know I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again.
“It’s been a long summer – but hockey’s back!” I’m pretty sure the Ontario
Lottery and Gaming Commission had no idea their “Pro Line” television ad from so
many years ago would become so ingrained in our minds, but it has.
Aside from the summer before the
lockout, the summer of 2009 has been a strange one – and not just because of the
weather and environment (depending on where you call home).
As we get set to drop the puck on another intense regular season, here’s
where the yearly “how I spent my summer vacation” can be put to some practical
use. OK, you all can stop groaning now.
are still in Phoenix – for now…
When we last
the Pittsburgh Penguins had managed the unthinkable – they beat the favored
Detroit Red Wings in 7 games to win the Stanley Cup. Ever since then, the Cup
has made its yearly rounds to the players – and now, it seems the trophy itself
has renewed acquaintances of its own – I know the Cup has been thrown in water
before, but I believe Mario Lemieux may now hold a distinct record – the most
times the Cup has seen the bottom of the same swimming pool. More recently, the
Cup was seen schmoozing with President Barack Obama, a self described Chicago
Blackhawks fan. Hey Sidney, why #44 on the back of the Obama jersey you
presented him with? I’m still trying to figure out that one.
before Jonathan Roy, Son of former goalie great Patrick Roy, released his Debut
CD, and caused at least one Quebec publication to label him as the “New King Of
Pop”. Subsequently, the Real King of Pop, Michael Jackson, upon hearing this
probably believed it to be true…and…well…you know…R.I.P. Mike…(for the record,
before you send me hate mail regarding this, please understand it is highly
unlikely to find a bigger fan than I – Michael’s death has affected me more than
anybody knows – and, well, now you know)…
Just as we
were coming to grips with the passing of our dearest Jacko, it was a quick wipe
of the tears and on to the yearly draft – this year from “La Belle Province”,
the ultimate hockey lair (or so they’d have you believe), Montreal, Quebec.
While Brian Burke was busy wheeling and dealing for Phil Kessel (not to mention
pissing off Bryan Murray by taking Nazem Khadri with his first pick), the
Philadelphia Flyers were busy getting Chris Pronger out of Disneyland. Then the
moment we’d all been waiting for – John Tavares was drafted #1 overall and will
spend at least his foreseeable future on Long Island. With all due respect to
John, can I make a bold statement right now and say the Flyers are Eastern
Conference Final bound? Oh, and while Burkie did finally get his man (two
months later but better late than never), it made
for great drama on the draft floor during an otherwise dull and predictable
gets a much needed boost behind the bench – John Tortorella will be head coach
of the American Men’s hockey team in Vancouver next February. While I believe
he’s a great choice, I don’t think they have a chance in hell at Gold. Sorry.
are still in Phoenix – for now…is there an echo in here?
retires. A true class act, if ever there was one. Even though hockey
can be a violent sport at times, it's nice to know there are still those who
play the game with integrity, on and off the ice.
As free agents start putting pen to paper on new contracts, our focus shifts to
Chicago – not just for netting the biggest fish in the water in Marian Hossa,
but for what has become affectionately known as the “Fed Ex” incident. Have you
ever seen a team sign players faster than the Blackhawks did when word got out
the NHL might veto the late mailed qualifying offers? Me neither. And they say
Gary Bettman has no spine? Could’ve fooled me! The Hawks did let more than a
few keys of last year’s run get away though: Martin Havlat is gone to Minnesota
to replace Gaborik, and the Bulin Wall decided to take his chances in Edmonton.
a trade out of Ottawa, but then says no deal to a move which would have sent him
to Edmonton for Andrew Cogliano, Dustin Penner and Ladislav Smid. In the
process, he makes TSN, Sportsnet and Yours Truly look like idiots after we all
had reported the deal was all but done. This is something they need to change
in the next CBA – if you have a no trade clause, demanding a trade should make
the clause null and void. I mean, am I missing something here? Isn’t the whole
point to keep you in the same uniform for the term of the contract? Evidently
you’d never hear Ted Nolan’s name again – think again. He was named the new VP
of hockey operations for the AHL’s Rochester Americans. Can a return to the NHL
be far behind?
If it looks
they’re playing musical chairs in the Northeast Division – you’re right! Former
Buffalo defenseman Jaroslav Spacek is now a member of the Montreal Canadiens,
while former Habs Mike Komisarek and Alex Kovalev now call Toronto and Ottawa
home respectively. Steve Begin is gone to Boston. All so the Habs can take
their chances with overpriced forwards Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta. Yet, Carey
Price is still as good as it will get in goal. Good luck with that, Mr.
Gainey. In the meantime, don’t look now, but the Calgary Flames just unveiled
their biggest signing in years – Jay Bouwmeester.
an interesting story – the Iowa Chops of the AHL has been suspended for the
2009-10 season by the AHL’s board of governors – citing violations of the
league’s constitution and bylaws. While AHL president David Andrews declined
comment, the Des Moines Register reported club owners had used the franchise as
collateral to obtain a loan, which is prohibited by league rules. Franchise
owners say the team has lost more than $4 million since its inception in 2005.
A proposal by owners to sell and move the team was rejected by officials with
Polk County. Owners evidently signed off on a non-relocation agreement and it
seems they’re being held to it. Sound familiar? So here’s my question – if the
NHL really wanted to show Jerry Moyes, Jim Balsillie and the city of Glendale
who’s really the boss, couldn’t they intervene in this whole Phoenix mess and
just suspend the team for a season or two while Balsillie and company duke it
out in court? OK, so maybe the thought crossed their minds, and maybe it would
be a bad business decision, but at the end of the day it would also set a
are still in Phoenix – for now…not sure for how much longer though…
This column turns 100 (articles) when
this is completed, and this columnist turned 36. Spent the last weeks of summer
until puck drop playing every variation of Guitar Hero/Rock Band I could get my
hands on (yes, even the extremely inferior Rock Revolution), mixed in with demos
of NHL 10 as well as Metal Gear Solid 4, which has been sitting collecting dust
since last hockey season started. So many games, so little time…Update: I’m
happy to announce I finally beat Metal Gear Solid 4, after having purchased it
with my system more than 14 months ago!
It’s finally official – the next
outdoor game will be held January 1, 2010 at Fenway Park in Boston. The Bruins
will play the Philadelphia Flyers. Can you say potential Conference Final
matchup?! Not yet? OK, but may I remind you the last outdoor game ended up the
Western Conference final after everybody laughed at the very idea at the time.
It’s a good thing it gets cold in the New England in January – because they’ll
need the ice to stay put for a college hockey doubleheader a week later. Boston
College and Boston University men’s teams will face off in the main event, and
Northeastern University and University of New Hampshire’s women’s teams will
play each other in the afternoon opener. Should be a lot of fun, but couldn’t
we pit the men against the women to mix things up a bit? Just wondering.
Mike Sillinger retires after 17
seasons. If he doesn’t end up in broadcasting, you’ll probably see him take a
job somewhere as a face off coach. A specialist in the circle he was.
Todd Bertuzzi somehow manages to
return to Detroit, signing a one year, $1.5 million deal. Just when you thought
the Red Wings were going for their third straight finals appearance...
are still in Phoenix – for now…but I’ll be damned if Jim Balsillie isn’t one of
the most resilient men I’ve never met…
Bret Hedican retires after 17 NHL seasons. One of the smoothest skaters you’ll ever see.
And one of the grittiest skaters you’ll ever see, Jason Smith, calls it a career
after 1,008 career games.
Craig MacTavish takes a job with TSN
as a hockey analyst while he awaits his next coaching job. Question is, will it
come before, or after the new year?
After hearing and reading about his
demands to be traded since June, Dany Heatley finally got his wish at about the
6 hour mark of training camp. Heatley becomes a San Jose Shark, and
Milan Michalek and Jonathan Cheechoo become Sens. Still vague on why he wanted
to leave, finally the Senators can move on and forget all about the season that
wasn’t last year. On a lighter note, the Edmonton Oilers, having just signed
Heatley’s former team mate Mike Comrie (once an Oiler, always an Oiler), will
get to play the Sharks four times this season. Careful what you wish for...
The Mike Danton saga finally comes to
a close. Danton was granted parole from his life sentence for attempted murder
of his former agent David Frost. During the parole hearing it was revealed his
real target was actually his father. Really? So how exactly did the testimony
and evidence from the trial manage to put him behind bars for seven years if
this is true? At least we can be sure we won’t be seeing Danton, Jefferson, or
whatever the hell his name is on skates playing professional hockey anytime
soon. One of his parole conditions is he stay in Canada. Remind me never ever
to move to his neighborhood.
In the yearly video game wars, Alex Ovechkin is the cover player for 2K Sports NHL 2K10,
while Patrick Kane graces the EA Sports NHL 10 box. Neither game seems to be
much of an improvement over last year’s version – but if it’s value you crave,
2K Sports wins hands down by offering a free Wii motion in the box with the
Nintendo Wii version – the only hockey game available on the platform. EA, on
the other hand, seems to have abandoned the legacy systems, including PC Gamers,
in favor of the quote unquote “Next Gen” systems, which evidently don’t include
the Wii either (not surprisingly).
In Calgary, an old friend won’t be
returning after all. Theoren Fleury applied for, and was granted a
reinstatement after having been one of the first to enter the NHL’s Substance
Abuse program. Fleury’s heart has stayed near and dear to the game, and you
just had a feeling he’d be back at some point. Even though he decided to make
his retirement official – fans and players alike were happy to see the legend
lace them up again. Perhaps what he really wanted an attempt at retaining his
scoring record broken by Jarome Iginla last year? We’ll never know.
New York – meet Marion Gaborik – but
don’t be surprised if he never gets to play for you. He was excused from Day 2
of training camp with yet another tweaked groin, much to the delight of
Minnesota fans everywhere who don’t have to bear witness to this yearly ritual
With all 30
NHL teams open for business, we’re still no closer to knowing the real fate of
the Phoenix Coyotes. It’s important to also note Jim Balsillie’s company,
Research In Motion, has just announced their first new Blackberry model in more
than six months. Coincidence?
are still in Phoenix – for now, Wayne Gretzky won’t be back behind the bench in
Arizona anytime soon. Dave Tippett will take his place, supposedly with a new
philosophy and new ideas. I can’t imagine how you can do much better than the
greatest player to ever lace up the skates, but perhaps therein was the
problem. When the best there ever was is now your coach, one can’t expect
miracles. Time will tell if it’s just what the doctor ordered, and whether or
not we’ll still refer to them as the Desert Dogs in six months time…
looking like the only team ready to skate with Pittsburgh in the Eastern
Conference is Philadelphia, even though Detroit has become a little younger, is
there anybody in the West who can beat them? Conventional wisdom will tell you
3rd time won’t be a charm, given the nature of this year’s schedule,
but until a team can prove otherwise, don’t bet on it. As they say, the window
of opportunity is closing fast. Somehow, they seem to believe Bertuzzi can help
their cause, but they’ll see just like Calgary did last year.
is not a sign of things to come, but there is strife in the NHLPA again. In
case you haven’t already heard – Paul Kelly is out, Glenn Healy has stepped down
and is back with the Hockey Night In Canada crew, and who knows what lies ahead
for the players union. Word on the street is all 30 player representatives
could change before the regular season puck drops, but this is just the
beginning. Things are not right with the union right now, nobody is talking.
Until we get some real answers, all we can do is speculate, but we can’t go
through another lockout – it just cannot happen. Stay tuned…
So, how did
you spend your summer? All I know is the weather wasn’t very nice here – until
now. Yet, we drop the puck in a few short days. Well, I guess there’s a reason
I have a TV near the deck. Heaven only knows it won’t stay this warm for long…
PUCKIN’ AROUND TURNS
So, here I am – 100 articles, and
counting. Who cares, right? Wrong.
OK, so I’ve never played the game
professionally. Hell, I can’t even skate properly. The last time I tried I
fell flat on my face. So just what could I possibly know about the world’s
fastest sport on ice, aside from maybe bobsledding? Forget hockey, what do I
know about writing a column for heaven’s sakes?
Having written 100 articles and
running a small, independent website which receives a modest number of hits per
day to many might not seem like much of a feat. To me, it’s everything, and I
have many people to thank for it; everyone from my 11th grade English
teacher, to the man behind all of the glory which is Sports Byline. And
let's not forget our fearless co-webmaster, the man behind the uLAr Takes and
Randumb Thoughts. His mark is all over this website, whether you know it
or not. Many times he will provide me with spins on things I never thought
of, and it helps me keep my thoughts in check more than he'll ever realize.
Some said I couldn’t write myself out
of a wet paper bag, whatever that means (actual e-mail feedback). Some said it
was ridiculous to even try. But, it is feedback like this, more than anything,
that drives me to keep going with this. I believe it was Tony Little who
said on one of his many exercise DVDs “You have to do what people say you can’t
do. You have to do what makes you happy. You have to do what makes you
healthy.” I believe it was also our friend Mr. Little who said “You have to
fall down to get back up. If you don’t get up, then you’ve lost your life,
you’ve lost your passion. Don’t ever do that!” Preach to the choir, my
brother. The proof is in the pudding. You have a good week's worth
of reading right here if you care to go back far enough (or if you're bored
enough, whichever best describes your situation!)
If it wasn’t for my 11th grade English teacher, Mr.
MacDonald, I don’t know if I ever would have worked up enough courage to have
attempted this in the first place. Previous incarnations of him, who, oddly
enough, their names I’ve forgotten (but you all know who you are!), used to tell
me I can’t write, I can’t express myself, and, well you know, all of the
discouraging words you should never say to someone who’s just trying to gain an
understanding of the world and be a better person for it. Sure, sometimes I
have a hard time putting my thoughts together. I’ll be the first to admit there
really is such a thing called “writer’s block”. But like they always tell you –
if at first you don’t succeed, try try again – and there’s the key. I believe
it was our old pal Yoda who once said “Try not! Do! Or Do Not! There is no
try!” Definite words of wisdom from a timeless movie icon. I see Mr. MacDonald
around every now and again, and while I’m sure he’s long forgotten my name, he
remembers me for one thing – a Shakespeare essay I wrote where I went so far
outside the box, it completely floored him. This is what we need in life –
people to give you words of encouragement, people to help motivate you. Most
importantly, can it really hurt to think outside the box once and awhile?
When I first met Ron Barr, it was this
same kind of enthusiasm and encouragement which to this day still keeps me
going. He could see in me a passion and a fire for the game – mind you, you’d
be hard pressed to find any Canadian born person who doesn’t – but, I have the
article to write. I have the perspective. I have the website. I have the
blog. I have the personality. And dog gone it – people like me (I hope)!
So with my birthday many weeks past, I’ll wish myself a happy 36th,
I’ll wish the column a happy 100th, and God willing, here’s to 100
more. Thank you all for reading. Thank you all for your feedback, positive or
negative. And thank you all for loving the game as much as I do. Hockey needs
us, now more than ever, and together we can help give the world’s best kept
secret on ice a household name, especially in those not so traditional markets.
We all know where they are.
Stay tuned for more things puck – I’ll
have a review of NHL 2K10 and hopefully NHL 10 in the coming weeks, and don’t
forget, on most game nights I blog like there’s no tomorrow at my website. Just
Google “Puckin’ Around” and you’re sure to find me faster than Zdeno Chara can
shoot the puck. My usual features “Along The Boards” and “Who Is This Guy?”
will return soon. After I’ve had a chance to see some more games I’ll be back
with my fearless predictions.
Above all else, enjoy the season – it
may seem long, but it really isn’t! May the best team win! Now, if you’ll
excuse me, I have to call my cable company and order my Centre Ice package…
More Puckin' Around...