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Showing posts from August, 2005

Heatley's Gamble

When I went out of town for a week on business, I figured that the big player moves were over and done with. Then, lo and behold, I come back to find Marian Hossa with a new deal, then subsequently traded to Atlanta for Dany Heatley, who is apparently looking for a fresh start after the Dan Snyder tragedy of two years ago. At first bluff, this might appear to be a heartwarming case of NHL general managers finding a way to help a troubled young man and benefit their franchises as well with a win-win deal. Upon closer inspection, however, the story appears more disturbing. Take a look over at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution , for example (free registration required), and you'll find a story by Jeff Schulz that outlines a disturbing trend in Heatley's behavior over the last year or so - hiring and firing agents, spending as little time in Atlanta as possible despite the support offered by the team and community, and finally a trade demand away from a young team on the rise t

The NHL heads Outdoors

Apparantly, ESPN doesn't believe in a national TV market for the NHL, and based on past experience, perhaps they're right. Hockey has always relied more on strong local markets, rather than a national presence, to build its fanbase and that is likely to continue in the years ahead. The league will have enough of a job to win back local fans, let alone worry about a wider audience. For most fans, the move of national games to the Outdoor Life Network won't be a big deal - local games aren't affected, and most of the small ESPN audience has access to OLN as well. Where hockey fans might well win is if OLN invests in the NHL, as Comcast builds a potential rival to ESPN in the sports TV market. That could mean special events (more outdoor games?), new on-air talent (bring on Don Cherry !), or a host of other changes to help grow hockey in the US (just not the glowing puck, please). The most interesting thing to watch for in the coming weeks is who OLN brings in to ha

Hawks, Rangers develop "mad skillz"

In a bold, innovative move, the Chicago Blackhawks have added Olympic champion speedskater Dan Jansen to their coaching staff, in a bid to improve the team's collective skating skills. In related news, the New York Rangers have added an Olympic champion to their staff as well.

LeClair goes to the Pens

The Pittsburgh Penguins seem to be making a serious push not just towards respectability, but may have an eye towards pushing Philadelphia, Ottawa and Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference with their additional pickup Monday of John LeClair . The three-time 50 goal scorer may be well past his prime, but even as a niche power play specialist, he can add significantly to the Pittsburgh offense, at was is likely to be a rock-bottom cost. Remember that LeClair was bought out of his prior contract by the Flyers, so he's already got $4.5 million in his pocket before even signing with Pittsburgh. What this means is that the Penguins can boast two dangerous scoring lines, which prevents opposing defenses from simply focusing on Mario Lemieux or Ziggy Palffy in order to shut Pittsburgh down. Over the course of a long season, that depth could prove enough to lift the Penguins back into the playoffs, perhaps even earning home ice in the first round.

Over the Mountain

Watch out! There's something rolling down the mountains in Denver, threatening to leave wreckage in its wake that will take years to rebuild. Yup, its the Colorado Avalanche, and their freefall through the Western Conference standings this year will make fans everywhere want to take cover. Granted, Colorado is one of the teams that the new CBA was meant to restrain - the Avalanche have usually boasted a star-studded lineup skillfully assembled by GM Pierre Lacroix. In the wake of this month's free agency losses, however, the 'Lanche will have a tough time living up to their own lofty expectations. Peter Forsberg's departure was perhaps inevitable, if they were to keep Sakic, Blake, and the dynamic duo that represents the core of Colorado's future - Milan Hejduk and Alex Tanguay. The problem is that those top four players consume $20 million against Colorado's salary cap , a concentration only exceeded by the Toronto Maple Leafs . But even that figure for

Putting a big E in "Leafs"

The Toronto Maple Leafs finally opened up the checkbook and signed Eric Lindros to a one-year deal. This is a great pickup for the Leafs, especially if the $1.55 million base salary reported in the article is true. For such a small risk (heck, Darcy Tucker makes more than that), the upside is tremendous. With the earlier signing of Jason Allison, that gives the Leafs quite possibly the best 1-2-3 center combination in the NHL behind Mats Sundin.

Something's rising from the ashes, and it isn't Phoenix...

Heading over to the Western Conference, our review of the offseason winners and losers comes up with one of the winners: the Chicago Blackhawks. Wait a minute, did I actually just write that? It's been a decade since the Jeremy Roenick-led Hawks challenged for Western Conference supremacy, and while they're still a long ways from doing that, the moves they've made over the last two weeks should help put Chicago back into the playoffs, and represent true progress under new general manager Dave Tallon. After making unsuccessful offers to Mike Modano and Peter Forsberg, the Hawks struck gold in the Nikolai Khabibulin sweepstakes. The Bulin Wall still ranks as one of the top goalies in the game, and immediately gives Chicago a chance to win every time he starts. In front of Khabibulin, the Hawks added depth and versatility on the blueline by adding Adrian Aucoin and Jaroslav Spacek via free agency. Granted, they did let Bryan Berard walk away, but on the whole Spacek

Beautiful Losers

The other day I noted the Pittsburgh Penguins as having a successful offseason. Now, in order to balance out the yin & yang of NHL team assesments, here comes our first loser - the Philadelphia Flyers. *gasp* But what about the big names, you say? Forsberg , Hatcher and Rathje all make for sensational headlines and will sell a lot of jerseys, but if you look at this team compared to the one which fell just short in the conference finals against Tampa Bay, you don't see much improvement. It's like a guy in a rowboat with just one oar - there may be a lot of splashing, but not much movement in a particular direction. Arguably their best player from last season signed with Pittsburgh during the summer of 2004, veteran scorers John LeClair and Tony Amonte were bought out, and Jeremy Roenick was unceremoniously dumped in LA in order to clear cap space. Backup goaltender Sean Burke signed on with the Lightening, putting the team's future on the young shoulders of

Pass the Remote, eh?

It appears that a cable TV deal is getting closer for the NHL. Comcast has supposedly submitted a bid that has national games broadcast on the Outdoor Life Network , which recently gained attention for its coverage of the Tour de France. ESPN has the right to match the deal, but either way, it looks like there will be a cable deal in place for the upcoming season. Who knows, if OLN gets the business perhaps it will attempt more "special event" outdoor games, like the Heritage Classic game of November 22, 2003 when Edmonton faced Montreal in Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium. That game drew an NHL-record crowd of 57,167. Can you imagine how many people might attend a Wings/Blackhawks game at Michigan Stadium, or a Rangers/Devils game at Giants Stadium, or a Coyotes/Sharks game at... err... never mind...

Mario On The March

Just as the movie industry has been surprised by the unexpected hit March of the Penguins , hockey fans might be surprised at the march of the Pittsburgh Penguins this coming season. The new CBA has allowed many small market teams to pick up top-drawer talent, but the Penguins seem to have a plan in place to compete right away in the "new" NHL. The headline grabber, of course, was when they lucked out and landed Sidney Crosby with the top pick in the draft, but since then their free agency pickups point to a desire to surround Crosby with high-powered offensive talent, which will not only help the rookie's development, but should put some fannies in the seats, which Pittsburgh sorely needs after its awful 2003-4 campaign . The first step in launching the offense is get the puck moving out of your own zone, and few do it better than Sergei Gonchar , who was Pittsburgh's first big acquisition this month. Over the weekend, they also added Ziggy Palffy , who is a legi

Sleeping Beauties

While we're all hung up on the volume and quality of players changing teams these days, it's also interesting to consider those teams that haven't made significant changes this week - like Toronto, Ottawa, Tampa Bay, Phoenix, and Washington. One strategy at work could be to lie low during the initial signing period, then drive hard bargains on the remaining players available, leaving cap room open for making deals during the season. As the trade deadline approaches, there will be many teams for whom things don't work out, and they'll be looking to dump salaries and position themselves for the next offseason. As they say, sometimes the best deal a GM makes is the one that he doesn't make at all...

Blue Line Specials Going Fast

The big names are starting to move, as Tuesday night the Blues traded Chris Pronger to the Edmonton Oilers for a package headlined by defenseman Eric Brewer. With Tony Amonte and Darren McCarty signing up with the Calgary Flames, could we see a rejuvenation of the Battle of Alberta? One big name that didn't move is Markus Naslund, who signed a new 3-year deal to stay in Vancouver. It seems like the western Canada teams are loading up so far, with Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa yet to announce major acquisitions. Another top defenseman with a new address will be Sergei Gonchar, who landed a 5-year deal to join the Mario & Sidney show in Pittsburgh. This is one of those daring deals that could backfire on the Pens, if Gonchar's $5 million salary causes cap issues down the road. Most of the contracts signed in recent days have been for two, perhaps three years, but in this case the Pens may have needed to offer a longer deal just to attract top-notch talent. Gonchar's

Clarke Loads Up

The Flyers have apparently landed Derian Hatcher, Chris Therien and Mike Rathje , in signings to be announced today. Apparantly, Bobby Clarke went with the Super-Size Blue Line Combo - but the question here will be, is Clarke zigging while the rest of the NHL zags? After major rule changes that are meant to increase north-south play and open up the game, does it make sense to load up on big, physical (read: slow footed) defensemen? Hatcher is a treat to watch, to be sure, but could become more of a liability as teams stretch the neutral zone with two-line passes to streaking wingers. If I'm a Flyers fan, I don't feel too good about this. Clarke could be holding on to his Broad Street Bullies memories a bit too much here.

Attention, blue line shoppers...

After a lackluster Day One of the free agency period, things have started heating up today. The Chicago Blackhawks made a fine pickup by signing Adrian Aucoin to a four-year contract, and the Columbus Blue Jackets made an even bigger splash by landing Adam Foote with a three-year deal. Both are solid top-line defensemen, but Foote has the added leadership experience with two Stanley Cup rings from Colorado. This is also a huge loss for the Avalanche, for whom Foote provided physical toughness that is otherwise lacking within that lineup. Check back later today, as the Flyers have called a press conference to announce "several signings". What, are they bringing in the Hansen Brothers? I don't know how tin foil expenses count against the salary cap...

Panthers are first out of the gate...

ESPN is reporting that the Florida Panthers have signed aged forwards Joe Nieuwendyk and Gary Roberts to 2-year, $2.25 million contracts, kicking off the free agency extravaganza. This won't get anybody too excited, I hope, but it does help to set the bar for other signings to come. Two veteran, reasonably effective players hiring on for right around the $1 million mark should send a strong signal to other available players that big paydays are a thing of the past (that means you, Martin Lapointe ). As a result of this deal, you have to like the experience that Florida is bringing in to work with their promising young talent, while Toronto is retooling around younger players like Jeff O'Neill . The Panthers hope that Roberts and Nieuwendyk don't just score a few goals, but help their core talent develop into solid NHL players able to carry the team forward in future years.

Gentleman, start your checkbooks!

Like a pack of teeny-boppers huddled outside a record store waiting for the latest boy-band CD, NHL general managers breathlessly await the Monday noon starting gun for the most wide-open free agent market in the history of professional sports. There is just one problem here, though. The GM's are breathless not in anticipation of all the deals they hope to make, but instead are petrified at the thought of making a bad move, which in the new salary cap era, means a hamstrung team for years on end. The penalty for making a rotten deal just got much, much worse, so I would expect most GM's to tread very cautiously in the coming days. That, of course, leads open an opportunity for a daring executive who strikes quickly and gets the pieces he wants right away. Most teams have as much as half of a roster to fill via free agency, which means that a team can be overhauled virtually overnight. Will the new rules, and their implied shift back towards up-and-down, firewagon hockey

Dudes are SO hung over...

In a move that endeared him to slackers everywhere, NHL commish Gary Bettman hit the snooze alarm on the free agency signing period, moving the start from 12 a.m. Monday morning to noon. Obviously everybody had such a rockin' time in Ottawa over the weekend that an early bedtime with milk & cookies was deemed necessary.