OFF SEASON BUZZ

 

Wayne Gretzky is not making a comeback.

There must not be much to talk about in the hockey world when all one can conjure up is a Gretzky comeback bid. All Gretzky did was take part in a light workout. It's almost as though the stereotype is once you retire you can't work out anymore. The league and its players should be ashamed for even suggesting such a thing.

As for Jeremy Roenick for saying "half of everybody in the NHL knows Wayne is coming back", I ask this question: When did you wake up from that freight train from Ottawa, labeled number 3, hitting you?

Even if the rumors are half true, I say this. "Don't do it Wayne!" You had an unbelievable run that will never be matched in our lifetime. You aren't Mario Lemieux and you aren't nearly in as good a shape. Do yourself, do hockey, do me a favor. "Don't do it". And another favor, "Don't ever close down your restaurant in Toronto, or if ever you do, make sure you E-mail me that Chicken Wings recipe!" For those of you who have never been, if ever you visit Toronto, visit 99 Blue Jay Way (just up a block from Skydome), you'll be glad you did.).

What I would like to see is Gretzky as a head coach. I know he says he has no interest in it, but I really think the role would fit him well. He has succeeded in virtually every other aspect of the game, why not coaching?

Another thing, Gretzky has a great golf game going, so he might think about joining the senior PGA Tour. Anybody catch him squaring off against Brett Hull, Jarome Iginla and Mike Weir? Unbelievable!!!

Whew!! Wasn't really the way I intended to start this column off, but it had to be said. Thanks Wayne for the memories, but leave it at that.

MORE OFF-SEASON MADNESS

In more off-season news, Paul Kariya signed a one year deal with Anaheim worth ten million smackers. Hello? Anybody home? Yes, he was valuable to his team last year. Yes, he was valuable to Team Canada. Question is, does anybody in Anaheim even care anymore? I say no, and I'll tell you why later.

Alexandre Daigle's comeback attempt is playing out like a movie. Entertainment news, out of Quebec, is reporting romantic links with singer/songwriter Sheryl Crow. Apparently they met at a Grand Prix event in June. I fail to see the connection here (and maybe that's a good thing). As for Sheryl, please no cover remakes of The Hockey Song, OK? I like your music, but don't go there with a ten foot pole. Thanks. As for Alex, please no temper tantrums when they don't book Sheryl to sing the national anthem. Just an interesting meaningless tidbit, thought I'd throw it in for good measure, after all it's summertime. Wasn't this reporter, in Quebec, the same guy who tried to tell us that Daigle was romantically linked to Alanis Morissette back in 1995? Just wondering.

On a more serious note, apparently Pittsburgh will be the team Daigle will try out for. Previously, it was reported he would try out with San Jose. The truth is San Jose, like about eight or nine other teams, were interested, but Daigle himself never agreed on anything, contract or otherwise. While a lot of us are surprised, his agent Pat Brisson says we shouldn't be and reminds us that for a guy who was a No. 1 overall pick, with bursting speed and talent, anybody in his right mind would give him a chance. They have nothing to lose. Brisson also doesn't believe the Sheryl Crow rumors. Hmmmmm... In any event, the Penguins have made it official and Daigle has apparently signed on the dotted line. Can you imagine him on a line with Lemieux? This is sounding better all the time and makes sense when you consider that Robert Lang is gone and Martin Straka's future in hockey is uncertain.

Ray Ferraro has decided to call it a career after eighteen seasons in the NHL. Apparently he has accepted a broadcasting position with ESPN. I wonder how much of a raise that is. Regardless, his experience should bring much needed insight to the network, and I mean that in a good way. Best of luck Ray, it's been real.

Doug Gilmour has confirmed he will give it one more go with the Montreal Canadians, putting retirement rumors to rest. This is going to be a scary team this season, look out. Knock on wood, the injury bug stays away for good and the former Ghosts of the Forum approve recent team moves which are minor. It wouldn't surprise me to see the Habs in the Final Four again.

Bryan Berard is moving from Broadway to Beantown. The Boston Bruins signed him to a one year deal with an option year at the Bruins' discretion. Goes to show you don't have to have 20/20 vision to play hockey. Of course, Berard was Ottawa's first round draft pick back in 1995 before he bolted for the NY Islanders and Toronto before suffering the eye injury that almost ended his career.

The Theo Fleury saga keeps getting better and better. Reports out of Toronto are negative that Fleury will sign with the Leafs. Pat Quinn was quoted as saying he doesn't think Toronto would be the right fit for Fleury. My question is, who is going to fill in for Gary Roberts while he takes four months off to recover from shoulder surgery? The Chicago rumors won't go away, and now reportedly Phoenix is interested as well. I wonder if Theo was serious about moving to Europe?
Ulf Dahlen returns to Dallas after playing last season in Washington. The Stars are getting scarier, but still need a goaltender.

Stop the presses!! Bob Clarke has actually made a decent signing for once! I know I keep mentioning this guy, but Andre Savage, formerly of the Manitoba Moose, has reportedly signed a two year deal with Philadelphia. Finally somebody is willing to give a good player a chance. I think you fans in Philly will agree, once you are able to see this guy play, he is a keeper. This is definitely a step in the right direction for a team that quietly whimpered into the off season in the first round of the playoffs. I guess this is why they didn't re-sign Adam Oates. Please Bobby, let this guy play, don't do like Brian Burke in Vancouver.

Radek Bonk won his arbitration case against the Ottawa Senators and as a result will make $6.7 million over the next two years. This is more than a $1 million raise from what the Sens were offering. Do I smell a trade brewing here? Word of advice Bonk, perform or pack your bags! Based on past years' stats, the raise is well deserved as long as he remains consistent. Still with the Senators, Chris Phillips avoided arbitration by signing a two year deal worth $3.2 million.

DO THE FANS EVEN COUNT ANYMORE??

Over the past several weeks, I have tuned into Sports Byline and heard fans complain about all that's going on in baseball. This got me thinking, does anybody honestly believe this can't happen in Hockey? The NHL and NHLPA has a collective bargaining agreement that will expire in 2004. Not knowing what's going to happen, we've seen several two year deals signed this past summer.

Mulling the variables over in my head and observing some of the crazy deals and signings that occurred this summer led me to ask myself the question, "Do the fans even count anymore?" I've seen some potentially good teams make stupid moves and seen the best teams get even better. Arbitration cases are at an all time high. Jarome Iginla, top scorer in the league last year, remains unsigned. What does this all mean to the fans? Higher ticket prices, dreams of championships remaining simply dreams, and an overall business vibe that tells fans the owners are in it for the money and the sponsorship. As long as the fans buy the tickets and fill the stands (whether they can afford it or not), so what? If the team just so happens to qualify for the playoffs, even better. And if you're Detroit, well you know the story there.

It is this mentality that's killing hockey and pro sports in general. Case in point, in Ottawa you can go to a Senators game for an average of fifty dollars per ticket. For that you get a seat in the upper bowl. If you happen to catch them when they go on sale middle of each month, you can get seats as low as twenty dollars. I already spoke about how these same tickets increase dramatically during the playoffs. If the Ottawa owners had their way, the Corel Centre would have 14,000 of these seats filled with season ticket holders. That leaves 4,500 seats for the general public to buy right up until the puck drops. For those who don't know, Ottawa is a city and a surrounding area of more than a million people. You would think every game would be sold out. Not so. Fans last season were upset over the first round sweep by Toronto the previous season and were skeptical about going to see their team lose. I saw more fans at the Civic Center watching the OHL's 67s than I saw watching the Sens (I guess the mentality there being at least the 67s can win a championship). Even once the playoffs started, the arena was not sold out until the Sens started leading in the series against Philadelphia (I'll admit, even I was skeptical about going until game four, simply because the team really did stink on the ice). The almighty dollar seems to be the approach from management's standpoint, and the fans have noticed. Fast forward to now. The Senators made it within one game of the Conference Finals (but lost to Toronto...again!). Interest in the team has been revamped. A few players have been traded away and replaced with minor leaguers. The key pieces to the puzzle have received huge pay raises. And of course, the ticket prices have increased, again.

For a supposedly a small market team, this could end up being detrimental at some point should the Senators again miss the playoffs. Management has threatened several times to move the team if the support is not there. Problem is, why pay to see a team lose when you can sit at home and watch the game on T.V.? Personally, I'll go because of my passion for the game, but as I've already admitted, I want to see a good effort from the team. It's one thing to lose from a good effort. It is another thing to lose from a lackluster effort. Which do you think is better? I'd like to know I paid to see a good product, win or lose.

As for the fans, you need look no further than my second Puckin' Around article entitled "Time To Rant" to see how the live game experience has become sour because of a select few inconsiderate people. Few fans go because they like the game. A lot of them go because they got free tickets from their job or a friend who happens to be a season ticket holder.

Steering away from Ottawa for a second, I've noticed a few other situations where owners of the teams have money, but are making silly moves or getting rid of key players to save money, which they don't need to do.

The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim are owned and operated by Disney. You'd think they'd be able to afford and lure players that could contribute to bringing a championship to the area. Instead, management continues to trade players away that seem to contribute. Players want out and subsequently get traded. Paul Kariya seems to be the only player who is able to whether the storm. Where is Teemu Selanne when you need him? Why does the team seem to think that Adam Oates will help turn this team around? Why doesn't the team have a decent goalie? Why did they trade away one of their best defensemen in Tverdovsky? Lots of unanswered questions, no answers.

Perhaps management can answer these questions or perhaps we need to talk to Gary Bettman. A fan from Anaheim, I communicate with frequently, tells me they've given up on the team and their bad management decisions. This same fan used to absolutely adore the game and would go any chance they got. Now, they're lucky if they can even see the games on T.V. or hear the games on the radio, that tells me some of the sponsors have started to lose faith. Very sad story here. Hopefully things will improve with the moves they've made over the summer. We'll see. Already the team is reducing ticket prices on 52.7% of the Arrowhead Pond's capacity and have frozen prices on all other seats in an effort to get fans back. Hopefully in their tenth season they can make something special happen. For whatever it's worth, I really like the logo they're using this season.

In Buffalo, the question is, will they survive? The NHL says they'll take care of the operation of the team into the next season. There are apparently several interested local buyers. Then we have rumors that have the team moving everywhere from Houston to Hamilton, Ontario. We'll keep an eye on this situation and wish the Sabres the best of luck. It would be a shame to lose one of the grittiest teams in the East. There's a reason fans wear hardhats to the games.

There are a lot of variables on the table now, and in order for hockey in general to survive, there are plenty of issues that need to be addressed before 2004. Of course, player salaries are a big one. There's talk of an impending salary cap which will be necessary for small market teams like Ottawa, Edmonton, Calgary and any of the expansion teams to survive. However, I wonder, is it really the money or lack thereof that is hurting teams, or is it management?

Hockey's problems mirror baseball's. Coming back to Ottawa, they've remained competitive and improve every year even though they have a budget compared to richer teams like Detroit, New York Rangers, Philadelphia and Dallas. Out of those four teams, only one of those teams advanced beyond the first round of the playoffs and only two of them even qualified. On the other side of the coin, you have a small market team in Carolina that went all the way to the finals. It all boils down to parity in the league. Any team can beat any team on any given night, no matter what the team's salary structure is. That's why I think a salary cap is necessary.

We'll know more about what the league plans to do as 2004 approaches. The next time there is a general managers' meeting, there should be plenty of talk about how to approach the collective bargaining agreement and how to get the NHLPA to negotiate prior to the deadline. The worst possible thing that could happen is a repeat of 1994/95 when the lockout shortened the season to forty-eight games. Of course, the New Jersey Devils aren't complaining about that season, are they? Personally, I have a hard enough time waiting until October for the puck to drop again. I don't ever again want to have to wait until January.

Well folks, training camp is just around the corner! Hang in there and before you know it will be Game On again! Just remember to watch out for those cars.

Iím Adam Hill, and thatís Puckiní Around.
 

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