Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Mats Sundin Calls It a Career


Mats Sundin announced his retirement after 18 NHL seasons today.

''It was just time, I think. Obviously, it's not an easy decision but I feel with body and soul right now, it's time to quit my professional career as a hockey player,'' said Sundin. ''I'm very glad that I played last season with the Vancouver Canucks and I think I needed that. But now with the season getting started again, it actually feels nice not having to practice every day and play games every other day so I think this is the right time for me.''

"I'm obviously very grateful for having a chance to play in the National Hockey League and represent the Quebec Nordiques, Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks," said Sundin. "It has been a dream come true for me.''

Sundin was the first player selected in the 1989 NHL Entry Draft by the Quebec Nordiques, and played his first season on a line with Joe Sakic who also retired this off-season.

Sundin retires the highest scoring Swedish player in League history, with 564 goals, 785 assists and 1,349 points during a career that was played exclusively in Canada, first with the Quebec Nordiques, then the Leafs and last season with the Vancouver Canucks. He was an eight-time NHL All-Star.


Sundin is one of only five NHL players to have scored at least 500 goals and never played in a Stanley Cup Final.

"No, not really," chuckled Sundin when asked if he had regrets over not winning a Stanley Cup. "I don't feel bad. On the other hand, I had so much fun playing in the NHL and I experienced so much, I feel I got what I wanted from that league."

Swedish hockey fans will remember his exploits in International play winning World Championships in 1991, 1992 and 1998, and as captain of Sweden's gold medal winning Olympic team in 2006.

Sundin was a phenomenal all around player, as classy as he was clutch. He will be missed.

Hurricanes Sign Cam Ward to Extension


Carolina goaltender Cam Ward has agreed to a six-year, $37.8 million extension with the team.


"The pressure's going to be there to play like an elite goaltender now that I'm being paid like one... That's not something that I've shied away (from) in the past, and that's why I ultimately chose to be a goaltender, to handle that pressure and play up to that."

Ward has played like an elite goaltender all along, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2006 when he minded the net for Carolina's Stanley Cup Championship. Last season, Ward won 39 games in the regular season and led the Hurricanes to the Eastern Conference final before losing to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Penguins.


You have admire his attitude of still believing that he has something to prove. Carolina now has more than 6 million reasons to expect elite performances from Ward each year.

What's New?



So glad you asked!


The reigning champs received their rings.  Bling Indeed!

After suffering a groin injury in the preseason, Sidney Crosby is expected to play in the opener.

The Penguins have signed veteran defenseman Martin Skoula who was released from a tryout agreement by the Blue Jackets.




Finally, Robert Lang has come back to Phoenix. The Coyotes continue to add another quality vet despite the ownership turmoil.


The Atlanta Thrashers have signed winger Maxim Afinogenov to a one-year, $800,000 deal. The Thrashers have made an all out effort to surround Captain Ilya Kovalchuk with new weapons to prove that they are committed to getting better.  Will Afinogenov take this opportunity to prove something as well?


The Islanders claimed Rob Schremp off waivers from Edmonton. Schremp was placed on waivers in an effort to send him down to the AHL.  Schremp will get a chance to play with the Isles.  He has speed and skill. It's a no risk move and could pay off huge.

Neither the Habs nor the Leafs have chosen a captain yet.


More to come as the waiver wire will likely continue to get a workout in the next few days.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Jim Balsillie's New Introduction?


Late Tuesday evening the phone rang, and even though the number was not familiar, the call was answered. Calling from his Blackberry was PSE attorney, Jeffrey Kessler!

After asking for “The Plumber”, in a very official and dignified tone, Mr. Kessler stated: “Mr. Balsillie asked me to call to thank you for your…” his voice changed to hint at a little more than a tiny bit of sarcasm, “ your… introduction to patience’. You will be glad to know that PSE will be revising their offer on Wednesday.”

With a slow, deep intake, as if there was intention to speak an entire novel in one breath, he continued quickly, “In addition to the split $50 million payment to the city of Glendale, it will include a provision to keep the team there for the 2009-2010 season. Also, PSE will extend the closing date of the sale to December 31st. Should a local buyer emerge, Mr. Balsillie will forfeit his agreement to buy the team.”

There was a stunned silence… the room spun, seemingly faster and faster as each nanosecond passed and before another word could be spoken, the alarm clock began to pulse ever more loudly. As a demonstrative swipe was made at the evil noisemaker, a sparkling glimmer emerged from the lower edge of the covers. The sheet and blankets were pealed away to reveal a pair of spectacular ruby slippers!

Now whether Dorothy or Toto, or whomever actually did in fact, introduce Mr. Balsillie to Patience, or to it’s twitchy cousin, Desperation, cannot be confirmed. What is now clearly evident is that Jim Balsillie has taken away all the outs.

His bid satisfies the creditors, the city of Glendale, keeps the team there for the upcoming season, and allows a significant window for an alternative, local buyer to adhere to the NHL’s relocation policy.

With all that is provided in PSE’s newest offer, should the NHL oppose the bankruptcy court awarding Balsillie the bid now, they will be hard pressed to justify their position. The Board of Governors should be moving to decide on how to weigh Toronto’s and Buffalo’s share of a potential relocation fee.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Thrashers To Fly Higher


With so much hoopla surrounding ownership battles in Phoenix and Tampa Bay and the hype that accompanied the Dany Heatley and Phil Kessel deals, one story that has flown under the radar (no pun intended) has been the Atlanta Thrashers off-season.


Atlanta has been embroiled in a longstanding ownership squabble which includes not only the Thrashers, but the NBA’s Hawks and Phillips Arena. This August, a Maryland Court ruled a complicated buyout clause invalid, thus removing the ambiguity in decision making… for now.

Maybe it was the impending August ruling, or maybe it was the realization that the team’s superstar Ilya Kovalchuk could walk away after the next season, but the Thrashers, normally an afterthought for the Atlanta Spirit ownership group, received attention this off-season.

The Thrashers failed to qualify for the playoffs again last season, but did boast five players that scored at least 20 goals. Additionally, after a slow start that seemed to doom their season, the team seemed to embrace new coach, John Anderson’s system by February, finishing the last three months of the season with a very respectable 18-12-1 mark.

GM Don Waddell kept the team that finished on a strong note virtually intact by re-signing nearly all of the team’s free agents. Center Eric Perrin was the only player with significant ice team not to be retained.

Waddell also added several impact players to the team by signing monster-sized forward, Nik Antropov, acquiring veteran blueliner Pavel Kubina, and bringing in speed merchant Maxim Afinogenov on a no-risk tryout basis. It should not be overlooked that the Thrashers had a strong draft class this year. Although it probably remains unlikely that he plays in the NHL this season, first rounder Evander Kane bolsters the team’s very near future.

Antropov, who is listed at 6’6”, 240 lbs. certainly casts a shadow on the ice. Yet, he has been plagued by and often criticized for his inconsistent play. Keep in mind that he has never played with a player the caliber of Kovalchuk before, and that alone may be just what he has needed to fix what ails him.

Kubina brings another hulking presence to the team. At 6’4”, 250 lbs. he can clear a crease. He also is an offensive minded blueliner, scoring 14 times last season, that can log serious minutes and be a positive influence in the locker room. His game will allow star-in-waiting, Zach Bogosian, to develop even further in his second season.

Afinogenov represents another potential big bonus to the team. He possesses otherworldly speed and a fair share of offensive talent. However, he has oft been injured and inconsistent. This could be his last chance in the NHL to prove his detractors wrong, as no other team seemed to be interested in him this off-season. That motivation, coupled with the opportunity to play with some familiar faces may prove the magic formula for Maxim.

With a more complete understanding of Anderson’s scheme (which was massively successful in the AHL), the addition of new faces, which could give the team up to eight players capable of scoring at least 20 goals, increased production and play from the blueline, and therefore a little less pressure on goaltender Kari Lehtonen, the Thrashers have a lot of appeal.

Hockey Plumber believes that this team looks much more like that one that won the Southeast Division in ’06-’07 and much less like the other eight teams that did not make the playoffs. Look for the them to return to the post-season this year. They have the firepower and the cap room to make any necessary deadline deal. If the Thrashers succeed on the ice, they will likely retain Kovalchuk with a lengthy and lucrative deal. That will not fly under anyone’s radar.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Kessel to Toronto


Multiple outlets have reported that the Boston Bruins have traded forward Phil Kessel to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for a first and a second round pick in 2010, and a first round pick in 2011

Also reported was that the Leafs and Kessel have agreed to terms on a five-year, $27 million deal.

At 21 years old, and coming off a 36 goal, breakout season, Kessel clearly has great potential. He adds much needed scoring punch to the Maple Leafs lineup. However, Kessel is also listed as out indefinitely due to recent shoulder surgery.

He is a high risk/high reward player. At his worst, he is the guy who was benched at the start of the 2008 Playoffs for lackadaisical defensive play. At his best, he is a hard charging goal machine that elevates his play when it matters most as evidenced by his point-per-game scoring in his playoff career.

The question is: Did the Leafs just commit $5 million + per season to the next Doug Gilmour, or $27 million to a one year wonder that Bruins fans will poke fun at for the next decade?

Phaneuf: mid-season form, bad form?


It's the water cooler discussion of the day: Dion Phaneuf's knock out blow on Kyle Okposo.

Don't get me wrong, I am a proponent of the rough stuff... when the games actually count!  There are Islanders fans who see evidence that Phaneuf left his feet, or led with his elbow, and Flames supporters that see a clean hit, but regardless of the details, it is obvious to every hockey enthusiast that it occurred during a pre-season contest.



There is just no excuse for this at this time of year.  In the regular season, you watch this and exclaim,"Wow!" During the playoffs you stand and cheer, and beg for more, but in September you wonder why.  Did the Sutter's insinuate to Phaneuf that his roster spot was not secure? Did he mistake Okposo, momentarily, for Sean Avery?

No matter what Phaneuf's motivation, you can bet that he will be receiving a phone call from a NHLPA representative reminding him of the brotherhood of NHL players and that he should be thankful that the Isles have to wait until March 25, 2010 for retribution.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Petr Sykora Quick To Impress Wild


Petr Sykora was offered a tryout with the Minnesota Wild.  He flew in for practice Wednesday and was signed to a contract the next day.

Michael Russo of the Star Tribune writes:

"The quickest “tryout” in NHL history came to an end this morning when the Wild signed winger Petr Sykora to a one-year contract for $1.6 million.


'I’m shocked,” Sykora said sarcastically. “I guess my practice yesterday made them sign me.' "

Of course, it is now evident that Wild GM Chuck Fletcher had designs on signing Sykora all along.

Fletcher was the Assistant GM in Pittsburgh during Sykora's tenure there and is very familiar with his game and abilities. Although Sykora was a clutch performer for the Penguins, he was scratched for much of the playoffs, as he seemed to struggle fitting in to new coach Dan Bylsma's system. He will have no such trouble with the Wild.

Sykora is a great signing for Minnesota.  He fills a need in many aspects, providing them with goal scoring ability, natural leadership capabilities and a locker-room presence.

If he can light the lamp in the regular season as fast as he can sign a contract, the Wild may find themselves back in the post-season mix again.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

More +/- of this off-season.

Still...with only a handful of potentially impactful free agents remaining, it seems safe to analyze the franchises that have helped or hurt themselves this off-season. Most teams fall into an incomplete category due to many unknown variables involved. Therefore, we will grade each team by whether they have left us with reason to be enthusiastic about (+) or to question (-) their moves.


We continue with the Central Division.


Blackhawks:
(+) Chicago pulled a double-whammy. By signing Marian Hossa and Tomas Kopecky, they not only add scoring punch and solid defensive play, but also subtract them from division rival Detroit’s roster. They also signed John Madden, who is an ace face-off man and clutch performer. Additionally, the Hawks re-signed nearly all of their own important restricted free agents.



(-) Although the team did take care of their available free agents, they did so because of a front office snafu. The result was a frenzied, emergency signing period and will have major cap issues to worry about for next season. They lost forwards Martin Havlat and Sami Pahlsson, but their loss was more than offset by the acquisitions of Hossa and Kopecky. Chicago also had to waive goodbye to goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, who carried them to the Conference Final last season. All eyes will be on Christobal Huet in net to perform better in the post season. This team has Cup aspirations, but will go no further than their netminder can take them.


Blue Jackets:

(+) Columbus re-signed superstar forward Rick Nash… there simply could not be any better news than that for the Jackets. The team also added forward Sami Pahlsson, who should anchor the third line. The Jackets lost no less than seven players that contributed at the NHL level last season. However, none of them fit in their long-term plans and their departure paves the way for important, young players such as Jakub Voracek and Nikita Filatov to step in and take on a larger role.

(-) The idea of addition by subtraction can work for serious contenders, but the Blue Jackets, who qualified for the playoffs for the first time in franchise history last year, either believe they have a slew of young players ready to break out, or are just not ready to compete with the top teams.


Blues:

(+) St. Louis was constantly mentioned to be in the running for many of the big name free agents, yet their off-season ended up looking like a carbon copy of the Blue Jackets… must be something with the “Blue” teams? They did add coveted backup goaltender, Ty Conklin, but otherwise will be skating out last years’ product.
(-) Again like Columbus, the Blues either believe they are just one year better, or are already preparing for bigger things in the ’10-’11 season!



Predators:

(+) Without trying to sound like a broken record… Nashville re-signed Masterton Trophy winner Steve Sullivan and little else this off-season.

(-) The Predators, like the Blues, were in the rumor columns but added no one to help their Norris Trophy winner-in-waiting, Shea Weber and ageless leader, Jason Arnott. There are a few spots open for young players with the departures of Radek Bonk, Ville Koistinen, Greg Zanon among others, but those youngsters are not of the caliber of those found with their divisional rivals.


Red Wings:

(+) The Wings welcomed back a pair of former players in Jason Williams and Todd Bertuzzi. Both players were effective in their prior tenure, so why not give them another go-round? Aside from these two minor moves, Detroit was able to do little else to bolster themselves. Yet, they are the Detroit Red Wings and we may very well see them again representing the West in the Finals for the third year in a row.

(-) Detroit had little to celebrate this off-season. After losing a heartbreaker Game 7 in the Final, the Wings had to sit by a watch Marian Hossa, Tomas Kopecky depart for rival Chicago, Mikael Samuelsson move on to Vancouver, Jiri Hudler head to the KHL, Ty Conklin move to St. Louis, and Chris Chelios try to rival Gordie Howe’s longevity elsewhere. The Red Wings will not only be challenged by their past successes, but by improving rival teams this time around.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Dany Heatley: Did the Sharks Really Get What They Need?

So Dany Heatley has finally been granted his wish... and the San Jose Sharks added a big time sniper... the Sharks just became the favorites for the Cup, right?

I am not convinced, are you?

Since the lockout, the Sharks have posted impressive regular season numbers and then have been unceremoniously bounced from the playoffs within the first two rounds. In three of the last four seasons, they have been eliminated by teams seeded 5th or lower, including twice being knocked out by the 8th seed!

After yet another playoff embarrassment last season, GM Doug Wilson promised "big changes." Mr. Wilson has indeed delivered big changes this off-season, but it was assumed that these moves would be made to make the team a more post-season minded, but the transaction sheet indicates the contrary.

The Sharks moves have included trading veteran defensemen Christian Ehrhoff and Brad Lukowich for two prospects to create cap space, and now swapping Milan Michalek, Jonathan Cheechoo and a draft pick for Heatley.

Essentially the Sharks' "big changes" have amounted to subtracting Ehrhoff, Lukowich, Michalek and Cheechoo and replacing them with Heatley and a slew of minor leaguers and/or prospects to fill their roster spots.

You can argue either way whether the guys that the Sharks sent packing were part of the problem or the solution in San Jose. However, the last time Dany Heatley participated in the post-season, he looked awfully disinterested while his team was swept in the first round.

The Sharks no doubt changed the names on the roster, but their post season forecast looks much the same.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Heatley traded to San Jose


Vacation post:


Dany Heatley and a fifth round draft pick have been traded to the San Jose Sharks in exchange for Milan Michalek, Jonathan Cheechoo and a second round pick.


More on this story when i get back from gorgeous Montrose, Co.

Monday, September 7, 2009

NHLPA Power Shift... really shifty!

I have no "insider info", no contacts close to the Union, etc... but the circumstances of the firing of NHLPA Director Paul Kelly should raise a red flag from any distance or point of view.

Kelly was considered, by many, to be the first legitimately untarnished NHLPA leader. Kelly was instrumental in exposing the corruption of the Association's first Director, Alan Eagleson and sent him to prison on theft and fraud charges.

Kelly seemed intent on investigating and rectifying past Union corruption. You might think that such ideals would be welcomed. Yet, remnants of that corrupt past, seemingly still lingered inside and a faction against Kelly formed. A group consisting of the Union’s legal counsel, Ian Penny, ombudsman, Buzz Hargrove and chairman of the Union’s advisory board, Ron Pink built a case against the director.

Why? Consider this information:

According to sources, part of this group’s desire to get rid of Kelly also stemmed from Kelly ordering an internal audit (by a top former FBI forensic accountant) of the players' association's expenses during the previous three years before he took over. That audit was still ongoing prior to Kelly’s dismissal. Sources claim that through the audit, Kelly discovered that then-interim leaders Penny and Lindros were [allegedly] spending millions of dollars of the union’s money. Lindros ended up resigning, but word is, that move fueled this attack on Kelly, and Lindros was very much involved.
— James Murphy, NESN.com
If the allegations are indeed true, the somewhat bizarre timing of the move makes much more sense. When planning a coup, depose your target before he is able to fully expose your wrongdoing.
From the outside looking in, it would appear that the battle plan formed something like this: Kelly was about to take down the remaining faction of the old regime. Ideally, they would need to strike first with the Union. Attempt to raise suspicion, and then try to persuade the collective by alleging similarities attributed to former directors.
The only divulged reasons for the move include that Kelly supposedly read the transcript of a confidential "players only" meeting...His predecessor, Ted Saskin, was fired for secretly monitoring players’ emails.
Additionally, Kelly was accused of having too close a relationship with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly... reminiscent of Alan Eagleson.
By striking first and spreading fear and doubt inside the minds of the players, Penny, Pink, Hargrove and Lindros were successful. However, the Association just might have been duped by the very sort Kelly hoped to protect them from!

Friday, September 4, 2009

What's in a Nickname?

Sports Illustrated Photos put together a "Classic Hockey Nicknames" piece featuring 42 players, past and present. Although they got many obvious choices like "Rocket" Richard, "The Great One", Dave "The Hammer" Schultz and "Boom-Boom" Geoffrion, there were some glaring omissions.

If one were to label something "Classic Hockey Nicknames" and leave out the following... for shame!



Alex "Fats" Delvecchio


Notable for his spot on the Production line with linemates Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay. No player in NHL history played more games with just the one team.

Tie Domi, "The Albanian Assassin"


Remembered fondly for his charitable contributions like the sucker punch that knocked out Ulf Samuelsson, then of the New York Rangers, pummeling an intoxicated Flyers fan as he fell into the penalty box and throwing an elbow at the head of unsuspecting New Jersey Devils defenseman Scott Niedermayer that knocked him unconscious.




"Chicken Parm" Ray Ferraro


He was also know as "The Big Ball of Hate." In his NHL career, he scored 408 goals and 490 assists, for a total of 898 points in 1258 games in 18 seasons.






"Wild Thing" Al Iafrate


Known for his monster of a slap shot, and quite possibly the worst head of hair in the history of mankind.



"Little Ball of Hate" Pat Verbeek


"The Little Ball of Hate", was given to him in 1995 by Glenn Healy after fellow New York Rangers teammate Ray Ferraro was tagged as the "Big Ball of Hate". Verbeek is the only player in NHL history to total over 500 career goals and 2500 career penalty minutes.






Bob "Battleship" Kelly

Complicating things, there were two Bob Kellys playing in the NHL during the 1970s. Both were near identical players - pugnacious left wingers known more for their fighting skills and corner work than their finesse abilities. As a result of their identical names and style, each player quickly became known by their nickname. Bob "Hound Dog" Kelly was a feared checker with the Philadelphia Flyers, "Battleship" for his work with the Penguins.


Of course there are plenty of others, "Chico" Resch, "Jovocop", Dave "Tiger" Williams, etc... Yet, some nicknames seem to be regional, for example, I don't believe that Mark Recchi is known as the "Recchin' Ball" anywhere outside of Pittsburgh.

Tell us some of your favorites in the comment section!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Vancouver tells Roberto: We Luongo you long time!


VANCOUVER SUN "Roberto Luongo has agreed to a 12-year contract extension through the 2021-22 National Hockey League season worth $64 million US, the Vancouver Canucks announced today.

In a conference call this morning, the all-star goalie said he was excited about his new contract and that, after pondering his options in the off-season, decided that staying with the Canucks was the obvious choice...

The deal breaks down like this: in 2010-11, the first season of the extension, Luongo will earn $10 million. In 2011-12, he will make $6.716 million. From the 2012-13 to the 2017-18 seasons, he will earn $6.714 million each campaign. In 2018-19, Luongo will make $3.382 million, which will drop to $1.618 million in 2019-20. In the final two seasons of the contract — the 2020-21 and 2021-22 campaigns — he will earn $1 million each.

For the Canucks, the annual salary cap hit will be $5.33 million..."

I give the Canucks credit for getting him to sign a win-win deal that is manageable from a cap perspective. However, did they still pay too much? Marc-Andre Fleury's deal at $5 million per raised some eyebrows, yet in a short time, he has accomplished much more than Luongo has in the post season, reaching the Final twice and winning a Cup last season.

Luongo was again stellar in the regular season, but only so-so in the playoffs.

"...Luongo said last year's second-round playoff loss to Chicago — and the 7-5 Game 6 defeat — will motivate him in the future.

'You always have something to prove in this game and there's always somebody pushing you from behind,' he said. 'Unfortunately, one game has ruined a lot of things for me but you try to move on and turn the page because that's not who I am.
Unfortunately, things happen but moving forward, we're all in it to win a Stanley Cup and I'm really looking forward to the opportunity over the next few years to try to bring one to Vancouver.' "
Luongo has been traded twice in his career and both times for, what seems in retrospect, next to nothing. His new contract will pay him handsomely. He says and does all the right things on and off the ice. Will Vancouver build a team around him good enough to win the Cup?