Sunday, July 31, 2005
Run for the Hills! Satan is Free!!
"God dammit Dominik, put a shirt on!"
It seems that the Buffalo Sabres have not offered Miroslav "Captain Slovakia" Satan a qualifying offer, leaving him free to sign with any team he wishes. Jan "Hero" Hrdina and, Vladimír Országh, a Gőlbez favourite, also did not receive qualifying offers, leaving them free to be signed by any team. (TSN Link)
Now, Miro Satan has got to become a New Jersey Devil. C'mon Fat Lou, make it happen!!!
(Note to Dave Nonis, get off your pasty ass and sign Országh. Thank you.)
NHL Entry Draft Musings
The draft was certainly scaled down, there were few big trades, but it was still the long and drawn-out affair that it has always been. Despite this, there is lots to talk about from this year's meat lottery.
- Could Penguins GM Craig Patrick be any less enthusiastic about selecting Sidney Crosby? It looked like it took Craig an exceptional amount of effort to produce a fake smile for the cameras. You got Sidney F'in Crosby!!! Maybe he really secretly wanted Gilbert Brule? :)
- Speaking of Brule, it's hard to get enthusiastic when he was selected by the Columbus Blue Jackets. I don't hate the Dinner Jackets, but I was quite deflated to see him go to a market that I have no feeling for whatsoever. I was really hoping to see the Canadiens pick Brule at #5, but they went and got Corey Price. (WHY?). Columbus is going to rock your house with Rick Nash, Nik Zherdev, and Gilbert Brule as the core of a powerful forward corps.
- Canucks awarded the 2006 Entry Draft! Sweet
- Canucks select (crappy) offensive defenseman Luc Bourdon, who couldn't possibly look any more French unless he was wearing a beret. Bourdon had a -39 rating last year. -39!!! That must be a record for a first round pick.
- St. Louis Blues take T.J. "Oh, my goshie" Oshie at the #24 spot. I've never heard of this guy, but a 'Future John Madden' doesn't sound too terrible. There wasn't anyone else around that position that I would be clamouring for. Here is a scouting report on the guy.
- UPS and DOWNS - I am not surprised that Anze Kopitar 'slipped' to LA at #11. There is always one prospect that seems to catch a HUGE wave of hype before the draft, yet ends up being drafted lower than the publications would suggest. Kopitar seemed to turn into Superman over the summer as every publication somehow found a way to put him higher and higher in their rankings.
If any prospect was bound to make a leap, Sasha Pokulok was bound to be that guy. Ranked in the mid/late 2nd round by most pundits, the 6'5" 220 defenseman was bound to be selected in the first round simply because big dmen who skate well are always a prized commodity.
Speaking of slipping on a banana peel, Jakub Vojta, the offensive defenseman ranked the 3rd best European skater by CSS, slipped all the way to the Hurricanes at #94.
Vojta is a major risk due to his style of play and suspect work habits. Still, at #94, the Canes certainly could do no wrong taking a player with some real upside.
- Slovakia didn't have quite the crop that they did the last 2 seasons (no goalie!), but they fared well with two 1st rounders and 7 players overall. (the highlighted links lead to their HF profiles)
(1)13th - Marek Zagrapan, Buffalo
(1)30th - Vladimir Mihalik, Tampa Bay
(4)92nd - Marek Bartanus, Tampa Bay
(4)121st - Juraj Mikus, Montreal
(4)123rd - Ondrej Otcenas, Carolina
(6)133rd - STANSILAV LASCEK(!!), Tampa Bay
(7)205th - Mario Bliznak, Vancouver (He'll be playing for the Giants, too!)
- No, Tampa Bay is *not* my new favourite team, but they certainly were trying! Not only did the Lightning draft Stanslav Lascek (hooray!), but they drafted 3 Slovaks and 2 Czechs (Radek Smolenak and Marek Kvapil) in total. Mihalik at #30 was a bit puzzling, but Smolenak is an underrated gem and I'm really happy for Lascek.
- The UNWANTED - Among the names not called yesterday were troubled Slovak winger Richard Lelkes and the plodding ogre Devereaux Heshmatpour. Lelkes has talent, but a 10-cent head...while Devereaux is a slower skater than goaltenders wearing full equipment.
- 1st Round pick that looks like a bust from the start: Jakub Kindl, 19th overall to Detroit. I've seen him play and was thoroughly disappointed. I've read nothing but negative press all season long, and I just don't see what was so special about him.
- His Kitchener Rangers teammate, Matt Lashoff, went 22nd to Boston and I think that he will be a good value pick for the Ruins. Lashoff isn't flashy, but he looks to be above-average in all areas of the game and looks like a good bet (as good as a draft pick could be at #22) to do good things at the NHL level.
- The Russian Red Scare - I know the Russian draft crop was weaker than American Budweiser, but it looks like GM's are (rightfully) scared to take Russian players these days. Many of these kids will have little or no interest in coming to the new NHL, and there could be many problems dealing with their club teams as the Russian Federation bickers with the IIHF over the transfer agreement.
Only 11 Russian players were taken, with the first one not going until the 70th pick to Ottawa (VITALY ANIKEYENKO).
- "Damn Yankees!" - The Americans, on the other hand, had 69 players taken! This number represents 30% of all drafted players yesterday. Canadians ought to be very nervous with the results of the US National Program these past few years.
- The Vancouver Giants had 3 players taken overall, which surprised the hell of out me.
Cody Franson, a 6'4" 200lbs D-man was taken 69th by the Predators. He's big, but seemed to be nothing more than an average WHL defenseman. I really hope he does well, since he will be a big part of the Giants next season with Andrej Meszaros (likely) gone onto the pro ranks.
J.D. Watt, a 6'1" 198lbs winger was taken 111th by Calgary. Watt is a hard-working plumber who will drop the gloves, but he has tremendous little skill and plays about 5 minutes a night for the Giants. Never in a million years would I have expected him to get drafted. *scratches head*
- An Ex-Giant, Matt Kassian, was taken in the 2nd round (57th overall) by the Minnesota Wild. Kassian was such a great fighter for the Giants that, as the rumours go, other WHL teams had a "Don't Fight Kassian" rule. With nobody willing to drop the gloves against Kassian, the Giants had no reason to keep him around. So, they traded him to the Kamloops Blazers.
Kassian is great at fighting and hitting, but little else. I am not too surprised that he was drafted, but I never expected him to go in the 2nd round!
- Not a great year for people who eat Bratwurst and Sauerkraut. Only 1 German (Philippe Gogulla to Buffalo at 48th) was taken. Austria and Switzerland both had 0 players selected!!!
- With most NHL teams having about 15% of a player roster, there weren't a lot of real trades going on. Still, the Leafs made a cheap pickup in getting Jeff O'Neill from the Canes for a conditional pick. O'Neill then signed with the Leafs for $1.5mil/season for 2 seasons.
O'Neill really wanted to be close to home, especially after the death of his brother. We could see a few more players take 'home town' discounts over the course of the new CBA, but teams shouldn't count on players being as 'generous' as O'Neill was.
Now, O'Neill needs to repay the Leafs by actually breaking a sweat during his training sessions and actual games...and it would help if he went back to the defensive zone once in awhile.
- Steals of the Draft - I am calling these picks as great value picks for the clubs that were lucky enough to see them fall into their laps. (Yeah, they are all Czechs, so what?)
1. Ondrej Pavelec, G, 41th to Atlanta - The best Czech goaltender prospect in this draft, he is the absolute opposite of Marek Schwarz in terms of style (substance over flash) and demeanor.
2. Radek Smolenak, LW, 73rd to Tampa Bay - I liked what I saw from this hard-working offensive winger at the CHL Top Prospects Game (in which he was a last-minute injury replacement). Coming into the season, I was told that he was a 'Soft Giant', but we saw how he adapted perfectly to North American hockey.
3. Tomas Popperle, G, 131st to Columbus - In the OVERAGE category, we have the 20-year old goalie who stole the starting job in Sparta Prague.
Here is McKeen's writeup on "Puppy":
A revelation in the senior Extraleague, the 84-born goalie has broken through with a dominating season, leading the league in save percentage after taking over as Sparta's starter when Petr Briza went down with an injury in mid-November. Popperle made headlines again at the Spengler Cup when he stole the starting job from David Aebischer. "He should be a sought-after player in the upcoming NHL draft," says a Czech scout. "One area of significant improvement to his game has been his added poise. Whereas in previous years he was prone to giving up weak goals due to poor focus, he has really economized his game. Does not play a fixed style - he plants himself very firmly and just sucks the pucks in without going down as a butterfly would. His dexterity is very good and he is sound positionally. He moves quickly side-to-side with strong recovery instincts and determination. Two areas that he must upgrade though are his glove hand and puckhandling."
- Last, but not least, we have Paul Stastny, the other son of Peter Stastny, drafted 44th by Colorado. Those Stastny's sure have some amazing hockey genes.
McKeen's Scouting Report:
A smart, street-savvy player with great militant hands like his father (Peter Stastny). The elder Stastny was a master of whacking an opponent's stick at first contact to create room for himself which Paul seems to have inherited. I love his defensive positioning - he is very responsible and oh-so-crafty with and without the puck. Stocky, strong, with powerful arms. Skating mechanics aren't bad and he moves pretty effortlessly, though he could use a better top speed.(militant hands?)
...and there you have it! Let the second-guessing, ranting, and raving begin!
Saturday, July 30, 2005
Vancouver Awarded 2006 NHL Entry Draft
Canucks Awarded 2006 NHL Entry Draft
Ottawa, ON, — NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced during the first round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft that the Vancouver Canucks, and the city of Vancouver have been awarded the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.
Vancouver’s only other experience with the NHL Entry Draft came in 1990 when it was held at B.C. Place. In that draft the first overall pick was Owen Nolan, while Vancouver had the second overall selection and drafted Petr Nedved of the Seattle Thunderbirds.
The 2006 NHL Entry Draft will feature top prospect Phil Kessel of the US Under-18 Squad and Michael Frolik who played for the Czech Republic at the recent World Junior Championships.
I'll have lots of post-draft thoughts tomorrow.
Friday, July 29, 2005
NHL Entry Draft: Pre-Draft Roundup
If you haven't been keeping up with news in the world of prospects, I've got some goodies and links of interest for y'all.
For me, the real story of interest will be where hometown hockey hero Gilbert Brule ends up. I fear that he will end up in Carolina, Anaheim, or some other bushwhacked hockey market where it will be hard to follow him and really get excited when he pumps in goals in front of just 700 fans. (Yes, I know these markets have plenty of great fans, but it is just not possible for me to ever get excited about them in any sense)
Can my Jedi vision of Gilbert Brule in a Canucks jersey become reality? The Canucks, who have the 10th overall pick, are rumoured to be talking to teams above them in order to trade up.
For more on Gilbert Brule:
1. An NHL.com feature
2. My musings and reports from the CHL Top Prospects game here in Vancouver, in which Gilbert Brule scored 3 goals and was named the game's MVP:
Top prospect Benoit Pouliot, who is NOT as good as Gilbert Brule *ahem*, does score points for entering the world of blogging. Check out his NHL.com blog here!
Hockeysfuture.com, my old haunt, has their annual Draft Centre, which is a great one-stop shop for all of your drafting information.
HF.com has previews for all teams, including one for my beloved and troubled St. Louis Blues. Loving this team is sort of like falling in love with a prostitute. ("Pretty Woman", hockey style?).
HF hasn't yet posted my Slovakian prospect profiles, but those should be up soon. I'll also chip in with a complete Slovak Draft Review after the draft is complete.
McKeen's Hockey is also a great place for scouting reports and other drafting news. Most of the articles are subscription-only, but here are some good freebies
1. McKeen's Mock Draft
2. McKeen's Draft Awards
The NHL's Central Scouting Bureau has released their final rankings. As always, there are some very questionable calls... I mean Devereaux Heshmatpour at #68 for NA Skaters and Danny Syvret at #72? I know Syvret is a whole year older, but why would any NHL team touch Heshmatpour with a ten-foot pole until the final round? The CSB has always had a woody for size, and their rankings this year are no different. If the NHL is truly in for changes, then I would be even less inclined to take a plodding ogre like Hestmatpour.
North American Skaters
North American Goalies
International Scouting Services, a fine firm I do some writing for, has also released their Top 15 to the public. They publish an exceptional draft guide every year, which is a great purchase for anyone who is deeply interested in the NHL Entry Draft. ISS doesn't fall into the same trap as some of the other scouting bodies, and their call of Andrej Meszaros as the #4 prospect heading into last year's draft was ballsy and pretty much spot on.
You can see a sample of a past draft guide here.
ISS Top 15:
#1. Sidney Crosby C
#2. Benoit Pouliot LW
#3. Jack Johnson D
#4. Gilbert Brule C
#5. Bobby Ryan RW
#6. Anze Kopitar C
#7. Marc Staal D
#8. Ryan O'Marra C
#9. Marek Zagrapan C
#10. Carey Price G
#11. Luc Bourdon D
#12. Martin Hanzal C
#13. Jack Skille RW
#14. Alex Bourret C
#15. Ryan Parent D
Finally, I want to give some props for a deserving kid who likely won't be drafted: Stanislav Lascek.
I have vented in the past about Lascek and the fact that every single NHL team passed on an exceptional offensive producer...and I still don't get why teams are so afraid to use even a final-round pick on the guy.
ISS certainly agrees with me that Lascek is a fine talent. Here is an excerpt from their 2004 Draft Guide:
If character, work ethic, determination, and oh yes, throw in unquestionable leadership qualities count for anything, then this kid will be an NHL hockey player, someday. Here at ISS we will be the first to admit, Lascek has deficiencies, namely in the skating department. However, we have to admire Lascek’s courage and conviction to follow his dream of playing in the NHL. Living in a new country, learning a new language and missing the first 9 games certainly was a difficult beginning for Lascek. He was a guy who had areas of concern and requires some hard work on and off the ice to be able to make it as an elite player. He is steadily demonstrating will, spirit, and drive to achieve this end. That commitment to be a player is what a lot of teams are looking for these days. You can’t really get by on talent alone anymore, although there are some exceptions. By and large, you not only have to have the talent but it is also necessary to have passion and drive to self-improve in order to excel at the highest level.Lascek, unfortunately, will probably have to settle for trying to scrape together a free agent tryout with some NHL club. Could has be passed by again? It's just...hard to believe.
A couple of ISS scouts have made the comparison to Brad Richards, in his early junior hockey career as a skater requiring some work, and Richards hasn’t turned out too badly. One ISS scout Bobby Dunn, should know what he is talking about, considering he helped Richards with his skating when he attended Andrews & Dunns Hockey Growth Program, one of the most respected in North America, for 11 years. After corresponding with Lascek;s agent Mike McArthur, along with assistance from his junior team, Stanislav’s plans are to attend Dunn’s program this summer.
Despite his ranking, if the amount of inquires from NHL clients, requesting information on Lascek’s progress this season is any indication, he will someday have the opportunity to live out his dream.
Thursday, July 28, 2005
Bob Goodenow is stepping down as head of the NHL Players' Association, less than a week after the union and league approved a new labor deal to end a lockout that wiped out the entire 2004-05 season.
"With the conclusion of the negotiations and the ratification of the new agreement, the parties concur that this is an appropriate action for the future," Goodenow said in a statement Thursday.
"I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to serve the players over the past 15 years and to have had the support of a tremendous staff at the NHLPA," he said.
Every member of the NHLPA should send Bob a "Thank You" gift basket. Even though the players 'caved' and had to accept linkage and a cap, the strides and the money that Bob and his NHLPA cohorts have sucked out of the owners the past 15 years is immense. Bob did a superb job on behalf of his players, financially.
While I have disagreed with his approach to player safety (basically, he cares not) and many other things, I can always respect that fact that he and the agents were able to take advantage of the owners and play the 'business' men for fools.
Now, I just wish he'd take Gary Bettman with him!
Blues Outlook #3: Overqualified!
Blues scribe Bernie Miklasz provides a good summary on the Blues current fix.
As the National Hockey League prepares to relaunch its product to a curious, if skeptical, public, the Blues are in an unfortunate, depressing situation. With the other NHL franchises busy making grand plans to celebrate a return to the ice, the Blues are in the corner, hands in pockets, looking rather glum.
The team is for sale. And until the Blues are sold, costs will be held down. The financial books are receiving a thorough cleaning. Blues management made the correct choice to retain forwards Doug Weight and Keith Tkachuk for one more season instead of burning money on buy-outs and letting them walk without compensation...
... no long-term player contracts will be handed out with the "For Sale" sign hanging at Savvis Center. I'm told by multiple sources that owner Bill Laurie has made it clear to Blues executives that he doesn't want the team's books cluttered with long-term salary obligations. Laurie undoubtedly concludes there's a better chance of selling the Blues quickly if a new owner can make a fresh start, with little or no inherited debt.
Well, a fresh start with a barren farm system! I can see why potential investors might want to stay away from this club. All of the payroll room in the world isn't going to help when almost the entire roster will have to be redone and there aren't many cheap prospects on the farm that can provide an in-house solution (See my rant from 2 days ago)
I decided to plug in the numbers and see how the Blues roster would look like if all of the qualifying offers were accepted. I do not know the exact terms of Andy Roach's contract and I am a bit unsure of Peter Sejna's figure (He was paid a cool $1mil+, so he's an expensive little bugger). My figures won't be exact, but they'll be damn close enough.
As you can see, the Blues have $35million(!) commited to 20 players...and the Blues still need a real 2nd line! Don't expect it to be so easy for the Blues just so sign all of these guys to their qualifying offers. Bryce Salvador could make a good case that he's worth more than a million greenbacks a season.
The Blues have no room to fill out the rest of the roster with anything but the worst of the free agent bargain bin. Thus, there will be lots of speculation as to the future of Chris Pronger. The fact is, ONE of the THREE big contracts will have to go if the Blues want to run a full team: One that has SOME chance of making the playoffs.
...Dark days ahead...
Wednesday, July 27, 2005
Markus, you complete me!
"Tell us why you love Markus Naslund"
Although Markus is Swedish and, therefore, boring, he has been fun to watch and an absolute classy representative of our hometown club. He is one of the best players in the league and one of the best players in our club's history. There has been talk that he wouldn't want to play for any NHL club since Vancouver is such a nice city and similar to his hometown of Ornskoldsvik. I, along with most Canucks fans (there are some idiots out there), love the guy (in a manly non-sexual kind of way) and want him back here.
So, I decided to enter the contest and express my love and enter the contest. Of course, my real motivation was the chance for free tickets ;)
In today's NHL, with its low scoring games and dark cloud of moneylust hanging overhead, Markus Naslund represents all of the fine qualities that we could ever want from an NHL player.
On the ice, Naslund leads the Canucks with a quiet determination and dignity and entertains us with his dazzling array of moves and wristshots. Not since Pavel Bure have the Canucks had an offensive player that makes the rest of the league stand up and take notice. Naslund was voted MVP by his peers for good reason.
Off the ice, Naslund has been active in the local community and gracious and generous with his donations of hockey equipment to local children and his various charity endeavours.
Naslund has been a great leader and representative of our team, and we need him back if the Canucks are to make another serious run at the Stanley Cup. 'Nazzy' might be Swedish, but he is a true Canuck. It wouldn't seem right to have him finish his NHL career in another uniform.
In other Canucks news, the NHL has released the regular season schedules.
The Canucks sked can be found here.
The Canucks don't play a home tilt against the St. Louis Blues until February 8th! D'oh!
Palffy (and Stumpel) heading back to Los Angeles?
In the interview, the 33 year-old Palffy proclaimed that his agent has been in discussions with the Los Angeles Kings about returning to the land of surgically enhanced people. Palffy is looking for a 3 year deal, and says things look 'good' in that regard.
The LA Kings are also in discussions with Jozef Stumpel, Palffy's long time partner in offensive crime. Both guys want to be re-united in LA, and Palffy said "I would be happy if we both signed."
Risky Business - Palffy and Stumpel are both fine players, but are still risky signings if the Kings intend to give both 3 year deals as it rumoured.
Palffy is already 33 and would be 36 by the time this contract is finished. Zigo is known for his poor off-season training habits and could very well age quickly and suddenly lose his effectiveness like Teemu Selanne.
Palffy has also had injury troubles in recent seasons and appeared in only 35 games in 2003-04. Still, Palffy is an incredibly smart player and would be a happy camper back in LA.
Stumpel, also 33, has often had trouble keeping healthy and will only get even slower as he gets older. His production the last 2 seasons was fairly weak (just 37 points in 64 games for the Kings in 03-04 and just 39 points in 52 games for Slavia last season).
If the Kings can get Palffy for a decent price, a 3-year contract wouldn't be so bad. If the Kings have to sign Stumpel for a 3-year deal just to get Palffy back, that could end up hurting them in the future and persent depending on the cost.
Tuesday, July 26, 2005
Blues Outlook #2 - Into the Future
"That's just cash thrown into the river as far as I'm concerned," [Blues President] Sauer said. "Let's not sugarcoat this, this isn't a fantasy sports league here. That's real money being paid. Some teams are being forced to do that. Thank goodness we don't have to do that."
It might not be fantasy hockey, but the Blues are still in a bind and still haven't made a decision on the future of Chris Pronger. If the Blues qualify Pronger at $7.6million, they will have just 14 players and a payroll of US$ 31.7 million!
Management will present owners Bill and Nancy Laurie with a '05-06 budget this week, and Sauer said several times Monday that it won't be anywhere near the $39 million salary cap.So, how can the Blues sign Pronger and 8-9 other players without coming near the cap or going over? It will be nearly impossible unless the rest of the roster is filled with Budweiser filler making the league minimum.
"We're not trying to figure out, nor should we, how to spend to the max," Sauer said. "We're trying to figure out, 'How do we stay flexible? How do we get this team more stable financially? How do we prepare for a very complex set of circumstances?"
The logical theory is that one of Pronger, Weight, or Tkachuk will HAVE to be traded before the season starts or very early on in the season. The Blues cannot possibly hope to 'survive' giving 3 players a large chunk of their payroll.
The problem is, why would other NHL teams want to trade for a player that will take so much of their cap space? I can't see too many teams making offers when they can sign good Unrestricted Free Agents for cheaper salaries. The Big 3 would be perfect mid-season trade options as half or more of their salary will be paid for the year, so the Blues may be stuck with all 3 for awhile.
Now, the Blues, like all other clubs, need some cheap prospects to earn their promotion and bring a positive impact to their pro roster. If the Blues are so hamstrung by 3 large contracts, they will need some of their cheaper players to be well worth the money.
It doesn't help that the Blues farm system is weak in most areas and presents the Blues with no real great short-term solutions to this year's roster.
Hockeysfuture.com ranks the Blues #22 in their Organizational Rankings, and the pickings are slim. Here's a little rundown of the 'good' prospects the Blues have.
Strengths: The Blues have quality at the goaltending position with former first round picks Marek Schwarz and Jason Bacashihua as their top two prospects. The Blues' forwards include solid two-way players Jay McClement and Michal Birner, a pure skill player in Alexei Shkotov, and potential power forwards such as David Backes and Carl Soderberg.
Weaknesses: The Blues system lacks a true top-pairing defenseman, with Roman Polak as the top rated blueliner, and the talent on the wings as a group lags somewhat behind that of the crop of centers and goalies.
Top Prospects: Marek Schwarz (G), Jason Bacashihua (G), Jay McClement (C), Alexei Shkotov (RW) and David Backes (C)
Neither Shkotov nor Backes are really 'good' prospects, and McClement is pretty much looking like just a good 'role player'. There isn't one single forward in the Blues system that could step in for the Blues as a top-6 forward for at least 2-3 seasons, and even then the prospects are weak.
Marek Schwarz, G - Regular readers of this blog will know all about Marek by now. After a disappointing season with the Vancouver Giants, Schwarz is returning home to Sparta Prague and has lost a lot of his lustre. As great as he is on the International ice surface, his angle reads on the smaller ice were very poor and he was often far out of his net, allowing opponents easy rebound goals. Schwarz won't be able to help the Blues for at least 3-4 seasons.
Jason Bacashihua, G - When Dallas selected him in the first round a few years back, I touted this as one of the better value picks in the draft. The Blues dealt fellow first rounder Shawn Belle in exchange for "Cash" in a rather strange trade. Jason has great potential, but his development has stalled in the past 2 seasons and he's not yet ready to assume a backup role in the NHL. He could be a good #1 goalie some day, but that is at least 2-3 years away, if not more. Cash is a long-term solution, but the Blues are OK in goal at the moment with Lalime, Divis, and Sanford.
Jay McClement, C - The Blues 2nd round pick in 2001, McClement has never put up big offensive numbers at any level. Still, the former Canadian World Junior silver medalist is great in the defensive zone and has developed and progressed well in every single season. Last year, McClement led the Worcester IceCats with 51 points in 79 games.
McClement has good skating ability and is quick on the draw. He won't be more than 3rd line defensive specialist, but he could be a plus player in that role. He will be a regular player for the Blues next season, even if temporarily shifted to the left wing. Think of a smaller, but faster, Mike Eastwood.
Alexei Shkotov, RW - Of all of the Blues forward prospects, Shkotov is only one of two who has top-6 potential at this point in time. After lighting up the QMJHL for 61 points in 36 games during 2003-04, Alexei split last season between Russia (7 points in 21 games) and Worcester (12 points in 23 games). At 5'11" and about 160 pounds, Shkotov is quite easy to knock off the puck, and has to rely on his great speed to generate offence. If he doesn't elect to stay in Russia like a lot of Russian players are probably going to do, he could help the Blues in about 2-3 seasons. For the short-term, he has to get stronger and develop his scoring touch in the lower pro leagues.
David Backes, C - 6'2" 200lbs centerman from Minnesota State, Backes has played well in the NCAA and racked up 40 points in 38 games last year along with 55 PIMs. The book on Backes is that he is kind of soft for his size, needs work on his skating, and is a bit of a project. His defensive play is solid and he is good on faceoffs. Hmm, perhaps we have Michael Eastwood Jr? Again, Backes looks like a 3rd line type who could develop into a 2nd line winger if his offence translates in the pro ranks.
Peter Sejna, LW - There were some heavy hopes for Sejna when he signed with the Blues as a free agent after winning the Hobey Baker award in 2003. Sejna started the 03-04 season on a line with Doug Weight, but absolutely bombed in a 20-game stint (just 4 points and a lot of defensive misreads). Sejna faired OK in the AHL that season, but regressed offensively in 04-05 with just 38 points in 64 games.
It really looks more and more like Sejna will not become the scoring threat that he was touted to be when he ripped apart the NCAA with the Colorado College team. Sejna will turn 26 early in the NHL season, and he probably has almost peaked in terms of his pro potential. If he were plunked onto the Blues this season, it is doubtful he could generate enough offence to justify a top-6 spot.
At the very least, Sejna did improve greatly on his defensive zone play. Sejna wouldn't look too far out of place on the 3rd or 4th lines...it's just that he was expected to do so much more. His star has fallen, but Sejna just might (hopefully) be able to surprise us with some of that offence we used to know and love. For now, pencil Sejna in as a 'maybe' on the Blues roster, and perhaps the default 2nd line Left Winger.
After that, the Blues prospect ranks are quite thin and there isn't much else that will excite Blues fans. Other than in goal, the Blues lack quality and quantity of useful prospects that could plug in holes and make a positive impact. With the lottery giving the Blues the 24th pick in the first round of the upcoming 2005 Entry Draft, it looks bleak for the Blues to improve in this regard as they won't get one of the Blue Chip boys.
Woe is the Bluenote.. :(
Canucks Fans Hop Right Back on the Bandwagon
All the Vancouver Canucks had to do to win back their fans was say: Game on.
Even with the status of their two biggest stars in limbo, fans trying to get their hands on season tickets flooded the box office this past weekend.
"The waiting list has grown dramatically since we announced that we're playing hockey in the fall," Canucks general manager Dave Nonis said Monday.
"And, we're already pushing a 90 per cent [season-ticket] renewal rate right now."
GM Dave Nonis has been pretty non-commital about lowering ticket prices. This has to be the first quote I've heard from him on this topic:
Nonis has not yet announced ticket prices for this season but did say there is a good chance they will be frozen, or possibly discounted.
"We may go lower once we make a determination of what it's going to cost to put our team on the ice," Nonis said.
I'd be shocked if the Canucks lowered ticket prices for the regular folk. Why would they? If the Canucks can easily sell tickets at this juncture, what is the use of lowering prices and basically giving away profits? I seriously doubt we'll be seeing any discounts on single-game tickets.
Note to Vancouver Mediots: When the inevitable comes and the Canucks don't lower ticket prices like Gary Bettman promised, please do not whine and moan and complain like the little children you are.
Feel free to borrow one of my Economics textbooks and read an early chapter on Supply and Demand. If the Canucks can charge $300 per ticket and sell out GM Place, why would they lower prices when they cannot increase supply?
Monday, July 25, 2005
Brian Savage: The Hunt for Mr. October
Savage, 34, was scheduled to make $2.85 million US this season. The Coyotes bought him out for $1.9 million, as per the new collective bargaining agreement which allows a one-time window to buy out contracts.I got to thinking that one enterprising team may want to sign Brian Savage to a incentive-laden contract. Given his past nickname of "Mr. October" for his great early-season goal scoring feats earlier in his career, it might make sense to sign Brian Savage to a contract, and then trade or dump him in December after the magic wears off.
...and then I decided to look at his splits for the past two seasons.
It seems Savage hasn't been living up to his Mr. October moniker the last two seasons. His production hasn't even been that special in November.
Note to GM's of any team I don't hate: Don't sign this guy!
What's the use of signing Savage when he's just an oft-injured, defensively challenged winger who no longer produces goals? I hope the St. Louis Blues aren't tempted to bring back Savage as a 'budget' signing.
Oh, and Mr. October is such a catchy nickname that I think I'll still continue to call him that. A player should never lose a great nickname.
Radovan Somik and Martin Strbak to Stay in Europe
A bit of surprising and bad news for Flyers fans as 28 year-old Slovakian winger Radovan Somik has decided to stay in Europe following the lockout and will not return to the NHL.
Radovan Somik played in 2 seasons with the Flyers, compiling 12 goals and 20 assists in 113 regular season games and 2 goals and 2 assists in 14 playoff games.
While Somik was never an offensive superstar, even in Europe, but he was good defensively, had a cheap salary, and was always very coachable in Ken Hitchcock's system.
Somik really developed good chemistry with countryman Michal Handzus and big Donald Brashear as an effective checking unit. Somik's skating ability and smarts combined with Brashear's size and aggressiveness and Handzus' defensive reads made this combo one of the more effective and underrated checking units since the Florida Panthers trotted out Mike Hough-Brian Skrudland-Jody Hull to shut down the league's top offensive lines.
Somik made a modest US$600,000 last year, and wouldn't have really been able to make that much more as a Restricted Free Agent. It's no surprise, really, that Somik would stay in Europe where he could make similar money and play a more offensive role than he did with the Flyers.
Also, Penguins defenseman Martin Strbak signed a contract with CSKA Moscow that does NOT contain an NHL out clause. Strbak had played in Russia before his brief NHL career, and decided that the money in the NHL ($550,000 with rollback and taxes on top) could not compare to the star salary he could earn in Vodkaland ($500,000+ tax-free).
It's a shame for the Penguins, since Strbak is a pretty good 2-way defender and was one of their better players as they tanked the season. I was glad when he made the trek over here, and was pulling for the Kings or some other team (which was the Penguins) to give him a real shot.
St. Louis Blues: Outlook #1
Where's the excitement? Where's the drama?
Over the off-season, I'll be focusing on the present and future of the St. Louis Blues as they try and continue their record-setting playoffs-made move into the new era without Captain Al MacInnis.
The St. Louis Blues have two major problems with their roster that have been building for many years.
1. The roster is top-heavy: Currently, the Blues have 13 players signed at $24.1 million dollars in salary, and this does not include the highly-paid Chris Pronger, who would be entitled approximately $7.6 million of the Blues qualified his contract. If the Blues did qualify pronger, they would have $31.7 million committed to 14 salaries, with 20.9mil (66%) tied up in 3 players salaries with 8-10 roster spots to fill! No team is going to be successful with most of their payroll tied into 3 players.
2. The Blues have very few good prospects in the pipeline. For a few years now, the Blues have had a barren farm system thanks to some poor drafting, promotions, and trades. Heading into the new NHL, the Blues are in poor shape with very good quality young players to promote onto the pro roster. Therefore, the Blues will need to head out into the open market to fill quite a few spots if they hope to have any playoff hopes.
Restricted Free Agents: Chris Pronger, Jamal Mayers, Ryan Johnson, Mark Rycroft, Bryce Salvador.
Goaltending: Patrick Lalime is a bonafide #1 and Reinhard Divis should be ready for the backup role, if he chooses to come back to North America. Prospect Jason Bacashihua isn't quite ready to the backup role, so the #3 job (or possible backup) will likely fall to Curtis Sanford. The Blues are looking OK in this department.
Defense: The Blues seem likely to sign Chris Pronger as he is a cornerstone player and would help carry the Blues defense corps. Pronger isn't as tradeable as he once was, but he could be dealt for 2-3 players if the Blues are looking to get quantity over quality. Overall, Barrett Jackman, Bryce Salvadore (who is RFA) and Christian Backman provide a good young core to build around while the wily Weinrich is pretty old but still a decent 3rd line player. Matt Walker is a tough fringe player who is not suited for anything other than the 7th man position. If Pronger comes back, the Blues will only need to sign 1-2 decent defensemen and they'll be set.
Forwards: Unless the Blues trade Pronger, they are expected to buy out one of either Doug Weight or Keith Tkachuk. After those two, the Blues have some decent role players and a real lack of quality.
Center: Petr Cajanek has been a disappointment offensively in the NHL, but he does have the real potential to be a good #2 centerman. Cajanek can also play on the wing, as he might have to with the current roster makeup.
Mike Sillinger is an excellent faceoff artist and solid 2-way center, and he can man the #3 spot. Ryan Johnson is suitable for the #4 spot or he can be shifted to wing and allow prospect Jay McClement to man the #4 spot. If the Blues keep Weight and Cajanek can find his offensive game, the Blues will be at least average down the pipe.
Wingers: If the Blues buy out Tkachuk, they will have absolutely no wingers with any pop in their guns. Without an outside fusion of free agent spice, the Blues will have an offence with less flavour than tofu.
Eric Boguniecki and Dallas Drake have enough skill to play on the top 2 lines, but only as complimentary players to the real skilled guys. In the real world, they are both suited to the 3rd line.
Jamal Mayers is all tools and no toolbox, and struggles to make himself a plus player even on the 3rd line at times. Reed Low is a 4th line goon, and Mark Rycroft is his partner in crime. Prospect Peter Sejna was once looked at as the solution to the offensive problem, but it's looking more and more like he will not provide any goal scoring at the NHL level.
To summarize, it's obvious that the Blues have one big decision to make in regards to the Big 3 players. Once that decision is made, the Blues will really need to focus their efforts on finding some offensive-minded wingers, 2 solid depth defensemen, and possibly an upgrade at the #2 center slot. With the current offensive configuration, the Blues could struggle to make it out of the bottom 5 teams for goals scored.
Tomorrow, I plan to look at the prospects in the Blues organization and how, if possible, they can help the Blues next season.
Saturday, July 23, 2005
The Changing Landscape of the NHL
Here is the damage, per the official release from the NHL.
Let's look at the MAJOR changes we'll be facing when the puck hits the ice in October.
Two-Line Passing: Passes from behind the defensive blue line to the attacking blue line will be considered legal. The center red line will be ignored for purposes of the "two line pass".
(Look for defensive-minded coaches to put the reigns on their defensemen even more as they want to protect from the long passes. What we could gain in long-bomb passes could be negated by having less defensemen attacking. As someone who follows European hockey, I've always had reservations about the NHL adopting this rule. Many European leagues are incredible defensive-minded, mainly because of systems designed to protect against long breakout passing.)
No-Touch Icing: "Touch" icing will remain the practice, although the Linesman will have discretion to wave off apparent icing infractions if they are deemed the result of an attempted pass. Providing the discretion to the Linesman also should have the effect of reducing the number of situations in which a race for the puck might result in an injury to a player.
(I like this compromise, though, like Don Cherry, I'd rather have "No-Touch". With the increased amount of long passes we'll be seeing, we need to have the linesmen ensure that we don't get a parade of long-bomb passes that are always whistled down. )
A team that ices the puck cannot make a line change prior to the ensuing face-off.
(Good, no more free passes for tired defenders! Tired defenders = mistakes = goal scoring chances!)
SHOOTOUTS: Regular-season games that are tied at the conclusion of overtime will be decided by a shootout round beginning in 2005-06, the National Hockey League announced today.
The new shootout rule guarantees a winner each game; ties have been eliminated. If a game remains tied after the five-minute, four-on-four overtime period, the teams will engage in a shootout, in which three skaters aside take alternating penalty shots against the opposing goaltender. If still tied after three shots per team, 'sudden-death' shots will be taken to reach a decision.
The League will award two points to a team that wins in regulation, overtime or the shootout; one point to a team that loses in overtime or the shootout; and no points to a team that loses in regulation.
(Sure, using a shootout of 3 players to decide a game played by a whole team. I don't want to repeat myself for the 1,000,000th time, but I'm really choked about shootouts since this is my least favourite aspect of European hockey.
It's too bad, also, that the NHL is awarding/rewarding shootout winners the exact same 2 points as teams who win in regulation time. Great, now we'll see all sorts of teams play it safe in the 3rd period to guarantee themselves a bonus point.
It's too bad the NHL didn't take a look into the "3 point" system I discussed previously.)
Goaltenders who play the puck behind the goal line but outside the designated puck handling area will be penalized for delay of game.
(Dumb, dumber, and dumbest! Why are we punishing the few goalies who are great puckhandlers [Brodeur, DiPietro]? I mean, if Brodeur thinks the risk of handling the puck outside of his crease is worth the reward, then he should be allowed. The NHL could have allowed goalies to play the puck outside this zone, but subject to the same 'law of the land' that all other players face. If Brodeur thinks he can play the puck and not get bodychecked, then let him try!)
Overcompensation - It's a trait of the desparate souls who can't see that common sense solutions are often the best ones. I am really hoping for the best, but I am fearing the worst.
I am willing to give these new rules a chance, but I, and all other NHL fans, will be watching like a skeptic hawk.
Friday, July 22, 2005
NHL Lottery Returns
Canucks end up with #10... nice a top 10 pick. Ranger$ down at 16...whosever face they showed (Maloney?) looks like he was going to cry.
...and the winnah is...
THE PITTSBURGH PENGUINS!!!
Official results available here.
NHL Hockey on HBO?
As the NHL seems ready to play games again, it has no national U.S. cable TV deal. An idea: Put games, with players and coaches miked live, on ad-free HBO, where anything goes with on-air expletives.Given Gary Bettman's foolish quest to eliminate fighting from the NHL, I doubt he would consider having hockey in this format. I can't imagine too many of the players would want everything on air, either.
"That's intriguing," HBO Sports President Ross Greenburg says. "The only issues would be how much (money) they'd want and the games' significance. I'm not sure regular-season games would have the heat we'd need. But if they gave us an open book, we'd fill the pages."
Still, I like the thought of having some 'all-access' NHL games. If you really wanted to get inside the game of hockey, let's hear more of the 'banter' from the ice and the benches.
When the CBC's board-mikes caught Brian Skrudland curse-filled tirade to the ref about a penalty he took during a Panthers/Flames game many years ago, it certainly brought the viewing experience to a different level.
The NHL could certainly attract a 'mature' audience (for lack of a better word) with a 10-game package on HBO. HBO is known for its great production capabilities, so why not take advantage if HBO were willing to talk?
NHL: New Logo versus Old Logo
Here is the new one versus the old one.
It's somewhat typical of today's age that they went to a black/grey/silver etc motif with no real colour. It's a shame, since the NHL's logo was very recognizable, classic, and classy. The new logo isn't "bad", but it seems like a downgrade and unnecessary change.
What's the point?
CHL: Spotlight on Marek Polak
Under the new CBA, Marek may have to wait another year to be selected. He was a 2006 eligible draft pick for the NHL, but now it looks like all kids his age will have to wait until 2007 to hear their names called.
(On another note, doesn't this make the 2006 draft absolutely weak? Will they even have a draft?)
In a previous post, I wasn't able to elaborate very much on this 6'2" 200, pound winger, but superscout Robert Neuhauser (of McKeens) came to the rescue and shares his scouting knowledge of this unheralded tank.
Scouting: a solid skater with good lower-body strength and balance .. possesses solid agility, but could use bigger top-end speed .. adequate acceleration .. okay stickhandling skills .. can occassionally beat an opponent in one-on-one and go with the puck into traffic .. a competitive warrior .. above-average toughness .. hits hard along the boards and mucks in thecorners .. unleashes a hard slap shot .. battles traffic effectively ..adequate defensive awareness, but has to further improve in this asset .. good leadership skills .. solid on the special units .. adequate vision and hockey sense, but misreads developing plays at times and is at the wrong place .. prone to odd off-games where he isn't able to create quality plays with the puck and is hampered by a lack of elite smarts.
In my opinion would Marek Polak make a solid major junior player after the needed adjustment period. The Wolves made a solid pick at the 7th spot. He doesn't speak very good English at this point, but is picking up on his knowledge during the summer. Polak is going to report to the Wolves summer camp and his playing style should translate to the OHL adequately well.
Polak is among the grittiest players of the Czech '88 class and wanted to play major junior as early as possible. He wasn't very happy with his situation on the Trinec junior team, mainly with the fact that he definitely wouldn't get any playing time on the senior team in 2005-2006. The Czech 1988 birthyear is very strong which causes the fact that Polak isn't among the most highly-touted prospects, but he is a solid player in the second tier and a possible NHL draft pick if he adjusts to the OHL quickly enough.
Don't expect him to score big numbers in his rookie OHL season, he will need to be brought along slowly to adapt, but should become a solid asset to your team down the road. I expect Polak to be a modest scorer in 2005-2006 before possibly raising his offensive output in the next seasons. He won't ever be among the scoring champions, but should make a solid OHL player with decent offensive numbers.
On another note, I had one of my Jedi premonitions last night: Gilbert Brule donning a Vancouver Canucks sweater at the 2005 Entry Draft. I saw great joy in Vancouver, and great sadness in New York. I am definitely excited and nervous about tonight's draft lottery.
Thursday, July 21, 2005
Dany Heatley: Morbid Curiosity
How about owning the very same Ferrari that Dany Heatley crashed?
EBay is known as a clearing house for strange stuff, but I can't fathom why anyone would want to pay $15,000 USD for a smashed up Ferrari (and that didn't even meet the reserve price!)
The actual EBay auction does not specify who owned the vehicle, but the boys at gameworn.net put 2 and 3 together and discovered who really owned this vehicle.
I just wonder why someone would want to purchase this wreck? Spare parts? A morbid collectors item? Whatever the case, the auction was stopped. This is likely due to the fact that whoever was selling the smashed up Spider found out the history behind his goods.
Feel like Playing the Draft Lottery?
For fantasy league owners, this same simulation allows you run various lottery drafts using different variables, if you are starting up a league of your own.
Just for kicks, I ran the simulation 20 times. The Canucks came up first once, and dead last twice. The Ranger$ also came in last once and first once.
Really, this whole exercise just goes to show you how random this draw really is. Your favourite team could end up anywhere from #1 to #30 very easily. I just hope the Canucks and Blues get the lucky bounce, so to speak.
Wednesday, July 20, 2005
NHL: Draft Lottery will be televised after all!
After getting a few slapshots to the head, the NHL finally relented and decided to let TSN (The Sports Network) in Canada air the draft lottery.
The results of the NHL's entry draft lottery, and who gets the No. 1 overall pick, will be carried exclusively on The Sports Network in a special half-hour show on Friday at 4 p.m. (EST).
Notice how they said the 'results', and not the actual drawing of the (*cough* New York Ranger *cough) lottery ball itself? I know it's hard for any of us to fathom why the NHL wouldn't show the actual draw when SIDNEY CROSBY (oh my gawd!) is on the line. Sure, the NBA doesn't televise its draw, but many suspect that the NBA has fixed its lottery ever since Patrick Ewing somehow ended up a New York Knickerbocker.
Look, Gary, could the NHL learn a little communication and at least let us know why the actual drawing won't be televised? Unless you are planning to fix the damn thing (which could still be done with weighted balls, I suppose), what is the real harm in showing us the actual balls spinning around inside a big ball? Who cares if the NBA doesn't show theirs, it's time for the NHL to up the ante and be a leader somewhere in the sports world!
I don't understand how East Coasters (like those at hockeybird.com) can whine about the 7PM EST lottery time when us West Coasters will still be at work when the draft results will be carried live on TV. Of course, us Westerners are used to be looked over when it comes to sporting events and other political issues.
As an aside, here's a real damn funny line from HDH at Hockeybird.com
So technically they can still fix the draft, but they are going to at least announce the results live, so will be able to see Glen Sather pretend to be surprised when they announce that the Rangers won the first pick. (I am just playing around.)The image of Glen Sather feigning shock could be Oscar-worthy.
For complete lottery system rules and such, here, again, is a most helpful page courtesy of TSN.ca
Let's not forget that the entire draft order, and not just the Sidney Crosby pick, is at stake here. If the Canucks can snag a top 5 pick, I'll suddenly have dreams of Gilbert Brule in a Canucks sweater and will murder GM Dave Nonis if he doesn't make it happen.
Tuesday, July 19, 2005
NHL: The Sidney Crosby Challenge
We've speculated on the fact that he's likely to end up in New York as a Ranger or any big market that Gary Bettman hand-picks during the secret lottery this Friday (moved from Thursday, apparently).
Now, it's time to give my thoughts on where I feel Crosby would serve the NHL the best and where he might be wasted.
Standard Line of Thinking I: "Sidney Crosby is the next Wayne Gretzky! You can plunk Sid the Kid into any troubled market and he will pull the team and the whole league up from the grave into financial heaven! Millions will flock to see Sidney Crosby, Nashville Predator, as he carries the NHL to heights unseen."
Standard Line of Thinking II: "Sidney MUST end up in one of the NHL's prime markets: New York or Toronto. The NHL suffers when the NY Rangers are doing poorly, and only in these two markets can the hype machine generate enough momentum to spread over all 30 NHL markets. If the NY and Toronto tabloids are writing 100 Crosby articles a day, the league will benefit."
As I see it, Crosby needs to play in a good hockey (not necessarily the biggest) market in order to maximize his playing and marketing potential. When Gretzky was traded to the Kings, he WAS the man. Crosby has not established himself south of the border, and he won't make the same impact (if at all) for a few years. It's not enough to plunk Crosby into any market and expect arenas to sell out.
So, here are my picks for the top 3 and bottom 3 American markets in which I would place Sid the Kid as well as the top and bottom Canadian markets.
Top 3 USA:
Los Angeles - This is one of the rumoured choices that Gary Bettman might FIX Sidney Crosby into, and it would be a good one. The NHL desparately needs some 'Street Credit', and what better way to obtain such props than by having Hollywood and other celebrities at LA Kings games and openly showing how much they like the sport. Remember when Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell were attending Kings games to watch Gretzky? I'm sure you've seen Jack Nicholson and many other celebs at LA Lakers games. The big stars shine brightly in LA, and the Crosby effect would definitely filter out to the other California hockey franchises.
If Crosby were to become one of the big stars of LA, it would give the NHL some recognition outside of the small circle it is currently confined to. Gretzky was one of the few hockey players that had real 'cred' outside of the hockey world thanks to the fact he was playing in LA, appearing on Saturday Night Live (in a very forgettable performance) and marrying a Hollywood actress.
Chicago - I know, I know, Bill Wirtz does NOT deserve Sidney Crosby.
Still, ChiTown is one of the best sports markets in North America, has a very good history as an Original Six member, and a large population. I believe the NHL really does feel the pain when the Chicago market is struggling as it is.
Under Wirtz, the Hawks have managed to kill a good deal of their current and future fan base. Despite this, there is still an appetite for hockey in ChiTown as the AHL's Chicago Wolves actually outdraw the NHL Hawks and other NHL teams on a regular basis. There are a LOT of people in ChiTown that would come back to the Hawks if they were a legitimate contender.
The ChiTown market is in need of repair, and, short of assissinating Bill Wirtz, having Sidney Crosby as a Chickenhawk would really bring this franchise back into good times once again. Remember when Jeremy Roenick and Ed Belfour led strong Hawks teams in the mid-early 90s? The NHL would really benefit from having Crosby take this team and make them into a strong force in the US Mid-West.
New York - I might hate to admit it, but we all know that having Crosby in Gotham City would benefit the league. New York represents the largest hockey market (well, any market) in North America and has the largest media contingent available at its disposal. Having Crosby on the front page of the New York Post on a regular basis would give the NHL exposure it would die for.
You'll notice I said New York, and not necessarily the Ranger$. Although only an outsider would ever put the Islanders and Rangers together, I believe Crosby's impact as an Islander would still be felt throughout the NHL. If Crosby was leading a new Islander's dynasty, you can bet the NY media would jump right on that bandwagon. If Crosby were to end up on the Isles, it might just speed up the process of getting out of the death trap that is the Nassau Memorial Coliseum.
Obviously, Crosby would better serve the NHL as a Ranger, rather than an Islander...but having him in the New York market, period, would be a great marketing boon for the NHL.
Florida/Carolina - I hate to pick on these two franchises all the time, but they really are a Black Hole when it comes to hockey coverage, attendance, and general interest.
Florida, as is stands right now, is in real danger of being the first NHL franchise to fold or relocate since the 30-team NHL began. Their arena is located in the middle of nowhere, the fan base is very small, and there are many whispers about their current financial and debt troubles that are too hard to ignore. The hockey coverage in South Florida is limited mainly to two dedicated writers (Russo and Neal), and Crosby would not get much exposure at all if he were playing so far away from the rest of the hockey world. Sunrise, Florida, is not where you want your top hockey draw to be practicing his craft.
On the plus side, The Florida Panthers have a good young team on the way up to respectibility (thanks to many good drafts). If Crosby was a Panther, this team would achieve powerhouse status for a few seasons and sustain such success thanks to a good, young core.
Carolina, as we've seen, is similar to Florida in terms of attendance and generally lousy media coverage. During their improbable run to the Cup Finals a few years back, they were met with a loud chorus of yawns and more apathy than is normally mentally possible. Carolina has always been derided by Canadians and the 'Yankees' as NASCAR Country (plus the fact they stole a team from Hartford), so having Crosby there would not result in a whole lot of bandwagon jumping from the North.
Carolina, unlike Florida, has an extremely poor farm system and would not be any threat to contend for the next 200 years. As long as GM Jim Rutherford is running the show, Crosby's talents as a Cane would wasted playing for a team that misses the playoffs almost every season.
Phoenix - As I expressed in a previous post about my travels to Phoenix, this place really is an oasis for hockey. In other words, if you don't want to think about hockey, Phoenix is a great place to go.
Geographically, Phoenix's weather lends itself to any sport that DOESN'T play on ice. It's very hard to tap into such a market when the weather is constantly in the 80s and 90s (Fahrenheit). Even a hockey fanatic such as myself had a hard time getting in the mood for a hockey game when it felt like golfing and suntanning weather. Phoenix is also not very close to any hockey market, so it's hard to develop a rivalry of any sort. Being close to the Mexican border also lends itself to a very large latino population which largely ignores hockey in favour of soccer or baseball. (I could count the number of visible minories at a Coyotes game on my right hand)
Media - Well, they really never cover hockey. Baseball (especially Spring Training), football, and basketball all get about 10000% more coverage than hockey. Like the Florida Panthers, the media coverage is rather poor and limited to one/two dedicated writers. The big hockey media of Canada, NY, and LA don't want to pay much attention to a market so far out of the normal scope of hockeyland.
The team is bad, and will be bad for some time...the arena is in the middle of a desert and surrounded by miles of parking lot and cactus plants.
Top Canadian Market - Montreal
"But Jes, Toronto is the centre of the UNIVERSE!! Crosby should be here!!"
Toronto doesn't need any help or any more attention than it already gets. If Crosby were to become a Maple Leaf, he would probably become one of Canada's least favourite players due to the incredible backlash of "Shut the hell up already!!!" cries from the rest of the country.
Montreal, on the other hand, has been in a funk for the last decade thanks to some financial tough times and some lacklustre teams. The Habs desparately need a superstar player and Crosby's favourite team happens to be the Canadiens. Imagine how good a happy Crosby will be?
When the historic Montreal Canadiens are doing great things, the rest of the country is very jealous ("Damn seperatist pigs!") and the Toronto/Montreal rivalry really does generate a lot of great and intense passion in many hockey fans. Even us Western outsiders tend to enjoy watching a great Montreal/Toronto tilt.
Bottom Canadian Market - Ottawa
Face it, Sens fans, your team is the "6th team out of 6" in Canada and well behind the others in terms of popularity outside of Ottawa. The Senators have had some great players over the past few years, but I see very few Sens fans outside of Ottawa...
1. Ottawa (the new incarnation) hasn't been around that long compared to the other 5 teams. While the Oilers and Flames built their fanbase through the 80s (thanks to championships), the Canucks built theirs over the past 30+ years, and Toronto/Montreal have been around forever, the Sens are the young baby that doesn't have a long history behind them.
2. There is a general disdain of Ottawa from outside of Ottawa. Given that Ottawa houses our corrupt federal politicians, is it any wonder why it could be hard to like a team from there? Torontonians and Montrealites also have a natural disdain for Ottawa given past sports and non-sports history.
3. While the CBC and national media drool over Toronto and Montreal (The French CBC), Ottawa is stuck in the middle of these two giants and definitely gets far less respect and media attention.
It's not that is having Crosby in Ottawa would be BAD, but it certainly would be less effective for the NHL to have him in a 'small market' like Ottawa compared to any of the other 5 Canadian cities (including 'small markets' Calgary and Edmonton)
Of course, the absolute best place that Sidney Crosby could end up is Vancouver. Why? Just because I live here ;) Maybe I could start the official Sidney Crosby Blog just because he doesn't get enough attention.
Monday, July 18, 2005
The American Media: The Negative Frontier
OK, we get it! The NHL is irrelevant, unworthy of our attention, and nobody down there cares about our game. The NHL and hockey is just another foreign 'niche' sport like darts, billiards, and cockfighting.
If the NHL is so irrevelvant, then why do you, the American media, feel compelled to keep wasting column space telling the fans this fact? Why spend hours telling us that nobody cares about the NHL...obviously you felt compelled and cared enough just to write about the NHL.
You know, after the 100000th "There was no NHL?" joke, it kinda gets a little stale.
On behalf of Canadian hockey fans and American fans who DO care.
I know that, on a whole, Americans don't care much about hockey. It's a fairly regional sport and doesn't have much of a dent in the culture of many places outside of Minnesota, Michigan, Boston, and a few other cold and snowy places.
Still, the Americans who do love the sport tend to love it just as much as Canadian fans. Some of the Americans could qualify for Canadian citizenship on that fact, alone (We'll trade you Celine Dion for a few Blues fans, eh?)
I agree with the Ottawa Sun's Erin Nicks in that the US Media has done nothing but slag the NHL ever since the two sides agreed, in principle, on the new CBA.
When the news broke on Wednesday that the league and its players' association had reached a tentative agreement, it was easy to assume what the reaction in Canada would be. Watching the story emerge across the border -- where the majority of teams and significant income emanate from --was a different matter.I wonder why the NHL receives so much press like this from the American media. If Americans don't care about hockey, then why bother reporting this? Are you trying to convince the people not to care? I don't see the same media telling people not to watch gambling on TV, or telling us that the NFL is not worth watching because it really is tremendously boring (even though it is so true). Perhaps the American media just sees hockey as a 'foreign' spot that is not welcome on their territory...nevermind that basketball was invented by a Canadian, and that NHL ratings weren't too far behind the NBA's once upon a time.
Who exactly has been broadcasting the lockout information to American fans -- ESPN or Fox News?
The sensationalistic "reporting" has been delivered with unwavering opinion, and the message is clear: The NHL, regardless of its imminent return, is a lost cause.
This is a loser's league that isn't worthy of anyone's support. The NHL is making its first attempt to climb out from the massive hole it created, but the American media is not content to simply throw dirt on them. They're trying to beat the league down with the shovel.
Up here in Canada, the press has basically been the extreme opposite. So many media members have been drinking Gary Bettman's CBA-Tang that our precious small market franchises will be saved and we can have our national sport back once again. Who cares about details, we just want hockey back!
While the American media tells their fans to just find something else to do, at least the Canadian media has been optimistic in its pessimism (if that makes sense) and there are billions of suggestions of how to improve the NHL on and off the ice.
Flames are a Hot Ticket
Speaking of optimism, the Calgary Flames aren't having any troubles selling tickets...is anyone surprised?
Flames tickets are red hot, and team management is expected to soon announce record pre-season sales, a spokesman for the hockey club said.
Rollie Cyr, vice-president of ticket sales for the team, said he hasn't seen anything like it in 10 years.
"We have had a great period of renewal," he said.
"Three weeks ago, we sold 200 new season tickets -- that was before the settlement was announced -- and the phone has been ringing off the wall since the announcement."
I would presume that the lockout has only increased the appetite for NHL hockey up here in Canada. The Flames were coming off of a Finals appearance and, with a young team, looked to be in great shape for the future.
What hurts us only serves makes us stronger.
Sunday, July 17, 2005
NHL: Tweaking the Entry Draft
While many of these kids will not make an impact in the NHL until a few years after they are drafted (if at all), the Entry Draft still provides a lot of excitement and exposure for the NHL. If you aren't dreaming about how your next draft pick will carry the franchise to the Stanley Cup, you can always laugh at some of the foolish picks some teams make (Adrien Foster, hullo?) or get your kicks from the numerous trades that go down when 30 GMs are in the room together and desperate for attention.
Televising and creating hype around an Entry Draft is a great low-cost way to market the stars of tomorrow and create buzz for the NHL product during the summer, when there is no hockey being played. If memory serves me correctly, the NBA actually copied the NHL in this regard and started putting more emphasis on exposing their draft when they saw what the NHL was doing.
Still, the NHL Entry Draft is a very long and drawn-out affair and does need some fixing. With the NHL holding a very 'reduced' draft this summer, it's the perfect time to borrow a page from the NBA Draft Book and make some changes.
As we know, Gary Bettman calls up representatives from each team to make their picks. The GM, head scout, and a whole posse of hanger-oners mosey on up to the podium (which takes a few minutes). This posse proceeds to thank the hosting city, congratulate the Stanley Cup winning squad, say hello to their mothers, etc etc etc.
Then the GM or one of his staff finally gets around to announcing the pick. The prospect kisses his disgustingly hot girlfriend, and then has to take a 5 minute walk to the podium before finally putting on a sweater and trying not to show the "I can't believe I got drafted by Chicago" face.
A bunch of interviews ensue, analysts chop the picks with a sushi knife, and we move on to the next pick 10 minutes later. Wash, rinse, repeat 30 times.
So, either the NHL should take measures to speed up the process, or just make the process a hell of a lot more entertaining.
First, we need ONE person to announce the picks. Either we have the weasel, Gary Bettman, call the picks to the podium ala David Stern, or we hire an uber-celebrity like Jessica Simpson to call up the picks. Imagine the cheap laughs we can have while Simpson struggles with those Russian names. Imagine the look on some of these guys faces when they come face to face with her and try...not...to..look..down..
Forget the team entourages, we don't need 10 people to announce a draft pick when one person can do that without taking away from the 'experience'. We also wouldn't have Doug MacLean butchering a very easy name like Rostislav Klesla.
Then, we need to have an NHL version of the "Green Room". Put all of the top prospects in a small section where they have to sit next to each other in nervous anticipation. We can then pan to Gilbert Brule with a pissed off look when a lesser prospect, such as Benoit Pouliot, gets taken ahead of him. Create some friction!! ...and get them prospects to the podium in less than 5 minutes.
Third, the interviews are so boring an unrevealing. The GMs proclaim that they got they guy they wanted ("Oh yes, we REALLY wanted Benoit Pouliot over Sidney Crosby"), the prospect conducts a standard cliche interview and tries not to fret over being picked by the Chicago Blackhawks/Carolina Hurricanes/Florida Panthers, and we don't learn anything.
Solution: Triumph the Insult Dog! He wouldn't pull any punches and we'd get the most entertaining hockey interviews ev-ar!
Now, since we know the NHL won't take any steps to make the draft more 'entertaining', the least they could do is get the picks announced through one person, and have the whole process sped up at least 50%. As much as I love the Entry Draft, my patience and interest starts to wane at around pick #15.
Many folks are lamented the fact that the Entry Draft will be closed to the public this year due to the special circumstances. Michael Fedor is pretty ticket off about it, and is must be noted that the NHL is missing a good and cheap marketing opportunity given the Sidney Crosby hype.
Would it really be that hard to open the Corel Centre to the public and have a few thousand fans attend? The NHL needs any good publicity it can get, and holding a nice free 'Entry Draft Party' in Ottawa would be a nice kick-start to the New NHL.
What is of more concern to me is the rumour that the NHL will hold the draft lottery in private.
Umm, yeah...I can smell the fix right now.
Given the hype surrounding Crosby and the fact that every team (supposedly) has a shot at the best prospect since Eric Lindros, it would make great TV for the NHL to televise the lottery. TSN or Sportsnet in Canada would definitely make a show out of it, and it would be a really good low-cost and quick way for the NHL to get some publicity.
Instead...we get a 'private' lottery...once again the NHL drops the ball.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Friday, July 15, 2005
LOCKOUT: The Movie
What (or who) would you be willing to sacrifice to take a stand? What if you had to destroy the thing you loved in order to save it?The story could really use some work, but I'd have to say Paul has a good eye for castin parts. Jonathan Lithgow is definitely eerily similar to Bob Goodenow. I'm willing to bet Goodenow is also an alien from outer space.
BOB GOODENOW and GARY BETTMAN both are faced with this decision. The two men sat across the table each other in a Manhattan Hotel on a hot July night. It had been over a year since they met in Toronto and talked about a possibility that frightened everyone to the core: a lockout.
And now the lockout was almost a year old. In this hotel we meet the principles. BETTMAN – a smug beancounter weaned off the glitz and glamour of the NBA and now ten-years into a tumultuous reign as head of a bloated league – and GOODENOW – a former labour lawyer who succeeded the corrupt regime of Alan Eagleson, torn between pleasing a membership that doesn’t quite trust him and ensuring there is a league left to negotiate with.
Thursday, July 14, 2005
The Morning After
If you are feeling some excitement mixed with a bit of anger, relief, and apathy, then you probably have the "It's about god damn time the lockout is over" Syndrome.
If you are REALLY excited, like my friend Michael, you could end up in a mental institution.
Now that we've had a bit of time to digest what has happened, it's time to prepare for the chaos of an unprecedented offseason, crazy rule changes, and more hockey news than you can shake a cane (but not a Carolina Hurricane) at.
(This is assuming the deal will be ratified, because you know the two sides aren't stupid enough to screw this up and vote 'NO')
First, each team will need to assess it's current position, read through the CBA 100 times, and prepare to get hand cramps from signing contracts, buyout agreements, and sending offer faxes.
Scott Burnside at ESPN provides a capsule look at each team as they stand after the dust settles.
TSN has a breakdown of the Canadian teams and the current contracts they are tied down to. The numbers don't quite jive, but the Canucks look very good or very bad depending on how you look at things:
Todd Bertuzzi - $5.3mil
Ed Jovanovski - $4.0mil
Trevor Linden - $1.5mil
Ryan Kesler - $722,000
Alex Auld - $513,000
Just 5 contacts for US$ 12,000,000
So, the Canucks have a lot of financial freedom, but have to worry about signing a lot of their stalwarts to deals...The SedinBots, Marek Malik, Sami Salo, Brendan Morrison (or will they let him go?)...
...and whither Markus Naslund? Will he really return home, like he's moaned about before? How about the brothers Niedermayer, who have been making noises about wanting to return close to home?
The other big question will be in goal. Will the Canucks try their luck with young Alex Auld after a pretty good AHL season? Will they give Dan Cloutier one more chance? Will they go after a different goalie who is on the market?
Oh, and there's always Todd Bertuzzi's re-instatement case. This is going to be a fun few months! :)
I was also stunned to see that the UFA age will apparently whittle down to 27, and not 28 as reported earlier...
liberalized free agency: age eligibility for unrestricted free agency at age 31 in 2005, 29 in 2006, 28 in 2007. In 2008, it's 27 or seven years of NHL tenure.So, a special player like Sidney Crosby or an Eric Staal could be given UFA status at the age of 25! Wow, quite a stunner...
Now, Tom Benjamin from CanucksCorner.com is a wise old crank, but I get the feeling that if Gary Bettman found a cure for AIDS, Tom would criticize him for not discovering such cure 10 years ago. It's time for a little Devil's Advocate and give some positives that I see to counter Tom's railings against the new CBA.
- Having young UFA ages has not killed or damaged the NBA, NFL, or MLB in any great degree. Why should the NHL be any different? With a lower UFA age, we'll have lots of player movement. Trades, trade rumours, and player movements have always been exciting for most fans and this could generate even more of that buzz during the season and off-season. With such fluid rosters and a more open market, there will be lots of opportunities for EVERY team to improve themselves somehow. Smart management will always trump whatever the Chicago Blackhawks are doing.
- I've been following European hockey for years, and the total free-for-all market hasn't 'killed' their game. Players can go back and forth between teams when they are 13, 16, 19, 24...any age they please! It's true that the bigger markets like Slovan Bratislava and Sparta Prague pilfer talent from the 'small' towns, but the NHL will have some safeguards whereas Europe does not.
- An unlevel playing field? As it stands right now, the Payroll Range is about $21-39mil per team (54% of league revenues). Tom assumes that the NHL will gain and maintain a constant growth rate (say 5% a year) that could see the the range end up being US$ 30-55 million.
So, if teams truly have trouble maintaining a team with a $30-35 million payroll, do we really want them in the league? Perhaps this is the true test to see if a franchise is really viable. The payroll range seems completely reasonable to me, and I don't want ANY team in the NHL if they can't meet this threshold.
There is also the argument that the 'small market' teams will not be able to ever come close to the top $50mil mark and will have a disadvantage because they will have a payroll of about $35mil while the Detroits max out at $50+ mil.
Is that a bad thing? You can't have it both ways, Tom! I like the fact that not every single team will have the exact same payroll ceiling. I do want some teams to have *some* advantage over other markets because it would be extremely boring and harmful to have every NHL team using the same payroll figure. It's not as if the BIG market teams will be able to buy every single good player on the market, providing major loopholes can't be found.
Tom also assumes that NHL revenues grow at a nice constant rate. With the damage already done to the NHL, and the fact that the NHL had pretty much maxed out its revenues in the USA, leaves me thinking that a constant 5% growth rate is a pipe dream.
- Let's not forget that these 'small market' clubs will be getting some revenue sharing money. If they use this money for their payroll, they will have nothing to complain about. If they stuff their pockets with this money (see many MLB teams like Pittsburgh), then these teams have absolutely no reason to ever whine about not being able to compete.
- Development of young players - I think it's great that most players, excluding the special talents, won't be rushed into the NHL at 18. Now that the CBA will allow for players to gain UFA status after 7 years of service time, the NHL teams will have a real disincentive to rush their prospects into service. Would the NY Rangers play and destroy Manny Malhotra or Dan Blackburn under the new CBA? No.
The AHL, ECHL and CHL will definitely benefit as players can stay in these leagues longer to develop, so there will be a run off effect to other hockey teams at the lower levels. I like the fact that this could lead to more prospects being more mature when they enter the NHL, rather than hurting their teams by sitting on the bench and learning the ropes.
Look, the European players who were able to play at home for decent salaries and stay with their families for a year (like Pavol Demitra or Ilya Kovalchuk) are the only short-term winners. Everyone else involved, from beer vendors, to NHL owners, to Chris Pronger, was a big short-term loser in this battle.
Lyle Richardson, aka Spector, sums up his feelings and I have to agree with his sentiment:
I don't want an apology from the NHL or NHLPA. It's pointless to ask or demand it, since it wouldn't be sincere. Neither I or you were factors in this labour drama and neither side really gave a damn about us. If they had, they would've avoided this nightmare in the first place.
The only thing I want is for both sides to learn from this, to understand that if they pull this stunt again in four or six years time, they might as well kiss their league bye-byes.
The damage from this lockout was serious but not fatal. Next time may be
I want both sides to learn to negotiate in good faith with costing them an entire season, and I want them to start improving this game and market it the way it should be done, not half-heartedly and half-assed as in the past.
In other words, shut up and play hockey!