Nov 192008

– No surprise from anyone that Dustin Penner got benched by Craig MacTavish. The $4.25m man never lived up to expectations and probably never well. Brian Burke felt that the massive overpayment would have ramifications on the free agent market, but it didn’t, but regardless Burke gets the last laugh because now the Oilers are stuck with Penner for a long time. Except the hockey gods are giving Penner another chance, now with Fernando Pisani is sidelined with a broken ankle.

Craig Hartsburg is once again going to re-unite the Pizza Line. I never understood the fascination with breaking them up in the first place, it never went anywhere and the only good thing that ever came out of it was the fact that now everyone knows the Big Three can’t be separated. The Sens have been plagued with a lack of secondary scoring, and they’ve failed every summer to bring in that player, but you have to wonder if spreading around the talent is even an answer to that. Mike Fisher and Antoine Vermette need to step up their game for them to be competitive. However, the Sens will continue to have problems if 1) they don’t replace players lost and 2) the players refuse to listen.

– Speaking of linemates, a lot of fans in Vancouver have been frustrated by Steve Bernier‘s lack of production with Daniel and Henrik Sedin, but is it really his fault? I think the problem with that line is that the Sedins refuse to play to Bernier’s strengths. That’s not to say they should change their puck-cycling game, but too often we hear “I’m still trying to figure out the twins’ tendencies” rather than “we’re still trying to figure out Bernier’s tendencies.” Canucks management, throughout the years of its revolving door of right wingers, have cemented in their heads that there is a player out there that can perfectly compliment their game. I say that will never happen unless the Sedins do something about it.

– There’s been a clear lack of respect on all fronts in the game, on and off the ice. Off the ice, we’re seeing insubordination and a lack of respect for coaches. Case in point, Barry Melrose. Players have complained about his lack of preparation, but I really feel the players weren’t ready to listen to him since day one, and the writing was on the wall for him. There are grumblings from Ottawa that the same thing is happening. When the players dictate how management and coaches handle their duties, that’s when you know you have a problem. On the ice, I don’t think there’s been more head shots, hits from behind, puck-chasing, and board-crashing related injuries in a span of a month.

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.

Oct 142008

Like the Lightning, although to a much lesser extent, the Canucks are heading in a new direction, and it couldn’t be more definite than letting long-time captain Markus Naslund walk. The Canucks were hoping to make a splash this year, and offered Mats Sundin an eye-popping $20m offer over 2 years. Sundin ended up not signing (obviously), but that didn’t deter new GM Mike Gillis from bringing in his own crop of players. Management made bold promises over the summer, and while the Canucks are off to a hot start, it’ll be interesting to see where this team finishes. Some believe Dave Nonis was fired because he wasn’t ownership’s man, but with such drastic changes in the front office, the team still has his thumbprints all over it.

Scoring has been a problem for quite some time for the Canucks. After a injury-riddled and disappointing season, Gillis and Alain Vigneault publicly promised a more exciting brand of hockey – in other words, more offense. But with the departures of Brendan Morrison and Naslund, on paper it doesn’t seem like Gillis has solved anything. Even with the addition of Pavol Demitra and to a lesser extent Kyle Wellwood, the offense doesn’t seem to be more dangerous than last year’s – which means that once again the offensive load will rest on the shoulders of Henrik and Daniel Sedin. The Swedish twins are one of the best duos in the league, but the Canucks’ exhaustive search for a right winger to play with them after Anson Carter‘s departure prompted them to deal for Steve Bernier – a big bodied winger with room to grow, but definitely still rough around the edges. While the top two lines hasn’t changed any, and remains a weakness in the Canucks’ overall lineup, the Canucks may boast the best bottom six group in the league. They’re highlighted by Ryan Kesler, who is fast developing into the league’s premier two-way players, and Alex Burrows, arguably the league’s most hated agitator. Joined by new recruits Ryan Johnson and Darcy Hordichuk, the Canucks have great speed, grit, and character on the checking lines. The Canucks did lead the league in misconducts last year, but the knock against them was that they were still soft, and bringing in Hordichuk helped in that regard. Asides from the Sedins, the Canucks are deceptively fast, with none other than the fleet-footed Mason Raymond leading the way. The former Minnesota-Duluth Bulldog left school after just two seasons, including an outstanding sophomore season in which his 46 points was 15 higher than team’s second top scorer. Raymond was a surprise pick in the second round in 2005, but has managed to quiet critics and 25 goals this year isn’t completely out of the question.

When healthy, the Canucks six-man group, although it doesn’t boast any all-stars, is as deep as any. Mattias Ohlund once again leads the way with his consistent play, while a healthy Willie Mitchell and Kevin Bieksa provides one of the better shut-down tandems in the league. When healthy, and it’s not often enough, Sami Salo possesses one of the best point shots in the league. The most intriguing of the bunch, however, is Alexander Edler. The Swedish youngster was plucked up by the Canucks in the third round of the 2004 draft, amidst strong rumours that drafting machine Detroit was going to pick him soon. Edler was a revelation on an injury-riddled Canucks blueline, and management is hoping he continues to improve. Edler has been hailed as the Canucks’ next Ohlund, perhaps with better mobility and puck skills than Ohlund when he was at his age. With Rob Davison, Shane O’Brien, and Lawrence Nycholat, the Canucks have plenty of depth.

A lot has been made about Roberto Luongo, but the truth is there isn’t anymore that anyone can say about him that the whole world doesn’t know – he is the best goalie in the West. While he can give Martin Brodeur a good run for his money, the big elusive prize has eluded Luongo thus far. The new captain is the franchise’s best goalie in its history and with him in net the Canucks will always remain competitive.

Because Gillis handcuffed himself by putting his offer to Sundin on the table for much of the summer, and because of offer sheets to David Backes, the Canucks didn’t spend all their money. This isn’t anything to worry about, however, as it just means that the Canucks won’t have to worry about keeping under the cap come trade deadline day. The money could come real handy this summer as well, when the Sedins become unrestricted free agents, and rumour is that they’re both seeking $7m/year. Gillis’ legacy as the Canucks GM will be determined this summer when he will be forced to negotiate with the Sedins, and depending on the outcome, it could completely change the outlook of this team. The same problems that plagued the Canucks last year are once again problems this year, and while they are off to a hot start, there’s no denying that scoring 11 goals over the first 2 games is a bit of an anomaly.

Daniel Sedin – Henrik Sedin – Steve Bernier
Mason Raymond – Pavol Demitra – Taylor Pyatt
Alex Burrows – Ryan Kesler – Jannik Hansen
Darcy Hordichuk – Ryan Johnson – Rick Rypien

Mattias Ohlund – Alex Edler
Willie Mitchell – Kevin Bieksa
Shane O’Brien – Sami Salo

Roberto Luongo – Curtis Sanford

Predicted finish: 4th Northwest, 10th West

A Coach to Ignite Us

 Tampa Bay Lightning, Vancouver Canucks  Comments Off on A Coach to Ignite Us
Oct 062008

Over the summer months I lambasted the Lightning for owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie‘s handling of the team, and the hiring of Barry Melrose, amongst other things.

On the Lightning’s official website, Melrose was advertised as the “Coach to Ignite Us.” Okay, I’ll bite, a coach who hasn’t been in the league in a decade could provide a new voice, direction, and more importantly, a breath of fresh air. However, after two straight losses against the Rangers to open the season, Melrose didn’t hold anything back:

“I hope our guys were embarrassed by that second period.”

Sound a little familiar? John Tortorella may be gone, but it seems like Tampa’s players aren’t going to safe from public criticism anytime soon. Melrose may get a point because he didn’t mention anyone in particular, but it’s obvious that he’s pointing towards new captain Vincent Lecavalier and veterans Martin St. Louis and Ryan Malone. That’s fine, but here’s the kicker:

“I’m sure our ownership and management were [embarrassed].”

Seriously, Melrose? By making comments like those it really shows you how much ownership is in control of this team. Since Jay Feaster‘s departure, which was less than amicable, the Lightning have actually never officially named a new general manager, although it is assumed that former player agent Brian Lawton has taken over in that capacity, but remains Koules and Barrie’s puppet.

A lot of people are rooting for the Bolts to fail for various reasons. Count me in that bandwagon.

EDIT: And a shake-up follows. The Bolts deal Michel Ouellet and Shane O’Brien to the Canucks for prospect Juraj Simek and Lukas Krajicek. The Lightning get rid of one of their excess forwards and a replaceable defenseman with the under-performing Krajicek, who will be considered a “veteran” on a young Lightning blueline.

Oct 022008

Much ado has been made about the Canucks making Roberto Luongo their captain. The move was very surprising, considering goalies are not allowed to wear the traditional ‘C’ on their jersey and there hasn’t been a goalie captain since Bill Durnan in the 1940s. One of the reasons it became illegal was because of the inefficiency of being both a captain and a goalie. Captains are designated by their respective teams to provide an on-ice voice for the team with the refs, and because the game is so fluid and the refs are constantly moving, it made it very difficult for goalies to talk to them, in part because of the very small area on the ice the goalie patrols. They can’t wander the length of the ice as most players do, and if the referee was at the other end of the rink it would be impossible to talk to them, since goalies cannot cross the red line.

I can’t help but think this move by the Canucks is a ploy to show Luongo that this is his team. Willie Mitchell has been named as the guy who would talk to the refs on a nightly basis, but the Canucks still elected to give Mitchell an ‘A’, even though he would be fulfilling the traditional duties of a player wearing the ‘C’. It goes without question that this is Luongo’s team – no one else in the league is as crucial to their team’s success as Luongo. By officially naming him captain is a mere formality that really doesn’t carry much substance, other than re-affirm the fact that Vancouver wants Luongo to stay, and will do anything to please him and accomodate his needs. But it also means that no one in the Vancouver locker room has really stepped into the captain’s void left by Markus Naslund, which has led to a committee of three players wearing A’s on a nightly basis: Mitchell, Ryan Kesler, and Mattias Ohlund.

Perhaps at the end of the day the letters don’t quite mean anything – Mitchell will talk to the refs and Luongo continues to stop the pucks. The world keeps spinning.

EDIT: The Lightning have named Martin St. Louis and, surprisingly, Andrej Meszaros as their alternate captains for this year. The Rangers have yet to name a captain, although all signs point towards Chris Drury and Mike Richards is the front-runner in Philadelphia. The Wild and Sabres are expected to continue their rotating captaincy. The Panthers, Kings, Thrashers, and Leafs have yet to name their captains for the upcoming season.

EDIT #2: The Rangers have officially named Drury their captain, while Markus Naslund and Scott Gomez will serve as the alternates. May I also add that all three players may potentially play on the same line?

Sep 132008

The Habs’ acquisition of Robert Lang from Chicago means a couple things:

1. Mats Sundin will not be a Hab. That is with utmost certainty after Bob Gainey made that clear in his press conference. Lang will be slotted into the third line, which means that Kyle Chipchura, who is expected to make the squad, may start the season in the AHL unless he has a good camp.

2. Chicago will still be looking to dump salary, but it looks like they may actually start the season with a Cristobal HuetNikolai Khabibulin tandem as Dale Tallon had suggested they would. By dumping Lang’s $4m salary, the Hawks are roughly $1.5m under the cap, good enough to start the season, but a little dangerous should the need for injury replacements arise early in the season. The Hawks are saddled with a lot of sub-$1m rookie contracts, which makes creating room a lot more difficult because it would have to involve multiple players. There is still a chance that Khabibulin ($6.75m) get moved, and if he does that means the Hawks will have plenty of cap room to play around with. The Khabibulin to LA rumours won’t die down until he is actually moved.

3. The dominoes are starting to fall. The Habs decided to move on after Sundin stated that he will not be making a decision prior to camp, which means that more teams will do the same. A lot of players, notably Brendan Shanahan and Mathieu Schneider, will find out their new homes in the coming weeks. I would think that both players would be dealt before camp begins, although under the new CBA it looks like more and more GMs are hesitant to pull the trigger and willing to be patient. Mark Parrish, another player who is looking for a new home, may find one soon after he complained that Sundin’s indecisiveness was holding up league transactions.

4. Now that the Habs have made the first move, other East teams may do the same. The Rangers could be busy in the coming weeks, perhaps signing Shanahan or acquiring Schneider, but then of course should they choose to do that they’d have to dump some salary too.

5. The Canucks are in a tight spot. While having $10m to spend is a luxury, it’ll be interesting to see how they spend it. There were rumours flying around that should Sundin land in the Big Apple that Gomez could be in a Canucks uniform, but now that seems less likely than ever. Parrish is on the Canucks’ radar and could find himself there very soon.

Sep 042008

For Mats Sundin, whose latest press conference revealed no new information about his hockey career. The Swede is still contemplating offers from as many as 6 teams, and potentially be the stumbling block of all the trades that would’ve been made already. Sundin now says that he will not make a decision before the NHL season, which means that guys like Mathieu Schneider, who was expected to be moved depending on where Sundin signs, won’t have to anymore. The sitting Duck has been itching to find out his new home, and sources say it is rumoured to be a strong Eastern Conference team. The Sundin saga has dragged itself out for far too long, and I doubt any new news will surface until he puts the ink on the paper.

And all smiles also to…

Brad Isbister, who has now found a home in Ottawa, thanks to Bryan Murray‘s new-found hobby of collecting former Canucks, including the speedy yet diminutive Ryan Shannon.

Jarret Stoll, who has finally inked a contract with the Kings worth $3.6m/year over 4 years. The two-way centre was on his way to a breakout season with the Oilers after an impressive 68-point season, but sputtered to start the season and never regained his form. The Kings are also happy that they are now $3.6m closer to the cap floor. $9m more to go, Dean.

Alex Pietrangelo and Zach Bogosian, who have agreed to entry-level contracts with the Blues and Kings, respectively. Pietrangelo will be a long-shot to crack the Blues’ regular lineup, but Bogosian, with a strong camp, may be able to secure a spot on the Kings’ blueline.

Aug 222008

“Vicarious liability.” That’s the technical term for the liability that is imposed on the employer for the conduct of his/her employee, on the grounds that the employer should be held accountable for third party losses. Bruce Dowbiggin at the Calgary Herald argues that the recent turn of events in the Steve Moore case could set a precedent to the NHL’s policy of allowing “extreme violence” in the sport. This trial is extremely significant for the NHL because unlike the Marty McSorley or Dino Ciccarelli case, this is a civil case, not criminal.

Marc Crawofrd has vehemently denied any responsibility for Todd Bertuzzi‘s actions, and had argued that he was in fact trying to get Bertuzzi back to the bench moments before the sucker punch. Dowbiggin’s source claims that the trial will come down to Moore’s own decision to play that game. Should Moore have willingly dressed for that game, he will have to assume some responsibility, since it is assumed that there would be some concern for injury and high levels of risk.

However, Moore is arguing that the form of violence he was expecting was not “clean,” meaning it wasn’t a body check or a fight. He is further arguing that Bertuzzi had used unreasonable force, and if the judge sides with Moore there could potentially be a big payday for Moore. Should Moore win, the NHL head office may have to make drastic policies in allowing vigilante justice and violence, and perhaps change the overall face of the game. Intimidation tactics like the ones the Broad Street Bullies and the Ducks used may very well be a thing of the past.

Dowbiggin’s source also doesn’t think the blame should solely lie on the shoulders of Crawford, Canucks management, or Orca Bay, but the league as well:

“The NHL could have avoided this. Knowing the level of tension involved in Moore’s hit on Naslund, they could have simply suspended Moore for the two remaining games against Vancouver. That would have solved it. But the league was so arrogant it thought nothing would come of the situation. That let it happen. Now, they’re in a position where it may rebound on them big time.”

Apparently no one else in the world has 20/20 hindsight like Dowbiggin’s source. I would think that the league would’ve come under a lot of fire if they had to suspend Moore for “safety reasons.” Could you imagine to what lengths the league would take precautionary actions for a guy like Sidney Crosby? Would future Buffalo-Ottawa games not feature Ottawa’s entire top line? I’m sorry, but that’s just a bunk argument.

Aug 212008

Bryan McCabe‘s move to the sunshine state is generating a lot of buzz lately, and the Palm Beach Post has suggested that McCabe’s acquisition is Jacques Martin‘s way of saying “we’re serious about winning” in the hopes that Jay Bouwmeester would bite.

I say that’s wishful thinking, Jacques. I say the only way they can get Bouwmeester to stay is if they reach the playoffs and put up a fight in the first round, but the former seems unlikely already. While McCabe is a huge step up over Mike Van Ryn, who is rumoured to be going the other way, he’s not exactly a guy that can just turn around the fortunes of an underachieving team. The Panthers still have a shoddy offense and have yet to replace Olli Jokinen, and even with McCabe’s offensive abilities they’re still lacking bite.

On a semi-related topic, the Panthers are one of 8 teams who still have not named a captain, and James Mirtle has brought up some names.

For the record, I don’t think anyone on the Thrashers, Panthers, Kings, Leafs, or Canucks roster is captain material, but if I had to pick it’d be Ilya Kovalchuk, Nathan Horton, Dustin Brown, Tomas Kaberle, and Willie Mitchell, respectively. But my picks were Chris Drury for the Rangers, Mike Richards for Philadelphia, and Vincent Lecavalier for Tampa.

Aug 202008

Todd Bertuzzi has yet to find a home. Since his Vancouver days, the burly winger has never spent more than a full year with any team. First, he was traded to Florida for Roberto Luongo, but promptly shipped to Detroit at the deadline. He wasn’t as effective as Ken Holland had hoped for, despite putting up 4 points in 8 games. He then promptly signed a lucrative contract with Anaheim, re-uniting him with Brian Burke, and with the promise of possibly playing alongside Ryan Getzlaf or Andy McDonald, things looked pretty bright. But with Scott Niedermayer notifying the team of his commitment for 82 games, and with Teemu Selanne still mulling over retirement, it left Bertuzzi, along with his hefty contract, the casualty. So, for the third straight season, Bertuzzi will be putting on a different sweater than the season before.

All this, some argue, can be traced back to the 2004 Steve Moore incident. Moore suffered facial lacerations and broken vertebrae as a result of Bertuzzi’s sucker punch and the pile-up that followed, and promptly smacked a $38m lawsuit against Bertuzzi, Marc Crawford, Brian Burke, Brad May, and Orca Bay. The lawsuit was filed in Colorado, the place of the event, but was thrown out as the judge felt that BC would be a better venue. In Vancouver, Bertuzzi pleaded guilty to charges of assault causing bodily harm, and completed his probation successfully. In 2006, Moore filed another lawsuit against Bertuzzi in his native province of Ontario, citing loss of income, aggravated damages, punitive damages, and mental distress. The lawsuit claims that Bertuzzi should owe Moore roughly $20m.

Of course Bertuzzi didn’t have $20m lying around (he had tried to settle with Moore for $350k), and has since filed a lawsuit against Crawford in his own defense. Bertuzzi claims that he was obeying Crawford, and that he was contractually obligated to do so. However, just recently Crawford has came out saying that Bertuzzi refused to listen to him, and that his actions were of his own doing and further claims that he had tried to get Bertuzzi off the ice. Crawford is vehemently denying any involvement in the incident. It’s a battle of his word against mine, and I don’t ever see Bertuzzi winning this lawsuit because Crawford is innocent until proven guilty. Bertuzzi will have to bring forth some very convincing evidence to win.