ONE CRAZY SUMMER

 

I 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.

 

June:

The Coyotes are still in Phoenix – for now…

When we last spoke, 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.

I mentioned 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 event.

Team USA 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.

 

July:

The Coyotes are still in Phoenix – for now…is there an echo in here?

Joe Sakic 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.

Let the insanity begin!  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.

Dany Heatley demands 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 not.

If you thought 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 like 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.

Now here’s 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 precedent.

 

August:

The Coyotes 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...

 

September:

The Coyotes 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 any longer.

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?

While the Coyotes 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…

While it’s 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.

Hopefully this 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 100

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…

 

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