SUMMER BREEZE

 

When you take some time over the summer to just relax and forget about work and everything and everyone around you – sometimes you can be taken aback by what you learn upon returning to reality.  While this summer in Ottawa hasn’t been much of a summer on the weather front (at least until the last week or so), it’s given an opportunity to give the air conditioner a bit of a break and open the windows.  If you pay close attention, you can learn a lot when the summer breeze blows through, or when you’re shooting the breeze with friends, colleagues and family…

Somebody told me the NHL will have new uniforms and updated logos next season.  The uniforms is a good move, but are new logos really necessary when it’s been well publicized a couple of teams are actually going back to old colors and logos?  Has anybody seen the new Washington Capitals jersey?  Is it really necessary for so much secrecy surrounding yet another new Vancouver Canucks uniform?  Did I just enter a time warp?

I understand on New Year’s Day 2008, the New York Islanders and Buffalo Sabres are slated to play an outdoor game.  Details are still being finalized.  Sounds like a classic case of been there, done that if you ask me.

As for the Islanders – look for Al Arbour to return behind the bench to coach his 1,500th game in November – he signed a one day contract with the club, and we have Ted Nolan and the entire Islanders organization to thank for making such a classy move – and in case you’re waiting for a punch line, this is no joke.  The Islanders will play Pittsburgh in the game Arbour is scheduled to stand behind the bench.  We’ll get to see him adjust those glasses one more time.

I heard a rumor Ryan Smyth is going to face his former team eight times next season as opposed to what would have been only once – will the Rexall Place faithful be boo birds four times, or will they still show Smitty the love?  Hey Ryan, have you forgotten already about the Charlie-horse that could have ended your career last season?  Now you go and sign a five year deal with the same team?  Am I missing something here?

After hearing for about the past little while about just how few hockey fans there are in Nashville and how hard it is for the Predators to sell out games, even with the team they ended the season with, all of a sudden now I understand there have been tons of people organizing rallies and ticket drives just to try and show Gary Bettman there is still interest in Music City.  Yet, there seems to be some concern in the Bettman camp over Jim Balsillie’s bid.  It’s gotten to the point where Balsillie has accused the commissioner of tampering.  There have been reports Bettman communicated with current Predators team owner Craig Leipold via e-mail several times trying to persuade Leipold not to do business with Balsillie.  Well then, Mr. Commissioner, who then is more worthy and more passionate about owning a franchise?  Mark my words, if it’s not Balsillie, at some point somebody will buy this team and move it somewhere – it’s inevitable.    Yet, at this stage of their young franchise life, this team is a more competitive team than the Winnipeg Jets, Hartford Whalers and Quebec Nordiques were in their heyday (no disrespect meant to the aforementioned), and they ended up moving, even though they easily had twice as many fans.  What makes Leipold think this team can survive beyond the next two seasons in Nashville?  I have 70 million reasons why they won’t – as in 70 million dollars – which is how much money the team has lost since it hit the ice.  Get over it already!  Fans in Tennessee care more about College football/basketball and the Grand Ole Opry than they do about the Nashville Predators – and that’s just an unfortunate fact, Jack.  I’d be willing to bet my bottom dollar more people would show up to a private screening of “Coal Miner’s Daughter” at a local drive-in movie theatre.  And before you even consider Kansas City – can anybody tell me whatever happened to the Kansas City Scouts?  You want the NHL to grow, stop putting teams in markets where the fans could care less.  Besides, isn’t St. Louis within driving distance?  As for the potential new owner who recently signed a letter of intent to take the team off Leipold’s hands – I give it five seasons.

And another thing – just why is Gary Bettman so afraid of having a seventh or even eighth team back in Canada?  Don’t we still make up at least 40-50% of the entire NHL’s fan base?  I mean, Bettman did say he wants to grow the game, did he not?  How much longer do we have to suffer through watching our favorite major sport dwindle into the catacombs of U.S. National Television, where a horse race takes a greater priority over an NHL semi-final clinching playoff game headed to overtime (and those who are watching don’t even have access to the channel they moved it to)?  Read my lips Gary – you’ve turned the league into a Joke – one which as long as you’re in charge has staying power.  This is just sad.  I’d rather have Alan Eagleson back running things than to have to suffer through one more season of Bettman’s mundane “we’re doing fine, never been better” press conferences.

It seems just about everywhere I go these days I hear that Justin Timberlake song “Summer Love”.  Even hockey players aren’t immune from Cupid’s arrow.  Rumor has it former Ottawa Senators and newest NY Islanders player Mike Comrie is romantically linked to none other than pop diva Hilary Duff.  Whatever happened to Elisha Cuthbert Mike?  I seem to recall reading somewhere she’s gone running back to NY Rangers tough guy Sean Avery, but at the risk of turning this into a gossip column I’ll reserve commenting any further.  I’ll tell you one thing, my opinions on Duff have changed for the better.  Then again, she has always carried herself with a lot more class than, dare I say it, Britney, Lindsay and Paris.  It all goes to show classy girls like classy guys.  OK – enough of that!

While we’re on the topic of Sean Avery – of the few contract negotiations to go to arbitration this summer, Avery’s has to go down as one of the most intriguing.  Not in the sense where we didn’t see the assessment of said player coming, but the reaction of the player himself.  For those of you unfamiliar with the arbitration process, essentially when a team and a player can’t come to terms on a new contract, the player or the team can elect to go to a formal hearing where a third party “arbitrator” will decide what the player is worth.  The team and/or player can subsequently sign the contract, or walk away.  As you might well imagine, these hearings can get ugly in a hurry (which is probably why about only 8 cases out of about 30 have been heard to date, and the rest settled before).  The player will usually be looking for more money and will have to prove why they deserve it, and the team will try everything to prove why they don’t.  Well, when it came time for the New York Rangers to state their case regarding Avery, the New York Post was all over it.  Check out this quote: "Avery is not a mature player. He plays, at times, like an individual rather than a member of a team.  This is sometimes referred to as an inability to see the ice, and in Avery's case this seems to fit with his overall approach to the game."  Avery’s response: "I have no idea what to say.  I don't know what this was about.  I'm shocked."  Are you kidding me?  I mean are you absolutely serious?  Is this coming from the same person who threatened to hurt Buffalo players before the second round of the playoffs even started?  Oh it must be hard to be humble when you think you’re perfect in every way, eh Sean?  I for one agree wholeheartedly with the Rangers’ assessment.  Best fan quote I saw about this in any forum: “Sean Avery, what the hell do you think happens during arbitration?  Tea and crumpets?”  Oddly enough, he ended up getting an $800,000 raise after the arbitrator met both sides in the middle – the Rangers offered $1.3 million, Avery asked for $2.6 million – he got $1.9 million. 

I’m still reeling over this one.  I awoke one Wednesday morning to see not one, but two Staal brothers on the front page of the Ottawa Sun.  My immediate thought was somehow Bryan Murray had managed to trade for both of them, but then I quickly realized these were mug shots.  Newly married Eric Staal (by the time anyone reads this) recently spent a night in jail along with his brother Jordan and eight other people, after a bachelor party got a little too wild.  The event took place at Lutsen Resort and Sea Villas, which is located about 90 minutes south of Thunder Bay, Ontario, the Staals’ hometown.  According to a press release from the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, police were called out to the scene after receiving several complaints of “people screaming, yelling and playing loud music.  The two Staal brothers evidently settled down and eventually went to bed, only to be awakened by Sheriff deputies a couple of hours later when the remainder of the party didn’t obey the warnings.  After leaving, the group gathered on Highway 61 and began harassing passing motorists.  The suspects were all placed under arrest for disorderly conduct.  Both brothers were charged with disorderly conduct, obstructing the justice system, and Jordan added consumption of alcohol under the age of 21 to the list.  Needless to say, both are embarrassed beyond belief.  But in all honesty, how many bachelor parties/wedding receptions can you remember that didn’t get out of hand?  This is only news because it happened to two rising NHL stars??

Now just as I was wondering to myself, just what is Grapes up to these days, he spoke out about the whole mess, lashing out at the Sun for choosing the story as their front page cover over bigger issues like dog fighting or soccer players brawling with Toronto cops.  "I am very disappointed in the Sun because I always thought of it as very fair and not a trash tabloid," Don Cherry said from his cottage near Kingston, "But what you did to those kids by putting their mug shots on the front of the paper was really low.  All of these other sports have all kinds of crazy things happen -- you have got guys up on rape charges, murder, attempted murder, gambling suspicion and guys taking steroids, and you have some kids on your front page who got a little too loud at a party.  Come on!  Do better next time.  You guys at the Sun should be ashamed of yourselves.  If they are exonerated from this will you have that on the front page?"  Spoken like a true proponent of all things Canadian.  I wonder if Sidney Crosby was anywhere near this event?  We’d probably never hear about it – but then again, there were reports of some folks escaping into the woods…one never knows…

I just finished reading Alexei Yashin has decided to leave the NHL and go back to Russia (like there was ever any doubt) - Locomotiv (Yaroslavl) has signed him to a one year deal - as is customary in the Russian Super League, financial deals weren't disclosed - interestingly enough, the contract does not have an out clause for Yash to return to the NHL next season.  Good riddance, I mean, goodbye and good luck...

Check out this quote from Todd Diamond, who represents Yashin along with Mark Gandler - "They came after him very strongly.  He's going to go there and have a great year. ... We'll see where we are 10 months from now.  Right now the city is electric, everyone is excited, the arena will be packed and Alexei will play hard.”  I'll believe it when I see it - since I don't get Russian League games with NHL Centre Ice, I guess I'll have to believe it when I hear it.  If you ask me, 10 months from now, this will be the biggest train wreck in team history for Locomotiv.  I know I've said this before, but it bears repeating - it would have been a better career move for Alexei to sign in Siberia - heaven knows it did wonders for Jaromir Jagr's career...

Of course, the summer wouldn’t be complete without our good friend Brian Burke blowing up at somebody.  This time, the victim was Kevin Lowe (and for the record, probably well deserved given the circumstances).  As we all know, it’s been nothing short of a roller coaster ride for the Edmonton Oilers, leading up to, and after the trading deadline.  After failing to land Michael Nylander, who is the second player to turn his nose up at the team after their wives didn’t approve of the move to Alberta, Lowe went fishing out of desperation for one of the most prominent restricted free agents in Buffalo’s Thomas Vanek.  Lowe signed him to an offer sheet worth a reported $7 million per season, an offer the Sabres promptly matched, but not without some unkind words.  Bound and determined to rebuild a winning team, sights were set on none other than the Stanley Cup Champions.  The Edmonton G.M. went after Dustin Penner, an integral part of the Ducks’ playoff run.

Now Burke, who as of this writing is still awaiting a decision from Scott Niedermayer about his future plans, and who was busy enjoying both his designated day with the Cup along with an induction into the B.C. Hockey Hall of Fame, upon hearing about this, lashed out at Lowe as only Brian Burke can.  "I have no problem with offer sheets, they are part of the CBA.  I think it's a tool certainly a team is entitled to use.  My issue here is this is the second time this year in my opinion Edmonton have offered a grossly inflated salary for a player, and it impacts on all 30 teams and I think it's an act of desperation by a general manager who is fighting to keep his job.  I was not notified of this until an agent faxed it into us.  I thought Kevin would have called me and told me it was coming. I thought that was gutless.  Kevin Lowe has been in Penticton this week.  Tonight is the induction ceremony for the B.C. Hockey Hall of Fame and I certainly think this could have waited until Monday. I don't think it shows a lot of respect for the B.C Hockey Hall of Fame.  I think it's a classless move timing-wise."

The Ducks had a week to decide whether or not to match the offer, a move which would have put them over the salary cap – and they opted to let him walk.  So, for all you trivia buffs out there, Penner becomes only the second restricted free agent in the last ten years to actually move on to a new team.  Who was the last you ask?  Chris Gratton, in 1997, signed with Philadelphia after Tampa Bay decided to pass on matching the offer.  Now what I’m wondering is this – will this be the proverbial straw breaking the camel’s back, opening up the door to more restricted free agent signings in the future, particularly if the salary cap doesn’t go up?  This just in, Zach Parise avoided a similar fate by agreeing to terms on a four year extension with New Jersey worth a reported $12.5 million.  Something tells me Lowe had him in his rearview mirror.

So the $6.75 million dollar question now remains - will he or won't he?  Does Scott Niedermayer hang them up, or go for Stanley Cup #5?

And as the summer breeze continues to blow, as always I’m there paying attention, even if it doesn't seem like it.  I understand August will be one of the hottest in recent memory here in Ottawa, and there will be nothing better than watching the boys of winter get back on the ice, if for nothing else but to help me cool off a bit.  Check back here soon with a preview of yet another exciting season, not to mention this Canada-Russia Super Series which will be played just before training camps open.

Enjoy the rest of the summer, and be sure to keep the grill hot and the Smirnoff on Ice - pun intended!  And hey - let's be careful out there!

 

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