Commentary, opinion and news on the world of hockey.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Free Agent Fever

Noon Eastern standard time. That's when the NHL declares the free agent hunt officially open. The buyout period surprised my somewhat - there was much less movement than I had expected. Regardless, there will be an unpresidented number of high-quality unrestricted players on the market, and who knows where they may end up and for how much.

The list of marquee players on the market is staggering:

  • Peter Forsberg
  • Markus Naslund
  • Mike Modano
  • Alexei Kovalev
  • Pavol Demitra
  • Ziggy Palffy
  • Bobby Holik
  • Alexei Zhamnov
  • Paul Kariya
  • Teemu Selanne
  • Scott Niedermayer

  • Adam Foote
  • Sergei Gonchar
  • Brian Leetch
  • Sergei Zubov
  • Derian Hatcher
  • Brian Rafalski
  • Mathieu Schneider
  • Mike Rathje
  • Roman Hamrlik
  • Adrian Aucoin
It's hard to say where many of these players will end up. It is likely that several will remain with the same team, however salary cap restraints will have a major impact on where and how many players are signed. Even though the league maximum salary this year will be roughly $7.8 million, I find it very hard to believe that many players, if any at all, are signed to this type of lucritive contract.

For instance, there has been recent speculation that Peter Forsberg will end up back in Colorado. On its face, it seems entirely reasonable. However, it all depends on the type of dollar figure he is after. If he wants close to the max salary, it likely won't happen unless it's a the expense of Hejduk, Tanguay, etc.

Making things that much more complicated for in the long term, is the fact that the salary cap may even drop next year.
''No question, and that makes it even that much more complicated,'' said Edmonton GM Kevin Lowe. ''That's what guys are envisioning. You have to consider that. I think it's safe to say that no one is expecting the cap number to go up next year unless everyone has underestimated their revenue projections.''
I also don't expect a mad flurry of early activity - teams will want to know what the value range will actually be set at before the mad dash to the finish commences.

Whatever the salary range for star players ends up being, I'm glad to know that finally it will be a true 30 team buying market. In other words, it won't be the same 6 or 7 teams that horde the elite players. With the new fiscal sanity, teams like the Edmonton Oilers will now have an almost identical (on a monetary scale, anyways) chance at signing free agents as the New York Rangers. And to me, that is exactly what this league needed. The competative balance was so far out of whack that it probably couldn't have gotten any worse.

From a Vancouver standpoint, what can we expect? Well, I'm in the dark here, much like everyone else. It's likely that Todd Bertuzzi will be suspended for an addition period of time, and as far as where Markus Naslund will end up - from what I'm hearing, it probably won't be Vancouver (Sorry Canuck fans, the dream of keeping Naslund and adding Forsberg are remote). The chances of landing Scott Niedermayer are also remote, unless they decide to trade/dump Ed Jovanvoski.

But on the bright side, I do hear that Paul Kariya is seriously considering a move to his hometown. (For more great insight, check out Spector's Hockey - a very well done site with several tidbits of info)

In any event, the free agent hunting season will be a blast to watch, and the new CBA may usher in an era where it becomes a regular occurrence. With the reduction in UFA age restrictions, the list of potential UFA's will probably be fairly exciting every off season. Consider next year's potential UFA's:
  • Joe Thornton
  • Vincent Lecavalier
  • Jose Theodore
  • Ed Jovanovski
  • Wade Redden
  • Zdeno Chara
  • Sergei Samsonov
  • Jarome Iginla
  • Marty Turco
  • Ryan Smyth
  • Patrick Elias
  • Evgeni Nabokov
  • Chris Pronger
  • Patrick Marleau
Whatever happens, the smell of hockey is in the air, and I'm getting pumped.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

One down....

Everyone knows that Bob Goodenow stepped down today as the executive director of the NHLPA. And while I shed no tears for him, I don't really think that his demise was his fault. From the very start, he warned the players that in order to get what they wanted, it would likely be a two year battle - and that meant no juicy paychecks. It's not his fault that the players missed the good life too much.

The only mistake that I can say that he made during the labour dispute was the 24% rollback. It was an ingenious idea at the time and in the context of the NHLPA's December 2004 offer. But his mistake lie in the fact that he did not make it abundantly clear that the 24% rollback on salaries was a one time, take it or leave it offer.

Other than that, Goodenow played his game the way he said he was going to. It was the players who blinked.

But now that he's gone, please tell me that there is hope of removing Gary Bettman.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

05/06 NHL Schedule: My Take

The NHL released it's 05/06 schedule today, and in the words of Guido the garbage man: "It really stinks."

This is how the NHL pays back the seventeen fans it has left? With all of the NHL's jabbering about fixing the game and making it more fan friendly, which one would reasonably think should include marketing the snot out of it, the best the NHL think-tanks can come up with is this flaming dung-muffin.

There is now a major emphasis on inter-conference play, more specifically inter-divisional play. Don't get me wrong, this has it's potential upsides, such as building strong rivalries and limiting travel time and expenses. But how much is too much? Especially when it means sacrificing exposure to most of the other conference's teams.

For example, the Vancouver Canucks will play the Minnesota Wild, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames and Colorado Avalanche eight times each. I like the idea of building strong rivalries, but be realistis here, I don't think that you need to play 8 games against one team to do it. In total, that means that 32 games are spent on 4 divisional teams. That's 40% of the schedule burned.

Some may say that the added divisional emphasis is long overdue. But, keep in mind that it comes with a price tag. A steep one. There will be no visits to Canuck-ville (or many Western teams) from the likes of Mario Lemieux, Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier and the defeding Cup Champs, Dan Heatley & Ilya Kovalchuk, Martin Brodeur, Alexander Ovechkin, and more importantly, the NHL's new poster child, Sidney Crosby.

As a fan of hockey in general, I'm a little ticked off. As a fan of the Canucks, I'm downright choked.

Added to the idea of rivalry building, there seems to be a new "series" concept to the new schedule. There will be several instances where two teams will play back-to-back games - or a mini-series, for lack of a better term. In the case of the Canucks:

Canucks Rivalry Dates:
October 12 & 14 - Back-to-back road series vs. Minnesota
October 27 & 29 - Back-to-back road series vs. Colorado
November 5 & 7 - Back-to-back road series vs. Calgary
November 27 & 30 - Road and home series vs. Colorado
December 23 & 25 - Back-to-back home series vs. Calgary
March 21, 23, 25 - Three-game series vs. Edmonton beginning at home, followed by two road games
March 11 & 13 - Home and road series vs. Dallas
March 29 & 31 - Back-to-back home series vs. Minnesota
April 12 & 13 - Back-to-back home and road games vs. San Jose

I'm not completely opposed to this concept, but at present it doesn't really blow me away either. I'll have to see how it plays out before I decide what to think. I'm not so sure that a string of games should be played with the same two teams - that's more suited to the playoffs. But, maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised.

So those are my thoughts. To see an Ottawa persepective - Hockey Country offers some insight.

Pronger Qualified & Other Random Musings

For some reason, the folks at TSN were partially surprised that Chris Pronger was qualified by the Blues today. Honestly, what else where they going to do? Let him walk with zero compensation? That would be hard to stomach and I think that buying out Weight would be a more attractive option than saying goodbye to one of the league's premier defenceman.

The problem is that if Pronger does accept it - and why wouldn't he, given the fact that the qualifying offer was pretty much at the max salary for this season - then what do the Blues do? As I said above, buying out Weight may be the lesser of two evils (time's running out there). After all, it may be extremely difficult to trade players with $5 million+ salaries. It also means that Demitra is gonzo, not that that wasn't a foregone conclusion already.

I like the new economic landscape so far. It makes GM's actually put some thought into building a competitive roster instead of simply tossing out money as if they were condoms at a sex convention.

Take for example, as Bob McKenzie so deftly points out, the Philadelphia Flyers. They have cut ample salary and locked-up two higly-touted young prospects; and they have done so while being forced to be fiscally responsible. Not that giving the axe to LeClair's outrageous salary was a tough decision.

And I'm sure that teams like the Flyers, Rangers and Maple Leafs et al would still love to loosen the purse strings and do it the old fashioned way, but not this time fellas.

Time will be the true test for the new NHL landscape, but five days in, and well before the loopholes have surfaced, I like it.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Jagr may head to Russia

When he was with the Penguins, Jaromir Jagr was one of my favorite players. The talent that he possessed (it may still be there - somewhere under a rock) was equalled by none - save for Super Mario. But since his departure from the Pens, he's slowly transformed himself from an ultra-talented megastar to a whining, bumbling wanker.

Take today for example. Apparently the new NHL CBA is much too restrictive and limits his earning potential far too much. Jagr is slated to earn somewhere in the neighbourhood of $7.8 million (the cap max for the upcoming season), but I guess he sees that as unacceptable.

In my opinion, this guy is exactly what's wrong with pro sports today. If being limited to a measley $7.8 million requires multiple sessions with a depression specialist, then I say good riddance to ya sir.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Canucks fate lies in balance

In the last few days, the hot topic out West has been the Vancouver Canucks - more specifically, the fate of Markus Naslund and Todd Bertuzzi. If Naslund decides not to return to Vancouver, does that spell the slow evolution of the team back into the depths of mediocrity (not that they may not be there at the present time)?

It's hard to say outright, but in the words of Yoda: A serious blow it would be.

If Naslund takes his skills elsewhere, what does Bertuzzi take from that? Who knows how effectively Bertuzzi will return given the optimum circumstances, but take away his long time linemate and best friend, he may find that a change is high up on his priority list - even though he is under contract.

Yes, the short-term fate of the Canucks will become much clearer within the next few weeks, and depending on where Naslund goes, it could be a murky fate indeed. Despite a fairly strong offensive showing recently (perhaps a one-line show), the Canucks are rather shallow at the forward position. And should Naslund leave, he would create a huge gap up front, and an even larger gap in the dressing room. A suitable replacement will not be easy to come by, even in the new era NHL.

And it's not like Vancouver has a plethora of talent waiting in the wings - their top prospects from recent seasons includes the likes of Jason King, Brandon Reid, Fedor Fedorov and Ryan Kessler - players who may or may not turn out to be solid, but will almost assuredly never be overly significant.

And unless the Sedin twins somehow manage to break-out from under the black cloud of averagedom, things could be very mediocre indeed.

I say that not because I'm a pessimist, but because I lack the confidence in the abilities of first time GM Dave Nonis to build the team. Every time I hear him speak, I shudder with contempt. I don't dislike Nonis, quite the opposite, he's very personable (from what I've heard), and well spoken. But what bothers me, in my humble opinion, is that he doesn't seem to have the gumption or wherewithal to bring the team to a new level.

"I didn't make any secret about the fact we were going to try to sign Markus and we will," Nonis said at a news conference. "We're going to make a concerted effort to put a team out there that is competitive."

Well, that's great, but it doesn't get me all warm and fuzzy inside. I've heard enough lip service over the last several months from idiot GM's and asshat players that unless the next round of lip service comes from a knockout redhead, I'm not interested. Naslund should be priority number one for Nonis - unless he has a sure-thing replacement lined up, which I doubt.

I'm sure that several teams face a similar fate - after all, if everyone had the answers, life in the NHL would be easy. I don't envy Dave Nonis, he's being thrown right into the fire and he could quickly end up in a situation where he's digging his team out of the dirt. Not a great way to start one's tenure as a GM. But, let's hope that he can manage to pull it off, and the Canucks can move forwards instead of back.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Welcome back, NHL

The NHL ushered in a new era yesterday, with the owners voting 30-0 to ratify the new CBA. And with the delightful and outrageously long overdue news comes the return of, My four month hiatus from anything even remotely connected to the NHL has been pushed aside now that I have something substantial to talk about.

So, the new CBA is a done deal, however, it will be some time yet before anyone knows for certain if the impact will be all positive.

My take on the new deal, with my limited knowledge of it, is that it's a definite step in the right direction from an owner point of view. But does this new reign on player salaries have any loopholes? I'm sure some may pop up, but even if they don't, if the NHL revenues climb high enough, the salary cap could theoretically be stretched quite high. We could one day again see the days of $60+ million payrolls. So time will be the only telling tale of how well this deal will function.

My main question now is what about the fans? The players and owners have apparently kissed and made up, no doubt they're busy high-fiving each other or bending each other over their respective sofas as we speak. But what do the fans get out of this?

So far, it would seem, very little. I don't anticipate a significant drop in ticket prices - if any at all, and even though I never expected a drop off in prices - what a slap in the face it is if there are no monetary concessions thrown our way.

Aside from that, the new look NHL is toying with the idea of more inter-divisional/inter-conference games. From where I sit, the idea of watching the Minnesota Wild play the Vancouver Canucks 8 times this coming year makes me want to puke. Worse than that, does this mean that teams out west will only see Sidney Crosby once in the next two to three seasons? Good grief I hope not.

But anyways, it's just nice to have the NHL gearing up for action again, and I look forward to sharing thoughts and ideas about hockey once again. The buyout and free agency period should be a complete gong show, and I've got my popcorn handy.