FROM RUSSIA, WITH LOVE? (AND MONEY!)

 

If shorter summers and longer winters are what we have to look forward to, is it any wonder I spent the past summer getting the most out of life?  First of all, huge apologies to all my loyal readers who went the past season without so much as even another installment of how I deal with hockey’s off season.  Anyone who checked up on the Puckin’ Around daily blog got to see nothing more than a George Carlin obituary.  Trust me folks, this past summer I had plenty to keep me busy.  My job, for starters, has never been busier.  Who knew so many people move between June and September?  In August, I followed suit, as I moved into a brand new townhouse, just two years and two months removed from my first (and last) condo.  Inevitably, I had another birthday, this time my 35th.  This could mean one of two things – either my life is already half over, or has just begun.  Only time will tell.  Oh yeah, I almost forgot (I’m told memory lapses are normal at my age) – I got to see Def Leppard live for about the 10th time – I know for many pundits the band’s best years are behind them, but for me they’ve still got it, as their latest tour and “Sparkle Lounge” album will attest.  Anyone who knows me personally can vouch for the fact I listen to so many different types and genres of music it’s impossible to pinpoint even a top ten, but if I had to pick one group as my favorite, just count the concert ticket stubs.  So how was your summer?

Needless to say, I know I’m a few months late (better late than never right?), but I want to take this opportunity to congratulate the 2008 Stanley Cup Champions, the Detroit Red Wings, and also give kudos to the runner up Pittsburgh Penguins.  As predicted, it was a great series.  If you aren’t a fan of the sport after watching the finals (which seems like an eternity ago), you aren’t a fan of the sport, period.  Now we’ll get to see both teams defend their titles, and as always, the competition is fierce – more to come.

KOMPETITION OR JUST ANOTHER WANNABE KONTINENTAL LEAGUE?

Speaking of interesting summers – in the hockey world there’s been no shortage of interesting stories.  In particular, I’ve watched with great interest the latest developments in the new Russian Continental Hockey League (KHL) which is slated to start this fall with a plethora of rich teams and owners, all of them willing to spend their money on the latest NHL has-been player in a feeble attempt to put spectators in the stands.  Not one to pick on anyone in particular, and not mentioning any names (Alexei Yashin), it seems players are moving on over with the right deal and the right amount of dollars and no sense.  We’re talking the WHL all over again folks, but this time based somewhere between a rock (Moscow) and a hard place (Siberia).

OK, so perhaps I’m being just a tad bit too harsh, but let me ask some serious questions.  Will any hockey fan based in North America really care if Ray Emery posts 20 shutouts this winter, unless he actually carries that success back into the NHL?  I know here in Ottawa most won’t (as evidenced by the new McFarlane figurines taking up shelf space at every Wal-Mart store I’ve been to).  Will anyone outside of Siberia really care if Jaromir Jagr lights up the lamp 100 times in what will most certainly be his swan song?  Is Mats Sundin planning to finish his career in Russia before retiring back home to Sweden?  Is this why it’s taking so long for us to hear a decision on his playing future?  And just who does Mr. Yashin think he is anyway, and why does he and his agent honestly think he’s worth more than the $9 million per year he was making with the Islanders?

As for the new Continental League, it has come under fire recently by NHL officials and the like over their bold attempts to lure some of the biggest Russian names already under North American contracts – namely Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Alex Radulov.  They offered millions of dollars to both the players and the NHL in an attempt to get fans in the seats – a proposal which was rejected every time.  This, of course, after a mutual agreement to honor existing contracts on both sides of the Atlantic was reached in principle.  To make matters worse, Radulov actually signed a contract with the KHL's team UFA (ironic isn't it?) when he still has one year remaining on his contract with Nashville, which was met with the Predators suspending him indefinitely without pay.  Is it any wonder why there is still no renewed Russian transfer agreement in place?  Any solid agreement should be based on trust, and it’s evident to me, sadly, the Russians can’t be trusted, nor can the players themselves from the looks of things.  I say let him go and get players over here in North America who actually want to play here, which I have to say, is one of the very reasons I love watching Ovechkin play.

In the end, the success of the new league will all depend on how much of a fan following they get, both through the turnstiles and locally.  All I know is this – there’s been no mention of any games on Centre Ice this fall, so my take on this is unless something extraordinary happens, we’ll never hear about it – unless, God forbid, we have another lockout.  I know the Hockey Night In Canada schedule makes no mention of any overseas games outside of the season openers in Sweden and the Czech Republic.  Perhaps we should call a spade a spade and call the league what it really is – the RHL – the Reject Hockey League.  I have to give them credit for at least being bold enough to try.

ALONG THE BOARDS

In a move I believe is long overdue, the Washington Capitals will retire Mike Gartner’s #11 in a pre-game ceremony December 28 against another of his former teams, the Toronto Maple Leafs.  Gartner was arguably the most prolific right winger of all time as he broke into the league with 8 straight 35+ goal campaigns, and followed them up with 15 straight seasons scoring at least 30.  He ranks #2 in scoring in franchise history, and more than a decade since his retirement ranks #6 on the NHL’s all-time list.  Furthermore, he holds the distinction of being the first player drafted by Washington to end up in the Hall of Fame.  “Capitals fans have fond memories of Mike Gartner flying down the right wing and scoring goals at the Capital Centre”, said chairman and majority owner Ted Leonsis.  “This is a fitting tribute to one of the elite offensive players in the history of the game who was a crucial member of the first Capitals playoff teams.”  Mr. Ovechkin, you have some big skates to fill my friend.

In another long overdue ceremony – Montreal’s La Presse reported recently the Montreal Canadiens are finally set to honor Patrick Roy in November – a report the Habs were quick to give a “no comment” on, stating they don’t comment on jersey retirements.  Even Roy himself hadn’t heard anything when asked about it.  Kind of funny, though, how the team was commenting on and planning the Jean Beliveau, Larry Robinson and Guy Lafleur ceremonies for months on end.  So read into this report what you will.  I guess we’ll have to wait and find out if the soon to be dethroned best goaltender of all time (statistically that is) will finally get his name enshrined in hockey’s church, le Centre Bell.  The reason I say soon to be dethroned – it’ll just be a matter of time before Martin Brodeur catches up to him.  Stay tuned.

During a much sadder tribute on October 9, the Vancouver Canucks will honor recently deceased defenseman Luc Bourdon.  The team has put together a video montage and will be providing fans with a commemorative pin.  An element will be placed on the players’ helmets during all home games.  “Luc was an important part of our Canucks family. We want to make sure that everyone who Luc touched has the opportunity to celebrate his life and memory,” said Chris Zimmerman, President and CEO, Canucks Sports & Entertainment. “Luc was a special person in so many ways. He brought great spirit and determination to all that that he did on-ice or off. His passion for our game was always present whenever he was with fans, team personnel or helping in the community. Luc will be forever a Canuck.”

Either Ottawa can’t get enough of Pat Quinn or Pat Quinn can’t get enough of Ottawa.  Evidently Quinn will coach Team Canada’s World Juniors this Christmas.  The tournament will be held at Scotiabank Place during what should go down in NHL history as being the Ottawa Senators longest road trip of all time.  Should be a great tournament – anyone with spare tickets, e-mail me!

Just when I didn’t need another reason to hate Dallas, given their age old rivalry with Edmonton, It seems I’m never short of material on this next guy.  As much as you’d love to have this guy as your team mate (or fellow fashion advisor, you be the judge!), no question he can be a distraction with his speak his mind attitude.  Of course, I’m talking about none other than Mr. Avery.  Sean signed a free agent deal with the Stars during the off season, and was eager to throw his former organization from New York under the bus at the first opportunity.  When asked by The Sporting News why the Rangers didn’t want him back, at first he was a little cautious: “I don't know,” he said. “That's an interesting question. I guess it probably came down to money, probably. That's a tough call.”  It didn’t take very long to get him to really speak his mind, however: “It's an interesting situation because then they turnaround and spend it on guys they shouldn't have spent it on.  It's going to be an interesting situation; certainly I'll sit back and watch. New York is a tough place to play. Markus Naslund is going to have a tough time, so is Wade Redden. New York fans aren't going to put up with those guys. I don't think that they're going to live up to the expectations.”  While this in itself would have just been another story of a guy speaking his mind, then came the dagger in the heart: “I've gone to a better team.”  Ouch!!!  And in other Stars news, Stu Barnes has retired to become part of their coaching staff.  Coincidence?

While we’re on the topic of NHL players we love to hate and throwing people under the bus, in the court case that won’t go away, Marc Crawford recently testified to a Vancouver court about how Todd Bertuzzi acted in “direct disobedience” of his instructions prior to the now infamous Steve Moore incident.  Bertuzzi, now with the Calgary Flames after getting bought out of his Ducks contract, is looking to have Crawford added as a defendant in the Moore civil suit which is still ongoing.  As for you Flames fans who think he will revitalize his career this season, dream on, it’s not going to happen – as long as Steve Moore remains off the ice, the hockey gods will continue to punish Big Bert.  Hard to believe it’s been almost five years since it happened.  The play doesn’t get any less brutal with age.  It’s not like I needed another reason to hate Calgary either, but Bert’s signing did it for me.  My guess is it was either there or Russia.

We’re getting closer all the time to the new season, and as it approaches check out the website for a new design and stay tuned to this spot for a full season preview which will include analysis of who has gone where and why we should care.  This season we have a much improved schedule where every team will see every team at least once (as it should be), and it kicks off with four teams heading over to the Czech Republic and Sweden.  The Ottawa Senators and Pittsburgh Penguins will play two games in Frolunda, and the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Rangers will play two in Prague.  I’m guessing fans in Prague will be a little disappointed they won’t get to see Mr. Jagr, as he was arguably the highest profile NHL player to head over to the Continental League.  They’ll have to settle for newly acquired Bolt Andrej Meszaros.  I’ll talk more about it in a few weeks, when maybe, just maybe, I’ll actually have something to report on the Mats Sundin and Brian McCabe front.  Shame on Toronto for keeping us in the dark all summer, although some will argue there’s nothing new there.  Also, stay tuned for a full review of NHL 09, which for all intents and purposes is starting to look like more of the same regurgitated gobbledygook from EA Sports, but in fairness, I’ve only played the demo.

For now, enjoy the rest of the summer/beginning of fall and I’ll be back before the first drop of the puck!

 

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