Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Stanley Cup is dropped, ends up with boo boo

Marc Savard is done

Marc Savard of the Boston Bruins last played an NHL game on Jan. 22 when he suffered his second concussion in less than a year after taking a hit from Colorado Avalanche -- and former teammate -- Matt Hunwick.

The post-concussion symptoms have not gone away and with training camps set to open in a little over two weeks, the Bruins are going forward not expecting to have Savard back ... at all.

Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli told the Boston Globe that Savard won't play this season and most likely never again.

Concussion symptoms can disappear over time allowing players to come back and play, but given Savard's recent history, it might be a long wait until he makes a final decision on his future.

How many more players will be forced to walk away from the game before some serious action is taken?

Wade Belak's death continues a disturing trend

Wade Belak becomes the third NHLer with a history of fighting to pass away since May. Derek Boogaard, just 28, of the New York Rangers was found dead in his Minnesota apartment on May 13 with the cause of death later determined as an accidental overdose of alcohol and oxycodone toxicity. On August 15, Winnipeg Jets forward Rick Rypien was found dead in his Alberta home at 27. Belak, a 15-year NHL veteran who announced his retirement in March, was found dead in his Toronto condo early Wednesday afternoon. He was just 35. Cause of death is still unknown.

Is it just a coincidence that 3 enforcers have died suddenly in just 3 months? Maybe. But both the NHL and NHLPA should be taking note. It has already been taking well documented the toll both physically and psychologically that fighting has on NHL players. No one aspires to be an NHL enforcer. No mother relishes watching their son batter an opponent or taking a beating. All enforcers were star players at one point in their hockey career. When you hit the wall in your development and you have the size, well you do what you have to do to stay in hockey.

Fighting takes a physical toll on enforcers. It's inevitable that you get hurt and the incidence of addiction to pain killers and other drugs is high. What you don't see are the emotional and psychological scars. Some fighters begin to avoid fights and before you know it their NHL career is over. Veteran enforcers become targets for younger guys who want to make a name for themselves.

I sometimes think that eliminating fighting from hockey would be a good thing because the marginal players could no longer be coerced into being an enforcer. If they don't have the talent to be an NHLer so be it.

Hard to believe both these guys are gone.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The unofficial 2011-12 Toronto Maple Leaf rap

Nice effort by Austin MacDonald but Lupul's first name is Joffrey not Jeffrey.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Does Matt Cooke have a future in the NHL?

Matt Cooke last played on March 20 after being suspended by the NHL for elbowing New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh in the head (see above video). The NHL banned him for the final 10 games of the regular season and the first round of the playoffs, where the Penguins fall to the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games. It was his second suspension in the span of a month.

Two days after the hit, Cooke told the media that he needed to change and even sought counseling during a leave of absence from the team.

All eyes will be on Cooke this season. It's clear he's walking a tightrope going forward, and his on-ice actions will be scrutinized by everyone, including the Penguins.

Maybe Matt Cooke can change. Question is, what kind of player will he become if he does? For a player that has built a career intimating opponents with his cheap shots, how much will he change? Although he can contribute offensively he is not considered a top 6 forward. He has shown to be an effective checker but without the dirty stuff will he still be effective? There is no way to know.

However, his transformation is important to the league and all eyes will be on Cooke. If Cooke is able to change his game and still remain effective then others will follow his lead. To be honest every 4th liner aspires to be an everyday player. Every checker aspires to be on a scoring line. Every fighter would love to earn a living as a skater. But they seek out a role that will keep them in the NHL. If Matt Cooke can carve out a new role for himself then there is hope for the hundreds of marginal NHLers.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Sidney Crosby rumour mill

Late August tends to be one of the slowest parts of the hockey season. Significant free agents were locked up weeks ago and it's over a month until training camps open up. That's why the Tomas Kaberle trade rumours received so much attention a year ago.

So this year the buzz is about the health status of Sidney Crosby. Each week another rumour comes out quoting an unnamed sources insisting that Crosby has had a set back and will not be ready for the start of the season. Usually this is followed by a statement from the Penguins organization or Crosby's agent Pat Brisson denying the rumour.

Fans are split between those who believe the rumours and those who do not. Frankly anyone who actualy knows what is going on, is not talking. Sure Brisson, coach Dan Bylsma and GM Ray Shero have denied the allegations. But they have all been very careful in responding the rumours. "He is coming along", "making progress", "we hope he'll be ready." But no one has actually said Crosby has recovered from his concussion. And until he has recovered no one can predict when he will be better.

What is not clear is why the evasiveness? Perhaps the lack of transparency is attributed to the fact the Penguins are actively selling tickets right now. Those tickets are a tougher sell without the game's marquee in the lineup.

As time goes on, it will become obvious if Crosby will play. But it is disconcerting to know that important information is not being passed on to fans. They have a right to know.

Meanwhile the debate roars on with respect hits to the head.

Battle of the Blades - Season 3

Well after Ekaterina Gordeeva dropped the trophy you knew the tightwads running the CBC weren't going to invite her and partner Valeri Bure back this season.

Actually, the CBC needs to try another gimmick after the Russians took it all last season. So this season its a gender reversal. Instead of a male hockey player skating with a female figure skater, there will be one pair made up of a male skater and female hockey player.

Tessa Bonhomme, gold medal winner for the Canadian women's hockey team in the Vancouver Winter Games will skate with Olympic pairs gold medalist David Pelletier.

This season's goon on ice will be Wade Belak - 8 goals and 115 fights in 549 NHL games.

The other hockey players are:

The rest of the cast for "BotB," who will hide in the mighty shadow of BELAK (and Bonhomme):

Bryan Berard, who played for six NHL teams including the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Brad May, who played for three NHL teams including the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Boyd Devereaux, who played for four NHL teams including the Toronto Maple Leafs (do you see a pattern).

Curtis Leschyshyn, who won a Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche in 1996 and somehow made this list despite never playing with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Cale Hulse, who played for New Jersey, Calgary, Nashville, Phoenix and Columbus before leaving the NHL prior to playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Compared to the first two season, this season's list of figure skaters are mostly B list competitors:

From the legendary Russian pair skating dynasty, two-time World Champion and four-time Russian National Champion Elena Berezhnaya.

Canadian born Tanith Belbin is a five-time U.S. Ice Dance Champion, four-time World Medalist and 2006 Olympic Ice Dance Silver Medalist with her partner Ben Agosto.

Returning from Season 1 after having her first baby is five-time Canadian Ice Dance Champion Marie-France Dubreuil. With her husband Patrice Lauzon, she is the 2006 and 2007 World Silver Medalist.

Returning from Season 2 is World and Olympic Team Member and 2008 Canadian Pairs Champion Anabelle Langlois.

Also returning is Russian born Violetta Afanasieva who joined the Moscow Circus on Ice at the age of 12 and won the first-ever Extreme Ice Skating World Championship with Canadian partner/husband Peter Dack in 2006.

Joining the cast for Season 3 is American Kim Navarro, a U.S. World Team Member and two-time U.S. Ice Dance Bronze Medalist with partner Brent Bommentre.

And Marcy Hinzmann-Harris, a U.S. World and Olympic Team member and two-time U.S. Pairs Medalist with partner Aaron Parchem.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Don Meehan is the NHL's Jerry MaGuire

Don Meehan has management for the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Los Angeles Kings on pin and needles as both teams try to sign prize your defensemen Luke Schenn and Drew Doughty to contracts. With training camps opening in less than a month, there must be some nervous people out there. This is just part of the job for Don Meehan, the NHL reigning top player agent.

This summer has been busy but not out of the ordinary for Meehan. He also represented Ilya Bryzgalov, Brad Richards, Zach Parise and Steve Stamkos in contract negotiations. But he also represents Dion Phaneuf, Mike Richards, PK Subban, Ryan Smyth, Bobby Ryan, Chris Pronger, Niklas Lidstrom, Phil Kessel, and Mike Green. In fact his firm, Newport Sports Management, represents 100 NHL players.

Meehan earned his law degree at McGill University. After completing his law degree, Meehan was hired by the Toronto law firm, Blaney, Pasternak. Most of the cases he originally dealt with were corporate and tax-related. The firm also had some ice hockey players as clientele. Declining the offer of a partnership from his law firm, Meehan decided in 1981 to create his own company that focused on hockey players. That was about the time when I first met Don Meehan who happens to be a gentleman and reputable individual.

Instead of approaching players that are already in the NHL, Meehan approached the families of young talents before they were drafted by the NHL. Although it is often reported that his first client was Pat LaFontaine, that was not the case. LaFontaine was the first player represent by Meehan that became a star. He hired Meehan a few months before he was in the 1983 NHL Entry Draft. I remember that the first player he represented who played in the NHL was Chris Valentine. Valentine was taken in the 1981 NHL Entry Draft and only played 107 games in the NHL.

Meehan is quite a generous man and his 50th birthday celebration has been well documented. He took 120 friends on an all-expenses-paid week-long golf holiday to Scotland and Ireland. The guest list included a who’s who of hockey’s elite: Bobby Clarke, Bob Gainey, Scotty Bowman, Curtis Joseph, Wade Redden and Ryan Smyth, to name a few. The banquet on the final night was a production on par with the NHL awards gala, featuring Ron MacLean and Harry Neale as MCs and Michael Burgess belting out songs.

In 1994, Normand Lacombe accused his former agent, Don Meehan, of bilking him and his family out of $200,000 in failed real estate investments during his playing career. A number of other players also reported losing money. What was never fully reported was that at the time Meehan offered to refund every individual who had lost money in those real estate investments. He had to borrow millions to repay everyone.

He is a tough negotiator yet is able to include many NHL general managers as his friend. Don Meehan is a class act.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The hits keep coming

The dark cloud hanging over the NHL these days is when Sidney Crosby will return to playing for the Pittsburgh Penguins. It's looking less likely that he will be suiting up for the start of the 2011-12 season.

This concern is caused by the lack of updates on the health status of Crosby who last played hockey on January 5, 2011 and still suffers from concussion symptoms. Although he is working out, the fact that he has not been cleared for contact further fuels speculation that he will not be playing hockey when the new season begins. In fact some people speculate that Penguins management knows whether he will be ready for the start of the season but is intentionally being evasive.

So with no timetable for a return of the planet's best hockey player, you would think the NHL was in full panic mode. The league stars would be the priority. Head hits would be eliminated from the game. Head hunters would be banished from the league. Except that doesn't seem to be happening. Players are still just as reckless. GMs and coaches spend more energy protecting 3rd and 4th liners than their star players. Enforcement of rules and punishment of offenders continue to be weak and inconsistent.

Here is a look at some plays since the hit that knocked Crosby out of the lineup.

During a game between Boston and Dallas on February 3, 2011, Raymond Sawada leads the rush into the Boston zone and loses control of the puck just as Daniel Paille arrives. Paille drives his shoulder into his head resulting in a game misconduct. Sawada suffers a broken nose and separated shoulder. The NHL suspends Paille for 4 games.

Next is the well documented hit by Boston's Zdeno Chara on Montreal's Max Pacioretty on March 8, 2011. Pacioretty chips the puck through the neutral zone and Chara moves in to rub Pacioretty into the boards. As they both race for the puck Chara gives Pacioretty an extra shove that sends his head into one of the lightly padded stanchions at the end of the bench. Chara receives a major penalty and a game misconduct. Pacioretty receives a severe concussion and a fractured vertebra in his neck. There is no further discipline from the NHL which declares the incident a "hockey play." The subsequent debate which draws in Don Cherry is about padded stanchions rather than reigning in violent plays.

During a game on March 15, 2011 between Boston and Columbus, R.J. Umberger goes after a loose puck in the neutral zone. Brad Marchand comes in from behind and drives his elbow into the back of Umberger's head. As he skates away he kicks away the stick of the injured player. There is no penalty on the play and Umberger is not seriously injured. The NHL reviews the play and suspends Marchand for 2 games.

Next is a game between Vancouver and Edmonton on April 5, 2011. The puck carooms off the boards in the Canuck's end and Jordan Eberle is there waiting for it. Raffi Torres charges into his end and skates right by the puck to plant his arm into the side of Eberle's head. Torres receives a major penalty for elbowing and a game misconduct. Eberle is not seriously injured but the NHL hands Torres a 4 game suspension. Canuck GM Mike Gillis comments that he thought it was a "hockey play," which appears to be the new euphemism for a legal hit.

It's Raffi Torres again in a playoff game on April 17, 2011 against Chicago. In his first game back after serving his 4-game suspension, Torres levels Brent Seabrook who is not in possession of the puck but is merely looking down trying to find the puck. Torres receives a interference penalty. Seabrook misses the rest of the game as well as 2 of the 3 next games. There is no suspension. No doubt the NHL considers it to be a "hockey play." Colin Campbell takes exception to criticism regarding the league decision.

In another playoff game between Montreal and Boston on April 26, 2011, Jaroslav Spacek plays the puck along the boards with his back to the ice. Milan Lucic rams him into the boards face first and Lucic raises his arms in disgust when a penalty is called. He received a major penalty for boarding and a game misconduct. There was no subsequent suspension.

Monday, August 15, 2011

11-year-old makes amazing hockey shot...or did he?

It's being called the "shot heard 'round Faribault."

"The place went crazy," says Vance Vinar. "No one could believe it."

Between periods of a charity hockey game Thursday at Shattuck St. Mary's, fans could buy a ten dollar raffle ticket for the chance to win $50,000.

The catch? Make an improbable shot. Shoot a puck from center ice into a 3 and a half inch hole in the goal. An 89 foot shot!

"A hockey puck is three inches wide and an inch high," says Vinar, the organizer of the charity game. "The odds are like making a hole-in-one."

11-year old Nick Smith from Owatonna was the lucky name drawn and the shot was made. One fan described the crowd as "louder than a Stanley Cup game."

The amazing shot isn't the entire story.

"I was outside when my name was called," says Nick Smith. "So Nate took the shot in my place."

No one suspected anything. Nate and Nick are twin brothers.

"I walked back in and my friend told me my brother made the shot," says Nick. "I was shocked."

Both brothers have played hockey since they were 3 years old, but both admit the shot was pretty lucky.

"I just lined up and yeah...made it," says Nate. "I was pretty stunned."

Nate and Nick's dad came forward Friday and told event organizers that it was the other brother that made the shot. He told KARE-11 simply, "that's the right thing to do."

That Nate-for-Nick swap may mean they forfeit the cash prize, but either way the amazing sports memory has been made. Legally it has to be the person whose name is on the ticket,” said general manager April Clark from Odds on Promotion, the tournament insurance carrier. “We really are very careful about explaining that it has to be the person.”

"If we get the money, we'll save it for college," laughs Nate. "It was pretty cool."

I've had years of experience in dealing with insurance companies and I can assure you they will not pay the $50,000. It's that they are bad people but it is a business and they pay out based on the rules of the game. The tournament pays premiums based on the risks calculated by underwriters. The ticketsin turn are priced based on the insurance premium paid to allow the tournament organizers to make a profit. The rules say no substitution because that would allow a participant to bring in a ringer (eg. his cousin happens to be Sidney Crosby). Allowing a substitute could substantially alter the risks of a winner and would require a higher premium. Which is a complicated way of saying nice shot Nate but no cheque for you.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Will Ron Wilson survive the season?

There isn't a coach skating on thinner ice than Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson. His relationship with GM Brian Burke has kept him around this long but without a contract extension he is trapped in a corner. A slow start to the season and his is done. But if he makes it to Christmas then he needs to ride through the Maple Leafs. tradition winter losing streak. That won't be easy.

The signs are there. Burke fired assistants Keith Acton and Tim Hunter. Hunter had been a long term associate of Wilson so I can't see Wilson agreeing with the move. ThenScott Gordon was immediately brought in as an assistant as Wilson’s pick, but one would imagine Burke had some say in assuring pair of new guys had a certain level of experience.

Of course Gordon’s hiring isn’t directly related to Wilson’s potential firing, but it does make things easier for Burke if things don’t go smoothly when the season gets underway. It provides Burke with an interim coach familiar with the team so that a more robust search can take place during the offseason.

Strong finishes do not carry over to next season so let's put that notion to rest right away. The team can easily struggle in the early part of the season. After three season in charge, the special teams are still terrible. In addition, Wilson's tendency to throw his players under the bus by criticizing them in front of the media doesn't exactly create harmony in the dressing room. When Phil Kessel admitted that he and his coach rarely spoke, it was to me a significant revelation. Here was your best player acknowledging that Wilson was a poor communicator and it was coming from a player who rarely speaks to the media. Certainly there is some frustration in the dressing room.

I do believe that Ron Wilson is a good coach and his record speaks for itself. However, he is an old school coach and I don't believe he is very much in sync with his young team. I ran an identical post a year ago with the same points. Frankly I believe the only reason Wilson is still around is because of the strong finish by the Leafs last season but I attribute that to James Reimer and not the coach. If Wilson continues to get decent goaltending and improved production from his centres then he can survive but it really is time that the Leafs move in a different direction. The dressing room culture has been changed but its time to hire a players' coach.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Trade: 23 years later

August 9, 1988, is a day that lives in infamy for fans of both the Edmonton Oilers and Canadian hockey. Wayne Gretzky wasn't the only one shedding tears as he said goodbye at a press conference announcing his trade to the Los Angeles Kings. Fans wept, members of Parliament raged and the media soaked it all in.

It became known simply as The Trade.

At the end of the 1987-88 season, there was no reason to believe that Edmonton’s own version of Camelot would soon end. Gretzky had just raised the Stanley Cup over his head to conclude another banner season. The Oilers won their fourth Cup in five seasons, and Gretzky had wowed the League with a 149-point campaign despite missing 16 regular-season games to injury.

In July, he married actress Janet Jones in an extravagant wedding, and Oilers fans believed that hockey’s new royal couple would make Alberta their permanent home.

However, soon after the marriage, there were rumors that Oilers’ owner Peter Pocklington was facing financial difficulties. Nelson Skalbania, the man who had sold Gretzky’s contract to Pocklington in 1978, knew of the difficulties and worked on brokering a deal that would send Gretzky to the Winnipeg Jets.

As the Jets continued to work out a deal, coin-dealer-turned-millionaire Bruce McNall, the new owner of the Los Angeles Kings, made the cash-strapped Pocklington an offer for Gretzky's services. In a deal that would send a needed $15 million to Pocklington, McNall bought the Oilers franchise player.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Are the Luke Schenn negotiations in trouble?

The Los Angeles Kings are at a negotiating stalemate with defenseman Drew Doughty, a restricted free agent. That situation got no easier when an arbitrator awarded Nashville's Shea Weber, a more experienced defenseman, $7.5 million for one year.

The Kings believe that Doughty will be a holdout.
Holdouts can derail a season for a player and/or a team. They can create animosity between the two sides that lingers beyond the contract resolution. They're generally, and genuinely, bad news. That being said the NHL has seen very few holdouts. The player has little to lose from holding out because they often get paid for the entire season no matter how many games they actually play.

Now there is speculation that this is just the Kings executives playing hard ball with Doughty. But Doughty is represented by Don Meehan of Newport Sports who is an savvy negotiator with over 30 years in the business. He just negotiated the free agent contract for Brad Richards.

Meehan also represents Leaf defenseman Luke Schenn. Since Schenn was selected just 3 spots behind Doughty in the 2008 Entry Draft the two couldn't be more closely linked. I can't see Schenn signing before Doughty signs his contract. So if Doughty ends up being a holdout, will Schenn follow suit?

I'm not suggesting that Schenn will be able to get close to the money Doughty will be getting. However, the more that Doughty gets the more Schenn will be able to demand. Maybe Brian Burke be able to get Schenn's signature on a contract but if he can't get it done before the season starts, it could derail the Leafs' dream of making the playoffs/

Sunday, August 7, 2011

What can you get for just a buck?

When the Detroit Red Wings acquired a young rookie named Kris Draper from the Winnipeg Jets, they did so with the most lopsided trade in NHL history.

The Jets had a handshake agreement with Draper. If he was unable to make the Jets in 1993 (after 3 years in the minor leagues he had only played 20 games in Winnipeg) they would move him to another team. The Jets kept their word, selling Draper to Detroit for a measly $1.

Seventeen seasons later, Draper finally retired, still a member of the Red Wings. All told Draper finished his career with 161 goals and 203 assists in 1,157 regular-season games. He found a home on Detroit's third and fourth lines (often playing along side "Grind Line" mates Kirk Maltby and Joe Kocur/Darren McCarty), crashing, banging and shutting down the other team's top lines. He was also a huge part of Detroit's elite penalty killing.

Talk about a buck well spent. Draper was an integral part of the Red Wings powerhouse teams that won four Stanley Cups. In an amazing 222 playoff games, Draper scored 24 goals and 46 points. He also played in the Olympics, the World Cup and four World Championships.

Winnipeg Jets Entry Draft party

Below is a video taken from the party held at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg during the Entry Draft in June. If this is any indication of the enthusiasm of their fans when the season starts, they will have some great crowds at their games.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Highest paid NHL players for 2011-12

I've updated the list to reflect the Stamkos signing. Shea Weber doesn't make the list because his arbitration award is for only one season. His $7.5 million cap hit puts him in the top 10 but for actually paid salary he drops down because of the players with front loaded contracts.

Brad Richards $12,000,000 $6,667,000
Christian Ehrhoff $10,000,000 $4,000,000
Vincent Lecavalier $10,000,000 $7,727,000
Ilya Bryzgalov $10,000,000 $5,667,000
Sidney Crosby $9,000,000 $8,700,000
Eveni Malkov $9,000,000 $8,700,000
Alex Ovechkin $9,000,000 $9,538,000
Zdeno Chara $8,500,000 $6,917,000
Jason Spezza $8,000,000 $7,000,000
Dany Heatley $8,000,000 $7,500,000
Joe Thornton $8,000,000 $7,000,000
Duncan Keith $8,000,000 $5,551,000
Steven Stamkos $8,000,000 $7,500,000
Marian Hossa $7,900,000 $5,233,000
Eric Staal $7,750,000 $8,250,000
Henrik Zetterberg $7,750,000 $6,083,000

What's next for the New York Islanders?

Municipal official in Nassau County had to have known that the $2 million referendum would be a big waste of money or did they actually believe that Islanders owner Charles Wang could convince taxpayers to build him a new arena. It wasn't even close with 57% of voters indicated that they weren't interested in assessing themselves a big tax increase.

Immediately the speculation is that the Islanders are heading out of town or at least to Brooklyn. But clearly the Islanders aren't going too far from Long Island. If Gary Bettman is fighting tooth and nail to keep the Coyotes in Phoenix then I don't see a NHL team leaving the largest media market in America under his watch. So Quebec fans should just calm down.

Well the Islanders are staying put until their lease runs out in 2015 so a lot can happen between then and now. Wang has already taken a run at building a new arena through the private sector. In 2003, community opposition shot down his proposal for the privately-funded Lighthouse Project, a massive US$3.8-billion development that included a new arena, hotel, condominium towers, shopping centre and other extravagance. The Islanders have the lowest attendance figures in the NHL - lower than the Coyotes. That's not going to coax anyone to open up their wallet to buy the team.

Well I don't know whether the Brooklyn option is for real although the arena is clearly too small for today's NHL standards. Still it is intriguing. There is a strong sports tradition in Brooklyn and great access through public transit. And let's not forget the cable TV money. No question the Islanders will be hanging in tough somewhere in The Big Apple.