Monthly Archives: June 2008

Hockey Christmas Eve – And I’m The Grinch

All through the NHL houses, visions of Sundin and Rolston and Campbell are dancing through many GM’s heads and here I am ready to tip over the tree, set it on fire and set to pee on the train set because the engineer is a real creep.

No, seriously – this guy needs to get thrown out of office, and fast.

You’re probably wondering where my analysis of which free agents are going where and why I think they’re going to these places. That’s all well and good, but I know just about as much as every other yokel on the internet who writes about hockey.

OK maybe I know more than that guy, but that’s not saying much at all. After all, I’m convinced he comes up with his super-secret rumors and sources by using one of these.

That’s all besides the point here. Back when I started this silly enterprise last year, the hot story that I jumped on was that of the yellow-journalism PR machine victim Jim Balsillie. At the time, all we knew about this guy was that he once wanted the Penguins, but he dared to say that he would think about moving them closer to his Research In Motion home of Hamilton, Ontario. Then he stepped up with an asinine bid for the Nashville Predators, something I said the NHL and the Board of Governors would be crazy to not approve.

After all, Balsillie is a Canadian awash in money as the inventor of the greatest technological marvel this side of the iPod and all he wants to do is bring even more hockey home to Canada…and isn’t afraid to tell everyone and their family about how he wants to do it. Balsillie’s problem, however, is that he was too brash. He was too obvious about his plans for the Predators and his wont to move them to Hamilton, even going so far as to start taking advance season ticket sales at the Copps Coliseum for the eventual Hamilton Predators. After all, how was the NHL going to turn down that much money for what for all intents and purposes is a loser franchise?

Easy. He wants to move them to Canada and he wants to be very hands on with the operation which goes against most of the current NHL “standards” of operating a team like an absentee landlord. The NHL and Balsillie were being tempted by the people in Kansas City offering up a brand new mega-super-amenity-filled arena and 18,000+ seats to fill, an avenue I’ve no doubt Bettman is keeping in his back pocket for another loser team. Balsillie resisted and started figuring out what he could do about building a new facility in Hamilton, how long it would take, what the costs would be – all of it.

This kind of forward thinking and action is something that upsets the NHL Suits, especially Bettman – a man best known for his ability to hold a grudge and to be petulant at the drop of a hat. He didn’t appreciate Balsillie or anything that he was doing all without the go-ahead from the Board of Governors or himself. He claimed there were issues with Balsillie’s bid and that they were “skeptical” of Balsillie’s plans for the team. Talk about foolish.

It’s foolish considering Balsillie couldn’t hold back from tipping his hand about what he wanted to do. Foolish in that the league and the other owners would ultimately turn down that much money from a legitimate source all because he wants to rain on Herr Bettman’s Sun Belt U.S.A. Road Show. Remember that?

Turns out that the Board and Herr Bettman are still hanging on to that dream. Why? Because they trusted that a guy with no money. Oh sure, he claimed to be worth multiple millions of dollars and was even good enough to at one time have a stake in the San Jose Sharks as well but the problem is, he claimed a team that loses money annually and partakes heavily in the NHL Revenue Sharing to help stay afloat was his top asset.

Oops.

If there’s anything that will attract the attention of the IRS and the FBI, it’s claiming something in the red as your top earning point. In fact, one could argue that perhaps Boots Del Biaggio thought he was escaping to a different country by moving from California to Tennessee. How else can you explain this:

Del Biaggio lists $88.43 million due to creditors, including $10 million to former Preds owner Craig Leipold, according to a summary of his assets and liabilities filed in federal bankruptcy court in Northern California on Monday. He lists $53.9 million in assets, including $12.1 million in real property, all in California.

He still owes money to the guy he bought his stake in the team from, he’s filed for bankruptcy and the Feds are still snooping around on him.

All of that and he is still a better option for Bettman and Co. Why? Because Boots guaranteed the team would stay in the good ole U.S. of A! Whether it was in Nashville, if the lease thing came apart, or in Kansas City or Las Vegas or wherever else – Del Biaggio getting a piece of the action meant the team was staying put because Del Biaggio made sure to make that the case.

What’s all the more concerning with this situation is the fact that two very close Bettman confidantes floated Boots big-time loans. Kings owner Phillip Anschutz and Wild owner Craig Leipold, the same guy Boots bought his stake in the Predators from, floated Del Biaggio a $17 million loan to help him buy his stake in the Predators.

I repeat the important part of this story and cannot stress this enough:

“Anschutz and Leipold are on Gary’s executive committee,” says one
high-ranking NHL source. “These are guys who are at the power centre of the
league, close to Gary, and supposed to be his best allies. And here they were
lending Del Biaggio money, and not telling Gary, at a time when they were
supposed to be reviewing his offer to become an owner.

“It stinks.”

Take what you will that this comes from the ever-mistifying anonymous source, but my cynicism lends me to believe it. Take that for what it’s worth.

What’s the cake topper of all of this, the part that screams to me that Gary is the most crooked and spiteful of all. No, its not his good friends helping bail out a broke scam artist. No, it’s not Gary looking the other way and then pretending he knew nothing of what was going on. It’s none of that.

It’s this:

Del Biaggio attempted to sell his 27% stake in the Predators to none other than Jim Balsillie and it was SHOT DOWN BY THE LEAGUE.

Read and be amazed:

According to sources familiar with the events, a tentative deal was
arranged that would have seen Mr. Del Biaggio’s combined one-third minority
interest, with an estimated book value of US$30-million, transferred to Mr.
Balsillie for a “significant premium.”

Apparently, the talks held at a San Francisco hotel did not directly
address the possibility of relocating the team, which was sold last year for
US$193-million to a Nashville-based local group of investors, led by David
Freeman.

However when an advisor to Mr. Del Biaggio, who was brought in to bid
against Mr. Balsillie for the Predators last year, informed NHL Commissioner
Gary Bettman of the discussions, sources say the 40-year-old investor was
discouraged from proceeding with a deal. Mr. Del Biaggio and officials at the
NHL were not available for comment yesterday.

Gary and the Board of Governors are so terrified of Jim Balsillie, his money and his ideas that even owning a quarter-share of a team is too frightening to them. Sure, the league PR folks are saying the right things, like no one was discouraged from doing anything but given how Gary and the League Of Extraordinary Geezers works, we know this is not the case.

The sum of all this is that Gary desperately wants to hang on to his dream – a dream of having popular, solvent markets in non-traditional hockey areas. To this degree, there’s been success in San Jose, Anaheim and Tampa Bay. The flipside of this is that the teams that are struggling are doing so in terrible ways. Florida, Atlanta, Phoenix and Nashville are bleeding money like crazy and can’t sell out their games with any regularity. You know who does do this?

Canada does.

I’m not all for a Canadian revolution in the NHL, but the pillaging that went down in the 90s because Quebec City can’t get its head out of its ass, even to this day, and because Winnipeg wasn’t winning enough was shameful. That coupled with the move of the North Stars and Whalers was a gut-shot this league hasn’t really recovered from from a credibility and novelty standpoint.

I’m also not saying move ‘em all back to Canada either. What I am saying is, however, that if you’ve got a guy swimming in money, actual real money that can be verified by banks and the government, and maybe… just maybe he might want to take a team back to Canada, perhaps taking him up on the offer might not be a bad idea.

This crazy billionaire and his track record of huge success might be a drastic change to all these failed losers on the Board of Governors, but an upstart guy like this that wants desperately to win and be at the helm of a dominating Canadian hockey franchise can’t be bad for the game.

Rumors Are Out Of Control

In just the few days leading up to the NHL Draft, which is generally Trade-O-Rama time, the rumor mill picked up at an epic pace, much in thanks to actual reporters being allowed on the Internet to blog their feelings and their supposed findings.

I say “supposed” because a few of these folks seem to be taking the nod from the infamous Eklund, who a couple years ago created a ridiculous Internet buzz with his blog talking about trade rumors because he supposedly had insiders deep within that would hook him up with information. Of course, when that information seemed to be right less than 1% of the time, that causes a bit of a credibility problem.

This, of course, would not deter Eklund as he now has a new website which you have to pay him money to read his rumors.

And you think I’m joking. Nevermind the awful precedent this has set, it’s no wonder guys like Buzz Bissinger get upset at us Water Heater Jockeys in the Basement who don’t leave home for anything. Clowns like Eklund make it harder for everyone because they create a stir that isn’t actually there and causes idiotic questions to be served up to coaches and general managers that have zero idea where this stuff came from.

Enter Bruce Garrioch from the Ottawa Sun – a supposed actual reporter working for a tabloid-style rag in Canada’s Capital City.

Garrioch started the firestorm this week by saying he had it on good authority that the Pittsburgh Penguins were shopping Evgeni Malkin to Los Angeles for a package of players and the #2 overall pick this year. Those players involved? Dustin Brown and Alex Frolov. If there were any inkling of truth to this, this would mean that a deal like this would be EPIC.

Of course when Dean Lombardi, the Kings GM, was asked about this it was all news to him, saying only that he’d received only two offers worth considering for the #2 pick and still opted to pass on them. I don’t believe for a second that he would’ve taken that phony Pittsburgh offer either as Dustin Brown is a stud and Alex Frolov is likewise when he stays healthy.

Garrioch was roasted for causing such nonsense by folks all over the Interweb and he’s continued to do nothing but throw crap at the wall to see what sticks or gets him some attention.

Shameful. A guy in his position should actually, you know, take advantage of having access to all these executives and coaches. Instead, he fabricates some rumors to get people talking and in the process ticks everyone off. Let’s face it, nothing intrigues folks more than trade rumors – it’s an instant conversation starter. Is Player A worth Player B and C? It’s great…as long as its founded in some actual truth.

As it is, no one knows what Pittsburgh is actually up to regarding Malkin or Marian Hossa or any of their potential free agents. Hell, it’s been rumored for over a week now that Ryan Malone was going to get traded to Columbus so they could have a week to negotiate directly with him. It hasn’t happened and it won’t happen because Malone already stated that he’s going to be an unrestricted free agent.

At least one guy has some sensibility – who would’ve guessed it would be the player in this case?

As it is, none of the rumors that have come up in the last week have nor will they materialize.

Ray Emery getting traded to St. Louis? Not going to happen now after Emery was waived and bought out by Ottawa. To add to that, the Blues traded for Chris Mason from Nashville for a fourth round pick. Nashville was able to do that because they signed Dan Ellis to a new deal which means that Pekka Rinne will be the new backup for the Predators.

Speaking of the Blues, they dished Jamal Mayers to Toronto for their third round pick. Mayer is not very good nor very worth it and the fact St. Louis got a third rounder for him is stunning.

There’s rumors currently swirling that Montreal and Toronto may be hashing out a deal to give Montreal exclusive negotiating rights with Mats Sundin for the next week. This one has to be an Eklund/Garrioch tag team special because there is no way these two teams would work out a deal that would be mutually beneficial – nevermind that it would be a complete PR nightmare to have the Leafs dish Sundin to a hated rival and watch him succeed there.

There’s also a story popping up from RDS (for you French-Canadiens) that Anaheim may be shopping Chris Pronger around. Again, I don’t buy this for a minute because Anaheim needs him too much and he fits in all too well on that team, like it or not.

All we know for sure now is that Tampa Bay is selecting Steven Stamkos and we’ll be here during or after the draft going over anything overly ridiculous that goes down during tonight’s First Round.

Enshrinement

The Hockey Hall of Fame will be selecting up to four new members on Tuesday. There are loads of credible candidates who will have a feasible shot of making it in this year.

This year is a big one for a lot of these guys because the next few years are going to be awfully tough. Consider next year when guys like Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull and Brian Leetch are eligible. Good luck getting the votes. Subsequent years after that until about 2012 or 2013 are similarly stacked with obvious choices.

What’s funny about these selections is that folks mistake the Hockey Hall of Fame for being the NHL Hall of Fame – accomplishments rendered outside of the NHL get lost in the mix and even shoved aside. That said, even some guys with glaring and obvious accomplishments in the NHL get the same treatment because they weren’t buddy-buddy with the writers or had “questionable” issues off the ice.

That means guys with seemingly obvious Hall of Fame stature are still on the outside waiting. Take Glenn Anderson. He’s won six Stanley Cups. He scored 498 goals. He was a key performer on the Oilers dynasty teams of the 1980s but he’s often viewed as the guy who was riding Gretzky’s coattails. Insanity. What’s apparently keeping him out of the Hall even more than his frosty relationship with writers is the fact that Anderson is also a dead-beat dad.

Ouch. That coupled with having a host of writers who aren’t knocking down the door to write nice things about you will help keep you out of the hall. OK so Anderson is a crappy guy – no doubt about that – but him not paying child support has nothing to do with Glenn Anderson the hockey player. The guy belongs.

Then there’s Dino Ciccarelli. Dino scored over 600 goals in the NHL. Dino also never won a Stanley Cup. Dino also played a ton of seasons in the NHL – a fact that gets held against him and his case for the Hall.

Give me a break. Dino was a garbage goal specialist. He wasn’t one for the highlight reel goal – he wanted to stuff home a rebound or put one off a defenseman and in. You could even argue that he was Tomas Holmstrom before Holmstrom made it to America.

Dino is most famous for making one of the more memorable statements in NHL Playoff history when after the Colorado Avalanche eliminated his Detroit Red Wings in six games in 1996 and Claude Lemieux committed one of the most gruesome and illegal hits on Kris Draper, Dino said this:


“I can’t believe I shook that guy’s friggin’ hand.”

Dino also has a bit of a checkered past as he was convicted of assault when in a game against the Maple Leafs while with the Minnesota North Stars he blasted Luke Richardson in the head with his stick. Ugly for sure, but certainly not something to keep him out of the Hall – and the fact he’s not in yet speaks to the petty hypocracy of the writers.

Igor Larionov is best known for his days with the Detroit Red Wings and being nicknamed “The Professor” by his teammates for being a true brainiac off the ice as well as on it. There was never a pass that Larionov wouldn’t make and he’s also one of the true world superstars as the better part of his formative years in hockey were spent in the Soviet Union playing with the Red Army and dominating everyone and their collective brother in arms.

Most of all, Igor Larionov was a true ambassador. He along, with Russian teammates Sergei Makarov and Viacheslav Fetisov, kicked down the door for all Russians to come to the NHL. Makarov made such an impression in his first season he won the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year. All Igor Larionov did was help fellow Russian Pavel Bure get acclimated to the league and become a dominating goal scorer. Larionov went on to win three Stanley Cups with the Red Wings and had the game-winning goal in triple-overtime against the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 3 of the 2002 Finals. For everything Larionov did for the game both in Russia as well as to open the game up for all Russians, a call from the Hall of Fame is more than overdue.

Finally, I’ll make the case for a guy that shouldn’t need to have a case made for him. He’s 15th all-time in the NHL in points scored. He’s sixth, SIXTH, all time in assists. Everyone ahead of him on the assists list is in the Hall of Fame. Everyone ahead of him on the points list either is or will be in the Hall when they retire. He was a part of two different underachievers that made it to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1998 and in 2003 who both ended up losing to much more difficult and better teams.

He was the set-up man for some of the most incredible goal scorers the NHL has ever seen. While a member of the St. Louis Blues he teamed up with Brett Hull and while a member of the Boston Bruins, he spent his time feeding Cam Neely. While a member of the Washington Capitals, he fed goal-scoring machine Peter Bondra and later on with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, he was dishing off to Paul Kariya. He was the perfect complimentary player and if it weren’t for guys like Gretzky and Lemieux, he would be known as the premiere passer of his era.

I am talking about Adam Oates. Incredible that a guy like Oates managed to accomplish all of this under the radar, isn’t it? Sure, some folks may be critical of him never leading a team to a Stanley Cup title – but he does have one championship to his credit: The 1985 NCAA National Championship.

Oates was the dominating leader of the ’85 RPI Engineers which also featured future NHL goaltender Daren Puppa as well as John Carter and George Servinis. In that ’85 title season, Oates tallied 31 goals and 60 assists in 38 games.

In the Frozen Four, Oates’ Engineers knocked off Brett Hull’s University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs in the semi-finals and then Puppa and George Servinis lone goal helped RPI win the title over Providence College and their all-world goaltender Chris Terreri and head coach Lou Lamoriello. I don’t know about you, but in those final two games, I see a couple of Hall of Famers who had to take a bow to an Adam Oates-led team in Hull and Lamoriello.

These four men, through their hard work and time earned and incredible accomplishments, I hope and pray we’ll see their names called later today because if we don’t….it may be a long time before we see them get another chance.

Alexei Yashin & Charles Wang – BFF 4EVR

Stop me if you’ve heard this before…

Alexei Yashin is drawing interest from the New York Islanders.

OK so you’ve stopped me, fine. Be that way.

But this story is actually new. So now you’re curious, the way someone is curious when driving past a fiery wreck or when you see someone trip and fall.

Initially, you feel concerned but deep-down you want to laugh.

Out loud.

And point.

It’s time to just not be concerned here folks, the time for concern is over. This is point-and-laugh out loud time.

Yashin’s agent, Marc Gandler told Newday he spoke with Islanders’ general
manager Garth Snow on Thursday but no agreement was reached.

“We’ve had discussions,” Gandler told Newsday. “But it’s been very slow
because I told them in the beginning how much I wanted. They’re obviously not
happy about that. But clearly, they missed him. They didn’t have a first line
last season.”

Oh, the beauty of being an agent – you get to mangle with the truth!

In case you’ve forgotten, Alexei Yashin is a former Hart Trophy winner with the Ottawa Senators and he’s the father of the obscene Islanders contract. You know, before Rick DiPietro signed for 15 years, Yashin signed on with Wang’s Islanders for 10 years and $87.5 million dollars.

It could be argued pretty easily that Yashin’s contract (along with Bobby Holik’s Rangers contract of 5 years $45 million) are Exhibit’s A and B as to why the NHL Owners needed to be saved from themselves and help ruin the final shreds of relevancy – but then Charles Wang went and gave Ricky D a 15-year deal after the lockout. Go figure, idiocy continues unchecked!

What’s incredible is that Yashin is taking the season he had with Yaroslavl, a Russian professional team, and using that to try and convince the Islanders that his scoring touch, in a league that’s a little bit lacking compared to the NHL is good enough mind you, is back.

Amazing!

The fun doesn’t end there from Yashin’s agent – a true spin doctor if I’ve ever seen one.

“If we can’t get anything soon, we’re going to take the offer with
Yaroslavl,” Gandler told Newsday. “I think they’re interested, but I’m not sure
they’re comfortable with the amount.”

That’s right Islanders, you’re on the clock until July 1st to decide if you want to bring back the face of failure to the franchise. The best part of all of this is Gandler’s insistence that the only thing keeping the two sides apart is MONEY.

Really? You mean to tell me that the Islanders are gunshy about giving up a ton of money to a guy that was, for all intents and purposes, a colossal failure on the Island. Being an agent must be the most ridiculous and fun job on earth for all the nonsense you get to come up with and potentially get away with.

The saddest part of all this is that the Islanders could use a guy with some scoring touch. The Isles were brutally inoffensive last season. Mr. Hillary Duff, Mike Comrie, was the team’s leading scorer with 49 points and Bill Guerin was the leading goal scorer with 23. Ouch. The unrestricted free agency options for scoring are mostly lacking and going the restricted route is most dangerous and unexpected.

Is an older Yashin the answer for the Isles? No, but if the options are slim, and chances are no one is going bonkers trying to play for the Islanders, the Isles and GM Garth Snow might want to take a flier on Yashin just because.

To think that Yashin is going to want a ton of money from them is laughable, especially considering Yashin is still on the Islanders books from being bought out before the start of last season.

He’s on the books until the 2012-2013 season! Unreal.

Believe me, Alexei Yashin is a bad guy to have on a team. He’s selfish, doesn’t much care for the success of the team and looks to fill out his own scoresheet above everything else – and I was a big fan of Yashin’s while he was in Ottawa. That said, I can’t help but feel we’ll see #79 on the ice again for the Isles, mainly because they’ll have no other options left to fill out their ranks with talent.

Let’s just hope Charles Wang is smart enough to not give him more than a two-year contract.

Looking Ahead — Also, What It Takes to Upset John Tortorella

Fools! The whole lot of you! Hockey does not rest – in fact, outside of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the week or two leading up to the trading deadline, the start of the NHL offseason is wrought with drama.

First of all, some coaches are finding homes while others are righteously being shown the door. There are rumors abounding that Barry Melrose will return to coaching in Tampa Bay after being away from it for nearly 15 years after being let go by the Los Angeles Kings, just go visit ESPN.com’s NHL section to see evidence of that.

One guy I’m keeping my eye on, and for purely selfish reasons, is John Tortorella. Back in late September of 2001, I was able to cover a pre-season matchup between the Lightning and Blue Jackets in Syracuse, NY and one of the guys we were able to get an interview with was Coach Tortorella. My partner in crime on this broadcast, Dom, and I were thrilled to get this opportunity and Torts was a guy that we were excited to talk to.

At the time, Vinny Lecavalier was mired in a contract squabble with the front office and it was looking like he was going to miss the beginning of the season. Not good if you’re a young and ready to move team like the Lightning. They’d just acquired Nikolai Khabibulin and Martin St. Louis was just about to break out after coming to Tampa from Calgary.

What transpires during our pre-game interview goes down in the annals of time as being perhaps the most uncomfortable couple of minutes ever. As you know, Tortorella is intense – in a big way – just ask anyone who’s played goal for him. After a couple of light introductory questions, I fire away asking about their first round draft pick. After all, it’s pre-season and this is the place where you would see a highly-touted kid. Problem was, the highly-touted kid they picked was Russian centerman Alexander Svitov…who was still in Russia. Torts set me straight and said he’d only seen the kid on tape but they’re high on him and hope to see him next season.

Oops.

Dom, being the ever diligent friend, ends up bailing me out by asking Torts about Lecavalier and his holdout. Visibly bothered by the question, Torts gruffly answers stating that he’s not in camp where he should be and that he only cares about the guys that bothered to come to camp in the first place.

Suffice to say, the interview was wrapped up quickly after that doubleheader of d’oh. Dom and I tag-teamed to put John Tortorella in a bad mood before the game even started. Awesome.

I’ve been a Tortorella fan before getting to talk to him and I greatly enjoyed seeing him win the Stanley Cup in 2004 as well as getting the nod to coach Team USA this year for the World Championships. He’ll get another job, he’ll go somewhere where there’s no questions about goaltending. He’ll go somewhere with a wily pack of veterans with a ton of talent. There’s only one team that fits that bill right now – and that is San Jose.

The convenience of the Internet and being able to tack onto what you’ve already written allows me to link you to a story out of Tampa and Vinny Lecavalier reflecting upon his years under John Tortorella and speaking a lot about that tumultuous start to the 2001-2002 season to which Dom and I paid witness to firsthand. Who doesn’t love the Internet?!

Elsewhere, older players are hanging it up.

Among them, Dominik Hasek, Mattias Norstrom and apparently Trevor Linden as well. One guy not hanging them up is Mats Sundin – and you better believe that with the Toronto Maple Leafs at the center of any action around him, especially with Mats as an unrestricted free agent, that all the cameras will be trained on what Sundin decides to do.

Of course, the early rumors surround Team Sweden of North America in Detroit lurking waiting to give Mats the shot at a Cup he so desires. While Sundin would no doubt fit in goldenly with the Red Wings, the big question is what kind of deal will Sundin ask for and how bad does he want to win. He could surely command a fat contract out of someone with the space, but a team like Detroit will not dump a ton of money on Sundin for a year or two.

Toronto will be hot on his case and expect a public relations fiasco if Sundin signs elsewhere. After all, it was Sundin who asked to not be traded at the deadline last year and most of the Maple Leafs fans lauded him endlessly for sticking with the team. Trick now is that if Sundin bolts elsewhere now, Toronto gets nothing in return for him whereas at the deadline, a lofty sum could’ve been brought in return. Either Mats ends up an idiotic saint or he’ll be the pariah of Toronto (wrongly) for going somewhere else – especially if it ends up being Detroit.

We’re also just a week or two away from the NHL Entry Draft where Steven Stamkos will be the top pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Lightning GM Jay Feaster dealt away Brad Richards to Dallas at the trade deadline this past season, and by winning the NHL Draft Lottery, he gets to draft his replacement in Stamkos. Stamkos is the real deal and he’ll get to score a ton in the NHL when he arrives – and given the situation the Lightning find themselves in, crippled by bad cap management and huge contracts, Stamkos may get the opportunity to jump into the lineup right away. He’ll make a great addition to a team starving for scoring talent beyond their first line.

The Los Angeles Kings pick second, and they really ought to feel a sense of relief that they’re not in the position to pick Stamkos or not because this team is loaded with young forward talent already and have goaltending on the way in Stephen Bernier but their defensive corps are severely lacking and after Stamkos, this is a defensemen draft.

The Kings and GM Dean Lombardi will have their choice of any of these Canadian junior defensemen: Drew Doughty, Zach Bogosian, Tyler Myers, Luke Schenn and Alex Pietrangelo who happens to be the son of former Whalers and Penguins goaltender Frank Pietrangelo. All of these guys rank out high on the NHL Central Scouting Board and all of them would be welcome in Los Angeles. Remember, the Kings were starting retreads like Jon Klemm for better parts of the season – and they desperately need other defensemen to surround young blue-chip stud Jack Johnson.

There’s so much going on and so much left to happen – it’s just funny to think that some people actually put hockey out of sight and out of mind once summer is underway.

Penguins Are Fans of the Trapezoid

I had no idea that some Pittsburgh Penguins players were big fans of my writing. A snippet from the Toronto Sun from this morning:

Brooks Orpik, the free agent defenceman who will be coveted by many teams after
July 1, has told people he will not re-sign in Pittsburgh if Therrien is the
coach. Jordan Staal, the terrific young player who lives in the shadow of Crosby
and Evgeni Malkin — but is poised to bust out as one of the most complete
centres in hockey — is another Therrien complainer.

I say they’re paying attention here because after Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals, I called out to the Penguins saying that keeping Michel Therrien on board to coach a young team and then providing the example that crying to officials and complaining is the way to go was the exact opposite of what the Penguins need to become world beaters.

Now word comes out that, indeed, there is a faction of players in the Pittsburgh locker room who are less-than-thrilled with the coaching work of Michel Therrien.

Make no mistake here, if Pittsburgh is able to return to the Finals next season, they’ll be doing it with close to an entire new roster. The Pens have a lot of guys hitting free agency and at least two of them are going to get big pay days (Marian Hossa and Brooks Orpik). Considering that Pittsburgh has to contend with having a boatload of younger talent that will require big deals at some point in the near future, there’s potential to see this Finals team getting, for all intents and purposes, blown up.

Make no mistake, Ray Shero is a good and shrewd general manager – and I don’t mean that in the, “He’s dirt cheap and cuts corners to make things happen” kind of way – but he’s got his hands full and more in having to deal with this.

Take a look at the list of free agents on the Penguins roster – the important ones anyhow:

Restricted Free Agents

  • Marc-Andre Fleury

Unrestricted Free Agents

  • Marian Hossa
  • Pascal Dupuis
  • Ty Conklin
  • Mark Eaton
  • Adam Hall
  • Georges Laraque
  • Ryan Malone
  • Brooks Orpik
  • Gary Roberts
  • Jarkko Ruutu

In a word: YIKES!

You’re looking at both goaltenders (Fleury and Conklin), three top wingers (Malone, Hossa, Dupuis), two big defensemen (Orpik and Eaton – Eaton missed a large part of the season with injury and is infinitely better than Rob Scuderi), and a pack of role players (Ruutu, Roberts, Laraque, Hall). Worse yet, they still have Darryl Sydor still under contract at $2.5 million dollars – and he didn’t play in the playoffs until part of the way into the Cup Finals and it wasn’t because of injury.

Some of them will stay, obviously, it’s not as if they’re all going to leave – but you’re looking at a team that is very likely going to have to change some big parts and the dynamics of the team. That’s a lot to ask out of your GM and its even more to ask out of your head coach and I don’t know that I’d be one to trust an overhauled team with a guy who seems to lose his head and focus so easily like Michel Therrien.

Change is in the air in Pittsburgh in a big way and this is just the start.

Game 6: Svensk glädje — Detroit wins 3-2 — Detroit Wins Series 4-2

Simply put, the Detroit Red Wings with Chris Osgood at the helm in goal were the best team in the NHL come playoff time.

They perpetually played low on mistakes, although you wouldn’t have really guessed that from watching the final two games of this series.

They played the best defense of anyone in the league while maintaining a high-powered and dangerous offense. Their goaltenders, the aforementioned Osgood and former-starter and future Hall-of-Famer Dominik Hasek, won the Jennings Trophy this season for least goals allowed – an award that’s as much a credit to the blueliners in front of them as it is to their ability to stop the puck.

The most talented forwards on the team don’t just score, they stop your big guys from scoring too. And worse yet for the rest of the league, there’s two of them supported by many others whose games are equally sound in other aspects. Four lines of pressure every night.

With all that said, NHL fans and media alike know that they didn’t really see the absolute best out of Detroit in this series – something that’s truly scary. Give that credit to the Pittsburgh Penguins who after the shellshock of the first two games of the Finals, snapped out of it to take the action to Detroit in a way they’d seen only a few times before. They got it out of Dallas and Nashville alike but Pittsburgh’s attack was all the more deadly simply because of the high level of offensive power they can roll out with.

Marian Hossa and Sidney Crosby we’re seemingly inseperable on the score sheet, the former finding a way to earn himself an even bigger payday in the offseason should he so choose. Defensemen like Sergei Gonchar and Brooks Orpik earned themselves a ton of respect. Gonchar went from being hailed as a non-defensive defenseman to being one of the more important guys out there on both ends. Brooks Orpik, he also on the impending unrestricted free agency list, solidified himself as a no-nonsese defensive defenseman, a polar opposite to that of the man formerly known as Sergei Gonchar.

The concerns for the Pens this offseason will be all the free agents they’ve got to deal with both restricted and unrestricted. They’ve also got to be mildly concerned with Evgeni Malkin’s production and complaints to the press during the Finals about being tired. Malkin did finally seem to settle down during the overtime periods in Game 5 and scored a goal in Game 6. As the Red Wings will tell you, sometimes you just need to take your time with the Russian forwards and know when to push their buttons. The Wings did it with both Sergei Fedorov and now with Pavel Datsyuk and those guys both managed to do things well after getting over the hump. This is where I’ll stick by my points from before Game 5 that Michel Therrien is not the guy to be leading this bunch.

That said, all the credit in the world for this Red Wings squad belongs equally to Ken Holland and Mike Babcock. Holland for knowing which buttons to push and what moves to make to ensure the team’s success. Stealing Brad Stuart away from the Los Angeles Kings is a move that didn’t seem to stand out to many, but Stuart provided the piece needed for the Wings to roll two top-notch, top flight defensive pairs. Stuart was always pegged as a #1 or #2 defenseman wherever he went and expectations may have been too much for him. He steps in in Detroit paired up with Nicklas Kronwall and they hit it off like bosom buddies all while helping to keep black-cloud-plagued Andreas Lilja off the ice.

All the stories you’re going to read from here on out are going to be about the Swedes. Hell, the title for this game comes from a Swedish newspaper headline, written in Swedish and everything! The wit just abounds around here I tell you.

That said, it can’t be overstated in any way how great three Swedes in particular played this playoff year. Nicklas Lidstrom, the captain, the first European captain to lead a Stanley Cup Champion was just himself out there and that’s better than just about 98% of the rest of the league. Johan Franzen, while battling mysterious concussion-like injuries, still managed to finish tied for the NHL Playoff lead in goals scored and he missed the better part of the Dallas series as well as part of the series with Pittsburgh.

And finally, Henrik Zetterberg who rose above all and showed what it means to be a dominating two-way force on the ice, scoring goals and preventing goals from scoring just the same. What other player out there can say he helped hold back one of the top power plays in the NHL while killing a 5×3 power play twice in the same series (Game 4 and again tonight in Game 6). People will reflect back on this Championship run by the Red Wings and watch and re-watch tape of what Henrik Zetterberg did all throughout these playoffs and be amazed. His efforts in Game 6, notching an assist and scoring the game-winning goal all while doing amazing work on the penalty kill.

Zetterberg is the type of player that young and up and coming players will want to model themselves after. After all, he’s not a hulking mass of man the way Eric Lindros was when he emerged and seemed to set the tone for what a hockey player should be. He’s what the NHL would love to have every team equipped with – luckily for the Red Wings, he’s all theirs. It may have seemed like overdramatized blustering from Mike Emrick during Game 4 when after Pittsburgh was denied on their 5×3 power play much in part to the play of Zetterberg that he referred to it as a “Conn Smythe performance” but he hit it flush on the head.

To all the hockey loudmouths out there who have some sort of maniacal pro-North American (or just pro-Canadian) bent who opted to look past the Red Wings because of the heavy European influence on the roster, just ask guys like Dallas Drake, Dan Cleary and Chris Osgood what they think of the soft Euros on their roster. It’s very likely they won’t hear you because of the Stanley Cup rings clogging up their ears. Xenophobic rants from a dottering old man like Don Cherry and the handfuls of others not nearly as famous as he got put to rest for good tonight and for that we should all be thankful.

Hockey is skill. Hockey is speed. Hockey is the highest of high talent. Hockey the way it was meant to be seen on the grandest stage of them all is what we were treated to over the last two weeks and when dinosaurs like Cherry opt to ignore the efforts of guys like Lidstrom, Zetterberg, Datsyuk and Malkin because they didn’t hail from Flin Flon, Medicine Hat, Moose Jaw or even Moose Factory in Canada is embarassing and insulting to the rest of us that love this game.

I welcome our talented European overlords and hope that more like the ones we watched in the Finals as well as guys like Alexander Ovechkin come surging into North America to play in the NHL because then we all win, we all get our game back. We’ve gotten it back a lot the last couple of weeks and for those of you who just returned after a 14 or 15 year absence:

We’ve missed you. Now grab a seat, grab a beer and dust off that old sweater – things should only get better from here on out.

Game 5: Revitalization — Pittsburgh wins 4-3 (3 OT)

By now, I’m really late to the party in writing on this game. Of course, my head has just cleared up enough today, the day of Game 6, to even think of putting anything together about Game 5. I’m just going to recap it because the fellow bloggers and writers have all covered this at great extent that me adding anything more right now is either stealing words or piling on. I’m not here to do either of those things.

Simply an incredible game from top to bottom. You had Detroit laying a dinosaur-sized egg in the first period. Marian Hossa continued his great play in the Finals snapping a wrist-shot by Chris Osgood making it 1-0 halfway into the period.

The circus of boneheadedness continued Nick Kronwall doing his best to bail out his goalie in front but instead fired one off of Adam Hall’s skate and into the net to help Pittsburgh gain a 2-0 advantage after just the first 20 minutes.

Call it nerves, call it bad play, call it every other term you can dream up that functions negatively for the Red Wings and they did it in that first period – easily the worst hockey seen out of them all playoffs.

Come second and third period time, you could sense a swing in the temper of the game. No, not temper as in anger – just the flow and the feel – a tone set early in the second by Darren Helm who got the Wings on the board.

This change in momentum carried through to the third period when Pavel Datsyuk tied the game on a tip-in power play marker which was then quickly followed by a rebounded slap shot rip from Brian Rafalski to make it 3-2 Detroit with about 10 minutes remaining in the period.

Detroit continued buzzing the net with shots and keeping Pittsburgh hemmed in their own end – even after Michel Therrien called a timeout to relieve some of the pressure from his team. After all, now the crowd at the sold-out Joe Louis Arena in Detroit was going absolutely ape on every opportunity. They could smell the end of the season and the Stanley Cup coming.

Time ticks away and the chances continue to mount for Detroit. The clock rolls under two minutes. Under one minute and finally Marc-Andre Fleury hits the bench for the extra skater. Pittsburgh pushes once into the Detroit end and gets it booted out of the zone and onto the stick of Henrik Zetterberg. Zetterberg, however, is unable to get a shot away past the red line thanks to the always falling back Pittsburgh defensemen.

The Pens regain the zone, they get the puck to the left of Chris Osgood when Marian Hossa throws one off of the goalie, the puck bounces back out to the charging Max Talbot who stuffs it past a prone Osgood and a defense that had not collapsed down to tie the game at three with 34.3 seconds remaining.

Just simply incredible.

The script for overtime didn’t hold like scripts in previous playoffs. The spurts of end-to-end action seemed to last longer than in past years. In the past, the fatigue would seemingly set in sooner, leading to the games becoming dump-and-chase contests waiting to see who would make a mistake. It didn’t really happen here.

The game-winning marker didn’t happen early in a period. There were penalties called during the two-and-a-half overtimes, three on Detroit and one on Pittsburgh, the final of which was the obvious and had-to-be-made double-minor call on Jiri Hudler for a high-stick that drew blood halfway into the third overtime period. Knowing they had four minutes to work with the extra man, Pittsburgh settled in quickly and Petr Sykora scored the game-winner at 9:57 of the third overtime.

It would be very easy to make a case on this game that Detroit got the short end of the stick, especially with the two minor penalties for goalie interference they had drawn. If Detroit had not forgotten how to play hockey the right way in the first period, highway robbery arguments would likely continue to spin on today. While it doesn’t make it right that Paul Devorski and Dan O’Halloran punished Henrik Zetterberg and Dan Cleary for just trying to take the puck hard to the net, it doesn’t leave Detroit any room to make excuses because, after all, Detroit made the game more difficult on themselves after just one period of play.

We’re certainly not going to play the “What if?” game here, but its awfully tough to think that there would be a game tonight if Detroit did what they had been doing all playoffs long in just that first 20 minutes.

With all that said, however, all the credit in the world belongs to Marc-Andre Fleury who stopped 55 shots in all and kept the game from being a blowout the other way. Detroit had many great chances through the third period and in each overtime period as well and still came away with the loss all in part to the play of Fleury who bailed out his injured and porous defense.

It will be very interesting to see how both teams respond from this game tonight. I know that conventional thought is that Pittsburgh got their act together finally and got over the hump and now they’re in a very dangerous position. This same school of thought also provides that Detroit is on the ropes, and that the Penguins are in their head and that the pressure of the series is all on the Wings and that the Pens have “nothing to lose.”

All of it, while swimming in some bits of truth, is nonsense. Tonight is another game. The message stays the same, the game plans stay the same:

Score first, pressure hard, force mistakes and don’t take penalties.

Simple, right? I guess that’s why they play the games.

SIDE NOTE: A lot of news has come out of late surrounding one of the earlier subjects of this blog, Jim Balsillie – the crazy Canadian Bl(Cr)ackberry inventor and billionaire who desperately wants to own an NHL team. I’m assuming more news about this is going to filter out while the Finals is going on, and considering the latest developments with “Boots” Del Biaggio being Federally investigated, this warrants a lot of attention.

I cannot fathom giving up attention to the Finals in favor of what may or may not be related stories, but suffice to say, I think this is big. Once the Finals are wrapped up and over with, I’ll be digging into this one in a big way. Here’s the only teaser you get for this for now, the ones getting screwed in the deal are Canadian hockey fans in southern Ontario and elsewhere in the provinces.

Game 4: Suffocation — Detroit wins 2-1

Pittsburgh scored first.

Marian Hossa stuffs one in on the power play and gets the Igloo rocking.

Up to this point in the playoffs, that meant “GAME OVER” in Pittsburgh. After all, Pittsburgh hadn’t lost at home since December, or at least that’s how it seemed. They hadn’t lost there in the playoffs yet.

Scoring first was always what a team needed to clinch a victory. Swing the pressure to the other team. Make them press, make them make mistakes.

Less than five minutes later, Nicklas Lidstrom rips a shot from the point that zips past Marc-Andre Fleury and all momentum is gone. It’s essentially 0-0 all over again. Next goal could be the one that swings the game. They play through the remainder of the first, playing even, Detroit resisting the Pittsburgh power play, shutting them down and learning from their early mistake in the period.

Next goal swings the tide. Has to.

Second period begins and plods along. The obstruction that Pens coach Michel Therrien has been complaining about is running rampant all over the ice. From both teams.

No one wants to make the big mistake – they all know that the next goal is the big one. The referees are content to let the teams play it out. Each team gets one power play opportunity in the second, both come highly questioned, especially considering everything else that was let go.

“Play through it boys, we’re not deciding this one for you,” was probably heard on the ice from a zebra at one point. The irony of the statement is not lost on this guy, but that’s neither here nor there. The second period plods along. Shots were even, the score is even.

The third period of a tie game in a Game 4 that essentially decides the direction of the series. A Penguins win and it becomes a best of three series. Anything can happen. Any momentum shift can alter the path of the series. One bad goal can change everything. One turnover can do it all.

A funny thing happens early in the third period. Brooks Orpik looks to clear the puck up the boards to teammate Gary Roberts. The puck gets away from Roberts and hops on the stick of Brad Stuart who quickly gets the puck to Darren Helm who then finds Jiri Hudler who wheels, fires a backhand that gets past Marc-Andre Fleury.

2-1 Detroit.

Game over, right? Not so fast…

Halfway through the third, Wings forward Kirk Maltby gets busted for hooking. Pittsburgh to the power play. Hang on to your seats kids, this could decide the game. The Pens dump into the zone and Sid the Kid is hot after it. Andreas Lilja does what Michel Therrien has been crying about all Finals long and gets in Sid’s way as he’s trying to get the puck in the corner. Another penalty.

A five-on-three power play for nearly 1:30. It’s not a question of will this game be tied but a question of when will it get tied.

A minute into the power play, Pittsburgh is pressing hard, Zetterberg is torturing them, Lidstrom and Kronwall are holding down the fort down low. The puck hops into the crowd. There’s still another 30 seconds or so on the 5×3 and another 30 of 5×4 power play time.

Michel Therrien wants a timeout.

Let’s go over this again. The attacking team, the team on the power play, the team that can virtually change lines at will while the killing team has to sit there and take it and desperately hope to get a hold of it to make a change.

The Penguins want a time out to rest their attackers to keep them on the ice. Missing the point here, Therrien also gave time for the big three to rest up for Detroit.

Play resets, Malkin fumbles the puck at the blue line and Zetterberg takes it away and gets a shot off while killing a 5×3 power play. The 5×3 goes away and Maltby returns to the ice. 30 seconds later, Andreas Lilja is hopping out of the box and jumping into the play to help block a shot.

Attack over.

Game over.

Detroit wins 2-1.

For everything Michel Therrien will be remembered for in this Cup Finals, none of them will be good, unless Pittsburgh can rattle off three wins in a row, which seems highly unlikely at this point. Therrien will be remembered as the guy who rather than scheme up a plan to counter what the Red Wings do, opted to complain often and loudly during and after the game that the Red Wings were playing hockey the old, ugly way. Barry Trotz, Joel Quenneville and Dave Tippett apparently all missed this in their series with Detroit this year – but Therrien throws out this blind dart in hoping that the officials will buy into it and give his team the offensive advantage by putting them on the power play more.

Even worse yet, by taking this stand he’s made it OK for his team to take this attitude onto the ice. Some folks are confusing this with entitlement, that the Penguins were the chosen ones and that all would fall down before them.

I’m not buying this at all. I think that Pittsburgh had such an easy and golden road through the Eastern Conference, only needing to stop for bumps in the road, ever so slight as they were, with the punchless Rangers and the gutless Flyers. They had it in their minds that the whole way was going to be this easy.

Therrien’s complaining and whining have been destructive for his team. His bad attitude and “woe is me” routine has poisoned this team in this series. Watching last night’s game was an exercise in “How not to conduct yourself on ice.” Every whistle, every call, every face-off you could see a Pittsburgh player or Therrien barking at a linesman or referee – yelling, complaining about…something. Even when Pittsburgh was getting the majority of the calls their way, someone was yelling about something. It’s impossible to name names at this point to find the worst offenders, but this is the hell that Therrien hath wrought upon his players.

It’s not entitlement, it’s just frustration – and a highly frustrated coach leading a team full of young, highly frustrated players is a recipe for whining. Baby can’t have the bottle so baby is going to yell to mommy.

Hockey isn’t about whining. Never has, never will. It’s about looking hardship in the face, spitting in its face and saying, “Up yours – I’m doing this the way I know how to need to win.”

It’s tough to say that you want to run a guy out of town after he takes his team to the Stanley Cup Finals, but these finals have shown me that Michel Therrien is the absolute wrong guy to take the Pittsburgh Penguins into the future.

He’s certainly not Glen Sather, who in the same position with a similarly young and talented team in the early 1980s, was able to take his lumps against the New York Islanders and use that as a building block to take the league over. I don’t recall ever seeing Glen Sather hitting the press and setting a bad example for Gretzky and Messier and Kurri. Given what Michel Therrien has shown here, he can only lead this young bunch to more bad habits. There are some good coaches out there waiting to be hired right now that would suit this team a lot better. It might behoove the Penguins to make a move once the series is over and should the Penguins, indeed, lose out to get Therrien out of there and get someone who can mold this team better for the future.