Sunday, December 31, 2006

Kansas City courtin'

Have rink will take team!

That could be the ad seen soon in newspapers across North America, as Kansas City’s Sprint Centre nears completion. The plan is that if a team is granted to Kansas City for the start of NHL season in 2007 then the rink will be ready with all the latest whistles and bells, the luxury boxes and supposedly a stable base of season ticket holders who have forgotten the horrid days of the Kansas City Scouts.

The new rink comes on line at a convenient time for the deep pocketed would be owners, with the most exciting team of the future, Pittsburgh going through the throes of a broken heart and dream, Kansas City might be the obvious destination for the Pens.

It does seem that the NHL is anxious to return to the scene of one of its most glorious flame outs, the Scouts became the Rockies, who in turn couldn’t make it in Denver and eventually became the Devils, Stanley Cup champs and still second or third banana (depending on the year) to the Lords of Madison Square the Rangers. Even if the Pens don’t sign on the dotted line, KC probably has a shot at any number of struggling franchises in the Sunbelt states, places where hockey is very much a foreign game and one not likely to ever be a turnstile turner.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette provided a rather in depth look at the city and moneyed men that have their covetous eyes on their Pens.

Kansas City makes way for the Penguins or any team available
Sunday, December 31, 2006
By Robert Dvorchak, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

KANSAS CITY -- Just as surely as the game clock in hockey counts down to zero, the time is almost at hand for those who have toiled for years to bring an NHL team back to the nation's heartland. And the way the stars align in the hockey universe, the time left for the Penguins to get a new arena in their home city is ticking away.

Three decades after a team called the Scouts failed to survive in Kansas City, all the elements are in place for a hockey revival within a matter of months. The lease for the Penguins, born in 1967 in the only place they have called home, expires in June.


Or is it the ultimate motivation to cobble together a Plan B after years of inaction in Pittsburgh? Or is it just leverage for franchise owners to get the sweetest possible deal?

Time will tell.

Work crews are hoisting the glass facade into place on the new, $276 million Sprint Center, which is on schedule to open in the fall of 2007 if the city secures a franchise. A heavy-hitter in the arena business, Anschutz Entertainment Group, will manage the arena with former Penguin Luc Robitaille serving as its point man. Financier William "Boots" Del Biaggio III, a former Penguins suitor, is under contract and ready to commit up to $200 million to buy a team to occupy the new arena. Luxury suites are already sold out, and the framework for buying club seats and season tickets will be announced in January.

"The pieces are coming together," said Paul McGannon, who for years has led a grass roots effort to give the NHL a second chance in Kansas City. "We feel we're at the top of the list of any city looking to attract a hockey franchise. Kansas City is a big believer that sports teams are people magnets to bring people Downtown. A lot of people have not been Downtown in years, because there was no reason to come Downtown."

As the final pieces of glass, steel and concrete come together to complete this city's ambitious plans, local officials can't help but be aware of what's going on with the Penguins. Kansas City has an arena but no franchise while Pittsburgh has a franchise free to move if a long-discussed arena deal doesn't materialize.

When Isle of Capri Casinos Inc. failed to get a slots license despite a signed agreement to build a $290 million replacement for Mellon Arena, Penguins' owner Mario Lemieux pulled the team off the market. With the blessing of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, whose position all along had been to keep the franchise in Pittsburgh, the Penguins are now able to pursue options in other cities in case a Plan B fails to produce a suitable arrangement.

As Sprint Center general manager Brenda Tinnen told The Kansas City Star: "Let's just say it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas."

Indeed. Kansas City has no intention of actively going after the Penguins. It doesn't have to. If the franchise falls into their laps, they'll feel like kids on Christmas morning.

"Our best approach is to mind our own business. We're not going to meddle," said Mr. McGannon, who heads an effort called NHL21. "There's no need to lobby. We don't want to take anything away from anybody. We know what it was like to lose a team and have to work 30 years to get one back. We want to add to the sports landscape in Kansas City. We don't want to be a pawn or a bargaining chip. We want what's best for Kansas City."

Sad story of the ScoutsThe brief history of the NHL in Kansas City is one of failure.
The Kansas City Scouts were born during an expansion era but lasted only two seasons. The team won a total of only 27 games, and with sluggish support from fans, left in 1976 to become the Colorado Rockies, which later became the New Jersey Devils.

The city also had a National Basketball Association franchise called the Kings, which were born as the Cincinnati Royals. The team left for greener pastures in 1985.

But anyone who thinks history disqualifies the city as a viable option for hockey would be in for a surprise. For one, the region's population has grown by about a million since the Scouts left. And the effort to bring back hockey is led by some impressive players.

"The Scouts were a God-awful team. We felt like we were never given a chance to have it succeed here. It's a new sport now, and we're a new city," Mr. McGannon said. After years of talking, and after seeing the downtown area decline as businesses and residents fled, Kansas City got serious about hockey about five years ago when civic leaders decided on a makeover.

The Sprint Center is part of a $2 billion effort to lift the city up out of the blight of its cowtown past. It anchors one end of a nine square block area being turned into office centers, urban condominiums, a convention center expansion, a performing arts theater, restaurants, bars, a grocery store, boutiques, parking garages and an entertainment district.

The debate over the most ambitious building project in the city's history was as spirited as it was in any U.S. city. But keeping the status quo of empty store fronts and surface parking lots was not an option.

Not only is the Sprint Center earmarked for an anchor tenant like an NHL team, city officials expect it to be in use 200 nights year, offering concerts, circus dates and ice shows.

With the building having emerged from the ground, it doesn't seem like such a pipe dream anymore. Consider the principals involved.

Los Angeles-based AEG anted up $54 million toward the new arena. AEG president Tim Leiweke is president of the NHL's Los Angeles Kings, sits on the NHL board of governors and has a stake in the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers. AEG operates arenas, soccer stadiums and sports venues both in the U.S. and abroad.

It was AEG that hired Mr. Robitaille, the highest scoring left-winger in NHL history and a former linemate of Mr. Lemieux's, to be the public face of hockey in Kansas City.

In November, AEG entered into an agreement with Mr. Del Biaggio to operate an NHL team at the Sprint Center. He also has an option to join the arena's management team.

'Boots' has deep pocketsAt 39, Mr. Del Biaggio heads a banking empire that has $1 billion in assets, and he is the founder of a California firm that provides venture capital for high-tech companies.

Penguins fans may recall him as the man who nearly purchased the Penguins in the summer of 2005 when the NHL was emerging from a year-long shutdown as it addressed its economic woes.

Mr. Del Biaggio was set to buy the franchise for about $120 million and had pledged to keep it in Pittsburgh. But when the Penguins won the right to draft hockey prodigy Sidney Crosby, the team was taken off the market, and Mr. Del Biaggio's bid fell through. Within months, the Penguins were once again for sale, in part because there was no deal for a new arena.

Mr. Del Biaggio has a limited stake in the NHL's San Jose Sharks. He is also partners with Mr. Lemieux, Mr. Robitaille and Mike Eruzione in the ownership of the Omaha Lancers of the United States Hockey League. Also of interest is that he and Mr. Lemieux are golfing buddies. Mr. Del Biaggio politely declined to comment on the Kansas City situation as it might relate to the Penguins.

"I don't want to see it play out in the newspapers," he said in a telephone interview from his offices in Menlo Park, Calif.

But Mr. Del Biaggio said his intentions were correctly stated in The Kansas City Star. He loves hockey and wants to be an owner, and he has committed to owning a team in Kansas City regardless of what the Penguins do.

It shows how quickly fortunes can change in the sports world. Mr. Del Biaggio nearly bought the Penguins before they had Crosby and a nucleus of young stars. If a Plan B doesn't work out in Pittsburgh, he may still get ownership of a franchise with the brightest of futures.

But there's a process to be worked through in a short period of time.

Pittsburgh is still very much in the picture if Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Gov. Ed Rendell can come through on Plan B. That process must play out as the Penguins explore alternatives. Their lease at the Mellon Arena, the oldest and smallest arena in use by an NHL team, expires in June but the NHL would want to know before that so it can put together its schedule for next season.

Nobody knows what's going to happen until Mr. Lemiuex and Mr. Bettman decide what's best. They won't know until they weigh the numbers in Pittsburgh against what other cities may be offering.

All 72 luxury suites at the Sprint Center have been sold, and there is a waiting list for those wanting to buy a suite. Deposits on season tickets could be banked soon after plans are announced next month.

If Kansas City makes an offer to move the Penguins, Mr. Lemieux could use it as leverage to broker a better deal than Plan B -- which requires the Penguins pay $8 million up front and pay $4 million a year for 30 years, for a total of $128 million. Those amounts are said to be negotiable, which means the Penguins would pay less.

Now the clock is ticking down to some kind of conclusion. Will the Penguins stay in Pittsburgh with a last-minute deal? Will Kansas City's second chance at a franchise come gift-wrapped with a stable of budding stars who could parade the Stanley Cup down Broadway? Will another city emerge to give the Penguins a new home?

"That's up to the powers that be," Mr. McGannon said. "We want to help grow the sport of hockey. Our goal all along has been that, when the time is appropriate, we'll have an NHL team in Kansas City. It's taken us 30 years to get to this point. It's been a soap opera, but we want a team."

Suddenly the divisional scheduling is looking OK

You can count the Canucks as in favour of never leaving the division for the rest of the year, as the last week of December turned in their favour.With games against Calgary and Edmonton all registering in the win column over the last seven days, the Canucks are finding that staying close to home has its benefits.

The Canucks who have been rather inconsistent over the year thus far, have put things together over the last number of games and Saturday night’s thumping of the Edmonton Oilers showcased the newly confident Canucks at the top of their game.

The Sedin’s once away led the way, as they continue to take larger steps into the spotlight and become the scoring force for the Canucks game in and game out. Daniel Sedin in particular had a big night Saturday as he registered two goals and an assist on the way to Vancouver’s 6-2 victory over a struggling Oiler squad.

Roberto Luongo continued to play solid goal, knocking back a number of Oiler attempts, the goals scored on him on Saturday were more indicative of lack of attention than of any flaws. A shot that careened wildly off of the lively boards caught Luongo by surprise and provided the Oilers with a gift of a goal, but on the whole the Canucks’ goaltender shut down the Oiler attack quite well.

Sami Salo and Mathius Ohlund were strong on defence and played well into the offensive zone as well as Alan Vigneault’s squad began to shake off the tentativeness of the early part of the season and found the rhythm they need to take charge of the Northwest Division.

Vancouver has scored fifteen goals in their last three games a marked change from the lethargic ways of even a few weeks ago, while it’s possibly a bit early yet it does seem that they have finally turned the corner and may soon resemble the team that so many Vancouver fans thought they had at the start of the season.

The Canucks have New Years Eve off to celebrate and plan for a successful 2007, the Oilers and Flames will renew Auld Lang Syne one more time before the year is out with a New years eve battle in Calgary.

Same name, same number, new generation

The Bell Capital Cup currently underway in Ottawa features a rather historic name for Canadian hockey.

The number is 20, the position is goaltender and the name is Tretiak, some thirty four years later it’s déjà vu all over again.

Maxim Tretiak, who plays for the Moscow Silver Sharks, is making his North American debut in the nets in Ottawa, taking part in the largest international minor hockey tournament in the world.

Tretiak the grandson of the Russian great is one of 7500 players from 500 teams taking part in the tournament. His name rekindles past passions about the day his father arrived in Canada and redefined the game of hockey for many North Americans.

Like many Canadian kids who follow in their families footsteps he’s probably hearing quite a bit about his grandfather and no doubt there are going to be comparisons to be made. But for the most part, the ten year old is being left alone to play the game he loves and represent his city and country in a far away land.

It certainly makes for a conversation piece though when it comes to between periods banter.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Explain to us again, why the NHL can’t return to Canada?

A few weeks ago I put forward my frequently espoused theory that the NHL could do a lot worse than to put a few more franchises back into Canada. For my efforts I received a few letters and comments suggesting that Canadians whine too much about getting back into the game so to speak.

So it was with interest that part of my Christmas and New Years reading pile included a thoughtful piece on the same topic by Ken Campbell of The Hockey News. Campbell did the number crunching that I never bothered with, (my approach was purely emotional I’m afraid) and with his numbers the option of returning above the 49th makes even more sense.

He took a snapshot of one day in November which saw a number of American teams play in front of what can only be called embarrassing numbers. Crowds dropping below 11,000 per game, maybe even less when you don’t count the papered houses.

Campbell has provided a scratch sheet of sorts, similar to the attendance tracking I did as kid as I watched the NHL and WHA stumble their way through season after season of declining and embarrassing attendance returns. He paints a picture of a league very much in denial and soon to be very much in trouble.

In what apparently is a common practice in many of the NHL’s trouble spots, the concept of buy one, get one free is much more than a marketing slogan it’s actually how they finance the team. Something that just has to be a little troubling if you’re still only getting 10,000 a game.

When you look at the waiting lists for tickets in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal and Toronto (only Ottawa seems content to be a walk up city) you quickly realize that the NHL is a tale of two leagues, one a passionate relationship between fans and team, the other an indifferent glance by a less than interested bystander.

The excuses are many why the NHL can’t succeed in the likes of Winnipeg, Hamilton or Quebec City, but one has to wonder how things could be any worse than the current problems of the southern outposts and the formerly showcase cities of Chicago, Long Island and St. Louis.

15,000 in Winnipeg or Le Ville du Quebec surely must trump 1,500 on a November night in St. Louis, no matter what accounting guidelines you might be using.

Read the Campbell article below, it’s an eye opener and should provide a fair amount of ammunition for those that believe the NHL needs Canada a hell of a lot more than Canada needs the NHL!

Half-empty arenas in the U. S. are growing, so why not move more teams to Canada?
Ken Campbell—In the Slot
The Hockey News
December 19, 2006
Page 14

Gary Bettman and his feel-good administration would undoubtedly dismiss it as nothing more than a “snapshot”. When it comes to his league’s growing – or is that shrinking- attendance problems. Bettman hates it when people throw snapshots in his face.

The night of November 30, was an ominous indicator for a league that is consistently being saved by its chartered members from Canada.

That night, the NHL had a slate of 10 games on the schedule. Those 10 games drew a total of 130,126 fans for an average of just 13,013 per game. All told, NHL arenas that night played to an average of 72 per cent of capacity. Think about it. Ten games and on average they played before houses that were less than three-quarters full.

It gets worse. Much worse. Subtract the games played in Canada that night and you end up with a total of 77,473 fans for an average of just 11,068 per game. In the United States of American that night, buildings averaged just 61.4 per cent of capacity.

That included a traditional market in Boston where just 11,150 came out to watch a surging Bruins team play and equally surging Tampa Bay Lightning squad. That included the home of the Stanley Cup champs, where an “announced” crowd of just 13,103, the smallest of the season, came out to see the Carolina Hurricanes host Montreal. It included a game in Long Island, where a minor league baseball-type promotion exists in which each adult who pays for a ticket gets to take a chilled into the game for free and an “announced” crowd of just 10,280 showed up.

We put the word announced in quotation marks because in some markets with attendance troubles, attendance is measured by the number of tickets that go out of the building, not necessarily by the number of people who come in. So, if the team gives out 2,000 free tickets, those people are counted among the crowd whether they attend or not. That way they can dupe corporate sponsors into thinking people actually go to their games.

But the news was worst in St. Louis, where icy weather resulted in an announced crowd of 5,410 – observers said there were no more than 1,500 actually in attendance 0- to watch the Blues lose to the Nashville Predators. The next night, 25 games in the Canadian Hockey League and 11 in the American league attracted more people.

It marked the eighth time this season the Blues have played in front of fewer than 10,000 people. Last season it happened just three times league wide.


There’s always an excuse in St. Louis this season. First, it was because the Cardinals were in the playoffs. The night of Nov 30, it was icy outside. The team stinks. But if the fan base was actually passionate about the Blues, they would put up with a losing team for a couple of years, more than 1,500 people would battle icy weather and the real hockey fans would have taped the baseball games and watched them when they got home.

All of it has to make new owner Dave Checketts wonder whether it’s worth keeping his team in St. Louis. Meanwhile, new Pittsburgh Penguins owner Jim Balsillie will definitely move the Penguins if Pennsylvania’s gaming commission doesn’t choose a casino proposal that would include a new arena for his team.

How about this? Balsillie and others move their teams to places where people actually like hockey. The Winnipeg Jets left 10 years ago in the hopes hockey would catch on in the desert and, as cold as it can get there at night, people are still basically ignoring the Coyotes and their famous coach.

The Lightning has caught on in Tampa Bay, but south Florida is a hockey wasteland. Carolina? Give me a break. Sellouts in seven of 13 games for the Hurricanes the year after winning the Cup?

The American Dream is dead when it comes to the NHL. But there are two strong markets in southern Ontario and Winnipeg – and possibly a third in Quebec City if they build a new rink – that would embrace the NHL and make things better for both the owners and the players in the process.

The appetite for hockey is insatiable in southern Ontario and that’s why Balsillie could move his team to the Kitchener-Waterloo area if things collapse with the Penguins. There are enough corporate dollars to go around and the area has a far larger fan base than any of Las Vegas, Portland, Oklahoma or Houston do.

And with cost certainty now a part of life in the NHL, there’s no reason why a properly-run Winnipeg franchise couldn’t become the Green Bay Packers of the NHL .

Players and owners would both benefit. With two or three more healthy franchises replacing the moribund, that’s fewer teams with whom to share revenues. And with the players’ take tied directly into revenues; they would have more money to themselves as well.

With the exception of Ottawa, every seat in every Canadian rink has been legitimately sold the past two seasons. People in Canada are spending money on hockey. It’s time the NHL gave them more. THN

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Swedish Professor passes on

One of the great hockey thinkers of the eighties passed away in Stockholm, Sweden on Thursday Morning. Former Swedish hockey coach Tommy Sandlin died at his home in central Sweden.

He was known as the "Hockey Professor" for his unique strategies and training regimens, and was behind the bench for some of Sweden's most impressive performances on the world stage.

He was the coach who lead Sweden to the 1987 World Championships, the first championship for Sweden in 25 years, his teachings set the tone for a Swedish renaissance in World Hockey.

The Globe and Mail featured the following obit in its Thursday edition.

Swedish ice hockey coach Tommy Sandlin passes away
Associated Press

Globe and Mail
Thursday, December 28, 2006

Stockholm — Tommy Sandlin, who coached Sweden to gold at the 1987 world hockey championship, died early Thursday, his daughter said. He was 62.

Nicknamed the "Hockey Professor" due to his tactical skills, Sandlin died at his home in Gavle in central Sweden, said Lena Hedman Sandlin.

The cause of death was not immediately clear, but Sandlin had recently been released from a hospital after receiving treatment for his heart.

Sweden's win at the 1987 worlds was the country's first victory in the tournament in 25 years. Sandlin also won seven Swedish championships with five different teams in the national league.
"It's an incredible hockey leader that has left us. One of Sweden's all-time best coaches,"
Swedish Ice hockey Association secretary-general Robert Falck said. "He was called the 'Hockey Professor' because he always had new thoughts. He was innovative and always had a new take on things."

Sandlin coached the national team twice, from 1978-80 and 1986-90. He is survived by his wife Birgitta, children Tomas, Lena and Lotta and four grandchildren.

A tragedy at the rink

You never really think about these things when you sit watching young people play the game we follow with such reverence. In the beginning of their lives, they have taken up a sport that we feel is the best one in the world, so when a tragedy such as the one that happened at a suburban Toronto rink on Tuesday happens you are just left to wonder why.

Alex Corrance, a defenceman for the Mississauga Rebels Midget triple-A team, suddenly fell to the ice during a game on Tuesday in Toronto. He was not hit by a shot, nor a body check, he simply fell to the ice at the end of play.

Emergency medical aid immediately began as trainers could not receive a reaction from the young man that lay prone on the ice in Scarborough. Despite the best efforts of off duty police, firefighters and nurses and then the arrival of on duty medical services, Corrance succumbed to his injury at a Toronto hospital.

The autopsy was held on Wednesday, but no official word has been provided as to what caused the young 17 year old boy to collapse on the ice.

He had not complained about any health issues prior to the game and no one noticed anything unusual during the progress of the game.

His team has withdrawn from the Christmas week tournament, his fellow players understandably too distraught to continue on. His death will no doubt cast a pall over what should traditionally be a very happy time for young Canadians playing the game they love.

Christmas week tournaments are the staple diet of Canadian youth hockey, across the land on any given sheet of ice this week there is a game taking place, a hard fought battle on the ice taking place and a spirit of competitiveness and fair play in the air.

There will also be a tinge of sadness across that land this week, a young man passed away playing the game he loved. You feel for his family, his team mates and his sport.

It's a situation that doesn’t make sense and it just doesn’t seem right.

The Fitzpatrick conspiracy

The campaign to put Vancouver Canuck Rory Fitzpatrick into an all star sweater has suddenly hit a little internet turbulence. As the fan favourite who was packing away the votes a week ago, this week finds himself dropping down the list of the most wanted for Dallas.

Now conspiracy buffs will have visions of Gary Bettman and a gaggle of NHL VP’s sitting up late into the night, voting early and voting often, to make sure that the vision of Fitzpatrick donning an all star uni doesn’t come to pass.

This current all star voting process, which uses a process of one fan, many votes, now seems to have about as much reliability as a Florida presidential vote count, and we all remember how well that worked out!

The debate reached the point of nastiness over the weekend as both Don Cherry and Kelly Hrudey; CBC commentators on Hockey Night in Canada called the campaign for Fitzpatrick a bit of a joke.

Now while we can see Hrudey being computer literate enough to probably stay up late to sway some votes, the possibilities of Don Cherry successfully negotiating the keyboard to scupper Fitzpatrick seems remote.

But, over at the NHL offices, well you can sense the panic in the air at the possibility of the under achieving Canuck defenceman edging out a Niklas Lidstrom, Scott Neidermayer or Chirs Pronger.

With the latest results now tabulated, Fitzpatrick has dropped to third place, Scott Niedermayer of the Anaheim Ducks leads the defencemen with 540,380 votes, followed by Nicklas Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings at 522,345. Fitzpatrick has earned 486,842 votes.

If this were a game of Clue, the answer very well could be; Gary Bettman, in the office with a keyboard.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Crosby's star shines brightly

Sidney Crosby is doing to the all star balloting process what he does to opposition teams, beginning to dominate the action. Crosby is in a commanding lead as the balloting continues to select the starting all stars for the 2007 All Star Game in Dallas next year.

With 747,332 votes "The Kid" is the most popular choice to pull on an all star uniform on January 24th, his next closest compatriot is Washington's Alexander Ovechkin who has tallied 427,654 votes thus far in balloting.

The Western stats will be released on Wednesday, but it's expected that Vancouver's Rory Fitzpatrick will continue to rack up the votes as an intensive Internet campaign to have him selected to the Western team continues on at full speed. At last count he had pulled in over 420,000 votes thanks to his moment of fame on the Internet, this despite the outspoken chastisements of both Don Cherry and Kelly Hrudey on Saturday nights Hockey Night in Canada broadcasts.

Both Cherry and Hrudey suggested that the idea of Fitzpatrick being named to the all star team was a bit of an embarrassment and both seemed to recommend that he politely decline the offer and not accept the draft should the Internet campaign prove to be in his favour.

While both Cherry and Hrudey are popular with the hockey public, they may find that the move to place Fitzpatrick on an all star roster is even more popular than them. So far the numbers in favour of Fitzpatrick's place in Dallas seem to show that the fans don't always listen to their commentators as much as the commentators may think they do.

Spengler Cup snippets

It's sometimes the forgotten tournament of the Christmas period, but over the last few years Canada has made quite a reputation at the Spengler Cup. We'll track the developments here as the tourney continues.

December 31 Davos takes the Spengler
December 30 Canada advances to Spengler final
December 28 "sometimes you have a stinker"
December 27 Canada 2-0 in Switzerland
December 26 Canada takes opener in a shoot out

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

World Junior Headlines

We'll track some of the major stories out the World Junior Hockey Championships here, from background pieces on the games to reviews of the action as Canada renews its bid for Gold!

January 6 Price turns aside Russians, critics
January 6 Team Canada too good?
January 6 Price doubles back on goalie doubters
January 6 This win even sweeter
January 6 The winners and still champions
January 5 US wins bronze at WJC
January 5 Game faces are on
January 5 Coach gets lines crossed
January 5 It's all set for an exciting finish
January 5 US team wins bronze
January 5 Downie draws ire of U. S. players
January 5 He's the Gass in their tank
January 5 Golden troika
January 5 Prime Minister says that Canadian hockey is the best
January 5 Locals throw their support behind Canada
January 5 Harper prefers 'team' approach to shootouts
January 4 Jack Johnson to stay at Michigan
January 4 Canada to face a balanced Russian team
January 4 Shootouts have a different look in international hockey
January 4 TSN's coverage balanced
January 4 Canada looks to apply the brakes to Russian offence in world junior final
January 4 Toews saves the day
January 4 The shootout
January 4 Juniors look a bit jittery
January 4 Americans upset replay not used on shot
January 4 Too close to watch
January 4 Tougher than being there
January 4 Shootouts have a different look in international hockey
January 4 Czechs take fifth place
January 3 Russia advances to final
January 3 Going for Gold again
January 3 Staal, Parent quite a pair
January 3 Downie showing huge upside
January 3 U.S. set for another shot at Canadians
January 3 Homefires burning
January 2 U.S., Sweden clinch semifinal spots
January 2 Semi final showdown
January 2 Hardships overcome
January 2 Piestany brawl thing of past
January 2 Best yet to come
January 1 Living quarters give Canada edge
January 1 Kane ups draft status with world-class effort
January 1 Canada perfect going into semis
January 1 Juniors keep rolling along
January 1 Neal sidelined against Slovaks
December 31 Canada remains unbeaten in Sweden
December 30 Steady confidence for Team Canada
December 27 Canada in the Drive's seat
December 27 Success comes through the stomach
December 27 Here come the Swiss?
December 26 Canada Shuts down the Swedes
December 26 Upset specials for day 1
December 25 Getting to know each other
December 25 Globe and Mail blog preview of WJHC
December 25 Canadian finds inspiration
December 25 Price to start in goal
December 25 A family's pride
December 24 Hartsburg on the hot seat

Monday, December 25, 2006

The Hockey Sweater

It's one of Canada's most famous Children's fables, a tale of a young boy from Quebec and his disappointment in receiving a sweater of the rival Maple Leafs.

While we only can dig up a small sample of the cartoon, its just enough to whet your appetite and send you off to the library to look for a copy.

For those who just like to read, it's available at bookstores across the country and of course on line..

Merry Christmas to all those who visit us here at the HockeyNation.

Hope Santa has been good to all and that you find time to enjoy the season with family and friends.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

The Bettman Backlash?

Before the NHL’s year long sabbatical a year ago, Gary Bettman’s cache in Canada was rather limited, having overseen the relocation of both Quebec and Winnipeg to American markets, the perception of the Commissioner as being somewhat anti-Canadian in his thoughts on Canadian franchises reached a fever pitch.

It was not uncommon that in his rare forays into the frozen wastelands of the NHL he would be greeted by a sound universally known as and indication of distrust. That wasn’t Lou he was hearing from Edmonton to Ottawa.

Perhaps an unfair perception by the cradle of the puck, but none the less there was a definitive distrust of anything he said or did when it came to the fate of Canadian franchises.

Things began to turn a bit for Bettman when the Ottawa franchise suffered it’s meltdown during the Bryden years, rather than smooth the way for the moving vans to hit the 401, Bettman counseled patience and eventually the Ottawa faithful were rewarded with Eugene Melnyk’s rather secure wallet.

The unofficial Canadian franchise in Buffalo likewise dodged the relocation bullet, as the NHL propped up the struggling Sabres in their Buffalo home while the sought out more secure and interested owners (not to mention ones without legal problems).

The lock out year brought the fans in the north fully on the side of the Commissioner as cost certainty, wage caps and a need to knuckle down financially was sold as the best way to keep a strong Canadian presence in the NHL.

With the lock out year out of the way, even Edmonton, once considered the next possible team to bolt from Canada, had stabilized over the last few years, last year returning to that place of past glory a Stanley Cup final.

All in all, the impression was that while Quebec and Winnipeg were gone, the remaining teams were strong in the new NHL, and who knew, with a set wage scale, costs under control and a few struggling franchises in the sunbelt there just may be life in the Canadian hinter land once again.

But, for Mr. Bettman, all that good karma has run out. The mess that has become the Pittsburgh Penguins sale has brought the Canadian hockey fan to the boiling point once again. The unspoken belief is that the NHL purposely has put too many roadblocks in the way of moving the Pens north of the 49th. Under the principle of wanting to keep the team in Pittsburgh, the idea of moving them to Hamilton, Kitchener, Winnipeg or Quebec City is considered a long shot at best. This despite the simple fact that this Pens team would be a sell out in any Canadian city it chose to make home.

What annoys Canadians besides the obvious slight at their hockey genealogy, is the fact the list of possible suitors for the Pens isn’t exactly an A list of hockey hotbeds. While Houston might be workable spot, the prospect of Kansas City, Oklahoma City, Las Vegas, the perennial Portland or the suddenly surprising Seattle leave many hockey fans in the north just a little bemused.

Stephen Brunt has examined the Bettman agenda for the Globe and Mail; it’s a fascinating look at how he’s shaping the league, still sticking to a foot print in markets that aren’t showing a particular affinity for the game.

It won’t be something that Canadian hockey fans will enjoy reading, but at least they’ll have a better understanding as to why the NHL still insists on fanciful dreams of sunbelt hockey thriving, while the frozen home of the game offers up it’s unrequited love for the sport.

Brunt: Bettman's vision for NHL unwavering
Globe and Mail Update
December 22, 2006

Not so long ago, the commissioner of the National Hockey League spoke to a crowd in Edmonton and was rewarded with a standing ovation.

That was during the great hockey labour war, when Gary Bettman managed to convince many Canadians that the battle was being fought by ownership on behalf of small-market clubs on this side of the border.

It was a crock, but it was an appealing argument in a place where anti-player and anti-union feelings already ran high.

And after Bettman won his glorious victory, it was appealing, also, to extrapolate just a little bit.
Maybe in the new, cost-controlled NHL, there was a place for more Canadian teams. Maybe the retreat from the free market when it came to player salaries would allow more modest, but actual hockey-loving burghs back into the club.

The events this week surrounding the Pittsburgh Penguins are mighty murky, with prospective owner Jim Balsillie suggesting he was side-swiped by the NHL at the last minute, and the league, through deputy commissioner Bill Daly, suggesting that if Balsillie says any such thing, he's not telling the truth.

We may never know whether Balsillie was seriously contemplating moving the Penguins north, or whether the NHL, terrified of that possibility, did its best to stop him by attaching a long list of conditions to the sale.

Still, there's one crystal-clear truth that emerged amid all the finger pointing: The 40-year-old dream that spurred the NHL's great 1960s expansion, and more explicitly, the conceit that has been at the heart of Bettman's reign as commissioner, is still very much alive — at least in the heads of those who run the league.

They believe, still, that professional hockey can become a significant factor in the American sports environment. They believe, still, that there is serious money to be made from U.S. network television. They believe, still, that hockey can be dropped into non-traditional markets, expanding the sport's "footprint," seeding new shinny hotbeds wherever it goes.

Asked this week about the league's policy on relocating franchises, Daly said there is nothing to prevent a team from moving to Canada. But in the criteria he laid out by which the governors would accept or reject a move, the good of the league — in terms of expanding the market base and satisfying television networks — was clearly of greater importance than increasing the NHL's presence in places packed with rabid fans where it has already fully exploited the broadcast possibilities.

The league's position is that it's now impossible for an owner to pull an Al Davis, to simply change cities in the middle of the night and then dare the commissioner to stop him. Bylaws have been amended in the light of an appeal-court ruling that may well have closed that legal loophole.

So if a team can't go where the governors don't want it to go, and if they're still buying in to the notion of the NHL as a significant, continental brand, then hello Kansas City, hello Las Vegas, hello Houston and hello Oklahoma City — and forget about Winnipeg, Quebec City or Kitchener-Waterloo.

There are new, or relatively new, arenas available in all of those U.S. cities now, and according to the league, there are several would-be owners for the Penguins, even if Balsillie is gone for good. Barring a last-minute cave-in by the politicians in Pennsylvania (which isn't out of the question), you'll soon enough be hearing how Sidney Crosby will sell the sport to the American heathens from a new home.

You say this feels familiar, that you've been here before, that you vaguely remember a fellow named Gretzky in Los Angeles, the Stanley Cup being contested in tropical climes, glowing pucks, hockey-playing robots and the U.S. breakthrough being at hand.

And now, there are all of those half-empty buildings, television coverage on a network (Versus) a whole lot of people can't seem to locate, a network deal for no money down and a free fall from being almost the fourth major sport to something approaching niche, cult, hardcore-only status.
(Question: When did hockey last appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated, that arbiter of mainstream American sports taste? Answer: Aside from a Steve Yzerman commemorative edition produced for the Detroit market, it was Oct. 14, 2002.)

But Bettman is undeterred. He is still trying to accomplish the mission he was hired to perform. He can't make a hard left turn now, or ever.

When might the NHL add teams in Canada? When the business implodes, or when the vision changes — which might amount to the same thing.

Either would require, or inspire, a change at the top.

Balsillie wants back into the game

Now that the gambling boys have been sidelined in their bid to build a hockey rink in Pittsburgh, the real power poker game is about to start over the fate of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

And one guy that wants a seat at that table is Jim Balsillie the Ontario billionaire who earlier this week walked away from a deal with Mario Lemieux. Balsillie withdrew his 175 million dollar offer over some extra terms that the NHL had apparently decided were necessary to make the sale go.

At the time, Lemieux was less than impressed with the way his Ontario suitor had left him high and dry, back at square one. Since then, Balsillie has penned a Dear Mario letter, apologizing for the misunderstanding that his intention was never to offend Lemieux or his organization.

Balsillie urged Lemieux to join him and go arm in arm to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman to get this deal done.

It might be an offer that Lemieux would want to take, the lure of 175 million dollars is surely of interest to Lemieux who has sunk enough of his own money through deferred salaries and such over the last number of years.

With the Isle of Capri deal falling apart as it did after they lost a slot machine licensing bid, the Pens are very much back to the drawing board. With the prospect of having to build an arena or at least contribute to it, the value of that Pens franchise will surely drop down from the 175 million plateau.

Mario has done some yeoman service in Pittsburgh, keeping that franchise alive longer than many thought was possible. Few would begrudge him a chance to take a high end figure home to the bank as he washes his hands of his days as an NHL owner.

What would happen next between Balsillie and Bettman would be an interesting study in where the NHL is going to go over the next few years. The suggestion is, that if the Pens indeed have to re-locate, the NHL would prefer the likes of Kansas City, Las Vegas, Houston, Seattle and even Oklahoma City over such Canadian outposts as Hamilton, Winnipeg or the suddenly in vogue Kitchener-Waterloo.

Should Balsillie prevail in his quest to rekindle the fire between him and Mario, it will be well worth watching the reaction in New York. The last minute machinations earlier this week scuppered one deal, now with a new dynamic at play, Balsillie is back at the table. Mario should take his money and run, leaving Gary Bettman to stare down his new Canadian entrepreneur as to what he can or can’t do with his multi million dollar investment.

If the man wants to spend 175 million of his own money on a franchise that surely isn't worth more than 100 million, who are the NHL to deny him a move if he ends up deciding that is what is needed, to find a spot where he can best recover his costs and build his product.

As they say down at the court house, lawyers are standing by!

Canucks in need of roadside assistance

Vancouver wrapped up their road trip to the east with another loss, this one at the hands of Ken Hitchcock’s Columbus Blue Jackets. It marked the sixth consecutive road loss for the team, and the third straight loss that the Canucks have suffered in a row. Making for a slump that is beginning to make the faithful back on the West Coast just a little bit uncomfortable.

Friday night saw former Canuck Anson Carter come back to haunt his former team, Carter picked up a goal and assist and seemed to be involved in the play in all ends of the rink, something that couldn’t quite be said for his former team mates.

Once again the Canucks seemed dis-interested at times in the flow of the play, making errors that a pee wee team wouldn’t dare make as a lack of focus by the Canucks marked the play in the first period. Vancouver picked up not one but two too many men on the ice penalties in the first period, and another for good measure in the third, an unacceptable bit of sloppy hockey sense that seems to be indicative of where this team has its head at all of a sudden.

Vancouver gave up five power play opportunities in the first period, playing ten of the twenty minutes short handed, a definite advantage for Columbus, as it keeps the Sedins on the bench while the penalty killers do their thing, again and again. Surprisingly, the Blue Jackets only capitalized on one of their power play opportunities on the way to their 3-2 victory.

The untimely and dumb penalties are taking their toll on the Canucks, who feature the least amount of goals scored among the 30 lodge members of the NHL. Not a surprise when you consider how much of the time they spend killing off penalties and defending their own end.

And when they are in their own end, they aren’t doing Roberto Luongo any favours, sloppy clearing passes, they were a bit too soft in their own end, allowing the Blue Jackets to congregate in front of Lunongo waiting for second chances or obstructing his view.

The Canucks move on to the Christmas break now, a chance to get away from hockey for a few days and perhaps come back to the rink with a more focused approach to the games to come after Boxing Day.

They haven’t appeared ready to play in any of the games televised back to BC this week, a situation that hasn’t gone un-noticed by head coach Alain Vigneault. He’s tried shuffling the lines, moving the grinders up to a more frequent rotation in a bid to generate some enthusiasm, all to no avail. After yet another disappointing result, perhaps the time has come for him to turn the player stats in to the GM’s office.

Dave Nonis may find that his Christmas weekend will feature a bit of reading, a bit of thinking and maybe an updating of his blackberry, it may be time to make some moves, this team is spinning their wheels watching the traffic fly by as they sit on the side of the rink, they need either a tow truck, new tires or both and they need them soon.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Avs/Flames game put on ice

The weather in Colorado did something that a lot of NHL teams can't do lately, slow down and indeed stop the Calgary Flames.

Thursday night's Flames/Avs match was cancelled due to the weather in Colorado, which featured the worst snow storm to hit Colorado in three years. It was the first time that the Flames have had a game postponed on them since they moved to Alberta.

It was the second sports event in as many nights to be cancelled due to weather as the Suns/Nuggets basketball game on Wednesday was not played due to the blizzard like conditions in Colorado.

No make up date has been announced for the Flames/Avs match up, the Flames now move on to San Jose, providing they can get out of Denver (cue the Bob Seger music) if the travel Gods co-operate the Flames will play the Sharks on Saturday night on Hockey Night in Canada.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A billboard clipping for Garth Snow

It’s not often that the terms fleeced and New York Islanders doing the fleecing, get mentioned in the same story but the recent swap of players between the Islanders and Flyers, has one particular New York Newspaper making Snow out to be the second coming of Sam Pollock.

Snow engineered a trade of Alexei Zhitnik from the Island to Philly for the services of Freddy Myer, a move that is garnering a few pats on the back for the GM who last was feeling the heat over the rather rewarding terms that he brought his goaltender, Rick DiPietro under (rewarding for DiPetro at any rate).

But this one, well if Kevin Greenstein of the New York Sun is any indication will herald the day that Snow joined the big leagues of trade em, swap em in the NHL.

If nothing else, Greenstein has guaranteed himself some pretty good access to the Islanders GM, who when he tires of the snickering from the rest of the media, can at least look back at the Greenstein article as verification that he is a GM to be reckoned with. A statement that wouldn't have been associated with the Islanders replacement GM at the start of the season.

One suspects that if there are any "exclusives" coming out of Long Island, they most likely will be carrying a Greenstein byline for the next little while!

Islanders' GM Snow Fleeces Flyers With Latest TradeHockey
The New York Sun

December 19, 2006

When the news hit the wires that the New York Islanders had traded veteran defenseman Alexei Zhitnik to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for young blueliner Freddy Meyer, one could have been forgiven for questioning the sanity of both teams involved in the deal.

With 35 points in 31 games, the Isles are currently in ninth place in the Eastern Conference. But when one considers the fact that they have three games in hand on seventh place Toronto and eighth place Carolina, it's safe to say the Isles are a legitimate playoff contender. And so it would be reasonable to wonder why the Isles would deal Zhitnik — a valuable veteran with significant playoff experience — in exchange for an unproven youngster.

Meanwhile, the perennially powerful Flyers are sitting in dead last in the East, with only 20 points in 32 games. They appear to be in need of a serious rebuilding effort, and have precious little hope of reaching the playoffs, much less winning a round or two. So why would they give up on young Freddy Meyer, a promising 26-year-old puck-moving defenseman who compiled 27 points and a plus-10 rating in his first NHL season?

And after careful evaluation of the possible reasons behind the deal from each team's perspective, conclusion is that the deal makes a lot of sense for the Isles, but none for the Flyers. Put simply, the Flyers got fleeced.

First and foremost, the Isles cleared a significant amount of cap room, which should enable them to make a bigger deal later on this season. Zhitnik's salary for 2006–07 is $3.5 million, while Meyer costs only $525,000. Factoring in the games already played, the deal saves the Isles close to $2 million against the $44 million salary cap, giving them tremendous flexibility as the trade deadline approaches. A player with a $6 million salary counts for only $2 million against the cap if he's acquired for the season's final third, making the Zhitnik deal all the more compelling for the Isles should they decide to "go for it" this season.

Now, it's also possible that owner Charles Wang mandated that rookie GM Garth Snow cut costs. The Nassau Coliseum is littered with empty seats for virtually every Isles game, which without question hurts the bottom line. Making matters worse, although the NHL is reporting an overall rise in revenue, the Isles do not qualify for revenue sharing because they are based in a major metropolitan market.

But given Wang's approach thus far, there is little reason to expect him to take such a short view where his team is concerned. He likely realizes that Long Island's hockey fans will turn out in droves if the team starts winning on a consistent basis. Therefore, it's more likely than not that a big deal — one in which a top-flight player is brought in — is on the horizon for the Isles.
Another important reason behind the deal could be between the pipes. Isles goaltender Rick DiPietro knows Meyer well — the two have played together on and off since they were 13 years old, including two seasons with Boston University — and it's reasonable to expect that input on personnel decisions is a side benefit of DiPietro's 15-year contract.

"This is a trade that makes us younger and more mobile — that's why we did it," Snow told reporters before Saturday night's game. "We're very happy with the deal because, simply put, it makes us a better hockey team."

Meyer is out with a minor back injury, but should return to the lineup as soon as next week. Chris Campoli, another young blueliner, returned to the lineup for Saturday night's shutout of the Atlanta Thrashers, giving the Isles' defense a speed boost that should serve them well in the coming months.

Meanwhile, the party line in Philadelphia is that Zhitnik represents a significant upgrade on their blue line.

"Alexei is a very durable player," Flyers GM Paul Holmgren explained to the Philadelphia press. "He can play a lot of minutes. He has a wealth of experience. We think that he can really upgrade our defense."

But while Zhitnik does represent a short-term upgrade over Meyer, it is unlikely he will be the catalyst to springboard the Flyers back into playoff contention.

Instead, it's far more likely that the Flyers are putting on a strong front for their fans, making a legitimate effort to turn things around on the ice before what would seem to be an inevitable rebuilding effort. Veterans Peter Forsberg and Derian Hatcher are sure to be shopped as the trade deadline approaches, with the Flyers looking to add some much needed speed and youth to their lineup, and in particular on their blue line.

Now, this of course begs the question: Why give up on Meyer? An excellent skater with substantial offensive upside, he would appear to be the prototypical defenseman for the modern NHL. Looking ahead, if the Flyers fail to get back into the playoff hunt, Zhitnik (like Hatcher, due $3.5 million in each of the next two seasons) will turn out to be yet another aging cap albatross taking up valuable space on the Philadelphia blue line.

Garth Snow might be a rookie GM, but this deal demonstrated that he's learned a lot during his very short time on the job. Cap management is a tricky proposition, and with this deal, the Isles came out ahead from virtually every perspective. Should they realize down the road that they need a bit more experience on the blue line, acquiring a veteran blueliner at least the equal of Zhitnik — one who isn't owed $7 million over the next two seasons, no less — should be a fairly simple task as the deadline approaches.

A recent book release, Sheldon Kennedy's "Why I Didn't Say Anything," is a must-read for hockey-playing teenagers, and probably for all teenagers. Kennedy played eight seasons in the NHL, but is best known for the courageous stand he took in charging his former Canadian junior hockey coach Graham James with sexual assault. The book details Kennedy's hard road to redemption, and reading it gives teenagers an important weapon against future abuse. Without question, knowledge is power where this difficult topic is concerned.

Also noteworthy is a recent DVD release, "In the Crease." The film follows the California Wave Bantam AAA travel hockey team on their path to nationals. It presents the players' trials and tribulations in an honest, unique fashion, and is supplemented by input from some of the NHL's biggest stars, including the Devils' Scott Gomez and the Rangers' Brendan Shanahan.
Mr. Greenstein is the editor in chief of

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Road to Kraft's Hockeyville

The CBC and Kraft foods are beginning another journey to find this season's hotbed of hockey as they launch the 2007 edition of Kraft's Hockeyville.

The popular series last year, found town and city alike vying for the title with creative displays, community spirit and sense of purpose that astounded many of those involved in the selection process.

This year's project gets underway today, with Canadians invited to submit their presentation on why they believe their community should hold the title of Hockeyville for 2007. Local groups have until January 22nd to submit their entries, with a deadline hour of 5pm EST, 2 pm PST.

Kraft and the CBC have refined this years production and offer up a number of new features and guidelines for those wishing to enter, which can be found here. Also new to the competition is a merit prize, where five communities will be selected who best exemplify the five F's of Hockeyville, Fun, Fitness, Family, Fairness and Food.

From the Kraft foods press release comes this mission statement for this years competition: The winning Kraft Hockeyville 2007 community will receive the Kraft Hockeyville 2007 title and trophy, host a one-of-a-kind NHL hockey event, featuring NHL players both in the community and in on-ice action, and receive $50,000 to be used for upgrades to the publicly-owned arena that the winning community endorses.

The winning town or city will be announced live on the CBC on St. Patrick's Day, March 17th. With the worthy hometown picking up the torch from Salmon River which has been Canada's Hockeyville for 2006.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Balsillie to Bettman: C U L8er, Pens now ponder their options

The surprise announcement from Friday that Ontario’s Jim Balsillie had walked away from the table over the purchase of the Penguins has sent a few shock waves around the hockey world.

The billionaire from Kitchener who is the force behind the blackberry, perhaps felt the urge to text message Gary Bettman with his regrets that after the NHL tacked on a number of conditions to his plan to purchase the Penguins from the consortium led by Mario Lemieux.

The deal reportedly fell apart last week, when the NHL decided that for the privilege of handing over 175 million dollars to run a team in a city that has been luke warm of late, Balsillie would have to declare undying love and desire to stay in the Pennsylvania city, even if plans for a new arena fall apart.

But are things as they appear? Has Balsillie really cashed in his chips and walked away from the table? Damien Cox of the Toronto Star provides an interesting take on the spectacle of the weekend, one which suggests that perhaps the two sides are in tandem to put pressure on the Government of Pennsylvania to hand off the arena issue to the Island of Capri gambling group. And well, there was Balsillie on the weekend in a box watching his former possible investment play the Canadiens, perhaps we haven't heard the last of his name with the Pens after all!

Cox also probes further into the issue and gives some traction to the concept that the NHL would rather have their franchises locate anywhere else but in the nation that gave the game its birth and still provides the bulk of what dwindling fan base the sport has. It is as Cox says, something that should stick in the craw of many Canadians.

While all of that sorts itself out, now comes word that yet another Canadian is interested in buying the Pens, Ontario beer maker Frank D’Angelo from Steelback breweries, who most recently was chasing (and subsequently turned down about) a CFL franchise has turned his self promoting ways towards the legions of Crosby, Malkin and Fleury.

D’Angelo who does seem to enjoy the spotlight, says he’s serious about his interest and will be making contact with the NHL once the arena issue is sorted out in the next week or so. Expect the NHL to put call screening to work on that one.

His attempts to buy the moth balled CFL Ottawa Renegades were turned away by league officials, despite the fact that the number of suitors with actual cash to run the once CFL team have dwindled over the last six months. So you have to wonder what Gary Bettman might think of the very public chase about to be launched by D’Angelo.

Considered too uh, risky, for an always on the cusp CFL, don’t expect him to be greeted with open arms by the Bettman battalion (though you never know with that pack). As a matter of fact if they’re so short sighted as to let someone of Balsillies’ passion (not to mention financial means) slip through their fingers then the league truly shall reap what it deserves.

Whether he finds it sensible to run the team in Pittsburgh, or crunches the numbers to find that Kitchener would make more financial sense, the simple fact is that the league needs a bit of credibility these days. With a couple of owners in jail and past embarrassments the thing of legend, to watch this Pittsburgh situation degenerate into farce is not what the league needs nor what it deserves.

Gary Bettman should get back to his blackberry, type in those characters that will set this all right. R U up 4 a D8! Wine him, dine him and stop putting road blocks in the way of returning you sport to some kind of relevance. The mess in Pittsburgh has gone on far too long, it's time to solve it once and for all.

Courage is a kid named Kessel

It's a remarkable story coming out of Boston, where the young Bruin draft pick and first year player Phil Kessel continues to make a positive recovery from his recent cancer surgery.

And while the recovery is heartwarming news in its own right, Kevin Dupont's tale of how the 19 year old faced adversity is an amazing tale of its own.

Less than 24 hours after his diagnosis was made and the necessary surgery scheduled, Kessel still was on the ice plying his trade for the Bruins, logging his regular amount of ice time in the 12 minute range.

In addition to that, he attended the Bruins family Christmas party the next day, carrying on as a regular teenager might, not showing his fears of the road ahead nor allowing his situation to detract from the family atmosphere of the event.

It's a testimony to the kids character and probably provides a pretty solid blue print for his recovery, one every hockey fan should hope should be as short as possible. And that it seems will be the case, his prognosis is described as excellent, his doctors suggesting he is now cancer free.

Regardless of how his career may play out in the many years to come, Kessel is certainly an all star by any book. He's certainly never going to be perceived as a floater, this is one tough kid and the Bruins should be one thankful lot at his place on their roster.

Character comes in many forms, right now, in Boston it arrives in the body and spirit of a nineteen year old kid.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Someone Call Don Cherry...

The next time somebody complains about the violence issue in the NHL, all Gary Bettman needs to do is show them some NBA video from Saturday night.

As the Knicks and the Nuggets were playing out the string of a rather embarrassing game (for the Knicks), a hard foul resulted in a bench clearing brawl that resulted in ten players kicked out of the game. This following a wild melee on the court at Madison Square Garden, that at times ended up two or three rows up behind the Knicks basket.

It made for an ugly scene at the temple of basketball in New York, players rushed the floor with bodies flying everywhere as the fists flew, the shoves were hard and a mob mentality seemed to take hold on the court.

Accusations of running up the score, keeping your best players on the court and a settling of scores were bounced around in the post game press conferences. It was one of the uglier incidents of late in basketball, which at times has received some pretty bad press over the post whistle scrums deteriorate.

The developments of Saturday night brought back memories of the Pacers/Piston brawl that involved fans back in 2004, though in comparison they weren't quite as ugly as that day in 2004 was .

Expect NBA Commissioner David Stern to come down very harshly on the participants and coaches involved, however, while he contemplates his justice the sports video stations are feeding off the frenzy of Saturday night. His statements shortly after the 2004 incident, should pretty well set the tone for what he will have to do about this one.

ESPN had complete coverage on the incident, from the original foul, to the brawl to the post game pontificating.

While hockey is often thought of as a rather violent sport, the evidence as compiled by Sports Illustrated certainly doesn't paint hockey as the main offender in sporting malfeasance.

Don Cherry may wish to expand the video empire, some of the best scraps aren't on the ice anymore, they're on that hardwood court that covers it on off nights of the NHL. Rock em Sock em B Ball anyone?

The above post first appeared on my General interest blog, A Town Called Podunk.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

A bargain at 2.2 million Canadian

The Ottawa Citizen weaves the tale of the world’s oldest hockey stick today. Chris Lackner traces the history of the one hundred and fifty year old piece of hickory that was crafted into a shinny stick. Perhaps the nation’s oldest hockey stick, it is now up for bid on eBay with a minimum bid asked for of $2.2 million dollars, Canadian if you will please and thank you.

The Citizen reports that the Online auctioneer is entertaining bids for the item until Dec. 21, with all proceeds going to Fans Charity -- an organization created by Mr. Sharpe to promote Canadian charities and to educate children on the importance of philanthropy.

It’s described as more historical than of the memorabilia vein, but it’s still a practical tool for the dedicated hockey fan. It has very much the same lie as many of today’s sticks and is reported to still fire off a pretty good slap shot, a fact that puts it ahead of many of today’s composite sticks that regularly break in half.

Maybe Alexander Ovechkin should bid on the stick, he tends to go through his sticks in a regular fashion, and maybe a touch of hickory is just what he needs to stay in the game.

It pre-dates Confederation and the NHL, so it's no surprise the owner of hockey's oldest stick is looking to score on eBay, writes Chris Lackner.

Chris Lackner
The Ottawa Citizen
Thursday, December 14, 2006

CREDIT: Photo Illustration by Dennis Leung, The Ottawa Citizen, with AFP, Getty Images
Gordon Sharpe, owner of this 150-year-old hockey stick, calls it the 'single most important piece of hockey memorabilia in existence.'

At least 150 years after the world's oldest hockey stick was crafted on an Ontario farm, a descendant of its original owner is selling the sporting relic on eBay -- and asking for a minimum of $2.2 million Cdn.

Carved in Lindsay, Ont., between 1852 and 1856, the hand-crafted hickory stick has been appraised at a value of $4.25 million U.S., according to current owner Gordon Sharpe.
Mr. Sharpe, 45, received the stick as a boy from his great uncle, whose grandfather -- Alexander Rutherford Sr. -- crafted the stick shortly after settling on new farmland. The blade's slight curve suggests it was made for a left-handed shooter.

When Mr. Sharpe's father and uncle were boys, they played with the stick on a nearby pond -- but pucks were apparently much harder to come by.

"Mostly what they used for a puck back then was frozen cow dung," Mr. Sharpe said yesterday, noting he also used the stick in Cobourg during boyhood hockey practices.

"A few friends have asked me, 'Is that the same stick I used to see you playing road hockey with?' " he added with a laugh.

The stick pre-dates the National Hockey League by more than 64 years and was crafted more than 40 years before the Stanley Cup was first awarded in 1893 to Montreal amateur team by Lord Stanley of Preston, Canada's governor general at the time.

Online auctioneer is entertaining bids for the item until Dec. 21, with all proceeds going to Fans Charity -- an organization created by Mr. Sharpe to promote Canadian charities and to educate children on the importance of philanthropy.

"As far as I'm concerned, it's probably the most important piece of hockey history in existence," Mr. Sharpe said. "It's not memorabilia as much as it's a historic item."

Despite the fact his heirloom was made at least 150 years ago, Mr. Sharpe said the stick's lie -- the angle of the blade to the stick -- is the same as many modern sticks and can still fire off a decent slapshot.

"It's amazing to me that hockey sticks have changed so little in all these years," he said.
Despite owning the stick for 36 years, Mr. Sharpe said he decided to put the stick up for auction because he could no longer guarantee its safety and preservation, or afford the level of insurance it requires. For much of the last six years, the stick has been on display in a glass and metal display case at Wayne Gretzky's restaurant in Toronto.

The stick's highest certified bid is $2.2 million, said Joshua Gold, the founder and CEO of of Auctionwire, an agency handling the sale for Mr. Sharpe.

"Nobody has ever come forward and claimed that something is older, nor has the Hockey Hall of Fame or anyone else brought up evidence to (criticize) the stick's authenticity," he said.

Mr. Sharpe first tried to sell the stick on eBay in 2001, but he said a number of serious bidders -- including a major Canadian brewery -- backed out of sealing a deal. He said he hopes the item's appraisal value and the current market for sports memorabilia will ensure the success of the current auction.

© The Ottawa Citizen 2006

Mr. Murray takes the reins

They are possibly the worst team in the NHL on any given night, a team that long ago forgot how to win games and on some nights appears to only go through the motions in a season far too long for such a distraction.

The team represents one of the former bedrocks of the NHL's first wave of expansion in the sixties. A once successful organization that brought hockey to the mid-west and made the Blues the model for expansion teams to come.

But the last number of years have not been kind to the Blues or their fans. Successive ownership groups let the team atrophy away, the fans began to realize that ownership had not interest in a winner and so they sought out other ways to spend their money. such is the landscape that Andy Murray enters as he tries to reverse the horrendous slide of the Blues.

Murray was hired earlier this week after the Blues management led by John Davidson came to the conclusion that the team had quit on their coach Mike Kitchen, with the losses piling up and the crowds beginning to rival those of pee wee hockey at 5 am a move was needed.

The Sporting News captures the spirit of the transition quite well, with a story posted on MSNBC, Ray Slover explains how the players had long since tuned out Kitchen, going through the motions and wracking up the losses as they went.

While you have to wonder if a complete gutting of the team might not be required, in the new era of the NHL it's hard to turn the ship as quickly as in the past. The salary concerns and limited trade opportunities due to the cap make the quick fix the thing of the past. What's needed is patience it seems and a teacher for players that seem to have forgotten how to play.

Murray fits the bill of teacher quite nicely, his dedication to his craft however would seem about to be severely tested. The Blues are a mess and it's going to take more than a coaching change to turn things around soon.

They made a good choice in their bench boss selection, what should come next is some movement on the bench, there would seem to have been a few too many passengers there this year.

If the Blues hope to make the best of Murray's skills, they should find a way to provide him with the talent to get the job done.

So far it's been a rough road for Murray, two games and two losses. Yet the impression in St. Louis is that Davidson made the right decision. What they need to see now is some more tough decision making and some movement on the roster to give Murray a chance to turn things around.