Dec 292008
 

With a still ongoing investigation, it’s been reported that Alexei Cherepanov, the Rangers prospect who died tragically in October, was apparently blood doping which may have caused his death. Blood doping refers to a practise which involves boosting the number of red blood cells. Oxygen is carried in red blood cells, and increasing the number improves athletic performance, specifically, aerobic capacity.

Blood doping has become increasingly more common as sports science has progressed. First, it is quite difficult to detect, considering that one of the first methods to find evidence of doping was to look for syringes in the athletes’ homes. It was not until recently that urine was used as a sample and with it the testing for a hormone called erythropoietin (EPO). EPOs stimulates the formation of red blood cells, but excess of EPO can cause polycythemia, in which the red blood cell count becomes abnormally high and causes the blood to become quite viscous, straining the heart. This is the most likely cause, reportedly, of Cherepanov’s death, who was also suffering from myocarditis.

The hockey world is treading on ice now. I think over the past 3 years we’ve seen an abnormally high amount of heart-related deaths for well-conditioned athletes, and while a part of it is because of the strict diet and exercise regimens the athletes follow, this is a little alarming. Blood doping is hard to detect because EPO is a natural growth hormone and also because there have been numerous cases of mix-up by anti-doping agencies. Things become a little murky here because 1) the NHL and IIHF are not involved in investigations, and 2) it’s still preliminary. There hasn’t been much information released so we’ll have to sit tight and see what other things come to light in the next couple weeks and months.

Remember Dick Pound, the crazy anti-doping activist that claimed a third of all NHLers were doping? Expect him to make a return sometime soon.

Dec 162008
 

Mark Spector of Sportsnet.ca is reporting that there could be an increase in the percentage of the players salaries that are kept in escrow. The players have always paid money into the escrow account which is set up to ensure the owners don’t pay the players more than the percentage of revenues the players are set to receive as determined by the CBA.

This season the NHL and NHLPA initially set the escrow to 12.5% meaning 12.5% of every players salary would be put into the escrow account. The 12.5% number represents the highest level ever required. But Mark Spector is reporting that in January that number could increase to 13.5% which would be the first time the escrow hold back percentage has increased, and not decreased, mid season. What this means is the NHL is more pessimistic about revenue projections than they were before the season began (but don’t tell Gary Bettman, he thinks everything is just fine).

A while back I discussed the impact of the falling Canadian dollar on league revenues and the salary cap for next season. If this increase in escrow payments is an indication of little or now growth in league wide revenues this season it may be a safe assumption that at best the salary cap stays the same next year with a greater potential for it to drop by possibly up to $3 million and if the economic downturn continues the following season could see the salary cap drop even further. If this happens several teams could find themselves with serious salary cap problems.

Dec 142008
 

Ilya Kovalchuk has been the subject of rumours for the most part of the summer, reportedly unhappy with the direction the team is going. With no bright future in sight, and with free agency looming in 2010, odds are that Kovalchuk will be leaving Atlanta soon. Rumours have somewhat quieted down, but it seems like two teams in particular, Ottawa and Edmonton, are making a strong push. Ottawa has made blockbusters with Atlanta before and there is an amount of familiarity there. Steve Tambellini, just hired a couple of months ago, could be making his mark on the Oilers squad soon, and apparently the names being tossed around are Shawn Horcoff and Andrew Cogliano.

Add Nathan Horton to the long list of players that don’t really like playing under Jacques Martin‘s management. The Panthers are hot of late, with 7 wins in their last 10, no thanks to Craig Anderson‘s strong play, but Horton, who is the new centrepiece of the Panther offense this year, has struggled and only has 6 goals this year. Relations between Martin and Horton are so strained that Horton has reportedly contemplated retirement. This is a little surprising, considering that Martin is no longer behind the bench and Horton just signed a long-term extension over the summer.

Mats Sundin is finally expected to make a decision tomorrow about his hockey career. It has all been confirmed that he will be back this season but has only 4-5 teams on his radar. Both Ontario teams have been eliminated from consideration and so have the Blackhawks after Dale Tallon confessed that he can’t create enough cap room to accomodate him. However, it has been consensus amongst hockey pundits that Sundin will most likely land in Vancouver.

Dec 082008
 

There is a good chance that Mats Sundin will make an announcement on his future within the next week or so so lets check out some earlier chatter from the internets most notorious (and hugely inaccurate) rumour monger Eklund.

May 25: I am told very clearly that Mats looks like he wants to play again. And he should. He looked very good last year and the heart he showed down the stretch was phenomenal. The stuff of movies. Although several sources are saying Mats wants to stay in Canada, he may opt for the Border cities of Buffalo and Detroit. If not toronto I am told that Mats first choices are local. Montreal, Ottawa, and Buffalo….if Mats is to move, Vancouver, Calgary, Detroit are possibilities.

June 4: “Mats Sundin WILL return to the NHL and not to the Maple Leafs, However he wants to stay in Canada and in the East. The Canadiens are preparing a major offer, although Dan Alfredsson is making a big pitch as well. Look for Sundin to see who is taking over in Ottawa as coach before making his decision. I do expect one more minor pitch from Toronto, but nothing to come of it.”

June 20: Sundin… Source tells me that the negotiations between Sundin and Montreal are going very well. Could be announced tonight or in the morning. Don’t expect a big return. Sundin only has a very few teams he is willing to go to. Montreal is the number 1 and number 2 choice. I will stay on this throughout the night..Of course..

June 28: Talking to a Swedish friend of Mats he is starting to get excited about the possibility of playing in Montreal. His talks with Gainey have left him ‘Blown away’ by the man’s professionalism and integrity. And Mats has even said he thinks Montreal would be a wonderful city to play in. Mats friend really believes that it is Montreal or retirement. And that the second Mats decides to make a go of it a 2-year deal will get done.

June 28 #2: A fellow Swedish Hockey Star/Legend just told me that he firmly believes that Mats will indeed announce his decision about Montreal and he believes that he will indeed be signing with the Canadiens. I also just talked to another source tonight who feels that Mats will be giving an answer tomorrow to Montreal… “Mats is still deciding if he wants to play another year or two” I was told.

July 2: I have heard from three sources that Mats may wait and visit Vancouver this week. If he does that he may narrow his choices since the Rangers and Canadiens may no risk getting shutout of signing other players and the money may not be there for Mats. UPDATE**A SOURCE JUST INFORMED ME THAT MATS WILL RETURN BUT NO DECISION AS TO WHERE…Of course, this is just source and as we have learned with Mats no one really knows what Mats is thinking except Mats…and things can change.

July 8: There are some reports tha Mats is in Vancouver. I believe this to be the case based on my best guess, but I have yet to confirm this. However, a source in Sweden who has been pretty good so far when it comes to Sundin and Foppa news tells me that Mats will NOT wait long to decide and that he does feel a sense of duty to the Canadiens, Canucks, and Leafs. Another source told me that he had heard that Mats is leaning heavily towards a decision this weekend and that from all he has heard Mats may ask for a one year deal in Montreal.

July 14: Meanwhile, the Sundin situation is getting more and more complex with sources telling me that Montreal stills has the inner track but ANOTHER team that we have yet to talk about may indeed be getting into the game today or tomorrow.

July 15: “Many people now feel that Sundin is waiting on the NY Rangers. That is the holdup” one source told me. Obviously the Rangers would have to move mountains to bring in Mats cap-wise…Just remember: The only team that Mats approached himself to play for was the NY Rangers.

July 21: “It’s not true at all that I’m definitely going to Vancouver. I haven’t yet decided if I’m going to continue to play hockey,” Sundin says to Sportbladet.

July 28: On Sundin…Another source at this hour has informed me that he is hearing Montreal is NOT just competing against Vancouver, but also “a team that is NOT in the news currently regarding Mats.”

August 6: Meanwhile sources on Montreal are still telling me that the team is acting very much like Mats will be a Canadien…the source told me that a promotional video to celebrate the centennial year is “on hold until further notice.”

August 7: The source, who has MANY years experience in the NHL, told me this…”I just heard that Toronto wants Sundin back and Sundin wants back in Toronto. Toronto will sign him today as long as Mats is willing to NOT include a NO TRADE CLAUSE in the contract.. That is the hold up currently and ONLY that.”

August 11: An agent dealing with some of the teams involved but not linked directly tells me that he believes the teams involved have been told something as to a timeline adding “All is not as quiet as it appears, and a major announcement WILL take place in the next 7-10 days that will define Sundin’s future.” He also added, “However I dont think the teams have the slightest idea what team he will pick.”

August 11: “Sundin is playing this year in the NHL, however we have yet to see the scope of the bidding at this point. Since Sundin’s statement in early July, many more teams are in the game. He is a high powered addition and certain teams do believe he is the missing piece.”
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Dec 042008
 

There’s been a lot of talk about Sean Avery‘s recent comments and its suspension but I think there’s still some issues to discuss. There’s been some talk about the league’s motivations behind the suspension, considering that a hit from behind to the head these days gets you only 3 games. Here are some things to take into consideration as well.

1 – Avery’s smart. He knows what he has to do to drum up some excitement. A while ago he made a comment about how villains and heroes sell and he has no problem playing the villain. He relishes that role. A part of me actually thinks that he’s trying to leave a legacy the size of his ego – after all, there is already a “Sean Avery” rule. While his comment was a generalization, there’s no mistaking that it was directed at Dion Phaneuf and Elisha Cuthbert. The only thing that’s a little confusing is that he’s trying to build excitement for a game against the Flames in Calgary. To my knowledge, nobody ever needs to build up excitement for a hockey game in Canada. It’s built-in. If the game had been in Dallas, it might’ve been a little different.

2 – I didn’t find his comments that crude. It’s an off-hand comment that guys often say to each other to get the blood boiling. There have been a lot worse things said on the ice, and the line between trash talk and personal attacks is pretty fine. Denis Gauthier and Georges Laraque have both claimed to be victims of racial slurs. However, the fact that he choose to premeditate his comments and say it off ice in front of cameras was what got him into trouble. Had he said the same comments on the ice, there wouldn’t have been any ramifications at all.

3 – I think an often overlooked aspect in a physical game like this is escalation. It’s going to sound a little crazy, but what if the league wanted to protect Avery? Phaneuf and Jarome Iginla chose to ignore his comments, but you have to remember that, as non-factor as it was, Todd Bertuzzi is on the same team. Avery was asking the Flames to feed him his lunch, there’s no question about that. There’s a general bounty on all pests in the league, and perhaps none may be bigger than Jarkko Ruutu‘s, but only because Avery can still be an effective hockey player without his big mouth. What if Paul Mara had gone completely nuts and decided to pummel Ruutu whether he wanted to or not in that Rangers-Senators game? Had something happened to Avery, there would’ve been talk about the league’s clear disregard for player safety.

4 – The NHL is suspending Avery on the basis that his comments were detrimental to the league and game. What if he had just said, “Phaneuf should stop falling in love with my sloppy seconds”? Would that have made a difference? That in itself is a personal attack, albeit public, but at least Avery didn’t mention “NHL,” or “league,” or “other players.” I think that if he had chosen his comments a little more wisely, after all, he is often under the league microscope, he wouldn’t have been suspended. The comparisons to the other leagues about trash talk are baseless because of each sport’s unique culture. The cross-references to the NBA or NFL or MLB are all moot points. However, how many games Avery gets suspended for will raise further questions of disciplinary action and set a precedent for comments like these.

5 – The Stars have pretty much banished Avery. There’s no way Avery would want to come back to a team that has left him out to dry. It’s hard to stick up for a guy that is supposedly a cancer in the locker room, but he is their teammate. The fact that a traditionally close-knit team like the Stars have refused to stick up for a teammate tells us how dysfunctional that locker room really is. The Stars can’t buy out Avery until June and there won’t be many takers for Avery. The best solution for the Stars is to send him to the minor leagues and let his play do the talking before he gets another chance in the league. Brett Hull needs to find a way to offset his mistake.

Anyway, this topic has been beaten to death, and it’s time to move on. For the Stars, it’s time to right the ship. If they can’t put together a string of good games, changes are in the making. It may be time for the Stars to look outside of their organization for help.

Dec 032008
 

Just wanted to make a few comments on several recent happenings in the NHL and here at HockeyAnalysis.com.

Sean Avery: It is time that someone really put this guy in his place and I think it is really going to happen. Everyone is getting tired of his act and most importantly his teammates and his teams owner is getting tired of his act. His main ally within the Stars organization was Brett Hull and Hull is now saying his antics of yesterday stepped over the line and goes beyond hockey. I am not sure what the Stars franchise will do but if I were owner Tom Hicks I would first put Avery on waivers. If someone claims him then you just got rid of a headache but I doubt anyone will claim him. Next I would sit Avery down and tell him this is his last chance and that he should focus on playing hockey and quit all the other nonsense and tell him that the next outburst will see him being sent to the AHL where he can play out the rest of his four year contract.

Laviolette/Maurice: Today we have learned that the Carolina Hurricanes have fired coach Peter Laviolette and re-hired former coach Paul Maurice to take over at least until the end of the season. I am not convinced that Laviolette is a great coach, but I don’t think he is a bad coach either. This is an unfortunate situation where I think Laviolette is getting fired for being a coach of an average team made worse by a number of significant injuries. I don’t see how this will make the Hurricanes better. Having watched Maurice in Toronto the past couple seasons, I do not think that Maurice is a good coach. His teams have missed the playoffs 7 of 10 times and outside of the surprise cup run in 2002 he has won zero playoff series.

Burke/Toskala: I am a little dismayed at what Steve Buffery has written in a column today. In particular I am dismayed at the idea that maybe Toskala is one of the untouchables on the Leafs.

Nobody on the current roster is said to be untouchable, with the possible exception of 19-year-old defenceman Luke Schenn, and perhaps Mike Van Ryn, Niklas Hagman and Vesa Toskala. Toskala has been red-hot of late and it seems Burke won’t be in any hurry to ship him out, and not just because he’s finally coming around after an inconsistent start.

“I believe in him, in fact, we tried to get him early in his career,” Burke said of the Finnish netminder.

Luke Schenn is probably untouchable. That makes sense. Niklas Hagman is a relatively young guy that can do a lot of things well so I can see wanting him around (though I wouldn’t necessarily say he is untouchable). The same sort of think can be said for Van Ryn. He is probably a Burke kind of player and doesn’t make too much money. But Toskala? I’ll forgive Buffery for the Toskala red-hot comment since he probably wrote it before Toskala gave up a stinker of a goal 1:15 into the game and then three more goals in the first period and 5 on 30 shots in total, but is Toskala really untouchable? And I hope Burke is really just trying to say nice things about Toskala in order to keep his trade value up because I absolutely don’t believe he is a #1 goalie on any team looking to make a lengthy run in the playoffs.

Finally, I want to formally welcome our new Flames blogger Matt to HockeyAnalysis.com. Matt will be writing at Flames.HockeyAnalysis.com and already has a couple of posts up on the Sean Avery situation.