As we near both
the end of 2006 and the halfway mark of the NHL regular season, one thing is
becoming very apparent – you can try to run, but you can't hide out there on the
So who’s making
the grade? Here we go with the 4th annual installment of the Puckin’
Around report cards. Enjoy and keep reading for an exclusive “All I Want For
Christmas” rant in my usual Along The Boards section.
Anaheim Ducks –
Chris Pronger, the Niedermayer brothers, Teemu Selanne, J.S. Giguere – need I
say more? Losers of only five games in regulation time all season. Best overall
at home and on the road (they broke the NHL record for road wins through the
first 30 games). Simply the best, bar none, and they have the best overall
record in the standings to prove it. But can they keep it going down the
stretch when they will play more road games?
Atlanta Thrashers –
Ilya Kovalchuk is a scary player at the best of times. Now he has a
rejuvenated Marian Hossa on his wing. Kari Lehtonen continues to prove why he
was one of the top drafted goaltenders in recent memory. Leads their division
at the Christmas break for the first time in franchise history.
Boston Bruins –
At times this season they appeared to very much miss the likes of Joe Thornton
and Ray Bourque, but as of late a new hero has emerged – goaltender Tim Thomas.
They’ve battled their way out of the Northeast Division basement and will be a
threat for 8th in the Eastern Conference by the time all is said and
done – but they have the Ottawa Senators on their tail – yes you read that
Let’s not discount the impact Zdeno Chara has had either. One thing they
can either take to the bank or squander the opportunity – they have at least two
games at hand on their entire division, and as of late are making them count.
Buffalo Sabres –
New uniforms, same old team. The Sabres picked up where they left off last
season and the pedal continues to be on the metal. Ryan Miller missed a small
portion of time due to injury but he is back and in fine form. Daniel Briere
and Maxim Afinogenov are both coming into their own. The exclamation point on
what could inevitably turn into a magical season for the Sabres was a 7-2 rout
over Central Division leading Nashville Predators. Oddly enough, they haven’t
fared so well against their own division, particularly Ottawa and Montreal, the
only bump on an otherwise smooth road so far.
Calgary Flames –
Every team in the Northwest Division gets at the very least a B just for being
within a win or two of 1st place. The Flames have heated up after a
less than favorable start and are right up there with Edmonton and Minnesota,
yet Colorado and Vancouver aren’t far off the pace.
One need only look at
the standings to realize there’s the understatement of the year.
Offense or lack thereof continues to be a
concern, as Alex Tanguay hasn’t sparked Jarome Iginla as it was originally
hoped. What they lack in offense is made up on defense, as Dion Phaneuf
continues to log Al MacInnis ice time and Miikka Kiprusoff for the most part is
a stone wall in net. It remains to be seen what team will make it out of the
logjam in the division, but the Flames will no doubt be a contender again.
– The defending champs aren’t off to the start they had last season, but
they are still within reach of the division lead. Part of the problem has been
the absence of Cory Stillman, who is back, and you can see the difference
already. Eric Cole is finally coming back around after the serious injury he
sustained last year. They let Martin Gerber sign in Ottawa as a free agent, but
with Conn Smythe winner Cam Ward backstopping the Canes, nobody cares. They
don’t seem to miss Mark Recchi or Doug Weight, as Eric Staal has filled in the
void. It’s always tough to dethrone the champions, and this year will be no
exception. The only problem is Washington and Atlanta are better teams this
Chicago Blackhawks –
After thinking Martin Havlat and Michal Handzus would give them the offense
they so desperately needed, both sustained injuries. While Havlat has since
come back, Handzus is gone for the season. Luckily Nikolai Khabibulin is
getting back to the form he showed with Tampa Bay in 2003, but with a mostly
rookie defense it will still be a long season for the Hawks. Yet, they are
hovering just below the playoff line and could squeak in if they make a good run
for it. Adding Peter Bondra as a free agent was a move I’m surprised nobody
thought of sooner.
Colorado Avalanche –
Every time I think they’re done, they prove me wrong. Sure, Joe Sakic is
still on this team, but for how much longer? It all goes to show just how smart
Pierre Lacroix really was, not just in the moves he made, but with the drafting
process. The Northwest Division has never been tighter, and while I still think
the team can’t keep it going unless they pull off a blockbuster trade for a
goalie or a sniper, they don’t seem to care and roll right along. By the way,
can Tyler Arnason perhaps tell me what’s in the drinking water in Denver? Both
he and Pierre Turgeon seem like they’ve discovered the fountain of youth.
Jackets – When it’s broke – fire the coach. It seems to have worked for
the Jackets, as since Gerard Gallant was let go in favor of Ken Hitchcock,
Columbus has been on fire. While they may have been too far behind to make some
noise in the playoff race, they’ve managed to pull out of the Western Conference
basement and are on the way up. Sergei Fedorov hasn’t been on a points streak
since he left Detroit, and Rick Nash is finally putting up Rick Nash numbers.
Even Nikolai Zherdev is getting in on the act. Anson Carter has looked at home
too. Look out for them in the second half, even if they do have their work cut
out for them.
Dallas Stars –
No longer the grand daddies of the Pacific Division (or Western Conference for
that matter), the Stars are still a competitive team and are well on their way
to yet another playoff berth. So far they’ve had to play a good portion of
their games without all their big stars in Mike Modano, Brenden Morrow and Eric
Lindros, but it doesn’t seem to phase them. Marty Turco continues to get the
job done, and is a big reason why a lot of games are low scoring, at least for
the opposition. Of course, Sergei Zubov is still a big contributor to the
defensive strategy. The real test will come in the playoffs, where they’ve been
horrible since Ray Bourque retired.
Wings – Still the class of the Central Division, but
unlike last year, they haven’t exactly had their way against Nashville, Columbus
or Chicago. Parity, you’ve got to love it. Chris Chelios continues to chase
Gordie Howe’s longevity record, Dominik Hasek looks to prove Ottawa was wrong to
not re-sign him, and life without Steve Yzerman goes on. They’ll be a
formidable foe for whoever faces them, but will it matter? The only thing left
to be answered is will the Detroit curse continue for whomever is brave enough
and tough enough to eliminate them?
Edmonton Oilers –
They play every game like it’s their last, are never truly out of any game,
and they carry a huge chip on their shoulder from the last game of last season.
The mentality this year is to prove they weren’t just a fluke making it to the
finals and are bound and determined to make it back there, and win it this
time. If you need more proof, just witness the intensity of some of the
divisional games and games against teams they played against in the playoffs –
particularly San Jose and Carolina. While they haven’t been able to solve
Anaheim yet, it’s only regular season, and there are still two more head to head
matches. They don’t lead the division, albeit slightly, for nothing. Jarret
Stoll is a name you wouldn’t talk about much if Ryan Smyth wasn’t out with a
thumb injury, but he has been the definition of the word grit. The team will
only get better when Smyth and Ethan Moreau return, but for now Dwayne Roloson
will hold the fort as Ales Hemsky and Petr Sykora continue to put up points,
just so long as both stay healthy. Of all the teams in the Northwest, the
Oilers are the most fun to watch, and I’m not just saying that because they’re
my favorite team. This new era has been a long time coming, and kudos to
management and coaching staff for never changing their focus on speed and grit.
Make or break, the second half will be a lot of fun.
Florida Panthers –
Did the cool cats not learn anything from Jacques Martin’s tenure in Ottawa
or Pat Quinn’s debacle in Toronto? Apparently not, as Mike Keenan this year
stepped down to allow Martin to play the dual coach and general manager role.
On paper it should have been a match made in hockey heaven, but on the ice it
has been a disaster. Todd Bertuzzi, as he was in Vancouver, has been a huge
bust for the team, and has missed the past several games with a back injury.
The loss of Roberto Luongo was a huge blow in net, one they haven’t exactly been
able to fill with the likes of Ed Belfour or Alex Auld. Belfour has been
mediocre at best, but then again he is 41 years old. While quiet, Olli Jokinen
has paid statistical dividends for the team, as he again leads the team in
scoring. Here’s the most telling stat of all – the team is a collective minus
20, a stat they’ll need to drastically improve if they plan to make some noise
on the all of a sudden tough Southeast Division. They’re not entirely out of
it, but fading fast.
Los Angeles Kings –
With Anaheim, San Jose and Dallas in the same division, how can you have
even a hope of coming close to a playoff spot? The Kings certainly aren’t
stopping the puck with Dan Cloutier, and Marc Crawford doesn’t strike me as the
kind of coach who can make the team any better than they were under Andy
Murray. Somewhere within the confines of the Staples Center, somebody is
kicking themselves hard for trading away Cristobal Huet. At least for now Sean
Avery has concentrated more on his game (not like he had a choice), and Rob
Blake has added a little bit of stability on D.
I’ve liked the play of
rookie Anze Kopitar so far, and forward Alexander Frolov continues to amaze with
his razzle dazzle plays. It
still won’t be enough to get the Kings to the postseason, but can you really
blame the team on paper when the Pacific Division is as strong as it is? If
ever there was a perfect example of why playing eight games against your own
division rivals is a crock, here you go. Even still, their record is what
it is, and nobody's making excuses. The Kings need to be better, period.
– They play the same boring hockey night in and night
out, but this year they’re getting results. Quite frankly, Jacques Lemaire
won’t have it any other way. They’re one of the five teams smack dab in the
middle of the Northwest Division race I spoke of, and have been trading places
with Edmonton and Calgary on an almost nightly basis. The hope was Pavol
Demitra and Marion Gaborik would be a dynamic duo, and this was true until
Gaborik went out with an injury. The Wild need him to come back soon and be
effective, or else they could find themselves sitting on the fence when the dust
settles. Todd White can’t do it all by himself. Manny Fernandez is finally
getting back between the pipes, but the team looks almost nightly at the scores
coming out of Edmonton and more often than not sees their former netminder
Dwayne Roloson putting on a show and can’t help but wonder what life could be
like without a salary cap. Even without Roli, as I said before this
division race is going to be fun.
Montreal Canadiens –
No, you haven’t entered a time warp. Those chants of “Guy, Guy Guy” are not
for Guy Lafleur, they’re for rookie phenom Guillaume Latendresse, who has not
looked out of place in his first NHL campaign,
and perhaps to a certain
extent, first year head coach Guy Carbonneau.
Saku Koivu has managed to make it back from a serious eye injury which more or
less helped eliminate Montreal from Cup contention last year. This year a
rejuvenated Koivu has looked lethal playing with the likes of Alexei Kovalev,
Michael Ryder, Sergei Samsonov, and yes, even Radek Bonk. I touched on this in
my report of L.A., what they lost by trading away Cristobal Huet has clearly
been Montreal’s gain, and the backup David Aebischer who came over in the Jose
Theodore trade hasn’t been bad either. If you would take away the division
factor in both conferences, the Habs would sit in second place in the Eastern
Conference right behind Buffalo, and fifth overall. Given their record against
the Sabres, not to mention the rest of the division, they don’t seem content to
stay put. This has only been magnified by the recent tragedy involving G.M. Bob
Gainey's daughter, and the team seems to have rallied behind it. There is
a great tradition to uphold, and the Habs fully intend to make some noise this
year. Something tells me they will if they can only secure home ice advantage.
– They know how to put on a show in the Music City, whether it’s the Grand
Ole Opry, a great stage show rivaling the likes of Broadway, or the NFL's
Tennessee Titans. Relatively new to Tennessee, the Nashville Predators have put
on a show of their own, and in recent years have started to glow as bright as
their mustard colored jerseys. In recent years it was all about beating
Detroit. So far this year, mission accomplished. They did alright last year
until Tomas Vokoun went down with injury, and this year they have a backup plan
named Chris Mason, who is quickly developing into their goaltender of the
future. The Predators realized they were too small, and this year have
addressed the need to get bigger as they welcomed Jason Arnott and J.P. Dumont
to the fold. Both have allowed Steve Sullivan and Paul Kariya to do their
thing. Vokoun is again out, but this time should be back before the
playoffs. Unfortunately, Scott Nichol did an absolutely stupid thing the
other night when he decided to sucker punch Buffalo’s Jaroslav Spacek, and while
he will sit for nine games, it put a negative stamp on what has been an
otherwise great start for Nashville. The fact of the matter is, if they weren’t
already, this team will be a contender this year and will not be pushed around
like they were in recent playoff appearances. The Todd Bertuzzi shenanigans
would be best left in the locker room.
New Jersey Devils –
The closest thing to what’s happening in the Northwest Division is the
Atlantic Division, at least amongst the top four teams anyway. The Devils have
held the division lead ever so slightly for the most part of the season, but
have traded places with the Rangers, Islanders and even Pittsburgh at one
point. It hasn’t always been easy. Lou Lamiorello has probably been one of the
hardest hit general managers by the salary cap, and has been forced to say
goodbye to some pretty darn good players out of necessity (Alexander Mogilny
anyone?) Despite having to make do with a $44 million roster, the Devils have
done alright. Patrick Elias has been earning his big fat paycheck the old
fashioned way, by scoring early and often. Highly touted Zach Parise has
probably benefitted the most from Elias’ presence on the ice. Jamie
Langenbrunner, Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez continue to be solid performers.
Martin Brodeur at this point is second only to Patrick Roy on the all time list
with a slight asterisk – Roy never got to play in a shootout unless it was the
All Star game. Who knows how crazy the race would be if Philadelphia was on
their game – more on that to come.
New York Islanders –
There is a new attitude on Long Island this year, mostly due to the fact
Mike Milbury is no longer involved in the day to day operations. Garth Snow so
far hasn’t really been tested as general manager, as he’s only made a few minor
tweaks to the roster. Ted Nolan on the other hand, in his return to the NHL as
head coach has been able to get more out of the players. You see it in the
stats put up by Alexei Yashin, Jason Blake and Miroslav Satan. The fifteen year
deal for goaltender Rick DiPietro has been ridiculed by many, myself included,
but you can’t deny the position is solidified for at least a few years. If he
actually plays out the contract to its full extent, it will be a bargain by the
time it’s over. Expect at least a playoff round out of this team.
New York Rangers –
The lights on Broadway continue to glow bright, and the Rangers are attempting
to make the playoffs for the second straight year. Jaromir Jagr continues to
bask in the limelight and is always an offensive threat. Martin Straka and
Michael Nylander have only benefited from Jagr. Brendan Shanahan continues to
get it done in this his 18th NHL season. The goaltending situation
is solid, with Henrik Lundqvist and Kevin Weekes. The Rangers will most likely
make it to the dance, and will be looking to do better than getting swept – the
Atlantic Division crown isn’t out of the question either,
but they have to stop
blowing 3rd period leads.
Ottawa Senators –
What’s going on in Canada’s Capital? The fingers are pointed everywhere these
days. One finger points to the loss of two prominent defensemen Zdeno Chara and
Brian Pothier. Another points to the loss of Marian Hossa last year and Martin
Havlat this year. Yet another points to captain Daniel Alfredsson. The heat is
on Martin Gerber, as he has yet to really start earning his $3.7 million
contract (Ray Emery has had better results). Enough already – time to stop with
the excuses. This team needs to pick itself up by the seat of the pants and
just play their game. When they do, they are one of the most exciting teams to
watch and are hard to beat. When they don’t, they are downright awful.
Needless to say the fans have hit the panic button a long time ago – but may I
remind them of this: The Sens are in the same spot now as they were in going
into the Christmas break in 1998 – a .500 hockey team. All they did that season
was squeak into 8th spot and take out then 1st seeded New
Jersey, at a time when Ron Tugnutt and Damian Rhodes traded places in net. The
roster has improved dramatically since then (even with the players they lost to
free agency), and on paper if they could only just make it in, one never knows.
However, the new NHL era is a new game, and the Senators are definitely playing
with fire. There won’t be too many more opportunities to bring a championship
to Ottawa before they blow it all up and rebuild.
– Oh my how the mighty have fallen! How did the Broad Street Bullies turn
into the Panzies of Philly in just 10 years? I for one blame Bob Clarke, who
just this season couldn’t take it anymore and stepped down. In my mind he
wasn’t smart enough to recognize the team needed some youth and always opted for
the so called tough and rugged veteran player, who at this stage is too old or
too expensive to play the new game or fit into the new salary structure. He
wasn’t shrewd enough to secure a bonafide number one goaltender. And he was
dumb enough to not recognize Peter Forsberg’s injury prone career. Now the
chips have fallen where they have and the Flyers are off to their worst start in
franchise history, and in all likelihood will miss the playoffs for the first
time in a long time. Not even reacquiring Eric Lindros and John Leclair would
be enough at this stage to stop the bleeding. Hey where is Bernie Parent
nowadays? Perhaps they can convince him or Ron Hextall to come out of
retirement. It worked for Rocky, why not?
Phoenix Coyotes –
Has the new NHL era passed even Wayne Gretzky by? Some say yes, especially
given the team the desert dogs have on paper should be doing better than they
are. Then again, in their defense, they have the same dilemma as Los Angeles –
they play in the same division as Anaheim, San Jose and Dallas. In the games
they play they at least compete. They never seem to be out of a game, but
always seem to find a way to lose. I give them a B for effort, but their record
doesn’t justify a passing grade. Curtis Joseph is a better goaltender than he
makes himself out to be, and Jeremy Roenick at this stage of his career should
be leading by example, not going to dinner when the going gets tough. How can
one expect the young players to develop when the veterans can’t lead by
example. The exception has been Owen Nolan and Georges Laraque, the only two
bright spots on an otherwise mediocre squad. Even captain Shane Doan has yet to
– Just when things were looking brighter than they have in more than a
decade, all of a sudden we’re right back to square one. Jim Balsillie, CEO of
Research In Motion, pulled his bid for the team off the table after he couldn’t
come to an agreement with the NHL. To add insult to injury, the Isle of Capri’s
bid to build a casino in Pittsburgh which would have financed a brand new arena
also fell through. On the ice, however, the team has been very good, if not a
little inexperienced. Sidney Crosby is putting in a good bid for the scoring
title, and at the rate he’s going he should be right up there right until the
end. Jordan Staal, brother of Carolina’s Eric, along with newcomer Evgeni
Malkin, have given Crosby some much needed offensive help. Goaltender
Marc-Andre Fleury is finally starting to look like a top drafted goaltender. In
a nutshell, the kids are alright, but still have a lot of work to do if they
want to make it to the postseason. So far, so good for a team that’s spent the
last few seasons in the basement.
San Jose Sharks –
Joe Thornton and Jonathan Cheechoo continue to be the dynamic duo they’ve
been ever since Thornton’s arrival from Boston. This year, however, they’ve had
some help from Patrick Marleau, Milan Michalek and Steve Bernier. Since the
departure of Tom Preissing, the defense hasn’t been much to write home about,
but it hasn’t been an issue with the goaltending tandem of Evgeni Nabokov and
Vesa Toskala. There’s still talk one of them could be traded, as the Sharks are
deep in goaltending depth, not to mention the third of the four Staal brothers
is in their farm system. There’s talk Nolan Schaefer, brother of Ottawa’s
Peter, could be ready for the NHL. For now, the Sharks are enjoying life in the
upper echelon of the Pacific Division. If it wasn’t for Anaheim, they’d be #1,
and still could end up there by the end of the season.
St. Louis Blues –
New general manager, new coach, some old friends, same old result. The
Blues aren’t as bad as Philadelphia in the East, but they aren’t much better.
There was thought Doug Weight and Bill Guerin would help boost Keith Tkachuk’s
offensive output, but this hasn’t happened. Radek Dvorak, Jay McKee and Dan
Hinote were expected to carry a lot of the offensive and defensive load, but it
hasn’t happened. Manny Legace was brought in from Detroit to stop the puck, and
guess what? It hasn’t happened. The only bright spot is the up and coming
players like 1st round draft pick Erik Johnson, but we won’t see him
until at least next year. I hear John Davidson is already looking for a
broadcasting job to fall back on for next season, just in case.
Tampa Bay Lightning
– The Lightning have played as expected, win some, lose some. The simple
fact of the matter is as Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St Louis, Brad Richards and
Vinny Prospal go, so do the Tampa Bay Lightning. Marc Denis has had some good
nights and some downright awful nights. Ottawa local Dan Boyle has become a
solid point man and defensive stalwart. If they make the playoffs, it will come
right down to the wire.
Toronto Maple Leafs
– So far it’s been another season of what ifs? What if Mats Sundin could
stay healthy for a whole entire season? What if the Leafs weren’t the
proverbial centre of the hockey universe – um never mind. There’s a new
attitude in Toronto this year, and even I’ve taken notice. Although, their
record still hovers around the .500 mark, it could turn out to be enough in a
very close Eastern Conference. Losing Michael Peca for four months is a huge
blow, but they have enough firepower to make it through. Darcy Tucker continues
to be a pesky side of the net sniper, Kyle Wellwood, Matt Stajan and Jeff
O’Neill are putting up points, and the defensive pairing of Tomas Kaberle and
Bryan McCabe is as good as they come. Andrew Raycroft, backed up by
Jean-Sebastien Aubin, is giving Toronto the goaltending they haven’t had the
last couple of seasons. The Leafs will at least challenge for a playoff spot.
Is there an echo in here?
Vancouver Canucks –
They lost Marc Crawford, Dan Cloutier, Alex Auld, Anson Carter and Todd
Bertuzzi, but they got their man in goal – Roberto Luongo, who has looked great
on some nights and shaky on others, but I ask you this – what team hasn’t had
shaky goaltending at some point? The Sedin twins learned a lot from Carter, and
their new line mate (at times) Markus Naslund has helped their development.
Trevor Linden continues to lead by example. There are a lot of young spark
plugs on this team, including defenseman Kevin Bieksa and winger Alex Burrows.
When the Canucks are on their game they’re as good as any in the Western
Conference, and are trying hard not to fall off the pace in the Northwest
Division. It will go right down to the wire again before we know what teams
make it in, but the Canucks need to get it going, and now, as they play six of
their next eight against division rivals, before embarking on a Northeastern
– Another team you’ll want to watch out for in the second half is the Alex
Ovechkin led Washington Capitals. For a short period of time they were better
than Carolina, but have fallen back to earth just a little bit. Even still, the
maturity of Ovechkin has been evident throughout the first half, and his
leadership will hopefully rally the team into the postseason. But he can’t do
it alone, he will need all hands on deck, particularly Alex Semin, Dainius
Zubrus, Chris Clark and Brian Pothier, who have all had a banner first half.
Olie The Goalie needs his solid net minding to continue. Where they go from
here, who knows?
NHL – If you
believe everything Gary Bettman says (which I don’t), the league continues to
grow and attendance is at a record high and the game is healthier than it has
ever been under his “cost certainty” model. Yet, something seems very wrong on
many levels. The supposed crackdown on proper officiating seems to have
regressed this season, there is a continuous lack of respect among players which
is growing more and more, and yet another NHL team is in jeopardy and could be
on the move. On the bright side, the game continues to be entertaining and
still fills the Saturday Night void. For better or for worse, hockey continues
to rule north of the border, and continues to expand into new horizons in the
U.S. If you need more proof hockey is finally starting to get recognized, just
look at all the college students who play the game, and look towards terrestrial
and even satellite radio to see more and more mention of the game. Adam Carolla
has had many an NHL player on his show, and even Howard Stern has made reference
to the Rangers on more than one occasion.
As they say in Toronto,
it’s the “passion that unites us all”, and I can only hope people see beyond the
highly paid professionals, and see the forest for the trees. It’s still a
wonderful game, period.
ALONG THE BOARDS
And now, I have
to chime in on what’s happening over in Pittsburgh. First of all, I have a
question. If Gary Bettman claims the NHL is thriving and in great shape, how
and why did the whole situation with Jim Balsillie of RIM take a 360 degree turn
in less than 48 hours? If the so called “cost certainty” Bettman wouldn’t have
reopened the league without is working so well, why then, did the league have to
put undue pressure on Balsillie to agree to special provisions in the event the
deal was approved? Word on the street is the deal would never have gone through
without Balsillie signing off on special clauses to keep the team in Pittsburgh
no matter what. Am I missing something here? Wasn’t the whole point of the new
collective bargaining agreement to actually help out small market teams like
Pittsburgh? Why is it a new owner would have to guarantee he wouldn’t move the
team when the team itself can’t even secure its own financing to build a much
needed new building? And just where is the NHL putting all this money collected
from every player and put into escrow? Isn’t this money supposed to be used to
help out a team like Pittsburgh who desperately needs it? If there is a team
needing help, why is the salary cap continuing to go up after only a season and
a half (word is it is expected to go up again next year)? Does something smell
skunky here (as in skunky beer)?
Now here’s what
we do know. Jim Balsillie won’t be the new owner of the Penguins, Mario Lemieux
won’t be returning his deposit due to him pulling out (a drop in the bucket for
him I’m sure), and the Penguins last resort Isle of Capri casino hasn’t been
approved. What happens now remains to be seen, but now all of a sudden the
Pittsburgh franchise’s future has never been more uncertain, even after Bettman
promised everybody no NHL team would fold or move on his watch. Was there an
ulterior motive behind the lockout the whole time, and if so, what was it? If
we can’t guarantee a team’s future any more today than we could before the
lockout, what was the point? Mr. Commissioner, over to you.
The plot thickens.
Now Frank D’Angelo, owner and CEO of Steelback Breweries, has shifted his focus
from bringing a Canadian Football League franchise back to Ottawa (for the
second time), to now picking up where Balsillie left off. But hold the phone
(or Blackberry) - I’ve just now been reading Balsillie has written a letter to
Mario Lemieux with a personal apology over the whole situation and outlining his
intent to still buy the team, even though Lemieux and Bettman have both publicly
stated the team is off the market. Why do I get the feeling no matter what
happens, the Penguins are moving? I have one word for Gary Bettman – Winnipeg.
Now more than ever I believe this could happen. Of course, I will continue to
follow this story with great interest. For now, the kids are doing alright on
the ice and will be an exciting team for any city to watch for many years to
come, even if it remains in Pittsburgh. Steelback in Steeltown kind of has a
nice ring to it, don't you think?
THE OLDEST OR MOST EXPENSIVE
A stick said to
be originally carved by one Alexander Rutherford and passed on to one Gord
Sharpe by his great uncle Melville Rutherford, was recently auctioned off for a
record $2.2 million. The stick was carved out of hickory sometime between 1852
and 1856, and will be displayed at the Hockey Hall of fame, thanks to a generous
donation by the winning bidder, who is Canadian. The hall already displays what
was thought to be the oldest stick, made in 1881. Proceeds from the auction
will go to charity. Just when I think I’ve seen everything there is to see, I
now have an excuse to visit the hall again next time I’m in Toronto (and this
time I walk out with a picture of me beside the Stanley Cup).
VOTE FOR RORY?
a Buffalo Sabres fan, launched probably the most thought provoking and hockey
conversation starting website (second only of course to puckinaround.net!) in
recent memory when he launched
website urges surfers to vote for Vancouver Canucks’ Rory Fitzpatrick on the All
Star ballot, because he feels “Rory is the perfect representative for all the
players who work hard behind the scenes and never get any recognition”. Fair
enough, but isn’t the All Star game in Dallas this year? Regardless, the
website has inspired fans to vote Rory second overall in fan balloting for all
Western Conference defensemen. Should he remain there when balloting closes on
January 2, he would be a starter.
for one, is not impressed. “I think from his (the webmaster’s) point of view,
it's great. From what the All-Star Game is about, it's 100 percent wrong. I'm
not trying to be controversial. Maybe he deserves to be in the game. I can't
stand here and tell you that he doesn't deserve to be in the game because I've
never seen him play. But if he thinks he deserves to be in the All-Star Game,
then good for him, he should go. If he doesn't believe he should be in the
All-Star Game, he should stand up and say, 'You know what, there's other guys
that deserve to be there.' That's kind of what my take on it is.”
Translation - I don't get the joke.
For what it’s worth,
Fitzpatrick has 0 points in 19 games this season, clearly All-Star numbers if
you believe the webmaster of the site. While it would be great to see the fans’
reaction if he were to show up, I personally just don’t believe with the caliber
of defensemen playing out west we would even be talking about Rory if it wasn’t
for this fan site. Personally, I cast my write in vote for Jarret Stoll, for
many of the same reasons, but also because he puts points up on the board in the
absence of fallen team mates. Sorry Rory.
ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS
As I wrap up
this epic of a 75th Puckin’ Around article, I know I may be asking
for a lot here, but in the spirit of the holiday season and the great Christmas
carol “The Twelve Days Of Christmas” (and all of its variations), here are
twelve things I’d like to see in 2007 (and beyond).
The Edmonton Oilers win the
Northwest Division, get home ice advantage throughout the playoffs and
ultimately win that final Game 7 should it be necessary. Should a Stanley Cup
again be out of the question, I’ll settle for a series win against Anaheim where
one of either Jarret Stoll, Ethan Moreau (when he gets back), Raffi Torres or
Ryan Smyth puts a bone crunching (but clean) hit on Chris Pronger – preferably
at Rexall Place where the fans will appreciate it. Even a first round matchup
against Dallas where the Oilers actually make it out alive would be fun. I
know, I know, careful what I wish for, right?
Oilers Pay Per View catches me
on camera after an Oiler goal when I visit Scotiabank Place on February 20, 2007
as Edmonton faces Ottawa (I’ll be about four rows from the ice and I can’t
For the NHL to forget all
about even thinking about reducing the divisions from six to four – unless they
plan on expanding to 32 teams and moving Detroit to the Northeast Division and
leaving Columbus in the Central (once again the NHL proves they have absolutely
no sense of geography) – Atlanta a Central division team? Since when?
Speaking of dumb ideas, the
NHL needs to also forget about ever messing with the nets and just call the
game right. Am I really truly asking too much here?
Rory Fitzpatrick to politely
decline his invite to the All Star game, for the better of the event.
Sorry, but 0 points
in 19 games doesn’t earn you the right to go to Dallas, no matter how much a fan
thinks he can influence the voting. For that matter, even if the All Star
Game was in Vancouver, it still wouldn't be fair.
Sidney Crosby and Alex
Ovechkin get into a fight and then laugh about it in the penalty box.
The Ottawa Senators get the
proverbial playoff monkey off their back and at least make it to the final four
so the entire town will stop ragging on Daniel Alfredsson. First thing’s first
though, they have to actually make it to the playoffs. They get bonus points if
they face Toronto again and actually win. As Jason Spezza likes to say,
dare to dream...
The Pittsburgh Penguins decide
once and for all if they’re staying in Pittsburgh or moving, and if they move,
they move to Winnipeg.
Mick McGeough gets banished to
the ECHL and misses out on officiating the playoffs (yes, I’m still reeling over
the Dallas-Edmonton game, and don't tell me to get over it because I can't).
Don Cherry to actually say
something worth listening to.
Gary Bettman to stop running
the NHL like he’s skating on thin ice, or step down and let somebody else bring
the league back to respectability.
The greatest game on earth to
become even greater. I hear Howard Stern is a Rangers fan...
I’d like to take
this opportunity to wish all of my loyal readers the very best over the
holidays. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year (or whatever holiday you’ll be
celebrating, make it a good one) – and don’t forget, the fun doesn’t stop in
this column. Over here at puckinaround.net we never stop talking pucks, ever!
Stay safe and
remember – don’t drink and drive because we want to talk to you, not about you!