Commentary, opinion and news on the world of hockey.

Friday, December 31, 2004

Happy New Year!! - pass the whine


I don't normally venture into the world of baseball but, my God, I feel I must now. It is being reported that atfer the Randy Johnson deal finally goes through, the Yankees 2005 payroll will top out at about $205 million. Excuse me while I reattach my lower jaw.

The Yankees will have to pay out $25 million in luxury tax (for last season). Does it seem to matter to anyone that the Tampa Bay Devil Ray's total payroll last year (roughly $24.5 million) was less than what the Yankees will pay in tax alone?

I find it funny that good 'ol Bob Goodenow and Ted Saskin have consistently claimed how well baseball's CBA works. But come on, with a payroll disparity and complete lack of any long term parity such as they have, I say...what are they smokin?

Granted, the luxury tax proposed by the NHLPA would have more teeth than what is currently the standard in baseball, however, I think that the Yankees have proven that a luxury tax may not have the necessary constraints required by the NHL. If a team wants to buy a player, it would seem that those with deep enough pockets to do so, will get their man every time.

Perhaps I'm reaching a little bit here and speaking more out of shock, but maybe I'm starting to warm up a little more to Bettman's "cost certainty". And I admit that you cannot compare baseball to the NHL, for various reasons. But the question that I find myself asking now is that what would really stop a team like the Rangers, Flyers, etc., from out-spending the lower echelon teams if they really had to? I'm not so certain that even a luxury tax with the teeth of a barracuda could seriosuly stop them.

In the end, I'm disheartened by the fact that almost every sport that I used to enjoy has become more about business than the actual sport itself. I find it difficult to watch any game and not think about the insanity of player salaries. Can anyone seriously tell me that during a regular season game between the Avalanche and the Red Wings, for example, that not once does the fact that Peter Forsberg and Niklas Lidstrom make between $10 and $11 million per season enter one's mind?

In regards the the NHL lockout, both sides are more concerned about money than they are about anything else. The fan loses out big time here - no matter the outcome. Ticket prices are already beyond the reach of the average Joe and they are not likley to ever come back down from the upper stratosphere. I guess I just wish that the NHL was accessible to the fans who covet the sport the most. But I suppose I best be going back to my w(h)ine.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Bertuzzi wants back in

The agent for Todd Bertuzzi has formally applied to the NHL to have his client reinstated. This comes as no surprise especially given the fact that the lockout has no end in sight and Bertuzzi may want to set his sights on Europe as a locale to apply his trade.

Here's the NHL chief legal officer, Bill Daly:
"We have indicated to Morris that, provided the players' association has no objection to the commissioner acting on Todd's request, the commissioner would be prepared to move forward with such a meeting."
The NHLPA will not object to any such meeting.
"A player such as Todd Bertuzzi can, at the appropriate time and in the appropriate manner, petition the league to have his status reviewed," said an unidentified NHLPA spokesperson.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

NHL revenue sharing

Now that Christmas is over, we can get back to groaning about the NHL lockout. It appears that the season will be officially over as of January 14th, although realistically, not many would have bet money on the likelihood of a season a month ago.

It appears that the NHL will get the “cost certainty” that it is seeking. And it also appears that the league’s elite teams are on board. The Detroit Red Wings president Jimmy Devellano has this to say:

"I think the league is doing the right thing. I really do. The other sports that are much bigger, with better revenues, have some type of cost certainty system, and we don't. I agree with the league we do need some type of system," Devellano told the Detroit Press. "We were preparing for a new deal. That's what we're waiting on now. We know that things have to change, we want things to change."

As we have all been told, the new NHL system will include some form of revenue sharing – which is in grave need. The problem is, the plan seems to harvest the majority of the funds from playoff revenues, which is something I’m not sure that I agree with.

For example, why should the Calgary Flames be forced to dish out a chunk of their hard earned playoff revenue to the Carolina Hurricanes just because they had a successful playoff run (for the first time in 8 years no less)? Shouldn’t it matter that the Flames have been, and will probably continue to be in, a similar financial predicament to the Hurricanes?

In my humble opinion, the revenue sharing should not seek to punish the success of teams. Instead, the money should be based upon teams that perpetually generate large revenues – regardless of playoff performance. Case in point: the New York Rangers. The last time the Rangers made the playoffs, Clinton was the U.S. President and Y2K was years away. Yet during that time, they still managed to generate revenues (profits) that rank at the top of the league. To me, it makes the most sense to play Robin Hood with teams such as the Rangers as opposed to hindering the teams that manage responsibly and only manage to generate any semblance of revenues from the post season games.

To further my point, according to Forbes magazine, the top 5 revenue generating teams – which will probably come as no surprise to anyone - are as follows (revenues in millions of dollars in 2003/2004):

1. NY Rangers $118
2. Toronto $117
3. Philadelphia $106
4. Dallas $103
5. Colorado $99
6. Detroit $97

Where do the Calgary Flames rank on Forbes’s list? The Flames rank 15th in terms of total revenue generated at $70 million. Also according to Forbes, the Flames total expenses were $67.7 million. So, even with their lengthy playoff run, they managed to turn a measly profit of roughly $2.3 million. Does it really make sense to force them to divvy up the same amount (or more) dough than the above teams because they had more playoff revenue? Maybe I’m being naïve, but that doesn’t really work for me.

And why not throw all of the national TV revenue into the mix? Or how about the teams that have monstrous local or regional TV deals be forced to share with those who have no hope of such lucrative revenue generating methods?

Because the NHL is primarily a gate driven league, with some thrown in from local TV deals and sponsorships, some may ask the question: “why should the teams with good attendance and strong management have to give up their gate revenues to help a team like the Coyotes and Hurricanes who constantly fail to draw fans?”

The answer lies in the fact that you cannot look at each team as an individual business entity. You must consider that the actual business is the NHL itself. To illustrate, here’s Tampa Bay Lightning president Ron Campbell:

"Every league is a business. It should be a business model, and it should be a partnership of sharing the fruits of the business among owners and employees. A business has all these divisions. It would be nice if they all are going to make money. It would be nice if they did and shifts (in team strength) were made on competitive reasons."

For example, when the Vancouver Canucks host the San Jose Sharks, the Sharks are a part of the NHL product offered for sale to the fans and as such, they should be entitled to their share of Vancouver’s gate receipts and vice versa.

I would not want the task of trying to define the rules for an NHL revenue sharing plan. However, on the surface, it appears that what the league has planned to do may not be the most effective method for effectively leveling the economic playing field. As the lockout drags on, we can count on one thing – every nook and cranny of every aspect of the CBA will be analyzed to death in newspapers, television spots, and forums like these.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Crosby breaking out


Sidney Crosby is off to a fabulous start at this year's World Junior Hockey Championships in North Dakota. Crosby may be the most hyped junior player since Eric Lindros, and this tournament was described by the pundits as his platform to showcase his world class ability. Well, so far so good. He added two power-play goals against Sweden today to bring his tournament total goal tally to 4.

Given that the competition has been somewhat less than, well, competitive, it remains to be seen if Crosby really is the second coming of Gretzky. That said, the pure skill he possesses is blatantly obvious to most who have had the pleasure of watching him play. He has been nothing less than instrumental in both of Team Canada's 2 convincing wins. In fact,the top line that consists of Patrice Bergeron, Corey Perry and Crosby, has combined for 7 goals and 15 points thus far.

So, will Crosby make his NHL debut if the NHL uses replacement players? Well, if you would have asked him yesterday, he would have said:
"I haven't really given it a lot of thought but my dream is to play in the NHL. I think if I do have the opportunity, I would probably go."

Much was made of that comment because of the current labor unrest in the NHL. And because most speculate that the League may seek to employ replacement players, Crosby's statement has been construed as an admittance that he would play if it ever came to that.

However, after today's game agains the Swede's, he was tooting a different horn:
"If there is an NHL with replacement players, I think for me to be involved and to say that I would play in the league is not true. If the NHL is the real NHL with the best players in the world, for sure I want to play in it but at the same time, if it's a league of replacement players, it's not the real NHL. And with all the things going on right now with players and owners, it's not right and I don't think I'd be playing in a league like that."

Regardless of when he sets foot on an NHL ice rink, the hype will be there to accompany him. There's no doubting his talent; he's got the gift. He will undoubtedly be a star player, but the real question is, can he elevate himself to one of the best of all time? Only time will tell, and I for one, will enjoy the ride.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

And the winner is....


The Best Skater

To kick off my adventure into naming the best players to ever lace 'em up in the NHL, I'll start with the best skater. Just to preface my little quest to crown the winners in each category, I will admit that I have not had the opportunity to see many of the past greats play the game.

To clarify, anything pre-1980 is, shall we say, a little fuzzy. Most of my knowledge of Orr, Mikita and Esposito comes from literature, video tapes & re-runs, and timeless stories passed down from generations before me.

However, most of the notable players from 1980 until the present day are fairly clear in my memory bank. Nonetheless, because of my limited amount of pre-80's viewing experience, some of my opinions may be slightly biased.

That aside, let's get to it.

In my opinion, the best skater to ever grace the ice is none other than 14 time all-star, Paul Coffey.

That probably comes as little suprise to most of you. Coffey had it all. Speed, acceleration, stride, and agility. His career total of 1,531 points ranks second for defenseman, behind only Ray Bourque who had 1579. He glided with incredible ease and it felt almost like a guilty pleasure to watch him gracefully show his skill.

If you include the playoffs, Coffey scored more goals than any other defenseman to play the game - 455 of them, compared to 451 for Bourque - and there's no doubt his endless speed was a key factor in his ability to pot the number of goals that he did.

Coffey was not only the best skater in the game, he was one of the best defensemen ever. Twice Coffey scored more than 40 goals in a season - he had 48 in 1985/1986, along with a career high 138 points - and 5 times he eclipsed the 100 point mark.

My pick for runner up as the best skater, which is actually a tie, goes to these two players:

Scott Niedermayer and Bobby Orr. Some may think that my bias shines through here, and perhaps even more so because I hail from Kamloops and had the opportunity to see Niedermayer's entire junior career. However, I have seen Orr play many, many times - although admittedly not live - which I think is enough for me to formulate my opinion.

Top that off with one of Orr's biggest trumpet blowers, my father, enlightening me with endless ringing endorsements of one of the best players to ever play the game, and I'd say that I'm qualified to objectively consider the alternatives. That said, I still consider Niedermayer to be on the same level as Orr, and have aptly called it a draw for second spot.

Other notables in this category include Sergei Fedorov, Pavel Bure, Mike Gartner and Guy Lafleur.

The Great Debates....

Who was the best player of all time? Or how about the most prolific goal scorer? The most talented player ever? Intriguing questions to say the least. Over the next few weeks, I will give my opinion on who I think is the best in a collection of different categories.

So, if you want to find out who the best goalie of all time is, the most accomplished NHL heavyweight, the best skater, most under-rated player, or the best player not in the Hockey Hall of Fame,stay tuned over the holidays to find out. Comments and opinions welcome.

Can the NHL move past the Bertuzzi incident?


Here's an interesting read from Ken Fidlin of the Toronto Sun.

Basically, Fidlin points out that the NHL has luckily avoided ridicule on the issue of how the NHL - players and management alike - deals with violence, or as he refers to it, "the code". While I can't disagree with much of what he says, he takes it a little too over the top for my liking. I also have a quibble on one minor thing:

It is both curious and ironic that one of the important factors that is holding back the NHL from penetrating the lucrative markets it covets in the United States is its barbaric reputation.


I have to say that in the United States, the highest rated sport is the NFL and not too far behind is wrestling and the Ultimate Fighting Championship. American tv markets seem to drink up the 'violent' sports. So, it would seem to me that the more convincing argument at why the NHL has lagged in the south of the border is that it's just not a sport that is conducive to the majority of the US population. Hockey is not now, nor will it ever be, a major attraction to certain American audiences. It's not a culture like it is in Canada.

In addition to this, Steve Moore may not launch a civil suit against Bertuzzi.

"Steve has no intentions of commencing a civil lawsuit at this time because his priority is to get better and play hockey," Tim Danson, Steve Moore's lawyer, says.

So, does that go to prove Fidlin's argument that an NHL code exists and that players and league brass alike prefer to deal internally with hockey events, or is it merely the actions of a man who wants to shovel the past far behind him? At the same time, will the NHL continue on the path with such outbreaks of cheap shots and stick-work?

In my opinion, nothing will change. The evidence speaks for itself. Shortly after the Bertuzzi/Moore incident, several players continued down the same path.

On March 22, Mark Messier was suspended for two games for spearing Pittsburgh Penguin's player Martin Strbak. The same night, Wade Belak was suspended for a wicked slash to the head of Ossi Vaananen - although ask most Leaf fans and they will tell you that he simply lost his balance.

After that, Brad Ference threw a sucker punch that eerily resembled Bertuzzi's cheap shot, yet he received no suspension at all. The only difference in that incdident was that the receiving player gor right back up onto his skates (I believe it was Dan Hinote of the Avalanche, but please correct me if I'm wrong).

The point is, the game has always had, and will continue to have, incidents such as this. Stepping onto the ice for an NHL hockey game is an intense experience and emotions often fly out of control. That's the nature of sports. Is there a fine line that should never be crossed? Of course there is, but given the nature of the game, expect nothing less than the status quo when the NHL returns to play.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Canadian juniors keep on truckin'


Canada's national junior squad coasted to a 5-0 win in a tune up match against Switzerland. Given that the Swiss tied the lowly Finns 3-3 in a tuesday game, I'll do my best to keep my excitement in check about Canada's victory.

What I won't hold back on was my satisfaction at witnessing the addition of Corey Perry to the top line. In my opinion, that's where he should be. I suppose the major knock on him is that he is limited in the defensive zone. So far, I haven't seen any signs of a defensive liability on Perry's part, but I will reserve my judgement until the junior nats' engage a more formidable foe.

Excited yet? Game one for Canada goes on Christmas day at 1:30 pm (Pacific time) vs. the Slovaks; a team that boasts the Ottawa Senators first round draft choice, defenseman Andrej Meszaros. I've had the pleasure of watching Meszaros play several times this year, and he hasn't disapointed during his tenure with the WHL's Vancouver Giants. In 34 games, he has racked up 24 points, including 7 goals, and is a very respectable +10.

Moore has his say in court


Steve Moore spoke via a victim's impact statement in a Vancouver courtroom this morning, and what he had to say would probably come as little surprise to anyone.

"I have no desire to interact with (Bertuzzi) in any way," Moore said in his impact statement. "If I'm ever able to play again, I would ask that Todd Bertuzzi never be permitted to play in any sporting activity I'm involved in."


As an outside observer, I can certainly understand his sentiments. The cheap shot heard around the world was an enormous black eye for hockey and is unmatched in terms of media coverage for an NHL on-ice incident.

At the same time, I know only too well that it will be long debated about why this was even before a court, especially given the precedents - and there are many, one such incident outlined nicely by James Mirtle. There's also a fine line between what can occur on an ice surface in order to be called criminal and worthy of prosecution. There seems to be a large divide between those who think that Bertuzzi should be banned, perhaps for life, and those who share the opinion that enough is enough already.

No matter which side of the fence you are on, hopefully we can all simply move on now that the criminal portion of the case is over with. Perhaps for some, including Steve Moore, that may be too much to ask.

**UPDATE**: Steve Moore will voice his opinion about the sentence handed down to Todd Bertuzzi in a thursday news conference. For those who don't yet know, Bertuzzi was handed a conditional discharge that includes one year of probation. During that time frame, Bertuzzi will not be allowed to play in a hockey game with Moore. In addition, he must also perform 80 hours of ciommunity service.

NHL says it will set a hearing for Bertuzzi

Now that all of the legal questions have mostly been answered in regards to the criminal proceedings against Todd Bertuzzi, the NHL has expressed that they are open to a hearing for the power forward.

Bill Daly, the NHl's chief legal officer said, "The commissioner would be prepared to schedule a meeting with Todd in the near future."

Should "Big Bert" be reinstated by the league, he would be free to join the already large number of players in Europe. As for whether or not the incident and all of the legal proceedings will affect how Bertuzzi's plays the game, former Canuck GM Brian Burke doesn't feel that it will.

"I don't think it's going to affect the way he plays," said Burke.

As for Steve Moore - he seems to be the forgotten one in all of this - it's been reported that his physical condition is slowly improving. However, he also continues to have reduced sensation in his right shoulder, reduced energy levels, problems with short-term memory, and dull headaches. Moore's physical activity is said to be very basic and includes mostly light workouts.

League to set a drop dead date


The NHL Board of Govenors will meet on January 14th to finally decide if there will be a season. It seems to me that it's a fruitless point at this time, as the likelyhood of a season is probably at it's lowest point ever.

Regardless of the current labour situation, it will have to be made official at some point and it looks as though if there is no progress by the January 14th meeting, the season will offically be toast. Chalk that up in the 'Duh' category.

If the season is actually cancelled as most feel it will, it would mark the first time ever that a professional sports league has missed an entire year due to a labour dispute (counting the "four major sports"). It would also be the first time since 1919 that the coveted Stanley Cup would not be awarded.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

WHL hands down fines, suspensions


Last Saturday's heated contest between the Kamloops Blazers and the Prince George Cougars resulted in two line-brawls in the last 1:12 of the game. With the game well in hand - the Blazers led and went on to win the game, 4-1 - the two teams squared off in a series of tussels that even included the two goaltenders.

At one point during the fiasco, the two head coaches got into it at the benches. The Blazer's coach Mark Ferner and the Cougar's coach Lane Lambert were slinging verbal insults as they came face to face at the benches and later under the stands. Ferner was upset that the Cougars were intent on taking out their furstrations by instigating several last-minute scraps.

When the smoke cleared, the referee obviously agreed with Ferner as the Cougars were slapped with 4 instigator penalties and a total of 141 minutes in penalties. The Blazers came out with 81 penalty minutes.

The WHL did not hesitate to come down hard - especially on the Cougars. Here's a look at the league's discipline:

  • The Kamloops Blazers have been fined $250.00 for a game misconduct to head coach Mark Ferner at Prince George on December 18.

  • The Kamloops Blazers have been fined $250.00 for their goaltender being involved in a fight at Prince George on December 18.

  • Prince George Cougars head coach Lane Lambert has been suspended for two games and fined $1000.00 for the actions of the Prince George players late in the game versus Kamloops on December 18.

  • Josh Aspenlind, Ryan Gillen, and Ty Wishart of the Prince George Cougars have all been suspended for one game for instigating fights late in the game versus Kamloops on December 18.

  • The Prince George Cougars have been fined $250.00 for their goaltender being involved in a fight versus Kamloops on December 18.

  • The Prince George Cougars have been fined $250.00 for their second multiple-fight situation of the season versus Kamloops on December 18.

  • Dan Gendur of the Prince George Cougars has been suspended for one game under supplemental discipline for an incident versus Kamloops on December 17. The suspension has been served.

Bertuzzi to plead guilty

Old news by now, but Todd Bertuzzi is likely to plead guilty to charges of some form of assault (lesser charges than he would have faced at trial) on Wednesday. It is widely speculated that he will not receive a criminal record, which is they key to the deal from Bertuzzi's end of things.

If he was slapped with a criminal record, travel to and from the United States would come into question. And now that the criminal proceedings are likely done, what will the NHL do about his suspension?

This entire court proceeding has me wondering what the average hockey fan's take is on the criminal justice system intervening for such on-ice actions. Should the courts be involved in such matters? It's not an easy answer, and perhaps I may get into it at a later date.

Monday, December 20, 2004

The Red Line Predictor: WJHC


Christmas is in the air, and for most Canadians, the holiday season brings with it more than the anticipation of turkey and stuffing. Yes sir, it's World Junior Hockey Championship time.

Most of the hockey pundits are picking Canada to take home the gold. Despite the meltdowns that the team has gone through in recent years, I can find no reason to disagree with that prediction.

So, here are the offical Red Line Predictions:

1. Canada - this may be the most solid and well balanced team that Canada has ever iced at the tournament. Any team that cuts Ryan Stone and Eric Fehr from their line-up obviously has some big-time depth. Pack that with a rather large yet mobile defense, and this team is poised to break the gold medal drought. The only thing that may be slightly unclear is the goaltending.

2. Russia - The Russians are the most accomplished junior hockey team in the tournament's rich history. Russia sports 23 medals since the tournament began in 1977, with 12 of those being gold (compared to Canda's 10). And besides, they have Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeny Malkin. That's all I have to say about that.

3. U.S.A. - I don't quite understand why Team USA is pretty much being left off the radar by many hockey gurus. They will not benefit from the return of players such as Zach Parise and Patrick Eaves, but they will still boast eight returnees from last year's gold medal performance. Ryan Suter, Al Montoya and Patrick O’Sullivan will lead the way.

4. Czech Republic - they are my pick for the tournament darkhorse. As I type this, I don't think that they are strong enough to go further than battling the USA in the bronze medal game. However, first round goaltender Marek Schwarz could provide enough of a boost to power the Czechs into the medals.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

The Weekend Red Line Round-up

NHL


The only news from the sad world of the NHL is that there is no news. It would seem that Gary Bettman and his cronies have hurt the NHLPA's feelings and hence, the players held a conference-call to plead their case and chastise the mean and nasty owners to anyone who would listen. Apparently each side has now locked themselves in their respective bedrooms and are proceeding to pout (NHLPA) or cachinnate wickedly amongst themselves (NHL).

Columnists, Commentary & Opinion

With the NHL labor strife just getting into full swing, everyone is digging for a unique angle or juicy fodder to bide the time. Calgary Sun hockey writer Randy Sportak gives a decent read about the contracts that ruined hockey. It's hard to disagree with what he says about the insanity of some of the NHL owners.

Love him or hate him, Al Strachan certainly conjurs up emotions when he expresses his views. Thie week, the columnist has put on his economics hat as he rambles on about the ineptness of Gary Bettman and his goal to form a partnership between the NHL and the NHLPA.

Interesting read for sure, but if Strachan really doesn't believe that the NHL would suffer similarly if the owners had accepted this deal, then someone has to slap him. His obvious disdain for NHL frontman Gary Bettman rears its ugly head yet again in his latest rant. One only has to look at the titles of his latest 4 columns to figure out which side of the fence he chooses to patrol:

Dec. 15: Owners' decision is puzzling
Dec. 14: NHL making huge mistake
Dec. 11: Give us a break Bettman!
Dec. 10: Players remove all the excuses

Furthermore, Strachan has said:
It's not the players' job to do that. Controlling the owners' spending is the owners' job.

It stands to reason that if all salaries are cut by 24%, which is the union's proposal, then the owners will find themselves at the very starting point they themselves have said is the ideal level if their salary cap concept were to be implemented.

Now all they have to do is stop spending stupidly.

It can't be that hard, can it?
I partly agree with you Al, but a little dose of reality is warranted on your part. Do you really belive that the New York Rangers or Philadelphia Flyers (insert your high-spending, huge market team here...) are going to cease to bully around the small market teams when it comes to adding elite player personnel under the NHLPA's proposed system? Teams like these are licking their chops at the latest proposal because it gives them a 24% cut in spending - an amount with which they would be able to go on a shopping spree. Does it really stand to reason that these teams are going to practice fiscal restraint if they want a player(s) badly enough? There's no way and it's been proven time and time again - the owners need an idiot proof system.

All this latest deal does is reset the scale - if this deal was accepted by the NHL, the clock would already be ticking on the next work stoppage.

WHL


Many might be sick of Blazer news, regardless, I have to mention the fact that they prevailed in the back half of the two game stint with rival Prince George. The win puts Kamloops only 4 points back of the Cougars, further taunting me with hopes of a playoff spot.

Playing in only his 14th game of the year, Blazer center Reid Jorgensen scored his 8th goal of the season - he had a total of 7 goals last year.

In the surprise of the night, The Tri-City Americans handed the Vancouver Giants a 6-0 shellacking. Adam Jennings got the start in the absence of Marek Schwarz, who is off to play for his native Czech team in the World Junior Tournament that begins on Christmas day.

The Medicine Hat Tigers defeated the WHL's top team, the Kelowna Rockets, 4-2 on Saturday. For the Tigers, the win will hopefully put them back on track as they had been steadily falling from what was once a penthouse view. Once ranked 2nd, behind only the London Knights, in the CHL rankings, the Tigers have promtply fallne back into second place in their division and now sit 5 points back of leading Lethbridge.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Key WHL matchups tonight

The Central Division

Two teams that are headed in completely opposite directions, the defending Memorial Cup champion Kelowna Rockets and the steadily declining Medicine Hat Tigers, hook up tonight in the Hat as the Rockets continue their Eastern road swing. The Tigers have won only two of their last ten games after being nationally ranked 3 weeks ago, while the WHL leading Rockets have only one loss in their last ten. Medicine Hat handed the Rockets a 5-1 drubbing in October, partial retribution for the loss in last year's Memorial Cup final game.

The BC Division

The Kootenay Ice look to gain ground on the division leading Rockets, as they take on the US Divison basement dwelling Spokane Chiefs. However, the Ice will be without Canadian Junior Team members Nigel Dawes and Jeff Glass, the heart and soul of their team.


The key matchup tonight, at least from my admittedly biased point of view, is the second game of a two game stint between the Prince George Cougars and the Kamloops Blazers. Why is this game so important? Well, consider that if the Cougars win, they stake themselves to an 8 point lead for the last playoff spot while heading into a schedule that includes 10 of the next 12 games at home. Add to that, the Blazers have been horribly inconsistent this year and have been ravaged with key injuries. An 8 point deficit, in this blogger's humble opinion, would be far too great for the Blazers to overcome - even with half a season to go.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Blazers fall to determined Cougars

The Kamloops Blazers have fallen 6 points behind the fourth place Prince George Cougars in the race for the BC Division's final playoff spot. Game one of a two game set for the teams looked to be headed in the Blazer's favour as they held a 3-1 lead early in the third period, but they crumbled yet again under the pressure.

A determined group of Cougars did not say die as Colin Patterson had two goals and added an assist - all in the third period - to lead the tenacious cats to the come from behind victory.

The victory leaves the Cougars much more secure in their hopes for a playoff spot, and with the loss, the Blazers fall even deeper into the basement. Even though the season is not yet half over, a loss on Saturday could bury Kamloops - a team that has never missed the playoffs in the existence of the franchise.

Crippled by inconsistent play and plagued by key injuries to the few veteran players they have on the roster, the Blazers have had a horrendous year. Captain Jarret Lukin will be out until after Christmas with a broken finger, overage defenseman Tyrell Moulton is out with a concussion, gritty defenseman Ryan Bender has missed the last several games, and exceptionally talented but oft injured forward Richard Jasovsky left tonight's game with an undisclosed injury.

Canadian junior team selection camp attendee Devan Dubnyk takes the loss for the Blazers, stopping 34 shots.

I'd rather have the cars....

So, just for kicks, would you like to hazard a guess at what the combined salaries of the top 25 players in the NHL was last year? Off the top of your head, what sounds right to you? Would you feel fairly confident guessing $125 million? OK, how about a little less conservative…say maybe $160 million….

Well, you'd be right if you actually guessed $208,631,753.

It should be noted that that figure does not reflect the $10,000,000 that Pavel Bure would have received as compensation had he been healthy enough to play.

Just think about that for a moment. Almost a quarter of a billion dollars spent in salary for only twenty-five people. I know I've taken it completely out of context and have applied no rational thought to it, but nonetheless, the number just sounds obscene to me. For anyone that cares, that amount could fetch you roughly 1,048 Lamborghini Gallardos (2004 model) .

Owners United


Ed Snider, the Philadelphia Flyers chairman, dismisses the NHLPA's stance that the 30 owners will eventually divide and confirms that the owners have an unbreaking resolve.

"(The owners) are totally in sync with the league. I have been in this league since 1966, 38 years I've been involved in the league, and I've never seen the owners so solidly together as they are today. They are as solid as a rock...You can say that the owners are stupid, and (NHL Executive Director Bob Goodenow) can say all the crap he wants, but the bottom line is we have a system that doesn't work," Snider told the Philadelphia Daily News.



Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs echoed those sentiments to the Boston Globe and bolstered fears that the season will never get off the ground. "If I were leaning, I'm leaning more (towards) wait for next year," Jacobs said.

All I can say is, what did the Players' Association expect? The current labour strife does not even remotely resemble the situation back in 1994. It appears to me, based on the growing instances of public insult slinging and obvious signs of irritability from Bob Goodenow and several of the players, that the NHLPA had banked on the League cracking under the pressure by now.

What I take from the last week is that the NHLPA has just experienced a major wake-up call - a slap in the face, no doubt. The players are going to end up with the short end of the deal this time and they are now responding the only way they seem to know how - by airing their grievences through the media. Sorry, Bob, but I think the audience is asleep.



Thursday, December 16, 2004

And the posturing continues.....


The NHLPA has conducted a media conference call to inform the hockey world about how unreliable and incorrect the NHL's financial numbers are. I suppose that the Association's formal rebuttal to the NHL's proposal cannot be said to be unexpected. However, can you say PR move?

Obviously the Players' Association will never agree with the numbers provided by the NHL. Adversly, the League will always point to the Levitt Report and insist that the league is in close proximity to a complete financial collapse. We get it.

So why then, does the NHLPA call a press conference to reiterate what has been said ten times over? To top it off, all that will come from this is likely an equally redundant retort from the League.

I wish that both sides would just get over themselves and realize that this routine is starting to get really old and wrinkly.

Instead of the NHLPA whining to the media and feverishly spitting out numbers and financial figures until everyone is blue in the face, why do they not take their concerns up with the NHL behind closed doors? Or better yet, find an independant accounting body (agreed upon by both sides) to conduct a thorough audit.

At least this way, perhaps once and for all the numbers could be agreed upon and maybe then some meaningfull progress could take place. As it stands now, my head is dizzy and my ears are ringing. Someone please stop the rhetoric!




Making the grade

The Canadian National Junior team made all of their cuts today and sent many aspiring hopefulls home disapointed. It was no surprise that goaltender Devan Dubnyk was sent home, but the exculsions of Ryan Stone, Eric Fehr, and Stefan Meyer may raise some eyebrows.

Stone, the WHL's leading scorer at the time he left for camp (he and Fehr now sit 2 & 3 respectively), may be the day's biggest surprise cut as he provides an excellent combination of intensity and scoring punch.

The starting goaltender will likely be steady Kootenay Ice veteran Jeff Glass, and he will be backed up by the Prince Albert Raiders Rejean Beauchemin. The Medicine Hat Tigers netminder Kevin Nastiuk was not apparently part of the team's plans despite an impressive resume.

''He (Sutter) just thought the other two guys maybe had a little better camp, but that's his opinion I guess. Hopefully these guys win gold," Nastiuk said. ''I thought maybe my background was a little better than some guys but those two guys are great goalies too and all the power to them,'' he continues.

Overall, the team has a large but mobile defense. The smallest member of the junior nats blueline is London Knight's Danny Syvret at 6'0 200 lbs. The forwards are deep in skill, as illustrated by the cuts of Stone, Fehr, and Meyer. With the likes of Nigel Dawes, Sidney Crosby, Corey Perry, Clarke MacArthur and Patrice Bergeron, the team will feature more than an adequate amount of character and depth to contend for the tournaments top prize. View the final roster here.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Strong words from Roy

Patrick Roy, probably the best goaltender to lace em' up in the NHL, believes that the owners basically had no choice but to reject the latest NHLPA proposal. Speaking with Le Journal de Montreal, the shoe-in Hall of Famer said that the Players offer was nothing more than a PR move.

"The owners had every reason to turn down the players' offer. The Players' Association's proposal's only goal was to win popular favour." Roy continues, "The ten teams with the weakest revenues must not forget about the salary cap. Adoption of a cap means survival for the teams in trouble."

Interesting indeed. Too bad he's a former player.

Dubnyk likely to be cut

The goaltending situation for Team Canada's word junior squad will become clear thursday, and it doesn't seem likely that 18 year old Kamloops Blazer goaltender Devan Dubnyk will survive the coaches axe.

It's probably being kind in saying that Dubnyk hasn't turned in an overly impressive performance in the team's exhibition games. The lanky netminder got the start today for Team Canada as they faced University of Manitoba in an exhibition game that saw the National hopefulls emerge with a 6-3 victory. Dubnyk stopped only six of nine shots as the starter - not a performance that warrants the permanent number one job.

According to TSN analysts, the starting job appears to be Jeff Glass's to lose at this point. The real battle should be between the Prince Albert Raider's Rejean Beauchemin and the Medicine Hat Tigers Kevin Nastiuk for the backup position.

Moving to Europe...

So, hockey is more or less gonzo for the year. However, At the very least, we will get to see the freakshow, a.k.a. the collective bargaining process, continue on for months on end. Or, you could do what I am about to - take up bowling. For the time being, the PBA is my new best friend. That is, until they decide to lock out the bowlers.

Once that happens, where can I turn. Ah, the answer to that is simple - cricket! Man, those cricketeers...is that what you call them? They can sure keep the average fan glued to the television for literally 3 or 4 days.

O.k. fine. Maybe cricket isn't the answer. And bowling won't quite cut it either, regardless of the highly toned athletes and despite the fact that they don't have the instigator rule. So what is one to do without NHL hockey?

Well, there's plenty of commentary and hockey analysis on television, radio and in the newspapers. You could always watch Hockey Central and come to the obvious conclusion that Nick Kypreos was a better hockey player than a hockey analyst. Or you could enjoy watching Tie Domi saturate the screen with his incredible insight to the latest NHL offer.

In all seriousness, I will turn my attention from the pro ranks and immerse myself completely into junior hockey. The World Junior Championships are on the way and will provide almost as much enertainment as back to back press-conferences featuring Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow. Aside from that, the WHL is always a sure bet for entertaining hockey. However, due to my home-team's current record, I just may have to start cheering for another team (but never the Rockets).





Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Rejected


The NHL and Players' Association met for almost four hours today, and when all of the smoke cleared, NHL frontman Gary Bettman addressed the media. It came as no surprise that the NHL rejected the latest union proposal, and it came as even less of a surprise that the NHLPA rejected the owner's counter-proposal.

Some hilites from Bettman's press conference and the NHL's counter-proposal:

  • "Under our counter-proposal, any player making less than $800,000 would not see his salary diminished at all. Under our proposal, the reduction for a player making between $800,000 and $1.49 million would be 15 per cent. The reduction for a player making $1.5 million to $1.99 million would be 20 per cent. The reduction for a player making $2 million to $3.99 million would be the 24 per cent the union leadership offered. The reduction for a player making between $4 million and $4.99 million would be 30 per cent and the reduction for a player making $5 million or more would be 35 per cent. 731 of our players, 91.8 pe cent, would be at or below the union's proposed 24 per cent."


  • "I will confirm something very important that we repeated to the union: We have not sought - and are not seeking now - the elimination of guaranteed contracts. That is a bogus issue. Salary Arbitration is inflationary - very inflationary. This one is easy. We said it must be eliminated. We made a detailed system proposal - a `salary range' - which, based on last year's economics, would see team player costs between $38.6 million and $34.6 million."


So obviously, the NHL took the ball and ran with the element of a salary rollback and restructured it. On top of that they have stood pat with the concept of cost certainty and have linked revenues and player salaries - which is something that the NHLPA has clearly conveyed they would never accept. Arbitration and entry level bonuses have been eliminated completely.

What became even more evident today was that the NHL is going to get cost certainty one way or another. The players are just as hardline about not accepting any form of 'linkage'. So where does that leave the NHL? Well, the propsect of hockey this year has been tossed directly out the window. Even the long term future of the sport has come into question.

It is clear that the owners want to take back the game, and so far, it appears that they will stop at nothing to achieve their goal. How far are they willing to go? Has it been the agenda of the NHL all along to declare an impasse and break the union completey? I guess we will have to wait and see what becomes the the game that we all love, but one thing is for certain - it's going to get much worse before it gets any better.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Can a Deal Really be Done?


So what would it take to get a deal done? From the viewpoint of an outside observer such as myself, it may be nothing short of a minor miracle. What it may take is something that has yet to be tabled by either side. The NHLPA does not want "linkage", or "cost certainty", yet that's the only tune that Gary Bettman and the NHL owners have been trumpeting for the last 6 months. The problem is that the elusive gray area between the positions of the two sides may not exist simply because in order to get there, one side would have to completely do an about-face.

The players’ latest proposal is a genuine attempt at bargaining. However, in the eyes of many, and most importantly the NHL, it doesn't come close to addressing the issue that the owners are focused on - cost certainty. The league may be correct in that assumption, but that being the case, this proposal should have enough teeth in order to be used as the basis for on-going negotiations.

In my opinion, “cost certainty” should not necessarily equate to a hard salary cap. I fail to see the reasoning of the NHL’s dismissive attitude towards a stiff luxury tax. The proposal that is currently tabled by the NHLPA should be able to function as an effective tool given some intelligent tweaking but it appears that the NHL is dead set on responding with nothing less than a hard salary cap.

On the other hand, the Players’ Association is equally as steadfast about not accepting any form of a hard salary cap or the linkage of salaries to league revenues. I don’t really understand this hard-line stance either. As long as it can be established, by an independent body, and agreed upon by both sides as to what the hockey revenues actually are, what is so wrong with linking salaries to total revenues? I have yet to hear a satisfactory explanation from any member of the Players’ Association on this subject.

The main problem is that both sides are speaking different languages and neither side wants to break out the Berlitz. Regardless of which side of the fence you sit on, it appears fatefully evident that neither side is willing to budge. In the end, that could mean that this already long and drawn out process extends much further.

The lines that have been drawn in the sand are getting much thicker. The NHL appears to be settling in comfortably for the long haul. The stance seems to be clear: right, wrong or indifferent and whether the players like it or not, this is the owners’ league, the owners’ industry. They are the ‘boss’ and they are going to achieve “cost certainty” no matter what. They have all of the money invested in this venture and it is clear what mandate they have set and intend to follow through on. Sure, it takes the players to make the whole thing work, but when all is said and done, the owners are just that – the owners. And as such, they are the ones holding all of the cards and it looks as if they are the ones who will ultimately get what they want.




Proposal Rejected Already?

According to TSN, the NHL has sent a memorandum to the 30 owners outlining their intentions to reject the latest union proposal. This comes as little surprise to many, as the general sentiment was that the union's offer, while sincere and significant, did not come close enough to addressing the long-term viability of the league.

"In sum, we believe the Union's December 9 CBA proposal, while offering necessary and significant short-term financial relief, falls well short of providing the fundamental systemic changes that are required to ensure that overall League economics remain in synch on a going-forward basis," NHL executive vice president is quoted by TSN.


As this was not really a huge surprise, the important thing now is which direction negotiations are taken in from this point on. Can the league offer up a counter-proposal that can maintain the bargaining process or will the offer come as an insult to the players? We will have to wait until tomorrow to see the details of the league's counter offer, however, the likelyhood of it including "cost certainty" are high and thus the propspects of NHL hockey being played this year are looking fairly grim.

Melnyk, Owners Standing Firm

The owner of the Ottawa Senators, Eugene Melnyk, says that the NHL's 30 owners are "unified" and are serious about fixing the long-term economic situation of the league.

"It's not a solution. Although the 24 percent rollback is something that we look at seriously, it's not a permanent solution to the problems," Melnyk says to the Ottawa Sun. "The most important thing is to fix the system. What we don't want to do is end up back in the same situation three, four or five years from now."

Melnyk isn't the only one speaking out about the latest proposal. Edmonton Oilers governor Cal Nichols conveyed that he is on the exact same page as Melnyk.

Nichols said, "In my opinion, and that of the Edmonton Oilers, it is an enticement to carry on doing essentially what we're doing and the Edmonton Oilers won't be here long-term if that's what we're prepared to accept."

And while no one really believed that the NHL would unequivocally accept the NHLPA's latest offer, the hope is that a meaningfull counter-proposal is in the works and ready to be deliviered by the league on Tuesday. If the proposal still hinges on a hard salary cap, then get ready for a long winter without NHL hockey.


Sunday, December 12, 2004

The NHLPA's Latest Masterpiece

Bob Goodenow certainly knows how to paint a beautiful picture. His pitch to the league on Thursday came fully equipped with all of the rich appeal of a Rembrandt and has seemingly succeeded in attaining the attention of hockey fans, players, and media members alike. Mission accomplished.

In essence, Bob Goodenow has made a brilliant move. He has come up with a significant offer and has successfully turned much the negative public focus away from the players. Many people will perceive this as a serious attempt to salvage the season. I don’t doubt the sincerity of the NHLPA in their latest attempt, but when all is said and done, this amounts to nothing more than a band-aid solution.

Reaction to the proposal appears to be mixed at this point; some stand in jaw-dropping awe of the lure of a 24% salary rollback, while others can see beyond what is essentially a smoke screen. Regardless of the respective opinions, almost all seem to agree on one thing: the NHL will undoubtedly reject this offer, and in my opinion, rightfully so.

As significant an offer as this is, and believe me, a 24% cut in salary is huge, Goodenow and his association most likely only pitched this rollback because they knew that the league would ultimately reject it. The union had to know that they would never actually be in any danger of rolling back their salaries. And in the process of looking squeaky clean in PR department, they have used the pay-cut to deflect attention from the fact that the remainder of this offer is not a big step up from the most recent CBA. What this latest proposal really tells me is how much the players are willing to give up in order to hang on to the current system.

This latest offer does not address the changes to the system that the NHL has been committed to for the last several months (and more likely years), and as such, the key element in the offer, the salary cut, amounts to nothing more than window dressing. Beyond the significant pay-cut the players would face, there is also a proposed luxury tax that is laughable, some minor tinkering to the qualifying offers, a much needed change in arbitration (although not a strong enough change), and a cap on rookie contracts and bonuses. And most importantly, what this deal does NOT have is what the owners most covet: linkage between salaries and league revenues.

Many were undoubtedly surprised by the NHLPA’s offer and I must admit, at first glance, I had an eyebrow raised. But after all of the hype blew over and rational thought kicked in, I saw this deal for what it really is – a finely crafted work of art that attempts to captivate all involved. It’s an effort to distract them from the fact that this proposal does not address the long-term concerns of the NHL. It serves to sway public opinion and force the owners into action. It gives a solid excuse for the NHLPA to rely on, in the form of a legitimate attempt at bargaining, should the season inevitably be cancelled.

If you were one of the many who were surprised by the magnitude of the key element of this offer, don’t feel bad, you were not alone. However, despite all of the NHLPA cheerleading, media analysis, contrasting opinions and discussions on the subject, do not be surprised that come Tuesday, this latest offer is rejected and the state of hockey finds itself in exactly the same spot that it was three months ago.

Equal Amounts of Stubbornness

Whatever the owners’ reaction may be to the NHLPA’s latest proposal on Tuesday, one thing is probably certain: the owners will most likely end up looking like the bad guy. It should come as a surprise to no one that they will reject the latest offer (although I’m sure many will be, or at least act as if they are), and really, they HAVE to reject it.

The owners are not engaged in this process to save the season and simply patch the current economic system; they are out to revamp the entire thing, and they have been from the get go. This is no secret, and they have not tried to make it one.

The battle lines have clearly been drawn in the sand by both sides, so why do the owners take all of the heat for standing firm? The players are equally adamant about not accepting any form of a salary cap or linkage between league revenues and player salaries. So why do they not take an equal amount of flack for being just as stubborn?

I, for one, am tired of the endless posturing and back-and-forth bantering about how the other side is being unreasonable or unwilling to negotiate. The fact is, both sides rank high on the silly meter. Depending on what the league’s response is on Tuesday, this fiasco may continue for much longer.

Hopefully, after the league rejects this latest offer (and believe me, they will), both sides can use this proposal as a basis for on-going negotiations instead of retreating into their collective shells. The only thing that would make me more upset about the prospect of no hockey this year is the fact that we may have to endure several more months of pointless campaigning.

Eye on the WHL: Tidbits from the junior league

The playoff race in the BC Division of the Western Hockey League is beginning to become clear already. To clarify, the four teams that will most likely make it to the post season are becoming evident. Not even three months into the season, it looks as if the Kamloops Blazers will miss the playoffs for the first time in franchise history – a distinction that does not sit well with the organization, or the fans. Heading into action on December 12, the Blazers sit six points behind their fierce rivals to the north, the Prince George Cougars.

What makes things worse for the Blazers is that their number one goaltender, Devan Dubnyk, who has started all but three of the first thirty-three games of the year, is headed to the national junior selection camp. Should he make the team, rookie goaltender Michael Maniago will hold the fort for the Blazers’ next six or seven games. Maniago has plenty of talent, but that’s a great deal of pressure to heave onto a sixteen year old rookie.

What may make things even more grim for Kamloops is the fact that the Cougars will play twelve of their next fourteen games at home, a string that includes the next eight straight on friendly territory. It may sound funny this early in the season, but it’s make-or-break it time for the Blazers. They need a solid effort to grab that last playoff spot in the division, and the next week or two could be incredibly decisive.

In the Central Division, what’s going on with the Medicine Hat Tigers? The Hat has won only one of its last ten games, and has not only fallen from the second spot in the CHL rankings; they have fallen 6 points behind division leading Lethbridge and are now only two points ahead of the fourth place Red Deer Rebels.

The Tigers boast a line-up that is riddled with all-star talent that includes forwards Stefan Meyer and Clarke MacArthur, defenseman Cam Barker, and national junior attendee, goalie Kevin Nastiuk. With a line-up like that, they can’t possibly continue down the road to mediocrity….can they?

Stay tuned for further junior jottings.