Sunday, December 28, 2008

A slushy mushy classic?

With temperatures in the Chicagoland area zooming up to 13 and 14 degrees Celsius over the last few days and no Northern chill on the horizon, organizers of the Winter Classic are formulating their back up plans should nature turn the Wrigley Ice Field into a giant Slurpee.

While league officials continue to stay the course and say that the game is safe from interruption and that all is set to go, there have been a few news reports out of Chicago have it that the Winter Classic could face a postponement of a day to January 2nd, should the ice not be ready for use on its New Years Day schedule.

The prospect of spring like temperatures on New Years Day in Chicago probably never factored into the deliberations when the Winter Classic was awarded to the Windy City, after all Chicago is known for its cold winds blowing off of Lake Michigan, but in this year of crazy North American weather (snow and ice in Vancouver of all places), it seems the prevailing winds are southern and not northern, leaving Chicago organizers scrambling to try and have a proper rink set to go on January 1st.

The weather forecast calls for temperatures just under freezing for December 31 and January 1, whether that leaves enough time for freezing for the rink designers remains to be seen, but without a cold breeze or two prior to game time, it may be hard to recapture that magic that Buffalo provided this time last year.

This years version of the Classic may be best known as the year of the Big Melt.

National Post-- Mild weather raises concerns for Winter Classic
Chicago Tribune-- Rain won't sink Winter Classic rink
Chicago Sun Times-- Rain, warming could alter plans

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Will home ice advantage keep the streak alive?

Gold medal number five in a row is on the line, Canada's chance to pick up its fifth consecutive World Junior Championship on home ice, in the national capital and only nine teams to stand in the way.

The annual Holiday season tournament, gets underway on Friday with Canada set to defend its championship of last year with a Boxing Day match with the Czech Republic at Scotiabank Place.

Two Ottawa rinks will feature tournament action with Kanata's Scotiabank Place featuring all of the Canadian games as well as other highlighted games, while the Ottawa Civic Centre will be playing host to a score of other nations.

Pat Quinn's charges begin their journey on Friday, anticipated favourites for one of Canada's most enjoyable of hockey tournaments. It's a journey that many have been taking from before the pee wee days. It's one of Canada;s holiday season tradition that once again will be played out before the nation broadcast live by TSN and RDS.

We'll follow the daily progress of events here, with reviews of the tournament events from any number of sources as well as our own contributions to the tournament showcase.
TSN World Junior site
Hockey Canada website
World Junior schedule
Jan 6-- A gracious team, a grateful nation
Jan 5-- Canadian juniors capture fifth straight gold
Jan 5-- Canada peaked in tournament final
Jan 5-- Sweden spoke a little too soon
Jan 5-- Juniors get visit from hockey heavyweight
Jan 5-- Golden again
Jan 5-- Hodgson's star on the rise
Jan 5-- Harper's quirky performance
Jan 5-- How a sexagenarian stays hot
Jan 5-- World Juniors Gold Medal game
Jan 5-- Jacob makes his mark with Sweden
Jan 5-- ‘We're going to have to be better'
Jan 5-- Swedes are hungry, but Canada is prepared
Jan 4-- Canada's Tokarski to start in net against Sweden
Jan 4-- Classic hockey thriller to have place in history
Jan 4-- Two nuggets before the gold
Jan 4-- Canada's best form of defence
Jan 4-- Canada ekes out shootout win
Jan 4-- Canada's gold hopes alive
Jan 4-- Swedes turn corner
Jan 4-- Canada can rely on the hockey gods for only so long
Jan 4-- Canada dodges a bullet with late scoring heroics
Jan 3-- Canada finds a way
Jan 3-- Sweden to play for gold
Jan 3-- Canadians lucky to escape semis
Jan 3-- Old ‘friends’ meet again as Canada takes on Russians in semifinal
Jan 3-- 'Game of my life'
Jan 2-- Slovakia, Russia reach world junior semifinals
Jan 2-- Slovakia pulls huge upset of U.S.
Jan 2-- It's Russia up next
Jan 2-- Slovakia upsets U.S.
Jan 2-- Canada-U.S. thriller sets TV audience record
Jan 2-- Canada wary of speed
Jan 1-- Canadians survive tough, chaotic test
Jan 1-- Alumni get chance to connect
Jan 1-- Happy New Year!
Jan 1-- Russia rocked
Dec 31-- Canada fights back to pull out thriller
Dec 31-- Tavares leads Canadian juniors over U.S.
Dec 31-- Canada looks forward to tough test against U.S.
Dec 31-- Swedish juniors manhandle Russia
Dec 31-- Sweden secures semifinal spot
Dec 31-- Angry Nicholson rules out COC crest on Olympic sweater
Dec 31-- Tavares turns the trick
Dec 31-- Quinn hopes lessons 'will click in'
Dec 31-- Prime-time support
Dec 31-- Canadians gear up for clash with U.S.
Dec 30-- Look out for no. 1, not Kazakhstan
Dec 30-- Top honours for world juniors
Dec 30-- Juniors have the man advantage
Dec 30-- Ottawa's Leeder of the pack
Dec 30-- Canada prepares for first true test
Dec 30-- Subban ignites Team Canada with dynamic rush
Dec 30-- Canadians get 'good test' against Germany
Dec 30-- Swedes ready to let 'fun' begin after Latvia romp
Dec 29-- Sweden still undefeated after beating Lativa
Dec 30-- The U.S. routs Kazakhstan
Dec 29-- Canadians ready for stiffer competition
Dec 29-- Canada wins third straight, defeats Germany
Dec 29-- Canada finally breaks a sweat
Dec 28-- Canadian juniors manhandle Kazakhstan
Dec 28-- Filatov leads Russia past Finland
Dec 28-- Canada hammers Kazakhstan
Dec 28-- Russia cruises past Finland
Dec 28-- Subban stepping forward
Dec 28-- Canadian juniors romp to 15-0 win
Dec 27-- Canada tries to avoid complacency vs. Kazakhstan
Dec 27-- Slovakia, Germany win big at World Juniors
Dec 27-- Czech out Tavares — again
Dec 27-- Sweden opens with win over arch-rival Finland
Dec 27-- Americans take time to find focus
Dec 27-- Russians rocket 44 at net
Dec 27-- Juniors keep pedal to the metal
Dec 27-- Slovakia routs Latvia at world juniors
Dec 26-- Canada easily overcomes Czech Republic
Dec 26-- Buzz is back at the Bank
Dec 26-- Hockey spotlight focused on Canada's Tavares
Dec 26-- Canadian juniors rout Czechs
Dec 26-- Canada to honour former junior player Luc Bourdon
Dec 26-- Facing shots in the dark
Dec 26-- Let's 'get out there'
Dec 26-- TSN gives fans feast of junior coverage
Dec 26-- Sweden makes winning start
Dec 26-- U.S. opens juniors with rout of Germany
Dec 26-- A big win on the biggest stage
Dec 26-- Canada romps in opener
Dec 26-- Pushups for Christmas
Dec 26-- Five storylines
Dec 26-- Canucks face battle to claim fifth straight gold medal
Dec 25-- Canada set for another gold run
Dec 25-- Another twist in Quinn's career
Dec 25-- Canada feeling the pressure
Dec 25-- Team Canada
Dec 25-- More stars headed NHL's way
Dec 25-- Drive for five will be serious challenge
Dec 25-- Quinn undecided on starting goalie
Dec 25-- Breaking down the competition at the WJC
Dec 25-- Meet your 2008 Canadian junior team
Dec 25-- Five players to watch at world juniors
Dec 25-- Quinn calming influence on the juniors
Dec 25-- Ready or not, it's showtime
Dec 24-- World Juniors: Canada gets down to fine tuning

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

How solid is that Sundin contract anyways?

Hopefully, Swedish satellite providers don’t feature west coast NHL games on their version of Centre Ice, because if Mats Sundin saw the performance of his soon to be new team mates on Tuesday night, he just very well may decide to stay off the blades for the rest of the year too.

The Canucks who played a hard fought match on Monday with Anaheim, hardly had any fight at all for San Jose, abandoning goaltender Cory Schneider to the circling sharks, Schneider no doubt thinking of a return to Manitoba as perhaps early parole from what his front five perpetrated on him on Tuesday.

Schneider gave up five goals before Alan Vigneault did the only humane thing he could and pulled him from the game, banished off to that corner of the shark tank where the visiting spare goaltender goes, arena design such as it is San Jose there just isn’t enough room for all on the visitor’s bench.
It’s probably just as well, after watching Canuck after Canuck let shark players skate into the Vancouver end and fire off shots, Schneider probably didn’t want to talk with this team mates anyways.

While his team mates seemed to take the night off, Schneider himself, must admit that he did not have a particularly great game either, the five Shark goals were scored on but fifteen shots, 1 goal for every three shots, which isn't going to put you in Vezina territory anytime soon.

It was not one of the Canucks more industrious efforts, a lethargic effort suggesting that they may have had a head start on all the Christmas food of the season, they skated as though they had too much shortbread to carry and had all the enthusiasm of a team that had polished off a dozen turkeys.

There was nothing more of a positive nature to focus on for Vancouver, other than the stemming of the Shark feeding frenzy by Curtis Sanford, who shut down San Jose virtually on his own, stopping all sixteen Shark shots that were fired his way, his play was but the lone bright spot for Vancouver.
That and the fact that the clock was in working order at the Shark Tank and after sixty minutes all could go home.

Back in Sweden, Mats Sundin will share Christmas with his family and then make the long trip to Vancouver to make his return to the NHL, hopefully all tapes of Tuesday’s game will mysteriously disappear, nothing to see here Mats, nothing to see..

Vancouver Sun-- A very silent night as Canucks lose 5-0 to Sharks
Vancouver Province-- Nightmare before Christmas for Canucks
Globe and Mail-- Sharks pummel Canucks
San Jose Mercury News-- Sharks blitz Vancouver 5-0

99.9 percent sure that 99’s team is getting league funding

While the Phoenix Coyotes trumpet a new "economic stimulus plan" for the fans, far away from the less than overworked ticket office, the NHL is apparently working on its own financial stimulus for the cash starved NHL team.

The saga of the financial tribulations of the Phoenix Coyotes continues, with a David Shoalts report in the Globe and Mail, posted on Wednesday night that it’s believed that the NHL is providing advances on shares of league revenue to the Coyotes.

An arrangement that could mean advances of broadcast revenues or advances on revenue sharing paid out to teams at the end of the season, both forms of remuneration can be forwarded by the league without having to seek approval of the Board of Governors.

It’s that internal financial money supply that could be why some governors claiming that they have not heard of any league assistance being provided as of yet, though in the globe story, one league unidentified owner, admitted that they have heard that the Phoenix situation is very bad.

Shoalts has been tracking the woes of the Coyotes for a while now, his last dispatch of early December painting a very troubling picture for the team, one which saw few ways of escape.

The Coyotes have been on the watch list for NHL fans for a while now, they regularly find empty seats greeting their arrival for home games, they have a reported 30 million dollar loss on the go for this year and a cumulative loss of 200 million since Jerry Moyes and former co-owner Steve Ellman purchased the team back in 2001.

Moyes main business interest, Swift Trucking has been hit hard by the American recession and last summers out of sight gas prices, leaving his major form of income in major distress. Since the team can’t seem to find its footing alone on the hockey financial front it’s doubtful that his Trucking company is in the position to lend a financial hand over during these troubled financial times.

The league is apparently assisting the Coyotes in finding alternate financing or potential ownership, but most observers suggest that without bankruptcy and a relocation that would be a hard option to sell to someone.

So far the NHL is keeping a low profile on the troubles in the desert, providing a cryptic comment about how advances on league distributions are not unusual.

They may not be unusual, but they certainly send up red flags and no one will be surprised if the desert dogs soon wander out of the desert, perhaps for more cooler climes, far from the Arizona heat and the rattling chains of the ghost of franchise’s past…

Wrigley almost ready for Winter Classic

They brought the Mayor down to Wrigley on Monday to take the official tour of the outdoor rink, set for Chicago's turn to host the NHL's outdoor showcase game.

The New Years Day match will feature the hometown Hawks, currently one of the hottest teams in the NHL taking on the defending Stanley Cup champions and perennial rivals for Chi town, the Detroit Red Wings.

It marks the first time that Wrigley Field has ever hosted an NHL game and only the third time the NHL has brought the game outdoors in the modern era.

The game arrives in Chicago at just the right time, hockey after far too many years as an afterthought, is once again a top draw in Chicago, the Black Hawks are playing regularly to large crowds, they can finally be found on local television and the sports talk shows now regularly feature hockey talk, something that didn't happen too often in the not so recent past.

While the anticipation builds and quest for tickets continues (240,000 applications have been received for the 40,000 seats available), the players that will take to the ice may be keeping an extra bit of time on the weather channel these days.

Chicago, like much of North America is in the grip of the extreme cold temperatures and frequent snowfall of late, in fact this week the city of Chicago has closed its outdoor rinks to the public due to the extreme cold.

The Wings and Hawks are probably hoping for slight break in the weather, not enough to ruin the plans, but enough of a warming trend and a little less of those infamous Lake Michigan winds to make a shift on the ice a little less life threatening.

Chicago Sun Times-- Wind, not cold, main concern

Monday, December 22, 2008

Road Worriers

The Ottawa Senators begin an eight game road journey this week, one which begins in Philadelphia on Tuesday, allows for a return home for Christmas and then a swing to the west where the Sens will be in Calgary, Vancouver and Edmonton all before the New Year.

2009 will start off in Toronto on the third, New Jersey the Fourth, Buffalo on the sixth and Boston on the eighth, before they finally return to Scotiabank Place on Saturday the 10th.

How many victories they can compile and where they are in the standings by then, could very well dictate how the rest of the season plays out for a team but only a few seasons removed from the Stanley Cup finals.

This has been the most distressing season of all for Sens fans, having come so close to the promise of a Stanley Cup, the Senators this season look much closer to the team of the expansion day follies than a serious contender for the league championship.

It shouldn’t be that way, for the most part, the core group of Sens is much the same from that which challenged the Ducks for the Cup, but as the season has progressed, it would seem that those that have left over the last few years have left bigger holes to fill and erased any cohesion that the team has had.

Having gone through far too many goaltenders than is healthy for a team supposedly expected to dominate, the Senators still have not found that last line of defence that would provide them with enough regular wins to build the confidence their now suspicious fan base.

While the fans may be losing faith, the owner however is still bullish on his Sens, offering up his bold prediction that the team will be a top four finisher by the season's end.

If that is to be proven true, then the Sens had best get busy addressing some glaring concerns of late.

Defence has again posed some concerns, the loss of Zdeno Chara never really compensated for, the much maligned Wade Redden perhaps thought of in a better light now in Ottawa as the Senator struggles continue.

But it’s on the offensive attack where the Senators are most worrisome these days, the much discussed Big line of Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfreddson and Dany Heatley has been disbanded, the players re-distributed in the line up. The talk of trades and firings moving beyond the radio talk shows, to the backrooms of the NHL where the rumblings grow louder that things won’t remain as they are in Ottawa much longer.

The rumour du jour in a city with millions of them, was that head coach Craig Hartsburg was on the short walk, had the Sens lost over the weekend he it is said, would have been dispatched to the unemployment lines. With an eight game road trip ahead and rather shaky road record to bring with them, he may find that he becomes the focus of conversation once again by the first week of January.

Should the Senators not find the road to their liking, there’s a good chance that Hartsburg will have lots of company on that list of possible changes to come.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

World Junior tournament 2008-09

We'll follow the developments in the World Junior Tournament, taking place in the nation's capital this Holiday season.

The extremely popular hockey tournament, finds Canadians tuning in by the millions to watch their young junior stars challenge the world and seek to keep the title of world junior hockey champions for another year.

The pre-tournament exhibition games got underway December 19th, we'll track the developments here, all leading up to the tournament start on Boxing Day:

Dec 22-- Who to watch

Friday, December 19, 2008

Sundin picks Robson over Broadway

The Vancouver Canucks have finally harvested that crop they planted last summer, as Mats Sundin finally came to a decision about his playing future for 2008-09, taking the West Coast over the East and the Canucks over the Rangers.

The long drawn out drama, reached its conclusion on Thursday when Canucks GM Mike Gillis, finally free of Vancouver traffic held a press conference to announce the pending arrival of the Swedish star, a much needed boost to the Canucks roster and one which will provide much in the way of excitement in the Canuck dressing room for the remainder of the season.

For Gillis, the bonus is that while delayed a little longer than perhaps the Canucks might have hoped, the mid season arrival of Sundin, will allow the Canucks to still have some space under the salary cap, providing them with yet another window towards the trade deadline to add another key ingredient to the team for a playoff run.

While many suspected that the Big Swede was destined for New York, it appears that the Rangers just couldn’t find enough cap space in their own book keeping to make things work out as Sundin would like. With the Canuck offer still on the table and a tempting one at that, in the end Sundin decided to continue his playing days in Canada, making the Canucks his third Canadian team in his long and impressive career.

Some in Vancouver were busy phoning up the radio call in shows, expressing concern that they were but a second choice, merely the ATM for a rent a player for the remainder of the season. But it’s more than likely that many of those complaints will be rendered moot, once Sundin fits into the Canuck line up.

Obviously a star on his own, once on the ice he will automatically take away the opposition’s key defenders, allowing more free ice for fellow Swedes Henrik and Daniel Sedin, who have been finding that they have become the centre of attention from the nightly opposition.

Sundin will also prove to be invaluable on the Canuck’s power play, which has sputtered at times during this season, leaving important points behind in what otherwise should have been victories.

There are no doubt many reasons (mostly dollar bills totaling to upwards of five million) for his choice of Vancouver over New York, but one factor that can’t be overlooked is the large number of Swedes currently on the Canuck roster.

While Don Cherry probably won’t be rushing out to buy a Canucks uniform any time soon, the arrival of Sundin, combined with the Sedins, Alexander Edler and Mattias Ohlund will probably do wonders for the sweater sales overseas.

Sundin will spend Christmas in Sweden and anticipates being in Vancouver by the end of the month, ready to help the Canucks make the push to the playoffs and if all were to go according to his plan, perhaps a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup, a long cherished goal of the former Leaf captain, but one which has proven to be rather elusive over is career.

Globe and Mail-- Sundin is a Canuck

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Split ups today, shake ups tomorrow?

The free fall of the Ottawa Senators continues, leaving Sens coach Craig Hartsburg no doubt wondering what has become of his return to the NH.

At the time, taking on the Sens bench job surely seemed like a dream job, one of the perennial top flight teams, with many of the core players still in place, looking for a coach to lead them to the final step.

Instead, those long timers have seemed to have lost their way, this season becoming one of frustration and just a little uneasiness in the Capital, as an under performing Senators’ team battles to stay out of the basement rather than to claim the top prize.

The precipitous drop in the Senator fortunes is one of the more remarkable on ice implosions to take place in recent years, only a couple of years removed from their Stanley Cup final loss to the Anaheim Ducks, these Senators look unready to make a run at a House League championship, let alone challenge for Lord Stanley’s Championship mug.

With the fans venting their frustrations on a daily basis and an owner who had more than a few expectations in recent years, watching his carefully planned blue print left in tatters, the need to make a turn around in fortunes has never been more urgent.

To that point, Craig Hartsburg shot a cannon ball across the bow of his team on Wednesday, advising that the first line of Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson is no more.

The lead trio is to be split up, no doubt in the hopes that some new line mates may spark some creativity and goal scoring from the high profile Senators.

The next step one suspects is for Bryan Murray to make the move to shift some players off the roster and off to other teams, in a mid season remake designed to at least secure a playoff position, no doubt with a hope to run the table then and get back into the upper echelons of the NHL playoff season.

Trades and free agency haven’t been kind to the Senators, the most talked about move of the past and the one that seems to have done the most damage to the Senators, was letting Zdeno Chara get away from the capital.

Chara was a fixture on the Senators blue line, a solid stone of a player who kept the lanes clear in front of whichever Senator goaltender of the past was between the pipes. Ever since his departure for Boston a few years back, the Sens have struggled in their own end, other names have left through the subsequent years, leaving the Sens further and further from their long sought goal of a Stanley Cup.

With 2008-09 unraveling again, Hartsburg is hoping to reverse the slide with line up shuffles, if it fails to bring a sense of hope to the season then further more permanent changes are in the cards for 2009.
Ottawa Sun-- Stink, stank, stunk

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Nothing but class

The Vancouver Canucks retired number 16 on Wednesday, a fitting tribute to one of the classiest, hardest working Canucks to ever pull on a jersey, whatever version happened to be in vogue at the time.

Trevor Linden is by far the poster boy for what is a Canuck, from his earliest days with a struggling team to the beloved leader of Stanley Cup finalists, Linden gave his all every shift of every game, dogging it was not his style, nothing but effort was to be expected when he came across the boards.

He lifted his teams with his work ethic, with his quiet leadership and with timely goals at just the right time. Yet it was more than his hockey talents and leadership skills that impressed Vancouver fans, his attachment to the city, his tireless hours on behalf of the city's charities, his never ending desire to be an inclusive force on what sometimes tried to be a cliquish operation, all of it adds to the Linden legend in Vancouver.

His greatest moment and perhaps at the same time his most disappointing one, came in the Stanley Cup final of 1994, a heated battle between the Canucks and Rangers, one which saw Linden hobbled by injuries, return to the ice to lead his team in a battle that came just one game short of delivering Vancouver its long cherished Stanley Cup parade.

Denied the chance to hoist Lord Stanley's Cup through his career, Linden still managed to carry himself in only the most exemplary stature, a tribute to his focus and no doubt to his upbringing.

The ultimate of team players, negativity was never a visitor in the dressing room or on the ice, while there must have been disappointments in his days as a Canuck, the Keenan years no doubt the darkest of days, Linden still held his head high, played his game as only he could full tilt and regrettably accepted his exile from Vancouver during the Canucks most dysfunctional period.

Fortunately for common sense, that short sighted move of the Keenan years was reversed shortly after Iron Mikes departure, Linden returned for his final years with the only team that should really have ever been on his resume.

Wednesday night, the Canucks set the record straight, reclaiming their captain for the ages with a well planned and executed pre game show that highlighted all that is good about the game as played by a player of Linden's calibre.

The opposition was the Edmonton Oilers, who probably weren't aware that it was their franchise that Linden had his most success against over the years, an interesting observation pointed out during the pre game show.

As if to play the perfect guests, the went down to defeat to the Canucks on Wednesday, allowing the current Canucks to honour their past icon with two points and a perfect ending to his special night.

For those that seek the universe unfolding as it should, the only regret might have been that the Calgary Flames were not the visitors.

It would have been a wonderful thing to behold as the huge and emotional crowd at GM Place saluted the face and heart of the franchise, a move that might even have made an impression on the one villain of the Linden years in Vancouver, that being Mike Keenan.

Perhaps he caught the ceremonies on the sports highlight shows, and perhaps now, after all these years he may finally understand the special connection between Linden and the Canuck fans, a connection that was interrupted needlessly at the time, but fortunately has been forever reduced to but a footnote in what was a very remarkable career.

Wednesday night he joined Stan Smyl in the rafters of GM Place, the only two jersey numbers to be retired by the Canucks since they joined the NHL, its of interest to note that their traits were quite similar during their days in a Canuck uniform, future Canucks may wish to understand the measure of success, by those that led the way from the past.

National Post-- Linden salutes ‘incredible fans’ during ceremony
National Post-- Canucks send Linden off with a win
Globe and Mail-- Captain Canuck
Globe and Mail-- Linden revs up Canucks

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Put out a welcome mats..

It could happen as early as Tuesday, but should be no later than Friday, the long drawn out saga of where will Mats play may finally be near and end.

The Globe and Mail reports that Sundin is down to two choices for which he will toil for the remainder of the season, the Vancouver Canucks with their millions of dollars or the lure of New York City, all other contenders apparently can pack up their bags.

Sundin, who has been working off the rust in California for the last month or so, will chat with his agent one more time to see which team has provided the right comfort points for his return and then it's expected that he will sign on the dotted line.

While Vancouver has been the most prominent of the teams in the Sundin search, those twenty million dollars over two years weren't enough in the early going to force a quick decisions, however, that kind of money rarely comes around for a player on the final laps of a career, so Sundin surely won't dismiss it out of hand as he thinks over his options.

The Rangers recently were added to the mix, and while they have a cap problem at the moment, it's nothing that can't be taken care of with a trade or demotion or two.

The working number now it seems is six million dollars, that is the amount that would be left on the Canucks deal for this year, with the season into its third month. The Rangers will have to try and work their way close to that amount, though there are suggestions that Sundin may accept less to work on Broadway.

He's reportedly proven to be too elusive for the likes of Montreal, Ottawa, Philadephia and Chicago, all of which don't have the necessary cap space to make the numbers work.

That leaves him with two to choose from, sometime this week, that number will be reduced by one...

National Post-- Sundin down to two

Friday, December 12, 2008

He's got the fever...

The Vancouver Giants have a hockey great, one of the greatest of coaches and now one of Canada (and the world's) favourite crooners, all putting their money where their pucks go, as Michael Buble joins up with the junior hockey sensation out of the Pacific coliseum.

Buble who is a self described hockey fanatic, was announced as the latest of high profile investors to take a share in one of junior hockey's great success stories. Majority owner Ron Toigo continues to make the most talked about moves in Vancouver these days, hot off the success of his teams memorial Cup victory, hosting of the Memorial Cup and the prospect's game that the Giants hosted a few years ago.

The Giants have caught the imagination of the Vancouver sports scene, regularly playing before large crowds, a situation that continues this season with the team off to their best start since joining the WHL

Many sports commentators and observers continue to bemoan the fact that Toigo didn't seek out the ownership of the Canucks when the team was on the block and subsequently sold to Francesco Aquiliini. Though making money in junior hockey in a market the size of Vancouver shouldn't be too large a problem as long as you have a good product, compared with the salary and travel of a west coast NHL team, Toigo probably is fine with his current holdings, but one never knows where the future may take someone.

As for Mr. Buble, in addition to providing some cash to the cause, Toigo is hopeful that some of the singer's enthusiasm rubs off on the Giants roster.

At least one concern should be taken care of with Buble helping with the cash flow, should any anthem singers back out before a game, he'd probably be a more than adequate last minute replacement we would think.

Globe and Mail-- Buble joins Giants ownership
Vancouver Sun-- New Giants co-owner Buble ‘eats, drinks’ hockey

You can take the coach out of the press box, but you can't take the press box out of the ex coach

Barry Melrose is heading back to television it seems destined to return to his former haunts of ESPN , fresh from his frustrating days of trying to guide the Tampa Bay Lightning to a win or two, Melrose apparently still has a few things to say about his former employer, and it's not to wish them well as they try to right their ship.

Melrose made news this week with some blistering commentary on the state of hockey in Tampa, more or less confirming the stories of ownership interference in the way he wanted to trun the hockey club, his comments broadcast over Toront's Fan 590 have most observers suggesting that Melrose clearly doesn't expect to coach again, judging by his harsh words of the owners, a no no that most coaches subscribe to, well those that wish to find a place behind a bench before the next century rolls around.

Tony Gallagher of the Vancouver Province took a look at the heavy artillery fire that Melrose directed at his former paymasters and from his analysis we can divine that the Tampa franchise we suspect won't be a candidate for business of the year by the end of the season.

Though they apparently do know how to recover costs, Thursday night the first of the reports were leaking out that the Lightning had taken an interest in Melrose's affection for the spoken word and were consulting with their lawyers as to whether he had voided their arrangement upon his termination, a situation that could see him lose out on his severance package.

The Melrose maelstrom was documented on a number of sites on Thursday.

LA Times--It wasn't Barry, Barrie good for either
Tampa Sports Examiner-- Melrose trashes Lightning; Hopes they lose every game
Montreal Gazette-- Melrose, Tocchet feud as Bolts slide into cellar
CBC Sports-- Melrose lashes back at Lightning

Monday, December 08, 2008

Just another birthday present for the centennial

As the Canadiens begin the celebrations of their 100th anniversary, the players are enjoying the benefits of membership in one of the NHL’s oldest and most treasured of clubs.

This years collection of Les Habitants have just broken in their brand new practice facility, a palace of practice shinny in the suburb of Brossard that has the home side bragging that no expense was spared and no comfort overlooked.

Bill Beacon of the Canadian Press took the tour of the Complexe Sportif Bell, a 36 million dollar training facility that has left the Canadiens wide eyed with excitement over their new home, while the downtown one is not available.

From two sheets of ice and an indoor soccer field (whatever would Don Cherry think) to the usual trappings of comfort such as a hot tubs, SwimEx pool, Gym and trainers facilities that are all above the grade and of a quality that places the Habs in the upper reaches of comfort and training for the players.

While a little out of the way from the downtown scene, the Canadiens clearly aren’t trying to hide from their fans, the practice facility has seating for 850 of the curious, though it’s not expected that they will have to practice in front of a full house, with the entry doors expected to remain locked during those practice times where the Kostityn’s work on their pinpoint passing and such.
The opening of the Canadiens practice facility fulfills a four year wish list from Bob Gainey when it came to his desire to see the Habs with a state of the art practice home in the suburbs.

Just another indication as to how the Canadiens are continuing to build on their history and provide the right atmosphere to return to their Glory years of the past.

Et tu Buffalo

"The Sabres are definitely in play,"— an anonymous source relaying intriguing information to Jim Kelley of about the fate of the Buffalo Sabres

As if to make his days more interesting this week, Sportsnet's favourite New York state import has apparently discovered that negotiations are in the incubation stage that might see a sale of the Buffalo Sabres, with everyone’s favourite billionaire, Jim Balsillie up on the Rolodex as the potential investor. A suggestion that Sabres officials are throwing cold water on, though many see smoke and wait for the fire.

The Blackberry King of Kitchener/Waterloo, or whoever else may pop into the picture apparently going to get the Sabres at a fairly reasonable price, well reasonable by NHL standards anyways. The price point of NHL teams is apparently on the decline, the Lightning reportedly sold for 206 million this year, 6 million more than what the NHL believes is it’s financial line of concern, where a drop below 200 million will detract on the perception that all is forward movement in the offices of Bettman Financial.

For Balsillie, part of the lure is a reported arrangement where a portion of the Sabres schedule would be played out of the Copps Coliseum, the other portion remaining at the HSBC centre in Buffalo, we assume that any playoff dates would be on neutral ground, lets say the St. Catherines Gatorade Garden City Arena Complex … relax, we joke, we joke Sabres fans.
It’s a scenario that is no doubt causing more angst in Wing city, what with their football heroes testing the waters of a Northern adventure with many thinking the Bills plans for Toronto involve more than just the occasional (and as it turned out really bad) regular season game. Just the thin wedge many fear of a potential relocation to the city to the North, giving Buffalo fans honorary Canadian citizenship, joining in with the rest of Canada in their unfettered hatred of everything Toronna..

The t’s aren’t anywhere near being crossed, and those I’s haven’t seen a dot yet, so there may be time for Buffalo to salvage a full season of hockey at the local rink. The answer however is drastic and will take a hearty hockey fan to follow it through.

For Sabres fans there is but one hope, the Sabres must immediately begin to tank the season, becoming so horrific an operation on the ice that even the most desperate of Canadian cities (and billionaire owners) would say Thanks but no thanks.

Forgo those always rosy dreams of a Stanley Cup, its bottom feeding you want, trolling the lower 20’s of the overall standings, not good enough to make the playoffs, not bad enough to secure a draft pick of any consequence.

Kind of like the Leafs have been for more than a few years/decades now…

A sinkhole in the desert?

The NHL’s major trouble spot this week is due Southwest, as reports out of Phoenix find the Coyotes as just the latest in migraines for Gary Bettman and the Bean counters of the NHL.

The Globe and Mail over the weekend outlined the woes of the dogs of the desert, with losses of somewhere between 25 and 35 million dollars, attendance troubles and a real estate development tied into the hockey arena that is suffering from the collapse of the Arizona economy.

Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes has troubles in his other interests as well, most noticeably a trucking company called Swift which financed under some 2.74 million dollars in debt financing. A financial plan which might have been a good idea back in the good old days of streaking stock markets, but in an era of economic convulsion suddenly appears to be more of an anchor to the owners ability to financially maneuver.

The Globe in their article of Saturday suggest that its his debt load from the trucking company that is putting the Coyotes at risk, perhaps to the point of being turned over to the league.

It’s but one more file in the inbox that makes a wee bit of a mockery of Mr. Bettman’s grand pronouncement of the “league is strong as recent as two months ago.

Mr. Bettman is to meet with the board of Governors this week to discuss some of these pressing issues, normally the Board of Governors meetings are rather casual affairs, given to invitations to the NHLPA as a guest observer of the Kumbaya songs of the thirty members.

Perhaps tellingly, Paul Kelly, the NHLPA’s head hasn’t been invited along this time, a possible sign that the troubled state of affairs isn’t something the league is ready to share with it’s players just yet, at least until the time for concessions comes around again we guess.

With red ink flowing in some locations and a tumbling Canadian dollar threatening to turn back the clock as far as the six Canadian franchises go, his most recent reassurance to his ownership board that all is well might be a tough sale this time around .

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Too little, too late, too bad!

Sean Avery was full of contrition on Wednesday, offering up apologies for his boorish commentary over past girlfriends and current NHL players who date them.

However, while he was busy trying to spin the developments of Tuesday to reflect his new found belief in confession, the NHL was making its plans for its disciplinary hearing scheduled for Thursday morning.

And when Avery arrives in Gary Bettman's New York offices for his character review, he probably had best not expect any character references from his current (for now) employer.

In a case of distance making the heart grow fonder, the Dallas Stars as a group seem to be quite content with the prospect of Mr. Avery not having to come collect his gear from the Stars locker room any time soon. And he'll have to go through a huge volume of telephone books in the remaining NHL cities before he finds anyone in hockey that is inclined to be tainted by his toxic personality in the near future.

Clearly feeling a little embarrassed by his outlandish comments to the assembled media on Tuesday, there were few if any Stars offering up a statement of solidarity with Avery. In fact, judging by the comments of Dave Tippet, the Stars head coach, the team has already turned that page and more than likely Avery will soon be featured in one of those "whatever happened to" sections of the Stars game night program.

What remains to be seen is if the Stars will be on the hook for his four year contract, a financial deal put together by Brett Hull, who is probably feeling like the loneliest guy in Dallas these days, being the one who lobbied so hard for Avery's inclusion on the team, a development which seems to have caused far more harm than good.

Avery's gone, most likely to be forgotten sooner rather than later, one wonders if Mr. Hull's position isn't likewise on shaky ground after a rather poor and perhaps costly personnel decision from the off season.

Montreal Gazette-- No sympathy for pest Avery from Laraque
Dallas Morning News-- Sean Avery's attempt to mix things up is apalling
Globe and Mail-- Did Avery breach contract with his outburst?
Calgary Herald-- Avery comments 'not acceptable'
Calgary Herald-- Avery says he's sorry
Sports Illustrated-- Stars are fed up with Avery's antics

A Hurricane Homecoming

They have a new song to play in the Hurricane dressing rooms these days.... and while he didn't start his career there (he was the shepherd for the flock as they migrated from Hartford), for Paul Maurice, Carolina is where he found his most success...

Maurice has come back to Carolina, leaving behind the troubled days of guiding the Maple Leafs and the rather dysfunctional organization for which he toiled in the last few years.

He has returned to where he found some of his best days and an introduction to a fellow named Stanley, who he had a brief glimpse of in 2002 when he led the Canes to the final that year. No doubt he's hoping for a return visit soon and a chance to hoist the trophy high, something that certainly didn't seem within reach while in Toronto

He replaces the man who replaced him Peter Laviolette, the Canes making the announcement of their decision on Wednesday, that after Carolina suffered a horrible month of November where they won but seven of their sixteen games, but still are within striking distance of division leading Washington.

It's been almost five years since Maurice was fired from his job as the head coach of the Hurricanes, now half a decade later he's back where he has a comfort zone, a long standing relationship with General Manager Jim Rutherford. It's that relationship that provided for the interim post he was offered today, a chance to get back into coaching after his dismissal from the Leafs last spring.

If he turns the Canes around, claims a playoff spot and perhaps grabs a few rounds in those playoffs, then Rutherford's promised re-evaluation of the coaching position will probably be a short lived adventure.

Globe and Mail-- Maurice back with Canes
CBC-- Maurice's return to Carolina makes sense
National Post-- Maurice to replace Laviolette in Carolina
News and Observer-- Are old pals the best ones?
News and Observer-- Canes rehire Maurice
Charlotte Observer-- Laviolette out, Maurice in as Carolina coach

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Financial dominoes may tumble onto the Habs

George Gillett, the current custodian of Les Habitants of Montreal, is like many other high profile business people these days, watching the world's economic order and finding the times are getting tougher.

Gillet, according to the Globe and Mail has recently taken out a 75 million dollar loan in the US, using his share of the Liverpool football club as his collateral, indicative they say as to the impact of the current liquidity crisis in the business world and a situation which may have an effect on the Canadiens as the year progresses into 2009.

For the moment the anticipation is that the Canadiens are perhaps one of his strongest assets and should be able to weather any direct financial storms, but the questions are whether Gillet himself can weather those storms.

Many of his non sporting interests invlove industries that are having tougher times, the auto industry and the ski resort business are his two main business domains these days, both sectors which are showing the strains of a struggling economy.

His other passion, NASCAR racing is also facing some troubled times, especially in the world of sponsorships which of course as would be expected are auto industry related and thus suffering from the current troubles that sector is facing.

So while the Canadiens prepare to launch their year long festival of celebrations on their 100th Anniversary, the world economic situation may in the end prove to be the party pooper.

Most suggest that the Habs are on fairly solid ground, but once a stone starts rolling down a hill, there's not a lot to stop it.

If Mr. Gillet's financials continue to offer up such drama, one wonders if he may soon bring to life some of those rumours of late that he is seeking partners for, or an exit from his stake of the Canadiens.

Habs could feel ripple effects of owner's loan
Gillett borrows $75-million against another sports asset, which might lead to pressure on storied NHL team
From Wednesday's Globe and Mail
December 3, 2008 at 12:34 AM EST

MONTREAL and TORONTO — Montreal Canadiens owner and Colorado-based debt-financing king George Gillett is engaged in another financial high-wire act that could have an impact on Canada's most storied hockey franchise.

According to a lien filed in Delaware, Gillett has taken out a high-interest, $75-million (all currency U.S.) personal loan from a U.S.-based private investment fund, putting up his heavily-leveraged share of British soccer giant Liverpool Football Club as collateral.

Though the loan doesn't directly involve Gillett's separate ownership of the Canadiens, it's clear that the global credit crunch is having an impact on his other businesses, and could well splash onto the NHL team, which continues to carry an estimated $240-million in arena debt.

If Gillett's other interests begin to collapse, it will heap added financial pressure on the Canadiens and concert revenues from the Bell Centre, and only fuel speculation over his continued ownership.

As someone who also counts dozens of car dealerships and several up-market ski resorts to his name, Gillett may be in the wrong businesses at the wrong time.

That Gillett would seek the loan from a relatively obscure lender rather than a well-established bank illustrates the difficulty many monied, but leveraged investors are having raising capital.
It also shows he's keen enough to have the money that he's willing to incur steep interest costs, which could rise to as high as 19 per cent.

The five-year loan is from a Virginia-based company called Mill Financial, and was taken out on Jan. 25, 2008, according to the documents.

As security for the loan, Gillett's company, Delaware-incorporated Gillett Football LLC, pledged all of its "right, title and interest in Football Investments LLC," the documents show.
Gillett owns his 50-per-cent stake in Liverpool through Football Investments.

A spokesman for Gillett declined to comment on either the loan or his overall financial picture.
Though speculation was rampant in sports business circles earlier this year that Gillett was interested in taking on a partner, that talk has been strenuously denied, as have suggestions he is interested in selling the team outright (most recently floated in a newspaper interview quoting technology billionaire Jim Balsillie). "I don't know who would want to invent such a story," Gillett said of the rumours last month.

But it's clear Gillett is among the many NHL owners facing stormy financial seas because of the economic downturn.

Hockey industry sources say at least three other teams — the Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning and the Phoenix Coyotes — have recently taken out high-interest loans with distress lenders or private equity funds because of tightening credit in the United States.

But unlike most of his NHL peers, Gillett is an old hand when it comes to complicated, debt-laden financial deals.

Whether it was buying into his first sports team — the Miami Dolphins, at 28 — or using the money from his sale of the Harlem Globetrotters to buy a meatpacking plant, Gillett has rarely been afraid to spend money to make money.

In 1991, Gillett's businesses — then focused largely on ski resorts and television stations — went bankrupt after defaulting on $983-million in junk bonds.

The next year he filed for personal bankruptcy, giving his $5-million classic car collection to a creditor to settle a debt and selling his 250,000-acre ranch in Oregon. (He also had to buy his clothes back from the bankruptcy trustee.) Since then, Gillett has rebuilt his fortune, and bought into two of the world's most legendary sports teams.

Gillett and his partner Tom Hicks, who also owns the Dallas Stars and baseball's Texas Rangers, are in hock to the tune of more than $600-million over their purchase of Liverpool, and are facing mounting pressure from supporters to sell.

For the time being, the Canadiens and the Bell Centre, which Gillett bought in 2001 for roughly $180-million, are probably the strongest businesses in the Gillett empire.

But with the Canadiens spending $11.5-million annually on revenue sharing and the Canadian dollar sliding fast, the NHL team is bracing for difficult times.

Gillett is running into challenges at some of his other holdings as well.

Last year he sold his interest in Swift & Co., a Colorado-based meat company that had only one profitable quarter in four years.

The sale came a few months after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents raided Swift plants in six states and arrested more than 1,200 workers for having fake identification. Gillett bought the company in 2002 along with a private equity firm.

Gillett is also a car lover and last year he became the majority owner of a NASCAR team.
"Racing is in my blood," Gillett said at the time, noting his family's long history in the auto business.

But the team — Gillett Evernham Motorsports — is now in a state of flux.
A couple of weeks ago, Gillett's partner, former NASCAR champion Ray Evernham, said he wants to sell his 20-per-cent interest.

A spokeswoman for the team said yesterday that Evernham has had discussions with potential buyers but has yet to cut a deal.

Times are tough for NASCAR, in general, as the U.S. auto industry runs out of gas. Sponsorships are drying up and several teams have already announced plans to scale back (it costs roughly $25-million annually to run a competitive car). The Gillett Evernham team drives Chrysler cars but is trying to cut a deal with Toyota.

As if all that wasn't enough, one of Gillett's key holdings is a string of about 40 car dealerships across the United States. Yesterday, the major North American auto companies, as well as Toyota and Honda, announced that sales had dropped by more than 30 per cent in November.

The Sports Business Journal reported this week that Mill Financial's parent company, Springfield Financial, is selling the $75-million note — which is subject to an interest rate as high as 19 per cent — and that it's expected that will be done by mid-month.

Citing anonymous sources, the publication said Gillett and a group of investors are negotiating to acquire the debt, as is another entity seeking control of Gillett's slice of Liverpool, which would presumably be available if he were to default on the loan.

Even if he doesn't succeed in acquiring the note, Gillett has the possibility of paying it off — assuming he can come up with the liquid cash — by Jan. 25, the magazine said.
The holiday period and early 2009 promises to be a busy time for Gillett, who with Hicks is also scrambling to renegotiate a $600-million loan to purchase the Reds.

That loan is held by Royal Bank of Scotland, and comes to maturity in January, although it's believed the renegotiation of terms can be put off until the summer.

Unfortunately for Gillett and Hicks, the global credit meltdown has resulted in a partial nationalization of RBS, and it's not clear the two men would qualify for new loan terms from the bank under stringent new creditor regulations.