Sunday, November 30, 2008

A low profile apparently is not on the agenda

After numerous newspaper articles from many Canadian and American newspapers, investigations from a number of radio programs and a pair of CBC television investigations, not to mention a lengthy court trial, Dave Frost is apparently not going to slip quietly into hockey history.

One would think that after a rather public trial which released some of the ugly behind the scenes aspects of the game unvarnished and in lurid detail, that the main participant in the trial would wish to be thankful for his acquittal and find his way to remain out of the spotlight.

For most we suspect that would be so, but for Dave Frost it seems that would not be the case.

The former hockey coach and player agent , who was acquitted last week on sexual exploitation charges involving teenage hockey players has taken his thoughts and opinions to the world wide web.

Frost has apparently launched a website called hockeygodonline (you'll have to do a google search, we're not lending a hand here) a portal to provide his observations on the world of professional hockey.

It will no doubt prove to be a most controversial little corner of the web, considering that in addition to his contributions to the world of blogging, he also has signed up Mike Danton the former NHLer who was convicted a number of years ago of trying to arrange a contract killing of Frost.

The relationship between Frost and Danton has been one of the more tragic and surreal of events of recent hockey history, with Danton having broken off all contact with his family vowing to his allegiance to Frost, all while serving his 7 1/2 year prison sentence in a US prison cell .

As if that twist of intrigue isn't enough, the Frost site also promises up the prospect of a Hockey Hottie” of the month, which is to provide for a photo of a female hockey fan with her favourite hockey sweater on and reportedly not much more.

Considering the recent unseemly charges that he faced and the salacious details of the court case, the Hottie feature seems perhaps the most odious of all the offerings that the site may provide.

We wonder how Ontario Justice Geoffrey Griffin feels about his decision now, if he's picked up a paper and read of Mr. Frost's entrepreneurial plans and his choice of platform to exercise his freedom of speech.
There's no word if there will be a reader feedback forum provided from the Frost homepage, but if so, we would hazard a guess that some of the comments he receives won't be particularly enjoyable to read from his point of view.

Then again perhaps common sense will prevail upon the web and this will be one website that quickly gains that no longer in service display that oh so many deserving efforts on the web receive.
If we're all lucky, the site, like it's creator will soon disappear, purged from our memories, both computer and human.
Canadian Press-- Frost takes to the web
Winnipeg Sun-- Frost walks on charges

Point your compass North Mr. Bettman

Both the National Post and the Globe and Mail provide some fascinating reading this weekend on the state of the NHL and the dwindling options for Gary Bettman.

The Globe and Mail's Eric Duhatschek reviews a litany of woe for the Commish, including concerns for the Islanders, Devils, Lightning, Panthers, Coyotes, Thrashers and everyone's favourite domino to fall yet the Nashville Predators.

From souring rink deals to collapsing real estate markets and financing from sellers to keep the prospective buyers afloat, the financial picture of at least one third of the NHL's franchises don't appear quite as positive as that forecast from Mr. Bettman of just a few weeks ago. Corporate deals that may unwind due to the ongoing economic troubles of the USA are just one of many headaches for Mr. Bettman as he tries to present the image of a league dealing with events beyond much of his control.

Duhatschek even provides some insight from the previously untouchables like Detroit who with an economic storm raging across the industrial belt of America, where the Red Wings are facing declining attendance and the need to become more competitive for the entertainment dollar in a struggling city.

The only real strengths for the NHL it seems are found north of the 49th parallel, where Canada's six contributors to the NHL family continue to play to large crowds and collect handsome rewards from television and marketing deals.

Though even those bell weather franchises could suffer economic troubles if the Canadian dollar continues to patrol the lower regions of the scale compared to the US currency. Still, though the prospect of success for any NHL team would surely seem better achieved in Canada, a situation that the National Post approaches in its weekend edition.

The Post reviews a number of sports business forecasts that outline that any potential Canadian franchise, would perform far better than the current group of struggling teams mainly rooted in the American south and southwest.

The proposal of a second Toronto franchise touted as being the leagues third most successful option without so much as even purchasing a pair of skates. The always present option of Hamilton another success story waiting to be told, if only the political aspect of the Sabres and Leafs can be overcome.

Winnipeg and Quebec City's once abandoned by the league in its quest for a southern footprint, suddenly look much better ready to provide a home in a place where the sport would rule, where the fans are passionate and where the ink hopefully won't be flowing in a colour of red.

Stubborn as the NHL has been to its blueprint of Bettman geography, most would think that those options are still but wild and fanciful dreams of only the truly addicted of hockey fans.

But as the losses mount and even the more stable of franchises begin to feel the pain, one wonders if Mr. Bettman can ignore the solid bets for his risky wagers for much longer.

Trouble ahead
Gary Bettman recently reported a sunny forecast for the NHL. A closer look tells a different story
From Saturday's Globe and Mail
November 29, 2008 at 12:54 AM EST

The survival of the New York Islanders hinges on an arena deal that may be compromised by tightening U.S. credit markets.

The Coyotes' future in Phoenix is threatened by the plight of owner Jerry Moyes' trucking firm, Swift Transportation, during an economic slowdown.
The Atlanta Thrashers are in court daily, mired in an ownership tug of war that threatens to de-stabilize the franchise.

A 27 per cent share of the Nashville Predators is tied up in the William (Boots) Del Biaggio bankruptcy hearing.

The Tampa Bay Lightning's new owners reportedly needed help from previous owner, Bill Davidson, to complete their purchase.

The Florida Panthers are papering the house with ticket promotions and giveaways: present a Florida driver's licence, get a free ticket.

The New Jersey Devils moved to a new facility in Newark two years ago, but it has not been a cure-all for their economic struggles either. At the moment, as one of 17 teams experiencing attendance downturns in the first quarter of the season, the club is fighting the city and contractors over who should pay utility bills - and it's hard to make ice without water and electricity.

Against this mounting evidence, amid the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, commissioner Gary Bettman recently reported a sunny forecast for the gate-driven National Hockey League, buffeted by increased attendance in October and brisk ticket sales in many markets.

Looking forward, the picture isn't so cheery.

"The U.S. economy in June was okay and the Canadian dollar (drop) didn't really happen until October," explains Larry Quinn, Buffalo Sabres managing partner and minority owner. "So a lot of these things don't hit you immediately, but there is a 12-month cycle involved ... and going out, it's looking pretty scary a year from now."

Many of Quinn's peers echoed his words. NHL presidents, governors and general managers are worrying and wondering what the future may hold.

While the league enjoyed audited revenue growth of 12 per cent last year, growth is expected to flatten to about one per cent this season, according to numerous team executives. Moreover, eight to 10 teams are struggling — at the most dire end of the scale, the New York Islanders and the Phoenix Coyotes are losing tens of millions of dollars annually.


Even some of the traditionally prosperous clubs are concerned. The Detroit Red Wings operate in a city that relies heavily on the auto sector.

"The biggest concern is for 2010-11," says Detroit general manager Ken Holland, who needs to sign four prominent unrestricted free agents next summer. "The feeling is, we're living (with our heads) in the sand if we think the entire economic system in Canada and the United States can be on a major, major downturn and pro sports is going to hum along, business as usual. Somebody's dreaming if they think that, right?"

Bettman, during a speech given in Toronto to a sports business conference, described the NHL as "still in a growth period" while expressing caution about the slowing economy. Meantime NASCAR, with its close ties to the U.S. auto industry, was expected to lay off nearly 1,000 employees. The NBA eliminated about 80 jobs, or nine per cent of its work force. In Major League Baseball, fewer players have been signed at this point of the free-agency period than in any year this decade except 2002.

Currently about two-thirds of NHL teams are operating comfortably within the current economic framework, including all six based in Canada. And a few clubs, notably the Chicago Blackhawks and Washington Capitals, are in the midst of startling turnarounds.
But the NHL's long been a league of financial haves and have-nots. The question during the economic crisis is, what becomes of the have-nots? Can they survive? Should the league consider contraction?

The options for the have-nots are limited under the current collective bargaining agreement, which cannot be amended without player association approval. Selling out is one choice; closing up shop is another. Trying to find investors to pour new cash into the operation is a third, but one that seems increasingly unlikely, given the times. Bettman has steadfastly refused to consider relocating struggling franchises to stronger markets — and the possibility of putting a second team in southern Ontario has been unilaterally dismissed. Contraction is another option and in theory would help the overall health of the league if it eliminated a team that drew heavy annual subsidies from the NHL's limited revenue-sharing pool. According to Quinn, increasing the size of the revenue-sharing pool — to approach the NFL model — would create a better overall distribution of wealth from top to bottom, but that sort of shift in thinking would require that the CBA be re-opened, a decision that is the hands of the players association at the moment.


Apart from market-specific challenges, the troubled clubs share one common problem: mediocre receipts in a largely box-office driven industry. Hockey teams derive a lower percentage of revenues from media rights and corporate sponsorships than the other three major sports leagues — the NBA, National Football League and baseball. Where there are large gaps in gate receipts and payroll numbers, trouble looms.

A few years ago, NHL teams may have looked forward to a one-time revenue boost from expansion fees of $250 million per franchise. Not today. There is no talk in NHL circles of expansion to Las Vegas or Kansas City. Hollywood movie mogul Jerry Bruckheimer, linked to a possible team in Las Vegas, appears to have lacked interested.

Hockey relies on people filling the seats, and 17 of 30 teams in the league experienced attendance decreases in the early part of the season. Atlanta was playing to only 72.2 per cent of capacity, New Jersey 78 per cent, the Islanders 81.4 per cent through mid-November.

The Columbus Blue Jackets, an expansion success story in the early days of the franchise, played to only 75.6 per cent of capacity through the first eight games of the season, the lowest percentage among the 30 NHL teams. President and alternate governor Michael Priest says the "softness" in ticket sales is largely related to on-ice performance and the need to woo back a frustrated fan base.

In "a recession-resistant, but not recession-proof" university town, "these are challenging times and anything corporate, or any sponsorship that's up for renewal is going to be a real challenge," says Priest. "We've seen pressure on that front already. How deep will it go? These economic times, I'm not sure we've ever seen anything like this, so I'm not I can even pretend to know the way it's going to go. Our market is certainly being affected, but not anywhere near where our friends in Detroit are."

In Rust Belt cities where families are worried about their jobs, does discretionary income go toward buying a ticket or into piggy banks?

"Just from looking at the numbers, in the blue-collar communities, you are seeing dips in the attendance — in Detroit, New Jersey, Columbus, Atlanta, Phoenix," says Paul Kelly, executive director of the NHL Players Association. "In blue-collar communities, where there is less disposable income, some people have obviously decided they have to cut back someplace, so walk-up sales are off in some of those communities. But again, they are offset by gains in some other communities, so from a league-wide perspective, we're still doing pretty well."

In Detroit, the future is a mystery.

"We've lost maybe 3,000 season-tickets from our heyday, but in the last couple of years, we've held our own," said Holland. "Now, are we going to hold our own in 09-10? I don't know. A lot depends upon what goes on in the auto industry in the next six months."

About 10,000 work directly or indirectly in the auto sector in Buffalo.

"We're up revenue-wise because we raised our prices, but our demand for tickets is softer," said Quinn. "At one point, we were about 20,000 tickets behind last year's total at the same time. We've been closing that gap.

"What we've seen is a delay in purchasing. People aren't going to buy January, February, March games near as quickly as they did last year. As each game is played, we have to see if we can we sell it - and it's getting harder. And if the economy gets worse, I suspect it'll be harder yet."


There are further concerns about sponsorships. Within the past three months, the NHL has signed on four new sponsors - Honda, Visa, Cisco Systems and Energizer Canada. However, holding onto existing sponsorship arrangements may prove difficult, as Tiger Woods learned this week, when Buick parted company.

"It used to be that were six or seven real critical sponsorship categories in sport - automotive, malt beverage, soft drink, financial, credit card, retail, airlines," said Timothy Leiweke, president and CEO of the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), owner of the Los Angeles Kings. "Now, you look and say, the airline industry's never quite recovered, so they're on their butts. The auto industry's in terrible shape. The financial industry is struggling mightily. I think the credit card industry's next. The malt beverage category got down to two.

"So you look around and say, these are going to be very challenging times for teams and leagues."

AEG owns and operates over a dozen sports teams world-wide, including the Los Angeles Aztecs which lured British soccer star David Beckham with a $250 million compensation package. The Kings are down about 900 paid admissions per night.

"Suddenly, a bad economy comes at a time when we probably have more of an issue with our fans than we've had for a long time," said Leiweke.


Without expansion revenues on the horizon, the No. 1 priority is stabilizing teams in their current markets, a familiar challenge for Bettman and the NHL. For more than a decade now, whenever the league succeeds in plugging one financial leak, another springs up elsewhere.
Attendance has fallen by four per cent or less in 11 of the 17 markets experiencing declines through mid-November. More important are the rise and falls of gate receipts. While the average NHL ticket price rose 5.1 per cent, according to Team Marketing Report, the Devils dropped theirs by 15.7 per cent in response to weakening demand and the faltering economy.
Overall revenues this season are being propped up by the rebound of two teams - Chicago, which raised ticket prices by an average of 28.4 per cent, but is still up 65 per cent at the box office year over year; and Washington, which had a more modest 8.3 per cent price increase and a 24 per cent bump in attendance; and Boston, where the team is playing well. In addition, three teams that entered bankruptcy protection within the past decade (the Sabres, the Ottawa Senators and the Pittsburgh Penguins) are nicely stabilized.

"The early signs we've seen through the first six weeks of the season, from an attendance and a revenue perspective, do appear positive in the face of what appears to be an economic crisis all around us," says Kelly, of the NHLPA. "As long as teams continue to perform, even in tough economic times, people still seem to want to support their sports teams — and have that distraction; and they're spending money and going out to see the games. Now, how that will continue to play out over the course of the season is anybody's guess."

Phoenix, according to team president Doug Moss, was one of the early-season winners with paid admissions up 32 per cent, which translated into 60,000 more tickets sold. However, that still hasn't come close to washing away the red ink.

"There are more tickets to sell," said Moss. "The bottom line is, we have to win. The 60,000 tickets mean (fans) believe what we're saying; and in what they're seeing on the ice, but we're only going to sell the remainder of our seats, as we start to win more."

Once upon a time, the only marketing the Red Wings' needed was to release the home schedule in early July. The tickets would, in effect, sell themselves.

"Those days are gone," said Holland, "and they're gone everywhere, except maybe in Canada - and they've got to be careful there too."
Salary Cap

Unlike past years, when the players' association openly questioned the NHL's accounting methods, all revenues are subject to an independent audit by a jointly appointed accounting firm.
The salary cap is a definitive (and public) measuring stick for the league's overall economic health. Introduced after the NHL locked out its players for the 2004-05 season to seek "cost certainty" in its business model, the system guarantees players 56 per cent of total revenues and leaves the owners with 44.

In the first three seasons of the postlockout NHL, revenues rose sharply, from $2.14-billion (all currency U.S.) to $2.32-billion to $2.6-billion, resulting in a salary-cap increase from $39.5-million to $56.7-million.

"Since the first year, we've been experiencing real growth rates of about six to eight per cent," said Paul Kelly, the NHLPA's executive director, who added that in last year's growth rate — of 12 per cent — roughly 3 or 4 per cent was as a result of the favourable currency exchange of the Canadian dollar.

That revenue spike also raised the spending floor — the minimum dollar amount that lower-revenue teams were obliged to direct towards payroll.

For 2008-09, the floor was set at $40-million, or more than the ceiling was just three years ago. The unintended consequence of such rapid growth was that some of the lower-end teams, who couldn't make a go of it with payrolls in the $20-million range prior to the lockout, cannot possibly operate in the black now with payrolls nearly double that amount.

Says Detroit GM Ken Holland: "Because the lion's share of the money for 08-09 is in the bank, I don't think the [salary] cap is going to be significantly affected for 09-10, but unless the economy makes a major, major, major recovery in the next 12 months, we've got to be looking for the cap to go down in 2010-11."

NHL's future lies in Canada, reports say
Matthew Coutts, National Post
Published: Saturday, November 29, 2008

Jim Balsillie's most recent attempt at NHL franchise ownership seems to indicate his intention of bringing another team to Canada hasn't waned, despite NHL commissioner Gary Bettman's sticking to the vision of growing the game in non-traditional U.S. markets.

But when looking at the economic case for a new team in Canada, compared with struggling U.S. franchises, sports economists routinely suggest there is no comparison.

"If you just look at the way things are right now, Canadian teams are in a better position than they have been at any time in the immediate past," said Ian Hudson, an economics professor at the University of Manitoba.

With a combination of a stronger Canadian dollar, revenue-sharing and salary-cap systems born from the NHL's 2004-2005 season lockout and a struggling economy that has forced people to focus their entertainment dollars, mid-sized Canadian cities such as Hamilton have become a sounder bet for long-term success.

"A place like Southern Ontario is no worse off than most of the United States. So if you are hunting for a franchise, you don't have to necessarily be fantastic, you just have to be better than other places that the franchise could go," Mr. Hudson said. "So if the economy is tanking in Southern Ontario, chances are good at least that it is going to be tanking in the United States."
As reported in the National Post last week, Mr. Balsillie is set to purchase a 27% minority stake in the struggling Nashville Predators NHL franchise. It will be the Research in Motion co-founder's third attempt to buy into the league. Previous attempts to buy a team - the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2006 and the Predators the year after - collapsed at the last moment after the league opposed his intentions to relocate the teams north.

Mr. Bettman recently said expansion and relocation were not on the league's current agenda but conceded placing another team in Southern Ontario was worth consideration, when the time comes.

While several Canadian cities have expressed interest in hosting a team and have a history of supporting hockey - such as Winnipeg, Kitchener and a hockey-starved Toronto desperate for a second option - Hamilton remains at the top of the list for many who see northern expansion as a logical step.

City councillor Ian Whitehead has been a part of past attempts to land an expansion team and heads an ongoing grassroots campaign designed to keep Hamilton in the mix. He said it is politics, not questions of financial viability, that keeps Hamilton out of the league.

"Unfortunately, politics is getting in the way of a team being in the strongest, densest market in Canada. It's not about viability. I get tired of hearing that argument," he told the National Post. "We all know. Any of the pundits know. This is not about viability; this is about politics, and unfortunately politics don't always make good business decisions. We need to take the politics out and realize that there is a hunger in Southern Ontario that needs to be fed."

A recent study by Chicago-based Sportscorp suggests a second team in the Toronto area would be the third most valuable team in the league before even setting a skate on the ice - as much as US$600-million.

Sportscorp's Marc Ganis said he reached the number after factoring in what the Maple Leafs are worth, whether the market could absorb a second team, the general climate for sports franchises and the valuation of other teams in the NHL.

"Toronto is a unique market. Its size, its strength, its visibility its corporate base. The wealth of individuals. Just the sheer population size makes it a bit different," he said. "I think it could absorb a second team very well."

Other sports economists say hockey-mad Canada is better prepared to support a team than struggling southern markets, such as Phoenix and Nashville.

Nashville, a city of more than 550,000, has been struggling to support its NHL franchise since it arrived in 1998 as part of the NHL's push into non-traditional U.S. hockey markets.

The original owner, Craig Leipold, had to sell the franchise in 2007 after losing US$70-million over the first nine seasons.

He was open about the lack of corporate support for the Predators. According to Maury Brown, the president of the Business of Sports Network, the team remains in a "state of flux."

"Given the state of the economy, it's a lot more difficult mostly on the sponsorship side.... Renewal of sponsorships are going to be a problem" for bellwether teams in any league, he said, specifically for the struggling Sun Belt teams in the NHL.

Mr. Brown added that the Predators are also competing for corporate and fan attention with the NFL's Tennessee Titans, which are having an excellent season. "That makes it difficult to sustain it."

The focus on NHL expansion into southern U.S. markets has been met with middling success. Franchises such as Anaheim and Dallas have landed on solid footing while others, specifically Phoenix and Nashville, remain in a state of financial uncertainty.

Forbes magazine currently ranks the Predators as the 23rd most valuable franchise, valued at just over US$160-million. According to Forbes, the team lost US$1.3-million last season.

Meanwhile, the attendance at Predators games is down to an average of 13,800, the third lowest in the league and a drop of 600 from the same time last season.

By comparison, the health of Canada's six current teams has never been stronger. Forbes ranks Toronto as the most profitable team in the league. Montreal, Vancouver and Ottawa are not much further down the list, while Edmonton and Calgary - two teams struggling to survive pre-lockout - are turning an annual profit.

No Canadian team is receiving money from the league's revenue-sharing assistance program, which takes money collected from the top 10 money earners and shares it among the most financially challenged teams, including Nashville.

"One of the surest investments right now, I think in the world, would be a second NHL franchise in Southern Ontario. Everyone I have talked to, and any economist report, tell us it is a job creator and it's a profit maker," said Oakville MPP Kevin Flynn, who is preparing to petition the Ontario government to push for a second NHL team in the Greater Toronto Area.

"It really is the centre of the hockey world. This is what we are known for."

And in the beginning, there was a guy named Burke

A driver, a car and all the trappings of power, just one of the many observations from Hockey Night in Canada’s Burkefest on Saturday, an interesting bit of reporting that followed the Day One travels of the newly announced arrival (and departure for the HNIC studios) of the Moses of the hockey set.

On Saturday night Burke was shown walking through the caverns of the Air Canada Centre, stepping into a nice shiny black car and with a wave to the cameras was off for an audience with Ron McLean, ready to deliver the first of what the CBC hope will be many sermons from Mount Maple Leaf on a Saturday night.

The Burke era in Toronto officially got underway on Saturday, first with the official announcement and press conference in the early afternoon, followed by his pre game appearance on Hockey Night in Canada’s preview show.

We learned that his teams are tenacious and tough, that there are key players and plumbers alike all to contribute to greater good. If any immediate changes are on his mind they will take place fast, as he has set a Christmas armistice on trades starting in early December, so as not to disrupt the players and their families during the Christmas holidays.

There have been many references to religious like devotion to the Leafs in the last few days, Burke himself describing the Leafs job as though a position at the Vatican. Which we guess makes him the Pope of Hockey; we assume he’s being measured for robes as we write this.

Of course, now that the announcement has been made and the blessings delivered, it’s time to get to work. The Leafs have been so far removed from any form of competitive bid for Lord Stanley’s Mug that it will take more than a few months to become a serious contender.

Still, in a town that is desperate for some sort of sign that the right path has finally been chosen, there will be a lot riding on the arrival of Burke. He brings a reputation of success from Anaheim, and as one of the key architects of a Vancouver team that came as close as any in that city’s NHL history to claiming a Stanley Cup.

Brash, occasionally combative and a gold mine for media quotes, he will certainly change the nature of the Maple Leafs, take no abuse from the Toronto Media and demand a lot from his players and coaches.

It truly will be a new era for the normally farcical nature of the Maple Leafs, a long overdue arrival of a well known NHL icon to guide one of the league’s most challenging and important of franchises.

It’s as they say the Big Show for Burke now, Vancouver was a big step in his career, crafting a team in a hockey mad market with a rather competitive media scene, Anaheim was where he found success in the form of a Cup, though the achievement was hidden for the most part in the malls and canyons of Orange County.
In Toronto, he trades the anonymity of California for the fishbowl existence of Canada’s largest city.

He’ll find that the media spotlight, like it was in Vancouver will be intense, every moved observed, every word parsed, examined and digested.

The simple task of getting into a shiny black car to drive to a television studio examined as though Patton has crossed the Rhine.

It’s by far his biggest step thus far in his NHL career, if he succeeds in turning around the Leafs he very well may qualify for Papal status and perhaps sainthood beyond.

If he fails, he’ll probably understand intimately exactly how the days of the Spanish Inquisition played out.

For Day one, all was well in Leafland, while they're new boss watched from the executive suite, the Leafs defeated the Philadelphia Flyers in a convincing style, stopping a five game losing skid with a 4-2 victory for the home folk.

A nice little welcoming gift for the new boss, and a trend that they will want to continue with if they hope to keep working for him in the future.

Globe and Mail-- Burke officially joins Maple Leafs
Globe and Mail-- Leafs show some fight
National Post-- Burke settles into his hockey "dream job"
National Post-- Burke watches Leafs end five-game skid
Toronto Sun-- Lessons from Burke C.I.
Toronto Sun-- Burke 'perfect guy' for Toronto
Toronto Sun-- Man, myth, legend
Toronto Star-- Burke takes helm of Maple Leafs
Toronto Star-- Leaf players hope to be part of better days
Toronto Star-- When Wasting Time Might Be Worth It
Toronto Star-- Burke's no genius on draft
Toronto Star-- Best or worst yet to come for Leafs?

Friday, November 28, 2008

Give his regards to Broadway

Brendan Shanahan is apparently tired of waiting, the former New York Ranger has been patiently waiting by the phone for Glen Sather to give him a call and a new contract offer, but the cal hasn't come and Shanahan is ready to move on.

A story posted on outlines the state of Shanahan's future, one which was waiting for cap space to be made in New York, a move which never materialized. Shanahan had been hoping

So, it seems that with New York out of the picture, Shanahan's agent will be accepting offers from other NHL teams looking for an experienced hand to help settle down the younger ones on their line up.

Shanahan had been hoping to stay in New York, so one imagines his first choices would be those teams that are located reasonably close to his New York home, the Islanders, Devils, Flyers apparently those that he wouldn't mind hearing a call or two from.

With December almost turning the pages of the calendar, Shanahan has decided the time is here to get back on the ice somewhere, all that remains to be seen is if the teams other than the Rangers share his enthusiasm.

Signed, Sealed and soon to be delivered?

Sportsnet broke into their US Thanksgiving Day coverage of really bad football Thursday (CFL fans breath easy the northern game is still far more entertaining to what they peddle below the 49th), to share details with an anxious Leaf Nation that deliverance was soon to visit in the visage of Brian Burke.

Not exactly the scoop of the century, considering the fact that most media outlets have been suggesting all week that the big announcement is to come on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday, a move that will share the joy across the country or more likely annoy the hell out of the outposts beyond Toronto with the idea that what's good for Toronto is of interest to the rest of the Canadian teams.

While Toronto does need a bit of direction it would seem, this coronation broadcast to the rest of the nation might just rekindle those ancient hatreds of the Leafs that have given way to pity over the last few years.

As for the big announcement, Sportsnet seeking to find a share in the story of the month, said that they had the goods on the deal, a contract valued at 18 million over six years, with Burke only answering to one management name, Richard Peddie firmly ensconced in the Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment command bunker.

Upon the puffs of white smoke from the Air Canada Centre on Saturday will be the announcement of Burke as the Leafs thirteenth General Manager since the franchise joined the NHL. It's been one of the most anticipated of announcements in Leaf Nation in many a year it would seem, judging by the amount of attention his every move has been greeted with since he announced his departure from the Anaheim Ducks.

While the bankers, accountants and lawyers work on the final bits of detail, the stage is being built for Saturday's announcement, a sideshow that seems to be one part sports negotiation and one part papal election.

We aren't sure if we are looking forward to that wall to wall coverage from the CBC on Saturday, we wonder if they'll remember that there are five other teams in the league, some of which have played some fairly entertaining hockey for most of the last ten years. Hockey that has come without near the drama that every burp, cough and conversation that comes out of Toronto seems to provide for.

If nothing else finally getting Burke's name on a contract might return the focus to the hockey that the Leafs play, which has been surprisingly half decent for the bulk of the season so far.
It will be with interest that Leafs fans (and those that are inclined to follow the soap opera they've become) watch and see if the Burke years will match up with all the hype of deliverance that they have been heralded to bring.

Globe and Mail-- Burke in the bag
Globe and Mail-- The life of Brian

Former Bruin Bep Guidolin passes away

A name long associated with the Boston Bruins, Bep Guidolin, has passed away in Ontario at the age of 82.

Guidolin first joined the Boston Bruins in 1942, at sixteen one of the youngest players ever to lace up the skates for the B's and person that would have an ongoing effect on the franchise long after his playing days had finished.

From his days in the NHL, he would move on to coaching first in the junior ranks and then in the NHL itself for those very Bruins he once skated with in the forties.

His connection with the Bruins would seem to take on a good portion of his time with hockey, from his junior coaching days in Oshawa he would watch the development of a young man named Robert Gordon Orr, a shooting star of a defenseman who would go on to share much of the history of the Boston Bruins and their greatest championship season.

Guidolin would follow Orr to Boston taking over the reins of the NHL team during the 1972-73 and 1973-74 seasons, getting them close to a Stanley Cup championship only to watch the Philadelphia Flyers claim the magical cup in six games.

His playing days also saw him play for the Red Wings and Black Hawks, while he coached Colorado for a while and was a GM in Edmonton during their WHA days.

But it will be his time with the Bruins that will forever mark his place in Bruins and NHL history, whether as a player, a coach or the guardian of the talent to come in Orr, Guidolin will no doubt be thought of first and always as a Bruin.

It's of interest to note that the Oshawa Generals retired Bobby Orr's number in a ceremony on Thursday night, we suspect that as they were showering Orr with the long overdue recognition of his contribution to hockey in Oshawa, they more than likely took a moment or two out to remember the coach who nurtured that talent on its way to the NHL.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Battlin' Famille Roy

Fresh from his ceremony in Montreal on Saturday night, Patrick Roy is once again in the centre of controversy, this after details emerged about the circumstances of his son's suspension after a nasty incident in a Quebec junior game from last Friday night.

Frédérick Roy, 17, the younger brother of last year's battling Roy brother Jonathon, was suspended for fifteen games Monday by the Quebec Junior Hockey League, that after a vicious cross check delivered to the face of Vincent Bourgeois, who tumbled to the ice and lay motionless for a number of minutes while trainers rendered assistance.

This explains the reaction of the Montreal crowd when the younger Roy accompanied his brother and father to the Bell Centre on Saturday night, Frederick receiving a smattering of boos from the crowd, after his on ice hostility of the night before.

Patrick who is the coach of the Remparts, last year was suspended after Jonathon was involved in an ugly on ice brawl, a brawl for which Jonathon is facing criminal charges over.

The latest incident of the Roy's highlights some of the unease that some had over the honoring of Patrick by the Canadiens, as more than a few fans suggested that the Senior Roy was fostering a style of hockey that is of a past era and shows little in the way of concern for opposing players or the good of the game.

Friday night's events will only bolster their argument. As the Roy's collectively seem to aspire more towards the stylings of the Sopranos, Gambinos or the Black Donnelly's, rather than the Richards or Turgeon's...

Globe and Mail-- Hockey brawl: all in the Roy family
Globe and Mail-- Coach's influence
New York Times-- Patrick Roy’s Other Son Suspended 15 Games
ESPN-- Roy sons have to learn they're going to be judged on different level
CBC-- Patrick Roy's son suspended 15 games by QMJHL
Canadian Press-- Roy says he expects to take flak in latest incident involving offspring

Ryan O'Byrne's long, long night

Ryan O`Byrne is about to become a You Tube favourite for all the wrong reasons...

Hopefully for OByrne it will be one of the few and perhaps the only "Oh Oh moment" in his career, Monday night the Canadiens defenceman committed perhaps the most embarrassing sin that an NHLer could have, he scored on his own net.

With time winding down in the third period, O'Byrne tossed a puck back into his own end of the rink, a play that headed directly for the recently vacated Canadiens net (a delayed penalty had just been called) and into the back of the right hand side.

It was a costly miscue, sending the game into overtime and then a shoot out which ended badly for Montreal with the Islanders taking home a 4-3 victory, solidifying O'Byrne's hands on the goat horns in Montreal for the foreseeable future.

It's a move that every player dreads and really shouldn't happen in this fashion you would think.

If O'Byrne is looking for sliver linings in dark clouds, he can at least console himself that it didn't happen in the playoffs and didn't cost the Canadiens a Stanley Cup. A November own goal, as depressing for the fans as it may be, is still a fair bit aways from a self scored marker in a game seven of the Stanley Cup final.

Time may soothe the Habitants faithful, who were more than willing to share their feelings on Monday night. Should the Canadiens travel far along the playoff path in the Spring of 2009 then few wll remember the events of November 24th at the Bell Centre (though we are sure that hockey fans will be replaying the YouTube clip above over and over from now on).

At least, that's what O'Byrne must be hoping as he dedicates his play to the goal of looking where he's passing/shooting from now on.

The Gazette-- O'Byrne's brain cramp caps bizarre home-ice loss
The Hockey News-- O’Byrne’s own-goal far from the worst puck blunder in recent memory
New York Times-- Oops, Immortalized
CBC-- Fluke goal costs Habs a win

The Trading Post 2008-09

One quick way to change a team's dynamic is through a trade, whether with one of the earth shattering multi player deals that we will talk about for years, or just a simple tweaking of a line up, bringing in that one missing ingredient that can change a season.

Through the year, we will track the deals that the various General Managers make, all in a bid to make their teams better and in some cases save a career or two.

The wheeling and dealing will ebb and flow through the year, leading up to the annual festival of movement known as the Trading deadline, this year set for March 4th, a day which will see Canada's sports networks provide such on air content that it would seem to redefine the kind of planning that sent massive armies into the Great Wars of the last century.

November 24-- Toronto and St. Louis

The Maple Leafs send Carlo Colaiacovo and forward Alexander Steen to the St. Louis Blues for winger Lee Stempniak. An interesting move by Cliff Fletcher, guardian of the telephones while the Leafs seek out their next General Manager. The Leafs pick up experience by giving up on two young talents, who occassionally showed some flashes of talent, but not enough consistency for the liking of Fletcher and the head coach Ron Wilson.

November 16-- Dallas and Pittsburgh

Darryl Sydor heads south, Texas bound as the Stars swing a deal with the Penguins, sending Philippe Boucher to Pittsburgh.

November 7-- Philadelphia and Tampa Bay

The Flyers and Lightning pick up the phone and move some players, with the Flyers picking up Matt Carle and a third round pick in the 2009 draft in exchange for Steve Eminger, Steve Downie and 2009 4th Round Pick.

November 3-- Ottawa and Phoenix

They both share the lower reaches of the standings and at the start of November they exchanged players, with Drew Fata off to Ottawa and Alexander Nikulin Phoenix bound.

October 30-- Philadelphia and Nashville

The Predators continue to move the inventory, sending Josh Gratton to Philadelphia in exchange for Tim Ramholt.

October 30-- Nashville and New York Rangers

Nashville returns to the trading table picking up Hugh Jessiman from the Rangers giving up future considerations in return.

October 13-- Philadelphia and Boston

The Bruins send Andrew Alberts off to Philly in exchange they receive Ned Lukacevic.

October 9-- Pittsburgh and Phoenix

The Penguins pick up Mike Zigomanis from the Coyotes in exchange for future considerations.

October 6-- Vancouver and Tampa Bay

The Lightning continue to make phone calls seeking out tweaks to their line up, this time picking up Lukas Krajicek and Juraj Simek from Vancouver in exchange for Shane O'Brien and Michel Ouellet.

September 30-- Los Angeles and Anaheim

The Good news for Sean O'Donnell is he dosen't have to move, just change uniforms. O'Donnel was picked up by the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for a conditional draft pick.

September 29-- Nashville and Tampa Bay

The Predators give up a future pick, a conditional one in the 2009 draft for forward Nick Tarnasky.

September 26-- Atlanta and Anaheim

Defenseman Mathieu Schneider heads for Dixie as the Ducks move him east, picking up Ken Klee, Brad Larsen and Chad Painchaud in return.

The Quest for Hockeyville is underway

From Newfoundland to British Columbia and to the farthest reaches of the North, communities across Canada are putting together their bids to be the next Canadian community selected as Kraft's Hockeyville.

The 2009 competition got underway on November 1st, and the deadline for submissions is fast approaching with December 6th as the last day for Canadians to offer up their community as a worthy candidate for Hockeyville.

The successful community will host an NHL Pre-Season Game in their arena, a visit from CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada and the prize that all communities are seeking $100 000 from Kraft to upgrade their local arena!

You can check to see if your community has been posted on line as a potential Hockeyville, and if so the rest is up to you, posting your thoughts on how hockey is important to you and your community.

The Kraft Hockeyville website has full details on how to get involved, as well some background on what the competition is all about. You can also follow the progress of the competition from the Hockeyville facebook site.

The successful communities so far have been Salmon River, Nova Scotia in 2006, North Bay, Ontario in 2007 and last years successful town Roberval, Quebec, simple geography suggests that a Western or Northern community is destined to be the next selection.

Check out the websites and get involved for your community, you never know, you're story and community spirit may be just what they are looking for.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Everyone has an opinion when it comes to the Sens

To give you an idea as to just how concerned hockey fans in the Nations capital are these days, the plight of the local hockey team has moved from the usual scribbling and pecking of the sports department, to the word processing wordcraft of the Globe and Mail's Jeffrey Simpson.

Simpson, an award winning National Affairs journalist with the Globe, is normally tasked with the responsibility to help us make sense of the machinations of our Federal government, our never ending national debate on unity and a wider global perspective on the nation's place in the world of nations.

When he's not writing for the national paper, he enters the halls of academia to offer up history and opinion to those thirsting for knowledge at the nation's universities.

So, things are apparently so off the charts in Ottawa now, that Professor Simpson has been forced to enter the debate, providing worrisome background, a few helpful suggestions and a bit of the work of Nostradamus to divine the future for what was once the NHL's most highly regarded franchise.

Pointing the finger at poor management decisions, resulting in poor draft picks, worse trades and a confusing on ice presence, Simpson suggests that the Sens, like their cousins to the south in Toronto, need to blow the whole thing up and start over.

But before they do that, he provides the theory that yet another change in the front offices is required with Bryan Murray to be parted from his duties and a new name, with new ideas and a better plan brought in to guide the rebuilding job that Simpson suggests is needed.

High on his list for a new GM is Steve Yzerman, a local hero from his days in Nepean, an Ottawa suburb and of course a life long Detroit Red Wing, having basked in the success of the NHL's template for excellent management. Having had a front bench seat into how a dynasty of the NHL operates and what it takes to claim Lord Stanley's Cup.

Just a few years removed from their Stanley Cup final appearance, the atrocious start this season and unfamiliar location of the Senators in the bottom regions of the East Division standings has caught many by surprise and added to a palpable sense of panic across Eastern Ontario.

There's a good number of those fans who will be reading Mr. Simpson's column on Tuesday and nodding their head in agreement, providing they're not too shell shocked from the remarkable reversal of fortunes of their local heroes.

A capital collapse
With the Senators swooning, can major changes and a new GM such as Yzerman be far behind?
From Tuesday's Globe and Mail
November 24, 2008 at 10:22 PM EST

OTTAWA — What's happened to the Ottawa Senators? Canada's best NHL team a year ago is now the worst, with bleak prospects.

After 20 games last year, the Senators were 16-4, the best team in the Eastern Conference. After 20 games this year, the Senators are 7-9-4, down with the bottom feeders in the conference, a long shot to make the playoffs.

In the 2006-07 season, the Senators were Stanley Cup finalists. Their collapse is the biggest untold story in Canadian hockey. It's the culmination of a series of dubious or bad management decisions, not one of which caused the plunge but, taken together, rotted the team.

Ottawa fans have watched the slide to mediocrity with incredulity. Unlike Toronto Maple Leafs fans, Sens supporters expect their team to be in the playoffs. (What the Senators did once in the playoffs was another matter.)

After last year's early spurt, the Senators played below .500 for the rest of the season, barely made the playoffs, were swept in four games by the Pittsburgh Penguins, and again this year are below .500.

They have burned through two coaches — John Paddock and Bryan Murray — and are not responding for the third, Craig Hartsburg. He whips them like a mule, but a mule is a mule. It can speed up a little under the whipping, but it remains a mule.

The Senators won Saturday 4-1 against the New York Rangers, offering a spirited effort. They won the only way they can, given a limited amount of talent, playing a chip-and-chase game and outworking their opponents.

The days of a fast, skilled Senators team are over. Apart from the trio of Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson and Dany Heatley, they have nothing but pluggers up front.

Their Saturday victory broke a six-game winless skid in which they scored only seven goals. During that skid, they were booed off the ice in Ottawa after losing 3-1 to the lowly New York Islanders, held players-only meetings, and were tongue-lashed by Murray, now the general manager.

Senators fans are smart. They can see the team for what it is, a shadow of yesteryear's dynamic units, crippled by a long series of management errors under general managers John Muckler and Murray that have finally caught up to the franchise.

It's a team with only three bona fide scorers, two backup goalies, four sixth defencemen, no speed on the back end, little secondary scoring, not much size and, chillingly, little help on the farm.

The team's options, broadly defined, are clear. The first — the one likely to be chosen — is to patch and paste through trades in a desperate attempt to stumble into the playoffs again in order to sell seats in the Canadian market with the smallest season-ticket base.

The second is to blow up the team, as the Maple Leafs are doing, in the knowledge that this Senators team, even an improved version of it, will never again threaten for the Stanley Cup. That window for this group is shut, and every honest fan knows it.

The start-again strategy would require a new general manager. One intriguing choice would be Steve Yzerman, who played some hockey before turning professional in Ottawa and is popular in the city.

Yzerman played for the best coach of the modern era, Scotty Bowman, has been learning the general manager's craft under the league's best, Ken Holland of Detroit, and has been named supremo of Canada's 2010 Olympic team.

A longer shot would be Pierre McGuire, once an assistant coach at Ottawa and now a TSN analyst. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of all things hockey, knows the team inside out and understands the Ottawa market.

The decision about which way to go, and who should execute the strategy, lies with owner Eugene Melnyk, who, if newspaper reports are correct, has been wooing Mats Sundin, an indication he favours the patch-and-paste strategy. Melnyk put Bryan Murray into the general manager's chair, but Melnyk is not known for patience when a product has deteriorated so badly.

What frightens Sens fans is that the patch-and-paste strategy would be executed by Murray, who has presided over the final phases of the Senators' slump.

Last year, he shipped defenceman Joe Corvo and serviceable winger Patrick Eaves to the Carolina Hurricanes for Mike Commodore, perhaps the slowest defenceman in the league, and winger Cory Stillman. Both were free agents, and both departed at season's end, leaving two more holes in an already shaky Sens lineup.

This year, when faced with exorbitant salary demands from defenceman Andrej Meszaros, Murray sent him to the Tampa Bay Lightning for two sixth defencemen, Filip Kuba and Alexandre Picard, and a late first-round draft pick.

But the rot that has eaten away at the Senators started before Murray won a power struggle against Muckler to become general manager.

Muckler had inherited a brilliant team and proceeded to erode its foundations. Sami Salo, still a top-four defenceman for Vancouver, was traded for Peter Schaefer, who is no longer in the league. He blew the draft after the lockout, in which the Senators got a huge break by picking ninth. He selected Brian Lee, who remains in the minor leagues, while passing on other players such as Marc Staal and Anze Kopitar, now young stars.

Always trying to get a player for the playoffs who might round out the team, Muckler traded three No. 2 draft picks and got almost nothing serviceable in return: Peter Bondra, Greg de Vries, Vaclav Varada, Tyler Arnason.

Under Muckler, a team that used to surprise other teams and delight their fans with brilliant late-round draft picks, lost some of its best scouts and player-development personnel. The result was a dreadful American Hockey League team in Binghamton.

The Senators might have survived these Muckler moves. But they could not remain strong after losing Zdeno Chara to free agency, Martin Havlat to a terrible trade, and, before this season, Wade Redden to free agency.

The team had to choose for cap reasons between Chara and Redden after the 2005-06 season. Chara had looked a little shaky in the 2006 playoffs, in which Ottawa, favoured perhaps to win the Cup, choked in losing to the upstart Buffalo Sabres, plagued again by inconsistent goaltending that has always been the franchise's curse.

Management therefore chose to keep Redden over Chara, a franchise-crippling move, since Chara remains an all-star defenceman whereas Redden's game began to deteriorate so sharply that by last season he had played himself off the first power-play unit and had his ice time restricted. Why the Rangers signed him to a long-term, $6-million-a-year (U.S.) contract was the league's biggest off-season mystery.

Senator insiders claim that a deal for Chara had already been cooked up by Peter Chiarelli, the Sens' former assistant general manager who went to Boston as general manager, to lure Chara to Boston. Who knows, as an outsider, what machinations occurred? But the Sens seem to have decided they could not afford Chara, and/or did not want him compared to Redden.

That bad choice was made on Muckler's watch. Having lost Chara, Muckler then panicked by trading the gifted, although oft-injured Havlat, who had said he would test the market as an unrestricted free agent the following summer, to the Chicago Blackhawks in a three-way trade that netted Ottawa two career minor-leaguers and Tom Preissing, a sixth defenceman who played one season in Ottawa and then opted for free agency.

Chara, Redden, Havlat, Corvo, Eaves. For these players, the Senators have nothing to show today. No team so mismanaged can remain competitive. Coming up empty for these five, coupled with indifferent draft picks, plus those end-of-season Muckler trades, meant that past mistakes suddenly caught up with the Senators.

So did the demise of Ray Emery, the goalie who showed promise of evolving perhaps into a solid No. 1, only to play himself out of the league through what are euphemistically called "off-ice" distractions. He is now playing in Russia.

It's one thing to have a weak team; it's worse to have a weak and expensive one, which is what Ottawa has. The team plunked down huge contracts for Spezza, Heatley and Alfredsson, and large sums for Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov. Murray then far overspent for forwards Mike Fisher (a third line-centre forced to play second-line centre), two goals; Antoine Vermette, two goals; Chris Kelly, one goal. The result is that the Senators, supposedly a small-market team, are only about $3-million under the league salary cap.

Murray brought in what he called "character" players last year and this year, the knock on the Senators having been that they had lacked intestinal fortitude.

Alas, these "character" players such as 39-year-old Luke Richardson, defenceman Jason Smith, forward Jarkko Ruutu and forward Shean Donovan were either past their prime, or never had much of a prime, except for Smith some years ago with Edmonton.

One arrival, career backup goalie Alex Auld, has made a positive difference. He has played solidly, and bumped Martin Gerber from the No. 1 position, a place Gerber should never had had, but for the inexplicable and costly decision before the 2006-2007 season to sign him to a three-year, $11-million contract that, combined with his B-class abilities, had made him untradeable.

Gerber had played for Anaheim when Murray ran that organization. Apparently, he liked Gerber and argued for signing him to the albatross contract.

Scouts from opposing teams these days are following Senators games like seagulls behind a boat, expecting trade offers from the beleaguered franchise. Either by patching-and-pasting, or blowing up the team, the Senators' organization cannot stand still.

The team will not make the playoffs with the current mess, so existing or new management either has to make short-term trades to try for rapid, if ephemeral, improvement; or clean house, fall further to the bottom, and try to put together in three-to-five years the kind of team that not so long ago was the envy of the league.

The negotiators

This may finally be the week that we hear the end of the Brian Burke is coming to Toronto stories, and depending on how the timbre of the negotiations takes place it will either be with Burke signing on the dotted line of a Maple Leaf contract, or heading out on the road seeking out fame and fortune with any number of other potential suitors.

All the odds suggest that it will be a fairly quick resolution to the question of when he signs a contract, apparently the only item on the table that may be a sticking point is how much power the Leafs are willing to put in the hands of Burke and whether that power would provide with the ability to change the Leafs culture.

It would mark a fairly significant change of direction for the Leafs high office dwellers, who in the past have seemed to relish in their ability to intercede into operations at the most inopportune times.

Burke who is clearly well schooled in the art of contract negotiations is set to negotiate for himself, while Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment President Richard Peddie and Toronto Sports lawyer Gord Kirke will work on cobbling together a satisfactory conclusion to the long running soap opera of Toronto management moves.

The idea of Burke joining the Leafs has been one of those simmering soups on the back burner for a while now, his recent exodus from Anaheim marking just another notch upwards on the temperature setting to bring the soup to a boil.

Monday, the Leafs will see if they can finish cooking up their deal, considering the amount of time and press coverage invested in the plan so far, it seems rather unlikely that they would let Burke get away or let the negotiations get too far off track.

Getting Brian Burke to sign on to a Maple Leaf contract has become almost an expected event, all that remains is for the actual event to take the place of the speculation. That could very well happen before the end of the week.

Globe and Mail-- Burke, Leafs set to talk

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Vancouver’s worst nightmare is but an MRI away, yet panic is being held at bay

He’s one of the best goaltenders in hockey, the captain of their team and depending on the results of an MRI on Monday; Roberto Luongo may be on a rather extended vacation.

Five minutes into the first period, the Canuck captain suffered what appears to have been a serious groin injury on Saturday afternoon, after a shot he was about to handle unexpectedly changed direction requiring him to shift his body and then fall to the ice in obvious pain.

With Luongo, down and out, Curtis Sanford entered the game and picked up where he left off a few nights before, providing another solid performance in the Canuck net when it was needed the most.

With the Canucks picking up their play to render assistance to the suddenly popular Sanford, they held on to a 3- 1 victory and kept the high flying Penguins to but 19 shots on goal for the day.

While they celebrated a rather impressive road streak, reality was quick to cloud their thoughts again with the prospect of losing Luongo for a lengthy period of time. Groin injuries are particularly troublesome for goaltenders, providing for some a long recovery period.

Its unknown as to the severity of the Luongo injury yet, that will be determined in the days to come, but time and the schedule won’t stop for the Canucks just because he’s not around.

For now it’s the Sanford show, providing the backup some lengthy on ice time in the centre of the spotlight. His fellow team mates were saying all the right things about him on Sunday, expressing complete confidence in his skills and explaining they were more than ready to pick up their game to keep the positive vibes moving along.

The first test of the Luongo intermission will be Monday night and a visit from the Detroit Red Wings, a bit of schedule timing that doesn’t exactly ease Sanford into his new starting role.

Much of the start of the Canuck season so far has been a pleasant surprise for Canuck fans, the team off to a good start, the new names meshing well with those that survived the recent changes.

Now the folks at GM Place and watching along Sportsnet Pacific and TSN will see if the Canucks can handle adversity when it comes calling.

The knock on that door came on Saturday afternoon in Pittsburgh; the length of the visit is to be determined later this week.

Vancouver Sun-- Canucks face mixed emotions
Vancouver Province-- Canucks beat Pens 3-1 but lose Luongo
National Post-- Canucks dump Pens, but lose Luongo
CBC Sports-- Canucks beat Pens, lose Luongo to injury

Sporting new sweaters the Sens snap their skid

The Ottawa Senators introduced their third jersey on Saturday, a solid black fashion statement with Sens emblazoned across the front. A not particularly impressive piece of clothing as the Ottawa Citizen puts it, but if it means a few W’s in the proper place in the standings then by all means don’t go changing.

The Sens found Saturday afternoon hockey to their liking, as they handled the New York Rangers quite handily on the way to a 4 - 1 victory at Scotiabank Place. The early game in Hockey Night in Canada’s much discussed Original Six night found the Rangers struggling while the Senators returned to the form that many had been hoping for when the season started.

The Senators main line of Spezza, Heatley and Alfredsson had possibly their best game as a unit this season, completely in control of the puck whenever they were on the ice. Between the three of them, the first line Senators fired off sixteen of the thirty six shots taken at New York goaltender Stephen Valiquette. The Rangers as an entire team could only manage nineteen shots of their own at Alex Auld, who once again played well in the Ottawa end of the rink, this time rewarded for his hard work with a Win from his team mates.

Overall, the win was a team affair for the Senators, with all of the lines providing for input into the win, in particular Jarko Ruutu who used his aggravating style to perfection, managing to get the Rangers completely off their game and spending far too much time showing him with attention that might have been better spent elsewhere.

Superstition is a key element for many NHL players, considering the Senators struggles so far this year and the rumblings of discontent among the fan base in the nation’s capital, one wonders that with Saturday’s breaking of the skid, that those third jersey’s will be used a little more frequently than originally planned.

Plan B, for Mr. B

Undeterred by the rather lukewarm reception that he has received from the NHL head office thus far, Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie is formulating a new approach to his long cherished dream of NHL ownership.

According to the National Post of Friday, Mr. Balsillie is apparently in the process of considering the final terms of the purchase of 27 per cent of the Nashville Predators, the second attempt for the Nashville based team and Balsillie’s third attempt at joining the club of owners.

If he decides to go ahead with the deal; that 27 per cent stake in the Predators could be the stepping stone to his goal of complete ownership of an NHL franchise. A cause he has been working hard on for the last few years, with little to show for it so far.

In the short term it will give him access to the Board of Governors, where it’s thought he could present his plans for repatriating an NHL team to Canada.

That has been a personal project that so far has not been particularly welcomed by the NHL brass in New York, though once in the club he may have a better chance of building alliances ready to see the wisdom of his plans.

Should he go ahead and write the cheque for the 27 per cent, he would suddenly be the second largest investor in the Nashville franchise and it is a share that could provide him with the starting point to perhaps become sole owner should the situation evolve his way.

A process that will be watched with great interest not only in the NHL head offices in New York, but across Canada where Balsillie is becoming a bit of a folk hero for his dogged determination to bring one more team back across the 49th parallel.

Theresa Tedesco of the National Post outlines the latest steps in the ongoing drama and reviews Mr. Balsillie’s past attempts and disappointments to achieve his long time goal.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Reconciliation night for Patrick Roy

Saturday night marks the final turning of the page on the last outstanding twist of the Patrick Roy saga.

Roy the one time King of the Forum, will be feted on Saturday night as the Montreal Canadiens honour his legacy (mainly the good points we suspect) in what is sure to be one of the more emotional of ceremonies that the Habs have put on over the years.

As Montreal prepares to launch its year of celebration marking the centennial of the storied franchise, a bit of fence mending was required on one of the last unresolved issues of the last 100 years.

The Roy story is now part of the legendary fabric of Les Canadiens, the young man from the Quebec City area, who like many before him travelled down the road to the centre of Quebecois culture, rose to near mythical standards during his time with the Canadiens.

From his first Stanley Cup victory of 1986 and a second one in 1993 (the last one the Habs would claim), to the now infamous departure scene of December 2, 1995, Roy has always been on the minds of Habs fans.

His parting with the Canadiens following an embarrassing shelling at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings, when he gave up nine goals and fumed at then head coach Mario Tremblay, stopping by the perch of Candiens President Ronald Corey (who at the time sat directly behind the Canadiens bench) and advising him that he would never play for the Habs again.

While some thought that the bluster and emotion would pass, the shockwaves would soon radiate around Quebec when Roy was quickly traded to the Colorado Avalanche, a team which in a fascinating twist of fate had recently relocated from Roy’s hometown of Quebec City.

The acquisition of Roy would be the final piece of a Stanley Cup puzzle and the assembly of one of the most dominating of teams of that era in Colorado and would also coincide with the slide of the Habs a onetime dynasty, suddenly mortal and part of the pack of also rans for the most part.

Interestingly enough in the end as Roy returns to Montreal to receive his accolades much has changed for the fable franchise. They have long since moved out of the Forum, where the ghosts of December 5 will forever haunt the hallways of the multiplex that it became. Ronald Corey and Mario Tremblay are no longer part of the fabric of the Canadiens and the new ownership of George Gillett, is set to bring to an end the longest unfinished chapter in the Canadiens lengthy history.

There were a few unresolved issues to deal with before the planning could begin, last springs ugly junior hockey brawl which featured Roy seeming to urge his goaltender son to head down the ice to pummel the opposition number once again highlighted his mercurial temper.

Mindful of imagery, some suggested that honouring the former goaltender after such an incident was not right, it was counsel that in the end was not accepted and once the dust had settled and the fines had been paid, the planning for Roy’s return was underway.

The Bell Centre will welcome the prodigal son back to the family on Saturday night , there may be a few who hold a grudge over what some perceive as Roy’s abandonment of the home side, but we suspect they will be a minority voice probably not heard from much.

Time they say heals all wounds, much time has passed since Roy took that final skate on Montreal ice, a not so slow burn the led into the tantrum that shook a franchise,

It will be but a footnote to Saturday’s celebration, instead it will be the Stanley Cups, the Conn Smythe trophy success, the all star nominations and the final beatification of St. Patrick.

Saturday marks an Exorcism and naming of the saints all in one night, it’s not a surprise that it’s one of the hardest of tickets to come by and has been since the celebration was announced.

As the Habs prepare to celebrate that 100 years of history and embark on a new century of excellence, they bury the last of the ghost of thirteen years ago. The time seems right for rapprochement, and Saturday night will finally return a long lost icon to the long list of legends that make up hockey’s most storied franchise.

With Saturday’s celebration but hours away, here are a few of the features that review a most remarkable career.

Boston Globe-- He changed game on the fly
CBC Sports-- Patrick Roy nearly left Montreal in a much different way
CBC Sports-- Reflections on Roy
Globe and Mail-- Two routes to the rafters
Globe and Mail-- Roy comes full circle

National Post-- Roy preparing for emotional night
New York Times-- No. 33’s Top 10 Moments: A Look Back at Patrick Roy’s Colorful Career
ESPN Hockey Blog-- A CliffsNotes run through his career (yes, there are pictures!)
ESPN-- As Roy finally comes home to Montreal, that 'one night' will be forgotten