lost cause since Montreal dumped him on the Avalanche's doorstep, and he seems to be more interested in extracurricular activities than hockey. His record of 13-15-1 with a 3.26 GAA, a .891 save percentage, and no shutouts is not worth $6 million. And it appears that Mr. Theodore is content with just rotting on the bench while he pockets his money. If I am Mr. Giguere, I'd follow the New York Islanders' lead and buy out Theodore much like the Islanders did with Alexei Yashin. Sure, you take a hit on the salary cap, but you also free up money that can be more effective used elsewhere... like finding a cost-effective backup goalie who can actually post a winning record.

Defensively, the Avalanche were a bit of a project last year. John-Michael Liles continued his strong offensive play posting 14 goals and 30 assists in 71 games. Brett Clark was a surprise as he played all 82 games and posted 10 goals and 29 assists. After that, Ken Klee wasn't re-signed this off-season, and Patrice Brisebois was shown the door for good reason. Karlis Skrastins is solid defensively, and is a good trooper in the trenches. Ossi Vaananen was not re-signed as of yet, but shouldn't be a concern with the return of Jordan Leopold and Kurt Sauer. 27 year-old Jeff Finger has a chance to crack the lineup this season as the seventh man.

The big signing on defence for the Avalanche was Scott Hannan. Hannan only posted four goals and 20 assists, but he played 79 games last season for the San Jose Sharks, most of that against the top line of the opposing team. The 28 year-old was the best defensive player on the free agent market this season, and Giguere wasted little time in getting him signed to be a member of the Avalanche for the next four years at $18 million.

If the Avalanche opened the season today, they'd be starting with Liles, Clark, Hannan, Skrastins, Leopold, and Sauer as their everyday six defensemen. That group has enough talent to compete every night, and they will be offensively involved as much as possible. Coach Joel Quenneville will stress better defensive responsibility this year, and, with Hannan back there, the total goals-against should be lower than last season. The only concern is a long-term injury to Liles or Hannan. If either of those players falls to injury for an extended period of time, the defense becomes a bigger concern with no considerable replacement on the horizon. Finger can step in, but he certainly could use more experience.

Up front, the Avalanche boast some talent. Joe Sakic is back, and he'll have a plethora of veteran leadership to help. Andrew Brunette and Milan Hejduk all are returning, and that will help bolster that effective scoring group. Not to be forgotten are the contributions of Paul Stastny, Wojtek Wolski, and Marek Svatos. Svatos had a little bit of a sophomore slump last season, but there is more scoring help to go around which should help Svatos rediscover his form. The Avalanche re-signed winger Tyler Arnason, and need increased scoring production from the veteran as well.

The big signing up front came in the form of former Edmonton Oiler and New York Islander Ryan Smyth. Smyth will provide leadership and a presence in front of the net that the Avalanche have been sorely missing. Brunette filled the role for a short time last season, but took a beating from larger defensemen. Smyth has been doing it all his career, and could have a career season if all things go well. Dear Lord Stanley has questioned the amount of money thrown at Smyth when looking at his career point totals, and he certainly makes a valid point. However, when comparing Smyth to similar players, Tomas Holmstrom would be his closest rival. Ask any Red Wings fan if Holmstrom is worth every penny, and I would guess you would hear a resounding "yes". Smyth is the same type of player. He does the dirty work, he goes hard to the net, he takes a beating, but he keeps coming back for more. The Avalanche can use that kind of grittiness in the Western Conference.

The only question is where will the Avalanche finish in their division and their conference? They should be near the top in their division. Vancouver poses their biggest threat, but the Canucks have done in the wy of upgrading like the Avalanche have. Calgary and Minnesota will be standing in the Avalanche's way as well, but neither has added vital pieces of the puzzle to keep up. Personally, the Avalanche will compete for the division title next season.

In their conference, I don't see the Avalanche being as strong as the Anaheim Ducks at this point. They will be able to compete with the Red Wings, and will challenge for the second seed in the conference. Where they may fall short is the competition within their own division. The Red Wings have a fairly uncompetitive division and should be able to beat up on teams such as Columbus, St. Louis, Chicago, and Nashville. The Avalanche will not have the same luxury with Minnesota, Vancouver, and Calgary all looking for the division title.

In any case, the Colorado Avalanche, on paper, are a playoff team once again in this writer's eyes. Their defensive group is solid, their forwards can skate and score, and their starting goaltender is reliable and fundamentally sound. The only thing I can see that will derail this team from a playoff spot will be injuries. Age catches up quickly to players over an 82-game schedule, and the Avalanche's stars are starting to head towards the twilight of their careers. If all goes well, though, this is a team that should shake up the Western Conference.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday 7 July 2007

Eight Things

Sarah decided to tag me. While I feel compelled not to play along since this blog focusses exclusively on hockey-related matters, I realize that I rarely let anyone see who the writer is. Why? I like my privacy, and I like being objective without any prejudices being placed upon me. But since Sarah tagged me so nicely, here are my eight things I should confess.

"1. All right, here are the rules.
2. We have to post these rules before we give you the facts.
3. Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
4. People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
5. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.

Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog."

Sounds easy, right? Here we go.

1. I agree with Mark Cuban that we, as bloggers, should not report rumours to be cold, hard facts. I think that we, as bloggers, serve an important purpose in sports as we're the everyday fan who is truly passionate about our teams and causes, and we're the voice of the die-hards. However, in being the passionate fans, we should check our sources twice and thrice in order to be as objective as possible. Have I made mistakes? Sure. I'm only human. However, I tend to shy away from rumours because they are what they are, and nothing more. I intend to adhere to this practice as much as possible as well. I certainly think that bloggers should be considered for positions with major media outlets, and I believe that more sports teams would benefit if they listened to their blogging fans.

2. Hockey may be my religion, but I have a great appreciation for movies. My DVD collection is ridiculous, but it contains movies that I simply can watch over and over again. I've been asked, on occasion, for my "Top Ten Favorite Movies", but I cannot pick just ten. There are so many reasons and factors that contribute to a movie being good. Sometimes, I think I should have started a movie blog. However, I like the hockey community I have found, and I love the passion that this community has for the game. I'd miss the writers and readers too much.

3. I have met, through my hockey experiences, many hockey players. Some of the more notable players include Vladislav Tretiak, Guy Lafleur, Serge Savard, Yvon Cournoyer, Paul Henderson, and Mike Modano. Yes, Modano is the odd name on that list, but he is truly one of the nicest guys I have met (although all the guys on that list were really generous with their time). Teemu Selanne also falls into that category - genuinely one of the nicest guys ever. Keith Tkachuk? Not so much. The guy was a jerk. He's the polar opposite of the Selannes and Modanos in hockey.

4. I only own authentic hockey jerseys. I am a firm believer that if you drop $100 on a replica, you're not a "true fan". Fake jersey = fake fan in my opinion. Save your money and go pro. Not only do the jerseys feel of a higher quality, they look better too. I'm not bringing anyone down for owning replica jerseys, though. All I am saying is that it's not for me.

5. I have a scar under my left eye from stopping a slapshot with my face when I was a teenager. I spent eight hours in the emergency room on Christmas Eve in order to get five stitches. The doctor said I was lucky as I could have been blind or lost my eye had it hit me one-half inch higher. Christmas that year was tough since I could barely see out of one eye. However, chicks dig scars, right? Well, maybe not.

6. I'd like to work for a hockey team in some capacity. I'd like to be an assistant general manager or a scout. Of course, I'd love to be a player, but I am aware I don't have that kind of talent. I'd also like to be an equipment manager. I think they have one of the most underappreciated jobs in all of sports. My dream hockey job would be working for the NHL to grow the game in the southern United States. I would love the opportunity to go to the grassroots levels in the southern US and really promote the game of hockey. Give me an opportunity, Mr. Bettman. And I'll need some time too.

7. I abhor the NFL. People find this surprising. It's not because of the marketing or the money or the players or anything people might associate with why one would hate the most successful professional sports organization in North America. I hate it because I find it to be boring. Yes, boring. I've seen hockey scores that are higher than some NFL scores. Three-and-out and punt followed by three-and-out and punt does not appeal to me. I like seeing the ball thrown deep. I like 49-48 scores. I like offence. This is why I like the new NHL. 9-6 games are exciting in the NHL, not in the NFL.

8. I am still a fan of the New York Islanders' Fishermen jerseys. I own a Darius Kasparaitis #11 Fisherman jersey. Yes, I am quite proud of it. No, I'll never get rid of it. I don't care if I've worn it down to individual threads, I will always keep that jersey. However, I don't like the Islanders' franchise.

Ok, so those are eight things that make me tick, so to speak. Now who shall I tag?

Steph of No Pun Intended
Elly of No Pun Intended
The Dark Ranger
E of A Theory of Ice
Dear Lord Stanley
Eighty-Two of A Great Day For Hockey

That's enough, I think. Ok, kids, get at it. We can all learn a little about each other rather than just being faceless drones behind a monitor. Besides, we're all colleagues and we all should support one another. We're a growing part of hockey whether mainstream media and the NHL like it or not.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday 5 July 2007

The Logo Is Appropriate

Making its way through the hockey world today is the announcement that a local group in Nashville has banded together to buy the Nashville Predators franchise from Craig Leipold. Included in the group are David Freeman, chief executive officer of 36 Venture Capital, and Herb Fritch, chief executive officer of HealthSpring Inc., two businesses based in Nashville, Tennessee. This seems like a vaguely familiar solution to keeping a team in a city. It worked once. Can it work for the Predators' franchise? Is the offer as competitive as the offer from William Del Biaggio?

First, some history. The Edmonton Oilers were nearly moved to Houston in 1998. In the closing hours before the deadline, a consortium of 37 Edmonton-based "owners" who called themselves the "Edmonton Investors Group" put in a bid that would keep the Oilers in Edmonton. The NHL backed the EIG as it risked losing valuable Canadian television contracts with Rogers' Sportsnet and CBC's Hockey Night In Canada with the departure of another Canadian team to a US market.

The problem, at the time of the bid by the EIG, was that the Oilers were rebuilding as Peter Pocklington was selling off his best assets in order to prevent his bottom line from bleeding more red ink. Stars such as Curtis Joseph, Bill Guerin, and Doug Weight were either traded or let go via free agency in order for the team to maintain some fiscal sanity.

It appears that this is the same old story for the Nashville Predators as of today. Gone are Kimmo Timonen, Peter Forsberg, Paul Kariya, and Tomas Vokoun as owner Craig Leipold tries to end the years of red ink. The next move, as announced yesterday, would be that a local consortium of owners would step to the front of the line for bidding on the franchise in order to keep the team in Nashville.

If this story follows the same course as the Oilers' story, the Predators will surely miss the playoffs as they go through another rebuilding stage in their franchise history. If they hold on to enough talent, they will be a fringe playoff team, ending up in seventh or eighth in the Western Conference.

If the team is seventh or eighth, they simply will not attract the fans they so desperately need. If they miss the playoffs, the fans in Nashville will surely stay away. Nashville doesn't have the rabid, hockey-mad fans that Edmonton does. They don't have a waiting list for season tickets, and the city itself doesn't have the same passion for hockey that Edmonton does.

Sell the team to Del Biaggio. Give someone else a chance. I'm not saying that the team should be moved to Kansas City, but I am saying that if Leipold doesn't want to own the team, it is better to sell sooner than later, especially during free agency. The Predators have lost too many stars already to attract a large fanbase looking for big-name stars to which they can cling.

The alternate logo I posted above is appropriate. The Nashville Predators, for the most part, are already dead.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday 3 July 2007

Oilers Vs. Nylander

I had made mention yesterday of the possible signing of centreman Michael Nylander by the Edmonton Oilers. The Fan radio station in Edmonton had also reported the same thing, but there was no official confirmation to be found anywhere on the Internet or on television. Instead, I left the little blurb about how I was checking into the story on my article yesterday. I was a little shocked when the Washington Capitals announced that they had signed Nylander to a four-year, $19.5 million contract. This lead me to believe that The Fan radio station was pulling an "Eklund" - they were reporting an unsubstantiated rumour. I went on my way, removed the blurb, and reported the signing.

It turns out that The Fan radio station wasn't lying. I received an email today from the Edmonton Oilers. I signed up for their newsletter, and get breaking news as a bonus. Here's today's email, word for word from the Oilers, as to the Michael Nylander situation:

Oilers Statement regarding Michael Nylander

The Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club is compelled to clarify the unfortunate and unprecedented circumstances surrounding the Edmonton Oilers and Michael Nylander.

On Sunday, July 1, 2007, Kevin Lowe, Oilers General Manager, and Mr. Mike Gillis, Certified Agent for Michael Nylander, negotiated and agreed to a multi-year NHL Standard Players Contract, starting in 2007/08. Mr. Gillis confirmed same to the Oilers in writing.

The Oilers then proceeded with preparations to announce Mr. Nylander's contract agreement on July 2, and concurrently continued with the process of negotiating with other free agents based upon Mr. Nylander being an important roster ingredient for the future.

However, while the Oilers were expecting the returned, signed agreements from Mr. Nylander and Mr. Gillis, the Oilers discovered through public announcements made mid-afternoon on July 2, that Mr. Nylander had subsequently entered into a long-term contract with the Capitals.

The Oilers can find no precedent for such conduct in our history. The Oilers are examining and pursuing every course of action available in the best interest of the team and our fans.

For legal reasons, the Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club will not be discussing the details any further at this time.


Let me say that again: wow. For a team that has sent its fans through the ringer more than once since the Trade Deadline, this new development is insanity. I don't know what the Oilers can do in this situation. If you're a lawyer, please weigh in. I need to know how this could unfold.

All I know is that UFA Day just got a whole lot more confusing. I'm going to stay on top of this story. This one has all the makings of a good ol' courtroom drama.

Until I get more on this, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday 2 July 2007

More Signings

This is sort of a carry-over article from the Canada/UFA Day article. While I find it somewhat funny that agents and general managers are still working the phones at 2am ET, I guess it goes to show that "the early bird catches the worm", so to speak. In any case, this article will be periodically updated throughout the day on July 2, so check back often to keep track of who's moving where and for how much.

The Pittsburgh Penguins signed defenseman Darryl Sydor to a two-year, $5 million contract.
Teebz: I like this signing! It takes a pile of pressure off of Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney to be the offensive catalysts from the back end. Sydor is defensively-responsible in his own end as well, and brings a pile of experience to a rather young defensive unit.

The Pittsburgh Penguins signed winger Petr Sykora to a two-year contract. Terms were not disclosed.
Teebz: The Penguins missed out on Paul Kariya, so they went out and got another pure goal scorer in Sykora. Sykora will thrive with Crosby feeding him the puck. Michel Therrien will stress defensive play from Sykora, but having him as a finisher for Crosby will certainly electrify Pittsburgh again.

The Nashville Predators signed winger Jed Ortmeyer to a two-year, $1.5 million contract.
Teebz: I guess Nashville wanted some depth. Ortmeyer won't replace Kariya or Hartnell, but he is a good hustle guy and will provide some grit up front.

The Toronto Maple Leafs signed winger Bates Battaglia to a two-year, $1.3 million contract.
Teebz: I had said that with the addition of Mark Bell, the Bates Battaglia Project should end. At $650,000 per season, Battaglia is a value-priced third-liner. I'm ok with this signing.

The Vancouver Canucks signed defenseman Lukas Krajicek to a two-year, $2.2 million contract.
Teebz: I think this might be a little expensive for a player of Krajicek's stature. He is a relatively inexperienced defenseman, but brings youth and speed to the Canucks blueline. This deal might close the books on any future Canucks' signings due to salary cap space.

The Los Angeles Kings signed defenseman Tom Preissing to a four-year, $11 million contract.
Teebz: Nothing wrong with this signing at all. The Kings get a very good defenseman for a decent price. Good job, Mr. Lombardi. Now how about a goalie?

The Washington Capitals signed centreman Michael Nylander to a four-year, $19.5 million contract.
Teebz: Washington gets their play-making centreman at $4.875 million per season. Nylander should be an upgrade at the centre position from last season, and that will help make Semin and Ovechkin better. He might not be the complete package, but Nylander will help.

The Montreal Canadiens signed defenseman Roman Hamrlik to a four-year, $22 million contract.
Teebz: $5.5 million per season for Hamrlik? What about Souray? Did Bob Gainey lose his mind? Hamrlik doesn't have the shot that Souray has, and they are both are somewhat of a liability on defense. I am struggling to see any positives in this signing.

The Chicago Blackhawks signed centreman Robert Lang to a two-year contract. Terms were not disclosed.
Teebz: This is a decent signing. The playmaking Lang will help Havlat immensely, and is a significant upgrade at that position. As long as Lang and Havlat can stay healthy, the Blackhawks should be better with this signing.

The Nashville Predators signed centreman Radek Bonk and defenseman Greg de Vries to two-year contracts. Terms were not disclosed.
Teebz: Greg de Vries is a solid defensive defenseman. He will help bolster the blueline and the Predators' young defenseman. Why did David Poile even waste the ink on Radek Bonk? He's been terrible since Ottawa drafted him, and there's no reason to believe he's going to be better in Music City. Maybe the Predators are trying to keep their fans away to accomodate a move to Kansas City?

The Anaheim Ducks signed winger Todd Bertuzzi to a two-year contract, $8 million contract.
Teebz: Did Brian Burke have a post-Stanley Cup victory labotomy? Maybe he missed the series between the Ducks and Wings where Bertuzzi was basically invisible? $4 million per season?!? Either way, Bertuzzi neither fits the Ducks' system nor does he fit the type of player that the Ducks need. This signing seems like a "pity signing" to me: completely useless in every form.

The Calgary Flames signed winger Owen Nolan to a one-year contract. Terms were not disclosed.
Teebz: Darryl Sutter follows Brian Burke's lead with a "pity signing". Owen Nolan was useless for the Coyotes. Is this part of Mike Keenan's plan? Bring back players that are past their prime by five or ten years? This is an absolutely stupid signing. And I'm going on record as saying it.

The Montreal Canadiens signed centreman Bryan Smolinski to a two-year, $2 million contract. The contract includes a no-trade clause.
Teebz: Smolinski will certainly replace Radek Bonk, but I find the no-trade clause a high price to pay to get him. If Montreal can deal him at the deadline next season in the event that they miss the playoffs, they should hold that card. Instead, they'll have to wait for Smolinski's blessing. Good luck, Montreal.

The Los Angeles Kings signed forwards Ladislav Nagy to a one-year contract, Michal Handzus toa four-year contract, and Kyle Calder to a two-year contract. Terms were not disclosed.
Teebz: Nagy will have to be better defensively to fit in Crawford's system. And he better not disappear or he'll be in the press box quickly. Handzus will bring a big body to the front of the net, and will fit well with the speedy Frolov and Kopitar. Handzus might be an understated signing, but his contribution won't be. Calder might be down to his last chance. He floated in Chicago, and he didn't do much in Detroit. He is out of chances with this blogger in terms of his potential.

The Atlanta Thrashers signed defenseman Ken Klee to a multi-year deal. Terms were not disclosed.
Teebz: Klee is a good defensive defenseman who will replace Greg de Vries on Atlanta's blueline. I see nothing wrong with this signing.

More team reports coming up this week, and I'll incorporate the new signings into my analysis of each team. Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!