Thursday, July 29, 2010

Hockey's S.O.P. - Same Old Prejudices?

Remember the "Good ol' Days" of the NHL? When Western Canadiens and a handful of Americans played the game "the it ought to", while those silly Francophones spun in circles, playing their own brand of figure skating with sticks?

Then came the European invasion.  The "Frenchies" suddenly became "North Americans", while the Czechs and Russians introduced their trademark "Commie" ballet-on-ice to NHL rinks everywhere.  The Swedes and Fins filtered in here and there, but no one really noticed them much.

It's 2010.  We don't use such offensive terms to describe any North American nor European players. Do we Don Cherry/Mike Milbury?

If you take a look around NHL team message boards, or listen to hockey analysts and media members discuss the game; you won't find (for the most part) derogatory language used regarding a players heritage.  You won't come across many instances where sweeping generalities are used when referring to players of a certain nationality.

Yet, if you look, and listen closely, there is a dividing line. We began to consider European players. Particularly when it comes to general assessments regarding those players' weaknesses.

Immediately we began to discuss names of players  that had labels attached to them:  "don't backcheck", "don't do systems", "selfish", "hotdogs","soft", etc...

And there it was.  The line.  All the names that came to mind with such "labels" were Russians, Czechs, Slovaks... Eastern Europeans!  What about other "Euros"?  Scandinavians?  Are there labels there?  Not many names came to mind.  Not any, actually!

While most Scandinavian players learn English as part of their schooling, Eastern European players, largely do not enjoy the same advantage. 

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Frolov and Ponikarovsky Find New Homes... For Now

The New York Rangers announced that they have agreed to a one-year deal with UFA Alexander Frolov thats worth $3 million.

"Alex is a highly skilled player who we feel will play a key role in improving our offense and play in all situations," Rangers President and General Manager Glen Sather said in a statement.  "He is strong competitor and has the ability to play either wing position."

The 28-year old Russian sniper suffered through a down season in Los Angeles last year, scoring only 19 goals, his lowest total since his rookie season, and adding 32 assists.  He was also made a healthy scratch by Kings head coach Terry Murray, who openly criticized Frolov's desire.

In an interview with Russian newspaper SovSport on Monday, Frolov's agent Sergei Isakov blasted the Kings for the way they handled his client, stating that they deliberately spoiled his season.

Frolov reportedly turned down a four-year deal worth approximately $20 million to return to Russia and play in the KHL, as his agent stated that he wanted to play one more season in North America before deciding his long term future.
Classic Rangers signing?  Not quite.  While the $3 million payday may seem steep for a guy coming off his worst season, Frolov has serious ability.  Note that while he scored only 19 goals last season, he scored 32 times the season before.  However, he is a guy that has often been looked upon as a floater, as he is not the most diligent guy in his own zone.
Cue the 70's "Super Friends" transition music...

Meanwhile, back in Los Angeles:

The Kings immediately replaced Frolov with Alex Ponikarovsky.
The deal has yet to be signed and terms have not been disclosed.


The 30-year old Ukraine native had 21 goals and 29 assists in 77 games last season, split between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Pittsburgh Penguins.  He added a goal and four assists in the Pens' 11-game playoff run.
 "Poni" is nothing, if not consistent.  Since entering the League in '05-'06, he has scored 21 goals every season aside from scoring 23 in '08-'09, and 18 the year before, when he was limited to just 66 games due to leg and ankle injuries.  Pittsburgh fans were down on him after he failed to produce for the Penguins to end last season.  Yet, Ponikarovsky can be penciled in for his 21 goals and counted on to be responsible in the defensive zone as well.

The Launch of the 2011 NHL Winter Classic

Earlier today Art Rooney II and the Pittsburgh Steelers hosted NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and member of the Penguins and Capitals to unveil some details regarding the NHL's Crown Jewel to be played on January 1.

The fourth installment of the Winter Classic, to be played at the sparkling home of the Steelers, will feature the hometown Penguins hosting the Washington Capitals in a marquee matchup that will pit the game's two biggest stars -- Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and Washington's Alex Ovechkin -- against each other before a national television audience in a game broadcast by NBC in the United States and CBC in Canada.
Visit NHL.com for details on surrounding events, videos and to register for info on the Winter Classic including tickets!

If you watch the videos, you will see Bettman's announcements, interviews with Bettman, Mario Lemieux, George McPhee and of course, Sid the Kid.  Also, there is footage of a very awkward shooting competition, featuring the players in attendance trying to shoot the puck off a ramped surface through the Heinz Field goalposts! What?

What you won't see there is any evidence of attention whore and quote machine Max Talbot, talking about why he hates Ovechkin, and then refers to him as: "a real douche"... but you can here! Major props to Yahoo!'s Puck Daddy for the heads up.

As if this game needed more hype!  Thanks Max!  We were lucky enough to attend the 2010 Classic at Fenway.  The event is spectacular and worth any effort to get there.  We will see you in Pittsburgh on New Years' Day!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Silly Goals and Saves From the NHL 2010 Season

Let's face it, it's extraordinarily slow right now.  With not much happening, we wanted to provide a little entertainment... and maybe this can become, at least, a semi-regular feature here.

For your viewing pleasure, please enjoy Anze Kopitar's "one-handed reach-around" shootout goal on a sprawling Tim Thomas.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Make It 7 Via 911 - Winnipeg Needs the Jets...NOW!

The Winnipeg Free Press keeps a regular online Special Coverage Section ongoing, which updates readers on the daily efforts to bring the Jets back to Winnipeg. As the front page of the section states:

It may happen next week, it may happen in three months... it may never happen.

The return of the NHL to Winnipeg is one of the most contentious subjects you can broach at a party or around the water cooler. We’re always looking to dispel the myths and bring the facts so you know exactly where our city stands, and this website section will do just that.
However, to find out about one Winnipeg man who believes that bringing the Jets back to the 'Peg  is a real emergency, you have to keep up with the Free Press' "Latest News"!
WINNIPEG — At least one local hockey fan thinks it’s criminal the Winnipeg Jets haven’t returned home.
A 33-year-old resident of Lundar, Manitoba is facing numerous charges after allegedly making a series of 911 calls which included demanding RCMP officers somehow bring the National Hockey League back to the province.

"He began the conversation by saying he wanted the Jets back. He was quite upset about it," a justice source told the Free Press on Wednesday. The incident occurred last year but was never reported publicly by police. The Free Press uncovered details this week through court documents.

The potential return of the NHL has been a hot topic in recent years, with many believing it’s a matter of when, not if, Winnipeg gets a team back. And while the subject usually triggers passionate debate, this is believed to be the first time it has ever prompted police action.

The emergency dispatcher politely told the angry caller there was nothing she could do to help him and reminded him that he was tying up a valuable resource before hanging up. But the man continued to phone back, claiming he had a lot on his mind.

"He had apparently been drinking and told police he hadn’t slept in days. He started talking about world conglomerates, things like that. He was hallucinating, obviously," said the source.
 "Oviously"?  "He was hallucinating"? Does skepticism run that deep now days in Manitoba?  While it would be fabulous seeing a real north-of-the-boarder white out, and a ceremonial puck drop by Keith Tkachuk and Teemu Selanne; and we do agree that the NHL does need to relocate one of it's struggling franchise to hockey-mad Canada in the near future. We do not recommend calling the Po-Po over it!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Kovalchuk's Deal: NHL No-No

Kovalchuk takes the pen, and heaves a big slapper... of ink... to the paper... Heeeeee's DENIED by the League. No contract!

As we stated the other day, we didn't want to believe the "rumored" 17-year deal for Kovy.  Well, as it turns out, the NHL doesn't believe it either! Per TSN:

The NHL has rejected Ilya Kovalchuk's 17-year, $102 million contract with the New Jersey Devils on the grounds that it circumvents the NHL's salary cap.

Kovalchuk was slated to earn $95 million over the first 10 years of the deal and then just $7 million over the last seven seasons. That would translate to an annual cap hit of $6 million per year.

TSN Insider Darren Dreger explains that the deal was rejected due to the fact that the NHL does not believe that either Kovalchuk nor the Devils expected the 2004 Rocket Richard trophy winner would be playing near end of the contract and that it is a case of artificially lowering the annual average value of the contract.  The Devils must now either file the contract once again or the Players' Association can file a grievance.
The League has investigated recent long-term deals like the ones signed by Duncan Keith, Marian Hossa and Henrik Zetterberg, but this is the first one of its kind to be flat out denied by the NHL.

This is going to be fun!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Tampa Acquires Simon Gagne From Flyers

We talked about it last Friday in our Cap Charity story.  Simon Gagne was on the block, but what would teams be willing to give to get him?  Tampa Bay believed he was worth defenseman Matt Walker and a fourth-round 2011 draft pick.

Gagne, when healthy, is one of the better forwards in the NHL.  He is a complete player.  He has scored at least 30 goals four times in his career, including two 40+ goal seasons since the lockout. Gagne has played in a total of 10 NHL seasons, but has missed nearly 150 games to injury.  Consider however, that in his 664 games played, Gagne has scored 259 goals. It is an average of 32 goals per 82 games played.

Tampa gave little to have him for at least this one season. While Philadelphia gets much needed cap relief.  New Lightning GM Steve Yzerman adds a short-term, proven scorer with a long injury history.  Philadelphia gets to keep Nikolai Zherdev?

Matt Walker, 30, played only one season in Tampa scoring 5 points in 66 games.

Ilya Kovalchuk Stays With New Jersey

After all the hype. After all the drama (minus a 60 minute TV announcement). Ilya Kovalchuk has re-signed with the New Jersey Devils.

Thus far there have been no obligatory "Deal with the Devils" headlines, however TSN did use "Devil's Advocate". Ugh.

As much as Kovalchuk seemingly wanted to go to LA (who wouldn't choose Malibu over Newark?), the Kings obviously just were not willing to meet his demands.  Devils GM Lou Lamoriello never wavered from his "our offer still stands" position, and eventually Kovalchuk did come back to accept it.

After a bit of a slow start, Kovalchuk had 27 points in 27 games with the Devils last season.  New Jersey won the division, but were hastily dismissed in Round One again when their offense, once again, disappeared.

We suppose it is a win for the Devils.  We will find out the financial details on Tuesday; and what impact it will have on their ability to re-sign Zach Parise in the near future.

Ignoring the rumors of 17 year/ $100 million deals, the standing offer was reported to be $60 million over 7 years. In other words Crosby/Malkin/Ovechkin money.  While he is a great goal scorer, if he is paid like those guys... it is too much.

Friday, July 16, 2010

NHL Cap Charity: Lending a Hand To Those In Need of Space.

It's the wacky-wild free agency period for the NHL.  However, it has been unusually subdued since the second day; and everyone is talking about money and the the cap.

Some teams are on a budget. They will not spend past a certain point.  Others, seem to spend... well, whatever, and worry about the cap later.  Enter the Flyers and Hawks:

According to Pierre LeBrun of ESPN on Wednesday, the agent for Simon Gagne has been given permission by the Flyers to talk directly to teams about a trade.


Since matching the Sharks' offer sheet for Niklas Hjalmarsson, the Blackhawks are back on the trade market to clear space.  Speculation surrounds Brian Campbell, Cristobal Huet, etc...

Like the Canadiens and Scott Gomez last season, what would motivate teams to help out other teams who have mismanaged the cap?

The answer to that question is simple:  More cap mismanagement by the receiving team.

It would take an awfully idealistic person to believe that the teams that take on the bad contract were just blindly optimistic that the player would live up to their contract already in place... but for the fact that said player already has a track record of underachieving.

Gomez is the ultimate example.  Coming off a career season in New Jersey, the Rangers scrambled to sign him long-term based on his recent output.  As the years ticked by and Gomez never again matched his final season with the Devils, it became obvious that New York had made a grievous mistake.  However, what was worse, Bob Gainey agreed to take on Gomez's deal which not only seemed like a gift for the Rangers, but also paved the way for New York to bring in super sniper Marian Gaborik.

What was Montreal's reason for doing this?  Sheer lunacy.  Nothing else.

Every team that Chicago approaches regarding taking Brian Campbell off their hands, they are asking teams to be the Gainey-led Canadiens again.  It's a borderline insult!

Gagne's contract is much less offensive than that of Campbell's for a number of reasons. Although counting more than $5 million against the cap, Gagne has only one year remaining on his current deal.  He also is only considered overpaid due to the fact that he is injury prone, not because of on ice performance.

However, making a deal for Gagne means doing some charity work for the Flyers, who have spent themselves into a corner this off-season.  If a team that makes a deal for him, it must accomplish one of two scenarios in acquiring him. 1. Get him for a low round pick/ future considerations.  In other words: noting. or 2. Unload an undesirable, but less expensive contract in the trade.

Anything more is overpayment, and doing a favor to the Flyers. 

The general idea here: Don't make it easy on teams that can't manage the salary cap.  Yet, if you must, don't overpay for a guy who is overpaid.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Won and Done? Blackhawks Cap Nightmare

Are the Chicago Blackhawks the NHL's version of the Florida Marlins?  Win it all... then sell it all?

The ticket tape had not even been swept up in Chicago before the Hawks began shipping out some key cogs to their championship run.  Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager, Brent Sopel, Andrew Ladd and prospect Akim Aliu now are in Atlanta. Colin Fraser was sent to Edmonton; and Kris Versteeg traded to Toronto. Even super-sub Adam Burish had to be let go.

After sending six players packing from last season's Cup winning roster, Chicago had a bit more room under the cap, but only 14 players signed.  Then came the next blow.  San Jose signed shot blocking defensive specialist Niklas Hjalmarsson to a 4-year, $14 million offer sheet. Unwilling to accept 1st and 3rd round draft selections in return, Chicago was forced to match the Sharks' offer to Hjalmarsson and take on his $3.5 million cap hit.  Bye, bye cap room.

Now with 15 roster players signed, Chicago has $113k under the cap to add 2 defensemen, 4 forwards and a goaltender. Cup winning backstop Antti Niemi is a RFA, and is one of their top prospects, forward Jack Skille.  Their UFA regulars include John Madden, Nick Boynton and Jordan Hendry might as well be forgotten.

All of this means that more moves will have to happen.  Even if they take the easy business, but difficult union relations option of burying "backup" goaltender Cristobal Huet in the AHL (or overseas), the Hawks will only have a little more than $5.7 million to sign 8 players including covering the cost of a pair of netminders.

Absolutely no one should be willing to take on Brian Campbell's monstrous salary, so the next two likely candidates to be moved would be Dave Bolland and/or Patrick Sharp.  The team has repeatedly thwarted all notions of moving Sharp, but they may just be forced to do it.

The good news for Chicago fans:  They won the Cup, and have their big four intact, but it ain't looking good for a repeat.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

NHL Salary Cap Numbers- Atlanta Thrashers

The Free Agency period is still in full swing. The 2010-11 cap went up giving some teams much needed room. We continue our look at the current cap status of each team, and breakdown what they have, or don't have in terms of room to maneuver this off-season.

Next up: the former home of the NHL's hottest UFA, Ilya Kovalchuk.
Atlanta Thrashers
 
Roster players under contract for 2010-2011*

Forwards:
Nik Antropov $4.062m, Evander Kane $3.1m, Dustin Byfuglien $3.0m, Todd White $2.375m, Rich Peverley $1.325m, Jim Slater $1.0m, Chris Thorburn $660k, Eric Boulton $650k
 
Defensemen:
Ron Hainsey $4.5m, Tobias Enstrom $3.75m, Johnny Oduya $3.5m, Zach Bogosian $3.375m, Brent Sopel $2.333m, Boris Valabik $762k
 
Goaltenders:
Chris Mason $1.85m

Roster Players Under Contract: 15
2010-2011 Cap:
$59,400,000
2010-2011 Payroll:
$36,243,333

Cap Space: 
$27,611,667

Thursday, July 8, 2010

When Hockey Meets TMZ

What most any casual fan knows about hockey is that celebrity chicks love to get "pucked" by hockey players.  It must be the modern day gladiator thing. 

Witness Allyssa Milano, Carol Alt, Rachel Hunter, Kellie Pickler, Veronica Varekova, Kate Hudson, Kate Olsen, Tia Carrere, Janet Jones, Elisha Cuthbert, Willa Ford, Anna Kournikova, Hilary Duff, etc... have all been linked or married to NHL players. The list is long and ever growing. 

Now hockey's "most famous" couple is tying the knot.  From the Canadian Press:

OTTAWA, Ont. -- Country superstar Carrie Underwood and Ottawa Senators forward Mike Fisher are to get married this weekend, CTV Ottawa reports.

CTV says the couple will get hitched at a resort that will be shut down exclusively for the "Fisher-Wood" wedding.

But the location of the wedding is being kept secret and most of the guests don't even know where the wedding will take place.

CTV says the guests won't find out where they're travelling to until they show up at the airport on Thursday and are given tickets to their destination.

Among the guests are Fisher's teammates, Chris Phillips and Chris Neil.

Fisher proposed seven months ago, just days before Christmas.
Oh, the drama!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Evgeni Nabokov to KHL

San Jose Mercury News staff and wire report -
Former San Jose Sharks goaltender Evgeni Nabokov is leaving the NHL to continue his career in Russia, according to reports.

Nabokov, who became a free agent after helping the Sharks to the Western Conference Finals this past season, signed a four-year, $24 million contract with St. Petersburg of Russia's Kontinental Hockey League, reported Russian newspaper Sovetsky Sport.

Nabokov wound up his Sharks career with 293 wins and a 2.39 goals-against average. He went 40-38 with a 2.29 GAA in the postseason with San Jose.
With SKA St. Petersburg, Nabokov will join former NHL players Sergei Brylin, Darius Kasparaitis, Alexei Yashin, and Sergei Zubov.

There seemed to be no serious NHL bidders for Nabokov.  Why?  He posted one of his best seasons in 2009-10, with a record of 44-16-10, a 2.43 GAA and .922 save percentage.  Nabokov was also very solid in this year's post-season run.

The Blackhawks have a backup goaltender that counts nearly $6 million against the cap, but nary a team wanted to pay for a proven winner with nearly 300 career wins?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Blues Sign Halak

The St. Louis Blues have signed goaltender Jaroslav Halak to a four-year, $15 million contract.
"Jaroslav will be a big help for our organization moving forward," said Blues Executive Vice President and General Manager Doug Armstrong in a statement. "He has made a great commitment to the Blues as he enters the prime of his career."

If you will remember, St. Louis acquired Halak in a surprise move last month from Montreal, in exchange for prospects Lars Eller and Ian Schultz.

Halak will count $3.75 million towards the cap.  His deal will pay him in accelerating terms, in which he will take home $2.75m in the first year, then $3.5m in the next, $4.25m in the third, and $4.5m in the final year of the contract.

Halak was 26-13-5 last season with the fourth-best save percentage in the NHL at .940, and ninth overall in goals-against average at 2.40; which included five shutouts. He was even more impressive in the post-season as he defeated Eastern powerhouses Washington and Pittsburgh.


Halak's reasonable signing cost puts even more pressure on Montreal, as the Canadiens have to get Price at a lower cost and have him outperform Halak this coming season, or the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge faithful will have a meltdown!

All-Time Tough Guy Bob Probert Dead at 45

Former Red Wings and Blackhawks enforcer Bob Probert has died of an apparent heart attack after collapsing on a boat on Lake St. Clair on Monday.

Windsor radio station AM 800 CKLW reported that emergency crews performed CPR on Probert and then transported him to Windsor Regional Hospital where efforts to revive him were unsuccessful.

In a statement, his father-in-law, Dan Parkinson, said the former Probert's death was totally unexpected.

Bob Probert was always a fan favorite, and by all accounts, a favorite among his teammates. Despite some substance abuse issues, Probert was always considered a team leader and an example of how to play the game.

He was a tough guy who developed into a dangerous player with the puck, and became an All-Star in 1998. In 935 career NHL games, Probert scored 163 goals with  221 assists, and put fear into the heart of opponents by amassing a staggering 3,300 penalty minutes.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Free Agency, Day One. The Early Birds Get Defensive

The floodgates opened this morning and the frenzy began.  The quality in this free agent class is on the blueline.  As indicated by the first signings, GMs around the league went after defensemen in a hurry.

Let's take a look at some of the teams who landed impact players, and set their fanbase afire:

Pittsburgh Penguins:  signed defensemen Paul Martin and Zbynek Machalek. Martin missed substantial time last season, but is generally regarded as one of the best two-way defensemen in the NHL.  Machalek led the league in blocked shots last season in Phoenix and is as sound in his own end as anyone.  GM Ray Shero obviously believes that the reason the Penguins failed to defend their championship last year was due to the defense and he has addressed that area in a big way.


Vancouver Canucks:  signed defenseman Dan Hamhuis, centers Manny Malhotra and Joel Perrault.  After doing the Pennsylvania Polka, Hamhuis went home and got paid.  Hamhuis was one of the big catches to be had and the Canuck hit a home run, albeit an expensive one with their native son.  Malhotra had difficulty finding a job last off-season, but after a fine year in San Jose, his face-off skills and steady play made him a commodity this year.  Perrault has spent most of his career in the AHL, and played sparingly in Phoenix over the course of three seasons.


Ottawa Senators: signed defenseman Sergei Gonchar.  "Sarge" wanted to stay in Pittsburgh, but reports say that they were just not willing to budge off a two-year, lower money deal.  Gonchar believes that he can play as many as 5 more seasons.  He will play at least the next three in Canada's capital city.  Gonchar is still a top point producer, although it may be time to start scaling back on his minutes.  Ottawa got a major boost to their power play if nothing else.

Phoenix Coyotes:  signed right wing Ray Whitney and re-signed defenseman Derek Morris.  Whitney will provide Phoenix some much needed offensive help.  He is a gray beard, but as consistent as they come.  Morris finished the year in the desert last season and proved he can give quality minutes and move the puck.  I doubt that there was anyone in Phoenix that didn't want him back.




Other signings:

  • Edmonton landed defenseman Kurtis Foster.
  • The Tampa Bay Lightning signed goaltender Dan Ellis, while former 'Ning goalie Antero Niittymaki went to San Jose.
  • New Jersey signed former Sabres' blueliner Henrik Tallinder, while his former defense partner, Toni Lydman signed with Anaheim.
  • The Rangers paid a lot for super-goon, winger Derek Boogaard, after they lost Jody Shelley who will now be punchasizing faces in Philadelphia with the Flyers.
  • Colby Armstrong received a 3-year deal with Toronto.
  • Calgary went back to the future by signing right wing Alex Tanguay... TSN's Darren Dreger also is reporting that Calgary would also like to do the same with Olli Jokinen. Really?