Leaving the Coop

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Nov 122008

Brian Burke will not be returning as the Ducks’ GM next year, says ESPN. A press conference this afternoon will reveal the nature of his resignation and officially move Bob Murray, who is still at the moment the GM of the Iowa Chops, into Burke’s position. Under NHL rules a GM cannot take over another team in the same year without the former team’s blessing, and it’s been reported that Anaheim has been quite reluctant to do so.

Burke has publicly stated that family is one of the major factors in his decision, with children on the east coast from his previous marriage. Burke’s wife, reporter Jennifer Mather, was reportedly having difficulties finding work in California. A move to Toronto, as any other destination would come as a surprise, allows Burke to be closer to his children and provide new opportunities for his wife to find work.

The Ducks have the ability to prevent Burke from taking the Leafs’ GM position, but only until the summer.

More to follow.

FOLLOW UP: It seems as though Burke will stay on, and it’s not a sure fire deal that he will end up with the Leafs. There’s been speculation that Burke will stay as a consultant to Murray for the time being and then take over the Rangers after Glen Sather departs. Burke does have ties to New York, as his children from a previous marriage still reside in New England, and also previously worked for the NHL’s head office. It has also been revealed that Jim Rutherford was actually offered the Leafs job a year ago, but turned it down to stay in Carolina

With the transfer of power to Murray, you have to wonder where Dave Nonis, whom Burke hired shortly after he was fired in Vancouver, fits into the master plan. Nonis was groomed by Burke to be his successor after his departure in Vancouver, and it’s a little odd that Nonis wasn’t handed the reigns in Anaheim. Of course Murray is the more experienced of the two, but this non-move has also fueled speculation that Nonis will follow Burke to his next destination, wherever that may be.

Hearts of Hockey

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Nov 122008

The KHL is making sure another Alexei Cherepanov-like incident doesn’t happen again, and with more rigorous medical testing they’ve found 5 more players with problematic hearts.

This is a great move by the KHL and all other hockey leagues, be it minor, minor pro, or pro, need to get on this movement. The earlier the leagues can detect heart defects, the better off the league, teams, and most importantly, the player themselves, will be. It’s very unfortunate that it has taken 3 years, since the Jiri Fischer incident, for hockey officials to start taking this very seriously. Had the leagues started to look into this earlier you have to wonder if a couple lives could’ve been saved.

Nov 102008

The NHL once again proves to the world that it’s a joke. Tom Kostopoulos was suspended 3 games starting from today for his hit on Mike Van Ryn. Van Ryn, acquired from the Panthers this year in exchange for Bryan McCabe, suffered facial lacerations, a broken nose and bone, and a concussion.

A year ago, Randy Jones hit Patrice Bergeron from behind along the end boards and Bergeron ended up missing the entire season with a concussion. The suspension? 2 games. I’ve seen the replays, and to me the hits look practically identical. A race to the puck at the end of the ice with 2 players going ahead full speed doesn’t usually end up looking too good. Mike Brophey certainly agrees and calls for harsher punishments because the lack of respect players have for each other these days. Brophey’s not directly pointing any fingers, but I think we all know where this is going.

Colin Campbell and the discipline office are a joke. If the length of a suspension is dependent on the act itself, this doesn’t make sense. If it’s dependent on the resulting injury, it makes even less sense. The fact that it’s only a one game difference makes it even more confusing. Had Kostopoulos not been suspended, or even been suspended longer than 3 games, it might’ve made more sense. There has been a complete lack of consistency when handing out suspensions, and I agree with Brophey – don’t be scared to hand out harsher punishments. A 3 game suspension is nothing over the course of an 82-game season and $900k salary (Kostopoulos loses roughly $33k).

OTR put Gary Bettman on the spot on the topic, and he had this to say:

“You know, it’s interesting to me that when we came back from the work stoppage a lot of our fans complained that we had taken the physicality out of the game by opening up the speed and skill. We didn’t do that – hitting is actually up. There are more body checks in the game than we had before the work stoppage. But if you say you can’t have contact with the head, you are going to reduce the amount of checking in the game and you are going to change the way the game is played. We don’t like any concussions. We don’t like any hits to the head, but before we run down this road, think about what the consequences to the game are going to be.”

And what are those consequences, Gary? More importantly, what are you doing to protect the players? Obviously there’s a certain amount of responsibility the players hold, but it seems like the league is preaching negligence. Bettman claims he’s opposed to change, but I guess the lockout was all for naught and NHL hockey hasn’t changed post-lockout. But then, of course, I realized the answer:

” …it’s not a question of logic.”

EDIT Nov. 12: Looks like the league is making noise already, dropping Brenden Morrow‘s suspension (and rightfully so) for instigating against the Kings and reviewing Jarkko Ruutu‘s high hit against the Habs.

Nov 082008

Everyone knew that the Lightning’s defense would have a hard time keeping up with the rest of the league. After a poor offensive start, the Lightning did a little shake-up by swapping the tougher Shane O’Brien for Lukas Krajicek to get more mobile on defense. It was assumed that Andrej Meszaros, Paul Ranger, and Matt Carle, one of the key pieces in the Dan Boyle deal, would handle the puck-moving duties. However, the three of them have only combined for 9 points and a harmless -1 rating. Meszaros has yet to score this year, and Ranger and Carle both have one each. Tampa’s third-last 27 GF total is embarrassing, especially after the amount of offensive talent the Lightning horded this year – Boyle (9 points in 14 games) and the Sharks, on the other hand, have almost double that total with 50 GF.

While the problem on defense remains, it doesn’t help when your offense can’t get going either. Vinny Lecavalier has a pedestrian 10 points and Martin St. Louis has 9 – even if these two get going there’s still no indication of how well the rest of the team can do. Highly touted Steve Stamkos has started off slow, while Ryan Malone has only 3 points, all of them goals, in 12 games, and Gary Roberts has yet to register a point. Ironically, it’s Jussi Jokinen, who was planned to be dealt over the summer, and the forgotten acquisition Mark Recchi that are the ones chipping in offensively.

So, figuring that their offense requires an extra boost in (only) just 12 games, the Bolts decided to give up on the promising Carle in exchange for a chippy Steve Downie and less-mobile Steve Eminger. Eminger and Carle are both already on their second team this year. First, this is a great trade for the Flyers, because they got rid of a prospect they don’t need and who has a checkered history and a depth defenseman for a young player that could turn out to be really, really good. Carle will immediately take off some pressure off Kimmo Timonen (he’s averaging in the high-20s in ice-time) on the puck-handling duties, while I don’t really see how either Eminger or Downie are supposed to make the Lightning any better.

The Lightning are actually a modest 4-4-4 on the season, and there’s no indication that they’re in for a free fall either, considering the play of Mike Smith and how Stamkos is finally getting some quality ice-time to showcase his abilities. The only reason I can theorize is that Brian Lawton (probably under orders from Len Barrie and Oren Koules) pushed the “panic” button. There’s no upside in giving up on a young player just 12 games in to the season, especially if the players you get in return don’t have half the potential of Carle’s.

Considering how early this trade went down I would not be surprised if the Lightning made even more moves regarding their defense, but judging by their roster moves I can’t help but think the next one will be yet another sideways step. Already we’ve seen three new faces in twelve games which mathematically speaking means that we’ll be seeing 20 different defensemen to wear a Lightning jersey this year. This team needs more time to gel, and every time they acquire a new player it’ll set them back. The Lightning are becoming, if not are, the laughing stock of the league.

Congratulations to Mark Parrish, who successfully makes his comeback to the NHL with a hat trick in a 5-2 win over the Ducks. The former Minnesota forward is the second player this year (the other being, surprise, teammate Fabian Brunnstrom) to make his season debut with a hat trick. The Stars have been one of the worst teams thus far this year and scoring isn’t a problem, but if Marty Turco can’t pick up his play they’re not going anywhere fast, although it should help when Jere Lehtinen and Sergei Zubov come back later next week.

EDIT: Just giving both teams a quick cap space run through and it amazes me how Philly continues to pile on the salaries even they have less a million in cap space. How are they going to fit Carle in? Is Randy Jones headed toward the LTIR? With Carle it’d put the Flyers roughly $2m over the cap.

Nov 022008

– Add a new team into the Mats Sundin sweepstakes: the Ducks. That’s right, the perpetually financially strained team is reportedly making a pitch to Sundin, and with the Ducks so close to the cap they’re going to have to shed salary (again). This time, the casualty may be Chris Kunitz, the former Ducks alternate captain who hasn’t quite lived up to his $3.5m price-tag since signing it. No doubt that the Ducks would prefer to trade Kunitz to an Eastern Conference team, but Brian Burke continues to put himself in situations in which he has absolutely no leverage – Mathieu Schneider was dealt for close to nothing, Ken Klee and Ilya Bryzgalov were lost through waivers, but the Ducks continue to spend, most recently Bret Hedican. I think Sundin is a long shot to land on the Ducks, because the Ducks’ offer won’t come close to the Canucks’ offer in terms of money and length. However, should the Ducks find themselves atop the Pacific come Christmas time (unlikely considering the way the Sharks are playing), it is a very attractive option.

– After Brendan Shanahan gave up hopes in returning to the Rangers, especially after their hot start, he’s starting to look at other options, and those teams include Philadelphia, New Jersey, Washington, Montreal, and Boston, all of them east teams, but all of them close to the cap. Colorado has also figured into the mix, and I think that’s where we may see Shanahan end up. The Avs have always been an enticing franchise for veteran free agents to play for, and although that may not be the case these days, don’t forget that the Avs still have Joe Sakic, who still has a considerable amount of pull, and the two played together at Salt Lake.

– The Jackets have tried everything, including moving Rick Nash to centre during practise, but it still hasn’t ignited a potentially high-octane offense. Since the first days of the franchise the team has always lacked a playmaking centre for Nash to play with, even though RJ Umberger (I predicted he would be a bust alongside Nash) and Kristian Huselius were signed, it still didn’t work. Derick Brassard is playing well, but he’s not quite ready for number one centre duties yet. This has prompted the Jackets to revive their search for a number one centre… and I don’t think it’s going to happen this year.

Nikolai Khabibulin is making a strong case for himself to stay, and the Hawks must be giddy about his rising stock. The Hawks seem to be fairing well with both Khabibulin and Cristobal Huet, which means that another $6m on the Hawks’ roster, Martin Havlat, could be out the door instead. The injury-prone winger will be an UFA this summer, which makes him an attractive trade bait, especially if (a big one at that) he manages to stay healthy at least until the trade deadline.

Mathieu Garon is also playing fairly well, despite the Oilers’ recent cold streak. There haven’t been any public grumblings from Dwayne Roloson, but it’s common knowledge that the 39-year old veteran doesn’t like playing second fiddle. There have been, unsurprisingly, no takers so far, and it’ll be a long season for Roloson from the bench. The Oilers are eager to get Roloson’s $3.667m cap hit off their books, paving the way for Jeff Deslauriers to handle backup duties full-time.

Rumours courtesy of Bruce Garrioch from the Ottawa Sun.